Sri Lanka’s Tamils at a crossroads

August 22, 2018 Asia , HUMAN RIGHTS , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

Reuters photo



Thambu Kanagasabai



Tamils in Sri Lanka, being the original inhabitants even before BC 500 have ruled Sri Lanka before the arrival of Buddhism in BC 247 and formation of Sinhalese language during the 6th century AD, which marked the beginning of Sinhalese race and Dutagamini, a Hindu Naga king turned Buddhist ruling the southern parts of Sri Lanka desiring to rule the entire Sri Lanka began his march towards Anuradhapura in BC 101.


On his way, he encountered thirty three Tamil Kings who were the local rulers in various regions. After overcoming them, he reached Anuradhapura and waged the epic battle with King Elara, a Chola Tamil King. From where King Elara entered Anuradhapura is still unclear as some say he came from South India while some say he was a King ruling Jaffna. The battle of Dutagamini was to capture territory and not a battle against Tamils as distorted by Mahavamsa . However this battle and victory sowed the seeds of racism and chauvinism, to be exploited to serve the Sinhala politicians for electoral gains and initiation of Buddhisisation and Sinhalisisation of Sri Lanka.


The hidden agenda of obliterating the Tamils, their history and identities like language, culture and traditions to make Sri Lanka a Sinhala Buddhist state, was set in motion as soon as independence from colonial British rule was granted in 1948. First target was the Indian Tamils who fell victim to this agenda when the Citizenship Act 1948 was passed and about 700,000 were denied citizenship. As a result their parliamentary representation of seven members in 1947 was wiped out.


As for the Eelam Tamils, the political program of Sinhala Governments included the land reclamation of huge projects such as the famous Gal Oya, Allai, Kantalai, Padaviya, Manalaru [Now renamed in Sinhalese as Weli Oya] and the ongoing Mahaveli ‘L’ development schemes and hand in hand with settlements of Sinhalese which began in 1949. Time and time, Sri Lankan Governments carried out the Sinhalisiation and Buddhisiation agenda methodically, overtly and covertly with legislations and Government directives with the assistance of Security Forces in this scheme.


The Sinhala Only Act 1956 heralded the supremacy of Sinhala language paving the way for the gradual elimination of Tamils for Government appointments. This was a double barreled gun to shoot down the Tamils to frustration and despair while shooting up Sinhalisiation and Sinhala nationalism.


The 1972 constitution brought Buddhism as the first and foremost religion to be protected and fostered by the state. This provision placed Buddhism as the supreme religion and statutorily bound the Government to foster It by building Buddhist Viharas and Buddhist statutes in selected places throughout the island whether Buddhist worshipers are residing or not. The statutory protection given to minorities in the earlier constitution [29-2] was removed as well.


Since 2009,131 Buddhist Viharas have been built in the North, with Mullaitivu heading the list with 67, followed by Mannar with 35. Besides, hundreds of Buddha statutes have been erected along the side roads and highways so as to create the image of a Buddhist identity and image for Sri Lanka.


The Sinhalisiation of Tamil areas is reinforced with the presence of about 140,000 security personnel in the north with about 60,000 personnel stationed in Mullaitivu for a population of 130,000. Almost 147 Camps are in the Jaffna peninsula for the security forces occupying about 269 private lands.


Tamils in 1981 constituted 12.7% of the total population, but in 2012 it has declined to 11.2% The continued Sinhalese colonization sponsored by the Governments, and assisted with the involvement of security forces [99% Sinhala Buddhists] aim at the complete demographic changes in Tamil lands and eventually making the Tamils to become minorities in these areas, while reducing their parliamentary strength which stands 9 in Jaffna peninsula when it was 11 in the 1989 general elections. It is feared that this number will be further reduced to 6 when a future population census is carried out.


The successive Sri Lankan governments later manipulated the initiatives of pogroms to subjugate the Tamils to position them to live with permanent fear, insecurity, suspicion and mistrust.


The 1956, 1958, 1971, 1977, 1983 pogroms were all state planned, orchestrated and organized to indulge in the genocidal killings of Tamils.


The burning of the Public Library in Jaffna [One of the best libraries in Asia at that time] in May 1981 and the 1984 violence unleashed against the participants at the International Tamil Research Conference were pre-planned to strike at the heart and soul of Tamil Language, history and culture.


The crowning of all the state sponsored terrorism was the war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the security forces from 2006-2009. The former President “Mahinda Rajapaksa followed the rule of terror used by previous Sri Lankan Governments ruthlessly with scant respect to human lives.” This was the statement of Louise Arbour – former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.


