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Racism in Sri Lanka -
Sinhala Buddhist Oppression of the Tamil People

S. C. Chandrahasan

The Island and its People.

It was B. H. Farmer, a Cambridge don who quite appropriately wrote a book entitled "Ceylon : A Divided Nation." in 1963. Since then the island has become more divided than ever. It was given the Sinhalese name Sri Lanka in 1972. The island is at the southern most tip of India and is separated from the Indian mainland by a narrow stretch of water, some 20 odd miles in length. The island is multi-racial in character with a population which is overwhelmingly Indic in culture and civilization.

At the census held in 1971, the majority ethnic group comprised the Sinhalese (71%) and the majority religious group were (99% of them being Sinhalese) who formed 67% of the population. The next largest group consists of Tamil-speaking people (28.5%) who are made up of Tamils (21.5%) and Muslims (7%). The population break-up according to religion would be : Buddhists 67%, Hindus 17%, Christians 8% and Muslims 7%. No census of caste is taken but the structure is ratified and hierarchical and there is little evidence of its impact on Sinhalese and Tamil society in any way being mitigated.

History has it recorded that at the time of the European conquest there were three separate kingdoms in Ceylon : A Tamil kingdom in the North and two Sinhalese kingdoms in the South. These three kingdoms fell to the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British at different times during the 16th to the 18th century AD These territories were not integrated and were administered, even by the Europeans, as separate entities. Any unity and territorial integrity known to history are of recent import. It was only in 1833 that the British, for reasons of administrative convenience, brought these areas together into one administrative unit.

Sinhalese-Tamil Rivalries

After Sri Lanka obtained independence from Britain in 1948, there have been increasing hardships and burdens placed on the Tamil community by governments dominated by the majority racial and religious group in the island, the Sinhala Buddhists. Not all Sinhala Buddhists support the exclusivist policies advocated by the vocal articulate chauvinistic and nationalist groups among the Sinhala Buddhists but they do not make any measurable impact. It is the Sinhala Buddhist nationalists whose opinions prevail. It is they who have shaped the evolution and development of the island’s polity since 1948. An eminent contemporary Ceylonese (Sinhalese) historian Professor K. M. de Silva, has remarked on the developments since independence in the following vein :-

".... the concept of a multi-racial polity ceased to be viable any longer. The emphasis on the sense of uniqueness of the Sinhalese past and the focus on Sri Lanka as the land of the Sinhalese and the country in which Buddhism stood forth in all its pristine purity carried an emotional appeal compared with which a multi-racial polity was a meaningless abstraction. Moreover the abandonment of the concept of a multi-racial polity was justified by laying stress on a democratic sanction deriving its validity from the clear numerical superiority of the Sinhalese and Buddhists." ("Discrimination in Sri Lanka" in Case studies on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms : A World Survey, The Hague, 1976.)

Acts of Discrimination

The record of legislative and administrative acts of discrimination against the Tamil minority is consistent and without abatement. As stated earlier, the Tamil minority comprises two groups, the indigenous Ceylon Tamils and Indian Tamil immigrant labor of recent origin brought from South India by British planters to work their tea and rubber plantations in the 19th century. The vast majority of the latter know no home other than the island of Sri Lanka and it is on the fruits of their sweated labor that the island has obtained its foreign exchange and built the foundations of a welfare state.

At independence, Britain enacted a constitution which provided minimal safeguards to the minority ethnic and religious groups. This constitution was in a sense the basis for a solemn compact between the various groups in Sri Lanka’s plural polity. But within years after independence, the structure began to be systematically dismantled in the following ways :

1. 1948 - A Citizenship Act was enacted which in effect converted the resident Tamils of Indian origin into stateless minority. These Tamils of Indian origin, prior to independence, enjoyed similar rights as other Ceylonese.

2. 1949 - The Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship ) Act enacted for the purpose of registering resident Tamils of Indian origin and Pakistanis as citizens. The administration of the act deprived over 95% of the Tamils of Indian origin their citizenship rights.

