Elaam: Everything, a little now, more later
Prof S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
As an undergraduate in the early 1970s, the call for Elam grew from the student movement against standardization. At the time an engineering professor caricatured this cry for securing all our lost rights as our asking for Elaam – meaning everything; a little now, more later.
Elaam is Projection of the Sinhalese State’s own Plans
Over the next 50 years now after the Eelam struggle of the students began, it should be apparent to all except the truly dense-minded, that this Elaam caricature is what psychologists call projection – projection on to others exactly what they intend and do.
The Sinhalese state is on the threshold of achieving Elaam. The Sinhalese language and Buddhism are down our throats. South Batticaloa, now called Amparai, is gone, dispossessed of Tamils. It occupies 4500 acres while the remainder of Batticaloa has only 2500 acres, according to Shanakiyan Rasmanickam, MP. Negombo to Puttalam is gone. Trinco is almost gone. Between 1827 and 1921 the Sinhalese made up less that 5% of the population. But now, Sinhalese have gone up in the period 1921 to 2012 from 10% to almost 30%, while Tamils have come down from 70% to just under 50%. Although the constitution declares that Tamil is the court language in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, a senior lawyer practising in Trinco says a Tamil judge currying favours from the communalist state, now entertains Petitions in Sinhalese and serves interim orders to Tamils in Sinhalese for not obeying which he would presumably dock them for contempt. The Trinco culture is now increasingly majoritarian Sinhalese. Tamil officials speak in Sinhalese to Tamil employees. Even at petrol sheds and Food City out of caution Tamils address us first in Sinhalese.
A good part of Vavuniya is gone. The Vavuniya Security Forces Commander got the Election Commission to transfer Tamil officers so that the elections could be rigged. Early this morning after church in Jaffna I saw a large tourist bus with Sinhalese parked where it is not allowed with loud and rude Sinhalese flaunting their money. Jaffna also will soon be part of Elaam.
The Police Assaulting those demonstrating for their confiscated lands
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The most egregious flaunting of state power is through the Mahaweli scheme. In the 1980s, the army lined up Tamil villages in and around Mullaitivu, and shot many while the remaining ran away. Their lands have been fed Mahaveli waters and given to the dregs of Sinhalese society. In all of the Northern province, 34,200 acres have been taken over. Mullaitivu District, says former Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, has a soldier for every 2 civilians. Of the Sri Lankan Army’s 7 regional headquarters, 5 are in the Northern Province, says Anuraddha Mittal, Executive Director of Oakland Institute, California. Twenty-three thousand Tamils from Jaffna alone still await resettlement, almost 14 years after the war.
Fourteen-thousand families were evicted by the army from Manal Aaru. Twenty-five-thousand acres were expropriated to settle Sinhalese to create the Sinhalese divisional Secretariat now called Weli Oya. It was the strategic link connecting the Tamils of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. That link is now broken.
K.S. Ratnavel, a Senior Attorney and Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Development says laws have been misapplied to pounce on Tamil villagers cultivating their lands for generations to grab their lands in the name of the Wildlife and Forest Departments claiming them to be reservations. State officials evict them and the poor villagers simply comply because resisting would lead to incarceration without bail! The villagers are terrorized. In Mullaitivu District alone, the Forest Department has expropriated 32,110 acres. The Wildlife Department expropriated 23,515 acres.
The Archaeological Department took over 202 acres. The government departments and army together have grabbed 100,000 acres in Mullaitivu whose total land amounts to 621,917 acres.
Justice Navaneethem Pillai, the former head of UNHCR, confirms that state and private lands have been expropriated. She expresses great concern over the Presidential Taskforce for Archaeological Heritage, its unapologetic Sinhalese Buddhist leanings and militarized tone, and its being chaired by the defence secretary. She calls the Taskforce a new manifestation of a pre-existing strategy, that of using archaeology and historic preservation as guises for political agendas. The Department of Archaeology has recently intensified the process of expropriating land and intensified efforts to set up Buddhist temples in the North and East under the guise of research and the preservation of ancient places. These are often close to or even next to Saivite temples says Anuraddha Mittal who gives the example of Kurunthoor Temple where with great fanfare, politicians and the army, constructed a Buddhist temple.
The participants were in masks, perhaps fearing that newly proposed hate-speech laws and the denigration of Buddhism through their acts might get them into trouble. Attorney Ratnavale is explicit that the Buddhist monks who took over thousands of acres of land containing Hindu places of worship like Kanniya are acting unabashedly and against the law, violating all norms of culture and tradition. When I visited the place near Trinco, I was aghast to see a young Sinhalese woman in white petticoat and blouse, washing herself in public at the hot water springs with her breasts spilling out of her blouse. I wanted to see if any of the worshippers would be attracted but my wife grabbed my arm and took me away. These people are a disgrace to Buddhism!
Army Competing with Impoverished Tamils
The army has more lands under its control than does the entire public in Mullaitivu, the most militarized district in Sri lanka. The army has 33 camps in areas around Mullaitivu.
According to Mr. Thurairajah Raviharan, a former member of the Northern Provincial Council, the army is into all kinds of business from running holiday resorts and restaurants to gardening on private lands to selling building stones, to running shopping complexes, to offering haircuts in barber saloons to making and selling curds and yoghurt.
Impoverished civilians cannot compete when the soldiers’ salaries come from the public purse and the lands used by the army are grabbed land. The Tamil people have no means of expanding their livelihoods in this unfair-competition environment where they need to buy land and hire labour. They have no free labour. They cannot take other people’s land. The Tamil people are locked into poverty.
