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On February 4th, 1948, the 2.5 million Thamils of Ceylon exchanged their white masters (British) for the brown sahibs – the Sinhalese. Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, would not have gained independence from Britain without the support and consent of the Thamil people. In fact it was the Thamil leaders like Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan (1851-1930) and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam (1853-1924) who fearlessly spearheaded the struggle for constitutional reforms that led to independence from colonial yoke.
However, the Ponnambalam brothers in their evening of life realised that the Sinhalese politicians have taken them for a ride to advance the interests of the majority community at the expense of the Thamil people. Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan foresaw that the democratic principle of one-person one vote in a heterogeneous society would ultimately lead to tyranny of the majority.
In a speech to the Legislative Council during the debate on the Donoughmore Reforms, Mr. Ramanathan appears the precursor of the Thamils demand for a sovereign state of Thamil Eelam.
“Why did the (Donoughmore) Commissioners not study Ireland, which is next door to them? They (Irish) said that we are one lot and you are another. We cannot work together. We must have separate governments. Then I ask what happened in the Dominion of Canada? The officials concerned said, it is an impossible situation…. Let us give these French descendants one form of government and let us give the other people another form of government – forms of government suitable to the interests of each of these great big communities. Why did the Commissioners think of that?”
It was Sir Arunachalam Ponnambalam who first (1923) exhorted the Thamils that –
“They should work towards promoting the union and solidarity of what we have been proud to call THAMIL EELAM. We desire to preserve our individuality as a people, to make ourselves worthy of inheritance. We are not enamoured about the cosmopolitanism which would make us neither fish, fowl nor red-herring.”
D.S.Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon, gave the following solemn promise to the Thamil and other minority communities “no harm need you (non-Sinhalese) fear at our hands (Sinhalese) in a free Lanka.” He was speaking in the State Council in October 1945 when all the Thamil members had unanimously voted for the acceptance of the Soulbury constitution in a White Paper.
“Do you want to be governed from London or do you want, as Ceylon, to help govern Ceylon? On behalf of the (Ceylon National) Congress (founded by Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam in 1919) and on my behalf, I give the minority communities the sincere assurance that no harm need you fear at our hands in a free Lanka.”
But in 1948, the very year of Independence, D.S.Senanayake blatantly went back on the promise and bared his true colours as an unrepentant champion of Sinhala chauvinism by depriving one million Thamils of their citizenship.
The Citizenship Act No.18 was unique in that it denied citizenship to a person born in the country before or after 1948 unless, at least, his father was born in or was a citizen of Sri Lanka. The following year, the same Thamils were deprived of their franchise rights by a simple amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Ordinance which said only citizens have the right to vote in elections. This reduced Thamils representation in Parliament from 33% in 1948 to a mere 20% in 1952.
The Citizenship Act #18 of 1948 opened the floodgates to further legislative and administrative acts, which robbed Thamils of their language, educational, and employment rights. It might be informative at this stage to recapitulate the history of the National conflict between the Thamils and the Sinhalese.
THE MAHAVAMSA MIND-SET
The Thamils and the Sinhalese are divided on the basis of territory, language, religion, and culture. The enmity between the Thamils and the Sinhalese go back to at least two centuries before Christ.
The Mahavamsa, a Buddhist chronicle written in the 6th century AD by a Buddhist monk portrays the Sinhalese King Dutugemunu as the National Hero who defeated the Thamil King Ellalan and unified the whole of Ceylon. Though Buddhism infinitely values human life as being the one and only condition from which nibbana (salvation) could be attained, Mahavamsa made a virtue of killing in defence of Buddhism. This 2nd century B.C book has been used to raise the cry of Race, Land and Faith by the Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinistic forces during the last hundred years or more.
The Mahavamsa has perpetrated the myth that Sinhalese-Buddhists are a chosen people with the special mission of preserving the Buddhist religion in Sri Lanka. Dr.Walpola Rahula, a scholar monk, wrote “for more than two millennia the Sinhalese have been inspired that they were a nation brought into being for the definite purpose of carrying the torch lit by Buddha.”
In Mahavamsa tradition the Thamils are considered unbelievers, villains and invaders. It is the Mahavamsa theory that the Island as a whole belongs to the Sinhalese Buddhists only, and that there is no place or only second class status for Thamils. This Mahavamsa tradition is the root cause of the present conflict between the Thamil Nation and the Sinhalese Nation.
Those who wish to see an end to the national conflict would have to take into consideration the Mahavamsa mind-set. For it is the Mahavamsa mode of thinking which has influenced all the rulers, especially the governments of post independence Ceylon. The Mahinda Chinthanaya is another version of Mahavamsa mind-set Champika Ranawake, a cabinet minister, belonging to the extremist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) went further and opined that “the Sinhalese are the only organic race of Sri Lanka. Other communities are all visitors to the country, whose arrival was never challenged out of the compassion of Buddhists … What is happening today is pure ingratitude on the part of these visitors.”
The former Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka now stripped of his titles and imprisoned in jail claimed in an interview to the National Post (23rd September, 2008) that the Sinhalese accounted for 75% of the population and ,therefore, they have the right to rule and the minorities should realize this and desist making undue demands.
The planned state-aided colonization of Thamil traditional Homelands, the Sinhala Only Act, the recognition of Buddhism as the state religion, the lion flag as the national flag, the national anthem and the stubborn insistence on a unitary constitution are manifestations of the Mahavamsa mind-set deeply embedded in the Sinhalese psyche. Initiatives in the past to settle the national conflict by the signing of the Bandaranayake-Chelvanayakam pact (1957), Dudley Senanayake- Chelvanayakam pact (1965), and the Indo-Ceylon Accord (1987) failed because of this single factor.
