This isn’t a question of tit-for tat - C.V.Wigneswaran

28 July 2016 12:00 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Northern Province Chief Minister and former Judge of the Supreme Court C.V. Wigneswaran spoke to the Dailymirror at his official residence in Jaffna. During the interview, he spoke of the recent clash at the Jaffna University, the personal and the political and much more:

 

 
QThe recent clash which occurred at the Jaffna university has given rise to renewed discourse among the Sinhala and Tamil polity. What, as Chief Minister, are your views on it?
Firstly, its very unfortunate that we have given too much political importance to a matter between two groups of students. You must realize that just a few months ago, there was a clash between two groups of Sinhalese students. There are one set of students who are trying to bring about a more nationalist attitude among the student hood- a sort of parochial get together. Since there were some students against it, there was some sort of a clash between these two groups of Sinhalese students.

 

 

 Isn’t it fact that from the time of Navalar or Dharmapala; Bandaranaike to Chelvanayagam, and now to you -- it was all the elite -- most often Royal and S. Thomas’ -educated people who fought their political battles at the expense and the blood of the common man?  

 

 

This occurred some months ago. So there is definitely a group who want to propagate a sort of anti-Tamil attitude among the Sinhalese students. They would want the students to clash with the Tamil students so that they could tell the world everything negative about the Tamils. That they are tigers and so on. With regard to this incident, it had been agreed upon the previous day that there was no issue with Kandyan dancing being brought in, but to let it be one of the items on the stage. Hitherto what has been done was that the procession carried traditional Tamil cultural dance. But somebody had decided to bring in the Kandyan dance in between that which resulted in the issue. The students had called for the President of the entire Jaffna Students Union, Sasitharan, to help solve the problem, and he had been assaulted. Poor fellow, I don’t think he had anything to do with this and was brought there in order to bring about a settlement. Now I also find, that as soon as Sasitharan was taken to the Police, a new Facebook account was opened in his name sprouting separatist, pro LTTE rhetoric.

 

My student Sripavan is the Chief Justice today. He is the only Tamil in the Supreme Court and in the Court of Appeal. There are Muslims, but there is no Tamil. Isn’t that a discrimination against the Tamils?

 

Now he had his own account for a long time, and this new account has been opened by someone else. The idea seems to be to show that the Tigers are still active and this incident was done to drive out the Sinhalese student, which is not true. That is why in the recent message I gave with the Opposition leader- I said that this must not be looked at through an individualistic prism. You have to look at the problem in its entirety. The matter of political power, the issues of war crimes not being looked into, children being brought to the North from the South etc. In some places 60% of the children are from the South in these universities. So there are other matters that have to be looked into and taken into consideration and a fully fledged solution must be brought about. That is one aspect. The second aspect is, if we go to a University in the South and say we want our cultural music to be brought in, do you think the students there would allow it? You don’t do that type of thing.

 But here you are trying to force that sort of thing because you have the power of the Army behind you. There is connection between the Army and some of the Sinhalese students, which is not good at all. That is why we are calling for a fully-fledged inquiry into these issues. At the moment the University has come to a decision to reopen the faculties which seems to be going on smoothly, but the underlying causes must be looked into. There are various people with ulterior motives, who want to show that the Tigers (LTTE) are still active here, and therefore justify that the Army presence is a must.   

 


Q But on the contrary Chief  Minister, many including the Vice Chancellor who spoke to us said that this was an issue between two groups of students. You instead are adding political symbolism to the incident. ? 
No it isn’t symbolic. There is evidence about the connection between the Army and the students. Yes, on the surface what they say is true. But we have gone further into the matter as the Provincial Council. When you have such connections you have to look at it much more carefully.

 

 

Recognition of individuals who constitute all communities as equals must be done by all, especially by the majority community. We have to be equals in this business. The majority community can’t have a hegemonic - and look down upon us as the minority 

 

 


Q There is a notion in the South that there are ethno-nationalist Tamil sentiments sprouted by the faculty, and that this issue is a result of such propagation...  
What I would like to ask you is, what is wrong with telling about who we are? We are Tamils and we have an ethno-centric attitude towards our people, just like you, as a Muslim, would have for your people. We have a right to talk about our culture, our behaviour and our aspirations. If anything of that borders on violence, then bring it to my notice and I will take action. But what is wrong with talking about our background.  