In addition,196 incidents of massacres of Tamil civilians were executed by the security forces beginning from 12/6/1990 in Kalmunai up to 2009 in Mullivakkal. [Mass graves are now found in Mannar and other places while digging the ground for foundation for buildings, etc]. It is shocking that so far neither the Tamil National Alliance [TNA] nor the Government have called for a full investigation in to the circumstances of these violent deaths of civilians.


Sri Lanka’s culture of impunity is another lethal weapon of Governments and security forces which is generously facilitating the commission of all violence and crimes against the Tamil civilians.


Gordon Weiss, in his book ‘The Cage’, stated the truth as follows: ‘Sri Lanka’s judicial system, the purported backbone of democracy is currently a sham. The culture of impunity allows the law enforcement agencies to do whatever they like, arrest without reason, torture and detain for long and fabricate charges.”


The present government of ‘Good Governance’ is now engaged in a battle for its survival, abandoning its election promises given to both Sinhalese and Tamils. A new constitution as the panacea for all ills of Sri Lanka is struggling between life and death for birth. Even if it materializes, Tamils will be left in the lurch searching for a just and permanent political settlement.


Interestingly, the Government has embarked on a program of development in the North and East to please the United Nations and the International Community. Even if this scheme is implemented in the North and East “erosion of Tamils hold on land through development has once again made possible the total domination of the narrative of state”, as stated by Gordon Weiss – The Cage.


The presence of Army which is stationed in 153 Camps occupying more than 4000 acres of land in the North with permanent military installations is an indication as to how far the development will go without the involvement of security forces who are already running hotels, schools, restaurants farming, etc, in the North from seized civilian lands.


The Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution were draconian measures passed by the Sri Lankan Governments specially targeting and threatening the Tamils to silence their voice and freedom of expression to permanent subjugation.


Another menacing political force is the violence prone group of Buddhist monks like the Bodu Bala Sena [BBS] and Jathika Hela Urumaya [JHU] who function as part of the Government’s program to silence the Tamils and subvert and scuttle any offer of concessions to Tamils.


It can be stated that the Tamils in Sri Lanka have been ignored by the International Community, United Nations and Security Council in spite of human rights violations and genocidal killings which have been committed systematically against them again and again in 1956, 1958, 1971, 1971, 1977, 1983 and from 2006-2009 by the security forces in furtherance of the goal of Sinhalisisation and Buddhisiation to make Sri Lanka a Sinhala Buddhist State.


On July 28, 1983, the then President J. R. Jayawardene said that “Time has come to accede to the clamour and national respect of Sinhalese people.”


Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa underscored the target of eliminating the Tamils in Sri Lanka by stating in May 2009 after the Genocidal War: “We have removed the word minorities from our vocabulary three years ago, no longer Tamils, Muslims and other minorities. There are only two peoples in this country, one who loves the country and the other small groups who have no love for the land of their birth.’


Former Prime Minister/President Chandrika Kumaratunge too emphasized this view with her slogan during the Presidental election: “As one nation, one people“ and has in the past while in South Africa also stated that “The Tamils are not the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka, they do not belong to Sri Lanka.’


The above statements of Sinhalese leaders unequivocally confirm their sinister intention of decimating the identities of Tamils in Sri Lanka.


The struggle of Tamils for equality, justice, distinct identity and accountability as a nation in Sri Lanka commenced in 1956and is still continuing, and there is no hint of a political solution to remove the underlying causes and grievances of Tamils.


T.D.S.A Dissanayake, in his book “Agony of Sri Lanka” 1984, clearly states that “Nothing was more deceptive than the religious and communal harmony on the advent of independence in 1948.”


The non-violent struggles and resistance launched by late Tamil Leaders like late Samuel James Velupillai Chelvanayagam [popularly known as Gandhi of Tamil Eelam] and former Leader of the Opposition late A. Amirthalingam were crushed ruthlessly by force by the security forces and were handled by the Sri Lankan Governments with usual charming guiles and wiles leaving the Tamil leaders deceived and dejected. A frustrated Chelvanayagam’s last call “That God can only save the Tamils’ still remains un-responded and it is anybody’s guessing as to its fulfillment.


The emergence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] and it’s just resort to armed resistance to protect the Tamils from the state sponsored pogroms and to restore lost rights and dignity of Tamils was also ruthlessly crushed by Sri Lanka with the assistance of 22 countries who also fell for the diplomatic tantrums of Sri Lankan Government who deceptively pledged a political settlement and rejected a military solution.


“Minorities in Sri Lanka Tamils and Muslims feel that they have a place in Sri Lanka as long as they are compelled to fall in line and be slaves within a Sinhalese identity and within the contour of Sinhalese nationalism.”


Tamil National Alliance [TNA] leader Mr. R. Sampanthan’s above statement in Parliament in 2008 summed up the plight of Tamils.


