Presidential Election: On Our Thirteen Requests
By C.V. Wigneswaran –
Someone asked: “I saw your thirteen demands. As a minority group, how could you demand a division of the Country? It seems presumptuous on the part of the five Tamil Political Parties to demand so. Your comments?”
My Response was: They were our sincere and essential requests, not demands. These need to be considered by those who aspire to rule this country as President. The Sri Lankan Tamils are not minorities. They are the majority in the North and East even from pre-Buddhistic times. The recent excavations in Keelady in Madurai District prove the antiquity of the Tamils. The remains found in Madurai resemble Mohenjadaro – Harappa civilization in Pakistan. The Tamil language is a Classical Language accepted Internationally. The Tamils have occupied this Country from over three thousand years ago. No doubt several influx of Tamils took place at various times in history. But they added to the population of indigenous Tamils resident from pre-Buddhistic times. The five Shivalingams in Thiruketheeswaram, Naguleswaram, Koneswaram, Munneswaram and Thondeswaram (in Dondra) were here long before Buddhism came here and long before the Sinhala language was born in the 6th or 7th Century AD. Merely because history was doctored and distorted during the past hundred years, historical facts cannot be hidden for long.
Let me take you through each of the requests and their purpose.
The Sri Lankan Tamils are a Nation. A Nation is a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture or language inhabiting a particular country or territory. The doctrine of sovereignty has developed in two distinct dimensions: the first concerned with the “internal,” the second with the “external” aspects of sovereignty. What we refer here is internal sovereignty. That is to live in amity within one Country but looking after our affairs in our traditional areas without external interference or compulsion because we as a Nation are entitled to do so. That is, by virtue of the right of self-determination recognized by International Law, the Tamils of the North and East have the right to determine their future political status over their territorial unit without external compulsions. That the North and East are the traditional homelands of the Tamils has been recognised in many Agreements including the 1987 Indo Sri Lanka Accord. Under the Thirteenth Amendment, there are severe external control and compulsions. Why should the Sinhalese feel that it is essential that Tamils need to be controlled and kept under surveillance? Are we not part of this Country? Do we not have a history from pre-Buddhistic times here? Are we not entitled to look upon this Country as ours just as others feel so?
Secondly, would difference in a population give the group having more numbers the right to control the other groups? Even so, the Tamils are the major community more in number than other communities in their traditional areas. The right of self-determination is not based on population. It is based on the individuality of each group. Twenty or more Cantons exist in Switzerland each with its individuality in a Country smaller in extent than Sri Lanka.
Such individuality distinguishes the Tamils from the Sinhalese. So we Tamils have a distinct identity and Law recognizes self-determination for such distinct units within a country. The ideal form of government in such countries which have distinct units of people is federalism which is a system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and constituent political units. Unless the Sinhalese political leaders are only interested in Sinhala domination and Sinhala hegemony, our claim for a federal constitution must be acceptable to the Sinhalese if they think upon us as equals. It is the Sinhala politicians for their personal gains during the past hundred years who poisoned the Sinhalese people against the concept of Federalism. Mr.SWRD Bandaranaike supported Federalism in 1926; the Kandyan Sinhalese supported Federalism before the Donoughmore Commissioners, both before Independence. Many Countries whether USA, Canada or Switzerland have federal constitutions. Switzerland is smaller in extent to that of Sri Lanka. India is quasi-federal. In Sri Lanka, the areas where the Tamils have lived for centuries could easily be identified to form a federal unit. It is stupid to say the Tamils would get 1/3rd the seafront far in excess of their population if given federalism. They are not to be considered only from a demographic standpoint. Compare the annual rainfall in the North East with the rest of the Country. North East is arid and the living conditions are arduous on land. Only Mother Ocean could help them to prosper.
