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Sri Lanka’s Nationality Conflict: Contemporary Political Scenario


By Suresh Premachandran M.P.
The root cause of the nationality conflict in Sri Lanka is based on two mythical believes masqueraded as history that is ‘Sinhalese are the son of the soil’ others are aliens. The island is blessed by Buddha thus, ‘the island is the land of Buddhism’.

These believes inculcated vociferously from Anagarika Dharmapala to present Sinhala chauvinists and Buddhist Sangas. It is this ideology shaped the mindset of Sinhalese. In the process this believe evolved as pivotal theme of any ideology of the Sinhala polity like Zionism as the pivotal theme of any ideology of the Israel’s polity.

This myth turned ideology that predominantly governs the Sinhalese polity from late colonial era. In nutshell the driving force of the Sinhala polity for nation building is the ideology of ‘building the island state as pan-Sinhala Buddhist state’.

The Core of the Political History of Conflict

The history of independent Sri Lanka is the history of the implementation of this ideology of sinhalasisation and Buddhisisation of the Tamil nation. Successive governments’ used constitutional, legal, political, economic and cultural means and by racial practices to accomplish this agenda.

The history of Tamil politics is resisting this agenda of extinction of the Tamil nation. Since the independence successive governments implemented projects based on this agenda deceitfully under various guises. They found alleged reasons for these projects which could not and should not overtly expose their racial face to the International community (IC) and made such reasons are possibly justifiable to the IC using rhetoric of developmental projects, nation building process and measures of counter terrorism.

Nature of the Present Regime and the State

The present regime, (ab)using its ruling power, is implementing this agenda illegally nakedly and cruelly with rigor with the power of racially motivated armed forces and outrageous Buddhist Monks who are empowered to overpower the civil administration in the north and east. The Judiciary and the police too are politicized on the same line to protect the members of armed forces and such Monks from actions against their misdeeds and abuses particularly in Tamil nation. It is to be noted that unlike other democracies, police in Sri Lanka also fall under the defense ministry, thus, virtually become forces of solidarity.

Armed forces and law enforcement forces of such nature are entrusted to implement this agenda in the north and eastern provinces as unquestionable and uninterrupted entity. It is the racially motivated and racially threatened state apparatus are muted or made subservient to the armed forces in accomplishing various projects of the said government agenda. Some of the examples given below could enable to demonstrate the extinctive nature of Tamil identity by the present ruling regime and the state.

It is these agents of the state entrusted to deface the North and Eastern Provinces physically by establishing Sinhala Buddhist supremacy through demographic, topographic, toponymic and cultural changes. Economically, the agenda is implementing through changing of the ownership of economic sources and resources.

In the name of development, from boutiques to star hotels, lakes to sea, from paddy land to commercial land and timber to sand of the Tamil Nation are snatched and deprived from Tamils and distributed to Sinhalese closer to the regime. Institutionally, the regime is accelerating in appointing Sinhala administrative staffs from minor staffs to administrative staffs and from clerk to judges to protect and consolidate the such changes in Tamil Nation.

Some of the examples given below could enable to demonstrate the enforced extinction of Tamil Nation by the present ruling regime and the state.

State Orchestrated Sinhala Colonisation

Prewar Tamil villages are emerging as Sinhala villages. e.g. A Tamil village Kokachan Kulam in Vavunia North DS division converted as Kalabogaswewa without the knowledge of the DS and the Vavunia GA. Appan Kudiyiruppu of Navatkuly, Jaffna has been converted as Sinhala settlement. The Tamil area Manalaru in Mullaithivu district was renamed as Weli oya before 1983 with small number of Sinhalese under the protection of Sinhala army and police.

Subsequent to 1983 pogrom Tamils of Manalaru and surrounding villages were attacked and killed by the army and chased away the Tamils from that area.

The Government brought this village with 7,000 acres of land under the administration of Anuradhapura, which is the capital of North Central Province. In this period much more Sinhala people were settled in this area by the Sri Lankan Government. At present the Sinhala population in this village is rise beyond 9000. Thus, overnight the Tamil District of Mullaithivu became multi ethnic with substantial percentage of Sinhalese, potential to bring the existing Tamils into vulnerability. Sri Lankan Armed forces are protecting these new Sinhala settlements.

Ongoing Military Colonisation

Buddhism as Effective Tool for Land Occupation and Cultural Genocide

Tamil nation is witnessing for proliferation of Buddhist shrines, Buddha statues and dagopas in absolutely non-Buddhist areas. Armed forces under the guidance and supervision of Monks are installing Buddha statues under almost boa trees, every cities, town and village centres and hospitals of Tamil areas. Even the Sri Lanka State building new Buddhist temples at the sites of most sacred Hindu temples which are as old as five thousand years. e.g. Thiruketheeswaram and Thirukoneswaram.

