Establishment Of A Presidential Task Force For Archeological Heritage Management
By R. Sampanthan –
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa,
President Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka,
Establishment of a Presidential Task Force for Archeological Heritage Management in the EASTERN PROVINCE, as per proclamation published in Gazette Extraordinary Number 2178/17 of June 02 2020
I write with reference to the above matter.
Initially I wish to make the following observations.
1. Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-cultural pluralistic society.
2. Sri Lanka comprises of Nine (9) province of which the Eastern Province is one.
3. The Eastern Province has been a multi-ethnic province though the majority has always been predominantly Tamil speaking.
4. In its composition the Task Force is Pan Sinhala. The manner of its composition clearly indicates that it is meant to serve the interests of one community – the Sinhalese and one religion – Buddhism who it must be admitted are the majority in the country.
5. It would be pertinent to raise the question, why other provinces have been left out, why other communities and other religions have been left out.
As a Sri Lankan Tamil and as a devout Hindu, my concerns are aroused, because of the deep roots the Tamil Hindu people have not merely in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, but also in the whole country.
The eminent Sri Lankan Historian P E Pieris has in his historical works stated that “Long before the arrival of Vijaya there were in Lanka five recognized Isvarams of Lord Siva which claimed and received the adoration of all India. These were Tirukketiswaram near Mahatittha, Munnisswaram dominating Salawatta and the Pearl Fishery, Tondeswaram near Mantota, Tirukkoneswaram opposite the great Bay of Koddiyar and Nakuleswaram near Kankesanturai”. Two of these Ishvarams were in the Northern Province one in the Eastern Province one in the Western Province and yet another one in the Southern Province. It is significant that according to P E Pieris this renowned historian these recognized Ishvarams of Lord Siva which received the adoration of all India existed in different parts of Sri Lanka long before the arrival of Vijaya. Vijaya is believed to be the precursor of the Sinhala race.
Since the proclamation pertains to the Eastern Province I will now refer to Thirukoneshwaram the Ishvaram of Lord Siva referred to above which is situated at Trincomalee in the Eastern Province. Thirukoneshwaram is referred to as Dakshana Kailas in the Puranas. This renowned Temple of Lord Siva had three Gopurams. One on either side abutting the sea and one in the Centre, on the site presently comprising the Fort Frederic. The main Mandapam is believed to have comprised of one thousand (1000) pillars. Father Queyroz Priest and Historian of the Portuguese period has said in his writings – “The Pagoda of Triquilimale was at this time the Rome of the Gentiles of the Orient, and more frequented by pilgrims than that of Ramanacoir near the shoals of Chilao, and that of Xilavarao, eight leagues from Nagapatao, and that of Canjavarao, two days journey from S. Thome and Tripiti and Tremel in Bisnaga and Jagarpati in Orixa, and Vixante in Bengal, which are the most frequented in these days by the Gentiles” – This statement by a catholic priest / historian of the Portuguese period that Thirukoneswaram situated at Trincomalee in the Eastern Province was venerated more and frequented more than the prominent temples in South India, establishes how renowned the Temple was – The Thirukoneswaram temple was ruthlessly destroyed by Portuguese Viceroy Constantine De Saa when he took possession of the port of Trincomalee in 1622 A D. The material of the Temple was used to construct Fort Fredric, at the same site, and stone slabs of the temple are yet in the vicinity and embedded in the adjoining sea.
The then Prime Minister of India Shri Charan Singh visited Thirukoneswaram during the Presidency of His Excellency JR Jeyewardne. I was amongst those who received him at the Thirukoneswaram Temple on arrival as Member of Parliament for the area. The words uttered by him when he alighted from the vehicle on arrival were “I have come to Dakshana Killas” – meaning I have come to the Southern abode of the Lord Siva. The Northern abode of the Lord Siva Uthara Kailas is believed to be in the Himalayas North of India.
It is also necessary to state certain facts pertaining to Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Amparai and the Eastern Province. It is well known that since Independence in 1947 there had been strenuous efforts to convert Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Amparai and the Eastern Province into majority Sinhala speaking areas. Several Land Settlement schemes – Colonization – settling of the majority community in large numbers on newly irrigated Land in the Eastern Province, particularly in the Amparai and Trincomalee Districts in violation of the Laws of the Land and the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam Pact and the Dadley Senanayake – Chelvanayakam Pact were intensively carried out. In areas of such Sinhala settlement, new electoral and administrative divisions were demarcated so as to strengthen the Sinhala speaking people and to weaken the Tamil speaking people.
