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Discrimination in Sri Lanka The reality

The caste-based discrimination is very much alive in Jaffna. That is why the
Jaffna blood bank has to repeatedly seek support of Sinhalese to find blood for
Tamil patients.

( October 9, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Guardian) Following is the speech delivered by Dr. Nalaka Godahewa at the 36th
session of the UNHRC in Geneva on 27 September 2017:
Mr. President, a myth has been spread over the years, that there is discrimination
against Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Out of a population of 22 million people in Sri Lanka, 11.2% are Northern Tamils
while the upcountry Tamils who came to Sri Lanka during British colonial times,
are about 4.1%. But these are not the only minority communities in Sri Lanka;
9.3% of the Sri Lankan population are Muslim. Several other minority
communities such as Burgers and Malays amount to 0.6% of the population. The
majority community is obviously Sinhalese at 74.9%.
Political propaganda
Since we gained independence in 1948, we have been repeatedly hearing this
complaint that there is discrimination against Tamils. But interestingly, no other
minority community in Sri Lanka seems to be complaining about discrimination
based on ethnicity. Why?
That is because, discrimination based on ethnicity is a myth, created and
successfully promoted by the Tamil political leadership for so many decades. It is
pure political propaganda with an ulterior motive.
Let me explain what I mean here. Since colonial rule, we have always had Tamils
holding very high positions in our country, whether it is in politics, Judiciary,
academia, in the Government service or in the private sector.
Every Sri Lankan Government since independence has had high profile Tamil
ministers in the Cabinet. A very good example would be our former Foreign
Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. When he was killed in 2005, by the Tamil
separatists, Kadirgamar was a strong contender to be the next prime minister of
Sri Lanka. Who knows he could have even been the president of the country had
he lived.
The Chief Justice of the country who recently retired is a Tamil K.J. Sripavan. The
current Governor of the Central Bank is a Tamil Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy.
Even his predecessor was a Tamil Arjun Mahendran.
The last President of the Sri Lanka Bar Association was a Tamil Geoffrey
Alagaratnam. One of Sri Lankas most popular sportsman, Muttiah Muralitharan
who holds the world record for the highest number of wickets in cricket is a Tamil.
Rudra Rajasingham, a Tamil, was a former Inspector General of Police. The
current Navy Commander Tavis Sinnaiah is a Tamil. The Election Commission of
the country has only three members and one of them is a Tamil Professor
Ratnajeevan Hoole.
Two members of the 10-member Constitutional Council are Tamils Radika
Coomaraswamy and R. Sambanthan. The Opposition Leader in Parliament is a
Tamil R. Sambanthan. There are 33 Tamil MPs in a Parliament of 225 members.
The present Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council C.V. Wigneswaran is
a former Supreme Court Judge. The Director General of Customs P.S.M. Charles is
a Tamil. The immediate past Chairman of the Colombo Stock Exchange is a Tamil
Krishan Balendra. R. Theagarajah, a Tamil, was the CEO of Sri Lankas largest
development bank, NDB, until recently.
The largest media network MTV, Sirasa are owned by the Maharaja family
who are Tamils. The largest supermarket chain Cargills is owned by the Page
family who are Tamils. The largest brewery in Sri Lanka Carsons is owned by
the Selvanathan family who are Tamils.
I could go on and on!
So where is the discrimination based on ethnicity in Sri Lanka?
History behind it
To understand the truth behind this false propaganda, we must understand the
history behind it.
The colonial rulers were well known for their policy of divide and rule. In order
to create division amongst the communities, they offered the minority,
administrative positions over the majority. As a result, when the independence
was granted in 1948, the minorities, Tamils in particular, were holding most of the
senior administrative jobs.
The high caste, Western educated, English-speaking Tamils who were holding
senior positions in the Government under the British rule did not want to lose
their positions of power when the country gained independence. Thats how the
50-50 power sharing demand was put forward by the Tamil leaders though they
represented less than 10% of the population.
Wouldnt that have been discrimination against the majority Sinhalese if 50:50
power sharing was granted as Tamil political leadership requested?
Let us now see what the actual position is with regard to the minority
communities in Sri Lanka.
Even in our National Flag, while the Sinhalese are represented by the maroon
background, the saffron stripe represents the Tamils and the green stripe
represents the Muslims. How many other countries in the world have given such
recognition to the minorities in the national flag itself?
All public documents carry both Sinhala and Tamil languages the marriage
certificate, the death certificate and the immigration forms are examples. All Sri
Lankan currency and notes are in Sinhala and Tamil. All communities receive the
same free education and free medical facilities in the country with no
discrimination whatsoever.
There are no places anywhere in Sri Lanka that allows only Sinhalese to enter.
Tamils, Muslims and all other communities enjoy same access to public utilities.
Public transportation is common to all.
There is no race based discrimination when participating in sports or representing
the country even at national levels.
So where is the so-called discrimination?
Discrimination in Jaffna
Having said that, I must also point out that discrimination still exists in Jaffna
where there is a specific land law called Thesavalami. This law does not allow
anybody other than a Tamil to buy land in Jaffna. But Tamils have no restriction
whatsoever to buy properties elsewhere in the country. This is clear
discrimination against the other communities.
