The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

01st, September 1996



'Work for a just political solution'

To H.L.D. Mahindapala, the Tamil problem is a subject for debate. To us it is a matter of life and death. If I had replied to Mr. Mahindapala, it is to try and reach the large number of Sinhalese who might be isled by what he himself calls his polemics.

When he realized that he had made a faux pas with Sir S.P. Arunachalam he jumped back to his elder brother Sir P. Ramanathan whom he now describes as a "Horrendous Communalist". Can any Sinhalese who knows the dark events of the riots of 1915 be so ungrateful as to denounce Sir P. Ramanathan as a Tamil Communalist? Who can forget how Sir P. Ramanathan faced bravely the British Governor and the British Head of the Police in the Legislative Council? Who can forget how Sir P. Ramanathan braved the submarine infested seas, went to England and compelled the Secretary of State to do justice to Sinhalese Buddhists? Can any one forget how grateful Sinhalese leaders dragged the horse - carriage with Sir P. Ramanathan from the Harbour to Ponclar, the home of Sir P. Ramanthan? No, Mr. Mahindapala don't try to bark at the moon. But it is to the credit of Sir P. Ramanathan that he saw clearly the writing on the wall and wanted to save the Tamils from Sinhalese domination. Sir P. Arunachalam saw the light a little later, left the Congress and founded the Tamil League. It is a tragedy for the Tamil people that both died, at a critical period of the history of the Tamils and the country.

Mr. Mahindapala had, apparently done some research after his first letter but in his anxiety to prove me wrong, he had not read what he ought to have read. Mr. Arasaratnam's words are obviously a comment and not the statement of a fact. But Mr. Mahindapala must read the original in the Sessional Paper XIV of 1944. The comment of Mr. Arasaratnam is based on a proposal on representation in the Constitutional Scheme formulated by the Board of Ministers in accordance with His Majesty's Government's Declaration of 26th May, 1943. This Constitutional Scheme was later withdrawn by the Board of Ministers on 18th August, 1944. In this Scheme, the Board of Ministers said "The Ministers decided that the Legislature should consist of approximately 100 Members. Article 13 provides that each Province shall have one Member of every 75,000 inhabitants at the census of 1931, with an additional Member for every 1000 square miles of area". It is significant that Mr. Mahadeva, the only Tamil Member of the Board of Ministers, stated that he is not in agreement with the proposals re the question of representation and that the whole question should be settled by a Royal Commission. This proposal is what Mr. Mahindapala calls as an offer by the magnanimous Board of Ministers. The ratio 58 to 43 was what the advocates of the Scheme of representation told the Soulbury Commissioners. Let me quote the report "Its advocates estimate that the result would be that of the 95 elected seats, 58 would go to Sinhalese Candidates and 37 to the Minority Communities (Ceylon Tamils 15, Indian Tamils 14, Muslim 8) making with the six nominated seats, minority representation of 43 in a House of 101". This ratio was no offer by anybody but an estimate of the probable results of the Scheme of representation. But how absolutely wrong this estimate was shown in the first election to Parliament on the basis of this scheme when only 6 Ceylon Tamils, 6 Indian Tamils and 6 Muslims were elected. If you add Mr. Pieter Keuneman it was only 19 Members of the minorities and together with 6 nominated members who were Burghers and Europeans, the total came to 25. What a far cry from 43! Of course the 6 Indian Tamils were not there when the franchise was snatched from the Plantation workers. I assert that this so-called ratio 58 to 43 was deliberately put forward in order to get the 3/4 Majority in the State Council that the Secretary of State insisted and to mislead and deceive the Soulbury Commissioners who were only too willing to be deceived in return for the promise of the Trincomalee Naval Yard and the Katunayake Air Base. So this is Mr. Mahindapala's boast of magnanimity!

