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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Boundaries of Tamil Eelam > Territorial Identity of Tamil Eelam: Tamil & Sinhalese Perspectives - Professor S.Nagarajan
BOUNDARIES OF TAMIL EELAM
Territorial Identity of Tamil Eelam:
Change, not status quo is the meaning of History. Changing internal or external balance of power might add or reduce or restructure the territories of a State. Crisis management through accommodative spirit of give and take might help a state to carry on together. Under such circumstances a liberal federal set up could emerge in a plural society. But if willingness to live together and mutual love and trust is lost then there is a likelihood of a multinational state fragmenting. Under such circumstances new nations like Pakistan or Bangladesh will emerge. The concept of territorial identity of Tamil Eelam reflects the changing mood of the multinational Sri Lankan State. Political and military realities alone can give life and substance to such a new Sri Lankan concept.
Origin of the Concept of Tamil Eelam
Tamil Eelam as a cultural concept existed from the beginnings of Sri Lankan history. It appears to have existed as a political concept, especially during the time of the Kingdom of Jaffna, from the 13th century or probably even much earlier. However, in the context of the modern philosophy of nationalism it can be said that as a concept of nationalism it came into being only during the post-independence period in the twentieth century.
Suntharalingam could be described as the originator of the concept of Tamil Eelam nationalism. He spoke about Tamil Eelam nation for the first time in 1958 in the House of Representatives of Ceylon. He said then on 14-8-1958;
He established Eelam Tamil Unity Front' in 1959 and published a leaflet known as Eelam Tamils Freedom Struggle' (1959) and a book "Eylom: Beginnings of Freedom Struggle" (1967). But, it appears, he did not with clarity define the territorial personality of Tamil Eelam 2.
In 1970s the concept of Tamil Eelam nationalism began to take concrete shape. But only in 1976 after the passing of Vaddukoddai Resolution did the concept of its territorial identity begin to take shape.
Regarding the concept of the territorial limits of Tamil Homeland three viewpoints have emerged among the Tamils. Tamil speaking persons live in the whole of Sri Lanka. Tamil speaking refers to Sri Lankan Tamils, Muslims and Indian Tamils.
Sri Lankan Tamils mainly live in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Tamils also live outside the Northern and Eastern provinces. Indian Tamils live mainly in the plantation districts of Nuwara Eliya and Badulla. Tamils also live in the Districts of Colombo, Kandy Puttalam and Gampaha. In 1981 two hundred and ten thousand Tamils were living in Colombo.
Sri Lankan Tamils have been living in Sri Lanka since the ancient period, but the Indian Tamils went to Sri Lanka's hilly region as indentured labourers only from the 19th century. Sri Lankan Tamils are predominantly Hindus, but there are also Christians and a sizeable number of Muslims. Sri Lankan Tamil Muslim population is much more in the East of Sri Lanka than in the North. These Tamil Muslims' mother tongue is Tamil.
Majority's view point:North and East Tamil Homeland
Majority of the Sri Lankan Tamils as represented by Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) favour the inclusion of the whole of North and East of Sri Lanka.
Since 1976 from passing of Vaddukkodai Resolution they have been demanding these territories as integral part of Tamil Eelam4.
The reasons given by them for demanding North and East as part of Tamil Homeland are many. The most important are
Historical perspectives : Two view points
History is also a handmaid of politics. Hence omissions, exaggerations and distortions will be there in politicised historical writings. Such interpretations become possible all the more if the evidences about the past are dark and dim.
The Sinhalese view point is that Northern and Eastern provinces are not alien territories as far as the Sinhalese are concerned. There is ample historical evidence to show that these areas were an integral part of Sinhala Kingdom.5 In their opinion any of the Standard works on Sri Lankan history refers to or lists a long line of Kings of Sri Lanka (that is of the whole island) going back to 543 B.C. Even non-Sinhalese historians like H.W Codrington 6, Burgher author L.B. Blaze7 and the 'The Standard Concise History of Ceylon" published by the University of Ceylon Press Board 1961, give a similar list of Kings going back to antiquity 8.
