Northern Province Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran responded to Dr. Sooriya Gunasekara, Chairman of a registered political party called “Sinhaladipa Jathika Peramuna” who called the CM for a debate, on his interview that appeared in Ceylon Today of 19 February.
Dr. Gunasekara, a retired civil servant, requested the CM to come for a debate on the topic, and the CM responded, “I am always available for talks. In fact I like to talk to the most diehard Sinhala chauvinists.”
Dr. Gunasekara sent a mail to the CM, through Ceylon Today Journalist Sulochana Ramiah Mohan stating that he would like to have, either face to face talks or a dialogue in the print media, with Chief Minister Wigneswaran, regarding the views expressed by the CM at the interview.
Chief Minister Wigneswaran‘s note to Dr. Gunasekara:
I would like to hold talks with you on a very professional manner in order to clear this conflict on mutual grounds theoretically, as the theory only leads into a physical devastation act. Therefore, I hope you pay your early attention to this matter and will come back to me with favourable early response. I promise to respond to the questions. Allowing it to be a debate will be difficult for me to cope with. I have got together the ideas I wish to share with my Sinhalese brethren in this Q and A document for publication.
Questions posed by Dr Gunasekara and the CM‘s answers are given below:
Dr. Gunasekara: What proof is there for your statement that North and East of Sri Lanka have been occupied by the forefathers of the Tamils from pre Buddhistic times?
CM: You must pardon me for looking up my notes to answer your question. According to S.U. Deraniyagala (The Pre Historical Perspective – Department of Archaeological Survey- 1992 – page 61) Sri Lanka which had been part of the land mass of the Indian subcontinent became an island about 7,000 years ago when it physically separated from Southern India. On that basis the populations of South India and Sri Lanka were of the same ethnic stock prior to and after separation.
Studies on the early people of Sri Lanka have been carried out in the last fifty years. Some Western Universities, UNESCO, and certain universities of Sri Lanka and qualified archaeologists were engaged in this research. Their findings have provided us with reports, archaeological artefacts, stone inscriptions and evidence from ancient literature all of which contain significant information on the pre historic people of Sri Lanka.
The stone tools used during the Stone Age (Pre Historic Period) in the North, East and North West regions of Sri Lanka and those used in South India, particularly along the Thirunelveli coasts in Tamil Nadu, are almost identical. Thus it would be seen that the early people living in these two regions shared common cultural traits.
The dawn of the Iron Age, the next phase after Stone Age, occurred in South India and Sri Lanka about 3,000 years ago. The culture of urn burial in which the ashes of a person dead and cremated are placed in a large earthen urn along with the dead person’s favourite tools and buried in the earth was widely spread among the Iron Age people in South India and Sri Lanka. This culture began nearly 3,000 years ago and spread out until about 200 B.C. This culture was followed widely among people in South India and the Northern Region in Sri Lanka. The findings in the Mannar Region, Kantarodai and other areas in Jaffna Region, Puttalam and Pomparippu in the North West Region, Pooneryn and other areas in the Vanni Region have unearthed these cultural artefacts. (Vide Professor Indrapala – pages 91 to 111 – The Ethnic Identity – The Tamils in Sri Lanka, Circa 300 Before Christian Era to Circa 1200 Christian Era – MV Publications –The South Asian Studies Centre, Sydney, 2006)
Full details of the researches made in recent times have been given in the latest book brought out by Dr. Murugar Gunasingham under the heading Tamils in Sri Lanka – A Comprehensive History Circa 300 BC to Circa 2000 AD published by aforesaid MV Publications in Sydney in 2016.
It is significant to refer to the fact that many reports of excavations carried out recently are yet to be published. In fact when a seal inscribed with Brahmi letters was unearthed in the 1980s containing an ancient Dravidian word inscribed on it, the then Government of Sri Lanka refused permission to continue the excavation. Many inscriptions and historical data are mysteriously missing in recent times. Recently an earthen urn similar to what had been found in the North of Sri Lanka and in South India belonging to the relevant period was found in Hambantota District. One wonders what has happened to such important findings.
This is typical of conditions in Sri Lanka. There are certain pseudo intellectuals among us in Sri Lanka who would like to barter truth and cogent evidence for their fanciful ideas to distort history.