3. 1949 - The Ceylon (Parliamentary) Election Amendment Act deprived resident Tamils of Indian origin, who had hitherto enjoyed voting rights and had returned 8 members to Parliament and influenced the decision in some 20 other electorates, of the right to vote.

4. 1956 - Official Language Act to make the Sinhala language the only official language throughout the entire island caused severe hardship to several hundreds of Tamil public servants resulting in premature retirement and migration to foreign lands; the act further effectively excluded Tamils otherwise qualified from entering the public services.

5. 1957 - A pact concluded between the Prime minister, Solomon Bandaranayake and the leading Tamil political organization, the Federal party, to settle grievances of the Tamil minority; the pact was unilaterally abrogated by the Prime Minister the following year.

6. 1958 - The Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act providing for the reasonable use of the Tamil Language for prescribed official purposes enacted ; it remained a dead letter and was not implemented due to anticipated opposition from Sinhala pressure groups.

7. 1960 - Language of the Courts Act making Sinhala the only language of all the courts throughout the island enacted.

8. 1961 - Implementation of Sinhala as the only official language with all its rigors; this caused grave hardships to the Tamil public who began receiving all government notifications, correspondence, etc. in only the official language.

9. 1962 - A Tamil public servant, C. Kodeeswaran sued the government Agent, Kegalle on the ground that the latter in terms of Treasury Circular No. 560 had denied him his annual increment as he had failed to obtain proficiency in the official language. Kodeeswaran argued that besides the denial being a violation of a contract between him and the state, a contract which at the time it was entered into provided that he should work in the English language, it was also a violation of section 29 of the 1948 constitution in that the Official Language Act of 1956 discriminated against members of the Tamil -speaking minority. The district judge of Colombo entered judgment in Kodeeswaran’s favor on all the issues. The Crown thereupon appealed and had the judgment reversed, the appeal judges holding that a public servant had no right to sue the crown. Kodeeswaran thereupon appealed to the Privy Council which entered judgment in his favor specifically on the right of a public servant to sue the state for denial of increments. Their lordships did not comment on the constitutionality or otherwise of the Official Language Act.

10. 1964 - The pact concluded between the Ceylonese and Indian prime ministers under which arrangements were agreed on for the repatriation of a majority of the Indian Tamil population to the South Indian mainland. The element of compulsory repatriation was one of the ways envisaged for the repatriation of Indian Tamils. The rigors of the pact were modified during 1965-70 bur re-introduced during 1970-1977.

11. 1965 - Pact between the Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake and the Tamil Federal Party on the lines of the pact of 1957 concluded; abandoned in 1968 due to opposition from Sinhala pressure groups. A bill had already been drawn up after negotiations between leaders of the governing United National Party and the principal party of the Ceylon Tamils, the Federal Party to decentralize the administration at the district level, but this was also dropped due to the activities of Sinhala extremists.

12. 1966 - Regulations for the use of the Tamil language enacted under the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act of 1958 adopted by Parliament but remained a dead letter due to lack of co-operation from Sinhala public servants and governmental indifference.

13. 1960- 1961 - The nationalization of schools. The majority of these were owned by the Roman Catholic Church and by missions of various Protestant denominations. The measure was directed against the Tamils as well. Many of the tamil medium classes in the Christian schools in Sinhalese majority districts were closed by the orders issued by the state’s ministry of education. At the same time schools in the tamil areas began to be deprived of the necessary finances for their maintenance and development.

14. 1971 - Introduction of a system of standardization of marks to provide for preferential treatment to Sinhala students and to keep out Tamil medium students otherwise qualified; the sum result was a progressive decline in the admission of tamil medium students; the scheme of standardization was an act deliberately designed to exclude merit as the criterion for university admissions.

15. - - Unilateral adoption of a new republican constitution without any cooperation or consultation with the majority of Tamil representatives in Parliament. The following were noteworthy features in that constitution:

(i) Section 6 - under which "the Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the state to protect and foster Buddhism" etc. etc.

(ii) Section 7 - under which "the Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala" etc. etc.; provision was made for the use of the Tamil language in certain spheres of public activity but this remained a dead letter in some spheres and in others was not implemented to the satisfaction of the Tamil minority.