 


Q Isn’t that self-contradictory, while saying that “ majoritarianism is an issue in the South” , you are saying this must happen…  
I will answer that question. We are not asking the South not to talk about what they want to talk about. We are talking only about ourselves. That is one. Secondly, if we are talking about reconciliation, it should not be based on that assumption. Reconciliation has to be the recognition of each person’s individuality. If I don’t recognise you for what you are as a Muslim, or if I am not recognised for what I am, as a Hindu, then we are going to have problems. If you are trying to say reconciliation is telling you or me not to talk about the Muslims or the Tamils, and to only talk about the majority community that isn’t reconciliation. This wont do. Recognition of individuals who constitute all communities as equals must be done by all, especially by the majority community. We have to be equals in this business. The majority community can’t have a hegemonic - and look down upon us as the minority. We have been the majority in the Northern and Eastern provinces for over 2000 years. We were brought together by the British in 1833 otherwise we would have continued to be separate and the majority in these areas. 

 

 

How did a man who in 1926 said that there should be a Federal Constitution in this country bring about Sinhala only in 1956?  

 

 


Q Right, so if this majoritarianism is fuelled within the university system, then could it not lead to the bloodshed we saw during the past 30 years or before. Should you be furthering this tit- for- tat- attitude?  
This isn’t a question of tit-for-tat. My position is that we should recognise each other as equals which we are not doing. We are recognising ourselves as those who belong to the majority and minority communities. If you say you are from the minority, then it is assument that there is something wrong with you or that you are below the majority. You see this won’t do. I remember from 1948 to 1956 the most number of people who got prizes at Royal College were Tamils. What I am trying to say is that we were better than everybody else. So you can’t be looking down upon us just because your numbers are more. We are equals. I don’t claim that we are bigger than the Sinhalese or the Muslims, but we are equals. If you look at us as equals then there would be no problem. Even this incident in the University is an extension of that hegemonic attitude coupled with the presence of the military,.

 

 
Q What if the opposite happened in a University in the South. Where Tamil students were assaulted the way the Sinhalese students were. What would you have said then?  
Then we must look into it. But it would have been the same thing. The majority community there would have looked down on the minority and done something. That is how it normally happens.

 

You know I was not a part of the war, I was a Colombo-man. But when I came here, I understood the significance of what was taking place. How they have been decimated, discriminated and how they aren’t able to move forward.

 

 
Q So you agree, that was what happened here?  
Here its different. It is a majority in an area where they are the minority who did certain things because of the backing of the Army. That is how it seems to me. But I am subject to a full report on what happened.   

 


Q Moving on, you are considered the number one enemy of the Sinhala nationalists today, if so why is it?  
Maybe you people (journalists) have contributed to it. I am still the same person, I haven’t changed one bit. My children are married to Sinhalese and we have a very good relationship. But I reflect the aspirations and the thought processes of my people. So to think that I have suddenly become anti Sinhalese or anti Buddhist is all nonsense. I am the only living person who took the Mahanayake Thero to Nainatheevu in 1965 as a part of the Congress of Religions. I have no problems with the Buddhists or the Sinhalese with whom I was born and bred. But you, the Sinhalese people must realize that you are not recognizing us properly and I’m trying tell you that this is not the way to treat us. A former President said that the minorities should be like the festoons on a tree, which is not the way to look at it. We have our own culture, background and religious beliefs which should be recognised. If you recognise that -this wont happen. If the Sinhala masses in the South, thanks to your newspapers and websites, think of me like that -- my response to that is -- I am not that. I am not against the Sinhalese. 


But I am certainly against the ignorance of the Sinhalese. We must look at these problems humanely, we must look at these problems as equals, we cant be looked at -- as a dominating power would look at an issue. If I point out your domination  (Sinhalese), you would get annoyed with me, and then call me your number one enemy. I really can’t help that.  

 

Everything I have said is the truth. So far many of our people don’t want to come out with the truth because they are afraid. I am not. I don’t think there is anything wrong that I have done.

 


Q Since your assumption of duties as the Chief Minister we have seen a lot of political activity; like the continual passing of resolutions which is perceived as antagonizing.. 
The passing of a resolution with regard to genocide must be looked at in an aspect of it being right or wrong. If there is one incident said which is not true, or which had not taken place then you are welcome to find fault with me. Everything I have said is the truth. So far many of our people don’t want to come out with the truth because they are afraid. I am not. I don’t think there is anything wrong that I have done.  

 


Q How does C.V. Wigneswaran, a Royal College-educated, Colombo- based, government employee, who served at the highest governmental levels, reconcile his personal journey with the political rhetoric?   
I was conscious of the fact that the Tamils were being treated wrongly even as a Supreme Court Judge. I was the only Judge up to date to have made a speech in all three languages, and at the time also I said that the Tamils were not being treated correctly and equally. I am continuing the same thing even now. The fact is that I am trying to bring the truth out. If something is found true, what is wrong in saying it out aloud? Genocide is something that happened, it was what took place. Everything I say is based on facts- is based on truth. If  anything that I say is found  not to be true, my God, I will be the first to admit it and correct myself. I don’t feel wrong in what I’m doing. The only thing that prevented me from speaking on these issues was that there was no occasion to speak. Now I have taken upon the brief of my people, like a lawyer, and i am putting their case forward. That is all I am doing.  

