Harsha de Silva, a lawmaker representing Sri Lanka’s main opposition spoke out against a proposal by Prime Minister D M Jayaratne to ban the import of wheat flour.
“The statement by the Prime Minister that wheat flour imports should be banned is an irresponsible statement and must be retracted,” de Silva said.
“While it may be his choice to consume only rice, or he wishes more people in this country ate rice, he must be made aware that some people in Sri Lanka are totally dependent on wheat flour.”
De Silva an economist said a state Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) for 2006 found that an average Tamil family in the estate sector consumed 17.4 kilograms of wheat flour per month when the cost per kilo was less than Rs 40.
At the time the national monthly average was 2.4 Kg per household.
“Even though price of wheat flour doubled since then to close to Rs 85 a kilogram currently, the HIES for the year 2010 found that estate Tamil households consumption only fell marginally to 15.4 kilograms per month,” de Silva said.
“The 2010 data, which covers the entire island, also show that the household wheat flour consumption in the Jaffna district was 19.3 kilograms per month while in Vavuniya it was 18.1 kilograms per month.”
In contrast in the Sinhala dominated Hambantota it was at 0.4 kilograms per month and Matara at 0.8 kilograms per month.
“Therefore, someone must explain to the Prime Minister that given the preference for wheat flour in their daily meal even at much higher prices, not only Tamils living on the estates but in the North as well continue to purchase significant amounts of wheat flour,” de Silva said.
“This is because this segment of our population is used to, and simply enjoy, consuming rotti and other food prepared using wheat flour.”
“Banning the import of wheat flour, or even increasing the taxes on wheat flour to very high levels, would exacerbate what in economics we call ‘Horizontal Inequalities’,” de Silva said.
“Simply put, the Prime Minister must be briefed that such a half-baked policy will have a significant negative impact on the Tamil people of this country just when policies must be designed to reduce such inequalities.”
Since a majority voting system was instituted by the British Sri Lanka has seen a rise of nationalism and undermining of rule of law, sometimes through the constitution itself resulting in severe deterioration of freedoms of citizens.
Minority Tamils were some of the early victims of nationalism in Sri Lanka.
Economists who have traced the history of nationalism say that it seemed to have originated in Eastern Europe among Poles, Czechs and then spread to Germany and Italy, as parliaments gradually replaced feudal rule, allowing majority tyranny, state intervention, eventually leading to war.
In a ‘democracy’, linguistic minorities find it difficult to influence policy.
“He who lives as a member of a linguistic minority, within a community where another linguistic group forms the majority, is deprived of the means of influencing the country’s politics,” explains Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, in his book Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War.
“Within a democratic community public opinion determines the outcome of elections, and thereby the political decisions.
“Whoever wants to make his ideas prevalent in political life must try to influence public opinion through speech and writing. If he succeeds in convincing his fellow citizens, his ideas obtain support and persist.
“In this struggle of ideas linguistic minorities cannot take part. They are voiceless spectators of the political debates out of which the deciding vote emerges.
“They cannot participate in the discussions and negotiations. But the result determines their fate too. For them democracy does not mean self-determination; other people control them. They are second-class citizens.
“This is the reason why men in a democratic world consider it a disadvantage to be members of a linguistic minority. It explains at the same time why there were no linguistic conflicts in earlier ages, where there was no democracy.”