This is still an accelerated ongoing process becomes daily news from different parts of the Tamil area. The status of Buddhism as state religion and the government patronage to Buddhism is used as another potential instrument is to grab hundreds of acres of private and state land in various parts of Tamil nation under the guise of state religion and sacred area.

Increasing intolerance in the existence of non Sinhala-Buddhist

It is not only defacing the cultural outlook of the Tamil nation by land, economic and religious occupation of the state but also by destroying symbols of Tamil civilization. In the east commemoration statues of Tamil scholars and internationally reputed leaders like Gandhi were attacked and broken by ‘culturally motivated unidentified thugs’. No one gets arrested and will not get arrested regarding this vandalism.

A mosque was attacked under the direct guidance of Buddhist monk and in front of many police and army officers in broaddaylight at Dambulla a few weeks back. Subsequent to this attack, Prime minister unmindful of the sentiments of the minority Islamic people said “I will give even my life to protect Buddhism”.

In the North and East Hinduism and Christianity are under attack and in the south Islamism is under attack. Unambiguously the present regime is governing by Sinhala Buddhist fanaticism. It is aggressively striving to accomplish the task of Sinhala-Budhisisation of the Tamil nation thus, make Tamils as politically impotent intending to make the talk about talks as meaningless.

The present Government is talking much about reconciliation. But in practice, it is suppressing the Tamils more and more and creating much more division among the two nationalities through their anti Tamil activities. Now the Government is appointing Sinhala administrative officers in the North as head of departments to implement the Government’s agenda. Earlier the Tamil dominated Trincomallee and Ampara district were manned by Sinhala Officers. Now The Northern Province Mannar and Vavuniya district Government Agents are Sinhalese brought down from the Southern Sinhala nation which, clearly shows the Government’s attitude towards reconciliation.

The Post-Geneva Resolution Scenario

The UNHRC (Geneva) resolution on Sri Lanka is expecting the Sri Lankan state to implement the constructive recommendations of the LLRC report such as conduct credible investigation on extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances, substantial reduction of armed forces from the north, create credible mechanism to deal the land disputes, resettle the people in their lands, make the list of Tamil detainees open and find a political settlement based on the 13th amendment etc.

It may be the expectation of the International Community, that the implementation of the LLRC report of the Sri Lankan state may have reduce the acceleration of the above projects that can reduce the damages taking place at the moment.

However, the Government not yet started to implement any of the said recommendations of its LLRC report. Instead, strengthening the implementation of its own agenda in the north and east e.g. More than three hundred youngsters both male and female were arrested by the army in which forty of them were detained by them under PTA in the guise of LTTE or LTTE supporters in Trincomalee. More than 500 families of Sinhala fishermen were taken from Negombo and down south are settled in Kokilai, Kokkuthoduvai and Nayaru in Mullaitivu district under the protection of Navy and army.

A new Sinhala fisheries officer appointed to look after their fishing activities, where the original Tamil fishermen are deprived from their livelihood. Armed forces are busy in building new Buddhist temples all over the Northern Province including Jaffna. All the said activities are implementing after the Geneva resolution. These are few ample evidences to understand the ‘reconciliation processes’ of the government and its response to the Geneva resolution.

Status of the Issue of Political Solution

It is an open fact that the India-Sri Lanka agreement as a solution to the conflict was failed by the successive governments. Even the quarter century old disabled Provincial council system was never implemented fully. Instead, it is continuously suffering from the removal of its flush and nerves and the present regime even broken the skeleton as two.

Attitude of Successive governments is refuse to share the powers as stipulated by the constitution, withdrawal of powers, weakening of powers, carve out the potential part of devolved subjects, preventing implementation of even meager powers by various means including through ‘judiciary’. Even recently all the fiscal powers in the 13th amendment have been withdrawn from the central government. By all means the state acted to ensure that implementation of their agenda would not interrupted by any mechanism.

Norway facilitation was failed by the state by branding them as white tiger as they were lobbying for federal system as a solution, which at least provide legal teeth to the Tamils to protect their homeland and identity against evil designs of the Government.

Power sharing is detrimental to the implementation of the ideology of the Sinhala polity. It is due to this inability of the state there is no ground to evolve any internal solution or mechanism to mediate or facilitate between the two parties. The inability of will and courage on the part of Sinhala polity invited third parties such as India and then the Norway involvement to have negotiation process aimed at power sharing solution.

