Sri Lankan Devolution Package Speaks Loud and Clear that Sinhalese are the Masters of the Island

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, September 2000 (ID.2000-09-02)

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LTTE - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam


1. Introduction

2. Background

3. Message of the Devolution Package Is Loud And Clear

4. Sinhala Attitude of Superiority

1. Introduction

Sri Lankan President Kumaratunga's much drummed up devolution package was included in the constitutional amendment presented to the Sri Lankan Parliament in early August 2000. Within days it was withdrawn because it became clear that she could not rally enough votes in the parliament to pass the amendment. The devolution package was drummed up internationally as the one that would end the discrimination of the Tamil minority once and forever. While President Kumaratunga and her government are asserting that it would end the second-class status of the Tamil minority of Sri Lanka, the devolution package itself was sending another message loud and clear that "Sinhalese are the masters of the island and the Tamil minority may be tolerated and allowed to live in the island as long as they accept the superior status of the Sinhalese and resign to their second-class status". It is not the purpose of this article to analyze the constitutional amendment and point out all its "weaknesses". There is an old Tamil saying that it is sufficient to sample one grain of rice in the pot to see if the whole pot is cooked. We will examine only one clause of the constitutional amendment and its implications as to the majority Sinhala mentality and the Sri Lankan government attitude toward the Tamil minority.

2. Background

(Readers familiar with the situation in Sri Lanka need not read this section. They may go to section 3.)

The Island of Sri Lanka is occupied by Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors, Malays and Burghers. Sinhalese are the majority and they are mostly Buddhists, with a few Muslims and Christians. Tamils are the second-largest group. Majority of them are Hindus, with a sizable number of Muslims and a fair number of Christians. Moors are the descendants of Arab merchants and their local Sinhala or Tamil spouses. Burghers are the descendants of European colonizers and their local spouses. Malays are the descendants of political exiles and soldiers brought to Sri Lanka by the Dutch East India Company. Moors, Malays and Burghers are each only a small percentage of the population.

Tamils have been living in the eastern and northern regions of the island for millennia. They consider it their homeland. There are also Tamils living in the rest of the island (the Sinhala homeland). The Tamils in the tea estates of the Central Province were brought to the island from Tamil Nadu a couple of centuries ago by the British colonial rulers. Another smaller number of Tamils left their homeland in the east and north to work and do business primarily in major cities like the capital city of Colombo. (These two groups of Tamils are not directly involved in the ongoing was for an independent Tamil homeland in the North and East.)

Because of the ongoing war in the Tamil homeland, the Sri Lankan military shelling and bombing there, and the severe food and medicine shortage there due to Sri Lankan government economic blockade of the region, some Tamils have left their homes temporarily to live in Colombo and some other Sinhala areas where there is no military action or food-medicine shortage. These refugees will surely return to their homes once the war ends.

It is now almost universally accepted that the Tamil minority as well as other minorities have been discriminated by the majority Sinhalese for some five decades ever since Sri Lanka got independence from Britain. During the first couple of decades, Tamil politicians from the east and north have asked that some power be devolved from the Sri Lankan Central Government to local bodies in the Tamil homeland. These requests were rejected and peaceful protests were brutally put down by army and police. So the Tamil politicians from the Tamil homeland (eastern and northern regions of Sri Lanka) demanded that they separate from Sri Lanka and establish their own country, Tamil Eelam, in their traditional homeland. They received an overwhelming support for this platform in the 1977 general elections. The Sri Lankan government rejected this request as well. Having failed to end the discrimination by peaceful and democratic means, Tamil youths took to arms and have been fighting the Sri Lankan military for the past two decades now. After over two decades of bloodshed and still unable to defeat the Tamil freedom fighters, by the name of LTTE, and under pressure from Western governments on whom Sri Lanka depends for financial as well as some military aid, the Sri Lankan government presented the constitutional amendment incorporating the devolution package in August 2000. The government told the Tamil minority and the foreign nations that the devolution package would end the discrimination of the Tamil minority.

3. Message of the Devolution Package is Loud and Clear

President Kumaratunga promised an equitable devolution package as soon as she came to power in 1995. It is in the name of that promised devolution package that she was able to get the support of many foreign countries for her ongoing war with the Tamil freedom fighters, the LTTE. It is in the name of that promised devolution package that she called her no holds barred bloody war that killed thousands of Tamil civilians the "war for peace". Finally, after five years, literally during the last month of the life of the current parliament, President Kumaratunga presented the much heralded devolution package to the parliament. Though it was not put to vote because the government could not garner the necessary votes, it is worth looking at this devolution package to see what the Tamil minority can expect from the Sinhala majority.

