|No one seems to bother about their future (File photo : ICG)
By Veerasingham Anandasangaree
Being a true patriot who loves his country and all the people in it, I have a sacred duty to bring to your notice, the disturbing trend in the country that may sooner or later precipitate a big crisis. The country expects every citizen to put his or her interest in the country above all the other interests, one may have.
I am prepared to make any sacrifice for the sake of my country. Although three years have passed since the war came to an end, peace and tranquillity has not returned to the country. People live in constant fear and tension, both in the North and the East. However much you may boast that the country is now back to normal, I am sure that in your own mind you are not convinced so. I speak on behalf of the minority communities. I am convinced more than anybody else that the minorities now feel discriminated more than ever before.
In a country where many people are prepared to make any sacrifice merely to gain a seat in Parliament, I am one who, knowing the consequences fully well, took a bold stand in condemning the unpleasant or unacceptable activities of the LTTE, for which I was ‘ordained’ as a ‘Traitor’ and was deprived of my seat in Parliament for two successive terms. But unfortunately some, who are yearning for seats in Parliament or in their anxiety to retain their seats cause a lot of embarrassment to you. Without knowing the history of the ethnic problem, they create a lot of new problems for you and for the country. I am in particular referring to the sudden demand by some to do away with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. If you do not try halt to this new development, it may turn out to be a Frankenstein monster, which you yourself will find difficult to control.
At this juncture, I wish to quote from your Independence Day message to the Nation on 4 February 2006. This is what you said, “As I stated at the inauguration of the Moragahakanda Maha Samudra, I wish to re-emphasize that the most reliable weapon against terrorism is to do justice by the innocent Tamil people. I know that the Sinhala people in the South are ready for this. We are not ready to give into the demands of the LTTE. However, at the minimum we should be reasonable and honest enough to agree with Mr. Anandasangaree or the Hon. Douglas Devananda”. Up to now no one had either disputed or objected to your claim. This programme was broadcast and telecast on the same day and was also reported in the newspapers the next day. Then and now I stick to my proposal of adopting the Indian Model as a solution to the ethnic problem.
Holding scales evenly
It is now your duty Your Excellency, to sit in judgment as the only Head of the State, holding the scales evenly. Please analyze with a clear and broad mind as to why the Tamils in this country, although born as equals along with others and living in Sri Lanka from time immemorial, undergo so much of hardships over a period of over sixty years, since the country gained its independence in 1948.
Please consider all matters referred to in this appeal with the sympathy Tamils deserve. Start from 1948 and move forward by taking the reins of power in your hands, and undo all wrongs done to the minorities hitherto by the3 three successive Governments. It is you to whom the mandate was given by the people to rule the country guided by your Mahinda Chinthanaya. Please don’t let anyone else to usurp your powers and smuggle their own Chinthanaya in to yours and sell them as Mahinda Chinthanaya.
A unique feature in the Cabinet system of Government is the concept of collective responsibility in which all members of the Cabinet are collectively and individually responsible for the decisions of the Cabinet. Running a government is no joke, like some think. Each one ought to be satisfied with what he or she gets and not encroach into others’ rights and cause embarrassment to the parties concerned. Both of us entered Parliament together in 1970 and you were the youngest member in Parliament but my entry into politics is now more than half a century. Hence I believe that you will take my advice seriously and not as an insult. Please do not allow anyone to meddle with the 13th Amendment and firmly stick to it.
Your Excellency, we must get to the past first, to make the people understand the present situation properly, since most problems are created by over enthusiastic new-comers from all communities who try to show their supporters that they are more capable to deal with problems than the seniors who are already in the field. When the Constitution drafted by Lord Soulbury was debated in the State Council in October 1946 prior to Independence, the Chairman of the Board of Ministers the late Rt. Honourable Don Stephen Senanayake, who was to take over the reins of the government as the first Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon, asked the members of the State Council “Do you want to be governed from London or do you want as Ceylonese help to govern Ceylon?” Concluding his speech, he stated like a Great Statesman, “on behalf of the Congress and on my own behalf I give the minority communities the sincere assurance that no harm, need you fear at our hands in a free Lanka.
