By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Descending from the family that produced Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, C.V. Wigneswaran is a celebrated Sri Lankan. Lawyer, Supreme Court Justice and now Chief Minister of the Northern Province, he is also a man unafraid to voice his convictions. Recovering recently from minor surgery, Wigneswaran responded, via email, to some questions from Ceylon Today over the debate on the proposed new Constitution.
Here is the first part of that email:
You visited the Mahanayake Theras recently. Later at a public event you said they suffer from misunderstandings. Could you please elaborate?
Answer: Firstly, they feel our request for Federalism is indeed a request to divide the country. Secondly they feel this country is Sinhala Buddhist and therefore all other communities must accept that Buddhism must be given the foremost place. Thirdly, one of the priests referred to Devanampiya Tissa as a Sinhala King.
There were other statements made by them from wrong perceptions. But let me deal with these three for the moment.
When the whole world says federalism is a constitutional method to keep disparate units together as one composite-whole, the priests continue to say that federalism is separation. I think they fear that recognition of the individuality of the North and East would one day allow the North and East to separate. There is no basis for that fear. If that were so each unit in a federal country would have separated. But that has not happened. French speaking Quebec preferred to stay with English speaking Canada.
In reality there is already a separate existence under the 13th Amendment in relation to each Province. Federalism is not going to make a significant difference in relation to the manner in which people presently live. If you bring into being a fully-fledged Federal Sri Lanka, giving federal rights to each of the nine Provinces, still there would not be any mass exodus of people from one Province to another. The fear that federalism entails all Tamils to be packed off to the North and East and the Sinhalese to the Southern areas is baseless. The choice is theirs. They are still Sri Lankans. They have a right to travel from Point Pedro to Dondra as citizens of this great country.
Further, the Colombo Tamils must realize they are living in a Cosmopolitan Metropolis. I believe there are more non-Sinhalese in the Greater Colombo area than Sinhalese. There would not be any need for the Colombo Tamils to move to the North or East. There would not be any mass exodus of Sinhalese from the North nor East. They could continue to live where they live now. They would be dealt with just as how the Centre now deals with the Tamils. The two Sinhalese Provincial Council Members amidst us in the NPC speak in Sinhalese in the Council. We reply them in Sinhala. Translations of documents are given and interpretation facilities are granted.
Therefore, the fears of the Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera and the Members of his Karaka Sabha are baseless.
Next, is their belief that this country is Sinhala Buddhist. It is not so. A majority may be Sinhala Buddhist. That does not entitle them to call the country ‘Sinhala Buddhist’. Doing so amounts to bullying. In fact, the bringing in of the ‘Sinhala Only Act’ was also bullying. Brutally assaulting those who opposed the passing of the Act, was also bullying.
It is dictatorship of the majority!
Recent inscriptions and excavations have proved that the original inhabitants of this island were Dravidians. DNA tests show the Sinhalese to be the progeny of the original Dravidians. The Sinhala language came into use only by the 6th century AD. The Mahawansa is in Pali not in Sinhala. That was because the Sinhala language was yet to be born at that time and 40% of Sinhala words are from Tamil.
Also, for about 3 to 4 centuries, the Tamils in the North and East were Buddhists. Our famous literary works like Manimekalai were Buddhist in content. There were Buddhist Tamil places of learning in South India during that period. Thus, the original Buddhists of Sri Lanka were Tamils (The Demala Baudhayo). They gave up Buddhism when the four Nayanars emerged. By their uncanny spiritual powers and devotion, they were able to draw back the original Hindus who became Buddhists into the fold of Hinduism once again. Therefore, Buddhism was rejected by the Northern and Eastern Tamils quite some time ago. The archaeological remains in the North and East were left by the Demala Baudhayo not Sinhala Baudhayo. Therefore, if Buddhism is to be given foremost place that should be relegated to the seven Provinces South of North and East because the Tamil speaking non Buddhists are the majority in the North and East and the Hindus had rejected Buddhism long ago. North and East could be federal and secular.
Giving foremost place to Buddhism does not have anything to do with the Buddha nor his teachings. It has something to do with the organized Buddhist religion which means the Priesthood would expect a special place for themselves and the right to interfere with the Government and its administration. That is what they do now bringing disrepute to the religion founded on the teachings of the Great Buddha. If the Constitution says the basic tenets of Buddhism viz. Metta, Karuna, Upekkha and Muditha should govern the actions and activities of all citizens, I do not think anyone would mind it. But it would be better to include also the charitable disposition of Christians, Brotherhood of Muslims and selfless love of Hindus into the equation. But giving foremost place to Buddhism in the Constitution would lead to the Sinhalese Buddhists building unwanted places of Buddhist worship in the North and East and surreptitiously converting our people. The Buddhist leaders who object to conversion by Christians and Muslims must not do themselves the very thing they object to of others.
Only a Hindu could point this out because we have never been known to convert others to our religion.
You would see that Buddhist priests are a law unto themselves in the North and East as elsewhere, while Buddhism being given foremost place in our Constitution has given rise to such aberrations among our Buddhist clergy. Knowing what it does, should we continue to agitate for such special position to one religion?
Referring to Devanampiya Tissa as a Sinhala King was historically wrong. There was no Sinhala language at the time he was alive. His name was Devanai Nampiya Theesan – one who believed in God – his name was Tamil.
Therefore, the Asgiriya priests should get rid of their misunderstandings and wrong beliefs before finding fault with us Tamils. They could refer to books by Tamil historians like Professors Pathmanathan, Sitrampalam, Indrapala (his latest book in 2005) and Pushparatnam to get the correct view of our past in the North and East.
Read the next part of Wigneswaran’s responses in next Sunday’s Ceylon Today.