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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 114

The myth of a traditional Tamil Homeland unmasked; when did the tradition begin?

By Rizana Gazzali

Secession is not a remedy for every ethno-religious conflict in the world. It is certainly not the solution for the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, which is viewed by some as an ethnic conflict. However, the roots of the conflict lie in poverty and underdevelopment. Sri Lanka Ambassador in the U.S., Bernard Goonetilleke, explained that Sri Lanka Tamils’ cause was later hijacked by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in aiming to establish a mono-ethnic fascist state in the north and the east of Sri Lanka, through violent means. He was referring to a statement by U.S. constitutional lawyer, Bruce Fein, published in the web site of Tamils for Justice, a front organization of the LTTE.Ambassador Goonetilleke admitted that the tragedy of Sri Lanka was punctuated by missed opportunities and acts, the result of political greed of many.Ambassador Goonetilleke admitted that the tragedy of Sri Lanka was punctuated by missed opportunities and acts, the result of political greed of many.

For a stiff fee of $90,000 for the first three months of his services, Fein cannot but play the piper’s tune, albeit, most unconvincingly and inaccurately. In a deeply flawed article titled “Tamil Statehood,” in the Washington Times of January 28, 2008, Fein said, “To deny the statehood right — sought by the Tamil people since 1976 — would mark one of the United States' most ill-conceived hours.”

Ambassador Goonetilleke pointed out that the Vaddukkodai Resolution of 1976 has been skillfully exploited by the Eelamists to distort history, geography and demography, to mislead the world on a dubious claim of a traditional Tamil homeland. His reflections reached another plateau as he referred to the 1977 Election Manifesto of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), which had laid the initial false claim for Tamil Eelam. The Ambassador quoted from the manifesto, “Even before the Christian era, the entire island of Ceylon was ruled by the Tamil kings Senan, Kudditan and Elara (Ellalan), and thereafter, for over a thousand years, as a result of a struggle for supremacy between the Tamil kings and the Sinhalese kings, the capital of Sinhalese kings was gradually shifted southwards, away from Tamil centres. These are facts of recorded history. It is also a fact that the entire island was under sway of Tamil kings at times, and the Sinhalese kings at other times. From this background of altering fortunes emerged at the beginning of the 13th century, a clear and stable political fact. At this time, the territory stretching in the western seaboard, from Chilaw through Puttalam to Mannar, and thence to the Northern Regions, and in the East, Trincomalee and also the Batticaloa region and extended southwards up to Kumana or the northern banks of the river Kumbakhan Oya, were firmly established as the exclusive homeland of the Tamils. This is the territory of Eelam.”

Thus, Ambassador Goonetilleke explained, how the TULF deceptively used the fallacious Minute made by the first British Colonial Secretary, Hugh Cleghorn in 1799 in his ignorance, to argue that Tamils occupied the land from Walawe River in the south east to Chilaw, in the north west of the island.

Through fascinating insights into history, the Ambassador exposed the deception of the Eelamists, with unassailable facts from the annals of the past. For instance, through alluding to the management of the country’s lands during colonial times, he explained that from 1801 to 1833, no changes had been made by the British to the composition of the former Dutch territories. However, in 1833, following the Colebrooke and Cameron reforms, the island was divided into 5 provinces, which resulted in the former Kandyan territories of Nuwara Kalaviya, (present day North Central Province), being annexed to the Northern Province, while Thamankaduwa (Polonnaruwa), to the Eastern Province, along with large tracts of land from the Kandyan Kingdom comprising Bintenna, Uva and Panama. The Ambassador quoted Lenox A. Mills, from his publication ‘Ceylon Under British Rule,’ where he says that the British stratagem was “intended to weaken the national feelings of the Kandyans.”

Other documented information point to the fact that, contrary to the TULF claims of “an exclusive homeland of the Tamils,” Tamil settlements in the north and the east were of recent historical origin. Professor Karthigesu Indrapala of the Jaffna University, who, in his article titled ‘Early Tamil Settlements in Ceylon,’ makes a significant observation. “Looking back on the body of evidence that is available to us, we have to conclude that there were no widespread Tamil settlements before the Tenth Century.” His conclusions are redolent with powerful implications against Tamil Eelam, when he says, “However, the majority of the settlers appear to have migrated to that region (i.e. to the Jaffna Peninsula), in the latter half of the 13th Century.”