I attach herewith a statement setting out the figures of population in the Eastern Province and in the three Districts in the Eastern Province – Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Amparai between 1827 and 1981. I am not giving any figures after 1981, as since the commencement of violence in 1983 which continued for several decades, people have been substantially displaced, and no statistics can be relied upon as being genuine or accurate.
From the attached statement it is clear that between 1947 (independence) and 1981, last census, while the national increase in the Sinhala population was 238%, the Sinhala population in the Eastern Province, increased by 883%. In the same period, the Sinhala population in the Trincomalee District increased by 549.73% and in the Amparai District by over 1250%. This was entirely caused by colonization – settling of Sinhalese from outside the North East on Land in the Eastern province.
The Northern and Eastern Provinces adjoining each other are majority Tamil speaking and have a Tamil Linguistic contiguity. Under the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement of 29th July 1987, on the basis that they were areas of historical habitation of the Tamil speaking people these areas were merged together to form one unit of devolution. There had been strong efforts to disrupt the reality that the two provinces are linguistically contiguous and have a Tamil speaking majority in every one of the districts in the Northern and Eastern provinces and in the entirety of the Northern and Eastern provinces.
The breaking up of the Tamil linguistic continuity between the Eastern and Northern provinces has been an objective of majoritarian political leadership for a long time. A new system was created under the Mahavelli Development Program designated system “L” under which system though no water had been diverted under Mahavelli to the North as yet, Land was alienated to persons from the majority community from outside the North East on the boundary of the North East in an area called “Manal Aru” or “Welioya” and institutional arrangements set up to facilitate this program. These efforts are a continuing process. The bifurcation of Tamil Linguistic contiguity in the North – East could not, however, succeed due to the existence of traditional Tamil villages which had been historically inhabited by Tamil people.
Violence was practised against such Tamil people – Tamil people living in a village called Thennamaravaddy on the Northernmost border of Trincomalee District were attacked. Some were killed their homes burnt and destroyed and they were driven out in December 1984. They took up residence in the adjoining Mullaitivu District and only some of them have returned to their own village Thennamarvaddy.
These facts demonstrate the extent to which action was taken to terminate the linguistic contiguity between the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Strong resistance on behalf of the Tamil speaking people and ground realities have prevented this happening thus far.
There are places of much veneration to Hindus situated outside the North East. “Kathirgamam” the most venerated shrine of Lord Muruga deep in the south. “Muneeswaram” one of the ancient Temples of Lord Siva referred to above situated in the West. “Thondeswaram” an ancient Temple of Lord Siva, said to have been in existence in south Sri Lanka prior to the advent of Vijaya the precursor of the Sinhala race. This ancient temple is now said to be in ruins. Why has the Archeological Department not taken any steps to protect and preserve the ruins of this ancient Hindu temple. There are also several other Hindu Temples all over the country which Tamil Hindus venerate.
The Archeological Department has unfortunately earned for itself the reputation of promoting only one religion and being harmful to the legitimate interests of the other religions.
There are functioning Buddhist Temples in the Eastern Province with inscriptions in Tamil. There are ruins of Buddhist temples with inscriptions in Tamil. These are all ancient inscriptions suggesting that at some period of time in the past Tamil Hindus followed the teachings of Lord Buddha. Lord Buddha was never against Hinduism. He is believed to have endeavoured to purify Hinduism.
Why has the Archeological Department failed to make these matters public and educate all the people in regard to these facts? Would it not help to promote goodwill trust and harmony between the Buddhist and Hindu people. It is such failures on the part of the Archeological Department that raise legitimate scepticism about the manner of their functioning and create the impression of there being sectarian.
It must be remembered by all concerned that Lord Buddha did not preach or practice the aggressive policies sought to be pursued by some now in his name. If His teachings were followed by those who claim to follow him, Sri Lanka would be a paradise of peace and tranquillity.
Amongst the tasks entrusted to the Task Force is “To Identify the extent of Land that should be allocated for such archaeological sites and take necessary measures to allocate them properly and legally”.
This Task raises several issues. Laws prevail in the country pertaining to the allocation of State Land. State Land and its allocation have been the most contentious issue in the country, since the achievement of Independence.
