Sri Lanka: Deconstructing Sinhala Psyche

In our youthful days we acted in unison whether we were Sinhalese or Tamils or Burghers or Muslims or even Malays or Chinese.The English language bound us. Even after the foolish, thoughtless Sinhala Only Act was passed the earlier friendship, camaraderie and mutual respect for each other among our diversified coterie of friends continued for some time. 

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Queen Elizabeth II with her Commonwealth Prime Ministers at Buckingham Palace where she entertained them for dinner. The premiers are (l-r): Johannes Gerhardus Strijdom (South Africa), Mohammad Ali (Pakistan), Sidney Holland (New Zealand), Louis St Laurent (Canada), Sir Anthony Eden (Great Britain), Robert Menzies (Australia), Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (India) SWRD Bandaranaike (Ceylon) and Lord Malvern (Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland). (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

Sarath Weerasekera M.P. has said that I lived 65 years among the Sinhalese but I’m now saying Sinhalese cannot live in the North. He has also said that the Tamils should not remember the dead Tiger Terrorists publicly. Let me have my comments on that.

Why would I say Sinhalese cannot live in the North?  Every Citizen has the right to choose his residence in his or her Country in conformity with the Law.

But I have certainly said that neither the Government nor the Forces nor Buddhist Priests have any right to expropriate lands of our People illegally. Having chased the Tamils out of the Sinhala areas by pogroms and riots, now there is a move to illegally expropriate lands in the Tamil Homelands’ area and colonise them with Sinhala colonists. Now there are moves to drive wedges within the contiguous Tamil speaking areas to disturb their contiguity and continuity. I say illegally because in terms of International legal principles of land alienation the people from the area where lands are alienated should receive first preference when they are being settled thereon. Instead people from outside areas have been brought into Tamil speaking areas to change the demographic patterns in the area. In recent times, having come to realise that their illegal activities are being exposed to the outside World, the Government and others have started expropriating lands from Tamil speaking areas through the Mahaweli Authority and other Government Departments.Recently the Sinhala Governor of the Eastern Province  presided over a meeting to acquire areas in the Kuchchaweli Division to give lands to the Polonaruwa District, for the Sinhala people to get a foothold on  Eastern coastal lands. Clearly the idea is to divide the contiguity of the Tamil speaking areas.Hon’ Sarath Weerasekera must study what is happening in the North and East before making sweeping statements about me or any other person.

Tamils have not settled in any part of Sri Lanka in such a way as to endanger the identity or existence of the Sinhalese people or with the intention of endangering them.The settlement of Tamil people in Southern Sri Lanka during the British regime was an organic process. No settlement of Tamil people ever took place by force.Moreover, Tamil people did  not have the authority or power to establish settlements of Tamil people in Sinhalese areas. Hon’ Weerasekera must remember these facts. Moreover I lived in a Sinhala area (if Cosmopolitan Colombo could be called as such) in a house built by my parents. I  did not get planted in Colombo by the Government with its finances. .Hon’ Sarath Weerasekera must study what has and is happening in the North and East and elsewhere before making sweeping statements about me or any other person.

Well renowned researchers  such as Professor Yiftachel Oren, Professor of Political Geography, Ben Gurion University, Israel,  have studied the land occupation and Sinhalese settlements carried out by successive  Sinhalese governments in the Northern and Eastern areas, the traditional native places of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. They have compared Sri Lanka to countries like Israel and called the Government here as  an  “Ethnocratic Regime”.

Coming to the next matter if the Sinhalese could remember openly their dead soldiers, why cannot Tamils openly remember their youth who fought on their behalf  and died heroically? After all they kept the North and East of Sri Lanka for nearly thirty years under their control, despite all odds.

They are referred to as Terrorists!  Who identifies a person as a Terrorist?The Government? The Press?The Sinhalese People? Who identifies a person as a Patriot?The Press?The Government?The Sinhalese people?

Was Keppetipola who was executed by the British as a criminal, a patriot or a criminal?  If the Sinhalese call him a patriot and a hero why did the British call him a criminal? Were the British right or the Sinhalese are right?

You would realise there are no Terrorists born.They are called Terrorists as it suits the persons so calling. Infact the State Terrorism of the Sinhalese has been far more brutal and barbaric than any acts of war committed by the Tigers. Yet the Sinhalese remember their dead  openly. But to remember the members of a  disciplined set of youth who sacrificed their lives fighting against the State’s atrocities against the Tamils must according to Hon’ Sarath Weerasekera be confined to the backyards of individual houses? I am glad His Excellency the President did not conform to the views of Hon’ Weerasekera and allowed the Maaveerar’s Day to pass on relatively peacefully.

Let me now come back to me. I believe I am the only founder member of the original Congress of Religions incorporated in 1971 living today.We started functioning round 1965.Mr.SNB Wijeyekoon was Secretary.We took the then MahanayakeThero to the North on a visit so that he would meet the People there and visit Buddhist places of worship.We arranged such goodwill visits to bring better understanding among the various votaries of different religions.