16. 1974 - The ministry of education supplemented the standardization system with district quotas for admissions to the university. A Ceylonese (Sinhalese) scholar observing the effects of this policy noted that "ethnically there is little doubt that the major blow fell on the Ceylon Tamils. The Tamils’ share of engineering admissions for instance fell from 24.4 % in 1973 (standardization only) to 16.3 % in 1974.... The parallel figures for medicine would be 36.9% in 1973, 25.9% in 1974 and 20% (estimated) in 1975. The percentage losses in dental surgery and agriculture are even greater." (C. R. de Silva, "Weighing in University Admissions," Ceylon Studies Seminar, Series No. 2).

17. 1974 - The Jaffna Campus of the University was opened in the north of Ceylon but under questionable circumstances. The primary school for secondary education in north Ceylon, Jaffna College, one of the very best in the island, which was run by an American mission was taken over for the purpose, much to the detriment of the educational interests of the people of the area. Nor was the campus provided with the suitable requisites for decent university instruction. It was more a caricature of a seat of learning. A Ceylon Tamil educationist observed:

"As an answer to our fifty year old demand for our own University this new campus is in effect a fraud. It was supposed to be a science faculty but in effect provides only pure and applied mathematics and statistics. There are 135 students now and later there will be 400. Only one-fifth are Tamils. No new building was provided and the new faculty was housed at Jaffna College, the long-established center of Tamil education..... (The Tamils of Sri Lanka, Minority Rights Group, Report No. 25.)

18. 1975 - The nationalization of foreign-owned plantations was utilized to inflict hardships on the Indian Tamil workers in the plantations. Scores of these workers were evicted while others "are to be seen begging in the streets of Kandy." A Sinhalese Doctor (Dr. B. Seneviratne, The Health of Plantation workers, Bulletin No. 4, Kandy, 1975) stated that half of all patients admitted from the estates had "severe protein malnutrition" and he added "several patients admitted to my ward were in advanced stages of starvation." The government further closed estate schools or began on a policy of converting Tamil-medium schools in the estate areas into Sinhala-medium ones.

19. 1978 - A new constitution based on the presidential system of government was enacted, again without the cooperation of the overwhelming majority of the Ceylon Tamils. The new constitution made a number of concessions to the language demands of the Ceylon Tamils. These have yet to be implemented and have indeed come 20 years too late. But as against the concessions there are provisions in the constitution which militate against the interests of the Tamils, in particular the following :-

(a) Section 9 states : "The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly shall be the duty of the state to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana." etc. etc. As a first step towards the implementation of this provision, the national flag of Sri Lanka which was a flag agreed upon by a select committee of Parliament in 1948 comprising representatives of all groups in the island’s plural society was unilaterally changed to provide for the inclusion of 4 bo-leaves *(leaves from a tree under Buddha gained enlightenment) in the four corners contained in that section of the national flag which has the lion depicted on it.

(b) Section 12(2) contains a provision imposing a burden on members of the Tamil minority, requiring them to obtain proficiency in the Sinhala language. There is no provision requiring members of the Sinhala-speaking majority to qualify in the Tamil language.

(c) Section 21(1) entitles a person to be educated through the medium of either of the national languages of Sri Lanka. In practice this provision works against the interest of Tamil-speakers in Sinhala majority districts. The state has by administrative orders closed Tamil streams in a number of schools in the Sinhala areas, compelling Tamil Parents to have their children educated in the Sinhala language. Earlier, government policy was to compel the education of children in the appropriate mother tongue.

Section 22(1) states that "the official language (Sinhala) shall be the language of administration throughout Sri Lanka." There is provision for Tamil to be a language of administration in the predominantly Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern provinces. However no meaningful action has been taken so far to implement this provision. In fact the reverse seems to be official state policy. Sinhala-speaking public servants, and the police and military personnel continue to be the dominant element in the administration of the Tamil-speaking areas.