Several facts stated earlier in this letter clearly indicate the injustice that has been perpetrated on the Tamil speaking people in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
What is sought to be achieved by the above task being entrusted to the Task Force is to consolidate all that has happened thus far, and take further action to settle more Sinhalese at such sites in such identified extents of Land in the guise of protecting, preserving and promoting Buddhism, and thereby convert the Eastern Province and as much as possible of the Northern Province into majority Sinhalese Areas also severing the linguistic contiguity between the Northern and Eastern Provinces. This would be a travesty of justice with dangerous and harmful consequences and should be avoided.
No one objects to the protection, preservation and promotion of Buddhism. If anyone is acting in violation of the Law, relating to any Buddhist site the severest action should be taken, in regard to such conduct. Existing Law enforcement institutions should perform this task. Buddhist Temples and Monuments exist on Lands adequate for that purpose. They have so existed for centuries, for very long. No additional Land is required to fulfil that purpose. Additional Land is required by individuals who want to convert these areas into Sinhala Buddhist areas, populated by Sinhala Buddhist Citizens, violating the occupational and residential current and future needs of Tamil and Tamil speaking people who have lived on these areas from time immemorial, the Tamil Hindu people from long before the advent of Vijaya the precursor of the Sinhala race.
We wish to clearly state that without any new Land being taken over whatever needs to be done to protect, preserve and foster Buddhism can be done. That would ensure the maintenance of goodwill and harmony amongst all people.
We would request that the matters referred to in this letter be given your earnest consideration and appropriate action taken accordingly.
With my regards
Leader Tamil National Alliance
Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa
The task force for archaeological management is headed by the notorious war criminal and current Defence secretary Kamal Gunaratne.
Commenting on the archaeological task force, Guruparan maintains that the purpose behind the task force is to bolster an image of a unified Sinhala Buddhist Sri Lanka.
“This is something they’ve been doing right throughout, no governments are really an exception in that they want to present the NE as a uni-national space, a uni-national Sinhala Buddhist nationalist space […] So that it goes hand in hand with the identification of Sri Lanka as a unitary state and negates the claim of the north and east as the homeland of the Tamil people”.
Whilst he maintains that such a project is not a surprise for Tamil and Muslim communities in the North and East, he notes that the all Sinhala composition of the task force is a surprise.
“Usually with efforts like this there is a nominal Tamil or Muslim appointee to give the impression that it is an inclusive and accommodating taskforce”, Guruparan notes.
He states that it is an indication of Rajapaksa’s brazen Sinhala Buddhist nationalism.
“It shows how confident he is in his nationalism, in his politics but it also shows how Sinhala Buddhist nationalism in the post-war context has solidified […] The November election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa signifies a further consolidation of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism to an extent that we have never seen before”.
Guruparan maintains that this consolidation of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism is stronger than in the immediate aftermath of the war.
Legalising land grabs
Commenting on the language of the Gazette notification and the appointment of a survey general and land commissioner, Guruparan maintains that the broad mandate of the task force effectively provides the legal force to dubious claims to land.
The Gazette notification specifies that the task force may do “whatever is necessary for the preservation of archaeological sites”. This broad and vague mandate aims to legitimise the dubious claims made by Sinhala Buddhist monks such as Thilakawanse Nayaka who have pushed for aggressive expansionist policies in the East.
In 2018, he complained of local people encroaching on temple land and demanded more protection which enabled a greater military presence. Around the same period, the Archaeological Department responsible for the Pulmoaddai region complained of Hindu temples being built and visited by locals. In response, the government granted only 25 of the 500 acres requested for building said temples whilst instead granting a full 500 acres to the Archaeological Forest Reserve.
Read more from PEARL here: Sinhalization of pulmoaddai
“This is really bringing in the officials into one task force”, Guruparan said.
Also appointed to the task force is a senior forensic archaeologist from the University of Kelaniya, Professor Raj Somadeva. Somadeva is responsible for uncovering the remains of over 300 people in a mass grave in Mannar, including the remains of at least 23 children.
Somadeva claims that these remains predate the war and date back to the time of Portuguese rule. Guruparan notes that due to his ideological underpinnings, “huge questions of credibility” over his involvement in such a project have been raised.
In 2018, Tamil families of the disappeared held a demonstration in Mannar demanding action to identify the victims found in the Mannar mass grave, fearing the fate of their forcibly loved ones.
