A. Amirthalingam’s Historic Speech in the Sri Lankan Parliament
[at the Debate on the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Bill, on August 3, 1978]
August 22, 2003.
Introductory Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
In the history of Sri Lanka’s dysfunctional democracy, the parliament constituted following the 1977 General Election was notable for quite a number of peculiarities. First, due to the vagaries of the voting by the Sinhalese electorates, the post of Leader of the Opposition fell on the laps of Appapillai Amirthalingam, the Leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front. By then, he was a relative veteran of the Ceylon Parliament, having entered for the first time in 1956, at the age of 29, and served the Vaddukoddai electorate for 14 years. But he was out of parliament between 1970 and 1977. Secondly, the giants of parliamentary debate of the preceding 30 years were markedly absent; some who had gained stature within the parliament for their intelligent speeches, especially those belonging to the traditional Leftist Parties (Dr.Colvin R.de Silva, Dr.N.M.Perera, Bernard Soysa) and mavericks like W.Dahanayake were defeated in the 1977 election; some like G.G.Ponnambalam and S.J.V.Chelvanayakam had died. Thirdly, that parliament saw a large number of neophytes; some literate, but much lacking decorum in listening to an opposing viewpoint. Among the neophytes of the 1977 parliament, one could count Lalith Athlathmudali, Ranil Wickremasinghe (both of UNP), Anura Bandaranaike (of SLFP) and R.Sampanthar (of TULF).
Thus, Amirthalingam – the then TULF leader – carried a heavy burden on his shoulders as a ranking legislator and debater. He was forced to play a dual role; as the nominal Leader of the Opposition in the Sri Lankan parliament and contribute intellectually to the debates, and at the same time he was also the nominal political leader of Eelam Tamil interests. A segment of the Tamil population then felt that by taking on this dual role Amirthalingam paid a heavy price politically and ultimately he came to suffer. However, when it came to parliamentary debates, between 1977 and 1983, Amirthalingam was at his best. He had matured and mellowed. He was not the young fire-brand as when he first came to prominence to Ceylon politics in 1956.
In the depleted Opposition bench of 1977 – devoid of ranking names, with the solitary exception of SLFP veteran Maithiripala Senanayake – Amirthalingam had no equal, excluding his TULF colleague M.Sivasithamparam. What distinguished both Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam among the Eelam Tamil political leaders from the rest of their parliamentary peers in the 20th century was their bilingual oratory. They were equally adept in Tamil and English. Whereas their Tamil predecessors (like G.G.Ponnambalam, S.J.V.Chelvanayakam and C.Suntheralingam were erudite in English) and few of their peers (like S.Thondaman, C.Rajadurai and Pundit K.P.Ratnam) were attractive in Tamil, only Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam could deliver polished and intelligent speeches in both Tamil and English.
The historic speech delivered by Amirthalingam on August 3rd 1978 at the Debate on the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Bill was an excellent example of his erudition in Tamil and English. It was a lengthy speech as well. According to the records, he began his speech in Tamil at 10:20 am. His opening words in Tamil were as follows [in my English translation]: “Honorable Speaker; on this historic occasion, I wish to make my observations on the submitted Constitution Bill, both as the Leader of the TULF parliamentary group and as the Leader of the Opposition. First I’ll speak in Tamil, and then continue my speech in English. I do this since what we present here has to be understood properly in the future. In addition, foreigners and others also should comprehend our stance. Thus, I continue the latter half of my speech in English.” When the lunch break came, Amirthalingam was still on his feet. When the parliamentary sitting resumed at 2:00 pm, Amirthalingam continued his speech in Tamil, and later switched on to English. When the sessions were adjourned for half an hour break for tea, he was still on his feet. At 4.30 pm, Amirthalingam continued his marathon speech in English for probably another hour. In my estimate, he would have spoken on that day for at least four hours.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of this historic speech by Amirthalingam, I provide in full the English component, as has been recorded in Sri Lanka’s parliamentary proceedings, Hansard Aug.3, 1978 [columns 970-1022]. Only the typographical errors have been corrected, and for reasons of space, honorifics of those who interrupted him (making wisecracks and other comments) have been omitted. I have included the rejoinders and wisecracks of other legislators who listened to his speech since Amirthalingam’s repartee and rebuttal also reveal his blessed talent. When the current focus of attention in the talks between the Ranil Wickremasinghe’s Cabinet and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) centres on issues related to power-sharing and the need for amending the existing Sri Lankan Constitution, Amirthalingam’s 1978 speech has special relevance. Thus, I felt that it needs electronic medium exposure (in full) from its buried state in Sri Lanka’s Hansard record.
This speech, I consider, is Amirthalingam’s equivalent of the ‘I have the Dream’ speech of Martin Luther King Jr., with three marked differences. First, unlike Dr King’s speech, this is remarkably lengthy. Secondly, unlike Dr King’s speech, this speech of Amrithalingam was not televised. Third, while Dr King’s audience in August 1963 numbered in tens of thousands, Amirthalingam’s audience within the Sri Lankan parliament in August 1978 would have been at most 100 to 130. However, in tone and the text, the messages of Dr King and Amirthalingam were the same – a plea for equality for the people, whom both represented as main spokesmen respectively.
This 1978 speech of Amirthalingam highlights the notable events of Eelam Tamil history since 1833 (when island Ceylon was ‘united’ by the colonial British for administrative convenience) for a period of 145 years until 1978. It incorporates (a) the 1972 resignation statement of Amirthalingam’s mentor S.J.V.Chelvanayakam, (b) TULF’s Vaddukoddai Resolution of 1976, (c) his own personal reminiscence as the first accused at the 1976 Trial-at-Bar case – as a consequence of distributing the 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution to the public, and (d) an expose on the devilish aspects of the 1978 Constitution.
TULF Leader Amirthalingam’s Historic 1978 Speech
[Note: Only the English component of the bilingual speech is reproduced below. For completeness, interruptions and wisecracks of other legislators who listened to Amirthalingam’s speech are also included. Those who were identified in the Hansard record were as follows: Lalith Athulathmudali, Ronnie de Mel, R.Premadasa, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Shelton Jayasinghe, K.Thurairatnam, S.Kathiravelupillai, Merril Kariyawasam, K.W.Devanayagam, Harindra Corea and Wimala Kannangara. Among these, Athulathmudali, Ronnie de Mel, Jayasinghe, Devanayagam and Wimala Kannangara were ministers then, and Premadasa was the prime minister. Amirthalingam’s rebuttals and repartee to interruptions were also notable for his advocatory excellence.]
A.Amirthalingam: “Mr.Speaker, I am very thankful to you for your indulgence in permitting me to speak at some length in Tamil in order to place before this House and before the country the position of the TULF and the Tamil nation in Ceylon with regard to the far-reaching changes that we are witnessing today. It is not every day that a Parliament of a country indulges in the exercise of Constitution-making. It is a rare phenomenon and it can be once in a decade or even less frequently that Constitutions are changed. But, unfortunately, in our country, we seem to have reached a stage when every Government wants to change the Constitution and have a Constitution of its own. Anyhow, I appeal to hon. Members to bear in mind the seriousness of the occasion. After all, the occasion when the Constitution of a country is being changed is not an occasion for levity; it is not an occasion for cheap jibes; it is not an occasion for interruptions. It is an occasion for all hon. Members of this House without including in and trying to make cheap political capital of the issues involved, without trying to have any recrimination, to analyse the historical events, to analyse the background, to analyse the forces that have surfaced necessitating a change in the Constitution.
Mr Speaker, the making of a Constitution is not an isolated event but a step in the process by which people assert their sovereignty and identity, articulate their basic values and aspirations and define the instrument of Government through which the sovereignty of the people can be exercised. I am sure the hon. Members of this House will approach this question in that spirit. If they do approach the question bearing these facts in mind they will realize what a serious task they are engaged in.
Now, Sir, when the Second Amendment to the present Constitution, providing for the creation of the post of an Executive President was moved, I had occasion to place before this House the stand of the TULF and the Tamil nation to that amendment. I said on that occasion, that we who had rejected the existing Constitution, we who had refused to accept it as binding on us, could not be a party to the amendment of the Constitution and we, therefore, refused to participate in the Debate on the Second Reading of the Amendment. Therefore, Mr Speaker, without repeating the things that I referred to in the course of my speech, I want to refer, in passing, to the history of Constitution-making in this country.
In 1970 when the United Front Government came into power they convened the Constituent Assembly and invited all political parties to participate in its deliberating in drafting a new Constitution for this country. On that occasion, we also joined the Constituent Assembly and participated in the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly. We expected that amendments to the basic resolutions would be considered, that there would be a policy of give and take and suitable adjustments could be made, and the rights that the Tamil-speaking people in this country have been agitating for up to that time could be safeguarded by the provisions in that Constitution. With that end in view, we not only participated in the Constituent Assembly, but my late leader, Mr S.J.V.Chelvanayakam, and some of us even met the then Hon. Prime Minister and the Hon. Minister of Constitutional Affairs and placed our point of view before them.