I belong to a different vintage to that of Hon’ Weerasekera. In our youthful days we acted in unison whether we were Sinhalese or Tamils or Burghers or Muslims or even Malays or Chinese.The English language bound us. Even after the foolish, thoughtless Sinhala Only Act was passed the earlier friendship, camaraderie and mutual respect for each other among our diversified coterie of friends continued for some time.  But soon the thought that Ceylon belongs to the Sinhala Buddhists took charge of our Sinhala Buddhist brethren.

This is an absolutely false notion.

The Sinhala Buddhists are the majority in the Island if taken as a whole. But Hindu Tamils are the majority in the North and East from pre historic times. Never have the Tamil speaking not been the majority in the North and East.In1833 the British unified the Island administratively. But the areas of residence of the Tamil speaking  continued to be the North and East of the Island. Now there is a move to drive out the Tamils from those areas of residence of the Tamil speaking people and transform them into Sinhala speaking areas. A clear act of genocide! Hon’ Weerasekera wants me not to be perturbed about this daylight robbery taking place in the areas of the Tamil speaking simply because I have lived 65 years (according to him ) in the Sinhala speaking areas.

What does being majority got to do with ownership? Lots of students attend Tutories. They are the majority while classes go on. Owner is a single individual. Could the Students say “We are the majority. So the Tutory building belongs to us?” Numbers have nothing to do with ownership or possession.  If it does, the Tamil speaking are the majority in the North and East. The Tamils had separate areas, separate language, separate arts and crafts, separate medicinal systems, separate culture, separate topography, separate climatic conditions, separate geological foundation and so on. Of course before the Sinhala language was born the Tamil language was the lingua franca of the Island.

This Country therefore does not belong to the Sinhala Buddhists. It belongs to each and every citizen of this Island. Of course such citizens have individual and collective rights. The Tamils having occupied the North and East continuously for over 3000 years they have the collective right of internal self determination in terms of the International Covenants.

Will Hon’ Sarath Weerasekera accept that right of the Tamils? The right of Internal Self Determination! Would he admit that the Tamils were the original inhabitants of this Island? Would he admit that the Sinhala language is of recent origin? The Sinhalese language came into being in the 6th and 7th Century AD. There was no Sinhala language before 1400 years ago from now.Their Grammar Sidath Sangarawa came out only in the 13th Century AD. The first Sinhala inscription belongs to a period subsequent to the Seventh Century AD. These are all historical facts. Cleverly the Sinhalese intelectuals have been referring to Pali which is one of the parent languages of Sinhala, as the early form of Sinhala. The Sinhala language was not even born then but they refer to Pali and Prakrit as early Sinhala.This is like saying  I came from my grandfather and therefore I lived during my grandfather’s time.Surely I am different and my grandfather was a different person altogether.  Simply because I came from him I cannot claim to have lived during my grandfather’s time! In fact my grandfather was no more when I was born.

Will Hon’ Weerasekera and his Sinhalese accolytes accept that their language is of very recent origin and that there were no Sinhalese living before their language came into being. In fact Dutu Gemunu never spoke the Sinhala language nor had he heard of the Sinhalese race.He was a Buddhist Tamil Prince from the South and Ellalan was a Hindu Tamil King ruling from Anuradhapura.

Will Hon’ Weerasekera accept the DNA results which have referred to the geneology of the Sinhalese to be traceable to the South Indians.

Hon’ Weerasekera some days ago said that he would not allow power sharing with others in this Country.The reason he gives is that the Country is already one and indivisible.He said the Thirteenth Amendment was forced upon the Sinhalese.

Is the Honourable  Member of Parliament aware that the Kandyan Sinhalese requested a federal constitution from the British? In fact if the Tamils also asked for Federalism it would have been granted. Unfortunately we had a famous and successful Lawyer as our Leader at that time whose criminal clientele hailed mostly from the South. Hence he asked for 50:50 (50% seats in Parliament to Sinhalese and the balance 50% to the Opposition jointly) to make sure he could continue to practice in the South.  The British rejected it. But Lord Soulbury who saw what happened in the 1950s and early 60s bemoaned as the former Chairman of the Committee  which saw through the transfer of power from Great Britain to Ceylon and as the First Governor General of Ceylon that if they had known the historic background of the North Eastern Tamils and their individuality they would have included a Bill of Rights into the First Constitution. In other words he regretted granting a Unitary Constitution with no proper safeguards. I hope Hon’ Weerasekera is aware that despite there being no Bill of Rights, the Original District Court Judge de Kretser found the Sinhala Only Act to be contrary to the provisions of the  Constitution. The Unitary status given to the Country was a legacy left by the British to the Sinhalese due to certain conspiracies articulated by D.S.Senanayake and Sir Oliver Goonetilleke. They went to England specially to stop the Commissioners considering Federalism as an option.(Vide OEG- A biography of Sir Oliver Goonetilleke by Charles Jeffries).

Therefore let not Hon’ Weerasekera try to make out that the Unitary status of this Country is inviolable. On the other hand those akin to the Honourable Member of Parliament are fighting hard to keep the undue benefit the Sinhalese received from the British due to deals effected by their then Senior Politicians!

Views expressed are personal

C.V. Wigneswaran

Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, PC is a Sri Lankan Tamil lawyer, judge, politician and Member of Parliament.

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