Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

A Brief History of the Problem from the Colonial Days to the Start of the War in 1983. 

(Annexure to the article "The European Union Travel Prohibition on the LTTE" by M. Nadarajan at http://www.sangam.org/articles/view2/?uid=1257 )

The Sinhalese Kingdoms and Tamil Kingdom in the island were ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch, and even the British, separately till 1833, when for administrative convenience the British combined them and ruled the island as one country.  The much quoted Cleghorn Minute of 1799 mentions that two Nations which differed in language, religion and customs occupied the island from ancient times, and detailed their respective boundaries.  When the British gave independence they installed a unitary Constitution, handing over the government to the Sinhalese with so-called "entrenched clauses" to safeguard minorities.  Sinhalese leaders, who explicitly told Tamils that they would not be discriminated against, deceived them.  In fact, the author of that Constitution, Lord Soulbury, later said regretted the fact that he did not implement a federal type of Constitution.

The first agreement on powersharing between the Sinhalese and Tamils was in 1919.  This was reneged on by the Sinhalese. There followed another in 1925, which was also reneged by them.  After independence in 1948, the Sinhalese majority Parliament started to exercise their hegemony and discriminated against Tamils in every sphere of activity, including education, employment and development.  Nearly a million of upcountry Tamils was disenfranchised by legislation.  About 525,000 of these people were eventually forcefully sent to India.

The Government set about to change the demography of, primarily, the Eastern province by state-aided colonization.  As a result, the percentage of Sinhalese in the Eastern Province increased from a little over 4% in 1924, to a current figure of around 32%.  In 1956 legislation was brought to make Sinhalese the only official language.  Tamils tried parliamentary methods and Gandhian, non-violent demonstrations to obtain redress.  The first communal attacks against Tamils commenced.

Numerous organized attacks against Tamils culminating in the major pogrom of 1983 in which 3-4,000 Tamils died and 95% of Tamil property in the South was destroyed.  A notable feature of these attacks was the absence of action by the armed forces or police against the perpetrators.  At times they even participated in in the killing and destruction.

A pact was signed in 1957 between Prime Minister Bandaranaike and Tamil leader Chelvanayagm that proposed the establishment of Tamil Regional Councils.  This pact was literally torn up in February1958 due to protests by the other major Sinhalese party - the UNP - and Buddhist priests.

In 1961, following more discrimination and communal attacks, Tamils and Muslims (also Tamil-speaking) carried out a Satyagraha (a non-violent demonstration).  The army and police were unleashed on them and their representatives arrested.  Tamil areas came under army occupation for the next two years.

In 1965 another pact was signed between the same Tamil leader and the Sinhalese Prime Minister of the other major party, Dudley Senanayake, establishing Tamil District Councils, but this, too, was abrogated in 1968 without being implemented.

While providing lip service to the fact the country was multiethnic, multicultural multilingual, and, multi-religious, in order to appease the international community, nothing was done towards implementing legislation to satisfy minority aspirations.  More discrimination and all kinds of violence affected Tamils.  The Federal Party of the Tamils sought and obtained an overwhelming mandate from Tamils to request a federal type of government during this period, to no avail.

In 1972 a new constitution was introduced without the participation of Tamils.  It repealed Section 29 of the 1948 Constitution, which was supposed to contain safeguards for minorities, and had been declared by the British Privy Council to have entrenched clauses, which were supposedly unalterable.  The new constitution also abolished the second chamber (the Senate) and appeals to this Privy Council.  It gave primary place to Buddhism.

In 1976 the Tamils, as a last resort, gave their representatives an overwhelming mandate to ask for separation.

In the run up to the 1977 general elections Mr. Jayawardena outlined the problems suffered by the Tamils very eloquently, saying "so much so that they have asked for separation," and promised to solve the problems of the Tamils. His party got a landslide victory capturing 7/8th of the seats.  Rather than solving the national or ethnic problem, he set about establishing an Executive Presidential system and became the first such President.  A new Constitution was passed giving more prominence to Buddhism.  Again Tamil representatives did not participate in the drawing up of the 1978 Constitution.

The LTTE was proclaimed a terrorist organization in 1978, and in 1979 a Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was enacted.  The PTA was called "the worst regulation introduced in any civilized country including South Africa' by international jurist Paul Seigart.

1979 to 1983 saw the declaration of an emergency in Tamil areas, military occupation of the Jaffna Peninsula, burning of shops, arbitrary arrests of youth, rape, torture and killing, burning of the Jaffna Public Library, looting and burning of the business district, and island-wide riots against Tamils.  The army was given the power to shoot and bury without holding a coroner's inquest.

The worst pogrom took place in 1983 when over 3-4,000 Tamils were killed and 95% of the property owned by Tamils outside their areas was destroyed.  Tamil political prisoners were killed in prison and Tamils fled as refugees by shiploads to the Tamil homelands.

The war called Eelam War 1 started.

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Posted October 15, 2005