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The need for a political solution - Part-2


Speech delivered in Parliament recently by R. Sampanthan MP on President Mahinda Rajapakse's policy statement.

THOUGH the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of July 29th, 1987 and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution enacted in 1988 provided that Tamil, also, will be an official language, the law remains a dead letter.

Tamil speaking people with no knowledge of Sinhala continue to receive official communications only in Sinhala rendering them virtually illiterate.

Tamil speaking people are greatly handicapped in the transaction of official business with the Sri Lankan state, thus being denied of equal opportunity in access to government.

Statements made by Tamil speaking people at police stations even in the predominantly Tamil speaking North-East are recorded in Sinhala, frequently only in Sinhala and Tamil speaking people are called upon to place their signatures accepting the veracity of the statements made, without being able to read or understand what the recorded statement contains.

If language, Sir, is the civilized means of communication and interaction between the citizen and the state, the Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka as compared to the Sinhala speaking people have had to since the enactment of the Sinhala.

Only Law in 1956 for about the past 50 years suffer and tolerates an interior status. Tamil "also, was given the status of the official language by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1988 consequent to the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 29th July 1987, but as experienced by the Tamil speaking people, everyday and as acknowledged by various spokespersons on behalf of the Government, the State has not been able to implement its own law during a period of 18 years.

The abject failure of the Sri Lankan State to deliver on the implementation of the status of Tamil as an official language so vital to the management of the affairs and activities of the Tamil speaking people and which impinges on their lives and livelihood is a litmus test on the capacity of the Sri Lankan State to deliver honestly on any matter relating to the Tamil question.

As many would know the struggle in regard to the language rights was long and arduous. Prime Ministers S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Dudley Senanayake, J. R. Jayawardene subsequently President were all involved.

Several official languages commissions under various personalities have deliberated and tried very hard - so they claim - but they have not succeeded for the simple reason that the apparatus of the Sri Lankan State is just not able to deliver even in the predominantly Tamil speaking North-East region. Every district in the North-East is predominantly Tamil speaking.

The simple answer is that the Sri Lankan State, as presently constituted, does not have the will to deliver. The resistance to the restructuring of the Sri Lankan State yet continues.

Thirdly, Sir, if the first attack on the Tamil speaking people was in regard to the citizenship and franchise and the second was in regard to official language, the third was in regard to the utilization and alienation of State land in the North-East.

This was an attack on the Tamil speaking people in the very areas of their historical habitation, the North-Eastern Region.

I must make it perfectly clear that the Tamil speaking people were never opposed to the Sinhala people coming and sitting down in the North-East on their own initiative and with their own capital but they certainly looked upon State-aided Sinhala colonization, the alienation of State Land for residence with newly constructed houses and other developed State Land for agriculture to Sinhalese from other parts of the country in areas in the North-East where irrigation schemes were newly completed, all at State expense, with disfavour, as it adversely affected the democratic composition of territory within the Tamil linguistic region-the North-East - to the disadvantage of the Tamil speaking people.

The Tamil speaking people had every reason to fear that this was a deliberate plan to diminish their political strength in the areas of their historical habitation, the North-East.

May I mention, Sir, just one statistic to demonstrate the gravity of the situation between 1947, the year of independence, and 1981 the last available official census for the North-East.

The national increase, the countrywide increase, in the Sinhala population during that period was 238 per cent or a little under two and a half times. While the Sinhala population in the Eastern Province within the same period increased by 883 per cent over eight and a half times.

Two and a half times compared to eight and a half times, around three times more than the national increase in the whole country. This was attributable entirely to Sinhala colonization. It cannot be a matter of surprise that such an increase was a matter of great concern to the Tamil speaking people, the historical inhabitants of the North-East region.

At the General Elections held in 1947 not a single Sinhalese Member could be elected to Parliament from the Eastern Province. We now have three, some of them are my good Friends.

The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact and the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact were primarily meant to address this grievance of the Tamil speaking people, both pacts were not implemented due to opposition from Sinhala extremists. I shall deal with these pacts in greater detail when I deal with an important aspect in the President's Policy Statement.

You will see Mr. Speaker, that Citizenship, Franchise, Language and the Alienation of State Land in the North-East constituted the bedrock of the grievances of the Tamil speaking people.

It was the emergence of these grievances that made my late Leader Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam realize that if the Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka were to survive the Sri Lankan State had to be restructured, that the country had to move away from the concept of a unitary State to a federal arrangement where the powers of governance would be shared with regions that would enable the fulfilment of the aspirations of different peoples and different regions.