The late Mr.Chelvanayakam said in the Constitutent Assembly:
‘We were always willing to compromise for the sake of an agreed settlement of this vexed question. We indicated to the Hon. Prime Minister and the Hon. Minister of Constitutional Affairs the minimum rights we wanted to be embodied in the Constitution but although our discussions with the Hon. Prime Minister and the Hon. Minister of Constitutional Affairs was very cordial and our views apparently received the serious consideration of the Hon. Prime Minister, yet it has not been proposed to make any alteration in the Basic Resolutions as they stand. In the circumstances, no useful purpose will be served in our continuing in the deliberations of this Assembly.’
And he and the other members of our Party from then onwards kept out of the Constituent Assembly.
After the Constitution was passed we urged for amendments to the Constitution. When I say ‘we’, I include the Hon.Minister of Justice who was then a member of the Tamil United Front. While also being a member of the United National Party he was a member of the Tamil United Front in our agitation for our constitutional rights. We put forward certain demands for the amendment of the Constitution and all our requests fell on deaf ears. We did not have even an acknowledgment to the letter that my late Leader wrote at that stage.
Then, Sir, as I said, under those circumstances, Mr Chelvanayakam decided to vindicate his stand by getting a mandate from his electorate for the rejection of the Constitution. He actually resigned on the 2nd of October 1972, but he made his statement on the 3rd October and handed in his letter because the House sat only on the 3rd October 1972. You will recall, Mr Speaker, that in the course of my Tamil speech I said I will deal with this statement in the course of my speech in English. This is the text of the statement which he made on the Floor of this House at the time he resigned his seat in October 1972.
‘I am resigning my seat in this Honourable House. I wish to state my reasons for doing so.
The History of the Tamil people in this country since 1948 has been one of deterioration. In the then Parliament of ninety-five elected Members, there were eight Tamil Members representing the estate Tamil population who are today not there. They have been replaced by Sinhalese Members now in double that number. The eight Tamil Members were there by the grant of the vote of the bulk of the workers on the estates. This was thought to be a just decision on the question of Tamils of Indian Origin by the United Kingdom Government.
As soon as Ceylon became independent the first thing the Sinhalese Government did was to deprive the Tamil worker in the estates of the vote. This was carefully manoeuvred through a citizenship law that deprived them of citizenship and by granting the vote to citizens only. The entire structure on which the Soulbury Constitution was based collapsed. It must be said to the credit of the LSSP and the CP that they opposed this move though they have now succumbed to a purely communal policy.
The next important thing that took place was the passing of the Sinhala Only Act by the Bandaranaike Government in 1956. Even this was made possible by the depriving of the vote of the Tamil worker on the estates. Although the Tamil worker has been deprived of the vote, the seats that were allotted to them have not been removed but have been given to the Sinhalese voter. This has meant that from 1952 onwards the legislature has been a Sinhalese weighted body and all legislation thereafter has been communal Sinhalese. Had the vote remained as it was in 1947 the landslide in the election of 1970 would not have taken place.
The next important event has been the creation of a new Constitution by a legislature that was so Sinhalese weighted. The Constitution has given everything to the Sinhalese and has given nothing to the Tamils. The Sinhala Only Act has been so strengthened that it requires a two-thirds majority to alter it. Sinhala has been made the language of the courts. All talk about a man being tried in his own language applies to the Sinhala man and not to the Tamil man. There are many other features in the Constitution that I need not mention here. Even the slight protection that was given to the minorities by Section 29 of the old Constitution has been removed.
Faced with this situation the Tamil people of different parties formed the Tamil United Front and appealed to the Prime Minister to remedy some of these evils. I, on behalf of the Tamil United Front, wrote to the Prime Minister a letter raising six points on which the Constitution has to be amended, and we gave her time till the 30th of September to do that. But nothing has been done. In this situation, the responsibility falls on my head, as the Leader of the Tamil United Front, to appeal to the Tamil people for them to say whether they are with me or not.
It is claimed by the Government that a sizeable section of the Tamil people accepts the Constitution. We deny this and want to give an opportunity to the Government to prove that claim. The best way in which that can be done is for me as the Leader of the Tamil United Front to resign my Seat in this Honourable House and re-contest it on my policy and ask the Government to oppose me on its policy. Of course, the decision will be that of the Tamil people. My policy will be that in view of the events that have taken place the Tamil people of Ceylon should have the right to determine their future whether they are to be a subject race in Ceylon or they are to be a free people. I shall ask the people to vote for me on the second of these alternatives.
Let the Government contest me on that position. If I lose I give up my policy. If the Government loses, let it not say that the Tamil people support its policy and its Constitution. Let not the Government deprive the people of their decision on the issues raised by postponing the by-election.’ (OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October 1972; vol.2, cc.883-4)
This was the statement that Mr Chelvanayakam made on the Floor of the House on 3rd October 1972 when he resigned his seat in order to give an opportunity for the then Government to test its claim that the Tamil people accepted the Constitution. Of course, the election was postponed for two years or more, and ultimately when the election was held in 1975 the voters of the Kankesanthurai Electorate, whom I have the privilege of representing today, gave an unequivocal verdict. And what was the verdict? By over 75 per cent of the votes, they returned Mr Chelvanayakam, thereby not only indicating that they rejected the Constitution but also stressing what Mr Chelvanayakam immediately after his victory in the election said, namely, ‘I consider the verdict at the election as a mandate that the Tamil Eelam nation should exercise the sovereignty already vested in the Tamil people and become free.’ In fact, the verdict is almost 100 per cent today because the only candidate whom the then Government could persuade to contest Mr Chelvanayakam on that issue, Mr V.Ponnambalam of the Communist Party, has not given it up and has joined ‘hands with the TULF in the struggle for the liberation of the Tamil people.
Lalith Athulathmudali: Has he left the Communist Party?
A.Amirthalingam: Yes, he has left the Communist Party. Acting on this mandate that the Tamil people gave, the Members of the TULF who were then in Parliament gave notice of a Private members’ Motion. By a strange coincidence that appeared on the Order Paper of this House on the 4th of February, 1976.
This is the motion notice of which was given by Mr S.J.V.Chelvanayakam, Mr V.Dharmalingam, Mr.A.Thangathurai, Mr X.M.Sellathambu, Mr B.Neminathan, Mr.S.Kathiravelupillai, Mr.V.N.Navaratnam, Mr.K.Jeyakkody, Mr.K.Thurairatnam, Mr.K.P.Ratnam and Mr.V.Anandasangare:
‘Whereas the Sinhalese and the Tamils in Sri Lanka constitute two separate nations with their inherent right to self-determine,
and whereas the Sinhalese nation and the Tamil nation who were shackled together by foreign rule remain to this day shackled,
and whereas all governments of independent Sri Lanka have always encouraged and fostered the aggressive nationalism of the Sinhalese nation culminating in the unilateral imposition of the present Constitution which has condemned the Tamils to the position of a subject nation, this Assembly resolves to recognize the verdict of the K.K.S. by-election as a mandate for the restoration and reconstitution of the free, sovereign, secular, socialist State of Tamil Eelam.’
This was a motion, notice of which was given in February 1976. But the motion was never reached. There was another Private Members’ Motion before it and the Government kept it going, kept it going in such a way that thereafter – after notice of this motion was given, till that Parliament was dissolved – no other Private Members’ Motion was taken up during the rest of the term of that Parliament.
A Member: Democracy!
A.Amirthalingam: After that, we met at our annual convention at Vaddukoddai, in my own village of Pannakam and we adopted the historical resolution which was the basis of our Election Manifesto also.
