Somasunderam Nadesan Q.C.
Regional Autonomy in a Multi National State
To mark the 80th Birthday of its founder
member S.Nadesan Q.C. on 11 February 1984, the Civil Rights Movement of Sri
Lanka reprinted two of his earlier writings. Regional Autonomy is the
substance of a series of 3 articles published in the Sri Lanka Sunday
Observer in July 1957, just before the signing of the
Bandaranaike - Chelvanayagam pact. CRM (though not taking any position
on the subject examined) considers the arguments of special relevance at the
present moment, and hopes that their wider dissemination will be a useful
stimulant to further discussion
"...While no doubt in a democratic state the will of the
majority should prevail, the principle of majority rule can operate fully
only in those states which have a homogenous population. In multinational
states, this principle cannot apply in determining matters relating to the
rights of national minorities. If this principle is applied to such
questions then it would amount to the rule of the national minorities by the
national majority. The minorities will thus be denied their ordinary human
rights of self-expression and
self-determination and will be subject to the
tyranny of an impersonal
majority....if the Tamils as a result of a plebiscite in the Tamil areas
opt for a federal constitution, they will be exercising their right of
self-determination and it is not for somebody else to say "nay"..."
proposed Satyagraha campaign of the Federal Party and the agitation
of the Bhasa Perumuna against the Government honouring the solemn
pledge contained in the S.L.F.P. manifesto to give due recognition
to the reasonable use of the Tamil language, on the strength of
which Tamils in several electorates in the Sinhalese areas cast
their votes for the MEP in the last general election, focuses
attention once again on the real nature of the conflict between the
Sinhalese and Tamil nationalities inhabiting Ceylon.
These two nationalities speak different languages, profess in
the main different religions and cherish different historical
memories and traditions. This is a demographic reality which we have
to face.Today, the children of these two different nationalities
study in different schools in their respective languages and, while
remembering the conflicts and wars between their kings and
chieftains in the past, are growing up ignorant of one another's
culture, language and achievements. In such a state of affairs,
conflicts are bound to arise. This is not a feature peculiar to
Ceylon. Such conflicts have arisen in practically every multi
national country in the world.
These conflicts can be eliminated or reduced only if one
appreciates the real nature of the problem confronting a multi -
national state such as ours. The problem is that of reconciling the
predominance of the majority nationality with the liberty of the
minority nationality. The solution of this problem depends on the
proper application of democratic principles to the peculiar
circumstances of each country and a survey of the history of the
world would reveals methods have been adopted by multi-national
states in this connection.
Ever since the nineteenth century, when nationalism became a
live factor in the affairs of men and the world witnessed the crisis
of the doctrine "One Nation, One State" on which Western democracy
was based, no multinational state has succeeded in solving the
problem by suppressing or ignoring the rights of its national
minorities. Political thinkers and statesmen have devoted
considerable attention to this problem and there is available today
a vast literature on the subject. A careful study of this literature
cannot but be of assistance to us in solving this problem and it is
desirable that our policy makers should familiarise themselves with
at least some of this literature.
The language conflict that has arisen in Ceylon is only one of
the difficulties that can arise in a multinational state. Unless the
fundamental problem is radically solved, acute conflicts are bound
to arise in practically every field of social, economic and
The problem cannot be solved by relying on the principle of
majority rule. While no doubt in a democratic state the will of
the majority should prevail, the principle of majority rule can
operate fully only in those states which have a homogenous
population. In multinational states, this principle cannot apply
in determining matters relating to the rights of national
minorities. If this principle is applied to such questions then
it would amount to the rule of the national minorities by the
national majority. The minorities will thus be denied their
ordinary human rights of self -expression and self
-determination and will he subject to the tyranny of an
A country which is true to the democratic ideal cannot
countenance the rule of its national minorities by its national
majority. The democratic solution to the problem can therefore only
be found through direct negotiations between the leaders of the
majority and minority nationalities.
If one were to read the literature on this problem for the
purpose of ascertaining the various methods suggested for its
solution, one would find that only three approaches have been
adopted, namely those of bilingualism, federalism and regional
autonomy. In addition to these methods there are often
constitutional provisions made safeguarding the fundamental rights
of national minorities.
