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Tamil Leader, Sritharan - the New Target of Racist and Majoritarian Communalists

27 February 2024 12:00 am - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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MP Sritharan has clearly stated his vision is NOT for the setting up of a separate state

Ever since Mr S. Sritharan was elected leader of the “Federal Party” or the “Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi” (ITAK), numerous articles with a racist bent have begun appearing in a number of ‘national news outlets’ in Colombo. 
The articles have a common thread running through them - Sritharan’s visit to the LTTE war heroes’ cemetery in Killinochchi - and their (nationalist writers) interpretation of the symbolism of that visit. 
One of these Prophets of Doom even went to the extent of giving a time-line when the next round of bombings would hit the country! In their myopic vision, Sritharan’s visit exposed him as an apologist of the LTTE and an unmitigated separatist. He is now being paraded via the media as an enemy. Most of these writers’ knowledge and interaction with the new ITAK leader is superficial. 
What they refuse to see is that Sritharan has lived through the 30 years of war. He has lived with the Tamil people, be it in the north or the east, and lived through the suffering and terror the various Sinhalese dominated governments in Colombo unleashed on ordinary Tamil civilians in a thinly veiled guise of fighting terrorism. 
Their simplistic categorisation does not take into consideration the insults and indignities ordinary Tamils had to put up with at the hands of Sinhalese leaders and diverse governments which ruled the country. 
We Lankans received independence from our colonial masters seventy-six years ago. Since then we have overseen a series of racist attacks against minority communities and a near three-decade-long ethnic war followed by attacks on two minority religious communities.


ITAK Leader, S. Sritharan


Ordinary Tamils see in the LTTE, and the Tamil militants who took up arms to defend their culture, language and race as heroes. It was only then, governments irrespective of political party affiliation showed a willingness to even discuss Tamil grievances seriously. 
Not unnaturally, the militants were looked on as heroes by ordinary civilian Tamils.
Sadly, none of our ‘writers turned security experts’ bother to identify the culprits behind the racial attacks or learn the lessons of how such situations could be avoided. Their aim appears to let minorities understand their place in Lankan society.
Prior to independence, the Tamil political leadership had expressed fears the unitary nature of the constitution did not provide adequate protection to minority communities against Sinhala majoritarianism. Tamil leaders had called for constitutional protections to allay these fears: One of the recommendations being the reservation of 50 per cent of Parliamentary seats and Cabinet posts for minorities.
Their suggestions were sadly thrown out of the window, so-to-say.
The passing of the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1947 – the first Act passed by the first independent government of our country justified these fears. The legislation effectively disfranchised the Upcountry Tamils. It renewed fears among Tamils that the Sinhalese majority was using its numerical superiority to bulldoze through, legislation adversely affecting minority communities in the island. 
The disfranchisement of the Upcountry Tamils in the end, led to the formation of the Federal Party (FP) which called for a federal system of government with greater internal autonomy for the different districts. Unfortunately, opportunistic leaders seeking cheap popularity among Sinhala voters roused communalism by misinterpreting the call for greater autonomy as that of a division of the country.
The first seeds of Sinhala-Tamil communalism had begun to sprout.  
By 1956, the economy was in a downward spiral. The language of administration was English. Yet, the Universities continued churning out thousands of Sinhala educated graduates who were unable to find employment in either the government or mercantile sector due to their lack of knowledge of the English language.
Opportunistic elements exploited the situation, claiming members of the Tamil community dominated the administrative services of the country to the detriment of the Sinhalese.   . 
It was in this atmosphere the 1956 General Elections were held and brought into power a coalition of forces led by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who had campaigned on a ticket of ‘Sinhala Only’ and won the election by a landslide.
The new government passed the Official Language Act commonly known as the ‘Sinhala Only Act’, making Sinhala the sole official language of the country. 
The Act triggered discontent among the Tamils, who perceived their language, culture, and economic position as being subject to increasing threats.
As relations between the two communities worsened, Premier Bandaranaike attempted to assuage Tamil fears by entering into an agreement with the leader of the Federal Party, Chelvanayakam. The Pact known as the ‘Banda-Chelva Pact’ contained provisions for the recognition of Tamil as the language of administration for the Northern and Eastern provinces. 
However, opportunistic and racial forces railed against the concessions given to the Tamil people. The premier ultimately abrogated the pact unilaterally. Shortly thereafter, the first major communal riots broke out in 1958.
Since 1956, periodic violence against Tamils broke out in different parts of the country – for example in 1958, 1961, 1977, 1981 and in 1983.
According to the late PLOTE leader, Uma Maheswaran, a complete breakdown between Sinhalese and Tamil people occurred when the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) that were staunchly secular, led racist demonstrations against the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1965.
During those demonstrations, the CPSL and the LSSP leaders also participated mouthing racist slogans such as “Dudleyge bade masala vadai”, etc.
“All trust Tamils had in the Sinhalese” he said, “broke down during this period”.
The 1971 Standardisation of Education policy which curtailed the number of Tamil students entering universities, proved to be the proverbial ‘straw that broke the camel’s back. It led to a complete change in the demands of the Tamil community and led to the demand for the setting up of a separate state. 
The government’s attack on the World Tamil Conference in 1974 in which seven Tamil civilians died when police attacked a cultural festival, exacerbated an already deteriorating ill-feeling between the communities.


These are but some instances of oppression unleashed on the Tamil community. The Muslim community too has experienced similar discrimination. A majority of the Burgher community felt it was impossible to stave off the majoritarian attitudes of the Sinhalese. 
To our eternal shame, the Burghers left this land and are now domiciled in Australia where they have been given the space to weave themselves into the fabric of that nation  
The new ITAK leader’s actions have to be viewed in this backdrop. He was honouring those who died fighting against state oppression of his community.  MP Sritharan has clearly stated his vision is NOT for the setting up of a separate state. Rather, it is for greater autonomy and self-government within a federal setup. 
The problem here is the ill will some people harbour against minority communities and their aspirations within our country.
Numerous public demonstrations are held honouring the late JVP leader, Rohana Wijeweera who led two bloody uprisings against the state. That is ‘acceptable’, because he was a Sinhalese. However, honouring members of a minority community – who also revolted – for their cause is ‘forbidden’! 
O tempora, o mores! Can’t we ever stop thinking along narrow parochial lines of Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher? We do not even give the original people of this land – the indigenous Veddah community – preferential treatment amidst the neglect they continue to suffer despite 76 years of independence. We have not even accepted the theory of reserving lands exclusively for them to preserve their traditions and culture.


Getting back to the subject of honouring memories of fallen heroes, Sinhalese nationalists and psuedo-patriots cannot stomach such ideas. So they denounce and hurl abuse and insults.
Honouring those who fought to set up a separate state does not make one a separatist or a traitor.
In the United States for instance, the US Confederate Memorial Day is observed as a holiday in several Southern US states since the end of the American Civil War. The holiday is to commemorate the estimated 258,000 Confederate soldiers who died during the American Civil War. 
Until we are able to look at each other as equal citizens of this country, we will remain a divided country, open to intrigues of diverse forces seeking to use us for their benefit.

 


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  Comments - 2

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  • NV Jen Tuesday, 27 February 2024 07:40 PM

    Well written Sir. Many people try to start the history from LTTE era. But many the fact that it was the state terrorism that sidelined moderates and gave birth to militant groups.

    Wiraj Tuesday, 27 February 2024 08:11 PM

    Bravo, well said Mr. Shirley. One writer recently was trying to create fear psychosis stating that the next war will start within 5-7 years. No wonder, with such fiction writers the divide between communities is getting wider and sadly not narrowing.


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