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]
22 August 2003
One Hundred Tamils of 20th Century - Appapillai Amirthalingam]
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 the large number of neophytes;
some literate, but many 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
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 10:20am.
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 2:00pm, Amirthalingam
continued his speech in Tamil, and later switched on to English. When the
sessions was adjourned for half an hour break for tea, he was still on his
feet. At 4.30pm, Amirthalingam continued his marathon speech in English for
probably another an 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 the 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)
centers 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 the Sri Lanka’s Hansard record.
This speech, I consider, is Amirthalingam’s equivalent of ‘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
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 soverignty and identity,
articulate their basic values and aspirations and define the instrument of
Government through which the soverignty 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 Constitutent 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 Constitutent 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 embodied
in the Constitution but although our discussions with the Hon.Prime Minister
and the Hon.Minister of Constitutional Affairs were 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
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
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 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
accept 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
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
percent 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 soverignty already vested in the Tamil people and
become free.’ In fact, the verdict is almost 100 percent 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
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 to 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, soverign, 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 in 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 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 occaion. 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
(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 existencein 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 agigations, 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 representaion 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
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 a
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 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,
soverign, 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, soverign, 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 soverignity 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 soverign 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
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 were taken
into custody, removed to Paget Road and locked up in solitary cells for ten
R.J.G.de Mel: These are all past sins.
A.Amirthalingam: I am dealing with the 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
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, may be
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
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
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 representaiton 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 more dangerously in accelerating the process of
violent revolutionary seizure of political power. It is undemocratic in
conception and strikes at the very root of a democratic process of
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
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
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
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 straightaway 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 terms 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 that, 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-sepaking 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 may be 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
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 hon. Members the background for representation on an
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 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
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
R.Premadasa: Shall we go into the details in the Committee Stage?
A.Amirthalingam: I am only starting 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 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 here 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
percent, 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 percent; here we are having it at 12½
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 aperson 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
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
‘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
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
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
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
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
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 stuck 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 a 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 a 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
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 4.30pm 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
R.J.G.de Mel: What is the date?
A.Amirthalingam: It is a recent publication. It has been published in1976 or
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
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, disfranchized; 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 percent of the
population in this country got 80 percent 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 strenous struggle that the Tamil-speaking people put up for their
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
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 de-citizenized
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
Mr.Deputy Speaker, as far as the official language is concerned, there is
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 the 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
the 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 that, 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
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 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
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 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
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 staight-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
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
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 which 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
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 an 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
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 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
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
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, may be, 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 ro 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
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 defailed 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.