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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2252

A response to Prof. Nalin De Silva and Mr. Udaya Gamanpila by Dr. S. Thavarajah on behalf of EPDP at the APRC

I had already informed this committee that I do not intend to delve into the past history or on the issue of Tamil grievances and aspirations; rather I preferred to address on the subject of how to solve the problem of the Tamil Speaking People, in particular to those living in North and East. I had also said that the Tamil leaders for more than five decades in the past have expounded the grievances and aspirations to the leaders in the South and even agreements were reached to overcome those issues that were identified, though they were subsequently either abrogated or not implemented. I very clearly stated that it was not the time to argue whether the Tamils have a problem or not (in response to questions raised by few committee members). I further said that His Excellency the President has appointed this committee to find a solution to the problem faced by the country, and as such, I would straightaway address on our party's point of view in resolving the problems of the Tamil Speaking People.Dr. S. Thavarajah" I being the only person at this committee representing the interest of the Tamils from the North and East through my party, EPDP, I think there is a duty cast on me to put forward the facts in the right perspective, or else, I will err in the history of the Tamils in this country." Dr. S. Thavarajah" I being the only person at this committee representing the interest of the Tamils from the North and East through my party, EPDP, I think there is a duty cast on me to put forward the facts in the right perspective, or else, I will err in the history of the Tamils in this country."

Accordingly, I have elaborated during my deliberation, that it is only through a mechanism of devolution of power to the areas where Tamil Speaking People have been living predominantly and an arrangement for power sharing at the centre that we could reach towards a solution that would fulfill the aspirations of the Tamil Speaking People.

However, in view of the fact that Professor Nalin de Silva and Mr. Gamanpila have presented facts focusing on the historical development of the ethnic divide in a different perspective, I being the only person at this committee representing the interest of the Tamils from the North and East through my party, EPDP, I think there is a duty cast on me to put forward the facts in the right perspective, or else, I will err in the history of the Tamils in this country. Hence, I wish to present the events and causes in a chronological sequence that have led to the demand for devolution of power arrangement in those arrears where the Tamil people have been living in concentration and contiguity, and for a power sharing arrangement at the centre.

Professor Nalin de Silva commenced his deliberation from the period the British started their dominion in Sri Lanka, in or about 1833 and Mr. Gamanpila from early history. I would like to trace back to about 2000 years from today.

Historical Assertion

The Tamil peoples' contention is that they have been living in this country for more than two millenniums, almost the same period as that of the Sinhalese. I can cite a lot of books such as "Vaiya", "Yalpana Vaipava Malai", "Madakalapu Tamilakam", and books written by people like Father Gnanapragasar, Professor K. Kanapathipillai, Mudaliyar S. Rasanayagam, Dr. K. Indrapala, Dr. K. Kunarasa etc. But Prof. Nalin de Silva and Mr. Gamanoillai, no doubt, will counter it saying that all these books were written by Tamils authors and have projected the history from the Tamils' perspective. Similarly it is the view of the Tamil people that the Mahavamsa, Deepavamsa and Choolavamsa which were authored by Buddhist monks have failed to record the Tamil side of the history.

Hence, Mr. Chairman, I wish to quote from independent sources to support the Tamil peoples' assertion that they too have been living in this country from time immemorial.

Firstly, I wish to quote from what I have found from the most popular Internet Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, under the headings Ancient Tamil History and History of Sri Lanka. I quote.

"The ancient Tamil country refers to the areas of South India and Northeastern Sri Lanka in which Tamil was a major language during ancient times. During the Sangam period, this area was ruled by three Tamil dynasties of Chola, Chera, Pandya, Kongu and Tondai. The main sources of information including socio political and cultural practices of the ancient Tamil country are from the Sangam literature, the ancient Tamil literature dating from 100 BCE to 200CE, epigraphical evidences, numismatics and a few references in Greek, Latin and Sanskrit."

"Mahavamsa is a very belated literary text, written more than 1000 years after Vijaya and his companions landed on Tambapani in 543 BCE (or 486 BCE). The story was handed over from generation to generation till it was reduced to writing by Buddhist Monk Mahanama thero, brother of the Sri-Lankan King Dhatusena, in 6 th century AD. The oral accounts are always prone to alterations and additions. Therefore, oral tradition about Vijaya and his followers may have been altered and tuned to reflect the historical, political and social realities which prevailed in India and Sri Lanka around that time ( i.e. 6th century AD ). Or else, the later revisions of Mahavamsa may have been subject to alterations and interpolations by the later Monks under political influence from the ruling dynasties of later generations. There are obvious contradictions in the geographical setting of the Sihabahu/Vijay story as incorporated in the Mahavamsa ( Chapter VI ). Moreover, the actual story is too fantastic to be trusted at its face value. The lack of references to the north-eastern states or its people in the ancient epigraphic inscriptions of Anuradhapura (the earliest known records of the island) is a clear indication that the immigrants from north-east India were the later players in the game."

