Sir Pon. Ramanathan was the foster parent of the Sinhalese
Will there ever be a Sinhala Leader a foster parent of the Tamils?

President JR Jayewardene in his Address delivered on the life and work of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan at the Vivekananda Society Colombo on November 30, 1991, reminded the audience that ‘Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan was even called the Tamil who was the foster parent of the Sinhalese’.

JRJ said that ‘In the riots of 1915, the Sinhalese who were Buddhists were jailed and heavy fines imposed before they were released, if they were released at all. Some of them were shot without a judicial trial, the most notorious being the shooting of Pedris’. ‘D.S. Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Free Ceylon was not even permitted to perform his ablutions or change his clothes. He was bundled into a vehicle and taken away’.

JRJ lamented that ‘no foreign leader or country came to our aid. The Press was silent’ and he said that ‘one voice and one alone was heard in the Legislature and outside it, that of Ponnambalam Ramanathan. Ramanathan read over 120 petitions from the heart-broken relatives of the murdered and the jailed. His tone never faltered: his writings conveyed his feelings of horror and despair’.

JRJ observed that ‘in his second phase, as an elected Legislator, Ramanathan single-handed saved the Sinhala race from destruction citing again what happened to the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans, the Assyrians, the Grecians and the Romans. He did this now by taking on single-handed the worst exhibition of British Imperialism as displayed by the 1915 Martial Law atrocities directed solely against the Sinhalese.’

‘At the setting of the Sun and in the Morning, we will remember him’, so declared JRJ.

Lo! What happened to the Tamils since 1956?

The Tamils had to face periodical pogroms at the sun-set and in the morning. The high sounding claptrap of the Sinhalese leaders have so far failed to give leadership to accommodate the reasonable expectations of the Tamils. There were promises and agreements made from time to time by the Sinhalese leaders but all of them were reneged.

As early as 1918 Sinhala leaders agreed in writing dated 7TH December 1918 to actively support a provision for the reservation of a seat to the Tamils in the Western Province so long as the electorate remained territorial but later they repudiated their solemn agreement.

When the minorities wanted a statutory provision to include minorities in the Cabinet of Ministers the Soulbury Commissioners declined to include such a provision in the Constitution as the Sinhala leaders gave a solemn undertaking that in forming a Government, they would ‘offer a proportion of the portfolios to representatives of the minorities’. This solemn promise was reneged continuously and deliberately for about nine years commencing from 1956 till 1965. During this period no Tamil was included in the Cabinet of Ministers. Even today no meaningful ministerial portfolio has been given to the North, East Tamils.

In the year 1946 the Delimitation Commission recommended representation for ‘Indian Tamils. The General Elections held in 1947 had seven Members of Parliament to represent ‘the Indian Tamils’ but soon after the independence, the Citizenship Act and an Amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Ordinance were enacted, nullifying the legislative scheme provided by the Delimitation Commission and the Soulbury Constitution. These two Acts disfranchised the Indian Estate workers who had been living in this country for more than three generations.

Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution created a set of safeguards. However, the successive governments from 1947 to 1972 have dismantled even the constitutional safeguards of the minorities provided in the Soulbury Constitution.

The Select Committee, appointed by the State Council, gave a Report to make Sinhalese and Tamil as Official Languages. Sessional Papers were published from 1946 to 1953 but no steps were taken to implement both languages as official languages. In 1956, the Sinhala Nation repudiated the Select Committee Report and Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution by enacting Act No.33 of 1956 making Sinhala, only the official language. What was worse, even the Senate was also abolished without providing alternative provisions to promote the interests of the minorities.

In 1957 BC Pact was signed, setting out proposals to resolve the problems of the Tamils. The pact was later torn into shreds.

The March 1960 General Elections produced a hung parliament. Since the SLFP, led by C.P. de Silva, gave an oral undertaking to revive the BC Pact, FP supported SLFP to form the government. However, the then Governor General called Dudley Senanayake to form the Government. On the basis of the undertaking given by SLFP, FP joined the SLFP and defeated the government of Dudley Senanayake. The July 1960 General Elections gave an absolute SLFP majority and Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first woman Prime Minister. After the hour of victory, the solemn promise was not honoured.