“This assurance by no less a person than the late Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake, who was later acknowledged as the Father of the Nation, convinced the Tamil members of the State Council. Taking his word as gospel truth, they all unanimously voted for the adoption of the new constitution of Lord Solbury that was to come into operation on the country attaining independence on 4 February 1948. As I see today, none of the Tamil members who voted for the adoption of the new Constitution without any compulsions did realize that they were signing the death warrant of the Tamil people whom they were representing in the Legislature, known then as State Council.
They neither realized that they were losing the last chance to do anything to protect their people nor that a united opposition of the Tamil members would have easily won them all their reasonable demands. The Sinhala leadership was in a mood, at that time, to concede anything and everything reasonable. They were not unaware that any opposition at that stage by any minority group would further delay the country gaining Independence.
Furthermore, the Tamils at that time had full faith in the late Hon. D.S. Senanayake, a highly respected freedom fighter and gentlemen who mustered the support of leaders from all ethnic groups to liberate our country. They also never expected that the future leaders of the Sinhala community that was very much liberal-minded fair and just, will one day dishonour the assurances given by one, acknowledged as the Father of the Nation. There were no specific safeguards in the much boasted Constitution of Lord Soulbury, for the minorities.
Instead there was a general provision under Section 29 against the ‘Enactment of any law which would make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions were not liable or to confer advantages and privileges on any community or religion not conferred on others.’ While including these provisions Lord Soulbury boasted that he had entrenched all the protective provisions for minorities that the wit of man could devise.
Safeguards of less importance
There were some other safeguards of less importance that could hardly be described as safeguards for minorities. You are not unaware of the fate of the Second Chamber provided as safeguard for the minorities, for the abolition of which you and I too voted, and how it turned out to be a real second chamber for the defeated parliamentarians and a strain on the government’s coffers. Above all there were a number of flaws in the Soulbury Constitution that were to open the way for a series of measures that proved detrimental to the interest of the minority communities.
Ultimately, as I see it now, the Soulbury Constitution and its provisions turned out to be a total betrayal of the trust and confidence the Tamil minorities had on a section of the Sinhala leadership and the British Government that had a moral duty and a common obligation to the various ethnic groups, to allow them to live in peace as equals with the other groups. Although it was far too late now things could have been sorted out within a reasonable period, from the day the country gained its independence.
The problems the country faced soon after becoming Independent, such as the issues like the National Flag, citizenship rights, adoption of official language, appeals to the Privy Council and so on, could have been amicably and peacefully settled with the co-operation and goodwill of the British Government. It is very unfortunate that neither the British Government nor the author of the Constitution and the first Governor General Lord Soulbury, did not intervene and as a result the country is paying for it now.
The question now is whether the Tamil legal luminaries in the State Council, some of whom were holding very prestigious titles like ‘Kings Counsel’, had been outwitted or got swayed by sentiments or in the alternative, the father of the Nation the late Right Honourable Don Stephen Senanayake, who solicited the support of the Tamil members of the State Council to support the new Constitution, assuring that no harm need the minorities fear at their hands in free Lanka, had been betrayed by a stronger section of the Sinhala leadership, by demoting him from the highly elevated position as Father of the Nation covering all ethnic groups in the country, regrettably to a lower position, merely as Father of the Sinhala Nation only.
Irrespective of any ethnic groups
There are many among us, irrespective of any ethnic group, who do not know the proper history of the country, some even the geography. How many of our people know that only 22 miles of a strait separate Sri Lanka from India. The most important event in the history of Sri Lanka but little known or spoken of, is the arrival of Prince Vijaya and his seven hundred friends. Vijaya managed to win over the Pandiyan king to the extent of agreeing to give in marriage his daughter and finding seven hundred maids to be wives of his friends.