"Tamil presence is noted throughout the country's written history. Its origins are not dated, but most post-date the arrival of the Dravidian language group in South India sometime in prehistory. Given the island's proximity to the Deccan Plateau, people of different ethnicities must have traveled to and from it throughout human history. There were repeated wars between the Sinhalese and Indian invaders, and for much of the first millennium AD the island was controlled by various Tamil princes." I unquote.

I have also with me a map found in the same Encyclopedia in the same chapter under the caption as the "Political map of South India, 210 BCE" where you can see a substantial part of Sri Lanka been shown as under the domination of Cholas.

Secondly, I wish to quote from what I have found in the US Library of Congress country report on Sri Lanka. I quote.

"Confirmation of the island's first colonizers—whether the Sinhalese or Sri Lankan Tamils – has been elusive, but evidence suggests that Sri Lanka has been, since earliest times, a multiethnic society. Sri Lankan historian K. M. de Silva believes that settlement and colonization by Indo- Aryan speakers may have preceded the arrival of Dravidian settlers by several centuries, but that early mixing rendered the two ethnic groups almost physically indistinct."

"The chronicles also tell of an early and constant migration of artisan and mercantile Tamils to Sri Lanka."

"Because the Mahavamsa is essentially a chronicle of the early Sinhalese- Buddhist royalty on the island, it does not provide information on the island's early ethnic distributions. There is, for instance, only scant evidence as to when the first Tamil settlements were established."

"There is some debate among historians as to whether settlement by Indo-Aryan speakers preceded settlement by Dravidian-speaking Tamils, but there is no dispute over the fact that Sri Lanka, from its earliest recorded history, was a multiethnic society. Evidence suggests that during the early centuries of Sri Lankan history there was considerable harmony between the Sinhalese and Tamils." I unquote.

Thirdly, I would like to quote from the report of Colonel the Right Honourable Oliver Stanley, Secretary of state for the Colonies to His Majesty's Government in 1944. He was sent to Sri Lanka as a special emissary in late 1944 to examine and discuss any proposal on constitutional reform. In his report under the caption "Historical Background", he states as follows. I quote.

"Since the dawn of history, the Island has been subjected to invasions and, for a variety of reasons, the successive waves of invaders who settled there and became the ancestors of the present population have never been completely fused into a united and homogeneous people. The main source of these invaders was naturally India, and it was thence that, according to tradition, the Sinhalese, who are the majority community, came in the sixth century B.C. When their age-long struggle began with the Tamils, the principal minority community, who also came from India, is obscure."

"The Sinhalese, who number to-day about four millions, and the Ceylon Tamils, of whom there are nearly 700,000 are thus the descendant of the early settlers in the Island." I unquote.

Fourthly, I wish to quote from the book titled "The Historic Tragedy of the Island of Ceilao " by Caption Joao Ribeiro, who has served in the Portuguese army for about eighteen years. In his book he states as follows. I quote.

" There were the seven kingdoms which were usually said to make up the island of Ceilao without including the kingdom of Jafanapatao although it is in the same island; for this does not consist of Chingalas, but is a settlement of the Malavars; and also the other kingdoms which used to exist there in ancient times, such as those of Batecalou, Trequimale and Jaula, which have not been considered as such for many years." I unquote.

Fifthly, I have a map showing the Dutch maritime territory ceded to the British in 1796 & 1815. This is known as Du Perron's map found in the Dutch Royal Archives by the then Surveyor-General Grinlinton. The importance of this map is that, it formed the basis of all the maps of Ceylon produced in early British days. In it the boundaries of the three kingdoms of the mid-thirteenth century is distinctly marked. According to this map, they are the kingdom of Jaffna, Kotte and Kanda Uda Pas Rata.

Mr. Chairman, with all these illustrations what I am trying to establish is that the Tamil people of this country have a genuine claim, that they too have been living in this country from the time of known history.

