Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

John Stuart Mill's Concept of Nationality, Sri Lanka's Armed Forces and S.J.V. Chelvanayagam

by Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam, March 1, 2008

This feeling of nationality may have been generated by various causes.  Sometimes it is the effect of identity of race and descent.  community of language and community of religion greatly contribute to it.  Geographical limits are one of its causes.  But the strongest of all is identity of political antecedents; the possession of a national history, and consequent community of recollections; collective pride and humiliation; pleasure and regret, connected with the same incidents in the past.

 

"...it is in general a necessary condition of free institutions that the boundaries of governments should coincide in the main with those of nationalities."

                                                                                                John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill writing in 1861 on the subject, "Of nationality as connected with Representative Government," foresaw the problems similar to that Sri Lanka has faced since 1948.  He said that,

"A portion of mankind may be said to constitute a nationality if they are united among themselves by common sympathies which does not exist between them and any others - which make them co-operate with each other more willingly than with other people, desire to be under the same government, and desire that it should be government by themselves, or a portion of themselves, exclusively.  This feeling of nationality may have been generated by various causes.  Sometimes it is the effect of identity of race and descent.  community of language and community of religion greatly contribute to it.  Geographical limits are one of its causes.  But the strongest of all is identity of political antecedents; the possession of a national history, and consequent community of recollections; collective pride and humiliation; pleasure and regret, connected with the same incidents in the past."

Mill's writing on the subject is so relevant to the Sri Lanka situation that quoting him at length is paramount to the understanding of the present problems.  He continues to state that,

"Where the sentiment of nationality exists in any force, there is a prima facie case for uniting all the members of the nationality under the same government, and a government to themselves apart.  This is merely saying that the question of government ought to be decided by the governed.  One hardly knows what any division of the human race should be free to do if not to determine which of the various collective bodies of human beings they choose to associate themselves.  But, when a people are ripe for free institutions, there is still a more vital consideration.  Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of a different nationalities.  Among a people without fellow feeling , especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion necessary to the working of a representative government cannot exist.  The influences which form opinions and decide political acts are different in the different sections of the country.  An altogether different set of leaders have the confidence of one part of the country and of another.  The same books, newspapers, pamphlets, speeches, do not reach them.  One section does not know what opinions or what instigations are circulating in another.  The strength of none is sufficient to resist alone, and each may reasonably think that it consults its own advantage most by bidding for the favour of the government against the rest..."

Mill on how an army composed of one nationality that occupies areas of population of another nationality would behave.

 "Above all, the grand and only reliable security in the last resort against despotism of the government is in that case wanting - the sympathy of the army with the people. ... To the rest of the people foreigners are merely strangers; to the soldier, they are men against whom he may be called, at a week's notice, to fight for life or death... Soldiers to whose feelings half or three fourths of the subjects of the same government are foreigners, will have no more scruple in mowing them down, and no more desire to ask the reason why, than they would in doing the same thing against declared enemies. "

S.J.V. Chelvanayagam

"I am seventy-seven years old now and even in this old age I am fighting for the liberation of the Tamils because I am aware of the dangers that are lurking for the Tamil community in the Eastern Province.  There is no other alternative for the Tamils to live with self-respect other than fight to the end for a Tamil Nad. " [i.e. a Tamil State]. (11 May 1975 in a speech in Batticaloa.)

"We have abandoned the demand for a federal constitution. Our movement will be all non-violent . . . We know that the Sinhalese people will one day grant our demand and that we will be able to establish a state separate from the rest of the island ..." (19 November 1976 in Parliament)

(Both quotes are in, A. Jeyaratnam Wilson.  S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 - 1977.)