I listened, fascinated, as Ambassador Goonetilleke pulled out information from his fount of knowledge, with the professionalism of a seasoned intellectual. As he presented the facts with unfaltering precision, I could see the claim of “Tamil Eelam” eroding before my very eyes.

The facts speak for themselves with the clarity of truth. Portuguese historian De Queyros in his publication titled ‘Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon,” says that in the 16th century, Jaffnapatnam was a “sub-kingdom under a sub-ruler,” under the authority of the King of Kotte. If Jaffna was a sub-kingdom in the 16th century, where was the independent Tamil Kingdom of the 13th century, the Eelamists speak of De Queyros also makes the point that when the Portuguese expelled the Moors (i.e. Muslims), from their territories in 1626, King Senarath of Kandy resettled some of them in the east, and, “4000 were settled in Batticaloa alone by the idolatrous King.” The King of Kandy could resettle people in Batticaloa because that area was under his suzerainty, just as much as the other areas of the east coast of the island. When Robert Knox, an English doctor, natural scientist and traveler, reached the eastern shores of the island in 1660, and landed at Kottiar Bay, he was captured, not by the soldiers of the then ruler of Jaffna, but by the soldiers of King Rajasinghe of Kandy. If the eastern coast of the island had been under the ruler of Jaffna, how could King Rajasinghe’s soldiers have had any authority in the area?

The records left by the Dutch missionary, Phillipus Baldeus, who had been in Jaffnapattnam in 1658, reveal that the King of Jaffna had jurisdiction over a limited area of the north, including Jaffnapattnam, the adjacent isles and the island of Mannar. However, the major part of the Vanni, which encompasses present day Mannar, Kilinochchi, Vavyniya and Mullaithivu districts, and the entire Eastern Province, came under the authority of the Kandyan Kingdom. This is the reason for Dutch Governor, Ryckloff Van Goens, to report, in 1663, as Kandyan kings held sway over the east, “The country between Waluwe and Trinquenemale (Trincomalee), mostly stretches East and South East, as far as Jale (Yala in the south east). I have not been able to visit this District as it is entirely inhabited by the King’s people.”Ambassador explained that it took over a century for the Dutch, to the time of Governor Flack in 1766, to wrest control of the coastal areas in the east from the Kandyan King. Governor Flack coerced King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe of Kandy, to cede a small strip of land four miles wide, along the eastern seaboard of the island. If, as the Eelamists claim, the east was under the King of Jaffna, Ambassador Goonetilleke asked, why did Governor Flack sign a treaty with the Kandyan King, and why did Governor Goens report that the Kandyan King’s subjects live along the eastern sea coast? Then again, why did Tamil scholars such as Mudliyar C. Rasanayagam and Prof. Karthigesu Indrapala claim that Jaffnapattnam, was first inhabited by the Sinhalese and subsequently, by the Tamils, toward the “latter part of the 13th century”?

It is against this factual backdrop that Ambassador Goonetilleke asks, “When the Eelam lobby speaks of the north and the east being ‘a traditional homeland of the Tamils,’ when did this tradition begin exactly?” Yes, when exactly? Was it since “time immemorial” as the TULF Election Manifesto of 1977 states? Or was it since 1987, when the government of Sri Lanka was forced to accept such a concept with the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord?

LTTE leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, in his Heroes’ Day speech in November 2007, unwittingly unmasks the reason for the deception about a traditional homeland. He lamented, “...although 80 million Tamils live all around the globe, the Tamils do not have a country of their own.” How many of these 80 million Tamils does Prabhakaran hope to settle in his mythical “Tamil homeland” in the north and the east? The question that immediately springs to mind is whether Prabhakaran is seeking to establish a “Greater Tamil homeland” beyond the shores of Sri Lanka. If he is seeking a homeland for 80 million Tamils around the world, this would certainly appear to be the case. Remember the separatist struggle of the Tamils in Tamil Nadu in the 1950s, until secession was forbidden by the central government of India in 1963?