The main reason that impelled G.G. Ponnambalam (Snr.) and others to ask for balanced representation was the deliberate creation of the Pan-Sinhala Board of Ministers. The Executive System was deliberately devised to afford protection to the minorities. "The advocacy of the cabinet system could be represented as an attempt to throw off the curb which the Executive System provided on the unlimited power of the majority". (Soulbury Commission Report Page 33). Under the Executive Committee System it was possible for at least two Members of the Minorities to be elected Chairman and thus become Minister. But they defeated the whole purpose by manipulating a Pan-Sinhala Board of Ministers. "The action of the majority could be represented as indicating a policy on their part of using their power to the detriment of the Minorities. As a result of the creation of the Pan-Sinhalese Board of Ministers, the minorities had grown still more alarmed. To manipulate a Pan-Sinhalese Board of Ministers was merely to make it clear to them that they had to seek some other means of safeguarding their position" (Soulbury Report 27). So Mr. Ponnambalam (Snr) sought balanced representation to safeguard the position of the Tamils and other minorities. So Mr. Mahindapala, using your own logic, lay the blame on those who fashioned the Pan-Sinhalese Board of Ministers! Let me quote Mr. Ponnambalam (Snr) on this matter "Balanced representation would avoid the danger of concentration of power in one community but would ensure its equitable distribution among all communities and the people as a whole. Purely territorial representation could only result in placing in power a permanent racial majority that no appeal to the electorate was capable of altering."

His quip about a junior partner, shows he has completely misunderstood what K.M. de Silva said. Dr. Silva meant that the Sinhalese majority was prepared to concede only the role of junior partner to the Tamils. Whatever the plans of the majority might be, we Tamils shall fashion our own destiny and we are equal partners in every sphere of public life in Sri Lanka or Ilankai.

In his last letter, Mr. Mahindapala has started chasing a new hare - caste among Tamils. He thinks that he can score a few debating points in this question but I will not allow him to succeed. Without in any way, glossing over discrimination based on caste among the Tamils, I wish to ask him, what about your cast differences? What about the oppression of the Rodiyas and people of the Paduwa caste in Sinhala Society? Till some years ago, do you deny that a Paduwa-caste man cannot wear a banian or shirt in Public? Please turn your eyes inward before you start castigating us.

The "depressed Class" are now known as Minority Tamils and their own organizations go by that name; so I shall use that term.

I am ashamed and I have a deep sense of guilt at the inhuman way in which these unfortunate people were treated in Jaffna. We do not need Mr. Mahindapala to gloat in detailed descriptions of that treatment. We are only too well aware of them and have taken conscious and meaningful steps, which I shall outline below, to upgrade their status and remove disabilities based on caste. Any unbiased observer (not Mr. Mahindapala of course) will admit that there has been considerable improvements in their social, economic, educational standards and a significant change of status in society. The process shall continue. Of course, Mr. Prabhakaran has done a lot to give them a high position in society. The first action to ameliorate the conditions of the Minority Tamils was taken by the Jaffna Youth Congress in the nineteen-thirties. The Minority Tamils' delegates to the conference and the Minority Tamils sat on the same mats as the so-called high caste Tamils, took meals together, sitting next to each other and resolutions were passed condemning the barbaric practices in the name of caste. Later, the leaders of the Federal Party, when they went on Patha Yatra, made it a point to visit the homes of minority Tamils and share their meals.

Then came the movement to open Hindu Temples to Minority Tamils. Leaders like Justice Sri-Skandarajah, Handy Perinpanayagam, C. Vanniyasingham, S.R. Kanaganayagam and a host of others entered the historic Nallur Temple together with a number of prominent minority Tamils, worshipped, did Archenais, got holy ash, flowers and sandalwood paste from the priests. Today all, even the turumbars mentioned by Mr. Mahindapala, enter the temple and worship. Following that, almost all temples threw open their doors to the minority Tamils. I have not forgotten the ugly incidents at Maviddapuram. Unfortunately temple-entry got embroiled in politics. But I am confident that this sole exception will also fall in line.

Mr. Rajavarothayam, former F.P. M.P. of Trincomalee, brought a private Bill called the Social Disabilities Bill, to make it an offense to practice-caste discrimination in public places and places like temples, tea kiosks, barber-saloons etc. Generally it is the Government that enacts such legislation but here a private member got such legislation enacted.

Education has always been available to them from the kindergarten to the University. Even Hindu Educational Institutions like Hindu College, Mahajana College, Skandavarodaya College, Somaskanda College have given equal educational facilities to the Minority Tamil children. Many of them have entered the University and become Doctors, Engineers and Graduates. Some of them teach in Hindu Educational Institutions.