(e) The constitution confers on Sinhala the status of a superior language of judicial administration throughout Sri Lanka whilst permitting the use of the tamil language for purposes of jurisdiction in only the original courts of the Northern and Eastern provinces (Section 24). Under the constitution, a Tamil speaking person in Colombo the city in Sri Lanka which has the largest concentration of Tamils, does not enjoy the same rights as a Sinhala-speaking person. On the other hand the constitution empowered the Minister of Justice to direct courts in the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern provinces to maintain their records and conduct their proceedings in the Sinhala (official) language as well.

The above record of government acts does not exhaust the catalogue of discriminatory measures adopted blatantly against the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. It might be noted that hardly a year has passed since independence when the Tamil community has not been subjected to some kind of hardship. But to compound matters, the state has used its administrative apparatus to accomplish objectives which it would otherwise have found difficult to achieve. We list below some of the more obvious sectors in which state action has been directed against the Tamil minority:-

1. Employment in Sri Lanka especially since 1956 has tended to become the growing monopoly of the state; since 1956, the omnibus services, the ports, the schools, the food trade, the more important Banks, land. and the plantation industry, among others, have been nationalized. There has been virtually open discrimination in favor of Sinhala-speaking persons in public employment. Foreign aid to government corporations results in more and more Sinhala persons being provided employment while the tamils are ignored or at best given token positions.

2. The state-aided colonization of areas, recognized by two Prime Ministers as additional Tamil territory, with Sinhala persons has been going on apace since independence. The Tamils live in highly densely populated areas and are in need of living space but are not given proper consideration in the allocation of lands by the state. The recent deadlock between the J. R. Jayewardene government and the Tamil United Liberation Front centers on the focal question of state-aided colonization of the traditional Tamil homelands. The state utilizes the aid provided foreign states to deprive the Tamil-speaking people of their legitimate due. What is worse, the colonization of traditional Tamil territories has resulted in the Tamils losing some of their representation in Parliament. The new Sinhala settlers have either been able to secure traditional Tamil seats, or to influence the result in what were mainly Tamil constituencies.

3. Since 1956, and more so with increasing severity since 1970, the state has unleashed an army of occupation in the Tamil areas of the north and the east. The civil population has been harassed. Many innocent persons have been detained, tortured and deprived of their personal belongings by police and military personnel who pay no heed to the elementary principles of civilized conduct or the rule of law. Even Tamil members of Parliament are victims of police and military action. The atrocities perpetrated against the civil population have not in any way been the subject of investigation by state authorities.

These policies have produced an economic depression in the Tamil community while the Sinhalese majority has experienced an economic upliftment. A Malaysian economist, E. L. H. Lee in his chapter "Rural Poverty in Sri Lanka, 1963-1973" (in International Labor Office, Poverty and Landlessness in Rural Asia : A WEP Study, Geneva 1977) in comparing the changes in income during the years in question observed that "the mean income of the Sinhalese, the majority of the population increased significantly, while those of other racial groups, with the minor exception of the Malays, either stagnated or declined" and he concluded that "the per capita income of Kandyan and low country Sinhalese increased by 24 and 18% respectively while that of Ceylon Tamils and Indian Tamils fell by 28 and 1 % respectively."

Acts of Violence

A leading and respected Ceylonese (Sinhalese) marxist (Edmund Samarakkody) in an article in the Workers Vanguard (7Th October 1977) entitled, "Behind the Anti-Tamil Terror : The National Question in Sri Lanka" observed;

"The outbreak in mid-August (1977) of the anti-Tamil pogrom (the third such outbreak in two decades) has brought out the reality that the Tamil minority problem in Sri Lanka has remained unresolved now for nearly half a century leading to the emergence of a separatist movement amongst the Tamils."

There have in fact been more than the three major outbreaks referred to by the Marxist leader. For convenience we list these below :-

1. The 1956 - Anti-Tamil riots erupted prior to and after the passing of the Official Language Act in June 1956 causing several deaths and loss of property to hundreds of Tamil Residents in Sinhalese areas. The Sinhalese dominated police force stood by as silent onlookers.