Ambassador Goonetilleke recalled the statement by Thamilendhi, the financial czar of the LTTE, on March 18, 2008,“In ancient times, the whole of India was a Tamil land. And the Chola kings (from Tamil Nadu), ruled over Sri Lanka for 70 years. Today, the Tamils are slaves in India, and are fighting for their liberation in Sri Lanka.” On the same subject, the Ambassador whizzed me off to a flashback, to 1939, when the Tamils in India were demanding a separate state, to the first “Tamil Nadu for Tamils” conference, where Mr. C.N. Annadurai was the principal speaker. This was the time that the Dravida Kazhagam (DK), and its offshoot, Dravida Munnetra Khazagam (DMK), had as their primary goal, an independent Dravida Nadu. Subsequently, with the Central Government enacting a law banning parties and individuals from demanding independence from India, DMK abandoned its demand, and those who supported secession were eventually forced to demand something short of total independence from India. This brought to life an embryonic ‘Tamil Nation,’ within India, with maximum devolution of powers. Due to the crackdown by the Indian central government, the ‘Tamil Nation,’ concept went underground in India and resurfaced in 1976, in a less hostile environment in Sri Lanka.

Is Bruce Fein, unaware of the diabolical plans of the Eelam lobby? Has he any idea of the history behind the dubious claim for Tamil Eelam? May be not, for his ignorance becomes more apparent each time he attempts to assert his opinion. For instance, he tries to justify the separatist demand of the Tamil lobby, by bringing in the recent unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo. “The reason why the Kosovo independence is so significant is because it addresses an issue that's prevalent throughout the world...” continues Fein, “But surely I think the Kosovo independence should shine a spotlight on these areas of the world, because I think in the long run separate statehoods create greater stability,” and gives the example of the breakup of former Yugoslavia, unmindful of the carnage that ensued. He seems to ignore the ethnic mix in the Eastern Province, and the greater number of Sri Lankan Tamils, who have made other areas of the island their home, since fleeing the Tigers’ den in the north and the east.

Ambassador Goonetilleke observed that Fein appears to be desirous of drawing a parallel between Sri Lanka and Kosovo. However, he seems to have overlooked statements made by the countries, which hurriedly recognized the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo. For example, on February 18, 2008, U.S. Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice, said, “The unusual combination of factors found in the Kosovo situation -- including the context of Yugoslavia's breakup, the history of ethnic cleansing and crimes against civilians in Kosovo, and the extended period of UN administration -- are not found elsewhere and therefore make Kosovo a special case.” She emphasized, “Kosovo cannot be seen as a precedent for any other situation in the world today.”

Similarly, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, in an interview with BBC Radio 4 Today program, on February 19, 2008, said of Kosovo’s declaration of independence, “What makes it unique is that for nine years, there's been a UN protectorate within the independent country of Serbia. That does mean that this is a unique case and I think it's not one that can be equated to the Basque issue or some of the other issues that have been raised.”

That was not all. When the EU members met in Brussels recently, they agreed that Kosovo should not set a precedent for other states, with Spain and others, concerned about separatism stalking their countries. However, such principled positions are not expected to deter a hardnosed lawyer of the ilk of Fein.

Ambassador Goonetilleke pointed out that although Fein, on February 24, 2008, confidently referred to, “Sri Lanka in particular, with which I am familiar,” his article in the Washington Times on January 29, 2008, reveals that he is ignorant about even the basic facts on Sri Lanka – such as the difference between Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils. Fein says in his article, “Immediately upon independence, the Sinhalese denied citizenship and disenfranchised a staggering 1 million Tamils, …” He appears to believe he is referring to Sri Lankan Tamils, but in reality he is talking about Indian Tamils. I find it presumptious that he should boast of his familiarity with the Sri Lanka situation, when he is ignorant of this basic distinction between Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils. Doesn’t he know that Sri Lankan Tamils were citizens of Ceylon, and therefore the issue of denying them citizenship at the time of independence does not arise? “Disenfranchisement” was with reference to Indian Tamils, who were brought in as temporary workers by the British in the 19th century, to work as bonded laborers on the tea plantations. Ambassador Goonetilleke illustrated with a contemporary example. “Today, Sri Lankans by the hundreds and thousands are working in the Middle East, as temporary workers. Can they claim citizenship in the Middle Eastern countries on the basis that they worked and lived there for many years?” he asked. Furthermore, he maintained that any newly independent country has the right to decide who should form or has a claim to be the citizens of that country. The Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 provided for those born in Ceylon, prior to November 1949, of a father born in Ceylon, to be recognized as a citizen of Ceylon.