Without a federal constitution being enacted the Tamils will always remain in a subordinate position. At every stage, the majority community would dictate to the Tamils what to do and what not to do in their own areas. Presently the traditional homelands of the Tamils are being colonized by Sinhalese because we Tamils have no legal control over our areas. If we had proper devolution of powers like under a federal constitution we would have had the power to check on the intrusion of people from other areas coming and expropriating our lands and resources. It is out of our desire to preserve our identity that we clamour for federalism. Not to set up a separate Country. If we do not preserve our identity now we could never do so in the future because certain elements among the Sinhalese Community including diehard Buddhist Monks are hell-bent to make the Tamils integrate into the Sinhalese losing their identity.
2. A proper investigation must take place through ICC and allied organizations with regard to war crimes, human rights’ violations and genocide carried out at the concluding stages of the War
Only if anyone indulged in these crimes should he be upset in agreeing to such inquiry? All the principal actors at that time claim they did no wrong. So why are we delaying these inquiries? Some politicians are claiming they are standing by their brave soldiers who brought victory to their Country. They have not said we would stand by them even if they committed any crime however brutal or hideous they may have been. So what prevents them from allowing the International inquiries? The inquiries are only to ascertain whether any War Crimes or Crimes against Humanity have been committed. If not committed well that is the end. Surely these politicians do not claim that they will stand by the Armed Forces even if some of the members of the Military committed hideous crimes? If they say so then they would be on the side of criminals. Do these Politicians want to be identified as Criminals themselves? Some say allowing International organizations to conduct war investigations would be a slur on our sovereignty. We complain that successive Sri Lankan Governments have been acting against the interests of Tamils. So, are they asking those who have been acting against Tamils’ interests should conduct the War Crimes inquiry themselves? That would be a slur on Tamils’ sovereignty! Would it not be? This is like asking the very parents of one of the life partners who have worked for their offspring’s divorce to conduct the Divorce Inquiry!
3. Abolish the Prevention of Terrorism Act
The country has already consented to do so before the World body (U.N.). We are only asking for implementation. There is no dispute that the Act is draconian.
4. Release all Tamil political prisoners
Once the PTA is found to be contrary to all legal norms both local and International, with it being jettisoned, all those who were arrested and punished under the said Act need perforce be freed. I had said in one of my judgments in the Supreme Court that there must be corroboration of the contents of confessions at least, to ensure some sort of decency to the Draconian Law. This had not been followed. So a bad law going must take with it bad arrests, bad convictions and bad punishments. None could complain against the Tamil political Prisoners being freed on this account. In fact, I have written to the present President that he should release the Tamil political prisoners before he closes his innings. There is only one Poya Day before the curtain falls on his period of office. He is the last to enjoy all privileges of an Executive President which prompted JR to say he had all powers except to make a Man a Woman and vice versa!
5. Enforced disappearances – Justice to be found through International mechanism
This is a matter that concerned those in the South as well. I do not have to belabour myself to prove to you that Justice must be found for the families of those who were forcibly made to disappear.
6. Resettlement of our People on Private and State Lands after evicting the Forces
Over 60000 acres of State Land is occupied by the Forces. They are cultivating valuable agricultural lands selling their produce in competition with locals. Or they are sending the vegetables and other produce to their Army Camps. If they did not do so our farmers would have benefited. Their Camps are to be seen as you travel along in the Northern Province everywhere. A Mayor from Canada, Hon’John Tory, was surprised at the number of Army Camps remaining in the Northern Province ten years after the War. It is so in the Eastern Province too. Why should we continue to keep so many Military Camps ten years since the War came to an end? If the Government is doing so on grounds of security consideration of the area, these days with modern technology it could be accomplished from within a limited area with modern gadgets. But the decision to have more than a lakh of soldiers in the Tamil areas savours of other priorities on the part of successive Governments. Still, private lands have not been handed over to their legitimate owners or erstwhile occupiers before the war or at least to the local authorities to be handed over to entitled persons. It is high time the Forces left our areas. We are not here to be treated like a vanquished nation. We need to earnestly start our agricultural activities, fisheries, tourism, continue with our education without fear and intimidation and become a free Nation (a group of people with individual distinctive traits relating to land, culture, language etc. distinguishing them from others) within Sri Lanka.