In that resolution, we set out the various reasons why were forced to come to the conclusion that we could not live together with our brothers any longer. I think it is appropriate at this state to place that resolution before this House on this historic occasion. It reads:
‘Whereas throughout the centuries from the dawn of history the Sinhalese and Tamil nations have divided between them the possession of Ceylon, the Sinhalese inhabiting the interior of the country in its southern and western parts from the river Walawe to that of Chilaw and the Tamils possessing the northern and eastern districts,
And whereas the Tamil kingdom was overthrown in war and conquered by the Portuguese in 1619 and from them by the Dutch and the British in turn independent of the Sinhalese Kingdoms, And whereas the British Colonialists who ruled the territories of the Sinhalese and Tamil kingdoms separately joined under compulsion the territories of the Tamil kingdom to the territories of the Sinhalese kingdoms for purposes of administrative convenience on the recommendation of the Colebrooke Commission in 1833,
And whereas Tamil leaders were in the forefront of the Freedom Movement to rid Ceylon of colonial bondage which ultimately led to the grant of independence to Ceylon in 1948,
And Whereas the foregoing facts of history were completely overlooked and power was transferred to the Sinhalese nation over the entire country on the basis of a numerical majority, thereby reducing the Tamil nation to the position of a subject people;
And whereas successive Sinhalese Governments since Independence have always encouraged and fostered the aggressive nationalism of the Sinhalese people and have used their political power to the detriment of the Tamils by –
(a) depriving one-half of the Tamil people of their citizenship and franchise rights, thereby reducing Tamil representation in Parliament;
(b) making serious inroads into the territories of the former Tamil kingdom by a system of planned and state-aided Sinhalese colonization and large-scale regularization of recently encouraged Sinhalese encroachments calculated to make the Tamils a minority in their own homeland;
(c) making Sinhala the only official language throughout Ceylon thereby placing the stamp of inferiority on the Tamils and the Tamil language;
(d) giving the foremost place to Buddhism under the Republican Constitution thereby reducing Hindus, Christians and Muslims to second-class status in this country;
(e) denying to the Tamils equality of opportunity in the spheres of employment, education, land alienation and economic life in general, and starving Tamil areas of large-scale industries and development schemes, thereby seriously endangering their very existence Ceylon;
(f) systematically cutting them off from the main-stream of Tamil culture in South India while denying them opportunities of developing their language and culture in Ceylon, thereby working inexorably towards the cultural genocide of the Tamils;
(g) permitting and unleashing communal violence and intimidation against Tamil-speaking people as happened in Amparai and Colombo in 1956, all over the country in 1958, Army reign of terror in the Northern and Eastern Provinces in 1961, police violence at the International Tamil Research Conference in 1974 resulting in the death of nine persons in Jaffna, police and communal violence against Tamil-speaking Muslims at Puttalam and various other parts of Ceylon in 1976 – all these calculated to instil terror in the minds of the Tamil-speaking people, thereby breaking their spirit and the will to resist the injustices heaped on them;
(h) by terrorising, torturing and imprisoning Tamil youths without trial for long periods on the flimsiest of grounds;
(i) capping it all, by imposing on the Tamil Nation a constitution drafted under conditions of emergency without opportunities for free discussion by a constituent assembly elected on the basis of the Soulbury Constitution distorted by the Citizenship laws resulting in weightage in representation to the Sinhalese majority thereby depriving the Tamils of even the remnants of safeguards they had under the earlier constitution.
And whereas all attempts by the various Tamil political parties to win their rights by cooperating with the governments, by parliamentary and extraparliamentary agitations, by entering into pacts and understanding, with successive Prime Ministers in order to achieve the bare minimum of political rights consistent with the self-respect of the Tamil people have proved to be futile;
And whereas the efforts of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress to ensure non-domination of the minorities by the majority by the adoption of a scheme of balanced representation in a Unitary Constitution have failed and even the meagre safeguards provided in article 29 of the Soulbury Constitution against discriminatory legislation have been removed by the Republican Constitution;
And whereas the proposals submitted to the Constituent Assembly by the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi for maintaining the unity of the country while preserving the integrity of the Tamil people by the establishment of an autonomous Tamil State within the framework of a Federal Republic of Ceylon were summarily and totally rejected without even the courtesy of consideration of its merits, and
Whereas the amendments to the Basic Resolutions intended to ensure the minimum safeguards of the Tamil people, moved on the basis of the 9 point demands formulated at the Conference of all Tamil political parties on 7th February 1971 and by individual parties and Tamil Members of Parliament, including those now with the Government party, were rejected by the Government and the Constituent Assembly, and
Whereas even amendments to the draft proposals relating to language, religion and fundamental rights, including those calculated to ensure that at least the provisions of the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act to be included in the Constitution, were defeated, resulting in the boycotting of the Constituent Assembly by a large majority of Tamil MPs and
Whereas the Tamil United Liberation Front, after rejecting the Republican Constitution adopted on 22nd May 1972, put a 6-point demand to the Prime Minister and the Government on 25th June 1972 and gave three months’ time within which the Government was called upon to take meaningful steps to amend the Constitution so as to meet the aspirations of the Tamil nation on the basis of the 6-point demands and informed the Government that if it failed to do so the Tamil United Liberation Front would launch a non-violent direct action against the Government in order to win freedom and the rights of the Tamil nation on the basis of the rights of self-determination, and
Whereas the last attempt by the Tamil United Liberation Front to win constitutional recognition of the rights of the Tamil Nation without jeopardizing the unity of the country, was callously ignored by the Prime Minister and the Government, and
Whereas the opportunity provided by the TULF leader to vindicate the Government’s contention that their Constitution had the backing of the Tamil people, by resigning from his membership of the National State Assembly and creating a by-election, was deliberately put off for over two years in utter disregard of the democratic right of the Tamil voters of Kankesanthurai, and
Whereas in the by-election held on the 6th February 1975 the voters of Kankesanthurai by a preponderant majority not only rejected the Republican Constitution imposed on them by the Sinhalese Government but also gave a mandate to Mr.S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, Q.C. and through him to the Tamil United Liberation Front for the restoration and reconstitution of the free, sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam,
The first National Convention of the Tamil United Liberation Front Meeting at Pannakam on the 14th day of May 1976 hereby declares that the Tamils of Ceylon, by virtue of their great language, their religions, their separate culture and heritage, their history of independent existence as a separate state over a distinct territory for several centuries until they were conquered by the armed might of the European invaders and, above all, by their will to exist as a separate entity ruling themselves in their own territory, are a nation distinct and apart from the Sinhalese and this Convention announces to the world that the Republican Constitution of 1972 has made the Tamils a slave nation ruled by the new colonial masters, the Sinhalese, who are using the power they have wrongly usurped to deprive the Tamil nation of its territory, language, citizenship, economic life, opportunities of employment and education, thereby depriving all the attributes of nationhood of the Tamil people.
And therefore, while taking note of the reservations’
In that respect the CWC had a mental reservation and we recognized it –
‘in relation to its commitment to the setting up of a separate state of Tamil Eelam expressed by the Ceylon Workers Congress as a trade union of the plantation workers, the majority of whom live and work outside the northern and eastern areas,
This Convention resolves that the restoration and reconstitution of the free, sovereign, secular socialist state of Tamil Eelam based on the right of self-determination inherent to every nation, has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil Nation in this country.
This Convention further declares –
(a) that the State of TAMIL EELAM shall consist of the people of the Northern and Eastern Provinces and shall also ensure full and equal rights of citizenship of the State of TAMIL EELAM to all Tamil-speaking people living in any part of Ceylon and the TAMILS of EELAM origin living in any part of the world who may opt for citizenship of TAMIL EELAM;
(b) that the constitution of TAMIL EELAM shall be based on the principle of democratic decentralization so as to ensure the non-domination of any religions or territorial community of TAMIL EELAM by any other section;
(c) that in the State of Tamil Eelam, caste shall be abolished and the observance of the pernicious practice of untouchability or inequality of any type based on birth shall be totally eradicated and its observance in any form punished by law;
(d) that TAMIL EELAM shall be a secular state giving equal protection and assistance to all religions to which the people of the state may belong;
(e) that Tamil shall be the language of the State but the rights of Sinhalese-speaking minorities in Tamil Eelam to education and transaction of business in their language shall be protected on a reciprocal basis with the Tamil-speaking minorities in the Sinhala State.
(f) That Tamil Eelam shall be a Socialist State wherein the exploitation of man by man shall be forbidden, the dignity of labour shall be recognized, the means of production and distribution shall be subject to public ownership and control while permitting private enterprise in these branches within limits prescribed by law, economic development shall be on the basis of socialist planning and there shall be a ceiling on the total wealth that any individual or family may acquire.
This Convention directs the Action Committee of the TAMIL UNITED LIBERATION FRONT to formulate a plan of action and launch without undue delay the struggle for winning the sovereignty and freedom of the Tamil Nation.
And this Convention calls upon the Tamil Nation in general and the Tamil youth, in particular, to come forward to throw themselves fully in the sacred fight for freedom and to flinch not till the goal of a sovereign socialist State of TAMIL EELAM is reached.’
Mr Speaker, I read this resolution fully because I want the whole country to know the views, the feelings and the aspirations of the Tamil Nation in this country.
A Member: Now we know!
A.Amirthalingam: When this resolution was passed Emergency regulations were promulgated making it an offence for anybody even to publish this resolution. The newspapers were ordered not to publish the resolution, and they thought that there would be a blackout of this resolution thereby. We defied the law. We defied the Emergency regulations which prescribed a penalty of twenty years’ imprisonment, a fine, and forfeiture of property. We defied that ban, printed copies of this resolution in thousands, and distributed them all over the country. On the 22nd of May 1976, some of our members were taken into custody. I myself, the hon.Member for Point Pedro, the hon.Member for Kayts and the hon. Member for Chavakachcheri was taken into custody, removed to Paget Road and locked up in solitary cells for ten days.