Read more here: 300 bodies and counting in Mannar mass grave
23 May 2020
Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, met with the Buddhist Maha Sanga to discuss his task force, which is led by Defence Secretary, Kamal Gunaratne, and aims to protect archaeological sites in the East.
The establishment of a military task force to protected cultural sites has raised concerns over Sinhalisation as Buddhist viharas are being built upon the traditional Tamil homeland of the North and East without the consent of residents. There are also specific concerns over the exploitation of archaeology as a justification to expropriate Tamil owned land.
PEARL (People for Equality and Relief in Sri Lanka) have documented concerns over Sinhalaisation in the North and East. Pulmoaddai is one of several locations in the North and East which has witnessed dramatic demographic shifts as the military set up four navy camps, two army camps and a Special Task Force in Pulmoaddai, including on privately owned land.
Despite persist protests from local communities, the military has been effective in seizing the land in part through the aid of Buddhist monks such as Thilakawanse Nayaka whose expansionist policies extend beyond Pulmoaddai.
In 2018, the monk complained of local people encroaching on temple land and demanded more protection which enabled a greater military presence. Similarly, the Archaeological Department responsible for the region complained of Hindu temples being built and visited by locals. In response, the government granted only 25 of the 500 acres requested for building said temples whilst instead granting a full 500 acres to the Archaeological Forest Reserve.
Read more from PEARL here: Sinhalization of pulmoaddai
Similar complaints of “encroachment” on land for Buddhist shrines are being made by monks in Ampara where this new task force will monitor local activities.
The Buddhist clergy has commended the measures adopted by the President and insist upon the need for religious discourse due to the misconduct of certain monks. The President’s Media Division reports that the Sangha stressed a need to “rebuild the society which has gone chaotic”. They draw particular attention to the country’s issues of national security, the coronavirus response, and national education.
During this meeting, Rajapaksa stated that he would grant the vest the intelligence service and security forces full powers to deal with extremist threats to national security.
The Sangha welcomed this news and urged the President to implement a comprehensive policy to crack down on drug trafficking in Sri Lanka.
Human rights activists and civil society activists are deeply concerned over the increased military presence, especially within the North and East were security forces have been identified as having harassed and intimidated Tamil civilians and activists.
The TNPF have reported that they have been the victims of unwarranted surveillance and intimidation from the security forces. Members have also reported death threats issued by the military including one member who was warned that if she lit a lamp in remember of the Mullivaikkal massacre, that she would be shot.
Sri Lanka’s response to COVID-19
The Buddhist Sangha also applauded the state’s heavily militarized response to the current coronavirus pandemic whilst also condemning the opposition as “disgusting”. Specific media outlets were criticised for their coverage as they allege that they forced a rift between the Sangha and politicians.
Human rights activists have condemned the government’s heavy-handed response which has led to the arrest of over 60,000 people in Sri Lanka. Freedom of speech has also become a concern as the majority of people arrested will face a charge and those found to have spread false information on the virus may be imprisoned for two years.
The international community has raised concerns over the treatment of government critics and civil society actors which have faced intimidation and unwarranted arrests.
With respects to the national education policy, the Sanga alleged that those attempts have been made to remove literature and history from the school curricula in the past and that education must be made a foremost priority.
Sri Lanka’s education system has increasingly come under scrutiny for a racial bias which teaches historical inaccuracies and promotes a Sinhala Buddhist narrative. In July 2019, Hill Country Development Minister Lakshman Kiriella, admitted to this educational bias as he alleged that Tamils and Muslims were portrayed as “foreign invaders” to the island.
Sri Lanka’s education policy has come under particular focus in the post-war years as scholars such as Professor Rachel Seoighe and Professor Kate Cronin Furman argue that the state has played an active role in crafting a hostile narrative the celebrates the defeat of terrorism whilst also silencing and “denying the suffering inflicted by the victors’ and ‘policing the memory of their victims”.
Read more here: Minister admits Sri Lanka history education racist
Read more from the President’s Media Division.