With the passage of time, Sir, the denial of equality of opportunity to the Tamil-speaking people in the fields of education, employment, economic opportunity, agriculture, fisheries, industry, infrastructure development convinced the Tamil-speaking people that their salvation lay only in a substantial measure of self-rule in the area of their historical habitation: the North-East.

The Tamil people in the North-East overwhelmingly supported the demand for a federal form of government at every general election - the General Elections in 1956, March 1960, July 1960, 1965 and 1970.

At the 1956 General Election, two Muslim leaders - Gate Mudliyar M. S. Kariappar and Mr. M. M. Musthaffa - were returned on the ticket of the Federal Party in the constituencies of Kalmunai and Pottuvil in the Ampara district.

In July 1960, Mr. M. C. Ahamed was returned on the ticket of the Federal Party from the Kalmunai Constituency. Likewise, Mr. M. E. H. Mohamed Ali was returned on the ticket of the Federal Party from the Mutur Constituency in the Trincomalee district at the By-election held in 1962.

Mr. M. E. H. Mohamed Ali was also returned as the Federal Party representative in the same constituency at the General Election held in 1965.

If some measure of autonomy was made available to the North-East region at that point of time, there can be no doubt whatever, Mr. Speaker, that more Muslim members would have been returned in the North-East on the ticket of the Federal Party.

The few Tamil members returned, who did not belong to the Federal Party, were largely from the Tamil Congress and we are all together today.

The verdicts in the North-East at the several general elections and the obdurate continuance of the unitary system of Government would clearly demonstrate that the Sri Lankan State consistently disregarded the democratic wish of the Tamil-speaking people in the North-East.

If the will of the people, as expressed in periodic and genuine elections on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, shall be the basis of the authority of government as stipulated in Article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the will of the people in the North-East, as expressed at the aforestated several general elections, was certainly not the basis of the authority of Government by the Sri Lankan State in the North-East.

The Tamil people in the North-East had every reason to be deeply disappointed and frustrated with the contemptuous conduct of the Sri Lankan state in defiance of their consistent democratic verdicts. In the course of their democratic, political struggle, Sir, the Tamil people engaged in peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience, sathyagraha campaigns.

When in 1956 Tamil leader led by my leader Mr. Chelvanayakam, Queen's Counsel and other Tamil people peacefully protested on the Galle Face Green in front of the then Parliament when the Sinhala Only Bill was introduced in Parliament they were mercilessly beaten up and subjected to violence.

The law enforcement arm of the Sri Lankan state did not protect these non-violent protestors. Racial pogroms against the Tamil people became a regular feature.

It happened in 1956, in 1958, in the 1960s in the 1970s and in the 1980s. The Tamil people did not receive the protection of the law. In 1983 the Tamil people were subjected to a genocidal attack in all parts of Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan State which connived in and condoned those attacks came under the condemnation of the whole world. It is necessary, Sir, to emphasise that for several decades the Tamil people did not react violently to the violence unleashed against them.

They did not exercise even their legal right to self-defence. It was the failure of the Sri Lankan State to protect the Tamil people against such continuing violence and be just by them in regard to their legitimate political aspirations that drove the Tamil youth to commence an armed struggle.

All efforts by democratic Tamil political leadership to negotiate a solution peacefully had failed. This was the last resort, insofar as the Tamil youth were concerned they were left with no option. The armed struggle carried out by the LTTE continued for a period of over two decades.

Successive governments did their utmost to crush this armed struggle. Every effort was made by the Sri Lankan State to subjugate the Tamil people. Non-combatant Tamil civilians in the North-East were slaughtered by the armed forces in every district in the North-East in their thousands.

There are records Sir, which can establish these facts. We are in possession of the statistics and the figures in respect of every district in the North-East and the dates on which such thoughts took place. The Tamil people were resilient; they would not surrender.

The Tamil armed struggle prevailed. Several armed forces' camps were destroyed. It was in these circumstances that the Government of the People's Alliance of which the current President was a member commenced negotiations with the LTTE under international facilitation acceptable to both sides.

One has no reason to doubt, Sir, that the current President was a willing party to that decision. A ceasefire agreement was entered into by the UNF Government with the LTTE.

Negotiations continued. The CFA and the peace process continued when the UPA returned to power. The current President was the Prime Minister in the UPFA Government and one has no reason to doubt that he concurred in the decisions taken.

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