By Shenali Waduge
Over the years matters have become complicated simply because we have allowed two words to become intermingled confusing facts. While every citizen can demand his/her “right” from the State, no citizen can expect his/her “aspiration” to be given by the State. What we currently face is a plethora of “aspirations” which are unlikely to be ever fulfilled making it wiser to separate the rights from the aspirations and thereafter to inform the State what rights have been denied or even neglected. This is the only way forward and entails proper reconciliation that is practical & realistic.
No country will cater to “aspirations” but this is the current dilemma that plagues us. What we are battling is a set of “aspirations” which cannot be solved because there is no quantum to measuring these “aspirations” and the more time spent on viewing these “aspirations” as “rights” what is happening is that the entire situation is being hijacked by external forces to advance their interests alone.
If we are to argue on “rights” denied, then the list forwarded by Sinhalese is likely to be far longer. Contrary to the impression given internationally that only Tamils are marginalized, things are not so rosy for ordinary Sinhalese as well. There are many towns that do not have proper roads, schools suffer shortage of proper trained teachers & equipment, lack of proper transport leaves children having to brave mud & cross rivers and walk for miles to catch the bus to school, there are even areas without proper electricity or drinking water.
The health centers & other facilities can also do with a face lift just as in other parts of the country, the people manning public counters could well do with some lessons in courtesy in speaking to people – if rudeness is what we are implying, these officers do not differentiate Sinhalese, Muslims or Tamils! These are all day to day experiences that all the ethnic groups go through and if our complaints keep piling up it is the Minister, the Ministry Secretary, the Chairman right down to the peon that needs to all take accountability for their lack of “customer-centric” duty. Our experience with the police will leave us with no shortage of examples as to why there is a howling need for police officers to learn the art of politeness. Again, they do not favor Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims. Throughout the year they are the same!
Now these are all issues that no political solution can help solve. These realistically do not need any international involvement to solve either. These are simple administrative changes combined with the desire to serve the public – that is why we call it the public service, isn’t it? What has happened is that these shortcomings have been cunningly used as a tool to justify the aspirations of a few. We can understand why…would there be a need for the UN if there were no world conflicts, would there be need for NGOs/INGOs & their objectives if there was no need – therefore there is an ugly practice of sustaining the need for people to exist? Yes, that’s why we have politicians too.
We feel that not all Tamils share the “aspiration” for a Tamil eelaam, not all Tamils desire to live amongst their own only, not all Tamils wish to be ruled by dictators like Prabakaran where the bullet rules instead of the ballot. We feel that Tamils realize that they are divided by caste & class but they don’t want to publicize this. We may be mistaken but for that we would need to put a direct question to the Tamil people because they can’t claim 1/3 of Sri Lanka’s land & 2/3 of Sri Lanka’s sea & call it Tamil Eelaam whilst also gaining the right to live in other parts of Sri Lanka. Which country will allow this when historically Sinhalese have been living far longer than any other ethnic group throughout Sri Lanka?
Tamils must realize that if nations had empathized with the plight of the Tamils, 30 years of LTTE terrorism would not have prevailed and thousands of low caste children would not have been turned into child combatants while thousands of women would have enjoyed life as a woman instead of being turned into suicide cadres.
In Jaffna members of the same caste only eat together. High castes are not allowed to marry low castes. Those that do are often shunned from the family. Unclean castes are forbidden from entering Tamil kovils or to bathe in the sacred rivers. Low castes were forbidden from obtaining education until SWRD Bandaranaike introduced the Social Disabilities Prevention Act 21 in 1957. Even then higher caste Tamil politicians agitated against this. Low caste children had to sit on the floor and study. Not many know of these sufferings which have emerged to the same levels that existed prior to LTTE. The Government Agent was vociferous about the high rise in rape cases – Tamils raping Tamils, what a shame!
Sri Lanka has been the home of the Sinhalese since 6thcentury b.c. Buddhism was acknowledged even by the British and a promise was made at the Kandy Convention to give pride of place to Buddhism (this promise was not kept but at least Buddhism was acknowledged)
No country would have given a place to just 9% of the population as Sri Lanka has simply because colonial powers succeed to mentally brainwash Tamils into thinking themselves above the Sinhalese and rightful heirs to ruling Sri Lanka. Let us not forget that the Tamil population by independence was just 880,000!
Let us see how the Constitution has provided for Tamils.
- Under the 1978 Constitution, Chapter IV (Language Provisions) – Article 18 (1) & 18 (2) amended by 13th amendment making Sinhala and Tamil official languages of Sri Lanka. Article 19 – National Languages of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala and Tamil. A member of Parliament or a member of a Provincial Council or a local authority shall be entitled to perform his duties and discharge his functions in Parliament or in such Provincial Council or local authority in either of the National Languages. – Article 20 as amended by the 16th Amendment.
- A person is be entitled to be educated through the medium of either of the national Languages. – Article 21(1)
- Sinhala and Tamil shall be the languages of administration throughout Sri Lanka. – Article 22(1) as amended by the 16th Amendment
- In any area where Sinhala is used as the language of administration a person other than an official acting in his official capacity, shall be entitled:
- to receive communications from, and to communicate and transact business with, any official in his official capacity, in either Tamil or English;
- if the law recognizes his right to inspect or obtain copies of extracts from any official register, record, publication or other document, to obtain a copy of, or an extract from such register, record, publication or other document, or a translation thereof, as the case may be, in either Tamil or English.