Until the time of the last general election, the policy of the
Ceylon Government was bilingualism. But during the last election,
the "Sinhalese only" issue was placed before the Sinhalese
electorates who naturally voted for Sinhalese only to be the
A considerable amount of feeling and emotion on this issue has
been whipped up both before and after the elections. The signal
success of the Federal Party in the Northern and Eastern Provinces
has in no small measure been due to the "Sinhalese Only" cry raised
in the South.
"Sinhalese Only" is not a solution of any problem arrived at as
a result of negotiation between the leaders of the two
nationalities, but a unilateral act imposed by the will of the
majority nationality and its allies in respect of a matter in which
their self interest was involved.
However this may be, one has to face facts as they exist. As a
result of all that has happened the adoption of bilingualism (i.e.
the recognition of both Sinhalese and Tamil as official languages on
the basis of complete equality) does not appear to be a feasible
solution in the political climate prevailing in Ceylon today.
The only other available solutions, are federalism and regional.
autonomy. As for federalism, this is a method which several thinkers
have suggested as the ideal way of solving the problem. It is a
method which has been adopted in recent times in communist countries
like the U.S.S.R. and Yugoslavia and, earlier, in capitalist
countries such as Canada and Switzerland.
In the Soviet Union, the principle has been given effect to on
the widest possible scale by the creation of autonomous republics
even within individual union republics. For instance, within the
Union Republic of Uzbekistan there is an autonomous republic
consisting of 500,000 people with their own language and
institutions. Soviet National Federalism recognises national
differences and encourages the national languages, customs and
administrative and other institutions.
"It acknowledges the fact that the composite character of the
population should be reflected in the State on the basis of complete
equality and it grants a wide latitude in regional self-government".
In Ceylon, the solution of federalism cannot be achieved without
the consent of the Sinhalese people. These people have to be
persuaded to accept that this principle is a sound and equitable
method of solving our problems. Above all, they must be satisfied
that such a solution does not affect their legitimate tights.
One step in convincing the Sinhalese people is to convince their
leadership that this is a sound and feasible method and that the
Sinhalese people have nothing to lose by consenting to this demand.
This can only be done through discussion, through propaganda in the
Press and from public platforms but, not through threats. However
reasonable a principle may be, one cannot make people see it as such
by resort to threats.
Though the Federal Party itself has never officially defined in
clear and unambiguous terms the geographical limits of the Tamil
federal unit, yet some of its members have made fantastic claims
demanding that Tamil cantons should be established in parts of the
Uva and Central Provinces. Such extravagant demands have been
interpreted as an attempt on the part of the Tamil people to
dominate Ceylon and have naturally roused the fears and antagonisms
of the Sinhalese people.
Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the merits
of the federal principle and its applicability to Ceylon within
proper limits and subject to proper safeguards have never been
seriously considered or examined by responsible Sinhalese leaders.
It must be remembered that extravagant demands not only prevent the
acceptance of what is intrinsically a sound principle but also
provide ammunition for reactionary Sinhalese politicians who desire
to inflame the passions of the Sinhalese masses for their Own
It is however very desirable that the Government should
seriously consider applying the federal principle for the solution
of our national problems.
Two objects have been raised against it, one is, that the Tamil
people will suffer, but if the Tamils as a result of a plebiscite in
the Tamil areas opt for a federal constitution, they will be
exercising their right of self-determination and it is not for
somebody else to say "nay".
The other objection is that federalism will promote disunity and
lead to a separatist movement. It is rare, to find in the pages of
history instances of separatist movements in federal unions. The
general experience has been that federal constitutions have
increased and cemented unity, friendship and understanding between
different nationalities. On the other hand, it is in unitary states
with national minorities that irredentist and separatist movements
have taken root.
Besides, as the majority of members representing Tamil
electorates have been returned on the Federal ticket, it is the duty
of the Prime Minister to meet these representatives, obtain their
views, get his own experts to report on their proposals and
thereafter consider the matter dispassionately. If after such
discussion and consideration it is found that no agreement can be
reached, the duty of the Government does not end there. It is for
the Government to solve the problem. The mere fact that they find it
impossible to accept the federal principle does not entitle them to
sit with folded arms and allow the situation to deteriorate.