7. To stop immediately Sinhalisation, Buddhistisation and Sinhala Colonisation in the North and East taking place with State connivance
This is indeed a very urgent request to be attended to. The question is often asked how could you stop Sinhala and Buddhist intrusion in the North and East when Tamil and Hindu plus Christian and Islamic activities are allowed in Colombo and elsewhere? Let me limit my observations to Tamil Hindu activities as opposed to Sinhala Buddhist activities. Up to 1958 Tamil Hindus were allowed to remain in the South. They had farms, Estates, business places and what not in several parts of the deep South. Kathirgamam was a Hindu Shrine when I went in the early forties by bullock cart. There was always the chorus of Arohara then. A friend of my father and his brother owned acres and acres of paddy lands in Tissamaharama. They had tractors in later times. Similarly, all seven Provinces south of the North East had a considerable number of Tamils. I knew the identity of Tamils who owned lots of lands in Anuradhapura (Old Town), Polonnaruwa, Kekirawa and so on. The pogrom of 1958 chased the Tamils away from almost all Southern areas except the Greater Colombo area. Even now lands belonging to Tamils in Matara and other areas are held by Sinhalese who chased off the Tamil owners and held the properties by sheer force. Their title deeds will prove it.
Colombo is a cosmopolitan area. It is not Sinhala nor Buddhist. In fact, the total population of all communities and religious groups other than the Sinhala Buddhists in Colombo exceed in number the Sinhala Buddhists. So allowing Tamils in Colombo has nothing to do with Sinhala Buddhist tolerance. Pogroms after pogroms decimated the Tamil population outside the North and East. 1983 riots sent our best Tamil brains out of the Island. They are doing well abroad due to their sheer hard work, studiousness and the existence of meritocracy in those Countries.
When riots and pogroms happened in the South (seven provinces south of North and East) it is to the North and East the Tamils were sent by the Government by boats and other means proving North and East as the traditional homelands of the Tamil speaking people. Having chased out the Tamils from the South the successive Governments seem to be now interested in chasing out the Tamils from the North and East too. So the argument as to why Sinhalese should not intrude into the North and East is not tenable. The Tamils have been chased out of Sinhala areas and now there is an attempt to colonize the Tamil areas with Sinhalese. If the Tamils had been allowed to continue in Sinhala areas without staging all the brutal pogroms and riots against them earlier, this argument might have held water. Not now. The present intrusion is part of a plan to decimate the Tamils in their own areas with a view to committing genocide.
Buddhist temples are coming up where no Buddhists live. The Buddhist monks are able to indulge in high handed acts of encroachment and forcible intrusions without obtaining the relevant permission from local authorities, by the overt support given by the Armed Forces who are majority Sinhala Buddhists.
The Mahaweli Development Authority having entered the North promising to bring Mahaweli waters to the North is only interested now in setting up Sinhala colonization in the North and East. Not a drop of water from Mahaweli has come our way. Our Engineers tell us the Mahaweli water would never come to the North as envisaged now.
Departments such as Archaeology, Forest, Wild Life etc are expropriating our People’s lands. Similarly large scale expropriation of our resources are taking place. The Government in the Centre is only interested in fattening itself at the expense of the periphery. Hence our request to stop immediately Sinhalisation, Buddhistisation and Sinhala Colonisation in the North and East taking place now with State connivance.
8. Jurisdiction of Mahaweli Authority and the application of the provisions of Mahaweli Development Scheme in the North and East must be terminated forthwith
The reasons are already clear as to why the jurisdiction of Mahaweli Authority which is only interested in Sinhala Colonisation in traditional Tamil areas, should be terminated.
9. Moragaskande Irrigation Scheme and its recent programme of Sinhala Colonisation of the Vanni must be stopped
Under the pretext of helping us these Schemes are only helping the majority community to displace the indigenous people from their traditional homelands.