R.J.G.de Mel: These are all past sins.
A.Amirthalingam: I am dealing with history. I am not dealing with the present. After we were released we were brought to trial before a trial-at-bar, that is, before a bench of three Judges of a High Court of Colombo on those charges.
In that trial-at-bar, I as the first accused had the privilege of stating what my plea was. I told the court on that occasion that I was not prepared to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges because I did not accept that the court was properly constituted because the court was constituted under an invalid constitution and under invalid emergency regulations. That was the position we took up and as I said 67 eminent lawyers led by Mr S.J.V.Chelvanayakam Q.C., Mr G.G.Ponnambalam Q.C., Mr M.Thiruchelvam Q.C., Mr V.S.A.Pullenayagam Q.C., Mr P.Navaratnarajah Q.C., Mr R.R.Crossette Thambiah Q.C., and Mr S.J.Kadirgamar appeared in that historic trial-at-bar in the course of which we placed before the court, before the whole country and before the whole world our case.
Our case was twofold. We challenged the validity of the emergency regulations. We said that the emergency regulations had not been properly promulgated and Mr G.G.Ponnambalam argued that point. Then we challenged the validity of the constitution and Mr Thiruchelvam and Mr Pullenayagam argued that point. The arguments went on for several days. Ultimately the trial-at-bar court said that the question of the validity of the constitution was a political question and that the court could not be called upon to adjudicate upon it. While they so held on that question they also held that the emergency had not been properly declared and, therefore the emergency regulations were invalid and that the court having been constituted as a trial-at-bar under the emergency regulations had been improperly called together and therefore they had no power to try me and they discharged me. The same thing happened to the other three accused in the other three cases.
The Government took up the matter in appeal in the Supreme Court and curiously enough in the course of the arguments or just before that the Attorney-General indicated to the Supreme Court that the Government intended to withdraw the charges against the accused and that they were not proceeding with the charges and therefore the Supreme Court could give its verdict on the legal question uninhibited by any consequences that may flow from it to us. Anyhow the net result was that we were exonerated and that was the end of the case.
It was on the basis of this resolution that we went to the elections. We sought a mandate from our people to win back their freedom. It was on that mandate that we were returned to Parliament.
Now, Sir, in regard to the Second Amendment to the Constitution, in view of our mandate, in view of the position we had taken, we indicated that we were not going to participate in the debate on the amendment to the constitution.
When this Government came forward with the proposal for setting up a Select Committee for amending the Constitution we said we would at the appropriate time make our position with regard to the Select Committee clear. Then we had to take a decision whether we were going to participate in the deliberations of the Select Committee or not.
As I told you, in 1970 we accepted the invitation to participate in the Constituent Assembly, explored the possibility of a settlement, of effecting a compromise, whereby certain minimum rights could be ensured to the Tamil-speaking people, and when we failed we severed connections with that Constituent Assembly.
As far as this Select Committee was concerned, we decided not to go into the Select Committee at all because we felt that the Government itself had not set about the question of solving the problem of the Tamil-speaking people in the way in which they said they were going to solve it. In their election manifesto as well as in the Policy Statement they said that they would find a solution on the basis of a consensus and that they would summon an all-party conference as stated earlier and implement its decisions. In fact, even in the paragraph dealing with the Constitution in their manifesto, they said that the decisions of an all-party conference which would be summoned be to consider the problem of the non-Sinhala-speaking people would be included in the Constitution. So, if the Government had either summoned an all-party conference or started negotiations with us with a view to evolving a formula as a basis for the solution of this problem, we could have gone into the Select Committee in order to work out a scheme of government – a Constitution embodying that as one of its aspects. But, unfortunately, the Government set about it in the wrong way. For reasons of their own, maybe because of certain attitudes which were shown by other political parties, or, maybe for other reasons, they decided not to try and work out a solution to this problem before they started on constitution-making. That was the reason why we decided not to go into the Select Committee.
In fact, this is the resolution that we adopted on that point.
“Whereas the Members of the TULF were elected to the N.S.A. on a mandate to work for the liberation of the Tamil Nation by the establishment of Tamil Eelam on the basis of their right of self-determination;
And whereas the violence unleashed on the Tamil people after the general elections have reinforced their faith that only the objective of Tamil Eelam can ensure their safety and well being; And whereas the Government and the State machinery have been acting in a step-motherly manner in the rehabilitation of the Tamil refugees from recent violence;
And whereas the Government does not appear to have taken into consideration the verdict of the Tamil people in the elections and the impact of the recent communal violence on the political situation and has not shown any enthusiasm or realisation of the urgency to find a solution to the problem of the Tamil Nation;
And whereas the Government has not made any effort at least to evolve a solution to the problems of the Tamil speaking people before amending the Constitution on the basis of all-party consensus as promised in the election manifesto of the UNP;
And whereas a Parliamentary Select Committee appointed under these circumstances does not seem to have either the capacity or the climate to find a solution to the problems between the two nations in this country the Action Committee of the TULF feels that no useful purpose will be served by participating in the Select Committee of Parliament to revise the Constitution and direct the Parliamentary Group not to participate in the Select Committee.’
It was on the basis of this direction that we had from our Party’s committee was appointed and memoranda were invited and various people submitted various points of view, but curiously enough though the Report of the Select Committee was published along with the Draft Constitution, the Bill that is before the House has certain chapters added to it which are not in the Select Committee’s draft. I do not know what fun it is in appointing a Select Committee to draft a Constitution which has not been approved, portions to which have not even been placed before the Select Committee? They might as well not have had this Select Committee at all but drafted and presented a Constitution of their own as they could have very well done that with the majority that they have.
Now, Sir, with regard to that part of the Constitution or the Constitution Bill which did not go before the Select Committee, I have already dealt with when I spoke in Tamil I do not want to repeat it. But I will only say this much.
The provision in the Constitution which is most disturbing to the people is that which is contained in Clause 157. It is primarily directed to a two-type situation. Firstly, it seeks to deprive the other political parties like the SLFP for instance, from seeking a mandate from the people to constitute themselves into a Constituent Assembly for the purpose of enacting a new constitution. This provision, therefore, seeks to entrench for all time the process of constitutional change that is provided for in Chapter XII, namely, through a Bill to amend the Constitution in a particular way. Mr Speaker, I feel outraged that a Government committed to democratic freedoms and the assertion of fundamental rights should deny the people the sovereign right of giving a mandate to a future Government to enact a different Constitution.
Actually, we of the TULF are not directly concerned with this aspect of the matter but I feel it my duty as Leader of the Opposition to draw the attention of this House and the country to this aspect of the matter. This provision is not merely of academic interest but has far-reaching consequences because, with proportional representation that is being introduced into this country, no future government may have a two-thirds majority to amend the Constitution in terms of Chapter XII. This is an attempt to petrify the present position and the present Constitution for all time and deprive the people of a chace –
Mr Speaker: You do not welcome the entrenchment of fundamental rights?
A.Amirthalingam: We want fundamental rights to be entrenched but not the entrenching of the whole Constitution. One can entrench fundamental rights but the Constitution must be flexible within limits. The whole Constitution cannot be entrenched for then it will become fossilized at some stage and the fossil will have to be cracked with a hammer otherwise it will cease to grow. That is what will happen when you entrench the whole Constitution – you will petrify the whole position and make a fossil of the Constitution.
R.Premadasa: What do you suggest? We want your views and we want you to participate in the Debate.
A Member: What do you want us to do?
A. Amirthalingam: I will come to that later. Sir, it is inevitable that this Constitution would remain unalterable except through a process of revolutionary change. [Interruption]. In my view provisions of this nature are futile. It cannot prevent the process of legal revolution by which continuity is severed from the past and a new Constitution enacted through a process external to what is envisaged in Chapter XII. Moreover, provisions of this nature may result in more dangerously in accelerating the process of the violent revolutionary seizure of political power. It is undemocratic in conception and strikes at the very root of a democratic process of constitutional making.
R. Premadasa: What do you suggest?
A.Amirthalingam: Drop Article 157. Why do you want it? That is all what I am saying. Article 157 is not necessary. It was not before the Select Committee. The Select Committee never thought it necessary. It is an after-thought by somebody. We are also immediately concerned with Article 157. I am also interested. I make no secret of that.
The second concern of this provision is to suppress and subjugate the Tamil-speaking people in their aspiration for self-determination and for a new assertion of their identity.
Mr.Speaker: Now you are not referring to Article 157?
A. Amirthalingam: It is the same. In fact, under this law some genius like the former Minister of Justice, because he was the man who put us on trial earlier.
R.J.G.de Mel: He will do that only at midnight!
A.Amirthalingam: Or somebody like that might think that we are offending Article 157 and straightaway all of us can be put behind bars. We are aware of that and let it not be thought that we are complaining about it.