The only remaining solution known to political science since the
nineteenth century is regional autonomy with constitutional
provisions for fundamental rights. Regional autonomy is one of the
methods of ensuring the "reasonable use" of the Tamil language
("reasonable use" was an unhappy phrase to have been used in this
Eminent writers like Dr. Cobban have stated that the powers
granted to these autonomous regions established to solve
multi-national problems should be as wide as possible. The powers of
such autonomous regions should not be confused with the powers of
local authorities if such autonomous regions are to serve any useful
purpose. (Czechoslovakia and Italy) have in respect of Slovakia and
Sicily, respectively, adopted the principle of regiona1 autonomy).
The powers of the autonomous region must. naturally be the subject
of discussion between the representatives of the Tamil national
minority and the Government , which for all practical purposes
represents today the Sinhalese nationality.
As it is clear that any solution must be the result of
discussion between the Government and the representatives of the
Tamils and not the result of a unilateral decision of the
representatives of the Sinhalese nationality, it is the paramount
duty of the Government to take the initiative in respect of this
In the course of such negotiations, while the parties should no
doubt pay due regard to correct principles it must be remembered
that in a democracy one has to take the majority of the people along
A spirit of compromise and tolerance is essential for the
successful working of democratic institutions and if negotiations
take place with due appreciation of the difficulties inherent in the
functioning of democracy in a semi feudal country such as ours, it
may yet be possible to work out a satisfactory solution which of
course may fall short of the ideal solution.
The Prime Minister has fulfilled one part of the M.E.P. election
pledge to the voters to make Sinhalese the sole official language.
As to the other part of the election pledge, to recognise the
"reasonable use" of the Tamil language, he has delayed the
implementation of this part for over a year though his party
obtained the votes of the Tamil in the South on the strength of this
The significance of this delay has not escaped the notice of the
Tamil people who rightly consider that in the eyes of the Government
a pledge given to the Sinhalese voters is more important than a
pledge given to the Tamil voters.
However, this may be, the Prime Minister has not yet discussed
his plans with the accredited representatives of the Tamil people so
that he may acquaint himself with their views before finally
formulating proposals which vitally affect them. Moreover, there is
the federal demand, which it is his duty as Prime Minister not only
of the Sinhalese but also of Ceylon, to consider after hearing the
views of members of the Federal Party.
It is the failure to discuss with the Tamil representatives
their problems and difficulties, without laying down prior
conditions for such discussion, that is partly responsible for the
mounting sense of frustration and resentment among the Tamil people
today. They are surprised that proposals regarding their future are
formulated by the representatives of the Sinhalese people as if what
these representatives decide has to be meekly accepted without
question by the Tamil people. This impossible situation must be
ended and ended soon.
The initiative in this matter must naturally come from the
Government but the Federal Party can assist considerably if it calls
off the Satyagraha movement contemplated by it. Its leaders must not
forget that satyagraha is a spiritual weapon and that it can easily
become a weapon of suicide the moment there is an outbreak of
violence. The Tamil people have neither been trained in the spirit
of non-violence nor adequately prepared morally and spiritually for
the sacrifice and sufferings entailed. Even
who launched the famous Bardoli Satyagraha campaign after months of
preparation, was compelled to call it off in a few days on account
of the outbreak of violence. The recent happenings in Jaffna and
Mannar should be sufficient indication as to whether or not violence
is likely to take place.
There is no Tamil worthy of the name who approved of the
imposition of the "Sinhalese
Only Act" upon the Tamils, against their will, by a national
majority. It is the solemn duty of every Tamil to resist this
But resistance in the form of civil disobedience can be
justified only if one can in all conscience say that all preliminary
steps for a settlement have been taken and every avenue has been
explored and exhausted. Even then however, no responsible leader
will launch such a movement unless he is certain that the masses are
imbued with an abiding spirit of non violence.
Judged by any criterion the present is not the time for a
movement of this nature. Though the Tamil people have been subject
to acts of discrimination, pinpricks and humiliation on a number of
occasions during the past year, still nothing is lost by their being
patient and exploring all avenues to a peaceful settlement.
