REPRESENTATIONS TO THE LLRC I: GRIEVANCES



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Malinda Seneviratne
PREAMBLE


My representations are framed by my understanding of the teaching of Siddhartha Gauthama, in particular the Charter on Free Inquiry, the Kalama Sutra. As such I would hope that my submissions privilege reason over emotion and moreover call for the same privileging in the matter of learning lessons and imagining and implementing measures of reconciliation subject to the caveat that conclusions drawn are regularly verified in practice and adjusted in accordance to flaws discerned. My appeal is further framed by the two principle drivers proposed by the Buddha: wisdom and compassion. Reconciliation connotes a bridging of difference, a coming together. It assumes therefore disjuncture, disunity, dissatisfaction and disagreement. In the matter at hand the operative term would be ‘grievance’. I am of the view that if grievance is perceived then it is real. Grievances can be imagined of course, but to the extent that even such constructions factor into real life politics and provoke outcomes, they need to be treated as real for the aggrieved. To the extent that such grievances are felt by a citizen then it is incumbent on the state to ensure that there is a mechanism to address these grievances, ascertain their true dimensions and deliver redress.


Grievances, as articulated by Tamil representatives, self-appointed or otherwise, are broadly of two kinds: the traditional homeland claim and inequalities or anomalies pertaining to citizenship.


TRADITIONAL HOMELAND CLAIM


History


With respect to the first, that of traditional homelands, I submit the following:


On February 14, 1766, Kirthi Sri Rajasinha, the King of the Kandyan Kingdom ceded a stretch of land in the Eastern part of the island, 10 miles in width from the coast to the Dutch East India Company. The relevant maps are contained in Fr. S. G. Perera’s History of Ceylon’. Prof. James Crawford refers to this treaty in his book ‘The creation of states in international law’ as one of the earliest such agreements recorded.


The implication is that the Kandyan Kingdon had the right to cede that portion of land and that it continued to have sovereignty over the rest of the territory until the British obtained full control of the island in 1815.


In 1766 therefore there was no question of sovereignty of any other polity and when the relinquished sovereignty was recovered and reasserted in 1948 by the State of Ceylon it naturally reverted to the political geography prior to the signing of that treaty.


That treaty, moreover, is the genesis of the demographic realities of today’s Eastern Province where the bulk of the Tamil population lives on that 10 mile wide strip of coastal land. Their ancestors were brought there by the Dutch to grow tobacco. Even today the majority of the Grama Niladhari divisions contain a Sinhala majority population.


If the issue of homeland requires a longer throw back into the past, we can go to the 10th Century, to the golden period of Chola expansion/invasion and the invasion of the island by Raja Raja Chola in the year 993. Raja Raja Chola is also known as a builder of Hindu Temples. The inscriptions at these places, according to the Archaeological Survey of India, resolve all doubts about traditional homelands and sovereignty.


The inscriptions at the temples in Tanjavur and Ukkal speak in glorifying vein that Raja Raja Chola conquered many countries, including one ‘Ila-mandalam’. The inscription elaborates that this ‘was the country of the warlike Singalas’. The plunder of wealth, one notes, is not from ‘Singalas’ who lived in ‘Ila-mandalam’ (which is a corruption of ‘Sihala’ or ‘Hela’) but the land of the ‘Singalas’, whether they were warlike or not being irrelevant to the issue.


Now this is not some careless minute penned by some ignorant, misled, arrogant European. Neither is it gleaned from the much vilified Mahawamsa which, despite the vilification, remains the key corroborating text in the matter of unearthing the history of this part of the world. These were authored or sanctioned by a conqueror and written for the purpose of glorification. He had no stake in lying.


The archeological evidence shows that what is today called the Northern and Eastern Provinces were at one time the heartland of Buddhist civilization in the island. Although there have been claims that these were the work of Tamil Buddhists, the thesis is not supported outside the rhetoric.


I conclude that the claim is a fiction and one which was not only a key element of Tamil chauvinistic propaganda but a notion that stands squarely in opposition to reconciliation among communities.


I submit however, that to the extent that history is version, there is a manifest need to have the issue cleared once and for all so that no doubts remain regarding the issue of sovereignty, ownership and claim. I propose that a historical audit be administered where all claimants are required to provide adequate substantiation divested of rhetoric and buttressed by independent authority and corroboration. History is version, yes, but the Ruwanweliseya is certainly not a church. I submit that reconciliation requires a resolution of competing theories about exclusive rights to territories, while offering the caution that the notion of ethnic enclaves rebels against reconciliation and moreover is not supported by demographic and geographical realities.


Devolution


In this regard, let me speak to the much-bandied term pertaining to ‘resolution’, i.e. devolution and within it in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.


I submit that devolution as a constitutional and political mechanism for resolution makes sense only if history, geography, demography and economic/development prerogatives support it. I submit that devolution fails on all counts and as such the 13th Amendment is an aberration for all these reasons, not to mention its illegality, its violation of democratic spirit in enactment and implementation and delivery failure.


Even if ethnic enclaves do not exacerbate mutual suspicion among communities, they need to exist for devolution to sit in concord with reconciliation. The demographic reality is that the majority of Tamils live outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces and this face cannot be attributed to the conflict alone. The geographical reality includes the fact that in the Eastern Province that majority of the land area is inhabited by communities where the Sinhalese form the vast majority.


Devolution, as per the 13th Amendment, has been proven an economic and political failure, with two-thirds of monies allocated being spent on maintaining political structures with the benefits accruing in proportions horrendously skewed in favour of politicians.


Devolution, moreover, rebels against current economic thinking on development. The unequal distribution of resources does not support development models that envisage multiple economic and commercial hubs.


Devolution, if its logic is played out to the end, could for example result in vast regional anomalies, with the Western Province, for example objecting to surpluses generated therein being handed out to non-performing or less affluent provinces.


Accordingly, I submit that the 13th Amendment be reviewed in its entirety, especially on its predicate, that of claimed grievances. If grievances pertaining to territory are found untenable then all territory-based proposals, I submit, are unscientific and therefore require rejection. A pandering to political realities based on constructed mythologies can tide a country over in the short term but necessarily generate further rupture down the line. Constitutional enactment should not be frivolous and should not pander to the whims of the most skillful rhetorician. It should rather be sober, realistic, reference the past and look to the future.


My contention is that the traditional homeland thesis is flawed and therefore resolution on relevant lines doomed to failure. In the absence of a robust case for devolution, minority grievances must necessarily defer to the notion of citizenship. Let me therefore comment on the second element of the grievance thesis, that of citizenship anomalies.


[The above representations were made to the LLRC on January 14, 2011 at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Centre for International Relations]


(To be continued next week)


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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