Contrarily, after the defeat of LTTE, Sri Lankan government claims the conflict as internal issue and need to find a home grown solution. Also the government continuously says that no need for advice or pressure from outside. Along with these statements the President also saying for last three years that we cannot find solution in overnight for 60 years old conflict. The unwillingness in power sharing has been adequately proved by the present regime for last seven years.

Rajapakse government itself had four different exercises allegedly to find a solution such as All Party Conference (APRC) which submitted report to the president has been put under the carpet, President Appointed an Expert Committee consist of Sinhala-Tamil-Muslim experts submitted a report too have been treated alike, the Government – TNA talks dragged on to one year under the compulsion of India has been abruptly broken by the government with big zero outcome either on power sharing or in humanitarian issues of Tamils.

The negotiation was broken by the government after repeatedly disown some commitments such as publish the list of detainees and resettlement in sumpoor etc. While the government is getting exposed about its unwillingness to commit for power sharing and meeting humanitarian issues, they needed a better excuse to drag on these issues, that is Parliament Select Committee (PSC). This is fairly enough to understand the real face of the SLG.

India too wants us to participate in the select committee to prove that the SLG does not have the intention in accommodating Tamils. For the International Community this conflict may be new as regimes, leaders and diplomats are changing time to time. Hence, for every set of new regimes and new set of diplomats dealing with this conflict this issue may be a new exercise. But for us this is more than six decades long deep rooted issue and we are in the edge of extinction. Still, expecting from us to prove the Ideology, nature and attitude of the state and the government is unfair.

President repeatedly and emphatically stated that he is against the sharing of police and land powers. His brother and the secretary of high powered defense ministry and highly influential person in policy making too repeatedly stated that no need for any negotiation, the existing system is adequately enough.

Coalition parties minister Wimal Weeransa led Patriotic National Movement (PNM) is vociferous against any power sharing. Another coalition party minister Champika Ranawaka and his party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) too are openly resisting any power sharing.

It is these forces and their stance would dominate the PSC and these forces are calling TNA to participate in the PSC. These stances are obviously detrimental to any frank and healthy dialog towards meaningful power sharing. Above all, the government does not have any basic document for negotiation.

In this backdrop what may be the strategy to forward the issue of political solution? What kind of solution under racially exclusivist Sinhala polity? I leave this potential question to the floor.

Status of Resettlement and Livelihood of the War Ravaged IDPs

Post-war budgets usually give priority for resettlement in any democracy. But in Sri Lanka gives increasing priority for defense and completely neglected resettlement. The negligence seems not due to lack of finance instead it seems the policy of the government is not to allow them to have a fullfledged resettlement.

It has been proved as intentional, by refusing to allow even Inter Governmental Organisations, INGOs and NGOs which are ready to support in resettlement of the people. The activities of NGOs and INGOs brought under defense ministry and treated as security issue. Real reason behind this policy seems that the state wanted Tamils to have dependent life on government even for day to day needs.

This seems the strategy to mute the political voice of Tamils. If they are settled and reestablished their normal life and livelihood, they will get strength to resist the state agenda and voice to assert their rights. Therefore the government wanted to keep them under multi cornered threat.

In Sum

The thirty years of non-violent struggle for a federal system was suppressed by the Governments of independent Sri Lanka by the means of violence with the support of armed forces. These non-violent protests at times responded with statewide anti Tamil carnages.

Further, no Government of independent Sri Lanka takes any initiative to provide to settle this nationality question. In fact it was either domestic pressure exert by the Tamils or pressure from the International Community which brought any Government to the negotiation table. The entire experience of the past towards a solution to the National problem and the assimilation and annihilation projects of the present regime take me to recollect the words of our renowned moderate Tamil leader Mr. Chelvanayakam. He said, “I tried all the avenues to resolve this problem. All are failed. I don’t have any other options other than to reestablish our lost sovereignty.” It was officially proclaim in the famous Vaddukoddai resolution. It is this resolution of the moderate leadership, has been uphold by the armed resistance movements.

However, the thirty five years armed struggle also crushed by the same State with the support of International Community under the pretext of counter terrorism. After a full circle, we are in back to square one. We lost hundreds of thousands of people to prove to the world, that the Tamils are striving for their legitimate rights. Despite forced miserable nomadic life they are repeatedly mandated for self rule and proved never to sell the rights for privileges. Now it is up to the International Community to take appropriate steps to resolve this nationality question. For us this is an issue of existence or extinction, survival with dignity or servitude as slaves.

Text of a paper presented at a symposium in Oslo, Norway

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