You should also know that the real discrimination of Tamils actually comes from
within their own community.
For example, the Jaffna Tamils think they are superior to the rest of the Tamils.
The Trinco Tamils think they are superior to Batticaloa Tamils. Tamils in the north
and the east have no regard for estate Tamils.
This discrimination apparently existed even within the LTTE (Tamil Tiger terrorists)
who fought for a separate land for Tamils. Colonel Karuna, the former Eastern
commander who defected from the LTTE in 2004, has repeatedly mentioned in his
interviews that the northern cadres treated the eastern cadres as an inferior lot.
Can anyone deny that even today, the high caste Tamils discriminate against low
caste Tamils in Sri Lanka? Do they sit and eat together; are there intermarriages
between the high caste Tamils and low caste Tamils? Isnt it true that those who
mix-up are shunned by the rest?
There was a time when even the places of worship did not allow the low castes
Tamils to enter. There was a famous incident in 1957, when C. Sunderalingam, a
former Cabinet Minister, slept in front of the gates of Nallur Kovil to prevent low
caste Tamils from being allowed to enter the place of worship.
Today the Tamil politicians cry about an imaginary discrimination based on
ethnicity. But it was a Sinhalese leader, former Prime Minister S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike, who passed a bill in Parliament in 1957 allowing equal rights to all
Tamils. The bill was needed because the high caste Tamils were denying their own
low caste Tamil people the basic human rights.
The Social Disabilities Act 21 which was passed in 1957 had to define some very
interesting offences. It says:
No person can be prevented admission to a school because of the caste.
No person can be denied employment because of the caste.
No person can be prevented from entering and from being served in a restaurant
because of the caste.
No person can be prevented or denied from using water from public water supply
because of the caste.
No person can be prevented or denied from entering a public cemetery because
of the caste.
No person can be prevented or denied wearing any kind of clothes because of the
No person can be prevented from worshipping at any place of worship because of
the caste.
The list goes on
Isnt it shocking to even imagine that those people who have been propagating
false propaganda about ethnic discrimination were actually denying the basic
human rights of their own people?
Is the situation different today? Sadly the answer is no.
The caste-based discrimination is very much alive in Jaffna. That is why the Jaffna
blood bank has to repeatedly seek support of Sinhalese to find blood for Tamil
patients. There are always blood shortages in Jaffna hospitals because most of the
residents are reluctant to donate blood thinking it will be given to someone from
another caste.
During the war, it was Government soldiers who donated blood to Jaffna
hospitals from which even the terrorists benefited. Just two months ago in June
2017, more than 200 soldiers and officers from the three armed forces donated
blood in Jaffna responding to a special request from the blood bank.
Sinister forces have not given up
When post-independent Sri Lanka started offering equal rights to all citizens, the
English-speaking, high caste Tamil politicians did not like it. When they couldnt
prevent it happening, they started poisoning the minds of ordinary Tamils with
false propaganda that it is better for the Tamils to have a separate rule. The
objective was very simple. The elite wanted to go back to their age-old practice of
suppressing and exploiting their own people.
Unfortunately as it always happens, a lot of people were successfully misguided
by these politicians. The emergence of terrorism, which brutalised the country for
more than 30 years, was a result of this false propaganda.
Let us therefore be clear that Sri Lanka eventually faced a terrorist problem and
not an ethnic problem.
Sri Lanka has now wiped out terrorism. The people of all ethnicities now want to
live in peace and in harmony. They have nothing against each other. We accept
Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and all other communities of Sri Lanka as citizens with
equal rights. The Sinhalese have already extended their hands of brotherhood to
the people of the north and the east. Since the end of the war, the bulk of
Government development expenditure were routed to the north and the east.
Economic development opportunities are now available to all Sri Lankans.
Yet the sinister forces have not given up. They continue to spread hatred. They
continue to preach separatism. They continue to mislead the international
community with false information.
It is up to the ordinary Tamils now to assess the true situation and decide how far
this bogus self-determination bid will lead them. They must figure out whether
this cry for separatism is for the benefit of all Tamils or to give power back to the
elite who are unhappy with the equal rights regime?
There was a time when all Sinhalese, Tamils Muslims and other communities lived
in peace and harmony. It was the European colonial rulers who disturbed that
peace first. Now it is continued by some Tamil elite who have ulterior motives.
Rewrite our history books
We must come together once again to rewrite our history books. The older
generation needs to separate the realities from the lies. The younger generation
should not be taught to carry the aspirations of the old and must be encouraged
to live in peace and harmony.
Let us therefore say no to ethnic-based solutions. Let us say no to the external
forces who only want to divide us.
In conclusion, I like to emphasise once again that no minority is discriminated by
any constitutional, legislative or judicial provision in Sri Lanka. Ethnicity-based
discrimination in Sri Lanka is a total myth. Whether Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims
we are all citizens with equal rights in a unitary state.
Posted by Thavam