Raviharan adds that the many Tamil heritage sites like Hindu temples are taken over and Buddhist Temples built under the protection of the Army. He mentions Gnanasara Thero in particular for violating even court orders in doing do. Attorney Ratnavel, and Kandeepan Thangarajah, another Attorney, affirm this.
Mr. Sampanthan has testified as to how the police assist the rogues in saffron in defying the court order. I too have reported a Magistrate’s orders being trampled on and defied in the matter of the temple at Chemmalai where a Hindu temple was taken over by Gannasara Thero and friends to build a Buddhist Temple. The police did not serve the magisterial order even after I informed the IGP through the Election Commission on the eve of elections that trouble was bruing and likely to disrupt the elections. The IGP, promised to intervene, did nothing and is still the IGP, unlawfully punishing SSP Shani Abeysekere and Director Preventive Customs Ranjan Kanagasabai.
The Mahaweli Scheme is a big culprit in taking Tamil lands for the use of Sinhalese, says Mr. Sampanthan who acknowledgedly is the leader of the Ceylon Tamils. Statistics from Rasamanickam, who is mentioned often as a suitable future leader of the TNA, says of those settled under Mahaweli, that 103,630 (96.2%) are Sinhalese while in contrast, 1,825 families (1.4%) are Tamils and 3,068 families (2.4%) are Muslims.
The southern press has a lot of the blame to take. For example, consider the massive protest march against the Mahaweli Scheme in Aug. 2018. Although a regular reader of reputable newspapers, I do not recall any report on the march except in Colombo Telegraph. The press, it seems, is in league with Sinhalese racism, and will not expose any of this. It is my experience that when I write on excesses of the state like corruption, some newspapers are eager to publish. However, when I write on Sinhalese excesses against Tamils, the editors plead lack of space.
The Army: The Biggest Enemy
It should be obvious to many that the Army is the biggest enemy of the people of Sri Lanka, and is responsible for many massacres in our midst, whether of Sinhalese youth or Tamil youth. Those in power are reluctant to bring the army down a peg or two as they deserve. This undermines democracy when the government acts in fear of the armed forces. Yet, the armed forces received the biggest chunk of the 2023 budget. The TNA did not vote against the budget giving so much to the true enemy of the Tamil people and indeed of all Sri Lankans.
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M. A. Sumanthiran explained that though his party was critical of the budget, it chose not to vote against it since President Ranil Wickremesinghe expressed willingness to resolve the political question of Tamils (Daily Mirror, 23.11.2022).
Then Ranil Wickremesinghe did his about turn putting a knife in the Tamil belly. As the Daily Mirror reported (30.11.2022) “he is ready to reintroduce District Development Councils in place of Provincial Councils.” As always, we were cheated. The District Councils are something that JR and his UNP Goons gave us in 1981 and then their gory thug-MPs came to Jaffna and tried to rig the election, unleashing much violence.
As the Sinhalese State pursues Elaam, a little today and a little tomorrow, every delay means reduced options for the Tamils. JR once was ready to give us the Jaffna Peninsula. Since then we have lost Article 29 of the Donoughmore Constitution. We also seem to have effectively lost the 13th Amendment. Today it is attractive compared to the trash we have in the present constitution. Chandrika’s 2000 Constitution which many of us were against, now seems a dream-come-true if we got it. Now the TNA has again been fooled. No Tamil except for the stooges who are already with the government would accept District Councils. But time is against us.
No Rule of Law
With no rule of law in Sri Lanka, Tamils will get nothing. So what Nagananda Kodutuwakku says of the state of the law in his mail to me is true: “When the Rule of law fails, everything else is bound to fail.”
He says, “In any democracy the supreme authority is the people who enjoy sovereignty over all organs of the government. And there is a bounden duty cast on the judiciary that exercises the people’s judicial power purely on trust strictly according to law, being a faithful and fearless watchdog of the people.” This however cannot be realised if the judges are dishonest and deliberately do not record all court proceedings.” But court records are incomplete and even locked up in chambers he says.
Promoting Nonviolent Chaos
In these circumstances, Tamils will get nothing. The Sinhalese state wants Elaam.
Days after the Ranil’s bomb under the TNA chair, Mr. Sampanthan in an interview with Frontline’s R.K. Radhakrishnan, says “We cannot go on like this.” He adds that “as far as Sinhala politicians are concerned, whichever political party they belong to, they are primarily concerned about gaining the support of the Sinhala people on the basis of an anti-Tamil stand. (Reproduced in The Island, 03.12.2022).
If we cannot go on like this, and I agree, why go on like this? Why go to Parliament? We do enjoy the braver members of ours making exposes in parliament. We cheer and say great job. In glee we pass around their speeches. But these speeches take us nowhere.
This is a time when the state is in penury. Whether they get the IMF loan and renewed GSP-Plus will depend a lot on how the government addresses the human rights issues. The best time the Tamils’ voice was heard was the time of the Satyagraha. This is again the time for noncooperation.
Our MPs must give up their seats. No more MPs. A few quislings will contest and get into parliament with 10 votes (or more without the LTTE) like they did before. But they will not be our true representatives. The MPs can make a token presence but not participate in government. Let public servants go to work and draw their salaries. But the public can keep away from government offices.
Let there be nonviolent chaos. It will force the government and the lenders to resolve the issues. Talking to the government only helps the government say untruthfully that they are trying to solve the issue with no intention of giving up on “Elaam a little by little.”
Acknowledgement: I have used material from the documentary Thaainilam: Land Grabbing – the Real Pandemic for the Tamils in Sri Lanka by Someetharan, after verifying the data there from my own documents and sources that work closely with me. I recommend the almost hour-long movie as a must watch, especially for good-hearted Sinhalese.