R.Premadasa: So are you moving any amendment?
A.Amirthalingam: We are here not to amend. We are here to place our views and depart.
R.Premadasa: If you want to move an amendment you must remain here.
A.Amirthalingam: I am sure the Prime Minister has on previous occasions – he is a real democrat – listened to Opposition points of view and he himself has moved amendments. He can move the amendment to drop this Draconian piece of law.
Mr. Speaker: You say it was not in the Select Committee proposals?
A. Amirthalingam: It was not there.
Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike: It is not in the Report either!
A.Amirthalingam: In fact, this Article 157 would prohibit any peaceful agitation towards the establishment of the right of self-determination of our people. To this extent, this is a provision which is repugnant to every norm of political participation and would have very serious consequences to Tamil people. But I would say straight away that when we met at our annual convention over the weekend in Jaffna, we, with the full realization of the implications of this Article, decided to go ahead with our political programme, and we are ready to face and take the consequences even if we are put behind bars for 10 years and all our properties confiscated. After all, some of us who are here have during the last 22 years of our political life been to jail four times, I have been in prison four times. I have been assaulted and humiliated several times – and another term of prison life will not deter us from doing what is correct and just and what is necessary for the freedom and self-respect of our people.
So, Article 157 is fundamentally an attack on the political struggle of the Tamil people, and it is decisive in shaping our approach to this Constitution. [Interruption] I have a lot to say and I think Members will give me the indulgence of not interrupting me today.
There are certain other features of this Constitution which intimately concern the Tamil-speaking people which I will have to deal with, though it was not my intention to go into details with regard to this Constitution. Certain of the provisions here maybe help up to the world as being calculated to ensure the rights of the minorities in this country. One of those is the scheme of representation that is introduced.
The scheme of representation that is introduced envisages the allocation of four Seats to each province – on what basis I do not know – and the allocation of Seats to each electoral district according to the number of voters in that electoral district. I want to take the minds of Members back to the Soulbury Constitution. At the time of the Soulbury Commission representations were made on behalf of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress by Mr G.G.Ponnambalam.
The All Ceylon Muslim League, the Malay Association, the Ceylon Workers’ Congress and various other organizations made representation with regard to representation of minorities and the need for weightage to be given to minorities. I am not going back to those good old days. I am only tracing the history to give the hon. Members the background for representation on an area basis.
The Soulbury Commissioners did not want to recommend communal representation. If hon.Members read the Soulbury Commission Report they will find that the Soulbury Commissioners took the view that a certain amount of weightage could be given to the minorities, particularly to the Tamils and the Muslims, by giving representation to them on an area basis.
M.Shelton Jayasinghe: That is right. You must identify the voters.
A.Amirthalingam: That is, they decided to give one Member for every 1000 square miles of the area because they found that the Tamils and Muslims occupied certain sparsely populated areas and twenty-five seats were added to the total representation. Eight went to the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and seventeen to the other seven provinces. That was meant to give weightage to the Tamils and Muslims who occupied those two provinces. That was the purpose behind it. Anyone reading the Soulbury Commission Report and the reasons for their recommendation will realize that. Under the present Constitution also that position is being retained – 25 seats on an area basis, 4 for the Northern Province, 4 for the Eastern Province and 17 for the other seven provinces.
Today, without any rhyme or reason, under the new draft Bill, each province is given four seats on an area basis. So, the Northern and Eastern Provinces get their eight seats, and the other seven provinces get 28 seats. That means an addition of 11 seats beyond their population for the other seven provinces. In other words, this Constitution gives weightage to the population of the other provinces over what is provided for in the present Constitution and in the former Soulbury Constitution.
M.Shelton Jayasinghe: There is one extra coming between Mannar and Vavuniyawa.
K.Thurairatnam: That is part of the four.
A.Amirthalingam: I think the Hon. Minister of Posts & Telecommunications is referring to a unit. Mannar, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Jaffna are all in the Northern Province.
R.Premadasa: Shall we go into the details in the Committee Stage?
A.Amirthalingam: I am only stating the principle behind it. I am not on the Committee Stage now.
R.Premadasa: You touch on the principles now. We will go into the details at the Committee Stage.
A.Amirthalingam: I am mentioning this because this is going to give weightage to the majority at the expense of the minorities. You are adding 11 seats to the areas from which the majority of community representatives come. That is eleven more than what they have today under the present Constitution. You cannot deny that. I do not know whether the Hon. Minister of Justice gave his mind to this aspect of it. That is a very serious situation. We are not worried about whether we are there whether it is 17 or 20 does not matter so long as we are a subject race. We are a subject race. We do not want anyone to hold this as a boon to the Tamil people, to say that they are doing them a favour by introducing the Constitution. This is going to reduce the representation of the Tamil-speaking people because the bulk of their representation is from the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
In fact, from the proceedings of the Select Committee, I find that the hon. Members of the Muslim community had been aware of some of the dangers in this because I see that the Hon. Deputy Speaker has argued at length in the Select Committee against the dangers of this proportional representation scheme for the minorities particularly in the seven provinces outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces. When there is a threshold vote of 12½ per cent, any group which fails to get one-eighth of the total votes polled, does not have any representation. So that, a Muslim or a Tamil, unless he is nominated by one of the bigger parties and finds a place substantially high up on the list of candidates, may have no chance of being returned, whereas, under the system of multi-member seats, pockets of minorities have a chance of returning Members. If minorities contest as minorities they are moved down by the cut-off point which is the highest in the world. In West Germany they have the threshold vote of five per cent; here we are having it at 12½ per cent.
Mr.Speaker: Major parties also nominate minority Members.
A.Amirthalingam: If they do not or even if they do but the nominees do not get a place sufficiently high up on the list of candidates, there may be no Member elected from the minority communities from those areas. In the Northern and Eastern Provinces that will not happen.
R.Premadasa: The cut-off point was suggested by one of your Members.
A.Amirthalingam: That was for local authorities.
R.Premadasa: Both are the same.
A.Amirthalingam: There is a lot of difference.
R.Premadasa: For purposes of deposits, one-eighth.
A.Amirthalingam: Losing a deposit in one seat is not the same as a whole group losing representation in an entire district.
D.Shelton Jayasinghe: You gave the percentage.
A.Amirthalingam: It is not my intention to enter into a controversy but to point out in passing the dangers involved in this scheme of representation particularly to the Tamils and Muslims. I make this point because an attempt is being made to make out that this scheme is a boon that is being conferred on us. The Hon. Minister of Justice will make that claim when he follows me, and it is in anticipation of that that I want to put this point forward to him so that he may give up his mind to it. He is a person who is genuinely interested in the future of the Tamil people. Let him give his mind to this matter, and I am sure he will do that. That is why I am drawing his attention to this matter.
Then, there is the Chapter on Fundamental Rights.
D.Shelton Jayasinghe: You have got what you wanted written into the Constitution.
A.Amirthalingam: There are certain fundamental rights which have been adequately safeguarded in this draft Constitution.
R.Premadasa: Which you did not have earlier?
A.Amirthalingam: Section 15(8) almost repeats the provisions of section 18(2) of the 1972 Constitution. It says:
‘The exercise and operation of all the fundamental rights declared and recognized by Articles 12, 13(1), 13(2) and 14 shall be subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of national security, public order and the protection of public health or morality, or for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others, or of meeting the just requirements of the general welfare of a democratic society.’
This vague phrase, ‘of meeting the just requirements of the general welfare of a democratic society’, can cover anything. This is the phrase that one finds in this new Constitution. In the 1972 Constitution, they have a different phrase which is equally vague. Section 18(2) of the 1972 Constitution says:
‘The exercise and operation of the fundamental rights and freedoms provided in this Chapter shall be subject to such restrictions as the law prescribes in the interests of national unity and integrity, national security, national economy, public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others or giving effect to the Principles of State Policy set out in Section 16.’
Section 18(2) of the 1972 Constitution applies to the entire list of fundamental rights, but section 15(8) of the new Constitution applies to certain, but very important, fundamental rights, and this vague phrase, ‘of meeting the just requirements of the general welfare of a democratic society is one of the limiting factors. The 1972 Constitution speaks of ‘the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others or giving effect to the Principles of State Policy set out in section 16’. They had a whole Chapter there on the Principles of State Policy. Here you have an equally vague phrase where you say ‘of meeting the just requirements of the general welfare of a democratic society.
Mr.Speaker: How would you amend it?
A.Amirthalingam: They should be more specific. This sort of vague phraseology should not find a place here.
D.Shelton Jayasinghe: Then make your suggestion.
A.Amirthalingam: We are not here to do that.
R.Premadasa: Let them move their amendments at the Committee stage. We will consider them.
D.Shelton Jayasinghe: Apart from that, what are you objecting to?
R.Premadasa: I am willing to consider any amendments, but move them at the proper stage.