- where a document is executed by any official for the purpose of being issued to him, to obtain such document or translation thereof, in either Tamil or English. – Article 22(2) (a) – (c) as amended by the 16th Amendment
- In any area where Tamil is used as the language of administration, a person other than an official acting in his official capacity, shall be entitled to exercise the rights, and to obtain the services, referred to in above in Sinhala or English. – Article 22(3) as amended by the 16th Amendment
- All laws and subordinate legislation shall be enacted or made and published in Sinhala and Tamil, together with a translation thereof in English. – Article 23(1) as amended by the 16th Amendment
- Sinhala and Tamil shall be the language of the Courts throughout Sri Lanka. – Article 24(1) as amended by the 16th Amendment
Let us now move on to look at what Tamils enjoy presently in Sri Lanka.
- Does the Sri Lankan national flag not denote its ethnic minorities – Orange depicted for Tamils & Green depicted for Muslims.
- Are all public documents not in Sinhalese & Tamil (marriage certificate, death certificate, immigration forms etc)
- Are Sri Lankan currency & notes not in Sinhalese & Tamil?
- Are public events not presented in Sinhalese, Tamil & English?
- Are Tamils denied ownership rights to property, land, business ventures – Tamils & Muslims together out number the Sinhalese in Colombo
- Are Tamils denied right to healthcare services? Do doctors not treat Tamils and are medicines not issued because a patient is a Tamil? Do operations get delayed purposely because a patient is a Tamil?
- Are Tamils denied access to public transport and not given a seat because they are Tamils? Are seats separately allocated for Tamils? Is there any public area that specifically denies Tamil entry because they are Tamils and allows only Sinhalese?
- Are Tamils denied access to the use of public utilities because they are Tamils?
- Are Tamils denied the right to indulge in sports & are they not chosen to represent Sri Lanka at national sports events because they are Tamil?
- Does any hotel or restaurant owned by a Sinhalese deny access to Tamils?
- Is there any sign board that explicitly says “Tamils are not welcome”, or “No Tamils”.
- Do Sinhalese shop owners deny the right to purchase to Tamils?
- Yet, do Tamils not feel shy to openly say they will not rent or sell their property to Sinhalese?
Those continuously speaking on international forums about rights denied can answer why did the LTTE shoot down Tamil police officers doing their duty in the North thus making them fear joining the police service?
Why did the LTTE shoot Tamil public officials – mayors, principals, intellectuals, politicians and even Lakshman Kadiragamar Sri Lanka’s foreign minister and has there also not been threats to Sri Lanka’s representative in Geneva – Ms. Tamara Kunanayagam who is also a Tamil speaking on behalf of the country & not Tamils? LTTE has killed over 200 such Tamil public servants.
On the subject of discrimination all of the violence that Tamils have been subject to has been by the UNP Governments who burnt the Jaffna library & instigated the 1983 riots. But, Tamils have forgiven the UNP because come every election the Tamils prefer voting for the UNP. There seems no logic to this.
We now move on to countries where the real discrimination has taken place.
The US may like to remind itself how they treated the Blacks of America. From the inhuman practices upon black slaves to how these people were treated over the years. Were they not required to eat separately, use separate schools, public toilets, park benches, drink from separate water fountains, sit separately at restaurants and some stores even forbid them from entering its premises. Cinemas even had separate ticket booths, libraries had separate sections for blacks, the blacks had separate telephone booths. – Signs were put up to separate facilities saying “whites only”. White neighborhoods even had “restrictive covenants” a formal deed that binds white neighborhoods from selling to blacks. Poll taxes & literacy tests were used to deny blacks the right to vote.
Let us also not forget racialism by the British – how they successfully spread racism amongst all the colonies it ruled and went on thereafter to treat the blacks of the UK no differently. There are too many racial riots to recall, too many types of discrimination in employment, housing & social services.
We now come to Tamil Nadu – a state where there are over 70m Tamils. Dalits, as per the 1991 census, form 19.18 % of the total Tamilnadu population yet nearly 80% of the dalit population in Tamilnadu still live in villages whilst over 60% of dalits remain illiterate. On an average dalits regularly suffer from verbal abuse (62.4%), physical assault (54.8%), sexual harassment and assault (46.8%), domestic violence(43.0%) and rape(23.2%). These are Tamils treating their own & these Tamil Nadu politicians are talking justice, equality & self-respect to Sri Lanka. Tamil Nadu is a state that is being targeted by Christian movements who are penetrating into these poor and converting them at horrendous rates while falsely creating a mentality called Dravidian Christianity.
Aspirations cannot be a basis to seek a political solution and no Government should allow aspirations to be the basis of discussions. Our folly has been to not genuinely approach issues by countering the allegations with facts. Our politicians need to learn history before they make any proclamation. In adapting a defensive stand we have allowed our sovereignty to be challenged and diluted to suit the interests of vested parties out to carve their own advantage with little concern for its inhabitants.
We need to go back in time to recall a history where Sinhalese & Tamils lived at peace with each other until that peace was destroyed shrewdly by the Portuguese, the Dutch & the British. We suffered 443 years of brutality & oppression whilst a handful benefited from education & conversion. Of the 64 years of independence half of it was plagued with terrorism.
We have to now rewrite our history books. The older generation need to separate the realities from the lies, the younger generation should not be taught to carry the aspirations of the old and must be encouraged to live in peace & harmony in a country that belongs to all of its people wherever they choose to live. We must say no to homelands, no to ethnic based solutions or devolutions and no to external interference. This message needs to be clearly carried to all external stakeholders very clearly by our Government whom we appoint.
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.