They have preserved their linguistic, cultural and socio political identity throughout the history. They have exercised their collective political will through Principalities (union of villages) and Kingdoms and thus ensured their Safety, Security, Social Protection and Social Justice. The extent of areas under the control of these Principalities and Kingdoms varied from time to time.

There had been periods of wars with the southern or Sinhala Kings and also periods of co-existence. They have even joined in hands at times of crises. For example, it is said, that the last king of Jaffna, Sangilian, in support of the Kings of Seethawake and Kandy sent troops to Kotte in 1545 to fight against the Portuguese.

Also there were periods; they had been subjugated to Sinhala Kings and vice- versa. They had been under the rule of South Indian Kings as well. Even during the periods of subjugation or under the rule of Sinhala and Indian Kings, the King or the Kingdoms might have ceased to exist, but the Principalities or the Villages sustained their identity and exercised their collective political will through the chieftains, except for the fact that they duly paid the taxes to the ruler.

Ample evidence to this effect is available in the books I have already referred to and in the books such as " The History of Ceylon from the Earliest Times to 1600 A.D." by Joao de Barros and Diogo do Couto, ”The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon” (in three volumes) by Father Fernao De Queyroz and "The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka - The Portuguese period by V. Perniola (in three volumes).

I do not want to waste too much of time by quoting from these books. What I am trying to emphasize is that the history of a people is not necessarily the history of the Kings and Kingdoms alone and it is so with the Tamil people in our country. The best person who has illustrated this in Sri Lankan context is G.C. Mendis in his book "The Early History of Ceylon". I quote.

"The system of government during this period cannot be understood unless it is realized that there was very little central control, partly owing to the lack of proper communications. The sub-kings and the chiefs like the village communities were rarely interfered with, as long as they remained loyal and paid the King's dues." I unquote.

In short, what I am trying to elucidate, Mr. Chairman, is that the Tamils who have been living in this country from time immemorial have lived in concentration and contiguity in certain parts of the country and have exercised their own political will either through the ascendancy of Kingdoms or otherwise. If I were to say that in modern constitutional terms that they had exercised Autonomous Political Power to a greater extent in those areas under their domain. This assertion of the Tamils is going to form the basis of my presentation hereinafter.

Colonial Rule

Now let me, Mr. Chairman, look into the position during the colonial rule. During the period the maritime territories were under the rule of the Portuguese and then the Dutch, they had different administrative set ups for the Tamil dominant and the Sinhalese dominant areas respectively. I can produce a map showing the administrative divisions during the Dutch.

It is only in 1833 that the British consolidated their power and introduced a tightly centralized administrative system with five administrative provinces. On the recommendations made by Colebrooke-Cameron commission, they also introduced a legislative council and nominated three native representatives to this body, one Sinhalese, one Ceylon Tamil and one Burgher. It is from this period, Professor Nalin said, that he is concerned about. Yes, it is true; it is a historic turning point in the polity of the Tamils as well. It is only from this period that they (the Principalities and Kingdoms of the Tamils referred to by me earlier) were brought under a mechanism of sharing of political power, although in reality the power of that legislative body was very minimal.

Professor Nalin made three comments about its composition. One is that the composition is disproportionate to the ethnic ratio; the other is that the Tamil nominees throughout belonged to Colombo based elite class and the third is that the Tamil represented the Muslims as well.

In this connection, I wish to look into the principles on which the Colebrooke-Cameron commission report was based upon. According to the report of the Secretary of State for the Colonies Oliver Stanley to His Majesty's Government in 1944 on "Constitutional Development up to the Donoughmore Constitution of 1931". I quote.

"The main burden of the investigation fell on the shoulders of Lieutenant Colonel W.M.G.Colebrooke, who proved indefatigable in visiting all parts of the Island and collecting a great quantity of valuable information. He had very definite views on matters of principle, based, consciously or unconsciously, on the teachings of Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham."

"The creation of a Legislature presented a serious problem in a country where he recognized;'the people are unprepared for popular institutions "

"The Legislative Council was to contain nine Official and six Unofficial Members, the Unofficials to be nominated 'as far as possible in equal proportions from the respectable European merchants or inhabitants and the higher classes of natives'……..A beginning was thus made in which the Ceylonese had a share"

"He found that the Governor's powers were practically unlimited, a sate of affairs he strongly condemned." I unquote.

Dr. S. Thavarajah - a former Member of Parliament and Spokesperson EPDP.

- To be continued tomorrow

- Asian Tribune -

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