2. 1958 - Anti Tamil riots broke out in May-June 1958 resulting in several deaths by mutilation, burning and rapes as well as in loss to property by plunder and looting. The government of S. W. R. D. Bandaranayake delayed declaring a state of emergency which could very well have stemmed the tide of violence and saved losses to human life and property. The reputed Ceylonese (Sinhalese) journalist, Tarzi Vittachi has in his book Emergency ‘58 (London, Andre Deutsch, 1958) severely censured the Bandaranayake government for its callous indifference in delaying the promulgation of a state of emergency.

3. 1961 - Police and military personnel unleashed violence on peaceful Satyagrahis (civil disobedience campaigners) who were protesting the imposition of the official language in the Tamil-speaking areas. Several brutalities and grievous injuries were perpetrated against the innocent Tamil civilian population. The Tamil-speaking areas were placed under military occupation for several months thereafter and a policy of permanent harassment of the civil population was consistently maintained without any relaxation. Several hundreds of persons were placed under preventive detention without charges being brought against them. The International Commission of Jurists published a statement on the position of the Tamil minority as a result of these developments.

4. 1966 - Anti Tamil violence was stirred and organized by the opposition parties led by Mrs. Srima Bandaranayake against the Tamil Regulations adopted by the Dudley Senanayake government in January 1966. The situation was brought under control only after the declaration of a state of emergency.

5. 1972-77 - This was part of the period covered by the rule of Mrs. Bandaranayake’s government when the entire Tamil-speaking areas of the north and the east were placed under military rule. This was accompanied by arbitrary arrests, meaningless detentions without trial for indefinite lengths of time of innocent persons, harassment and robbery of the civilian population by the military and the police. A peak in the abuse of power was reached when on 10th January 1974 during the 4th International Conference of Tamil Research held in Jaffna, the northern capital city of the Ceylon Tamils, the police launched " a violent and quite an unnecessary attack on unarmed citizens." An unofficial commission of inquiry headed by a non-Tamil retired Judge of the Supreme Court of Ceylon (O. L. de Kretser) commented on the "tragic loss of lives, and the physical injuries and indignities to which men and women had been subject to on this night of terror" as a result of police action.

6. 1976 - Police firing of Tamil-speaking Muslims in a mosque in Puttalam resulted in a number of deaths. Further incidents were reported against Muslims in other parts of the country. The government declined to hold an inquiry.

7. August 1977 - The worst and severest anti-Tamil looting, plunder, rape, arson, and murders since the western occupation of the island in 1505 took place under the very eyes and with the active participation of the island’s police and military services. The government of J. R. Jayewardene desisted from declaring a state of emergency on the ground that this would be contrary to democratic principles. The same government claimed that it was powerless to direct the armed services to restore order as these had been infiltrated by the political appointees of the previous government. The government appointed a commission of inquiry headed by a retired Chief Justice. The evidence led before this commission is a revelation of the extent of anti-Tamil hatred among members of the Sinhalese majority group.

Again this catalogue of disasters that have befallen the Tamil community in Sri Lanka indicates how difficult, if not impossible, it is for Tamils to pursue their occupations in a quiet and peaceful manner. They are a community under a permanent state of siege, always facing the possibility of destruction of their lives and property. Many Sinhalese leaders have boasted that the Tamils living in their midst in the Sinhala majority areas are hostages who will be dealt with summarily if the Tamils of the north and east dared to raise voices of protest.

The foreign press has highlighted the dangers facing the island as a result of Sinhala-Tamil rioting and drawn attention to the sufferings of the Tamil community. The following titles are representative of foreign press reports on the question :-

  • The Guardian June 14, 1977 - "Sri Lanka Tamils under attack"
  • Newsweek August 8, 1977 - "Sri Lanka: Trouble in Tamil land."
  • Daily Mail August 18, 1977 - "Race Riots flare across Sri Lanka"
  • Far Eastern Economic Review September 2, 1977 - "Baptism of Blood for Junius (Jayewardene)
  • The Economist September 3, 1977 - "Sri Lanka : Siren Voices"
  • Far Eastern Economic Review September 9, 1977 - "Tamils wait for peaceful Solution"
  • Economic and Political Weekly September 10, 1977 - "Sri Lanka : Communal Violence"
  • The Times September 20, 1977 - "Race conflict in Ceylon"
  • Financial Times May 31, 1978 -"The Tamil ‘Powder keg’"
  • Asian Survey May, 1978 - "Language and the Rise of Tamil  Separatism in Sri Lanka"(Robert Kearney)