A.Amirthalingam: I am here to place my point of view. It is up to your Government to do what you want.
Mr.Speaker: The position of the Government is that they are willing to consider amendments.
A.Amirthalingam: Unfortunately, that is only a small aspect of the problem we are concerned with. Our main problem is something else. I will come to that presently.
A Member: They are beating about the bush!
A.Amirthalingam: Let them also have some relaxation. As I said in the course of my comments in Tamil on the language provisions of this Bill. Mr. Speaker, as far as –
A Member: the TULF is concerned!
A. Amirthalingam: the Tamil Nation is concerned [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order, Please! Please do not interrupt the Hon. Member.
A.Amirthalingam: In fact, last night I had the privilege of seeing the beautiful film produced by the hon.Member for Moratuwa (Mr Tyronne Fernando) dealing with the life of the hero of the 1848 Rebellion in Matale.
Mr. Speaker: Puran Appu.
A.Amirthalingam: But I was struck by one thing. The nation the whole time that is referred to is the Sinhala Nation. There is no Ceylonese National there. No one can deny that. I am not finding fault. That is correct. I am sure the hon. Member, the producer himself –
A Member: That was when the Tamils never fought for Ceylon.
S. Kathiravelupillai: When we fought you were hiding in the hills.
A.Amirthalingam: In fact, I am not complaining about it. That is as it should be. Puran Appu was a great hero who fought for the Sinhala Nation. We honour him for that. We do not deny him that position. But, in the same way, the moment we say we are the Tamil Nation they start shouting. We are equally proud of Sangili, the King of Jaffna, who fought for the freedom of the Tamil Nation. We are equally proud of Bandara Vanniyan, the King of the Vanni, who fought for the freedom of the Tamil Nation. What is wrong?
Mr. Speaker: Nothing wrong.
A.Amirthalingam: In fact, the resolution at the Vaddukoddai Convention which I read out sets down the basis on which we state that we are a separate nation entitled to the right of self-determination. I cannot undertake a lecture in political theory at this state on the elements that go to constitute nationhood. To say the least a nation has been defined as a territorially evolved community of people united by language, religion, common tradition and culture and a will to live together as one nation. Now, let us apply that to this country. There are two peoples speaking two languages. They have, by far and large, professed two religions. They have two different traditions and cultures. They have historically lived apart till the foreigners yoked them together. Till 1833 we have lived apart. They yoked us together. English education linked us together. Our leaders of the past generation thought of themselves as one nation. They started speaking of a Ceylonese nation. In fact, the hon. Member for Agalawatta (Mr. Merril Kariyawasam) said that the Tamils never fought for freedom. But the person who formed or inaugurated the Ceylon National Congress and was the first President of the Ceylon National Congress was Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, a Tamil. And you say that the Tamils never fought for freedom.
Merril Kariyawasam: We are proud of that, but Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam fought for all Ceylonese, not for the Tamils only.
Mr Speaker: Whatever one’s political allegiance, I do not think that is an attitude that any hon. Member should adopt when that revered name is mentioned in this House. Hon. Leader of the Opposition, please proceed.
A.Amirthalingam: Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir James Peries, Mr F.R.Senanayake and various other leaders joined together. So a statement like the one coming from the hon. Member for Agalawatta (Mr Merril Kariyawasam) that the Tamils never fought for freedom in this country is, to say the least uncharitable, unfair and untrue.
Our leaders in the past generation thought that common nationhood had been evolved, but I am sorry to say that the events that have taken place in this country since 1948 more than anything else have demonstrated unmistakably that the two nations continue to live apart, ad the only change that has been brought about in the name of freedom is that one nation, the majority nation, has been enthroned in the seat of power and the minority nation has been made a subject nation and it has been our task in the last two decades or more to try and win back the rights that have been denied to us one after another.
Mr Speaker: Order, please. The Sitting is suspended for half an hour. On resumption, the Deputy Speaker will take the Chair.
Sitting accordingly suspended till 4.30 pm and then resumed, Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr.M.A.Bakeer Markar] in the Chair.
Merril Kariyawasam: Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation. Just before the tea break, I made a certain comment when the hon. Leader of the Opposition was speaking, and I think the Hon. Speaker misunderstood me on a certain point. What I mentioned was that people like Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam fought for the Ceylonese as a nation – that is what I said – and not for the Tamils only as a nation. I think the Hon. Speaker misunderstood me on that point. I want to make that explanation so that it will go on record. I must add that we have the highest regard for leaders like Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam – leaders who fought for the rights of the Ceylonese as a nation.
A.Amirthalingam: Mr.Deputy Speaker, at the time the Sitting was suspended for tea I had dealt with the definition of nationhood and shown that Ceylon is the home of two nations and that the transference of political power by colonial masters into the hands of the people of this country has taken the form of enthroning the majority nation in the seats of power and enslaving the minority nation.
Now, ever since the grant of independence various legislative and administrative actions have been taken by successive governments which have had the effect of reducing the share that the minorities have in political power in this country. The resolution that was taken by the TULF in 1976 which I read out fully enumerates the various legislative and administrative acts by successive Governments for the last 30 years since 1948 which have led up to the present situation. In that connection, people talk very loosely of equality.
One of the foremost historians of this country and a nominee of the United National Party to the University Grants Commission, Professor K.M.de Silva, has recently written a monograph entitled ‘Discrimination in Sri Lanka’. In this, he sums up the dominant role of Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka polity in the following terms. I am quoting from Professor K.M.de Silva’s publication ‘Discrimination in Sri Lanka’. He has actually taken over a passage about the position of Hindus in India from a book written by a professor there and he has adopted with approval the same thing in Ceylon. This is what he says:
‘The Sinhalese Buddhists are the largest, and also the dominant element in the population of Sri Lanka. They are the masters and rulers. They have regained political power after many centuries, and are fully aware of it., perhaps over-aware. They are the only sources of energy for the country, considered as a human-machine; and it is their desires and aspirations which keep it running. No other element counts…’
This is the summing up of an element professor of our time – Professor K.M.de Silva – of the role of the various sections of the people.
R.J.G.de Mel: When has he written it?
A.Amirthalingam: It is in a monograph entitled, ‘Discrimination in Sri Lanka’.
R.J.G.de Mel: What is the date?
A.Amirthalingam: It is a recent publication. It has been published in1976 or 1977.
R.J.G.de Mel: He may have written it long ago?
A.Amirthalingam: No. I think he was your nominee to the University Grants Commission.
R.J.G.de Mel: It may have been in 1956. That is why I asked for the date.
A. Amirthalingam: No. This is of recent origin. I saw it myself.
R.J.G.de Mel: It must be in the context of the 1950s.
A.Amirthalingam: I think the context became far worse in the 1970s and in the context of the events that happened in August 1977, it is far worse. I am not saying that it is the action of the Government, but the events that took place in this country have created that situation. There is no doubt about that. When we consider a Constitution for this country we will have to consider not merely the aspirations of one section of the people. It may be that they are politically dominant, a politically powerful section, whose views count in so far as elections are concerned, but that is no reason why one should expect the politically down-trodden section to accept that position. Now, therein comes the conflict and for the last 30 years, this conflict has raged over various matters.
The first matter was on citizenship. One section of the people was decitizenized, disfranchised; their representation was taken away and what should have gone to them by way of representation accrued to the benefit of the majority community and they who are actually 70 per cent of the population in this country got 80 per cent representation in the Legislature. That was the distortion of democracy which took place as a result of the citizenship laws, followed up by amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Order in Council which took place in 1951.
Then came the language laws and in the course of my speech in Tamil, I dealt with the strenuous struggle that the Tamil-speaking people put up for their language rights.
R.J.G.de Mel: Now you have won that struggle.
A.Amirthalingam: I admit that the provisions contained in the present draft Bill are a definite improvement on all that we have had for the last twenty-two years. I do not deny that – I believe in giving credit where credit is due. All I say is – I said this earlier too – the concept of equality is not there.
R.J.G.de Mel: There is no discrimination on the grounds of race? This is the first time in the history of this country that provision has been made that there will be no discrimination on grounds of race.
A.Amirthalingam: If the Hon. Minister of Finance had his way, if he did things as he wanted, he will not discriminate. The Soulbury Constitution in Article 29 imposed a bar against discriminatory legislation. But what was the use of that? Discrimination was rampant, discrimination went ahead, and they passed the Sinhala Oly Act and they disfranchised and decitizenized over a million people. The law was helpless. Even in this matter, though unequal, fair recognition of certain language rights is given in this draft Bill, but there is no provision made for enforcing the use of the Tamil language.