Moreover, calling off the civil disobedience movement will assist in
creating the right atmosphere for any discussions that may take
The language conflict in Ceylon can be ended only if the problem
of reconciling the predominance of the majority nationality with the
liberty of the minority nationality is satisfactorily solved.
The problem reduces itself to discovering a method by which
people belonging to different races, languages and nationalities may
live peacefully together within the confines of one political state.
It is generally agreed that such living together depends upon
the existence of a regime of genuine equality within the state.
P. de Ascarate, former Director of the Minorities Section of the
League of Nations, gave expression to practically the unanimous view
of all thinkers and writers on this subject when he said
"ordinary common sense will tell us that this peaceful living
together will not be possible unless there is real and effective
equality within the State between the majority and the minority".
The cornerstone of democracy is equality. It has however to be
noted that equality does not mean that the influence of the majority
in the affairs of the country is equal to that of the minority, or
that the minority and the majority should be equally represented in
the public and the other services, or that revenue should be equally
spent on the majority and minority nationalities, or that all
government records should be kept in both the minority and majority
It only means that a citizen who belongs to a minority
nationality has in his dealings with the State qua citizen the
identical rights and duties that a member of the majority
nationality has and does not suffer any disabilities which are not
shared by such member.
To take an illustration, it is obvious that a Tamil citizen has
the right to correspond with the state in his own language and that
it is for the state to provide the necessary facilities for this
purpose. If such facilities are not provided, the Tamil citizen will
suffer a disability which does not attach to a Sinhalese citizen.
It will be noticed that giving effect to this principle only
requires the creation of a small translation section in the
government department concerned. It has nothing to do with the
maintenance of the records of government.
There has been some discussion recently regarding the language
in which local bodies in Tamil areas should correspond with the
centre. The members of these local bodies will be mostly people who
know only Tamil and the proceedings of these local bodies will be
conducted in the Tamil language. The Chairman, who is the chief
executive officer of such local bodies, will not know any Sinhalese
and his correspondence with others can only be in the Tamil
language. If this local body is to be treated on a basis of equality
with a similar local body in a Sinhalese area, then both local
bodies should be able to transact their business with the centre in
their respective languages.
This can be ensured if at the stage of receipt and despatch of
letters from and to a Tamil body, the translation section attached
to the central government office does the Sinhalese and Tamil
translations. Thereby, effect is given to the principle of equal
treatment of local bodies and citizens, as the state spends money on
the translation of the letters instead of casting the burden of such
expenditure on Tamil local bodies and citizens and thereby
discriminating between them and their Sinhalese counterparts. This
does not mean that the records of the local government department
should be maintained in Tamil. These instances can he multiplied.
A Tamil citizen has the same right of access to a minister as a
Sinhalese citizen. This means that a minister should put up his name
board and other particulars outside his office not only in Sinhalese
but also in Tamil, in order to facilitate the exercise of this right
by the Tamil citizen.
The amount of confusion that prevails in this matter may be seen
from the fact that the Commissioner appointed to implement the
"Sinhalese Only" Act has thought that this Act required that in
forms sent out for use by the public, the Tamil equivalent should be
only in footnotes and that after 1961 even those footnotes should be
done away with so that the entire form would be in Sinhalese. If
such action is carried to its logical conclusion, it would mean that
a Tamil citizen will not be able to purchase a ticket at a railway
station unless he has learnt Sinhalese.
The state exists for the protection of its citizens and for the
provision of certain services to them. While the state may conduct
its internal business exclusively in Sinhalese, it cannot tell its
citizens who speak one of the indigenous languages of the country
that the condition precedent to its affording such protection or
rendering such services is that such citizens should speak to the
state in the Sinhalese language. If this is permitted there will be
discrimination between one citizen and another and the principle of
equality of citizens irrespective of race or nationality will he
undermined. Besides, one cannot see how the relegation of Tamil to
footnotes in government forms meant to be issued to or filled in by
the Tamil people helps the Sinhalese people to promote their
language and culture.