Incitements to Violence and Racial Hatred

Statements have been made by responsible Sinhalese leaders, including prime ministers and future prime ministers directly or indirectly inciting Sinhalese mobs to acts of violence against members of the Tamil minority. The following is just a mere sample of the provocative language employed in the years since independence :-

(i) "The fact that in the towns and villages, in business homes and boutiques most of the work is in the hands of the Tamil-speaking people will inevitably result in fear, and I do not think an unjustified fear, of the inexorable shrinking of the Sinhala language...." S. W. R. D. Bandaranayake (before he became Prime Minister in 1956) in the House of Representatives, October, 1955.

(ii) "The time has come for the whole Sinhalese race which has existed for 2500 years jealously safeguarding their language and religion to fight without giving quarter to save their birthright.... I will lead the disobedience campaign" (against S. W. R. D. Bandaranayake’s settlement with the Ceylon Tamils in July 1957) - Junius Richard Jayewardene, in 1957, before he became Prime Minister and Executive President of the Republic, Tribune, 19th July, 1957.

(iii) "If you want to fight, let there be a fight, if it is peace, let there be peace. That is what they will say. It is not what I am saying. The people of Sri Lanka say that....." statement in the National State Assembly by the Prime Minister, Junius Richard Jayewardene as a warning to the Ceylon Tamil political leadership, on 18 August, 1977 - Tribune 27th August, 1977.

What can be done

Political development in Sri Lanka since independence have largely been focused on attempts by an ethnic majority, the Sinhalese, to establish their primacy, superiority and overlordship over the Tamil-speaking minority. Part of the reason lies in the fact that members of the Tamil minority are more industrious, enterprising and hardworking coming as they do from the arid, unproductive and underdeveloped areas of north and east Sri Lanka.

Partly the Sinhalese suffer from a mistaken notion that democracy is a matter of numbers and the majority, racial and religious, must have its way even though this means trampling on the legitimate rights of minority groups. There is further the fact that in a stagnant economy there is not enough to go round and the limited pie must therefore be distributed by the state in terms of felt pressures; such pressures emanate largely from the vocal, vociferous and articulate vehicles of pressure manipulated by lobbyists from the majority group.

Finally an unconvincing argument is trotted out that the Tamil-speaking people in reality form part of the several millions of Tamil-speakers in the neighboring South Indian mainland who can at any time swamp the nine million-odd Sinhalese in Sri Lanka; it therefore behoves the latter to take appropriate measures to protect itself. This excuse is often given as an explanation for the aggressive and erratic behavior of the Sinhalese political elites.

It will be seen that these arguments etc. move in a vicious circle and political elites from the majority group have no way of breaking this movement especially in a situation where democratic government is mistaken for numerical superiority. The solution to the problem therefore lies elsewhere than within the mental periphery of Sinhalese elitist circles. Partly this is being done by the protest and resistance movements organized by the Tamil-speaking people.

But they are placed at a grave disadvantage when the state utilizes the aid and assistance provided by foreign governments as well as by non-governmental organizations in foreign countries to frustrate this opposition. A moderation of the internecine conflict in Sri Lanka can therefore be accomplished if the outside world can take meaningful steps to achieve the following objectives :-

(a) Stipulations should be laid down by foreign governments providing aid to the government of Sri Lanka that such aid should

(i) be properly and fairly distributed so as to benefit all sections of the Sri Lankan community, as far as possible.

(ii) not be utilizes in any way so as to cause hardship to any section of the Sri Lankan community. For example the massive foreign aid provided in the post-1977 period is being used by the government of Sri Lanka for the purpose of undermining the ethnic composition of the Tamil majority northern and eastern provinces in Sri Lanka by proposed large scale transfers of population from the Sinhalese areas.

