The Candid Eye

May 22, 2009

Origins of the Srilankan Civil War

Filed under: Sri Lanka — thecandideye @ 3:00 AM
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The agony and suffering of Srilankan Tamils due to war have caused so much agitation and in some places violence in TN.Periyar Dravida Kazhagam even attacked the convoy of Army trucks in Coimbatore some days ago.See the video here. This act of PDK against Indian Army definitely needs to be punished.Whatever be the cause, this cannot be justifiied.Even the election compaigns had seen so many twists and turns from all the parties on the Srilankan Tamils.Jayalalitha, the AIADMK supremo also joined those people who demanded Independent Tamil Eelam in Srilanka.Each party tried to make use of this Sri Lankan Tamil issue to its advantage in the elections.

It is also worth to know about the Srilankan Civil War.Information in Wikipedia says that the government of D.S. Senanayake passed legislation stripping the estate Tamils of their citizenship in 1949, leaving them stateless.

The effect was to tilt the island’s political balance away from the Tamils. In 1948, at independence, the Tamils had 33% of the voting power in Parliament. Upon the disenfranchisement of the estate Tamils, however, this proportion dropped to 20%. The Sinhalese could and did obtain more than a 2/3 majority in Parliament, making it impossible for Tamils to exercise an effective opposition to Sinhalese policies affecting them. The main reason for the imbalance was that several multi-member constituencies elected a Tamil member of Parliament in a majority Sinhala electorate. The idea in having multi-member constituencies was to prevent domination of minorities by a future nationalist government.

The SLFP government led by Solomon Bandaranaike was sworn into office on a platform that of helping the growing population of unemployed youth who despite general educational achievement were disenfranchised by the ‘Sinhala Only’ language policy. A majority of civil servants under colonial rule were Tamil whose positions benefited from free English-medium missionary schools in the north and east of the island. When Sinhala became the official state language, many Tamil workers in government employment who were not fluent in Sinhala lost their jobs. The Tamil Federal Party led a group of Tamil volunteers and staged a sit-down satyagraha (peaceful protest). This protest was broken up by alleged hardline Sinhalese nationalist gangs.

Importing Tamil language films, books, magazines, journals, etc. from the cultural hub of Tamil NaduIndia was banned. Sri Lanka also banned groups such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham and the Tamil Youth League. Culturally, Tamil Sri Lankans were cut off from Tamil Nadu. Foreign exchange for the long established practice of Tamil students going to India for university education was stopped. Equally, examinations for external degrees from the University of London were abolished. The government insisted this was a part of a general program of economic self-sufficiency, part of its socialist agenda, however most of the Tamil population did not accept nor believe this.

During the 1970s university admissions were standardized. This initiative took place to rectify disparities created in university enrollment during colonial rule.Under the British, English was the state language and consequently greatly benefited English speakers. However, the majority of the Sri Lankan populace lived outside urban areas and did not belong to the social elite, and therefore did not enjoy the benefits of English-medium education. The issue was compounded further by the fact that in northern and eastern regions of the island, where a largely Tamil speaking populace resided, students had access to English-medium education through missionary schools regardless of their socio-economic status. This created a situation where the large proportion of students enrolled in universities were English speaking Tamils, particularly in professional courses such as medicine and engineering.

The government policy of standardization in essence was an affirmative action scheme to assist geographically disadvantaged students to gain tertiary education. The benefits enjoyed by Sinhalese students also meant a significant fall in the number of Tamil students within the university population.At first, Tamil politicians pushed for a federal system through the Federal Party. This was met with suspicion and resistance from many Sinhalese.

In the 1960s, the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike proceeded to nationalize most missionary schools in the country, secularizing them and changing the language of instruction from English to Sinhala only. After this, it became rare for Sinhalese and Tamil children to attend school together. Unable to speak Sinhalese, it became increasingly difficult for Tamil youth to gain access to civil service jobs or attend univerisities, and unemployment rose.

A mob went on rampage on the nights of May 31 to June 2 burning the market area of Jaffna, the office of the Tamil Newspaper, the home of the member of Parliament for Jaffna, the Jaffna Public Library and killing four people.The destruction of the Jaffna Public Library was the incident which appeared to cause the most distress to the people of Jaffna. The 95,000 volumes of the Public Library destroyed by the fire included numerous culturally important and irreplaceable manuscripts. Witnesses reported the presence of uniformed police officers in the mob and their involvement in the deaths of four individuals.

The concept of a separate nation, Tamil Eelam, was proposed by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1976 . TULF was a coalition of parties who went on to campaign in the 1977 elections for an independent state for Tamils in Sri Lanka. They won most of the Tamil seats, but the government later banned them from Parliament for advocating an independent state.

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