22nd April 2001
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Why do Tamils fight for their rights?

This is in reference to the article by S.L. Gunasekera, President of the Sinhala Jathika Sangamaya which appeared in The Sunday Times of April 1. His remarks were devoted to the speech made by Justice Wigneswaran at the ceremonial sitting of the Supreme Court. Before replying Mr. Gunasekera's comments, I have to thank Justice Wigneswaran for having said the unpalatable truth in his speech. I thank him on my behalf and the Tamil community. At least now let the Government and people like Mr. Gunasekera open their eyes and do something definite to alleviate the sufferings of the Tamil Community before it is too late. 

Mr. Gunasekera quotes extensively from what has been written by Dr. Karthigesu Indrapala to counter what Justice Wigneswaran said regarding the North East. He quoted Dr. Indrapala like Satan quoting scriptures. Even Dr. Karthigesu Indrapala has admitted the existence of the Jaffna Kingdom. Can Mr. Gunasekera deny that the majority of the inhabitants in the North and East were and are Tamils? Can he also deny that successive governments from 1946 onwards have been trying to reduce the Tamils to a minority even in the North and East by state sponsored colonisation. Can he deny the fact that the North-East was considered safe for Tamils till 1994. The North ceased to be a safe place for Tamils only after President Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power, in 1994. Has he forgotten what happened to the Tamils in the seven provinces, other than the North and East in 1956, 1958, 1977 and 1983? What provocation was there by the Tamils in 1958 for them to be attacked, slaughtered and burnt alive as they were in the seven provinces? Did not the governments in 1958 and then1983 send all the Tamils in Colombo and the other seven provinces to the North and East at that time? Why were they sent there? 

It was because the North and East were considered safe for Tamils. All that the Tamils are trying to do now is to keep the North and East, at least, safe for Tamils. 

After 1994 Jaffna ceased to be a safe place for Tamils and around 24000 Tamil families were not allowed go back to resettle in their own homes. About 79,000 houses were destroyed and razed to the ground and 2000 women became widows. 

People like Mr. Gunasekera and Mr. Mahindapala, former Editor of Ceylon Daily News think that the Sri Lankan Tamils do not have any problems and that if at all they had any, they were created by their leaders. Mr. Mahindapala wrote an article in the Island paper some years ago and I gave a fitting reply which was also published. 

The Ethnic question in Sri Lanka had its origin in the early part of the last century. On 7.12.1918 two Sinhala leaders, Sir James Pieris and E. J. Samarawickrema gave a written undertaking to Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam that they would work towards securing a seat in the Legislative Council for a Tamil in the Western Province and later they went back on the agreement and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam had to resign from the Ceylon National Congress. That was the first instance of a broken promise in the political arena. Then came the pan Sinhala Cabinet of the 1930s. 

The following planned action of the Government in power since independence (1948-1983) precipitated the ethnic conflict and most of these actions still continue. 

1. Defranchising the Up-Country Tamil Speaking population in 1948. 

2. Colonisation of the traditional homeland of Tamil speaking people from1946. 

3. Implementation of the Sinhala only act as the official language in 1956

4. Neglect of the economic development in the North and East since 1960. 

5. Standardisation of the University Admissions ignoring merit which started 1970. 

6. Removal of the clause 29 from the Constitution in 1972. 

7. Restrictions on the setting up of industries in the North and East from 1977. 

8. Flagrant violations of human and fundamental rights by the security forces since 1982. 

9. Communal riots of 1956, 1958, 1977 and 1983. 

Failure to resolve the above problems over a period of nearly 35 years has culminated in armed conflict. Does Mr. Gunasekera still think that the Tamils are not discriminated against and that they do not have any problems? 

Separation was not the brain child of either Velupillai Prabhakaran or that of TULF leaders who opted for separation in 1977 at Vaddukoddai. It was the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who laid the foundation stone for the separatist cry by introducing the obnoxious Sinhala Only Act in 1956. When this Act was debated what did the late Dr. Colvin R de Silva say? He said one language two nations, two languages one nation. 