It has to be remembered that the passing of the "Sinhala
Only" Act does not necessarily mean the abrogation of the democratic
principle of equality in Ceylon. Neither does it mean a licence to
officials to indulge in petty pinpricks and acts of humiliation at
the expense of the Tamil nationality. Equality means equality before
the law - equality of civil and political rights) and equal
treatment in law and in fact. A solution to the nationalities
problem cannot be achieved without adhering to this principle of
In recent times, the socialist countries have given serious
attention to this problem. For instance, in the U.S.S.R., the
devices of federalism and of regional autonomy have been adopted,
and the principle of equality proclaimed in the Soviet Constitution.
Article 123: "Equality of rights of citizens of the U.S.S.R.,
irrespective of their nationality or race in all spheres of
economic government, cultural, political and other public
activity, is an indefeasible law. Any direct or indirect
restriction of the rights of, or conversely, the establishment
of any direct or indirect privileges for, citizens on account of
their race or nationality, as well as any advocacy of racial or
national exclusiveness or hatred and contempt, are punishable by
Czechoslovakia in attempting to solve its nationality problem has
adopted the principle of regional autonomy in a unitary state, while
Yugoslavia had adopted the federal principle. Both these countries
have constitutional provisions similar to Article 123 of the Soviet
The most recent and useful example for us in
Ceylon is China which is an Asian country. China has a population of
over 600 million. More than 90 per cent of this population belong to
the Han nationality, (or Chinese as we call them). The rest of the
population of less than 10 per cent comprise more than 60 different
It would have been the easiest thing for the Han majority to
have ignored the rights of these national minorities for the reason
that the Hans constituted. more than 90 per cent of the population.
J3ut they did not do so because their leaders accepted the truth of
Lenin's dictum that, identifying a particular nation as being
dominant, even if warranted by number~ and influence, would stir up
resentment and foment national strife, and that therefore national
sensibilities should be taken into account.
The Chinese did not adopt the principle of federalism. instead
they adopted the device of regional autonomy in a. unitary state,
coupled with other safeguards for scattered minorities.
In the report made in December 1951, Li Wei-han, Chairman of the
Commission of Nationalities Affairs stated
"Any national minority urine in a compact corn unity is entitled
to regional autonomy for nationalities and has the right to
establish an autonomous region and autonomous organ, in accordance
with this general principle and major prerequisite. Any national
minority has the right to administer its own internal affairs in
conformity with the wishes of the great majority of its own people
and leaders in touch with the people. It is the right of every
national minority to be the master of its own affairs. Assistance
must be given to each national minority in order to facilitate the
exercise of this right. This principle, too, must be adhered to
Regional autonomy has been established in China in
accordance with the general line of the Common Programme of the
Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Articles 9, 50 and 51 of this Programme provide inter alia that
all nationalities within the boundaries of the People's Republic of
China shall have equal rights and duties, that all these
nationalities are equal, that they shall establish unity and mutual
aid among themselves so that the People's Republic of China will
become a big fraternal and co--operative family comprising all its
nationalities and that actions involving discrimination , oppression
and splitting the unity of the various nationalities shall be
prohibited and that. regional autonomy shall be exercised in areas
where national minorities are concentrated.
In August 1952, the Central People's Government promulgated its
detailed programme for the implementation of regional autonomy for
its national minorities. Some of the Articles of this programme are
"In areas where national minorities are
concentrated, the following types of autonomous regions may be
established according to the relations obtaining between the
nationalities of the localities and to the condition of local
economic developments, with due consideration of the historical
1. Autonomous regions established on the basis of an area
inhabited by one national minority.
2. Autonomous regions established on the basis of an area
inhabited by one large national minority, including certain areas
inhabited by other national minorities with very small populations
who, likewise, shall enjoy regional autonomy.
3. Autonomous regions jointly established on the basis of two or
more areas, each inhabited by a different national minority. ~ether
a separate national autonomous region will be established in each of
these areas depends on the actual conditions in the respective areas
and on the wishes of the nationalities concerned.
