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Saturday 12 May 2012

The mythical ethnic problem – III

The section that was affected by making Sinhala the only official language was the then English educated Tamils and some of the English educated Sinhalas. However, since then while inciting the ordinary Tamils learning Sinhala most of the English educated Tamils who were Colombo based encouraged their offspring to learn Sinhala as well as English. Being in Colombo these children very often became more fluent in Sinhala than in Tamil, and there are many instances when the progeny of the leaders of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) or the so called Federal Party were able to gain employment in the Public Sector due to their proficiency in Sinhala. However these leaders were the very same people who from 1956 to 1970 gradually incited the ordinary Tamils against Sinhala Language, handing over the torch of hatred to the “boys” who were the children of the latter, who knew only hatred and torture.

The other “discrimination” with which the Tamil leaders went to town was University admissions, when standardisation was introduced after 1972. There was a case for standardisation at university admission even after Sinhala and Tamil had been introduced as the media of instruction in schools especially with respect to western science based faculties. It is a well known fact that especially the western science based faculties were overrepresented by Tamil students and there were various reasons brought forward to “explain” this anomaly. For example, according to reliable sources, in the late sixties the situation in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Peradeniya was as follows:

Year of Sinhala     Tamil
admis: students students
1966           9            66
1967          23           52
1968          21           54
1969          24           51

In the Faculties of Veterinary Sciences and Dental Sciences the imbalance was more revealing.

I do not want to go into details, which were discussed even in the Parliament but it was not at all satisfactory as far as the Sinhala students were concerned to say the least, with respect to university admission when the Sinhala people constituted roughly 75% of the population. It could be argued that there were schools in Jaffna that had better facilities and that the schools in Colombo catered for both Sinhala and Tamil students, and that was the reason for the presence of large number of Tamil students in the western science based faculties. Fortunately nobody argued in public that the Tamil students were cleverer than the Sinhala students.

Even if the Tamil students had access to schools with better facilities the Sinhala students were not at fault, and the fact that the Sinhala students had no such schools for whatever the reason was a discrimination against them and it had to be corrected. On the assumption that the Sinhala students and the Tamil students were and are equal in respect of “intelligence” it was nothing but reasonable to expect the Sinhala students to comprise about 75% of the numbers in any given faculty. In order to rectify the discrimination against the Sinhala students some standardisation had to be introduced. As it was discrimination based on media the marks were standardised media wise. With media wise standardisation more Sinhala students entered the Universities and gradually the percentages of students who were admitted the Universities represented the demographical percentages.

Though many do not realize there are two standardizations that are effective even today. One is the standardisation arising out of what is known as the District Quota in the western science based faculties. University admissions are not based on what some people would like to call purely on merit as certain percentages are allocated over and above population percentages. These districts are found not only in the Southern, Uva, North Central, North Western and Sabaragamuwa provinces but also in Jaffna and Batticaloa districts. Apart from that the Z score mechanism is a subject wise standardisation to which there is no objection in general.

When media wise standardisation was introduced there was a hue and cry against what the Tamil leaders called discrimination against the Tamil students and they were very fond of claiming that a Tamil student from Jaffna had to score more marks to gain admission to the universities than a Sinhala student from Matara District. How many people realise that today because of the two standardisations in operation a student from say Matara District has to obtain more marks to gain admission to a Faculty of Medicine than a student from the Jaffna District. One could check this fact by going through the cut off points of marks for admission to different faculties released by the University Grants Commission. However, no politician would claim that as discrimination against Sinhala students and go to so called international for a rectification.

The fact is that whether in education, sports, professions or anything else in general the different communities should be represented proportional to the national demographical percentages as far as possible. However, it is well known that when the English were here physically as our rulers the Sinhala, especially the Sinhala Buddhists were discriminated against and it was reflected not only nationally but even at school levels. The School Cricket and other sports teams before the sixties were over represented by the Tamils and the Burghers and the Sinhala and Muslim students were underrepresented. I do not want to mention names but those who are over fifty years would remember this fact as far as their school cricket teams are concerned when they were at schools. Now this imbalance has been rectified and the school teams field fare numbers of Sinhala and Muslim students. There are not many Burgher students in the School sport teams and the number of Tamil students have come down drastically. However, nobody would go to so called international for a claiming that Principals, Wardens, Rectors etc. of schools are discriminating against the Tamil and an almost non existing Burgher students. One of the reasons for over representation of Tamil and Burgher students in School teams, especially in Colombo and Kandy, those days was the over representations of those communities in the school student registers. Again I do not want to come out with examples for ethical reasons.

Leave aside the School sports and look at the sport clubs in Colombo. Though people may complain that communal politics was introduced only after our limited independence in 1948, as authours such as Jane Russell, Nira Wickremasinghe and others have revealed there has been communal politics beginning from early nineteenth century. Even sport clubs were formed based on ethnicity as reflected in the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC), Tamil Union. Moors, Burgher Recreational Club (BRC) etc. The premier grounds as far as Cricket was concerned, the Oval now named as P Saravanamuttu Cricket Grounds, belonged to the Tamil Union and all the whistle stop matches by the English (why not British, I suppose it is not cricket) and Australian cricket teams were played on these grounds at Vanatamulla. Even the School big matches between schools in and around Colombo were played at the Oval those days. However now the venue has been shifted to the SSC grounds telling us a story to be analysed in the next instalment.

Copyright Prof. Nalin De Silva