Our most respected leader, late G.G. Ponnambalam at that time said in Parliament that the Sinhala Only Act would lead to the parting of ways. Nobody took notice of this warning then and separation is at our door step now. This obnoxious Sinhala Only Act humiliated the Tamils and made them second class citizens. I do not know whether Mr. Gunasekera knows that prior to the introduction of the Sinhala Only Act leading schools in the North taught Sinhala to Tamil students. Buddhist priests taught Sinhala to the students. The Tamil community refused to study Sinhala after 1956 because they did not want a foreign language forced down their throats. 

All what the Tamils want as citizens of Sri Lanka is to be given at least those rights and privileges which the Sinhalese enjoy. What is wrong in asking for this? 

The Tamils are not prepared to live in this country any longer as third grade citizens. If they cannot be treated as equals and be given the same rights, privileges and opportunities that the Sinhalese enjoy then the only solution is separation. 

In the past two decades the armed forces and the police assumed extraordinary powers as instruments of state terrorism. Following the riots of July 1983 the armed forces played an active role in the military operation in the Tamil areas. The offensive military operation in the Tamil areas brought unprecedented terror and violence. Indiscriminate artillery shelling and blind serial bombing that continued unabated for years caused colossal damage to life and property. These ruthless military campaigns uprooted thousands of people and reduced them to refugees. 

As at October 1995, nearly 500,000 Tamils were displaced in the North. Life in military occupied areas has become a nightmare with continuing search operations, mass arrests, detentions, torture, rape, murder and disappearances. Has Mr. Gunasekera forgotten what happened to Krishanthi Kumaraswmay, to Sarathambal at Pungudutivu? What about the Chemmany skeletons? Does he know that about 600 Tamils disappeared in the North during the past six years.

It is because G. G. Ponnambalam foresaw what was in store for the Tamils that he advocated the principle of balanced representation before the Soulbury Commissioners. Though the Soulbury Commissioners did not accept the principle of balanced representation, they introduced Section 29 in the Constitution, as a safeguard. But what has happened to Section 29 now? The only way to stop a racial majority from trampling upon the rights of linguistic minorities is to have a balanced representation. This form of balanced representation is being followed in the selection of members to the Senate in the US. Different states though not equal in size are all entitled to the same number of seats in the Senate. Balanced representation is the only alternative for separation. The Soulbury Commissioners later regretted for not favourably considering the proposal for balanced representation put forward by late G. G. Ponnambalam.

Mr. Gunasekera says we can go to the Supreme Court if there is discrimination on the ground of race. How many can afford to do so? Did not the government pass the Sinhala only Act even when Section 29 was available in the Soulbury Constitution? 

Does Mr. Gunasekera know that Tamils in Sri Lanka are subject to some police made laws which do not have any parliamentary sanction merely because they are Tamils ? Does he know how the Tamils in Colombo are almost daily harassed? They are required to get themselves registered in the police stations. The Emergency Regulations only state that a householder should give particulars to the police only if he is required to do so by the Assistant Superintendent of Police. The Emergency Regulations do not state that only Tamil householders should do so. It merely states if a householder is required to do so he must give the particulars. 

This is applicable to Sinhalese householders as well. But only Tamils are harassed in Colombo. Does he know that Tamils cannot go to Jaffna without getting M.O.D. clearance? What is the law that states that the Tamils should get M.O.D. clearance to go to the North. Though I am a member of Parliament from Jaffna District I am also directed to get an M.O.D. clearance from the Ministry of Defence to go to my electorate. 

Appathuray Vinayagamoorthy
   Member of Parliament, Jaffna District 

Agony of the Italian job-seekers

By Hiranthi Fernando
It was drama on the high seas ten days ago for 123 young Sri Lankan illegal emigrants who attempted to reach Italy in a decrepit fishing trawler. The boat broke down on the way and they were forced to crawl back on one engine to Negombo from where they set off. While the majority of them made their escape, 27 were apprehended at the bus stand.

"I earned Rs. 2,325 per month as a machine operator. This was not enough to make ends meet. That is why I thought of getting across to Italy", said Sarath (not his name) a youngster of 19 years living close to Negombo. Sarath's father was dead and his mother made a living by sewing clothes on orders. His elder brother was not employed, while his younger sister was still in school. 