It is an irony that the same TNA Leadership has also fallen for the charming wiles and maneuvers of the present ‘Good Governance” Government. However a late realization of realities appears to be emerging from the hearts and minds of TNA leaders who are now engaged in damage control exercises while expressing doubts on the sincerity of this Government.


History is meant for learning and past lessons of political history of Tamils should be the guiding factors instead of frittering the energy and efforts chasing the mirage of promises appearing as a lasting solution to the 60 years old problems of Tamils.



In Short

The following reasons and facts reveal the progress of Tamils in Sri Lanka towards a probable non-existence through assimilation and genocide including structural genocide:


1 – Reduction of Tamil Representation in Parliament. The Jaffna district now elects 9 members which are expected to be reduced to 6 members in the next election.


2 – Exodus and migration of Tamils from North and East. Out of 1.2 million Tamils in the North in 1983 about 700,000 Tamils have migrated to overseas after the Pogrom against the Tamils in 1983. Tamils were hunted and butchered, burnt alive and their houses, establishments, looted and set on fire. Added to this is the reduced growth of Tamil population through reduced birth which stands at 1.5% of the total population compared to 5.51% for Sinhalese.


3 – Entrenched culture of impunity for security forces, Government officials and a judiciary which is politicized.


4 – Permanent residence of security forces and their operational freedom. Civilians are now living with and among security forces.


5 – Lack of International support and/or intervention. Past responses show only trickery and deceit for the 60 years sufferings of Tamils.


6 – Sri Lanka’s disregard of International opinions, suggestions, blatant rejection, and refusal comply to with UNHRC Recommendations and United Nation’s muted response to rein in Sri Lanka for its non-compliance of international commitments.


7 – Discrimination of Tamils in Government sector in employment and allocation of resources including neglect of development schemes in the North and East.


8 – Nil prospect of constitutional guarantee of recognition of North and East as one unit. [As agreed in the Indo/Sri Lanka Accord of 1987] and also freezing the powers of the Provincial Councils to control land/police as agreed in the Accord.


9 – Rejection of International Investigation into war crimes with dim prospects of Internal Judicial mechanism to be set up by Sri Lanka as promised.


10 – Accelerated program of Sinhalisiation and Buddhisiation including neglect of Tamil language for official use and communication with Tamil civilians.


11 – A limited Northern Provincial Council functioning at the mercy of the Centre.



With no possibility of the International Community and/or United Nations’ intervention, the gradual extinction of Tamils in Sri Lanka cannot be ruled out in the future.





Thambu Kanagasabai

Thambu Kanagasabai LL.M (London) – Former Lecturer in Law, University Of Colombo, Sri Lanka

Editor review


  1. S Siva August 26, at 15:17

    The author is an academic and a legal expert who has in-depth knowledge and expertise in history, legal aspects, ground situation and ongoing genocidal activities by the Sinhala Buddhist state and the failures of Tamil leaders to date. Dravidian Tamils are one of the oldest civilization in this planet and Tamil is one of the most advanced languages. Although Lemuria is lost under Indian and Pacific oceans, Tamils' culture, values and religious beliefs still existing in many nations including Re-union, Guadeloupe, Fuji, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Cambodia, and in many western nations. Australian Aboriginals and North Indians too have the same DNA as Dravidians. Angor wat is one of the most famous built by the Tamils. Despite Tamils glory, Western colonialism that merged Tamils' lands with Indian federation and Sinhala Land for easy administration and were left as merged when colonialism ended. Racial, Chauvinistic, Religious hatred policies led Sinhala Buddhist Apartheid regime and Hindi Hindutva Indian Federation oppress Tamils last 72 Years as International Community including UN Security Council failed to bring the perpetrators to accountability and Justice. On the name of democracy, sovereignty Tamils' Freedom struggle is branded as terrorism by the governments although it is legitimate and genocide committed in the 21st century! World has seen many genocides after WWII as UN and many organizations that were established to bring peace and stability. Thanks for the author to continue to expose government's crimes against humanity and corrupt policies makes freedom struggle is very difficult. It is well known nelson Mandela was branded as terrorist by the White South African regime and similar situation for the Tamils in eelam!

  2. kumarathasan August 25, at 00:13

    The writer very clearly explains the fate of Tamils in Sri Lanka if the United Nations and the International Community fail to intervene. Sri Lanka is notorious for its delaying tactics and cheating, dilly dallying in implementing its promises. It is very unfortunate for the Tamils that there is no genuine leaders to guide the people. Tamils have suffered enough and if there is no justice soon the present Tamil leaders will be kicked out in any forthcoming election. Tamils in Sri Lanka are waiting for a chance to show their anger againt these Tamil leaders who are just sitting in the parliament and doing nothing. Their actions are mere words none in deed. Time for hour is action not words.


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