BROKEN PROMISES AND PACTS
The Thamils have experienced numerous betrayals by successive Sri Lankan governments since independence. They include the following signed pacts between the leaders of the Sinhalese and the Thamils, which were torn-up under pressure from Sinhalese-Buddhist extremists: 1. Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam Pact (26 July, 1957) 2.Senanayake – Chelvanayakam Pact (24 March, 1965) Under both these pacts, a certain degree of autonomy was to be vested in the administration of Thamils traditional homeland (Northern and Eastern Provinces.)
Through a systematic state-aided Sinhalese colonisation of the traditional homelands of the Thamils, the demographic profile of the Thamils has been drastically altered. In the Eastern Province, the once majority Thamil community (52.3 % in 1946; 41.9 in 1981) has been reduced to a minority, whereas the percentage of Sinhalese rose from 8.4% in 1946 to a staggering 32.2% in 1981.
REJECTION OF CONSTITUTIONS
The Thamil people and their leaders rejected both the Sri Lankan Republican constitutions of 1972 and 1978. With Sri Lanka becoming a Republic, sovereignty reverted to both the Sinhalese and the Thamils. The Sinhalese are able to exercise their sovereignty through the state of Sri Lanka, but they deny Thamils their right to exercise their sovereignty through a de jure state of Thamil Eelam.
MANDATE FOR THAMIL EELAM
The Thamil people in all the parliamentary elections held since 1956 has consistently voted for the Federal Party, which stood for a Thamil State within a federal structure. In 1977, the Thamil United Liberation Front sought and obtained an overwhelming mandate for the restoration of the State of Thamil Eelam – status quo ante. The LTTE through a revolutionary armed struggle is implementing the mandate given by the Thamil people. For well over a quarter of a century, the Thamils pleaded for autonomy for a Thamil Homeland within a united Sri Lanka, but such non-violent struggles were crushed through the use of brute military force. When all peaceful means failed the Thamils seeing no other options were forced to take up arms in defence of their rights.
SINHALA ARMY OF OCCUPATION IN NORTH EAST
Though the war ended 32 months ago, Thamils in Northeast continue to be oppressed under the jackboot of the Sinhala occupation army. Every aspect of Thamil civilians is controlled by the army. In the Jaffna peninsula alone, a 50,000 strong Sri Lankan Army has occupied large tracts of territory as HSZs. There are 18 such HSZs in Jaffna peninsula composed of 260 sq.kms out of the total area of 880 sq.kms. The Governor of North is Major Gen. G.A. Chandrasri and in East, the Governor is Retd. Naval Admiral Mohan Wijewickrama. The Government agents of both Trincomalee (Retd Major General Ranjith Silva) and Mannar districts are Sinhalese.
CONTUNUING VIOLENCE AGAINST THAMILS
Despite claim of progress on reconciliation, the Tamil people of the North and East continue to be subjected to violence. Manifestations of such violence include the failure to re-settle over 300,000 IDPs in transit camps in Vanni, Sampur etc. in their original homes. Those who have been permitted to settle down in their original places have been deprived of all state assistance and left to fend for themselves. The continuing displacement of several thousand persons who either continue to be confined in transit camps or have been compelled to take shelter with host families in Valikamam North in the Jaffna Peninsula. The forcible occupation of agricultural and occupational lands belonging to the Tamil people by the armed forces and by Sinhalese. No action has been taken to remedy these blatant violations.
The allocation of state land in the Northeast without any public notification exclusively to Sinhalese persons purportedly for development purposes continue. Persons from outside the Northeast are being settle in different parts of the Northeast and more recently, in the coastal areas of Mullaitheevu and Vadamaraatchi east with the intention of changing the demographic composition of those areas and creating new administrative divisions.
The destruction and desecration of Hindu and Christian places of worship and other cultural sites like the historical Agasthiar Sthaapanam in Kanguveli and the Hot wells in Kanniya, so as to transform the religious and cultural identity of the said historical areas.
The government continues to suppress legitimate public protests through the use of military force throughout the Northeast as evidenced recently in Batticaloa, Amparai and Navanthurai, Kokkuvil and Chullipuram in Jaffna.
Over 500 persons have been reported missing in the North and East alone over the past few years. Of those missing are 110 persons from Trincomalee, 100 from Mannar, 140 from Vavuniya and several others from Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Batticaloa. According to former MP Mano Ganeshan between 2005 – 2009 around 550 persons have been reported missing in Colombo and its suburbs.
Despite tall claims by the government that it has repealed emergency regulations and restored normalcy in post-war Sri Lanka, the government chose to retain emergency era powers through the promulgation of Regulations under the PTA. These Regulations ensure the seamless continuation of emergency rule, replete with the grant of extraordinary powers to the armed forces and police to arrest and detain suspects for long periods.
In a Joint Statement, President Rajapaksa and the Secretary-General agreed that ‘addressing the aspirations and grievances of all communities and working towards a lasting political solution was fundamental to ensuring long-term socio-economic development.’ President Rajapaksa also ‘expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, there has been no progress to implement those referred to in the joint statement.
On this Black Day, Thamils should firmly resolve to fight and regain their state of Thamil Eelam they lost to foreign invaders. Only an independent Thamil Eelam will guarantee our people freedom, dignity and security.
“The cost of freedom is always high, but our people always paid it. One path we shall never choose is the path of surrender, or submission.” (John F Kennedy (35th US President)