In 1965 Elections, though UNP became victorious, it required support from FP to form the government. Dudley said ‘I have been in politics for thirty years. I have never gone back on my promise’ and consequently Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact was signed. In terms of this pact certain ‘proposals for the establishment of District Councils Bill under absolute direction and control of the Central Government’ was gazetted. However, the pact was abandoned due to joint opposition staged by SLFP, LSSP and CP.

The tenure of the SLEFP government from 1970 to 1977 witnessed the negative effects of the standardization and quota system of education on the Tamils and denied opportunities of the Tamils for government jobs. Whither the Tamils!!

In the manifesto of the UNP for 1977 General Elections, it was promised that the party would ‘take all possible steps to remedy the grievances of the Tamils in such fields as, education, colonization, use of Tamil language and employment in the public and semi-public corporations’. In 1977 the UNP swept to power but the promises made in the manifesto were never honoured.

In the 1977 General Elections, though TULF received a mandate from the Tamils to establish Tamil Eelam, they accepted the Office of the Leader of the Opposition under the unitary Constitutions of 1972 and 1978. They worked towards decentralization of power within a unitary structure.

The TULF approved the Draft Bill of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and fully endorsed it. They accepted District Development Councils as an alternate to Tamil Eelam. The Government promised to include in the DDC Act sufficient powers to satisfy the Tamils.

In June 1981 DDC Election was held and during its campaign, the Jaffna Library containing 95,000 volumes, market area, Jaffna MP’s house and adjoining four houses, TULF party headquarters, all were burnt to ashes.

Senator Nadarajah from TULF was elected Chairman of the Council but after about an year he resigned from his Chairmanship stating that he did not have the minimum power even to ‘purchase tables and chairs’ for the Council and thereafter the election for DDC was never held.

The administration of the local government bodies, even if they were dissolved by the Minister, would be carried on by a Commissioner till the new members were elected at a fresh election. However, upon the resignation of Senator Nadarajah, no new Chairman was elected: no Commissioner was appointed to take over the administration of the DDC and no election was ever held to it thereafter. It was a cavalier treatment. Thus, the Tamils were left high and dry.

Consequent to the Indo – Sri Lanka Pact, 13TH Amendment to the Constitution was gazetted. It had two parts: one part was in regard to the Official Language and the other part to provide decentralization of powers through Provincial Council system.

The scope, nature and effect of making Tamil also an Official Language has been effectively nullified by Article 18 (4) of the Constitution, rendering legislation necessary for the implementation of Tamil as an Official Language. However, in relation to Sinhala as the Official Language the Constitution provides the manner of its use direct from the Constitution and JRJ refused to allow the same mechanism to take place in relation to Tamil as an Official Language.

Consequent upon India’s persuasion Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution was enacted in December 1988 by which most of the anomalies in regard to the constitutional status of the Tamil Language, so created by the 13TH Amendment to the Constitution, were rectified.

It is contemplated in powerful circles that Parliament should enact laws to implement the Tamil language as also an official language. This brings out succinctly that attempt is being made to relegate the constitutional provision for the use of Tamil Language even after the 16TH Amendment.

Dr. Colvin R de Silva, who was one time a protagonist of the prophetic statement that ‘One language two nations, two languages one nation’, brought the Sinhala Only Act into the Constitution of 1972 and destroyed Article 29 of the Soulbury Constitution, taking away all the safeguards provided by the said Article 29. One wonders whether the same ploy is now being practised.

The plight of the Tamils today is worse than that of the Sinhalese during the Martial Law debacle. Then, there was one noble Tamil, Sir Pon. Ramanathan who stood bravely to defend the rights of the Sinhalese. No Sinhala leader has so far stood up to defend the rights of the Tamils.

Will there ever be a Sinhala leader who will be a foster parent of the Tamils to regain for them their legitimate rights?

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