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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

Multi Ethnic Plural Society?

February 1992  see also Background]


It is fashionable nowadays, in certain circles who are in search of a solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka, to start by saying that Sri Lanka is a ‘multi ethnic plural society’. It is the new ‘buzz phrase’. It has a nice ring to it. Who would not like to live in a society where all ethnic groups are equal and a plurality of view points is encouraged and secured?

But legal frameworks intended to resolve a conflict, must fit the political reality on the ground - and not the other way round. And what is the political reality on the ground in Sri Lanka? The political reality on the ground is that the ‘protectors of the Sinhala race and Buddhism’ are busy heaping abuse on Mr Thondaman and his Peace Proposals.

He is being accused of betraying the ‘country’. Sinhala newspapers are whipping up mass hysteria about the security situation in the hill country, for which they claim Mr Thondaman is responsible.

So much so that at a UNP Working Party Committee meeting held at Sri Kotha on 30th December 91, the UNP distanced itself from the Thondaman proposals by saying "unilateral attempts to solve the North East problem have been mis-represented and used for provocative purposes by disruptive elements, thus arousing communal passions. That is why the party prefers to make its own contribution through the mechanism of the Parliamentary Select Committee."

Realising that the UNP was not prepared to take unilateral decision to settle the Tamil National question, Mr Thondaman told close associates that he would gradually ease out on his peace moves. Ven. Galaboda Gnanassara Thera, the Chief Incumbent of Gangaramaya has appealed to the Sinhala people: "If Minister Thondaman does not tow the line and acts independently, action must be taken to remove him from his position. The majority in this country are Sinhalese. Without the consent of the majority no one can come into power".

‘ The majority in this country are Sinhalese and without their consent no one can come into power’ - this is the ‘multi ethnic plural society’ that some ‘moderate’ circles still go on prattling about!

The formation of the "Sinhala Arakshaka Sanvidhnaya", which projects itself as a force to "safeguard the Sinhalese", under the direction of the former Minister Gamini Jayasuriya, to mobilise the Sinhala forces - both Buddhist and Christian is but the latest manifestation of a deep rooted Sinhala chuvinism and should serve to open the eyes of those who seek a political solution to the armed conflict between two national formations, by suggesting frames relevant to a non existent 'multi ethnic plural society’ (unless ofcourse such persons are only pretending to have their eyes closed).

The truth is that that there is nothing ‘multi ethnic or plural’ about the society over which the Sri Lanka government seeks to rule and the sooner that this is recognised by all concerned, the more quickly will the search begin for a political solution where the Tamil nation and the Sinhala nation may associate and cooperate with each other on an equal footing. And, here a good start would be, for all concerned, to begin by recognising that each nation exists.


Background

The influential Sinhala Buddist priest, Rev Walpola Rahula Thero in a statement reminiscent of the then Sinhala Opposition leader J.R.Jayawardene's call 35 years ago in 1957, appealed in January 1992 to the ‘‘entire Sinhala race to rise against the implementation of the Thondaman proposals.’’. In the meantime a statement issued by the Monitoring and Action Committee on Buddha Sasana and Buddhist Affairs said:

‘‘The country should realise the dangers that are fraught in Mr. Thondaman's proposals to merge the North and the East into a single provincial council and handover the control of ports and harbours to that council, empower such provincial council to negotiate foreign aid, recruit Tiger member to the security forces and the Police and make decisions pertaining to land administration. In particular the proposal to recruit Tiger members to the security forces and the Police is a dangerous attempt to legitimize the status of the Tigers. ... we consider Mr. Thondaman’s proposals as treacherous and leading to further aggravation of the crisis.

As stated in the manifesto of the United National Party the Government has pledged before the people that it will not merge the Northern and the Eastern provinces. Whether Mr. Thondaman should continue as a member of the cabinet while flouting the stated polices of the Government is the question that is before the people.

... The Monitoring and Action Council on Buddha Sasana and Buddhist Affairs whilst strongly condemning the Thondaman proposals wish to emphasize that the Maha Sangha and the people need to be alert and vigilant as regards the catastrophe that would befall the country from these proposals."

Signed On behalf of the Supreme Council - ; On behalf of the Action Council Weligama Nanaratna Nayake Thera, Bellanvila Wimalaratana Thera, Maduluvave Sobitha Thera, Mapalagama Somis-sara Thera, Diviyagaha Yasassi Thera, Omalpe Sobitha Thera and Akuratiye Nanda Thera. Gamini Jayasuriya, (President, Maha Bodhi Society), Eric Amarasinghe, P.C., (President, Young Men’s Bud-dhist Association), Olcott Gunasekera, (President Dharmavijaya Foundation), Chandra de Soysa, (President, All Ceylon Buddhist Women’s Con-gress), J.H Karunaratne, (Vice President, Sri Lanka Temperance Association), G. Ranatunga, (President, Asian Buddhist Conference), Prof. M.B. Ariyapala, (President, All Ceylon Buddhist Con-gress), W.D.V. Mahatantila, (President, Buddhist Theosophical Society), Rani Karunaratna, (President, World Buddhist Women’s Congress) and M.A. Silva, (Vice President, Sasana Sevaka Society).

Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayaka Thera in a statement in the Sri Lanka Sunday Times on 29 December 1991 gives proof, if indeed proof was needed, that Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism is very much alive and kicking. Its intransigence finds expression with the same belligerence as in 1957, when the then Sinhala Opposition Leader, Mr.J.R.Jayawardene declared in response to the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact, which had sought to establish a Regional Council in the Northeast:

‘‘...The time has come for the whole Sinhala race which has existed for 2500 years, jealously safeguarding their language and religion, to fight without giving any quarter to save their birthright... I will lead the campaign..."

Excerpts from the Venerable Mahanayake Thera's statement follow:

‘‘ Minister Thondaman’s proposals, although claimed to have emanated from his own bat, seem to coincide with the very demands of the LTTE. They are formulated on the basis of a "Traditional Tamil homeland" and self-determination for Tamils.

‘Traditional Tamil homeland’ would best be introduced to the world as an amusing bit of fiction ... Let interested parties keep that concept to themselves. They are nothing short of an embodiment of Eelam, though the word Eelam has been tactically avoided. They also go far beyond what had been allowed even in India for Tamil Nadu.

Anyone who has any love for this country and puts the interest of this country beyond his own and his own narrow racial group, has accepted that any devolution of power should guarantee the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. These, in other words, are not negotiable. Mr Thondaman’s proposals go against these. A few illustrations would prove this.

In one breath, he says the defence and the security of the country should be the preserve of the central Government. In the same breath, he says all ports, harbours and air ports within the provinces should be under the jurisdiction of the respective provinces. If Trincomalee, Kankesanthurai, Talaimannar and Palaly are handed over to the North and Eastern provinces, how can the Central Government ensure the defence, security and sovereignty of the country?

Even with these harbours and air ports in the control, of the Central Government, so much smuggling of arms has been going on. Their hand-ing over to the North and Eastern provinces would only legalize them and help the LTTE to build up powerful armed forces which no Central Govern-ment forces could contain. Will not the LTTE declare Eelam immediately after they have built their own invincible armed forces. Can the LTTE be trusted at any cost in view of their past records?

After declaring Eelam, will they keep quiet? Will they not push their boundaries south until they envelop the hill country? The Government armed forces would not be able to resist them, once the two thirds of the coast of this country with all harbours and ports there, are given on a platter to them.

Mr Thondaman’s proposals will sow the seeds of a permanent war between the Sinhalese in the South and the Tamils in the North and East until the Sinhalese are completely subjugated and reduced to the position of a minority in the whole of Sri Lanka. Should the Sri Lankan President allow this, even at the sacrifice of his own presidentship?

Allowing the subject of foreign aid to the Provincial Councils of the North and East will also inter-fere with the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country. No Provincial Council should be allowed to negotiate with foreign countries direct. If this is allowed, as Minister Thondaman suggests, what is there to prevent the LTTE negotiating even arms deals with the foreign arms suppliers?

If two thirds of Sri Lanka’s coast comes under the North and East, how can the central government enforce its immigration laws? Men, materials and arms can come freely into the North and East without any control of the Central Government.

Of the 18 per cent of the Tamils of this country, half (9%) live outside the North and Eastern Provinces. How can one speak about a Tamil homeland then? What is the justification for handing over North and Eastern Provinces constituting 30 per cent of the land and two thirds of the sea coast to the Tamils?

There is also no justification whatsoever for merging Eastern Province with the North. The ethnic composition of the Eastern province is very different from that of the Northern Province. In the Eastern Province, Moors comprise 1/3 and Sinhal-ese 1/4 of the total population. The Tamils comprise only 2/5. The Tamils in this Province are a minority. Then why merge it with the North? Is it not to make the Sinhalese and Moors come under the dominance of Tamils of the North and to carve out a "homeland" for Tamils?

It is true that with the coming into power of the "people’s" government of the SLFP in 1956, many of the privileges enjoyed by our Tamil brethren eroded. This has been interpreted as "discrimination" against them. Anybody, who had spoken and who now speaks for the rights of the majority community and against allowing any more privileges to the minority not available to the majority, are dumped as communalists and Sinhala chauvinists. No one should be carried away and frightened by these slogans....

What is the justification to allow the North and East provincial councils any concessions, privileges, powers and functions which the government cannot give to other provincial councils? If that is done, are we not accepting that the North and East are homelands of a separate ethnic group? ..

Mr Thondaman’s proposals are.. a complete surrender to the LTTE of the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka and an attempt to reduce the majority community of this country to a minority and should be outright rejected with the contempt it deserves."

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