The decisive core issue the Eastern Province
By Neville Ladduwahetty
The single most significant issue that would determine the future political structure of the Sri Lankan state is the status of the Eastern Province. The issue is whether the Eastern Province should function politically merged with the Northern Province or separately as an independent political unit. The LTTE and the TNA/TULF justifies the merger of the two provinces on the grounds that the Eastern province forms a part of "historical habitation" of peoples speaking a common language - Tamil. Historical evidence globally demonstrates the invalidity of the presumption that bonds of language alone without social and cultural bonds can automatically be translated to political linkages.
The evidence presented below shows that the Tamils of the two provinces are socially and culturally two separate groups, and that the Tamil-speaking Muslims of the Eastern Province are particular about their distinct separateness in their identity vis-a-vis the Tamils. Consequently, the presumption that the aspirations of Tamil-speaking peoples of the Eastern Province are in resonance with those of the Northern Province is flawed. The concept of a monolithic Tamil nation encompassing the North and east is a product of recent imaginations. Therefore, a political solution based on the arbitrary merger of the two provinces would be at the expense of the human rights of the Tamil-speaking peoples of the Eastern Province leaving aside the human rights of the Sinhalese in the Province.
Tamils of the Eastern Province
In a Monograph titled "Tamils and Muslims Identities in the East" McGilvray states: "This brief excursion into Batticaloa history and anthropology has been necessary in order to explain two important things about the region's contemporary cultural character and inter-ethnic relations. First, there are social, economic, political, and religious patterns deeply-rooted in the region that make the Tamil-speaking parts of Batticaloa and Amparai Districts, and even the southern parts of Trincomalee District, culturally and sociologically distinct from Jaffna and from the Upcountry Tamil region. The east coast Tamil and Muslim culture complex includes joint cultivation systems and interspersed village settlements, matrilineal clan-based temple and mosque leadership roles, matrilocal marriage patterns and total pre-mortem transfers of wealth (both houses and land) as dowry, non-Brahmanical Hindu ritual traditions ... and a regional dialect of Tamil that preserves a number of older literary forms... The high cast Jaffna Tamils, especially the aristocratic Jaffna Velalars, look down upon the Batticaloa Tamils for their alleged lower cast origins and for their less Sanskrit forms of Hindu ritual" (Marga Institute, Marga Monograph Series on Ethnic Reconciliation, No. 24, 2001, p.5).
These social and cultural differences extend to matters relating to law as well. Commenting on the customary laws as it applies to the district of Jaffna, Prof. K. M. de Silva states: "Thus the Tesavalamai, customary laws of the Tamils, codified by the Dutch in 1706-7, and made operative in Jaffna district by the British through Regulation 18 of 1806 was not applicable to the Tamils of Trincomalee and Batticaloa. When its applicability to the Tamils of Trincomalee came up for review before the colony's Supreme Court in 1875 the principle involved was considered to be of sufficient importance - 'of great importance and comparative novelty' - to have the review done by a full bench of that Court. In a landmark judgement the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the District Court of Trincomalee that the operation of the Tesavalamai code was restricted to the Tamils of Jaffna and that the code did not apply to the Tamils of Trincomalee or Batticaloa" ("Separatist Ideology in Sri Lanka", ICES, 1995, p. 18).
These differences prompted Mr. Chelvanayakam to refer to men of the Eastern Province as "the trousered people of Batticaloa". Furthermore, because of these differences the Tamils of Jaffna were uncertain of the support they could hope for from those in the Eastern Province. This led Mr. Chelvanayakam to concentrate "on indoctrinating the Tamil-speaking people of the Eastern province...he did not share the opinion held in some quarters that the Eastern province would not join in the campaign for the creation of a Tamil state in Ceylon...(he) believed in his cause that a united nation could be built from among the different Tamil-speaking groups in the island" (A. J. Wilson, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam A Political Biography, 1994, pp. 32-33).