The Mahawamsa is replete with references to the unity of Sri Lanka and overlordship of numerous kings over the entire island. Their seat of Government for sixteen centuries from the fifth century B.C. to the eleventh century A.D. was Anuradhapura. One cannot ignore the evidence from rock inscriptions in all parts of the island including the northern and eastern parts. e.g. Tiruketisvaram Pillar inscription of Sena 11 (835-837), the Sinhala inscription of Dappula IV (10th Century) at Kandarodai and Nainativu inscription of Parakarama Bahu I (12th Century) 9.
Further the existence of a large number of Buddhist vihares and dagobas in Jaffna and in the adjacent islands as referred to by Mudaliyar Rasanayagam10, indicates that they were constructed by the Buddhist Kings of Sri Lanka who were well known for constructing these vihares and dagobas11.
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 and the Tamils possessing Northern and Eastern parts.12
The ancient geography of the sub-continent also proves that Sri Lanka was the traditional homeland of the Tamils. Sri Lanka was then a part of Kumari Kandam and its land boundary was a continuation of Ramanathapuram and Tirunelveli Districts of the present day Tamil Nadu. Later due to geological changes Sri Lanka became an island and was renamed as `Eela Nadu'. The works of Russian and Greek historians as well as the Ceylonese Buddhist epic Mahavamsa, Sulavamsa, support this view point. For example Greek and Roman historians described Sri Lanka as `Tamaraparani Nadu'. Tamaraparani is a river existing in the present day Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu, which it is believed during the ancient period was running through Sri Lanka before mixing with the sea. Sinhalese historian Paranavitana also refers to some of these facts 13.
Doctor Paul Peries, a Sinhalese historian refers to the existence of four Tamil Siva temples at Koneswaram in the east, Nakhleswaran in the North, Tiruketeeswaram in the West and Munneswaram in the North-West about three thousand years ago in Sri Lanka14.
Regarding the ancient Tamil rulers the following facts could be cited. Senan, a Tamil was ruling in Sri Lanka around 206 B.C. Mahavamsa talks about the Sinhalese King Duttakaimanu's victory over the Tamil ruler named Elala Singan in the 2nd century. It says Eelala Singan was a just ruler. He ruled for 56 years. Thus there is Sinhalese proof that the Tamils were ruling in Sri Lanka more than two thousand years ago 15.
Accoding to the Sinhalese work `Rajaveli' the first Chola King to invade Sri Lanka was the early Chola ruler Karikalan in the 2nd century A.D. Between the sixth and eleventh century A.D. there was constant war between the Tamil Kings of Tamil Nadu and the Sinhalese and a majority of the battles were won by the Tamils. Sri Lanka came under the later Chola rule between 915 A.D. and 1070 A.D. But according to the Sinhalese historians it was under complete Chola domination for over 86 years. The Chola rulers not only built Hindu temples but also Buddhist vihares in Sri Lanka 16.