According to Sarath a casual acquaintance he met on a bus last year, offered to make the arrangements for him to leave the country. "He told me he was going as well", Sarath said. "He took my telephone number and said that he would make an appointment for me with the agent. A few days later he called me and asked me to meet the agent at the Negombo bus stand. When I met the agent, who was known as 'Naushad', he asked for about Rs. 5 lakhs. However, when I said I did not have that kind of money, he said I could pay him after I got there and found employment. He said they would call me when the boat was ready to leave and asked me to be ready to leave at short notice!.

Thereafter, Sarath got a call from Naushad on April 05 to say they were ready to leave and to meet him at the bus stand at 8 p.m. that night. Sarath's mother was not happy about his sudden decision to leave the country. "I did not tell her how I was going. I just took a cloth bag with my clothes and left", he said. The man called Naushad, who appeared to be about 35 years old, met him at the bus stand and went with him in a van to collect about seven other emigrants. Around 1.00 a.m they finally boarded the trawler which was anchored near a bridge on the lagoon. There were 123 in all, who arrived in several vans, from different locations.

Sarath recalled that there was a skipper called Joseph. There were no other crew members. Some fisherfolk who had experience at sea helped Joseph. Sarath said there was very little interaction between those on the boat. They were sea sick and slept most of the way. They had one meal of rice each day and small snacks like biscuits, pappadam and yams for the other meals. 

After four days at sea, the boat developed engine trouble. Only one engine was working. The prospective emigrants were now alarmed and wanted to turn back. As they were clamouring to return, a large navy boat stopped them. "They asked us to turn back because it was their territory", Sarath said. "The Tamils in our group spoke to the navy officers and told them we were going to Sri Lanka. Then they told us to draw closer to check the boat", Sarath added. While they were trying to get closer, the navy boat knocked into the water tank of the trawler and the water spilt out. By then the passengers of the trawler were thoroughly alarmed and insisted on turning back. 

After three more days at sea, they finally sighted the coast of Negombo. It was about 4 p.m. As the trawler drew into the lagoon, the Tamil passengers started shouting out, leapt out and dispersed. The people in the village thought they were terrorists and informed the Police. 

Sarath said he took a three-wheeler and reached the Negombo bus stand. He had boarded a bus to go back home when he was arrested by the Police. 

Sub Inspector Wijerama of the Negombo Police was one of the officers in the team that arrested the illegal emigrants. The arrest was made by the Negombo Intelligence Branch. He explained that during the Avurudu spell, they had increased special crime mobile patrols in Negombo. They were informed by people of the area, that there were people with wet clothes, carrying bags coming from the direction of the lagoon. The police party rushed to the bus stop and arrested 27 of the passengers as they were boarding buses to get away. There were three Sinhalese and 24 Tamils in the group arrested. Those arrested were from Jaffna, Vavuniya, Chilaw and Nattandiya. S.I. Wijerama said lack of employment was the main cause for these attempts to migrate illegally. Twenty-two passports and travel documents were recovered. Some had seamen's discharge certificates. 

S.I. Wijerama said that police investigations had revealed that the man known as Naushad from Aluthkade, was behind these human smuggling operations in the area. In February, the police had arrested 19 illegal emigrants in a hotel in Negombo, while they were waiting to board a flight. It was Naushad who arranged that operation as well. He is supposed to have several sub agents who make the contacts and take the telephone numbers of prospective clients. The payment varies. Some have sold all their assets to pay Naushad several lakhs of rupees, some have paid in dollars, while in other cases, relatives in Italy have put up the money. From the 30th of March till the 5th April about 30 of the emigrants have been kept in a lodge near the statue of President Premadasa at Aluthkade. 

The ill-fated trawler New Kumara 3 is now anchored in the Negombo lagoon under police custody. Looking at the boat one cannot imagine how 123 passengers could have survived a voyage of 28 days on such a craft. According to fisherfolk by the lagoon, this trawler was recently sold to a trader from Colombo. 

The HQI, Gamini Mathurata of the Negombo Police said the new owner has not been found yet. In the meantime, investigations are going on and the Detention Order has been extended for a further seven days. 

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