Apart from this, along with various valuable gifts, several craftsmen and one thousand families were also sent to Sri Lanka by Pandiyan King. The good gesture of the Pandiyan King in agreeing to give his daughter as the wife proves beyond any doubt, that a very good relationship prevailed between the two.
A lot of goodwill would have been built between the Tamil and the Sinhala communities and the history of the country would have been different today, only if the Tamils had known that the umbilical relationship they have with Tamil Naad is similar to the type of relationship the Sinhalese have with the Pandiyan Kingdom, which is a part of Tamil Naad. I do not see any valid reason as to why these two communities could not treat themselves as children or descendents of the same parents and live as equals.
Even the weak provisions for the protection of minorities provided in the Soulbury Constitution did not find a place in either of the two Constitutions of Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike and of Hon. J.R. Jayewardene. It is a series of betrayals that the Tamils had to face right throughout since Independence. There had been a number of backlashes between 1956 and 1983, big and small, at which there were killings, shooting, arson and thousands fled to the North and the East. Government also moved them to the North and the East.
The economy of the Tamils was repeatedly destroyed. The worst was the one of July 1983, popularly known as the Black July. The war that lasted for more than a quarter of a century cost the country several thousand lives of innocent men, women and children of all communities. The number of lives lost during the last lap of the war has not yet been accounted for and the value of the properties lost or destroyed amount to several billions.
So far not a cent had been paid as compensation, neither for the lives lost nor for the property lost or destroyed. According to some reliable statistics, one in ten IDPs has some physical deformity. Nearly one hundred thousand widows and thousands of orphans in the North and East, apart from the other districts had been created. There are men, women and children who had lost their eyesights, in some cases both eyes, some, both their legs and limbs. Thousands carry metal pieces of shells in their bodies, some in their heads and close to the spine and living with permanent agony.
A lot of men had lost their wives and wives their husbands, children and grandchildren, uncles and aunts. I have lost many of my good friends and their families. The horrible incidents some witnessed still haunt them. Many hardly have one proper meal a day. Thousands of houses had been razed to the ground and many still without roofs.
Several thousand tractors, many with trailers, two-wheel tractors, cycles, motorcycles, cars and lorries are weather beaten and not in running condition. All their lifetime savings and properties collected during two, three generations are all gone.
The weepings and wailings are still heard in many homes more particularly in the Districts of Killinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Mannar and in parts of several others, the disabled, many of whom can’t move from place to place without assistance. They may be looked after for some time but what will happen to them after those who care for them are no more? The outside world does not know of the situation prevailing in the villages. The agony some undergo cannot be described in words. No one seems to bother about their future.
Totally disabled persons should be taken over by some charitable organization. Permit some foreign NGOs to take charge of those disabled ones. They are all innocent victims of war.
I have no more tears to shed. So with many others, some live with the hope that their missing ones will return home soon. Some believe that their children in jail will be released without delay. I know the mentality of the average Sinhala man more particularly the women folks. I still remember how an aged Sinhala lady, after most of the coastal roads were washed off after the tsunami of 2004, walked many miles with food packets on her head to feed hungry victims of the tsunami. All of them were strangers to her and did not belong to her community or religion. This is the typical women folks of Sri Lanka.
I have brought all these to your notice partly for your information and action, and through you, to the Sinhala village folks for them to know that the Tamils had been undergoing so much of agony for no fault of theirs. Let these Sinhalese mothers rouse the feelings of sympathy in their young ones, who do not know as to what had happened and what is happening in this country to their Tamil brethren. No Sinhalese common man wants special privileges. Every right thinking person wants equal treatment for all born and bred here.
(text of a letter sent by Veerasingham Anandasangaree, Secretary-General of Tamil United Liberation Front to President Mahinda Rajapaksa)
Courtesy – DBS