The Sangam Period Tamil Literature provides clear evidence that the Tamil Language developed into a classical language about 2,000 years ago. This language in use in South India at that time is said to have been in use at the same time in Sri Lanka too.
Certainly it could not have been the Sinhala language that existed at that time since the Sinhala language which emerged from Tamil Prakrit, Pali and Sanskrit gained currency only around the eighth century AD in the Anuradhapura kingdom and those speaking Sinhala acquired a distinct identity as Sinhalese people only then. The Sinhala language prior to its origin in Sri Lanka did not exist either in Sri Lanka or India or any other region.
It is evident from stone inscriptions of the Early Iron Age and references made in Prakrit and Pali literature that Tamil was the language used by the people of that time. (Vide
B. Krishnamurthi – Dravidian Languages – Cambridge University Press, 2003, Page 2).
It is interesting to note that King Dutugemunu could not have been a Sinhalese since the Sinhala language had not been born at the time he lived!
Professor Indrapala in his book The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity, earlier referred to (2005), at page 106 says that the old popular notion of our Island being settled by Aryan migrants during the Early Iron Age has no basis. The term Aryan and Dravidian cannot justifiably be used to describe any section of the Island’s population in the Early Iron Age or even later. The archaeological record does not offer evidence for any significant migration of people into the Island in this period. In other words the Mahawansa had been identified as a Chronological legend for the glorification of Buddhism and not a historical treatise as some people try to make out. It is significant to note that other eminent scholars such as Professor Lesley Gunawardene, the famous archaeologists P. Deraniyagala, Siran Deraniyagala and Sudharshan Seneviratne have made similar inferences in their studies with regard to migration of people into the Island during the relevant period.
Thus my statement that North and East of Sri Lanka have been occupied by the forefathers of the Tamils from pre Buddhistic times was not a racially biased statement. It is supported by latest researches and findings. I have no need to deviate from the beaten track traversed by eminent historians as well as their findings based on research.
I am quite aware what sort of reaction the above historical and archaeological data could bring among our diehard Sinhalese brethren. It is my humble submission that most of our political leaders and Sinhala elitists living in a world of make believe isolating themselves from reality must realize the harm done by pseudo intellectuals among us in the past when they portrayed a history of the Sinhalese which was not in consonance with archaeological research and findings. A matured appreciation of our past might pave the way for greater understanding between the major communities in this Island.
Dr. Gunasekara: What are the boundaries of the North and East claimed as Tamil Homelands?
CM: Many Agreements have been entered into between leaders of the Tamil and Sinhalese communities since Independence.
Many clever manoeuvrings have been undertaken by successive Governments to bring traditional Tamil areas like ManalAru and Kantalai, under other provincial boundaries to colonize them with persons from outside the Tamil speaking Provinces. Some villages to the South of Amparai District were annexed and co-opted into the Moneragala District. In recent times colonization with the help of the military is going on at a rapid rate. The idea seems to be to distort the demography of the areas traditionally Tamil speaking by disturbing the contiguity of the North and East by colonization. Actually there is no need for the military to be in the North and East after eight years since the end of the War. The reason for continuing to keep them in such large numbers occupying extensive tracts of lands seems to be connected to hidden agendas unrelated to security.
Under the circumstances boundaries if referred to would only be relevant theoretically. We must not forget that Tamil speaking people lived until recent times up to Negombo along the western coastal areas but many have now preferred to call themselves Sinhalese. Their Christian or Portuguese names have helped them to undergo transformation without much difficulty. Their Tamil Deeds of title to land up to the early twentieth century will speak volumes regarding their past before transformation. If they were Sinhalese the Deeds need not have been in Tamil.
Thus boundaries to the North and East must be subject of discussion after proper study and understanding.
Dr. Gunasekara: A statement made by TNA MP R. Sampanthan that Tamil people occupied Jaffna since 1215 AD and his claims for a Tamil Kingdom of Jaffna from 13th Century to 17th Century. But you being a member of the same political party and Chief Minister of Northern Provincial Council claim that Tamil people occupied North and East before 3rd Century BC. Accordingly two different types of statements made by two main leaders of the same party reveals, that there is a controversy about Tamil history. Would you comment?
