The Federalism debate

by A. Kandappah

Dr. C. Wijewickrama (CW) holed up in faraway Texas lists 11 questions
for me in response to my contribution which The Island (9/12/05) titled
"Federalism and Reality." In that promiscuous society South of the border
one must forgive CW for using sex-centric language - "bedrooms" "single
and double beds" "marriage" "divorce" - all in a mundane subject. Or has
he got a large dose of George Bush chintanaya from the Lone Star State
where blossom in abundance those Yellow Roses of Texas in that wide
Prairie where the buffalo and bison roam? What I hoped was to stimulate
a debate in an attempt to create space to accommodate diverse views in
our national question. I am glad CW comes out enthusiastically. I will
respond to some of his queries, which I think relevant to our debate.

We are not the only small island torn between two historically diverse
cultures in a similar situation. Remember Cyprus? There the bifurcation
did not follow a healthy debate such as ours. The hot-headed Turks just
flew in and set up the barbed wire division.

Although the writ of Sinhala Kings extended to certain areas in the
Batticoloa District during various historical periods in the past, as much of
those of Tamil rulers encompassed Sinhala regions outside the North
East, the fact Tamil is the dominant language in the East and the
Mukkuvar tradition is deeply entrenched there are sufficient reasons in
favour of a Tamil presence of much antiquity. We cannot erase from
history the fact during the attacks against Tamils in 1958 during the MEP
regime and thereafter in 1977 during the UNP regime Tamils were
transported by security-forces escorted trains and buses to Trincomalee
and Batticaloa. Simultaneously, those from Jaffna District resident in the
South were sent also by ship to KKS during these two pogroms. The world
has taken note that in this process the governments in Colombo were
conceding there is, in fact, such a thing as a Tamil homeland here
howsoever partisan historians try to distort history in their frenzy. The
Tamil majority numbers in the Trincomalee District too have been
engineered to be lowered substantially and in today’s situation where from
about 70 odd per cent in the 1920’s it now stands at around 35% -
colonization of Sinhala settlers being the reason in an area where there
was, and is, tremendous land hunger among the Tamil population.

India’s larger size has little to do with a possible federated arrangement in
Sri Lanka. Federalism, as pointed out by experts who have studied the
subject in-depth, conclude it is more likely to unite Sri Lanka.

There is as much apprehension on the Tamil side about an insensitive,
arbitrary center that can dissolve a federated unit flimsily as the Sinhala
fear of a federated periphery that may use federation as a stepping stone
to declare a new State. The answer to this is by talking until you initially
narrow and gradually reduce the differences and fears. Declaring a new
State in today’s world is no easy matter either, as we all know.

The feared water issue between a federated unit and the center may be
misplaced because, as a part of discussions on a federal arrangement,
one can include potential water disputes in the agenda. I am afraid CW
has rushed in true Sri Lankan "dhadibidi" style of a water dispute between
Kerala and Tamilnadu. There is no water dispute between these two
States. You have mistaken Kerala for Karnataka, where in recent years,
tension arose with Tamilnadu on the Kauvery waters.

Dr. Indrapala will take objection to your calling him Indrapalan. He has
already defected - his former thesis and all. He has metamorphosed into a
different identity.

To call the 1962 Coup "a Tamil-Christian Coup" is yet another attempt to
create Tamil-hatred in the minds of the Sinhalese. I am afraid you display
some lack of knowledge of recent Sri Lankan history. Legally, the case
was called "Liyanage Vs the Queen."The alleged leading conspirators
were former Civil Servant Douglas Liyanage, The Dissanayake Brothers
from the Police, the De Sarams from the Army (Volunteers), Royce De Mel
(Navy), SP Perera (Police) et al. Where did you get the idea of a Tamil-
Christian Coup? You are clearly yet another of those fed on a regular and
long diet of mythical anti-Tamil history and conspiracy. Incidentally,
Liyanage and Company were found Not Guilty by the Privy Council and I
believe Mr. Liyanage went to serve his country with distinction for many
years as a senior government official in the late 70s and mid-80s.