Yet we realized that minority Tamils must have a share in political power. The Federal Party appointed G. Nalliah, minority Tamil, as a Senator. And in 1987, the T.U.L.F. took a courageous step and nominated T. Rasalingam, a minority Tamil, to my former seat, Uduppiddi. Here the Minority Tamils were a small minority but our campaign made him win by a majority if 16,000 votes, the biggest majority in that seat since 1935. The T.U.L.F. Members of Parliament got many Minority Tamils appointed as Justices of the Peace. So you see, Mr. Mahindapala this is what we Tamil political Leaders did for the eradication of caste discrimination. In the proposals the T.U.L.F. submitted to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Reforms, among Human Rights we have said "Caste is hereby abolished and its practice is a Penal Offense."

The T.U.L.F. will continue to work for the total abolition of caste. On the next occasion, please look for some other hare.

He finishes his letter by asking Sinhalese-Buddhists to give me protection. I had a taste of this "Protection" on the Black 23rd of July, 1983 by some Sinhala-Buddhists. I was away in Mannar attending the T.U.L.F. Convention. In the early hours of the morning, a crowd armed with knives, clubs and tins of petrol attacked my house in 100, Norris Canal Road, Maradana. My wife and teen-age daughter jumped over the rear-wall in the clothes in which they were sleeping and a kind Muslim neighbour gave them protection. They came to Jaffna by cargo ship. My house, my new car, all my belongings including jewellery, my valuable collection of books, my notes of cases laboriously prepared over the years were burnt or looted. My wife's sacred thali was also burnt or looted. That was the "protection" given me. I used the word "some" deliberately because many Sinhalese did give real protection to many Tamils. In fact, in 1958, during an earlier spell of riots, my good friend Mr. Walter D. Perera, Proctor, took me and my family to his house in Kelaniya and kept us in safety. To my dying day, I will never forget that kindness.

Mr. Mahindapala, please do not indulge in polemics. Instead, think and work for a just political solution to the Tamil problem.

"Pandora's Package"

Mr. Gamani Jayasuriya was a UNP Minister of Agriculture when he resigned in protest over the introduction of the Indo-Lanka Accord that introduced the Provincial Council system in 1987.

He has, since, headed the Sinhala Arakshaka Sanvidanaya (SAS) which is vehemently opposing most of the provisions of the devolution "Package" introduced by this Government.

Truth is the first casualty of war. Sri Lanka's civil war waged by the Tiger separatists has been anointed with very many, noble, high sounding names, such as war of liberation, oppression of the minorities, genocide of Tamil etc. The world's most ferocious band of killers battened on the unsuspecting world, leaving a trail of death, mayhem and disaster.

S.L. Gunasekera is a leading lawyer in Sri Lanka. He has the correct credentials to write this book, having been associated with the Sri Lanka government both officially and unofficially to seek an end to this horrible conflict.

'Tigers - Moderates and Pandora's Package' is a book that wastes neither time nor words. Very directly, albeit somewhat abruptly, Gunasekera examines the cry for a separate state. He does not use euphemisms or diplomatic words. He plays the role of defense counsel who has walked into Court with his brief, but who uses instead, the brief of the Prosecuting Counsel to demolish the case for the prosecution.

This book also has a kind of uncanny logic which the reader will find somewhat unusual.

Gunesekera says: "This utterly irrational and even paranoid aversion of the Tamil political leadership to accepting the unalterable reality that there being fewer Tamils in Sri Lanka than Sinhalese, the Tamils had of necessity to be a minority is borne out of several utterances of Tamil leaders and secessionist activists. Thus S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, Queens Counsel, the leader of the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchchi and later of the Tamil United Liberation Front addressing a meeting of the Young Men's Muslim Association at Fort in October 1954 said, "It is better to have our own territory, our own culture and self-respect than be a minority in the island living on the good fortune of the majority community".

This is S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, the high priest of the Tamil movements and significantly the date is noteworthy - 1954.

"Later Professor A. Jayarathnam Wilson, Chelvanayakam's son-in-law ended his political biography of Chelvanayakam as follows:

"He gave them (the Tamils) much more a sense of pride, self assurance bordering on conceit, an ideology of defensive nationalism and the vision of a national homeland. Until then they had almost reconciled themselves to the role of a perpetual minority".

The author goes to quote further, once again from a secessionist Tamil writer, A.R. Arudpragasam alias Arular, on similar lines.

Gunasekera contends that the Tamil political leadership sowed the seeds of separation. Ironically they are now reaping the unanticipated consequences, in the death of so many Tamil leaders, all, at the hands of the LTTE.