That Act was followed by the Indian and Pakistani (Residents) Citizenship Act of 1949, which sought to grant Ceylon Citizenship to people, who were able to satisfy residence in Ceylon for a period of 7 years from 1st January, 1939, in case of married persons, and for a period of 10 years (from 1st January, 1936) for unmarried persons. This arrangement enabled about 145,000 persons of Indian Origin to acquire citizenship of Ceylon leaving approximately 700,000 whose citizenship had to be determined through negotiations with India. As the Ambassador explained, the matter was sorted out after negotiations with India in 1964 and 1974 with other local administrative and legal arrangements, ending up with the ‘Grant of Citizenship of Persons of Indian Origin Act (Act No. 35 of 2003).

Ambassador Goonetilleke has a question for the Eelam lobby. “Can they explain why G.G. Ponnambalam (Sr.) voted in favor of the Indian Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act of 1949, having voted against the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948?” And why S.V. J Chelvanayakam voted against both Acts and broke away from the ACTC and established the Federal Party in 1949?

As the Ambassador explained, Ponnambalam founded the first Tamil political party, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), and stood for the principle of minority representation. He then referred to a quote by G.G. Ponnambalam (Jr.), referring to a press statement made by the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) in the "Daily News" of 23rd June 1962….. "Had the TC been given an additional portfolio, as earlier agreed, it is a matter for conjecture as to whether Mr. Chelvanayakam and his followers would have been in a position to vote against the Bill".The CWC represents the Indian Tamils on whose issue the Federal Party claims it split from the ACTC! However, Premier D.S. Senanayake, for reasons best known to him, refused to accept Chelvanayakam to his cabinet, thereby leading to the establishment of the Federal Party by the latter. The rest is history.

If the decision taken by the newly independent government was a treacherous act, did not the Tamil leadership of the day, collude with such policies? However, G.G. Ponnambalam (Jr.) disagrees that his father’s decision in 1949 was wrong. Referring to V. P. Vittachi's letter to the Editor in "The Sunday Times" of October 6, under the headline "G.G. Ponnambalam and the Indian Tamils" he said on 13th October 1996, “Yes, I do not deny that G.G. Ponnambalam (Sr.) voted for the Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act No. 3 of 1949, and the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act No. 48 of 1949, and see no wrong in having done so. In fact, I would go so far as to say that was the correct thing to have been done, under the circumstances. Perhaps, what he did was endorsed by the voters of the Northern Province in 1952…”

Before resting his case, Ambassador Goonetilleke admitted that the tragedy of Sri Lanka was punctuated by missed opportunities and acts, the result of political greed of many. What is needed is a tiny window of opportunity to demonstrate that Sri Lankans are able to leave the past behind and forge a new unity for the common good of future generations. He sees the recent decision of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to implement in full, the 13th amendment to the constitution, as a first step in that direction. Despite the small size of the country, the Ambassador believes the island is large enough for all of its citizens of all ethnic groups. There is no need for unacceptable myths and erroneous minutes.

So, pray tell me, where are the historical, archaeological and epigraphical evidence to prove the existence of a traditional Tamil homeland in the north and the east? Where does the tradition begin?

- Asian Tribune –

Also Read

1. Bruce Fein's Desperate Dilemma: White Washing LTTE or Getting Sri Lankan Ambassador to a Debate, Both Beyond His Reach

2. Bruce Fein, LTTE Attorney has Still Not Replied to Asian Tribune

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