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Wednesday 22 May 2013

On the land issue

We move from the topic Western science, Astrology and Arsenic temporarily in order to discuss one of the important topics in current  politics. It is concerned with the power to distribute land as stated in the thirteenth amendment. The thirteenth amendment is not a solution to a problem in Sri Lanka but an act imposed on us by the Indians modeled on their state administration to solve a problem peculiar to India. India did not consider the history, the eksesath rajya we had before the Portuguese came to Sri Lanka, the culture or more importantly the demographic patterns and the powers that changed those patterns after 1506. In this article I will consider only the problem of land distribution though from 1987 through the APRC I have opposed the 13th amendment in general and land and police powers in particular. At the APRC when Dr. Tissa Witharana and many others wanted to submit an interim report to satisfy India stating that we agree to implement the 13th amendment in full, it was my objection that prevented them wording the report the way India wanted. I must place on record the dedication of Mr. Udaya Gammanpila of the JHU in opposing the Tissa Witharana move. 

It is a well known fact obtained from the Portuguese historians that when the Portuguese conquerors came to the island we had an eksesath rajya though they do not refer to such rajya. There was no way that the Portuguese could have understood the system we had, and the reference to kings and an emperor in Kotte demonstrates that the Portuguese historians looked at the eksesath rajya using the concepts they were used to. We never had emperors in this country and the Portuguese who did not know anything of the eksesath rajya referred to the king of Sri Lanka Eksesath Rajya as the emperor. Those who insist on looking at history from the Portuguese point of view will continue with an emperor and so called independent kingdoms in the island.

The first state intervention in changing the demographic pattern of the country took place during the period of King Senerath who settled the Muslims who were harassed by the Portuguese  in the present eastern province. It is regrettable that some Muslims have forgotten this and are now attempting to convert Kaththankudy into a Little Arab with date trees etc., as I witnessed during a recent tour in the eastern province. It should be emphasized that the Sinhala Buddhists have never had had any Little Kalingas or Bengals or Maharashtras or even Buddhagayas even if we believe in the Vijaya story. Let us all live in Sri Lanka without little this or that from foreign countries. When King Senerath settled the Muslims in the present eastern province it was populated with the Sinhalas and it was the rice bowl at least from the time of Prince Saddhatissa who cultivated Digamadulla. In any event the present eastern province was part of the Ruhunu Rata. It has to be mentioned that rata has been used by the Sinhala people not only to refer to the country but to parts of the country as well as exemplified by atadahas rata, dolosdahas rata etc. The present usage of uda rata and pahatha rata is following this tradition.              

The most crucial settlement was by the Dutch who brought Tamil Vellalas from present South India for their tobacco cultivation and settled them in the Jaffna peninsula. It is on record by Portuguese that the Sinhala people were the majority in Jaffna when they arrived. These Sinhala people have been Tamilized  in the process and have been made members of the so called low casts of the Jaffna Hindu society. It was after about 1750 that saw the beginning of the Dutch rule in Sri Lanka that changed critically the demographic patterns in Sri Lanka and needless to say that it happened with the auspices of the Dutch governor. It was state colonization and nothing else though there was no Dutch state as such in Sri Lanka. The maps that have been prepared by the Dutch after 1750 ( I can give the reference if anybody is prepared to help me to translate the records to Sinhala or English) give the Sinhala names of the villages and these would go a long way in establishing that it was after 1750 that the demographic patterns at least in the Jaffna peninsula have been changed drastically by the Dutch.

The present Tamil population in Jaffna consists of the descendants of the Tamil vellalas brought by the Dutch and those of Tamilized Sinhala people living in Jaffna before 1750 and also some Velakkaras who spoke Malayalam. This corroborates with the linguistic opinion that the  difference between Tamil spoken in Jaffna and that spoken in Tamil Nadu in general is not more than two hundred and fifty years, and that Jaffna Tamil has been influenced by Malayalam. With the occupation of the country by the English, by breaching the Sinhala English accord or what is known as the Kandyan convention by the gentlemanly English, instead of ruling the country according to the Sinhala tradition the rulers appointed a Muslim as the tax collector in certain areas. The Sinhala leaders having realized that they had been cheated by the English King (his representative the governor) rose against the colonialists in 1817 – 18 which was our first independence struggle in English occupied Sinhale. The English “respecting” the human rights of the Sinhalas to be reborn massacred the Sinhala population killing not only males above 15 years but even killing the cattle of the Sinhala people. The record of the English with respect to our independence struggle is most cruel to say the least, and during this Veask week we can only engage in “Maithree Bhavana” towards the governors such as Brownrigg, Torrington and their mothers.  

After the massacre the remaining Sinhala people were forced to leave the rice bowl, Uva Vellassa (vel lakshaya - hundred thousand paddy fields) and the cultivation of the land was thereafter in the hands of the Muslims. The present eastern province was almost devoid of any Sinhala people and to make matters worse the English settled Tamil labourers brought from present Tamil Nadu in these areas. The final importation of the Tamil labourers by the English was for their coffee and tea plantations in the “up country”.

What I want to emphasize is that before the Portuguese came to Sri Lanka the vast majority of the population from Nagadeepa to Devundara was Sinhala with pockets of Tamil speaking Muslims, or so called Moors who had come from South India. They were Tamil speaking Muslims whatever their ethnicity was. Any changes in the demographic patterns since 1506 have been due to state intervention. Except in the case of King Senerath all the other changes have been effected by colonial rulers. Even in the case of settlings of Muslims by the Sinhala king it was carried out as a result of Portuguese harassing the Muslims.

In all these instances it was the Sinhala people who have lost “their” land especially at the hands of the Dutch and the English. If there has been a historical injustice it is to the Sinhalas as a result of land “distribution”. The colonial discrimination has to be rectified and naturally it has to be done by the government. The so called historical habitats of the Tamils had been historical habitats of the Sinhala for more than two thousand years until colonial intervention. Those who oppose any land distribution by the government want to maintain the status quo due to colonial rulers and it is a case of maintaining the colonial injustices to the Sinhala people. Also  maintaining army camps as far as the security of the country is concerned is the prerogative of the government. Taking all these things into consideration distribution of land in the entire country should be in the hands of the government and legislation should be enacted not to leave these powers ( and police powers etc.)  with the Provincial Councils the baby of India, if the thirteenth amendment cannot be repealed just now due to some reason or other.


Nalin De Silva