Jaffna Kingdom: Sinhalese view point
At the peak of their power the kings of Sri Lanka ruled not only over the entirety of the island but extended their power as far as South India and for a brief period even to Burma. Parakrama Bahu I for example sent punitive expeditions to Burma and landed an army in South India. Among other Kings who sent expeditions abroad were Sena II (866-901) who captured Madura and Gajabahu (113-135) who invaded the Chola Kingdom in South India and brought back 12,000 prisoners. Kings as powerful as these are scarcely likely to have tolerated an independent Kingdom of Jaffna within Sri Lanka itself.17
If there was an independent Jaffna Kingdom, it existed for only a brief interlude in our history of twenty-five centuries-from the thirteenth century to 1619 when its weak organisation collapsed before the Portuguese. However, even during that period, this Kingdom often paid tribute to the Vijayanagar empire in South India 18 and the Sinhalese Kingdom in the South 19. According to the Dutch Historian Baldaeus, the King of Kandy included the description "King of Jaffna- among his many royal titles. Fr. Fernando de Queyroz , a contemporary records that when the Portuguese arrived there were 15 "Kinglets" subject to the King of Kotte among whom was the "Kinglet" of Jaffna Patao 20
Among the "Kinglets" mentioned by Queyroz as being subject to the king of Kotte were the "Kinglets" of the Bay of Trincomalee and Batticaloa. Around 1660, when Robert Knox the Englishman landed near Trincomalee he was captured by the officers of the king of Kandy and not by the Tamils.21
When Sri Lankan Muslims were massacred by the Portuguese in 1626 the survivors appealed for asylum to the king of Kandy, who settled them in the Eastern province. He could not obviously have done this if he had no power over that area. Some 4000 were settled in Batticaloa alone. 22
Jaffna Kingdom: Tamil viewpoint
In the thirteenth century we see the emergence of the kingdom of Jaffna. Magha the Kalinga invader was probably the founder of the kingdom and the Javaka invaders succeeded him. At the end of the thirteenth century the Pandya feudatories, Aryachakravarttis, gained control of the kingdom and began a career of conquest along the Western Coast of the island. Under them the Kingdom with its capital at a place called Cinkainakar (Skt. Simhanagara) emerged as the most powerful one in the fourteenth century. Foreign trade was the basis of its power and we find that merchant vessels from this kingdom played an important part in the Indian ocean trade. The Aryachakravarttis controlled the Chank and Pearl fisheries off the Western Coast and enjoyed a share of the island's cinnamon trade. Under them there must have been a significant growth of Muslim settlements on the Western Coast 23.
The Kingdom had closer political, economic and cultural ties with South India than with the Southern part of Sri Lanka. At this time there were minor chieftains called the Vanniyars controlling the southern parts of the present Jaffna district, and most of the Mannar, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee Districts. These chieftains usually paid tribute to the Jaffna rulers and their territories served as an effective buffer between the Tamil kingdom in the north and the Sinhala Kingdom in the South. Only on one occasion did the armies of the South succeed in penetrating through this buffer and holding the Kingdom briefly on behalf of the Southern ruler. That was in the middle of the fifteenth century when Sapumal Kumaraya (Senpaka Perumal), the Prince of Kerala origin brought up by Parakrama Bahu VI in the court at Jayavardhanapura Kotte, led an invasion to Jaffna and occupied the Kingdom for seventeen years. He later returned to Kotte on the death of Parakramabahu to ascend the throne there and Jaffna again came under the rule of the Tamil dynasty24.
With the Portugese conquest of Jaffna and the consequent disruption of trade with South India, the region was gradually cut off from the mainstream of development in Tamilnadu. This helped the region to consolidate the developments of the period of the Aryachakravattis and to strengthen its separate identity. From now on, its fortunes were linked with those of Southern Sri Lanka and soon it was drawn into the mainstream of Sri Lanka politics 25.
At the time when the Portuguese conquered Jaffna in the east at Pazhakamal and Panamai the Tamil Vannians were ruling and these areas remained as self-governing areas till 1803. Tamil Kings had passed decrees affixing their signature in Tamil. For example Sri Vikrama Rajasingam alias Kannuswamy, the ruler of Kandy. signed in his surrender document to the English in Tamil, which is even today preserved in England 26.
As late as 1833 the Tamils and Sinhalese had well demarcated areas and the maps too show these. The map drawn by the British in 1801 clearly proves that Tamil Eelam was a separate sovereign state. Even though in 1815 the English captured Sri Lanka, the Tamil and the Sinhala areas were separately administered and only in 1833 both these parts were united 27.
Therefore the "Sinhalese did not obtain a mandate from the Tamil people either by consent, conquest or legal continuity to rule us" (Tamile Eelam). Hence the Tamils have a right to claim a separate state 28.
Concept of a Single Tamil Homeland: Geographical Contiguity
TULF, LTTE, PLOTE, in fact more than a majority of the Tamils view that North and East together constitute a single Tamil Homeland. However because of the presence of the Sinhalese population and Muslim population in the East as well as the presence of the Indian Tamils in the hill country, the Sri Lankan Government, a section of the Tamil Muslims population and a section of the Tamil militants do not agree with this view point of TULF and LTTE.
