(1999 March 03)

There have been many debates and discussions on the so-called ethnic problem, in media especially in the television networks. However what is clear to the readers as well as the television audience is that the same arguments are being repeated over and over again by the Tamil racists and their spokespersons as if they are presented for the first time. All these arguments have been dealt with but the "debate" goes on as if there has been no discussion at all on these matters previously.

The most interesting aspect about these debates and discussions is that no body has come out with a satisfactory definition of an ethnic problem. Those who claim that there is an ethnic problem should first define it and then show that according to their definition an ethnic problem exists in the country. On the other hand we have claimed that the problem is due to Tamil racism baptised by the British and have gone to the extent of presenting facts on the evolution of Tamil racism from the previous century. Neither these facts nor the theory have been challenged but the spokespersons for Tamil racism would very often claim that every thing started in 1956. They are not at all bothered by the fact that establishment of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (Sri Lanka Tamil State Party) in 1949 by Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam in order to establish a separate Tamil state, before Sinhala was made the official language of the country, goes against their assertion that every thing started in 1956.

Recently Mr. D. B. S. Jeyaraj writing to "The Island" of 17th February 1999 on the elections to the Wayamba provincial council under the title "The rot set in long ago" has said: "Unfortunately one does not see a similar exercise in the case of the Tamils both Sri Lankan and recent Indian origin. The lamentations and protestations of those crying out aloud for their beloved country do not seem to have taken into account the fact that Tamils and their areas of historic habitation are an integral part of this land too...... But what happened to over a million people of recent Indian origin fifty years ago after the dawn of freedom from colonial oppression? Firstly their citizenship rights were taken away by the Citizenship Act No 18 of 1948 passed by Parliament on Aug. 20th 1948. This was followed by the Immigrants and Emigrants Act No. 20 of 1948 that came into force from Nov. 1949. If the citizenship Act rendered the Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka 'Stateless' the other law provided for the 'removing from Ceylon undesirable person who are not citizens of Ceylon'. Then their voting rights were taken away by the Ceylon Parliamentary elections Act No. 48 of 1949. A people contributing most to the economy by their labour were effectively disfranchised."

Now this question has been adequately dealt in my "An Introduction to Tamil Racism" and in articles by others. But Mr. Jeyaraj without answering the points raised in those articles mentions this again as if it is some gospel truth. As Mr. Jeyaraj himself admits we are here considering the case of "Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka". In other words they were Indian Tamils living in Sri Lanka and not Sri Lankan Tamils. I am sure that there are Canadian Tamils as well as Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils living in Canada. The latter categories are not Canadian citizens though they may be having the franchise ( I am not quite sure of this. Sometime ago Sri Lankans living in Britain and Australia had the franchise by virtue of the fact that they were from the British Commonwealth). The Sri Lankan Tamils in Canada cannot ask for Canadian citizenship on the grounds that they are contributing to the economy of the country.

The Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka had never been citizens of Sri Lanka at any time before 1948. Before the Europeans came to the country the Sinhala people had been citizens (Rata Vesiya or Vesiya) of the country. The Sinhala concept of Rata Vesiya or Vesiya is not derived from the Greek concept of citizens of City-states. When nation states were established in Europe the Europeans retained the term citizen giving it a wider meaning to include not only the people of the city but of the "country" as well. Thus the citizens and the countrymen all became citizens! However Rata Vesiyas in Sinhale or Lanka had always being the people of the country. Citizen if directly translated into Sinhala takes the form Puravesiya.

During the British period the people living in the empire were all British subjects. The British were not interested in the country of origin of their subjects. Thus when franchise was given in 1931 all their subjects in Sri Lanka were entitled to vote. The Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka were given the voting rights in 1931 not because they were Rata Vesiyas but since they were British subjects. In fact this principle of giving franchise to the British subjects was the doctrine behind giving the voting rights to the people from the British Commonwealth in countries such as Britain and Australia, until recently. When Sri Lanka (Ceylon) became independent in 1948 the country had the right to decide who were its Rata Vesiyas. The Citizenship Act No. 18 of 1948 determined the criteria for one to become a Rata Vesiya. It did not take away the citizenship rights of the Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka as they had never been RataVesiyas of this country. They had been British subjects who were in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) as transients. In fact Sri Lanka could have asked the British to take the Indian Tamils to London with them.

The citizenship issue was taken up with the government of India in 1954 and the Nehru- Kotelawala agreement of that year had the following paragraphs as its sections 5 and 6 respectively.

"All persons registered under this Act (Indian and Pakistani citizenship Act) may be placed by the Government of Ceylon on a separate electoral register, particularly in view of the fact that the bulk of the citizens do not speak the language of the area in which they reside. This arrangement will last for a period of only ten years. The government of Ceylon agree that in certain constituencies where the number of registered citizen voters is not likely to exceed 250, they shall be put on the national register."