It is the Tamil youth who should read 'Pandora's Package" because it is they who have been nurtured from birth by designing political leaders, to cross swords with the Sinhalese. It is they who have died in their many thousands for a cause which has been foisted on them by, power hungry Tamil political leaders. Reading 'Pandora's Package' one is amazed at the scale of deception that has been perpetrated, first on the Tamil people, on the Sri Lankans and finally on the whole world about various grievances. The Sinhala Only Act and the standardization in education were the perceived problems that have brought this country to a civil war. However, Gunasekera points out that it was long before, that leaders like Chelvanayakam and Ponnambalam resented the unalterable fact that Tamils were a minority in Sri Lanka.

S.L. Gunasekera does not couch his writing with words to soothe any community or person. He appears to have a comprehensive grasp of the cry for a separate state, and proceeds with cold if, somewhat surgical precision to deal with the subject.

If he can be faulted at all, it is because he leaves the Prosecution (The cry for a State of Eelam) with no case.

This book needs to be studied closely by the politicians of both the UNP and the SLFP. Gunasekera is particularly harsh in his criticism of the leaders of national political parties, whose pursuit of votes to the exclusion of the welfare of the people has brought this country to such despair.

In 'Pandora's Package' the author draws many interesting historical parallels. He deals with, a similar situation in Hitler's Germany. 'Corporal Adolf Hitler' and his Nazis believed that they were 'Horrenvolk' (the master race) who had to expand their frontiers in search of Libensraum living space which had been denied them". The similarities abound.

In Chapter 3 the author deals with the vexed question of land. "Most wars be they civil or otherwise are fought over land for dominion over land. Our own civil war was no different. It was and is being fought by the secessionists for no reason other than to establish in an area comprising 28.7% of Sri Lanka's land surface and about 60% of her sea coast and territorial waters a sovereign, mono-ethnic, fascist state of Tamil Eelam as an exclusive homeland of the Tamils. An essential prerequisite to the establishment of such a state is dominion over that parcel of Sri Lanka's territory."

This then is the crux of the civil war that is engulfing the nation and imperilling her people.

The author deals with man/land ratios and makes out a case why dominion over a very large portion of land cannot be allowed just because the LTTE is indulging in ethnic cleansing in these areas.

"On the other hand 63% of the lands to be benefited under the Mahaweli program and most of the reservoirs yet to be constructed under that scheme such as the Malwathuoya, Parangi Aru, Kanagarayan Aru and Yanoya reservoirs are located in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

Gunasekera submits that almost the entirety of the benefits from the 63% of the land developed by the national rivers will go to one community.

The author who has been a consistent opponent to the diluting of the sovereignty of Sri Lanka deals with the so-called 'package'.

He brings to bear to the whole political package a practical legal mind. He not only deals with the legal implications of the package, but examines and questions how vaguely worded clauses will ultimately be implemented. He deals with all the important matters which affect the sovereignty of a nation. Land, law and order, unit of devolution, the judiciary, finance. It is quite obvious that apart from reducing this country to ghetto like enclaves, it will result in enormous expenditure and end up causing an administrative nightmare.

One might well ask has Sri Lanka benefited by the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Councils flowing from it. There has been massive expenditure, colossal waste of state funds, in vehicles, offices, Provincial Secretariats, telephone equipment etc. This was brought about as a way for settlement to the conflict. Has it settled the conflict?

Will not the present package make it infinitely worse? Gunasekera concludes his book with an eloquent plea on behalf of humanity. He says that this country requires a leadership which is mature and fair. "A leadership that realizes that while people belong to different races, the problems afflicting them do not, that there are no different types of hunger called 'Sinhalese hunger', 'Tamil hunger', or 'Muslim hunger'. That such problems must be tackled not as Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim problems, but as national problems according to a national plan and act accordingly".

The is his message. Will this nation embroiled in bloodshed, murder, killings and intrigue, be able to rise above the petty foibles of humankind, even at this late juncture?

May there be one country, one people, one nation!

Lake House Bookshop are the sole distributors of Mr.Gunesekera's book. It is priced at Rs. 300/=. (US $ 5.50)

The book will be formally launched on Tuesday, September 3 at a ceremony at the YMBA Hall. E.D. Wickramanayake, will be the chief guest. The speakers on the occasion will include Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, Ven. Dr. Kamburupitiye Ariyasena, MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardene, Gunadasa Amerasekera and Gamini Iriyagolle.

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