10. Expropriation of People’s lands and illegal construction of areas of worship
As earlier said Departments such as Archaeology, Forest, Wild Life etc are expropriating our People’s lands. Further large scale expropriation of our resources is taking place. The Government in the Centre is only interested in fattening itself at the expense of the periphery. Illegal construction of Buddhist places of worship is taking place with the help of the Forces without obtaining local Authorities’ permission. The mode of involvement in these matters is one of threat and violence. This should stop. Lands already expropriated by Departments must be freed from the effects of the Gazette Notifications that allowed these Departments to so expropriate.
11. Legal obstacles placed on our youth and others receiving help from the Diaspora and elsewhere must be removed
Lots of obstacles remain in our people obtaining help for youth education and family livelihood projects. All such legal obstacles must be removed.
12. Priority to locals in obtaining jobs
Now lots of people from outside the two Provinces are given employment within the two Provinces overlooking the needs and wants of the locals. This practice must be done away with. The idea among the Governmental authorities seem to be to mix the People as much as possible so that the Tamils will not ask for any exclusive rights. They do not seem to realize that such mixing enures to the benefit of the majority community and to the detriment of the minority groups. They forget that such planned intake of outsiders at the expense of jobs for locals amount to a form of genocide.
13. To proclaim North and East as war affected areas and set up an Independent development mechanism under the supervision of Elected Representatives of the People
Ministers from the Centre trying to develop the North and East without proper planning and proper understanding of the local culture, climate, terrain and conditions must be done away with. Our People should be allowed to fend for themselves giving them adequate powers and authority to do so.
I have given you the thirteen requests and the reasons that prompt us to make those requests. We are the majority in the North and East and we continue to be so for centuries. We have not asked for a division of the Country. The reason you feel it is presumptious on our part is because you have been conditioned to believe this Country is Sinhala Buddhist and the Sri Lankan Tamils are a minority group which entered this Country only a thousand years ago during Chola Conquest. Truth is otherwise. We Hindu (Saivite) Tamils are the original inhabitants of this country and we have lived in determinable distinctive areas of this Country from pre-Buddhistic times. There was a time when many Hindu Tamils converted to Buddhism but after some time Buddhism got integrated with Hinduism. Even now many Buddhists go to Hindu Temples and worship Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Our wanting to look after our affairs without outside intrusions and interference is a very reasonable request if only the Sinhala Buddhists come out of their questionable Mahawansa mentality.
The war had severely damaged the economy and infrastructure of the North and East. Also, the war had a devastating impact on the Tamil people. Post-war governments have failed in their responsibility to rebuild the war-ravaged North and East. The post-war development activities did not carry any hope or potential of creating a congenial situation to achieve sustainable peace and create a better and more stable future for the Tamil people in the North-East. The activities and the economic programmes that have taken place in the North East have completely failed to meet the needs of our war-affected people. Abject poverty and misery are still dominant in many parts of the North and East. There should have been an interim special economic mechanism to rebuild the North and East soon after the war. But that did not come to be. On the contrary the successive governments did not even allow the Northern Provincial Council to set up a Chief Minister’s Fund to get assistance from Tamil diaspora to help our war-affected people. Private investments from abroad continue to be thwarted. For example a Middle East project in the Vanni to cultivate vegetables and fruits for export has been cruelly prevented from materializing. Relief and assistance to our war-affected people cannot be delayed anymore. There is a pressing need to take immediate steps to embark on a comprehensive programme of development in the North and East. This can only be done by establishing an Independent Economic development mechanism through which Tamil Diaspora organisations and International Development Organisations would directly be able to engage in aiding the resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction process.
Out of the above requests those that should be immediately solved must be found solutions within three months of the New President taking office.
*Justice C.V. Wigneswaran -Former Chief Minister, Northern Province and Secretary-General Thamizh Makkal Kootanii