 


Q No, but my question is, you did not face the discrimination that you speak of today. You ended up at the highest position your profession allowed you to assume..  
(Laughs), You are saying that I did not face discrimination... 

 

 

If the Sinhala masses in the South, thanks to your newspapers and websites, think of me like that -- my response to that is -- I am not that. I am not against the Sinhalese. But I am certainly against the ignorance of the Sinhalese.

 


Q Only because you were a Tamil..  
Now you see, you must look at it in a different way. The fact that I did not, or it is not known where the discrimination came in and how I went through it -is not something I want to talk about. My student Sripavan is the Chief Justice today. He is the only Tamil in the Supreme Court and in the Court of Appeal. There are Muslims, but there is no Tamil. Isn’t that  discrimination against the Tamils?  

 


Q He is the Chief Justice of this country...  
So that’s it, only one person. What can he do? This is what JR used to do. Just put Tamils as symbols in various places and say there is no discrimination. They are just there, but the power is in the hands of the others. The whole question of discrimination must be looked at more wholly. I am telling you there is discrimination in the Supreme Court, because apart from the Chief Justice, there are no Tamils. So the discrimination is evident.   

 


Q You recently formed an organisation, which resulted in a lot of concern from the Tamil National Alliance it itself. They felt that their man was going against them. Where does this reaction come from?   
One the important thing that must be understood is, that when we are in Colombo, we live with the majority community. To a great extent the majority community conditions the way of our thinking. You don’t want to hurt anybody so you listen to people and go away- You express your views couched in dignified language. This is because the environment imposes conditions on us. 


I was born and bred in Colombo and I don’t think anybody in the TNA was that. Now having been there and when I came here, I realised the aspirations of the people. That’s why I tell the members of Parliament from the Northern Province, for heavens sake, come and stay in the here. Stay with the people, talk to them and then go to Parliament. 


When they are in Colombo and talk about these things, they are influenced by the environment in which they live. You can’t speak about the Tamil people by staying there, you must stay here. I am speaking while I am stationed here. I want to remain here and look after the interest of my people. There is a difference when speaking of the wants and needs of the Tamil people, especially after the war. 


You know I was not a part of the war, I was a Colombo man. But when I came here, I understood the significance of what was taking place. How they (the people) have been decimated, discriminated and how they aren’t able to move forward. There is friction in these matters I agree. 


The creation of the TPC has resulted in some doubt about me, and I agree with that. The TPC was not my creation. The civil society joined and wanted me to start it off and I agreed. Some people of our party thought that I have started a new party. 


I am not interested in creating new political parties. It took six months for them to push me into this (Chief Ministerial nomination). I don’t want anything more, not money, status or fame. I am doing the work of an advocate and my clients are the people of the Northern Province. Some people may have difficulty in accepting this and there may be friction. But I am not at odds with the Tamil leadership.   

 


Q You bring up a very interesting point. The fact that you are from Colombo, and that the MP’s (of the TNA) are in Colombo. Isn’t it the fact that from the time of Navalar or Dharmapala; Bandaranaike to Chelvanayagam, and now to you -- it was all the elite -- most often Royal or S. Thomas’ -educated people who fought their political battles at the expense and the blood of the common man?  
How did S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who was the elite, who went to Oxford, lead his people? I am doing the same thing. I am leading my people. How did a man who in 1926 said that there should be a Federal Constitution in this country bring about Sinhala only in 1956?  

 


Q  Exactly, my point is that these are the elite in a power struggle...
No there is a difference. SWRD wanted power. He made use of ‘Sinhala only’ for his power. What am I going to use this for? I have everything that I want.   

 


Q Let me rephrase it again. Is it not  fact that all political issues have come about as a power struggle of the elite in itself. If you look at all those who tried driving a wedge -- from SWRD to Navalar;  Chelvanayagam to Dharmapala etc., all of them came from a very elite class. It was the rank and file that suffered the consequences of their battle?  
No, I don’t agree that this was what happened at all stages. The elite might have done that for a power struggle and for different reasons. So if you look at Sir John Kotalawala and SWRD, there was a power struggle. Sir John came here(North) and said parity of status, and as soon as he went back (he)said Sinhala only. I am coming here after studying about my people. I am not doing this as an elitist exercise. I am a very simple man. I have come here and stayed with the people and what is coming out from me is the expression of what I have heard and found from my people. This is not an elitist expression.    

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  • Dr.Zaheer Friday, 29 July 2016 07:02 AM

    Ugly behaviour of students in higher seats of learning should not be given a political flavour. This can percolate to the school level and disrupt education. Our hard earned peace will then become meaningless.


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