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Saturday 12 May 2012

The mythical ethnic problem – II

It is very difficult for a weekly column to write on a topic in instalments as it has to comment on current topics as well. Recently it has become a common phenomenon to observe people coming to the roads and blocking them, setting fire to tyres and making mayhem against some or other police action. Last week at Dematagoda, people from what is known as T 20 Watte, nothing to do with cricket, blocked the Baseline Road apparently over taking some people into custody by the police. The Police claim that those who have been taken into custody are “bad boys” and an inquiry is being held. In any event twenty three have been released on bail, and the police has informed the whereabouts of the others. It is true that the Police has had not a clean track record but people protesting against is a new experience that has to be looked into by the police itself. It is a well known fact that a leading member of the Peratugamee Samajavadee Pakshaya (PSP) who had been a convenor of the illegal Inter University Student Federation was among the protesting people at Dematagoda. The PSP has no mass base island wide and has no strength to stage another 1971 or a 1987-90. It is being used by the westerners for a limited purpose as we have said on few occasions and they have been assigned the task of staging this type of demonstrations so that the police would retaliate probably with the support of the armed forces, and create “human rights violation cases”, for various human rights organisations here and abroad to protest against the government leading to economic sanctions and even perhaps to a NATO attack in the name of R2P and internationalism. There is nothing new about this internationalism as from the fifteenth century the west has taken upon themselves the burden of civilizing the non European nations, a la Macaulay. The west is now civilizing us and teaching how to be democratic and also to respect the human rights of the people. This is nothing but crab theory which in turn is crap, propagated by Macaulay’s children.

Having said that let us get back to the mythical ethnic problem. We have been asking the Tamil leaders and others who talk of Tamil grievances to spell them out for more than two decades but up to now nobody has given a convincing reply. Could at least the Indians who come to Sri Lanka on what may be called field trips and advocate devolution along so called 13 plus, inform us the problem they want to solve? If they are concerned of so called injustices then they should specify them and spell out the solution for each such injustice. In the mean time they could do something to improve the conditions of the Buddhists living in India. There are no injustices caused to Tamils by being Tamils, as poverty etc., can be found among the other communities as well. We have also remarked that more than fifty percent, some would say more than sixty percent but we will have to wait for the 2012 census figures, of the Tamils live outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces, the so called Tamil homelands, and even if more and more power is devolved to those two provinces as a solution to the “injustices”, the majority of Tamils living outside those two provinces would not be affected by such devolution of power. Thus even if one were to assume that there are injustices caused to the Tamils, devolution of power to the Northern and Eastern Provinces is not going to help to solve the problem of the injustices of the majority of the Tamils living in other parts of the country.

I will consider two “injustices” claimed by Tamil leaders. I have discussed these so called injustices for more than twenty five years, but it is good to remind the readers of the same when the LLRC report, which talks of injustices is being discussed in so called international fora. One of the “injustices” is the Official Language Act that made Sinhala the only official language of Sri Lanka (Ceylon). The other is regarding the admission of students to the Universities. Sinhala had been the official language of Sinhale for thousands of years, even if the concept was not there. There was no need to formulate such a concept as it was the only language used in matters concerning the state. Almost all the inscriptions found in the entire island including present day Jaffna are in Sinhala and it also implies that the state not only carried out its activities in Sinhala but communicated with the people also in the same, even after the twelfth century when permanent Tamil settlements were set up in Sri Lanka. Further according to late Mr. Gamini Iriyagolla, whom unfortunately even the so called patriots have forgotten, Sankili as the “king” of Jaffna signed a pact (was it a peace accord?) with the Portuguese in Portuguese and Sinhala, and not in Tamil. It is clear that Tamil had not been an official language at any time in Sri Lanka.

Incidentally we do not have to go by the Portuguese historians who refer to kings and an emperor in Kotte as we did not have an emperor at any time in our history. The Portuguese historians who could not understand the Eksesath Rajya in Sri Lanka tried to grasp the concept within their systems that had emperors and kings. It is unfortunate that the Sri Lanka historians have not made a proper study of the Eksesath Rajya, which was unique to Sri Lanka or Sinhale, and it would not be a bad idea to have an entirely new constitution along the lines of Eksesath Rajya without tinkering the present constitution and wasting time on 13 plus or minus. Eksesath Rajya is a form of unitary state, if I am to use western terminology, and it has maximum devolution as far as administrative purposes are concerned. Whether in Jaffna or Hambantota most of the difficulties arise due to the fact that the people cannot take decisions on problems affecting their day to day lives. We have to devise a way of keeping the politicians away, and giving power to the people in administrative purposes. The politicians should concentrate on policy matters and legislating at the centre, and the powers of the bureaucracy should be restricted to a minimum.

The colonial powers in the areas they controlled used Portuguese, Dutch or English as the “official language”, and under the English, their language became the official language throughout the country after 1815. Thus from 1815 to 1956 English was the official language of the country and there was an agitation commencing in the thirties of the last century to make Sinhala the official language, replacing English. With the official language act it became a reality and no injustice was done to the Tamils by making Sinhala the official language as it had been so for thousands of years before the European colonialists arrived. Tamil had never been an official language and by making Sinhala the official language the Tamils did not lose anything that they had had in the history of the country. I would argue that the ordinary Tamils who were more familiar with Sinhala than with English would have been better off at least marginally by making Sinhala the official language replacing English.

However, there was a tiny minority who were affected by this decision. They were the English educated elite, especially the English educated Tamil Vellalas who dominated the lives of the ordinary Tamils. The English educated Tamils, the darlings of the English colonialists then and now, had to get accustomed to working in Sinhala and it was they who protested against making Sinhala the official language forgetting that English was not there mother tongue. The English educated Tamils as well as those Sinhalas who opposed Sinhala becoming the official language were only playing into the hands of the English who wanted this country to continue as their best colony. It is said that when the English were being chased out by the French, the former had an idea of giving up all the colonies except Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and Trinidad. Most probably they found the best apes in the colonies among the English educated elite of those two countries. Even today some of the English educated in Sri Lanka remember with nostalgic memories that Ceylon was considered as the best colony by the English. In any event it was the English educated Tamils, if at all who were affected by making Sinhala the official language, followed by a section of the English educated Sinhala elite. They wanted to retain English as the official language for the benefit of a minority of less than six percent of the population, which they did not consider as an injustice to the Sinhala people and the Sinhala language that had been the official language of the country before the western colonialists set foot on the island.(12/04/25)

Copyright Prof. Nalin De Silva