In spite of all the supposed good will and non-discriminatory attitude that President Kumaratunga often speaks of, what does her devolution package say? The message of the devolution package submitted to the parliament it August 2000 is loud and clear. There is no ambiguity. The messages is, "Sinhalese are the masters of the island and the Tamil minority may live in the island as second-class citizens in they wish".

The devolution provides for a North-Eastern Provincial Council in the traditional Tamil homeland (this province may be divided into two provinces, north and east, after 10 years. This is opposed by the Tamil people. Though it is an important issue, we will not to discuss it here in this article.) The majority in the North-Eastern Provincial Council would naturally be Tamils. About ten percent of the population in this province would be Sinhalese. (I have not looked up the precise percentage but that is not important for the purposes of this article.) What is interesting in the devolution package is that it provides a special status to the Sinhala minority in the North-Eastern Province. The North-Eastern Provincial Council, which will have a Tamil majority, cannot make any decision affecting the Sinhalese of the province without the majority of the Sinhalese in the province agreeing to it. What is wrong with the Sinhala minority in the province given a veto on decisions affecting them, you may ask? All right, what about the Tamil minority living in Sinhala majority provinces? Do they have similar veto rights in those provinces where they live? The answer is "no". The Constitution does not provide any such special status to the Tamil minority living in Sinhala-majority provinces.

Here is an example. Large numbers of Tamil people live in the Sinhala-majority Central Province. Though these Tamils are ethnically, racially and culturally identical to the North-Eastern Tamils, they came to Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu a couple of centuries ago while the North-Eastern Tamils are living there for at least a couple of millennia. This Tamil minority in the Central Province does not have the same special status given to the Sinhala minority in the North-Eastern Province (They were settled there by the Sri Lankan government during the past half-a-century). Why is this difference in the way the Sinhalese in the North-Eastern Province and the Tamils in the Central Province are treated? Is it because the Sri Lankan government and the Sinhala people believe that the Sinhalese are the master race of the island and thus have special privileges over the Tamil minority?

It is also worth remembering that Sri Lanka as a whole is governed by the Central Government in Colombo, which will always be controlled by the Sinhalese. Does the constitution protect the minority Tamil interest by giving a special clause saying that the Central Government cannot make any decision concerning the Tamil people without the consent of the majority of the Tamil population (in the same way as the Sinhalese minority are given a veto on even the limited powers of the North-Eastern Provincial Council)? No. Even after the devolution, the Central Government, controlled by the majority Sinhalese, is supreme and can dismiss the Provincial Council after declaring emergency unilaterally (without the consent of the Tamil people) and, of course, have the army to enforce its dictate on the defenseless Tamil minority. If the constitution would say that no decision on the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka can be made by the Central Government without the consent of the majority of the Tamil people, we can accept the veto power given to the Sinhalese minority in the North-Eastern Province as equitable. This one-sided special status for the Sinhalese and other such lop-sided provisions of the constitution enshrines in the constitution implicitly that Sinhalese are the master race of the island and Tamils are mere serfs there to serve the Sinhala masters.

4. Sinhala Attitude of Superiority

President Kumaratunga's predecessor President Wijetunga said in 1994, "The majority community in this country are Sinhalese. Therefore the Sinhalese should govern the country. They governed the country in the past and will do so in the future. The minorities should assist and guide them." Another former Sri Lankan President, J.R. Jayawardene, said in 1957 (when he was the opposition leader), "...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..." They were explicit and frank in their statements. President Kumaratunga in her own dubious and cunning way is never so frank and open because she knows well that Sri Lanka will not get any support, financial, military, political or diplomatic, if she makes similar statements. But her devolution package says the same thing implicitly. The only reason that some sops devolution are even considered by the Sri Lankan government is that the Sri Lankan army is unable to defeat the LTTE and the only way to get military, financial, diplomatic and political assisstance from well-meaning, although naive, foreign countries is by seeming to offer a semblance of power to the minority Tamil people.

If the Sinhala-Buddhist attitude of superiority does not change, there will be no peace in the island and there will be no laying down of arms by the Tamil minority until the Tamil race is totally annihilated in the Tamil homeland in the northeast (as it happened to the Armenians in Turkey during the early part of the 20-th century and to the Jews in Germany around the middle of the 20-th century) or the Tamil people win militarily and establish their own independent nation in their ancestral homeland in the northeast (Tamil Eelam) where they can live in peace and dignity without exploitation and discrimination, and subservient to none.

----    2000-a1d

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