"In designating a national autonomous
region, the name of the nationality shall be prefixed with the
geographical denomination. Exceptions are permitted in special
"The autonomous organ of a national
autonomous region is the organ of state power of the people in that
"The people's Government in a national
autonomous region shall be composed mainly of members from the
nationality or nationalities exercising regional autonomy, with the
participation of an appropriate number of members from other
national minorities and the Hans inhabiting the same region.
"The actual form which the autonomous
organ of a national autonomous region is to take shall be determined
in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the nationality or
nationalities exercising regional autonomy and the wishes of the
local leaders who are associated with the ~
"The autonomous organ a national autonomous
region may adopt the language most commonly used in the region as
the chief medium of intercourse in the exercise of its authority.
But where the autonomous organ exercises its authority over a
nationality to whom this language is unfamiliar the language of the
latter nationality also shall be adopted.
"The autonomous organ of a national autonomous
region may, subject to the unified financial control of the state,
administer the region's finances within a sphere prescribed by the
Central People's Government and the local people 's governments
above its level.
"The autonomous organ of a national autonomous
region may freely develop the region's economy in accordance with
the unified economic system and plan for economic construction of
"The autonomous organ of a national
autonomous region may take necessary and appropriate steps to
develop the culture, education, arts, and health services of the
various nationalities inhabiting the region.
"The autonomous organ of a national autonomous
region shall protect the right to national equality of all
nationalities in the region: educate the people of different
nationalities to respect each other's language, both spoken and
written, customs, traditions and religious beliefs, and prohibit
national discrimination and oppression, and all acts liable to
provide disputes between nationalities.
"The autonomous organ of a national
autonomous region shall in accordance with the provisions of Article
4 of this General Programme, help the other national minority or
minorities concentrated in the region to practise regional autonomy.
"The autonomous organ of a national
autonomous region shall enter into full consultation with
representatives of other nationality or nationalities living in the
region on all problems relating particularly to that nationality or
"The autonomous organ of a national
autonomous region shall educate and guide the people living in the
region towards unity and mutual assistance between all nationalities
of the country and towards love for the People's Republic of China,
in which all nationalities live together in a spirit of fraternity
and co-operation like one big family.
"The people's governments of higher levels
shall respect the rights of autonomy of the national autonomous
regions and help to put them into practice.
"The People's governments of higher levels
shall educate and assist the people of all nationalities in
observing an attitude of equality, fraternity, unity, and mutual
assistance among the nationalities and in overcoming all tendencies
to domination by the majority nationality or to narrow nationalism."
When questioned about the advisability of adopting regional
autonomy as a solution to China's nationality problem, Ulanfu, the
Vice Chairman of the Commission of Nationalities Affairs, stated
"It is just because we want all nationalities to go forward
together into a future where all mankind shall live in peace,
because we want to eliminate narrow nationalism and because we want
to hasten and enhance the political, cultural and economic
development of areas inhabited by national minorities that we must
establish regional autonomy for nationalities".
China's example is an inspiring one, not only with regard to the
spirit that should animate any government which desires to solve its
problem, but also with regard to the steps that such a government
should take if it is to justify its claim to have taken the road to
Despite the acute controversy that has raged over the language
issue it is significant that no Sinhalese leader of note has
questioned the right of the Tamil people to cherish and foster their
own language and culture. Every successive government in this
country since we attained independence has expressed its concern for
the rich cultural heritage of the Tamils.
The Prime Minister and his colleagues have on more than one
occasion proclaimed that the right of the Tamil people to their
language and culture will not be denied them. The recent action of
the Government in resisting all attempts to make Sinhalese the sole
medium of instruction at the University shows not only its
recognition of a sound educational principle but also its genuine
regard for the preservation of the Tamil language and culture in
This is an indication that the passing of the "Sinhala Only" Act
was motivated not by a desire to throttle the Tamil language but
because of a general feeling that it was necessary step for the
protection of the Sinhalese language. Apart from this, economic
factors also played an important part in the agitation for making
Sinhalese the sole official language.
With rapidly increasing population and a stagnant economy unable
to provide employment for all citizens it was easy to persuade the
Sinhalese people that the Tamils were taking the bread out of their
Though the number of Tamils in all white-collared jobs in the
Public Services including Civil List jobs, does not exceed 30 per
cent of the total number and in the other services is less than 10
per cent, yet an erroneous impression has been gaining ground that
the percentage of Tamils in the Public Service is as high as 60 or
70 per cent.