ENLF: We want Bigger Tamil Eelam - ENLF (Eelam National Liberation Front), EROS (Eelam Research Organistation) and EPRLF (Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Front) appear to favour the establishment of a bigger Tamil Eelam, which would include also the hill country areas where the Indian Tamils, who migrated to Sri Lanka in the 19th and 20th centuries live' ENLF says "don't undermine the natural territorial identity of the Tamil people by excluding the plantation Tamils and the areas inhabited and developed by them for generations29.
Disagreeing with this claim PLOTE says the upcountry areas are not part of the Tamil Homeland because they were the traditional lands of the Sinhalese people. So we should not drag the plantation Tamils, who are waging a class struggle, into our national struggle 30.
Sinhalese View point
Sri Lanka is the traditional Homeland of all Sri Lankans. Her population consists of Malays, Moors, Burghers, Sinhalese, Tamils and Indian Tamils' It is true that some groups of the population have lived for long periods in certain areas. The Kandyans have always lived in Kandyan provinces and have never been militarily defeated even by the British' This does not mean in modern Sri Lanka that such groupings can claim exclusive or special rights to their parts of the country. There would be chaos if they did. Besides, it is against all known concepts of nationhood 31
Further the expression "Tamil speaking" refers not to one ethnic
group but to three different ethnic groups namely the Sri Lankan
Tamils. the Muslims and Indian Tamils 32.
Ethnic composition of Districts in the North and East
|Neither the Muslims of Sri Lanka nor the Indian Tamils have
claimed any particular area of Sri Lanka as being exclusively their
homeland and in fact ninety percent of the Indian Tamils live
outside these two provinces of North and East 33.
At present the Sri Lankan Tamils are in a minority in the Eastern province while the Sinhalese and Muslims constitute nearly 60 percent of the population. The Tamil population consists of a minority of less than 41 % in the 3 districts of the Eastern province. Tamils predominate in Batticaloa with 71% but are in a minority in Trincomalee with 34% and a still smaller minority in the Ampari District with only 20% 34. Since the Sri Lankan Tamils constitute more than 90% of the population in the Northern province the object of the amalgamation of North and East is clear. The Sri Lankan Tamils will after amalgamation become the majority group in the combined unit of administration 35.
The Sinhala people consider the whole island of Sri Lanka as their homeland from time immemorial along with other communities who have also come to inhabit it. In its practical application the Tamil Homeland theory would exclude the Sinhala people from most of the major land development schemes in the future, most of which are located in the Eastern province and to a lesser extent in Northern Province 36.
But North and East are not alien areas as far as the Sinhalese are concerned. There is ample historical evidence to show that these areas were an integral part of the Sinhala Kingdom and abounded in Sinhala settlement from very ancient times though later invasions and the vicissitudes of history led to their gradual disappearance from these areas in the ensuing periods 37.
As shown by the 1981 census nearly 33 percent of the Sri Lankan Tamils live outside the Northern and Eastern provinces amongst the Sinhalese people and over 90 percent of the Indian Tamils live in the hill country in the heartland of the Sinhala people. Their demand to maintain the so called "integrity of the Tamil Homeland" will therefore seem to be nothing but a negation of the historic right of all the people of Sri Lanka from time immemorial irrespective of their ethnic origins to settle in all parts of the island which the Sri Lankan Tamils have exercised in full measure 38.
Tamils reply: Sinhalisation a deliberate measure
The whole of North and East has been the traditional homeland of the Tamil. The motive behind Sinhalisation of the Tamil traditional homeland is to reduce the majority of the Tamils in their Homeland.
The Eastern province is an integral part of the Tamil Homeland inhabited predominantly by the Tamil speaking people including those of the Islamic faith. Hence North and East should not be divided into two units 39.