Justice Sansoni’s report on the 1977 communal riots against the Tamils
was widely criticised by the TULF, who charged the Report sometimes
looked as if Tamils were the greater aggressors whereas, in fact, it was
the Tamils in large numbers that were killed, maimed, robbed of and de-
housed.

There was no need to resort to the extra-radical method of
standardization to empower disadvantaged Sinhala and Tamil children in
rural schools. There were several other methods by which the disparity
could have been addressed. But Badiudin Mahmud, the alleged architect
of this notorious and divisive scheme, was later privately commented on
by his PM Mrs. B of trying to become more Sinhala than the Sinhalese by
insisting on introducing this controversial scheme against severe
opposition from Tamil academic and political circles. Remember at the
same time - both in the North and the South - some of the most brilliant
students emerged from impoverised village and Central schools. The
central objective of the Standardisation scheme, the TULF then charged,
was to reduce the eventual entry into the universities of Tamil students
into the medical, engineering and science faculties. University statistics
from the 70s to date reveal the architects of this conspiracy have
succeeded beyond their wildest imagination. But! Alas, at what enormous
price to the country and harm to inter-relations between the major
communities?

The late TULF leader M. Sivasithamparam publicly - and, emotionally - on
behalf of all Tamils apologized for the inhuman de-housing of the Jaffna
Muslims from their generation-old homes and livelihood. The LTTE have
admitted this grave mistake and have invited them back. In an official
ministerial delegation visit I made to Jaffna in 2003 we were hosted by the
Muslims of Jaffna to a function in their Mosque. We were touched to be
there and to see them rebuilding their homes and livelihood. The memory
of the horror our Muslim brothers and sisters in Jaffna were subjected to
will be difficult to forget. We know their pain. Many of us went through this
in various parts of the South in 1983. The wounds of war did not spare
anyone in this country - mainly Tamils, Muslims, Sinhalese; some scarred
physically and many emotionally. This is the tragic destruction of society
war brings. This is all the more reason why we must all make sacrifices
and liberate ourselves from our prejudices to rebuild our fractured land
and regain our ethnic composure.

In so far as the 200 ruling families in Colombo and the "Beggar’s wound"
you refer to, let me say that since the larger number of them are clearly
Sinhalese, patriots such as yourself, the JVP, the JHU should coordinate a
plan at the earliest period so that this destructive wound can be healed
once and for all. I certainly would like to have from KC a list of this 200
privileged families. By the way, why only Colombo? Are not privileged
Sinhalese living in Kandy, Kurunegala and elsewhere too?

As we are all aware, the country is hurtling fast towards disintegration. We
failed to build a Sri Lankan nation (or Ceylonese, if you like) when we
broke away from the colonial yoke. We, instead sowed the seeds of an
exclusive Sinhala-Buddhist nation and alienated other communities -
including Sinhala Christians and Catholics. The whirlwind we reaped in the
ensuing years has placed us in the last line of nations in South Asia today
- whereas we stood in the front in 1948. Whereas India led by Gandhi,
Nehru and other patriots went about building a single Indian identity - in
that vast culturally-linguistically-religiously diverse sub-continent. Today,
we know their political investment has paid and India is vibrantly united
and her economy and prosperity are on the way up. Let us admit we
made a grievous error and paid a price. Now it is for us to get out of the
rut. Here’s one way as part of a confidence building exercise. 60% of the
damaged done by the Tsunami destroyed Tamil and Muslims homes and
livelihood are in the North and East. The resources the international
community poured into Sri Lanka was denied to rehabilitate the North and
the East. The legal snag was the minor of the reasons and the major
being pure obstinacy and miscalculation. In fairness to CBK, she tried to
help without discriminating any community or area. The present President
moved the P-Toms Bill and asked Parliament to ratify the Bill in the
greater interest of the nation. Not uncharacteristic to our political culture,
only a few weeks thereafter campaigning to be made President, he
exhibited political chicanery going against the very same Bill.