This erroneous impression is partly due to the fact that there
is a concentration of Tamil Public Officers in Colombo. Both during
and after the elections, the Sinhalese people have been persuaded to
believe not only this exaggerated percentage but also that the
Tamils have obtained their position in the Public Services as a
result of unfair competition.
Several ministers of government
have stated from public platforms that the passing of the Sinhala
Act will reduce the number of Tamils in the Public Service and
thereby solve to some extent the problems of Sinhalese unemployment.
Though the estimate of the percentage of Tamils in the Public
Service is highly exaggerated yet there is considerable substance in
the statement that as a result of the "Sinhala Only" Act there is
bound to be a reduction in the number of Tamil officers. Even if a
Tamil citizen learns Sinhalese as a second language he will find it
very difficult to compete successfully with a Sinhalese educated in
his mother tongue. Besides, at the rate at which unemployment is
increasing it will not be unnatural if the Sinhalese are first
absorbed into the Public Service before the Tamils are considered
for such employment.
Apart from electoral pressure which the Government will find
difficult to resist, it may be rightly considered that a person
proficient in the official language will prove more useful as a
public servant. The chances are that in course of time very few
Tamils will be able to find government employment unless it be in
the Northern and Eastern Provinces and there too only if the
regional administration is carried on in the Tamil language.
This is a situation to which the Tamil people have to reconcile
themselves. Though at first sight it might appear a great hardship,
yet it is worthwhile to pay this price for the sake of communal
peace and amity. The keen competition in the field of public
employment has been the principal cause of ill-will and friction
between the two nationalities.
The entire political thinking of the Tamil leadership during the
past 30 years has been dominated by the one idea of conserving to
the Tamils their position in the Public Service. It is this which
has contributed to some reactionary proposals made by this
leadership in the past and the consequent impression created in the
minds of the Sinhalese people that the Tamils were against the
progress of the country.
The "Sinhala Only" Act has dealt a fatal blow to the position of
the Tamils in the Public Service, and the educated youth of the
Tamil country will have to seek other avenues of employment. The
main fields in which they can hope to be employed are agriculture
and industry, particularly in the homelands of the Tamil people.
Despite the intense racial propaganda of the last fifteen
months, there is hardly any animosity between the farmer in the
Northern Province and his counterpart in the South. It is
significant that during the
troubles in June 1956, the area in which there was the most
serious rioting and bloodshed was Gal Oya, which had a mixed
If one desires to avoid communal friction it is not advisable to
create rural settlements with mixed populations in the present state
of economic development of the country.
The above considerations will show the desirability of adopting
regional autonomy as a solution to our troubles. If this is done,
some Tamil citizens will be able to find employment under the
regional authority while others will be able to embark on
agricultural and industrial pursuits in the regions set apart for
them, without coming into collision with their Sinhalese fellow
In course of time, with an expanding economy and full employment
which must necessarily result with the establishment of a truly
socialist pattern of society, friendship and understanding are bound
to replace the present hostility between the two nationalities. No
doubt, life in the region will not be a bed of roses, particularly
for a class of people who have been prizing office jobs and
professional careers, but without sacrifice and hard work on the
part of the Tamil people there can be no lasting or permanent
solution of our internal conflicts.
Besides, it is the duty of the government to take the necessary
steps to solve the ever-increasing problem of Tamil unemployment
which will result from the full implementation of the Sinhala Only
policy and to alleviate in some measure the inevitable economic
distress in the Tamil. areas.
Government has not seriously addressed itself to this problem
perhaps because it has not yet become acute, but it cannot afford to
wait until it does become acute to search for a solution.
If it seriously examines the question now it will find that
regional autonomy affords a satisfactory solution of the problems
created for the Tamil people by the passing of the "Sinhala Only"
Act, without causing any prejudice to the Sinhalese nationality.
