- By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe
The Sinhala Community
The State must not lose sight of the need to allay the fears and anxieties of the Sinhalese who, though a majority, have their own share of concerns, both real and imagined. Many actions that discriminated against minorities sprang initially from a widespread perception amongst the Sinhalese that they had been discriminated against by the British. Assertion of the need for the Government to function in the language of the majority, positive discrimination to compensate for real and perceived educational inequalities, land redistribution to make up for the expropriation of peasant lands for plantations with the concomitant importation of labour from India, all sprang from the need to make up for deprivations imposed by the colonial government. In the process, however, they led to deprivation of the minorities because of failure to explore comprehensively the implications of any actions. Similarly, any solution meant to resolve the problems of Tamils and Muslims now must not be at the expense of the Sinhalese. That is not only unfair and unjust, but it would make such a solution unsustainable in the long run.
With regard to specific grievances of Sinhalese in villages adjacent to former conflict areas, the LLRC Commission notes that the Government has tended to overlook those who lived in villages such as WeliOya, Moneragala and Kebethigoilawa, who survived the terror perpetrated by the LTTE. The people in these villages continued to live under tremendous threats to their lives without migrating to safe areas in the South. They faced security risks, hardships in education, disrupted and fractured livelihoods, and paucity of healthcare and transport facilities. Moreover, the Sinhalese who resided in the Eastern Province faced inadequacies of the administrative system. For instance, WeliOya is categorised under a number of districts, a section under the Mullaitivu district, a section under the Vavuniya district and another under the Trincomalee district. As a result, numerous difficulties were faced by people in the areas, where administration is carried out in Tamil, whereas people living in WeliOya are predominantly Sinhalese.
Communities across Sri Lanka have also suffered immensely as a result of the loss of family members who served in the armed forces. The severe psychological impact of the war on these communities often goes unacknowledged.
The Tamil Community
The perception of discrimination and unequal treatment within the Tamil population arose from a series of administrative changes, such as discrimination against the use of the Tamil language in a context where education was segregated by language. This contributed to deprivation in terms of jobs, which was exacerbated by the State being the predominant employer in the context of Statist economic policies. Discriminatory policies in recruitment to the public services struck hardest at the well-educated Tamils in the North.
The discrimination was seen as arising from the fact that the central government and its decision-making processes were far removed from the needs and aspirations of the Tamil people. The many youth rebellions all over the country testify to the sense of alienation felt generally by the rural population, but in the North and East this sense was increased by the absence of representation at the decision-making levels in government. In addition, State control of lands and colonisation schemes were disproportionately beneficial to the majority community and were perceived by the Tamil communities as intended to effect demographic changes.
Although the death and destruction caused by the war and the atrocities of the LTTE affected all communities, the suffering of the Tamil population in the war zones of the North and the East, particularly of the people in the Vanni, was of an intensity and magnitude that far exceeded that of the population in the rest of the country. The recognition of the special problems that have consequently arisen in the North and East must therefore guide and direct the National Policy on Reconciliation, at all times. The deprivations which this section of the population have undergone and the conditions that have been thereby created — the repeated displacements, the destruction of homes, livelihood and infrastructure, the death and disappearance of loved ones —require affirmative processes for restoration and reparation, together with mechanisms for accountability and the protection of human rights that take full account of the special nature of their grievances.
The Muslim Community
The Muslims, though not direct protagonists in the armed conflict between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan State, have undergone considerable suffering during the years of fighting in the North and East. The forcible eviction of the entire Muslim community from the Northern Province by the LTTE, the massacre of around two hundred Muslims while worshipping in mosques in Kattankudy and Eravur, the takeover of lands belonging to the Muslims in the Eastern Province, the deprivation of the livelihoods of Muslims in the conflict areas and the lack of adequate security to the Muslims were a few of the phenomena that contributed greatly to the sense of insecurity and unease that Muslims faced because of the conflict.
Unlike the Tamil community which challenged State structures as a means of addressing grievances, the Muslims took a separate political path and preferred to engage with the State and work within the mainstream of Sri Lankan politics. This created a great deal of misunderstanding between the Tamil and Muslim communities and caused a strain in their relationship. There are also perceptions that lands are being taken over for occupation by the security forces without due consultation or process.
(The above is the second part of a series on: the draft “National Reconciliation Policy")