The evidence that the concept of a Tamil nation in Sri Lanka is a very recent artificially crafted creation is irrefutable. The existence of "different Tamil-speaking groups" is acknowledged. This makes articulating a common self-determination a problem, a fact that was demonstrated in the election of 1977, when ONLY 32.5% of the electorate in the Batticaloa District that had a 71% Tamil majority (1981 Census), supported the TULF's agenda of a separate state. It is abundantly clear from the results of this election that Tamils of the Eastern Province did "not (want to) join in the campaign for the creation of a Tamil state". Therefore, the arbitrary merger of this province to satisfy the ambitions of the Tamils in the North is morally wrong and a serious violation of the fundamental freedoms and human rights of the Tamils as well as all the other peoples of the Eastern province.
The concept of a common internal self-determination for all Tamil-speaking peoples in their "areas of historical habitation" has been challenged not only by most of the Tamils in the Eastern Province but also by the Tamil-speaking peoples as well. The Oluvil Declaration is testimony of the extent the Muslims of the Eastern Province are prepared to go to assert their distinctiveness from the rest in the province. These developments are further indications of the flaws inherent in the concept of a common internal self-determination for all Tamil-speaking peoples.
A federal fromework
If the Tamil and Muslims who jointly constitute the Tamil-speaking peoples of the Eastern Province perceive their identities and internal self-determinations as being different and separate from the Tamils of the Northern Province, the "areas of historical habitation" in the two provinces must necessarily be treated separately and definitely NOT as one consolidated area of historical habitation. This would amount to two separate federal units under a federal arrangement. The commonality of language by itself is not enough of a compelling reason to merge the two provinces since the identities and aspirations of the peoples in the two provinces are separate and distinct.
Since the Tamil-speaking peoples in the Northern Province are 60% of the total Tamil-speaking peoples in the two provinces, the internal self-determination of the larger Tamil federal unit in the North would permanently dominate the internal self-determination of the smaller Tamil-speaking unit in the Eastern Province (40%) if the two provinces are merged under a federal arrangement (1981 Census). Majoritarianism would then be permanently entrenched in a merged North and East federal unit.
Creating two separate federal units would result in the Northern Province becoming a Tamil federal unit with seven Provinces becoming Sinhala federal units, the exception being the Eastern Province that would have no clear ethnic identity. A federal structure in the contextual particularities of Sri Lanka would consolidate ethnic cleavages causing the nurturing of a common Sri Lankan identity to be seriously affected. Regional ethnic identities would become a barrier to the identity of a common citizenship. Ethnically demarcated territorial units would be breeding grounds for suspicion and mistrust. A political arrangement that fails to achieve national cohesion would affect national self-determination causing social and economic development of the whole nation to be adversely affected.
The recurring unrest and violence in the Eastern Province is due to its continued merger with the North despite the social and cultural separateness that exist between the two provinces. If under a federal arrangement the Eastern Province is arbitrarily merged with the Northern Province without the consent of the peoples in the Eastern Province unrest and violence would continue. The theater of conflict that was in the North would shift to the East.
The social and cultural distinctions that exist between the North and the East make it imperative that the two provinces are separate. However, if the two provinces are to be separate units under a federal arrangement, 8 of the 9 federal units would have distinct ethnic identities, the exception being the Eastern province. Ethnically based territorial units would seriously hinder the fostering of a common Sri Lankan identity. Therefore, a federal structure is unsuitable, given the particularities that exist in Sri Lanka.
These ground realities require that alternative approaches are sought through which the self-determination of constituent groups as well as the determination of the collective "self" are realized. In this regard, Prof. Yash Ghai's opinion is that "There can be mechanisms for power sharing through forms other than federations. It can happen in coalition governments which are mandated by the Constitution and which don't arise in the ordinary way of politics" (Daily News, April 28, 2003).
Federal structures represent a combination of shared rule at the center and self-rule at the regional units. Under such arrangements, the right of self-determination, internal or otherwise, to regional units would greatly emphasis self-rule over shared rule at the center. Such imbalances of power coupled with an arbitrarily merged North and East, would result in dissension and instability leading to eventual secession. Alternatively, a federal arrangement where the two provinces are separate would result in emphasizing ethnic identities in the North and in the seven provinces in the South. Therefore, the preferred option should be to give greater weightage to shared rule at the center in a political arrangement that is not federal. By emphasizing shared rule constitutionally, the objective of engaging all communities at the center in a joint quest of a shared self-determination would be realized rather than being dispersed in regional units with racial identities.
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