It must also be remembered that the right to his national
culture is a basic right of every citizen. Ever since the first
European war it has been widely recognised by most thinking people
that minorities must be protected against the danger of their
"losing their national character and that an individual could not
enjoy human rights in any meaningful sense unless adequate
recognition was given to the ethnic collectivity of which he was an
The present government has taken the right step in recognising
Tamil as a medium of instruction for Tamils from the kindergarten to
the university. But this alone is not sufficient to protect the
Tamil people against losing their national character. The language,
customs, culture and traditions of a people are preserved not in
cosmopolitan towns but in the villages and the countryside.
If one took a group of people speaking the Tamil language and
settled them in large numbers in colonisation schemes in the
Southern Province among people who cherish a different language and
culture, one would be undermining the national character of the
people of the area.
The same applies to
large scale colonisation of the Tamil areas by Sinhalese colonists.
The principal method of affording protection to a minority culture
and language is to carve out a territorial area in which such
minority is concentrated and in which there should be no state-
aided colonisation by persons speaking a different language and
belonging to a different culture. If such colonisation is permitted
it will be detrimental to both cultures.
It should also be noted that the language of a people cannot be
adequately safeguarded unless it is used in some measure in the
daily administration of the region in which such people are
concentrated. Thus, the demarcation of a region in which the Tamil
nationality is concentrated and the employment of Tamil in the
administration of the region are two essential pre-requisites for
the protection of the Tamil language and culture.
The Government cannot carry out its avowed policy of affording
such protection unless it carries to its logical conclusion its
educational policy and demarcates a region within which the Tamil
people may be able to participate in the administration and share in
the cultural life of their nationality.
This shows the necessity of creating an autonomous region which
could absorb all Tamil citizens and their descendants inclusive of
those who will be thrown out of employment or who will be unable to
secure employment once the "Sinhala Only" Act is fully implemented.
If the Tamil people are given the land in their own areas to
develop, and if they have an assurance that this land will be there
for them and their descendants, they should not worry about losing
their position in the Public Service and the professions. With hard
work they should be able to develop their region and contribute
substantially to the economic prosperity of the country. Moreover
they will have a cultural home in which their language which is
found in its pristine purity only in Ceylon will flourish. This will
also remove all causes of friction and hostility between the two
nationalities, and usher in an era of friendship and fruitful
co-operation. All these results can be achieved only if there is an
adequate measure of regional autonomy.
Though the term autonomy in its original meaning includes the
concept of independence, the term as generally used now implies a
relationship between a social body and a power to which it is
subordinate. One cannot ask for a separate state within a state and
call it regional autonomy.
The basis of regional autonomy is that the state for the sake of
peace and contentment of a minority grants a certain measure of
self-government within the political framework of the state so that
the minority nationality may develop a "regional individuality" and
also participate fully in the public life of the community.
The population is thus afforded full scope for the exercise of
its political energies and it will feel that it governs itself in
matters which vitally affect it. It should however be noted that
regional autonomy while protecting the cultural and economic
interests of a minority nationality must recognise a higher national
unity and superior national interests which transcend the interests
of the particular national region.
Regional autonomy affords a reasonably satisfactory method of
resolving the conflict between the ideal of a nationally homogenous
state and the reality of ethnic and cultural heterogeneity. It
reconciles the right of self-determination of a minority nationality
with the sovereignty of the State.
"Sovereignty has its own natural limits; chief of these is the
duty of respecting the liberties or rights of the individual
including his right to national liberty. But national liberty is not
an absolute right; it is only to be asserted to the degree in which
it is compatible with organised social life".
If one bears the above principles in mind it should not be
difficult to evolve a satisfactory scheme of regional autonomy. The
Regional Council Bill published by the Government cannot serve the
purpose unless it is suitably modified, because it has been framed
to meet a totally different set of circumstances.
It must further be recognised that the ordinary rights of
democratic local self government in towns and counties, communes and
departments, are not an adequate answer to the demand for regional
autonomy. It is an essential element in the claim of nationality
that the nation or sub nation should be treated as a unity. Even
names are important in this connection.
If once the principle of regional autonomy is accented it should
not be difficult to work out the details with the assistance, if
need be, of well known experts on the subject.
The adoption of such a scheme will prove beneficial not only to
the Tamils but also to the Sinhalese people.