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Monday, April 15, 2024

Former SC judge sceptical of solution without internal or external pressure

“I do not see any possible solution to the ethnic conflict immediately, unless extraneous pressure, inland or foreign, compels the powers that be to relent,” said former Supreme Court Judge CV Wigneswaran in giving an interview to Colombo-based Daily Mirror, Thursday. Justice Wigneswaran’s interview gains significance in the light of Sri Lanka’s ‘leaked’ LLRC report,

coming out with a blue print for completing structural genocide by 2020, accuses Tamils seeking international remedy as counterproductive. Justice Wigneswaran’s interview, dealing in detail with the past deceits of Sinhala polity, also corresponds with Prof. Sitrampalam’s concerns over Colombo-centric elements in Tamil polity once again leading Tamils into a trap and with the recent Tamil civil society admonition to the leadership of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

“I do not see any possible solution to the ethnic conflict immediately, unless extraneous pressure, inland or foreign, compels the powers that be to relent. This applies to both the government as well as the opposition. Majority community parties are not interested in any solution and want to maintain the supremacy of the majority community through their language and religion. Except for a handful of persons like Dr. Wickramabahu Karunaratne, Mr.Weliamuna and a few others the majority of Sinhala masses do not want a solution, “ Justice Wigneswaran said in the interview to Daily Mirror’s Ayesha Zuhair on Thursday.

The following are further elucidations of Justice Wigneswaran on his point:

Let me explain why I make such a sweeping statement.

Around 1919, the Sinhalese leaders found that unless they made their request for territorial representation unanimously the British were not going to grant their request. So they approached Sir P. Arunachalam, gave him written undertaking that a seat would be reserved for the Tamils in Colombo, and requested him to talk to the Jaffna Association, which preferred communal representation to territorial representation.

In the cause of creating a well-knit united Ceylonese polity he was able to get the Jaffna Association to consent to territorial representation. He had implicit trust in the Sinhalese leaders.

The request to the Queen was thereafter unanimous and the 1921 Constitution granted their request for territorial representation. Once the supremacy of the majority community was ensured in the Legislature the Sinhalese leaders Sir James Peiris and E.J.Samarawickreme retracted.

A seat for Tamils in Colombo was refused. The reason they gave was significant. Apart from saying that they were not bound by their written promise since they no longer held the offices they earlier held when promising, they also said “You Tamils are yourselves the majority in your two provinces. Why should you have seats in Colombo?”

This meant they recognised the individuality of the Ceylonese Tamil Community who had occupied the two provinces, North and East, from pre-historic times.

It was such recognition that made S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike passing out from the Oxford University to recommend a federal constitution for Ceylon. The Tamils did not accept this idea favourably since they were scattered throughout the island while being rooted in the North and East and were doing well.

Thereafter the majority community made use of the whip-hand they had got by virtue of the legal instrument of territorial representation, to discriminate against the minorities especially the Tamils. Under the Donoughmore Constitution the numerical strength of the majority community led to the formation of the Pan Sinhala Cabinet.

After the Pan Sinhala Government of the 1930s we see them depriving the franchise of the Up Country Tamils in the 1940s. Then in the 1950s the Sinhala Only Act deprived many Tamils of their government jobs. Early 1970s saw standardisation in education, which deprived many Tamils of their higher education.

Throughout this period the state was colonising areas traditionally Tamil speaking with outsiders without giving first preference to the people of those areas. The demography of the two provinces traditionally Tamil speaking was being calculatedly changed. The 1972 and 1978 Constitutions centralised power in the hands of the majority community. Now there is de facto Army rule in the North and East.

Should there be not civilian over-sight in these areas? Does not democracy mean civilian management of local areas? How long is the military going to stay in the North and East? Forever?

For all this, the Soulbury Constitution of 1947 was secular. It did not indicate a unitary structure. It had an inclusive approach. It recognised the multi-ethnic nature of our society and inserted the all-important provision of Section 29.

Our 1972 Constitution, which had no mandate to change the 1947 Constitution and no participation from the elected representatives of the Tamils of North and East, got rid of Section 29, giving no akin provision instead, made Buddhism State Religion and approved of the Sinhala Only Act earlier passed thus ushering in officially the supremacy of the majority community.

Having got so far do you mean to say any Government of the majority community would consent to settle the issues of the minorities? They would want the minorities to creep around the stem if they wanted any succour and that too, individual favours. Look at our budget. Highest for the military. After the war, is it human security that needs precedence or state security? What has prevented the State from granting the legitimate expectations of the people of the North and East that they be allowed to look after their affairs undisturbed by outside forces? Root causes, which gave rise to violence among the Tamil youth, still remain unattended to.

None of the Political Settlements reached with the leaders of the Tamils have been given effect to. Bandaranaike – Chelvanayagam Pact, Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayagam Pact, Regional Councils’ Legislation under J.R. Jayewardene have been abrogated.

The present President, if I remember right in January 2010, gave an assurance to the Prime Minister of India that he would work along the lines of the Thirteenth Amendment plus. The Thirteenth Amendment is a dead letter today.

Now tell me Ayesha! Do you think any majority community based Government, with a history such as this, would consent to grant rights to the Tamil-speaking people, unless internationally or locally pressured,” Justice Wigneswaran asked.

* * *

In answering a question “What exactly does the Tamil community want,” Justice Wigneswaran said it is “simple”.

“The Tamil-speaking people want to look after their affairs themselves. In legal terminology that is the right of self-determination.”

“They want to be governed in the North and East in their language. They want to go back to the land of their forefathers from temporary living quarters provided by whomsoever. They want their security, law and order to be in the hands of their siblings and progeny not in the hands of outsiders.”

“They want their lands and properties to be administered by themselves; not by outsiders. They want to elect their own representatives without being dictated to by outside agencies, military power or financial power or administrative power.”

“They need to preserve their language, culture, religions and their way of life without outsiders building statues and vihares in their midst with military might.” They need to be freed from mercenaries amongst their midst who plunder and rob at the instigation of outside agencies.”

“All these are not rights which the Tamil speaking people have concocted for themselves. Any people who have certain identities of their own are entitled to ask for self-determination in terms of the international covenants,” the former Supreme Court Judge said.

“Unlike when we were young, many Sinhalese have forgotten or have been made to forget the fact that Tamils occupied this country even before the birth of the Sinhalese language. Their progeny in the North and East are therefore entitled to their unfettered individuality,” he observed.

As a model of political solution he favoured a federal constitution. “Separation is what Prabhakaran asked. Federalism is what the non-violent Chelvanayagam asked,” he said.

After becoming completely hopeless in a 30 years struggle for federal solution, Chelvanayagam decided to call for independent Tamil Eelam in 1976. Prabhakaran’s LTTE with local genius achieved a de facto military and territorial parity to address the issue. But ‘internal pressure’ by indigenous efforts was not acceptable to the outside powers, whose competition to keep the issue regional or international, jointly and deliberately tilted the balance, commented a Tamil political analyst in the island.

Justice Wigneswaran’s interview has to be read in between the lines to realise that unless there is internationally recognized parity between the nations in the island, no solutions are going to come. The 13th Amendment is not a beginning but a failed pre-emption, the political analyst commented further.



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