Land reforms in the North and  East of Sri Lanka


The government has at long last realised the importance of land reform in the North, and launched the ‘Bim Saviya’ (In Tamil ‘Bhumi Sayttal’). This is of prime importance for the North with its caste system enforced by custom and violence. Once a war has been fought, the land claimed by the terrorist becomes crown land. All land deeds within the ‘Eelam’ map should be deemed null and void, and they should be distributed to the displaced people, who suffered under the LTTE. A sizable part should remain state land for future development. When the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are resettled, the old caste structures of the villages should be erased by uncompromising land reform. The diaspora landlords who funded terror cannot have any claims.

Caste and land

In the 16th century, Sankilli captured the North and drove out the residents (mostly Sinhalese) to the Vanni. The Sinhalese moved to the Vanni and became Tamils, with names like Samarasinham, Balasingham, Veerasingham, etc. They formed a new caste called the ‘Koviyas’. As the feeble Sinhalese caste system is an inverted pyramid (with most people in the ‘Goviya’ caste), these newly minted ‘Tamils’ also ended with an inverted caste system. This is how the Jaffna caste system became different from that of South India.

However, the Colonial invaders needed labour for the planned tobacco plantations. The peninsula was very sparsely populated and so came the Malabars to Sri Lanka. Some of them worked closely with the Colonials, learnt their language, changed their religion and became the upper caste land owners of Jaffna. Even when they converted to Christianity, their caste system stayed. In fact, the caste system invaded the church; caste becoming a basic qualification for ordination. Another caste mechanism was the ‘Thesavalam’ law, a characteristic of the Malabar region. In practice, this law ensures that no one can sell a piece of land unless all the neighbours agree. So, an uppity low-caste man could not buy a piece of land unless he pays the landowner and all his neighbours. Even then, he could be beaten and chased off and he will lose his money. The Malabars close to the Colonials got the land from the Colonial administration. The others, the ‘Koviars’ etc., became virtual slaves, who worked for them. Thus, the initial inverted caste pyramid developed a sub-pyramid with a land-owning upper caste and a series of lower castes. Segregated caste villages developed to reflect this.

Although the 20th century eroded some of the strictures of the caste system, land ownership remained in the hands of a small percentage of people. Many of them moved to Colombo by the latter part of the 19th century.

This intensified when the Jaffna-Colombo railroad opened in 1905. These absentee landlords became parliamentarians and blocked any legislation that modernised the North. Universal franchise and women’s rights were opposed, starting from 1929. The building of causeways and roads that would make depressed caste villages accessible were opposed. Upgrading of village Councils and TCs in the North were opposed by these ‘Tamil leaders’. When they realised that Colombo was going to make caste discrimination illegal, they launched separatist politics. Then the Ponnambalams and the Chelvanayagams could "run their affairs themselves," in the ‘exclusive Tamil homelands of the Eelam’. The political strategy was to whip up Tamil racism, aided by Sinhala Chauvinism.

Having come from a depressed caste and grown up in the 1930s in the Jaffna peninsula, I know the vicious character of quasi-slavery, which was maintained purely by violence.

Separatist politics of the land-owner Tamils

They launched the 30-year separatist war on the basis of the Vaddukkoddai Resolution of 1976, re-iterating the ‘Arasu’ (Sovereignty) clarion call of 1949 launched by Chelvanayagam feigning ‘Federalism’. Of course, there were some Colombo Tamils who read no Tamil and believed in Federalism. For 30 years, the rich Tamils of the West financed terror in Sri Lanka, and held the depressed Tamils (DT) as cannon fodder. The DTs were used as human shields against the Indian Army and later against Government forces. The upper-caste Colombo Tamils, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and their diaspora never forgave the Vanni people, because they breached the confining wall built by Prabhakaran and some 300,000 of them ran into the arms of the Government. The angered diaspora refuses to aid the displaced Vanni people. Instead, the diaspora spent millions, buying western politicians, NGOs and TV men to rouse hate against Sri Lanka, ignoring the Vanni people.

The TNA didn’t ask India to help rebuild the lives of the displaced people. Instead, they run to India demanding devolution; and now, rejecting land reform, or shouting ‘Sinhalisation of the North’. We clearly see what agitates the TNA most. This land-owner class instigated a terrorist war to hold ‘their land’ and keep us as slaves ‘a la Manu-Dharma’. Now we see their true face.

I call upon the President of Sri Lanka to go beyond the proposed ‘Bhumi Sayttal’ (‘Bim Saviya’) and nationalise all the so-called Eelam land and begin redistribution from a clean slate.

Sebastian Rasalingam,



animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...