In 1827, in Northern Lanka there were only 0.35% Sinhalese and in the East only 0.51% Sinhalese. During the First World War the Sinhalese came in search of jobs to Trincomalee. Therefore in 1921 in the East the Sinhalese population increased to 4.4%. But by 1981 they have increased to 24.9% in the East. In the East alone 180,000 Sinhalese have come and settled, thereby grabbing one third of the total territory of the Tamil Homeland in the East. According to Human Rights organisation (London) between 1953 and 1971 the Sinhalese population has trebled in Jaffna and in Batticaloa in the East, their total population has increased much more in Northeast, Western Central parts of Sri Lanka (especially Trincomalee, Puttalam). During the last 30 years more than 2,500 sq. miles of the Tamil Homeland have been the target of Sinhalisation. And since 1981 more than 83,000 Sinhalese have been settled in Amparai in the Eastern province.
|Sinhala Colonisation in the East: Two Districts
(Source: Dept of Census and Statistics, Sri Lanka)
Sinhala Colonisation in the East: All Districts
|Sinhala, Tamil, Moors Population in Northern Districts
(Moors are Tamil speaking Sri Lankans) (Source: Dept of Census and Statistics, Sri Lanka)
Sinhala, Tamil, Moors Population in North and East Together (Tamil Eelam)
Therefore North and East are not only the traditional homeland of the Tamils but also constitute a single indivisible Tamil Homeland. Sinhalese can come into the North and the East while not one Muslim or Tamil can hold land in any land settlement scheme outside the North and East. It is for this reason that the TULF has claimed that the totality of the entitlement of the land of the Tamils and Muslims including plantation workers be reserved for them in the Northern and Eastern provinces 41.
Population do not support: Sri Lankan Government
The 1977 election voting pattern indicates that only 48% of voters in the Northern and Eastern provinces i.e not more than one million Tamilians support the demand of a separate state. In the Districts of Mannar and Mullaitivu almost half of the Tamil population have opted against a separate state42.
In the Eastern Sector of Tamil Eelam the idea of a separate state appears to have been viewed with less favour. But of the total 41 % Tamil population of this province only 26% voted for TULF. In Batticaloa 68% of the population and in the Amparai 73% of the population have voted against TULF and its proposal for a separate state 43.
Population supports our demand : TULF's Reply
Out of the 19 electorates in the Northern and Eastern provinces Tamil people elected TULF in 18 electorates with a preponderant majority44.
It is not correct to claim that they (Jeyawardene) won 10 out of 12 seats in the Eastern province. There are only five seats which can be correctly described as Tamil seats. Of these in four places - Batticaloa, Paddiruppu, Trincomalee and Pottuvil TULF won. After winning on the TULF ticket, Mr. Kanagaratnam crossed over to the UNP before the 1978 constitution and the constitution which had a provision against defection had to he amended to enable Mr. Rajadurai, who won on a TULF ticket, to cross over and become Minister. If votes are taken into account, the votes in favour of Eelam in the entirety of the Northern and Eastern provinces were 445,339, while the votes against were 389,190. Thus 53.5% percent of the total votes polled was in favour of Eelam. The votes cast against TULF also consisted of nearly 75,000 Sinhalese who were settled in the North and East after independence. If these are not taken into account then 60% of Tamil speaking voters of North and East opted for Eelam. The TULF won absolute majorities in the six of the seven districts of the North and East 45.
Referendum of 1982:
The TULF campaigned against the extension of the life of Parliament. In all districts in the North and East except Amparai, the Government lost and TULF won. These figures speak for themselves and show clearly the will of the people 46.
Can We divide East? New Formula of the Sri Lankan Government
Sri Lankan Government has rejected the concept of a sovereign, independent separate Tamil Homeland. It also rejects the notion of a single Tamil Homeland of the whole of North and East within the Union of Sri Lanka. In its view three ethnic groups live in North and East (1) Tamils (2) Sinhalese (3) Muslims. On the basis of the presence of these three groups it offers formulas for dividing the East to solve the territorial identity problem of Tamil Eelam.