CM: There is no controversy or contradiction. I have made a general statement based on archaeological and historical research and findings. I do not know what Sampanthan said and where he has said so. But it appears he has referred to specifics while I referred to the general. To refer to the existence of the Kingdom of Jaffna in 1215 AD is specific and refers to a particular historical event. My reference is to the general history. There is no contradiction. One complements the other.
Dr. Gunasekara: The next question refers to Federalism. To ask for Federal Units amounts to separation seems to be the comment.
CM: The request for Federalism is based on the existing ground situation. We are not asking the Government to carve out a new State. There are existing characteristics on ground, which ideally suit the recognition of Federal Units. A series of aborted Agreements between the Government and the Tamils have recognized the existence of Tamil speaking areas on ground. The Federal Unit under a Federal Constitution would only confirm and conform to the understanding the parties to such Agreements possessed so far.
Federalism has been given a false and distorted interpretation by the leaders of this country since Independence. Let us not forget even though the late S.W.RD. Bandaranaike was the first to moot the idea of a Federal State in 1926 on his return from Oxford it was the Kandyans who moved officially for a Federal Unit for the Kandyans circa 1944 to preserve the individuality of the Kandyans. They referred to inter alia specific areas occupied by them, special customs and way of life that characterized their individuality and special Laws. Somehow we have lost sight of such matters after independence. I sometimes wonder whether Mr. Bandaranaike, a Low Country Sinhalese from Veyangoda, marrying Sirimavo, an Up Country Sinhalese from Balangoda, had something to do with Federalism losing favour among the Sinhalese!
We must remember Federalism helps different people with divergent views and ways of life to come together. It was the stupidity of our political leaders to attempt to impose their way of life on all other communities in this country which has led to the impasse we have been facing so far. In fact one of our leaders of the past had been referred to as the leader of the majority community with a minority complex. We find the tendency to dominate politically still persists among our leaders. Federalism could ease the situation.
Dr. Gunasekara: Another question refers to words used by you in your interview on the 23rd of February. What is Ilangayist vis-a-vis Eelamist? And what does Sinhalisation connote?
CM: Though in fact Eelamist means Ilangayist, we have narrowed down Eelamist to mean Tamil Eelamist. In other words though Eelam meant Ceylon and referred to the whole Island the war was for only Tamil Eelam. So when I referred to Ilangayist I referred to the Island as a whole not to Tamil Eelam.
Sinhalisation is a word used by me to connote attempts by successive majority based Central Governments to go against the accepted norms of colonization. When you colonize jungle areas or abandoned areas, the rules are that the people of that area must be given first preference. If there are no such persons interested then persons from the same District and thereafter the same Province must be given preference. If they too are not interested, people from the same community who inhabit the surrounding colonization areas hailing from other Districts or Provinces must be given preference.
In Sri Lanka that was not followed. An opportunity for locals was not given. In areas which should have been colonized by Tamils from the same Region, District, and Province or from the entire Island, straightaway Sinhalese from other areas were brought and colonized. In the early days it was IRCs (Island’s Reconvicted Criminals) who were brought in. I have had opportunities of meeting these Colonists around 1970s when they were forcibly brought down to live in areas around Trincomalee. Many Sinhala villages now dotting the Trincomalee District were not there before 1970. Forcibly Sinhalese were brought in from outside the District and helped by the State to colonize the areas around Trincomalee District. I say ‘forcibly’ because I remember speaking to some of these Colonists who took me for a Sinhalese official from Colombo. They complained that the Government had brought them into that God forsaken place and forcibly left them there to fend for themselves. They had no water, no proper shelter nor money. They wanted me to speak to the Government and get them some benefits!
So what I meant by Sinhalisation was forcible tampering with the demography of an area with ulterior motives to transform non Sinhala areas into Sinhala areas. In this respect, our successive Governments had been following the Zionist colonization methods adopted in Palestinian areas. The continuation of occupation by a large contingent of Sinhala soldiers in traditionally Tamil speaking areas is part of this process of Sinhalisation.
(Part II follows tomorrow)