"Citizens whose names are placed in the separate electoral register will be entitled to elect a certain number of members to the House of Representatives, the number being determined after consultation with the Prime Minister of India. The Government of Ceylon expect to complete action in this respect before the present Parliament is dissolved in 1957."

Now what is clear from the Nehru- Kotelawala agreement is that the Indian government agreed to take back those who were not registered under the Indian and Pakistani (citizenship) Act. It should be remembered that during the period when Mr. D. S. Senanayake was the Prime Minister only 52,000 were given citizenship under the above Act. The rest in their applications had indicated that they were Indian/ Pakistani citizens. They were prevented from going back to India by people with vested interests, as happened even later after the Sirima - Shastri Pact.

Secondly those who were registered were to be placed under a separate electoral register particularly in view of the fact that they did not know the language of the area, namely Sinhala. The implication is that they were to learn Sinhala within ten years. Now any country has the right to impose conditions when citizenship is given. Many countries would insist that the applicants know the language of the country. Only in Sri Lanka at present citizenship is given to anybody who can submit an affidavit.

Thirdly the number of members elected to the parliament by the persons registered under the Act had to be determined in consultation with the Prime Minister of India. Even though this could be interpreted as an interference in the affairs of the country it also confirms the fact that the Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka were considered to be Indians before they were registered as citizens of Sri Lanka.

Fourthly by agreeing to include the Indian Tamils registered under the above Act, in certain constituencies in the national register only when the number was not likely to exceed 250 Sri Lankan government had maintained that the members elected to the parliament should not be affected by the inclusion of the new voters.

However all these principles were later abandoned when the politicians realised that there was a block vote in these people, that could be used to come to power. It is unfortunate that the latter day politicians did not follow the policies of Messrs. Senanayake and Kotelawala in this regard.

Mr. Jeyaraj further states: "The Soulbury Constitution had envisaged greater representation for the minorities through four devices. In addition to electorates being determined on population basis a further 25 were allocated on an area basis (one for every 1000 sq. miles). Since the Northern Province (4000 sq. miles) and Eastern Province (4000 sq. miles) were dominated at the time of Independence by Tamils and Muslims it was envisaged that these additional seats would help increase minority representation. But accelerated land settlement of lands in the North-East by the Sinhala people saw the demographic patterns change rapidly."

The question of land settlement has been dealt by people like Prof. G. H. Peiris and Messrs. S. L. Gunasekera and Gamini Iriyagolla and I do not want to repeat their arguments here. However it must be emphasised that, as has been pointed out already, if there were more Tamils in the North and especially in the East it was due to the policies of the British government. The present East except the maritime provinces, which was under the British, was part of the Sinhala kingdom until 1815 and the population was overwhelmingly Sinhala . The Sinhala people in these areas were massacred by the British after the first Independence struggle in 1817-18 and gradually Tamils were settled down. Even the Yapanaya population became more and more Tamil due to the policies of the British. For example in the year 1849, 27732 men, 1430 women and 268 children who were brought from Madras were settled down in the Northern province by the British. If one wants to maintain the demographic ratios at the time of Independence then one is simply following the colonial policies of the British against the Sinhala people. There is nothing wrong in settling down Sinhala people in the present Northern and Eastern provinces to redress the atrocious disadvantages the Sinhala people suffered under the British.

What is interesting is the devices made by the Soulbury constitution to artificially increase the number of Tamil members in the parliament. This is in agreement with our theses that beginning with the second decade of this century, the Tamil racist politicians have refused to accept that the Sinhala people are the majority in the country. They connived with the British to make sure that the Sinhala members were not in a majority in the legislature. We must not forget that all these happened long before 1956.

Mr. Jeyaraj mentions of historical habitats of the Tamils. This concept, which was forced on us by the Indian government in 1987 through the infamous Indo- Lanka agreement cannot be justified on any basis. Many people who were earlier supportive of the concept of traditional homeland/historical habitat have now realised that it is a myth. For example Partha Ghosh in an article to the Economic and Political weekly of India has said: "The theory of traditional Tamil homeland corresponding to the present north-eastern province is largely a hoax." (As reproduced in the Sunday Times August o6, 1995.) But people like Mr. Jeyaraj continue to use these concepts even after the myth has been exploded.

It is becoming clear that these debates and discussions over the television and other media are not going to achieve much as the spokespersons for Tamil racism continue with the same arguments even after they have been adequately dealt with. What we should now have is a debate extending over five days or so, somewhat along the lines of the Panadura debate, taking one question at a time. Any point raised should be argued until one party has no answers to offer. The debate can be held in public or taped in a studio without an audience. However the tapes should be available to the public so that they would know for themselves what has transpired.