Related Articles: 26 April 2020 : Sinhala Buddhists monks approve
19 March 2020 : Buddhist extremist monks form coalition for Sri Lanka’s election
08 March 2020 : Buddhist vihara opened at Jaffna University’s Kilinochchi campus
18 February 2020 : Sinhala Buddhist monks join Sri Lankan outrage at travel ban on army chief
25 January 2020 : Buddhist monk urges escalation against ‘malevolent’ Tamil diaspora
18 January 2020 : Buddhist flag hoisted in Jaffna central bus station after being removed
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed four more monks to the all-Sinhala Task Force on Archaeological Management in the East, as concerns continue over the
He stated that the guidance of the monks would be needed due to the significance of the sites in Sinhala Buddhism.
An official gazette from Rajapaksa claimed that “since many of the Archeological Heritages in the Eastern Province are based on the Buddhist religious background and associated with those places of worship, it has been recognized that the guidance and patronage of the Venerable Maha Sangha is still needed in the identification and management of those heritages”.
The Task Force was put together in June to “preserve the historical heritage of Sri Lanka” in the East.
The Eastern province, however, is largely Tamil-speaking and has been claimed as part of the Tamil homeland. It has been a central area of increasing Sinhalisation and state-sponsored colonisation. This Task Force on Archaeological Management, and the Sinhala Buddhist nature of its members, marks another attempt by the Colombo to mark parts of the North-East as Sinhala Buddhist.
See the full text of the gazette here.
THE DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF SRI LANKA – 24.08.2020
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No. 2190/17 – MONDAY, AUGUST 24, 2020
The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
(Published by Authority)
PART I : SECTION (I) — GENERAL
Proclamations & C., by the President
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This Gazette Extraordinary can be downloaded from www.documents.gov.lk
1A- G 32746 — 386 (08/2020)
Seal GOTABAYA RAJAPAKSA
PROCLAMATION MADE BY HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF THE
DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF SRI LANKA
- Archaeological Chakravarthi Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thero
- The Chief Prelate for the Northern and Eastern two Provinces,
Chief Sanganayake of Thamankaduwa Direction, and Chief Incumbent of
Arisimalai Aranya, Ven. Panamure Thilakawansha Thero
- Major General (Retired) Kamal Gunaratne Esquire
Secretary to the Ministry of Defence
- Dr. Senarath Bandara Dissanayake Esquire
Director-General of Archeology
- Ms. Chandra Herath
Land Commissioner General
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PART I : SEC. (I) – GAZETTE EXTRAORDINARY OF THE DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF SRI LANKA – 24.08.2020
- Ms. A.L.S.C. Perera
- Prof. Raj Kumar Somadeva Esquire
Senior Lecturer, University of Kelaniya
- Prof. Kapila Gunawardena Esquire
Medical Faculty, University of Peradeniya
- Deshabandu Thennakoon Esquire
Senior DIG, Western Province
- H.E.M.W.G. Dissanayake Esquire
Provincial Land Commissioner, Eastern Province
- Dilith Jayaweera Esquire
Chairman of Derana Media Network
- Rear Admiral Ananda Peiris Esquire
Director General of Civil Security Department
As you have been appointed as members of the Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management
in the Eastern Province established by the Presidential Directive dated 01.06.2020 by exercising the powers vested in me by
Article 33 of the Constitution of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka,
And, since many of the Archeological Heritages in the Eastern Province are based on the Buddhist religious
background and associated with those places of worship, it has been recognized that the guidance and patronage of the
Venerable Maha Sangha is still needed in the identification and management of those heritages,
Further, I, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, in accordance with the
powers vested in me by Article 33 of the Constitution of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, appoint the following
Bhikkus as the members of the Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province,
established in terms of the aforesaid Presidential Directive, reposing great trust and confidence in their prudence, ability and
- Abhidhana Anunayaka of the Asgiriya Chapter Most Venerable Vendaruwe Dharmakeerthi Sri Rathanapala Upali
- General Secretary of the Malwathu Chapter Ven. Dr Pahamune Sumangala Nayaka Thero
- General Secretary of the Asgiri Chapter Dr Ven. Medagama Dhammananda Nayaka Thero
- Member of the Karaka Sangha Sabha of the Malwathu Chapter Shasthravedi Ven. Ambanwalle Sri Sumangala Thero.
Given at Colombo under the Seal of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka on the 19th day of August, Two
Thousand and Twenty.
By His Excellency’s Command,
P. B. JAYASUNDERA,
Secretary to the President.
09 – 190
PRINTED AT THE DEPARTMENT OF GOVERNMENT PRINTING, SRI LANKA—————————————————————————
Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province