As things stand today, the relief that reached the Southern affected
shores did not reach Tamil and Muslim Tsunami victims in the North East.
These people have reason to feel it is racial prejudice that makes them
continue to suffer. This is one of the reasons why the LTTE refuses
foreign resources through the existing Sri Lankan structure. Their
alternative suggestion for a Committee to monitor the fund represented by
(1) GOSL (2) the Tamils (LTTE etc) (3) representatives of the foreign
donor agencies (4) international auditors seem to be the most acceptable
in the background of billions of dollars meant for the development of the
North and East in the past few years being denied to them through the
existing structure.

Yet another problem is to mistake the LTTE for all the Tamils in the land.
The Tamils in the country today are the same Tamils described by our
Sinhalese friends earlier as "peaceful, religious, intelligent, industrious,
law abiding" etc. Have they overnight changed altogether and become
intolerant monsters? Those who have taken arms to defend them, having
no other alternative, are fighting for Tamil group rights. In the total focus
to regain group rights individual freedoms and rights are pushed to a
lower scale. This cannot last for long. Space must be created to respect
individual rights if the need to fight for group rights is insensitively allowed
to remain. The faculties and voice of democracy remains muzzled in the
North East, a part of the country that boasted in the earlier years of the
finest democratic traditions. What brought about this? Doubtlessly, it is
the ever increasing militarisation that brought about the collapse of
democracy here. The military atmosphere and culture killed democracy in
the North and East. Given a fair chance, the Tamil people will chose to
live in this island as they have for the past 500 years under colonial rule.
The imperative to make them feel part of the nation must begin by
restoring the democratic structure.

This should simultaneously occur with building essential infrastructure in
the North and East - roads and bridges, improve medical facilities and
infrastructure, provide improved irrigation facilities for a better farming
output, take steps to meet complaints of poor quality drinking water,
provide additional cold-storage facilities and modern equipment as
existing in the South for the fishing industry and minimum restrictions in
their traditional right to fish, establishment of small industries and the
creating of job opportunities - among other urgent needs. Initially, at least
part of the houses claimed to be in the HSZ should be restored to owners
who have lived for years in the open and refugee camps. Many of these
houses we visited offered no threat to security forces at all. Ranil’s UNP
failed to carry out these pledges at an acceptable level even after nearly
3 years; although they were all part of and within the spirit of the CFA.
The Tamil people showed their displeasure on November A in no
uncertain terms. If the good natured Sinhala people are educated of the
real situation in the North East their attitude will change and there will be
Sinhala consensus to rebuild Tamil areas. Once again in the last elections
they were taken for "yet another costly ride." They ignored their immense
suffering through the unbearable Cost of Living brought about by a
confused government. They were, once again, sold a lethal communal pill
in the form of a non-existing "Ali-Koti givisuma" Like Cervantes’ Don
Quixote battling mythical enemies the Sinhalese thought they "saved the
Sinhala nation." They are sadder today but wiser.

Positive and simultaneous development action by government in Jaffna,
Trincomalee and Batticoloa will send signals to the Tamil people that,
despite the pressures on the government, there is a serious attempt "to
win the hearts and minds of the Tamil people back" to the larger Sri
Lankan nation. Inspite of the wounds of the recent past on both sides,
make the Tamil people believe, their person, property and personal
dignity will be safe and unmolested in all parts of the country. I believe
there is within the moral and intellectual capacity of both communities the
necessary capability to overcome this tremendous challenge that has
bedevilled us for long. If we handle the crisis intelligently and with due
foresight reading the signs right this last time, we can then go on to
celebrate with Mr. H. L. de Silva "I do not think we need to despair or lose
hope or faith in ourselves for the Sri Lankan nation has a long tradition of
glorious achievement which provides for us an enormous reserve of inner
strength and moral courage that would help us overcome our present
tribulations and enable us to safeguard our sovereignty by acting unitedly
and abandoning petty squabbles unworthy of those seeking leadership of
the nation." The Mahinda-Ranil endeavour taking place currently
coincides with this prayer. For the sake of us all - Tamils, Sinhalese,
Muslims and indeed others to all of whom Sri Lanka is hone - I hope Mr.
de Silva’s prayers are answered - and, soon.
[Courtesy: Island]