Mr Deputy Speaker, as far as the official language is concerned, there is the provision in the Constitution that any public servant who enters public service through a medium other than the official language is required, is compelled, to acquire proficiency in the official language. If the provisions in the Constitution relating to the right of the Tamil-speaking person in any part of Sri Lanka to transact business with the Government or with a department or office of Government in the Tamil language is to be a reality, there should be a requirement that a knowledge of that language also should be acquired. Even in the colonial days the old civil servants were expected to acquire a knowledge of boh the national languages.
R.J.G.de Mel: I have passed two examinations in Tamil.
A.Amirthalingam: That is why I said that you are an exception. There is no such provision here. I know the difficulty of the Government. In fact, we had some difficulty in 1966 when we formed part of the Government. They could not and they did not dare to ask the Sinhala public servant to acquire proficiency in Tamil. Why? Because they are the masters, they are the rulers; how can they ask them? The Tamil public servant can be asked to comply, and if he does not he can be dismissed.
K.W.Devanayagam: May I interrupt? If you look at the proviso to Article 22 there is reference to any language. That means even Tamil is compulsory. Take an interpreter in Tamil or in Sinhala. Qualification in either language would be required. I am referring to proviso (2) of Article 22. \A.Amirthalingam: This is followed by the provisions under the Chapter on Language. The proviso to Article 12(2) is to guard against a Tamil public servant taking up the position that he cannot be compelled to acquire proficiency in Sinhala and not to compel a Sinhala public servant to acquire proficiency in Sinhala.
Under Article 22(5):
‘A person shall be entitled to be examined through the medium of either of the National Languages at any examination for the admission of persons to the Public Service, Judicial Service, Local Government Service, public corporation or statutory institution, subject to the condition that he may be required to have a sufficient knowledge of the Official Language or to acquire such knowledge within a specified time after admission to the Public Service, Judicial Service, Local Government Service, public corporation or statutory institution, where such knowledge is reasonably necessary for the discharge of his duties.’
There is no corresponding provision asking anyone to acquire proficiency in the other National Language. I am aware of the difficulty that is there for the Government, because, after all, the public servants are a big force and they cannot be compelled. In fact, the UNP at its sessions in Panadura in 1964 adopted a resolution that all public servants should be required to study both languages. In 1965 before we joined the UNP in forming the National Government, in the course of negotiations, the then Prime Minister as well as the present President, the Hon.J.R.Jayewardene, stated that their policy was also to require all public servants to acquire a working knowledge of the other language. But during the whole five years they were in office from 1965 to 1970 they could not implement the Tamil Language Regulations and they did not want to call upon the Sinhala public servants to acquire proficiency in Tamil, whereas they continued to dismiss several Tamil public servants, as is being done even today. Even mortuary attendants are being dismissed for want of a knowledge of Sinhala. They want them to talk in Sinhala to the corpses! In Jaffna, a mortuary attendant has been dismissed for want of proficiency in Sinhala. Railway porters are being dismissed. But this does not apply to a Sinhala public servant. So, where is equality? I ask Members of the Government. And this Constitution only ensures the continuation of that position. It does not make any change in so far as that is concerned.
So, our bitter experience has been, as I said, in 1956 the late Mr Bandaranaike introduced the ‘Sinhala Only Act. At the time of its introduction or shortly before, the Draft included provisions for certain rights for the Tamil language, but merely because Prof.F.R.Jayasuriya and Mr K.M.P.Rajaratne went on a glucose-eating fast in the precincts of this House he dropped the provisions relating to the use of Tamil.
Then in 1957 he entered into a pact with us. In 1958 he tore it up –
Mrs. Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike: What about the march to Kandy?
A.Amirthalingam: after we were incarcerated. When we were in jail the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act was passed in 1958. But, for 20 years that has remained a dead letter. The law passed in 1958 has not been implemented up-to-date.
When we were in the Government in 1966 we got Regulations passed under the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act in order to implement that. But even those Regulations which were passed 12 years ago have not been implemented up-to-date. So, are you surprised if Tamil people today ask, ‘What is the guarantee that these paper provisions will be implemented, that all these will not continue to remain a dead letter?’
The entire set-up in the country is such that there is no one to worry about when the rights of the minorities, when the rights of the Tamil people, are denied. That is the position. So, we are not much enamoured by paper safeguards.
That is why in the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact as well as in the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact language formed part of an overall settlement. It formed part of an overall settlement involving decentralization and regional autonomy, safeguarding of territory and homeland of the Tamil people and the granting of certain rights to the Tamil language. In that context, it was as part of an overall settlement that the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact was signed on the 26th of July 1957 and similarly, it was as part of an overall settlement, an interim settlement no doubt, that the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact was signed on the 24th of March 1965.
One of the other matters which has been identified as a matter that affects the Tamil people, that has agitated the minds of the Tamil people, is the question of their traditional homelands in this country. We are now coming into a stage when the Hon. Members can even get up and deny there is any place which is our traditional home. When I spoke of that, some hon. Member said, ‘What about Wellawatte?’
Now, what has happened in the Eastern Province has not happened in any other part. In the Eastern Province and in Puttalam influx of population of an unprecedented nature has taken place over the last 25 years which has resulted in a total change of the demographic pattern of those areas. That, we say, is unfair. Because, however much a minority may spread, it can never become a majority. But it, into the territory of the minority, the majority spreads, the minority gets completely submerged. That is the danger, and that is why from that time onwards we have been putting forward a demand for the safeguard of the traditional territories occupied by the Tamil-speaking people in this country.
The late Mr.Bandaranaike accepted that position and, as part of that overall settlement which included certain provisions relating to language, this was the agreement with regard to colonization:
‘It was agreed that in the matter of colonization schemes the powers of regional councils shall include the power to select allottees to whom lands within their area of authority shall be alienated and also the power to select personnel to be employed for work in such schemes.
The position regarding the area at present administered by the Gal Oya Development Board in this matter requires consideration.’
In this connection, there was a lot of agitation and Mr Bandaranaike thereafter clarified his position and issued a statement on 16th August 1957. This is the policy which he laid down, and I am sure that it is a policy which all fair-minded people will accept as just:
‘The instrument of colonization should not be used to convert the Northern and Eastern Provinces into Sinhalese majority areas or in any other manner to the detriment of the Tamil-speaking people of those areas.’
That is the policy which he adopted and accepted, and I should say in fairness to him that thereafter, during his tenure of office between 1957 and 1959 this planned colonization ceased for a time.
It is not he alone that has accepted this position. The late Mr Dudley Senanayake, along with our President, Mr J.R.Jayewardene, in the course of the discussions they had and the agreement they signed on the 24th March 1965, agreed as follows:
‘Mr. Senanayake further agreed that in the granting of land under colonization schemes the following provision be observed in the Northern and Eastern Provinces:
Land in the Northern and Eastern Provinces should in the first instance be granted to landless persons in the district, secondly to Tamil-speaking persons resident in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and thirdly, to other citizens of Ceylon, preference being given to Tamil citizens in the rest of the Island.’
That was the agreement, and I am sure His Excellency the President himself, who was personally present and participated in the discussions at the house of Dr M.V.P.Peiris, will accept this position as having been agreed to by the then Prime Minister.
So, the leaders of the two major parties have accepted a certain premise, have accepted a certain position in regard to colonization. That is a matter that has been agitating the minds not only of the Tamils and the TULF but also Tamils and Muslims in general because, as you know, Sir, in the Eastern Province it is the territories occupied by the Muslims that have been invaded more and affected more as a result of these colonization schemes.
At the time of Constitution-making, when we consider the whole question of the relationship of the various sections of the people, if I may say it in a more straight-forward way when we are face to face with the rights and the denial of rights and consequent conflicts between two nations which have been inhabiting this country from time immemorial, we have to work out a solution which is acceptable to both sections, which will lead to the harmonious living together of the two nations.
R.J.G.de Mel: Why can you not live? Can I ask the Hon. Leader of the Opposition a question? On the question of land and colonization, do you expect such matters to be embodied in the Constitution? I am raising a point of order.
A. Amirthalingam: That is not a point of Order.
R.J.G.de Mel: I would like a clarification.
A.Amirthalingam: The late Mr Bandaranaike had given thought to it and introduced a solution to the colonization question as part of the scheme of decentralisation by granting power over the region to the people of the region, granting power over colonization schemes to the regional councils, thereby safeguarding the rights of the people of that region.
R.J.G.de Mel: Wait till our scheme of decentralization takes place under the District Ministers.
A.Amirthalingam: I do not want to be drawn into this District Minister scheme because we do not know where it stands. It has no legs to stand on. It is just a White Paper that may become a black paper tomorrow, and we do not know what may become of it. In fact, I would have expected – and we would have welcomed – a scheme of this type to have formed part of this Constitution. A scheme of decentralization, a scheme of devolution of power, a scheme of granting autonomy, a scheme of granting greater autonomy, some form of decentralization, could have formed part of the Constitution, as it has been done in a number of countries all over the world. Where the relations between territorial nationalities had to be settled they have adopted certain solutions and incorporated them in the Constitution. We expected that that would be done, and that is why we waited all this time. We were hoping that this Government would do that.