(iii) not be indirectly used to militarily oppress the Tamil-speaking peoples. For example aid is provided for a specific development program. The state channels the savings effected in this area to strengthen the armed forces occupying Tamil territories for the alleged purpose of maintaining law and order.

(b) members of the Christian community in countries providing aid can exercise pressure on their governments, or their parliamentary representatives, or by corresponding with the press so as to ensure that aid should be utilized in the ways indicated.

(c) members of the Christian community or unofficial missions from Christian organizations should visit Sri Lanka and conduct on-the-spot investigations so as to test the veracity and accuracy of what has been stated. Their reports should be duly published in their local press as a way of bringing public opinion to bear on their governments as well as on the government of Sri Lanka.

(d) Christian bodies might assist oppressed minority group in Sri Lanka by establishing non-governmental agencies to promote the economic development of the Tamil-speaking areas or by providing scholarships and financial assistance to members of the oppressed minority to enable them to obtain further qualifications and employment.


The future foreshadows gloomy foreboding of what can happen to a new state if present trends persist. The principal political instrument of the Tamil-speaking people, the Tamil United Liberation Front, has launched an agitation for a separate sovereign state which shall be called Eelam. The Front obtained an overwhelming mandate in the Northern Province and the support of a majority of the Tamil people in the racially mixed Tamil-speaking majority areas of the Eastern province at the general election of July 1977. The Front is pledged to conduct its agitation on non-violent lines but already a militant underground movement has emerged as a response to governmental attempts to counter the agitation. The gun is increasingly dominant in the Tamil-speaking areas as a reaction to the harassment and force being practiced on the Tamil-speaking people by the state’s instruments of repression.

The Tamil view is that Sri Lanka became a unified entity only after the advent of the foreign conqueror. Previously, up to 1618 a separate Tamil kingdom flourished in north-east Sri Lanka. The frontiers of that kingdom were recognized. That kingdom was tacked on to the rest of Sri Lanka when the British occupied the entire island and brought it under imperial rule. At independence Britain imposed a constitution which in a sense formed the basis of a compact between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities for nearly 24 years till a Sinhalese political party decided to unilaterally impose a constitution on the rest of the country in 1972. That constitution was replaced by another constitution in 1978, again on a unilateral basis.

The Tamil argument is that the foundations for a single sovereign state lapsed with the abrogation of the solemn compact of 1948 in 1972 and thereafter in 1978. The Tamil people are no longer a party to the constitutions of 1972 and 1978. They have determined that they must now exercise the sovereignty they lost in 1618. It is on that basis that the Tamil United Liberation Front seeks to reestablish the lost sovereignty of the Tamil-speaking nation. And in keeping with this decision, the Front resolved at its National Convention in May 1976 among other things,

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 till 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 destroying all the attributes of nationhood of the Tamil people....

This Convention resolves that restoration and reconstitution of the Free, Sovereign, 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.

Three decades (1948-1978) of oppression, emergency rule and military occupation of the Tamil-speaking areas have pushed the Tamil people to seek their liberation rather than live as inferior second class citizens in a Sinhala Buddhist-dominated polity. The historical record indicates that the Tamil leadership had consistently trusted their Sinhalese Buddhist counterparts to honor the solemn agreements they had entered into and to fulfill the many undertakings they had given when soliciting the assistance of the parliamentary representatives of the Tamils to stabilize fragile governments.

Not only was there consistency in the dishonoring of the pledged word but the evidence indicates that the Tamil leadership been moderate in its demands. In the nineteen fifties and sixties it was a question of seeking accommodation on language, citizenship, and regional autonomy.

At every stage the leadership suffered rebuffs. In the nineteen seventies Sinhala unwillingness to concede the just and reasonable demands of the Tamils created an unbridgeable credibility gap vis-ŕ-vis the Sinhalese leadership. The sum result is that the Tamils no longer have faith in the Sinhalese. They have been forced to the realization that their ultimate salvation lies in their liberating themselves by the setting up of an independent, sovereign and secular Tamil state under the name "TAMIL EELAM."`



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