Between September 1986 and January 1987 the Sri Lankan Government came out with three different formulas relating to the territorial identity of Tamil Eelam. All these formulas attempt to divide the East and to maintain the separate identity of the North and East without offering to unite them into a single homeland. These three formulas were
The most noteworthy change among the Tamils is that they are not emphasising the Eelam demand. In his letter dated November 3, 1983 to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, LTTE leader Prabhakaran did not emphasise the Eelam demand 50. However the majority of the Tamils including LTTE emphasise that a meaningful political solution would have to be based on the recognition of a traditionally constituted and indivisible homeland comprising of the North and East 51. They reject the idea of a separate Muslim province which is a deliberate device "to divide our community who have lived together in harmony. "Can we imagine Tamil Nadu being divided into a Muslim Tamil Nadu and Hindu and Christian Tamil Nadu" 52.
They reject the creation of a separate Sinhala Trincomalee province. In their view the Sinhalese are not in an absolute majority in this district. Contiguous constituencies in the Trincomalee District have consistently returned Tamil representatives in successive Parliamentary elections. There are also strong sentimental reasons for Tamils insisting on retaining a part of Trincomalee District because according to Ramayana it was in this area that Hanuman had landed and it came to be known as Trikula Sikavam. Further the famous Tamil temple located in Trincomalee is of great sentimental importance to the Sri Lankan Tamils. who have a strong religious attachment to this shrine 53
One of the suggestions was that the Tamil majority coastal belt of Trincomalee District could -be tagged on to the Northern province so that the rest of this District could be merged into one of the adjoining Sinhala provinces. But Jayewardene opposed this because acceptance of this demand would automatically lead to a claim for a corridor connecting the Northern Province with the new Batticaloa province 54.
The Muslims are not united regarding this issue. Some want unity with the Tamils of the North and East and some oppose such a solidarity. A section of the Muslims demand a separate Muslim province in the East. They reject the creation of 3 councils with Amparai for Muslims. Because the proposed scheme would only-help create two councils for the Sinhalese in Amparai. where the Muslims who were predominant have been reduced since 1981 to a minority . 55
They also oppose the the merger of the East with North as it would reduce percentage of the Muslims from 32% in the Eastern province to 18% in a combined Northern and Eastern province.56 They also oppose the formation of Tamil Speaking councils including Muslim areas in the Northern and Eastern provinces.57
They demand that the proposed Muslim Council should be constituted with Kalmunai, Sammanthurai, Pothuvil in Amparai District as the base and Kattankudi, Eravur, Valaichenai. Ottainavadi in Batticaloa District and Kinniya, Muttur and Thampalagamam in Trincomalee Districts as administrative units linked to the base. Although they are not contiguous they can be administered on the Pondichery Model in India. The land area i.e one third of the land of the East, do not coincide with the present ethnic concentration and the boundaries of the units will have to be redrawn.
However, it appears a majority of the Muslims do not support this separatist viewpoint. They believe this separatist proposal has emerged from the Colombo Muslim leadership who have no base in the East and who do not know what is happening here In their view Tamils whether Hindu or Muslim or Christian have same language, common culture and could live together. Barring some incidents the two communities had always lived in harmony.
Though the Muslims are concentrated in some places, their lands are in the midst of Tamil areas and thus indivisible. Territory wise the Tamils and Muslims are linked and interdependent. Also they are not against the creation of a Tamil majority province in the East cutting out the Sinhalese areas of Amparai District 59.
Thus this ethnic crisis is transforming itself into an exercise in the history, geography, cartography and demography of the eastern province indicating that Sri Lanka is now at the crossroads. Destabilisation is eating the vitals of Sri Lanka. Politico military solutions would depend on the bargaining parties capacities to control Tamil Eelam. Any solution can be long lasting only if it can be backed by people power. It must be admitted that the Sinhalese have earned the deep suspicion of the Tamils, especially after the genocide of the Tamil civilian population by Jayewardene's Government. Frankly speaking, it may take many more decades for the Sinhalese to win back the warm friendship of the Tamils on the political plane within the united Sri Lanka. Political unity without emotional unity is an empty shibboleth, but such a situation would be capitalised by the politics of destabilisation. And all these politico-military realities alone could determine firmly the territorial identity of Tamil Eelam.