We have at a personal level – I think the Hon.Minister of Finance knows this – explained to them that we were expecting an inclusion of certain schemes of decentralization in this Constitution, but unfortunately all that has been left out. There is a chapter on Fundamental Rights which is partly a repetition of the Chapter to the old Constitution. The language rights have no doubt gone further than any previous Constitution, but there is no certainty, no guarantee of their being implemented. On the contrary, the present stamp of inferiority is perpetuated in Articles 9, 18 and every other provision of this Constitution. As I said before, even in the language provisions there is the stamp of inferiority.
Equality of opportunity is denied to the Tamil public servant when he is called upon to acquire proficiency in Sinhala whereas his counterpart who enters through the Sinhala medium is not called upon to acquire any such proficiency. We see that there is discrimination, discriminatory treatment, and this Constitution perpetuates that discrimination.
I am not putting forward all my arguments with regard to the colonization schemes, decentralization and various other matters and saying that they are not what we have been asking for. The Government has in its own manifesto, the UNP manifesto said that they will find a solution to the problem that the Tamil people are worried about with regard to colonization. It is up to them to have found a solution for it. They have failed to do so. As far as we are concerned we have made our position clear. Over the last thirty years, we have tried all methods of getting our rights in this country, within the framework of a united Ceylon. All our efforts have proved fruitless, Agreements we entered into with leaders who may be called the mentors of the two major parties, the late Mr.S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike and the late Mr.Dudley Senanayake, but all those agreements have proved futile.
Harindra Corea: If I may interrupt the hon. Member, District Ministers are covered in Section 45(1)(b).
A.Amirthalingam: I know there is a reference to District Ministers and decentralization. What I say is that a passing reference to District Ministers and decentralization does not satisfy. That is not the machinery for decentralization.
D. Shelton Jayasinghe: It is not a passing reference. That is unfair.
A.Amirthalingam: I have studied this draft fairly carefully and I know that there is a reference to District Ministers – District Ministers who are to be appointed by the President to carry out the policy of the President and the Cabinet and who shall be Members, according to the White Paper, of the Government Parliamentary Group. That is the District Ministers set-up. [Interruption]. There is nothing in the Constitution. And to call that a measure of decentralization, I think, exhibits ignorance of constitutional matters which I do not want to get involved in.
R.J.G.de Mel: With all due respect to the hon.Leader of the Opposition I am sure he will admit that decentralization has been and can be worked in different countries in different ways. Decentralization can be brought as an administrative measure as has been done in many countries. Decentralization has been brought by means of specific devolution bills as you very well know. Decentralization may also be embodied in certain constitutions, though they are very few instances where this has been done. In the large majority of countries, decentralization is brought as a purely administrative measure which we hope to do or as separate devolution bills outside the Constitution as they hope to do in the U.K. So thee are various ways of doing it. I say, be patient and we will do it. When we do it we will meet some of your wishes.
A. Amirthalingam: When you do it we will consider it.
Mr Deputy Speaker: What the Hon. Minister says is that an executive function at the centre will be decentralized and taken to the district.
R.J.G.de Mel: It need not be spelled out in the Constitution.
A.Amirthalingam: That is physical decentralization. That is not the devolution of power. Power should be given to the people of the region, the people of the area. That is what democratic decentralization means.
Mr Deputy Speaker: What you are suggesting is a regional set-up. What the Government is saying is that the executive in the centre is being decentralized. That is the difference.
A.Amirthalingam: Quite so. I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for clarifying the position.
Mrs Wimala Kannangara: Regarding these regional councils on which the hon. Leader of the Opposition spoke, it was an idea of Mr Chelvanayakam when the Federal Party was in the Government with the UNP. He drafted the Bill and it was on a local government basis that power was to be vested in the regional councils.
There is the Bill brought by the Hon. Prime Minister yesterday to amalgamate rural councils and town councils. Under that Bill, we can take up this issue, not under the Constitution.
A.Amirthalingam: With all respect to the Hon. fair Minister of Shipping & Tourism, the district councils contemplated under the Dudley Senanayake Government and the Bill for that purpose drafted by Mr Tiruchelvam were not a measure of local government. They were meant as a measure of decentralization of power. District councils were to be elected by the people and they were to be clothed with power to take policy decisions on their own within limited fields subject to certain directions by the Central Government and to carry on their affairs in their own way.
The same thing was there in the regional councils draft Bill which was gazetted by the late Mr Bandaranaike in 1957 and to which he agreed to certain amendments to meet our demands and aspirations in so far as colonization and matters like that were concerned. Power was to be given to the people. Now there is to be administrative decentralization; without having the centre of government in one place it is divided up. After all, whether a District Minister appointed by the President is to rule over us or whether a Government Agent appointed by the President rules over us makes little difference. In place of a bureaucratic head, you are appointing a political head. That is not decentralization. I am sure the Hon. Minister of Finance realizes this.
Harindra Corea: But Members of Parliament will be in the district councils.
R.J.G.de Mel: I know the solution to the problem but I do not wish to spell it out here.
A.Amirthalingam: I know how far you are prepared to go but I do not want to mention that here. So there are various solutions to the matters agitating the Tamil people which could have been included in the Constitution.
The Government speaks of fundamental rights, of a Charter of Human Rights. In fact the Hon. Prime Minister called this Constitution ‘A way of life. Now, Sir, the most essential and the most fundamental of fundamental rights which is recognized universally is enshrined in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person’. With all respect, I ask Hon. Members of this House, can they say that the right to life, liberty and security of person has been guaranteed to the Tamil people in this country during the last one year? I say emphatically, No! Even today intimidations, threats, are going on –
A Member: What about the ‘Tigers’?
A.Amirthalingam: – and hundreds of people who have been long settled in the midst of our Sinhalese brethren feel that they can no longer live there. [Interruption.] Whether it is the tigers or the lions that caused it I do not know, but I am only concerned with the reality of the situation and the plight of the people. One has only to read the harrowing tales that are being told; one has only to go into the refugee camps in places like Visvamadu, Nedunkerni, Muthiankattu, Adampan and other places, to realize whether these people have the right to live, the right to liberty and security of person. They have not even the right to defend themselves.
A Member: What about Wellawatta?
A.Amirthalingam: Even in Wellawatte. There are good Samaritans, maybe, like the Hon. Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Sports who has no prejudices on this score. We know there are people like that, but let us face facts, let us be realists. A situation has been created particularly after August 1977 when the bulk of the people feel that the two nations cannot live together. Let us find a way in which, if they cannot live together, in which they can live apart – they can live apart, equally and peacefully as friends. Let us find a way.
I would expect the people who draft a constitution for this country in this context to be aware of the realities of the situation and provide for that. That is the most important, the most crying problem of today. The rest of it, the mechanics of government, the changes in the administrative machinery, and so on, can be done, but the oldest problem in this country and the problem that yet remains a running sore which ostrich-like some of our politicians are refusing to face, are seeking to bury their heads in the sand and pretending that the problem does not exist is the problem of the relationship between the two nations living in this country. So, unless the Constitution can provide for these two nations to live equally, freely and on friendly terms, the Constitution cannot be accepted.
We who are pledged to work for the freedom, for the liberation of our people who, we say, have been enslaved first by the Portuguese, next by the Dutch, next by the British, and now in the name of independence by our own brothers, the Sinhalese nation, want our freedom. We want to rule ourselves in our homeland, we do not want inroads being made into our territory, we do not want our future generations to be totally annihilated in this country and to cease to exist as a separate entity. It is with that in view that we have put forward our demand. Our people have endorsed that demand and we intend going forward in our own way. The law is against us. We may be locked up. The might of the Government is against us. We may be shot and we may be killed.
A.Amirthalingam: We may be attacked. Our boys may even be drowned, but we intend going forward. [Interruption.] But we intend going forward to win the freedom and the rights of our people to live as free citizens in their own country, ruling themselves.
Mr Deputy Speaker, it is in this context that we approach this Constitution, and we say we cannot accept this Constitution. Whatever comments I may have made with regard to the detailed provisions of this Constitution, we cannot compromise on the fundamental position that our party has taken throughout that we will not be a party to the making of this Constitution and we will not participate any further in the deliberations on this Bill.”
End Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
It is somewhat ironic that in this historic speech, Amirthalingam had anticipated his premature death, eleven years ahead. He had prophesied: “The might of the Government is against us. We may be shot and we may be killed.” But, he would not have anticipated that he would be betrayed by those on whom he trusted – the Indian Intelligence Operatives and the rogue elements in the LTTE, who functioned as the local relays of the Indian Intelligence Operatives. It is to the credit of the LTTE leadership that the local relays who extinguished the life of Amirthalingam in 1989 were eventually identified and punished appropriately.
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