07 May 2015

Devolution-justification: how about some truth, accountability and reconciliation?*

Truth, accountability and reconciliation are being talked about a lot these days. Interestingly, many who use these terms think ‘truth’ is equal to systemic and deliberation massacre of Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan security forces. They believe ‘accountability’ is about the Government pleading guilty to such charges. Finally, they equate ‘reconciliation’ to ‘power sharing’ which in turn they believe is about devolving power to provinces whose boundaries were arbitrarily drawn by some white men almost two centuries ago and over which they assume Tamil people have exclusive claims (‘traditional homelands’).

There are some ‘truths’ that are disconcerting to those who subscribe to the above rendition of grievance/aspiration.  Less than 50% of the Tamil population actually lives in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.  As such, the North and East (which constitute more than a third of the land mass) is to be handed over to less than 6% of the population and they would get almost half the coast to boot, courtesy ‘reconciliation via devolution’.  Another interesting and damning demographic detail that’s left out by these pundits is that the Tamil population in the East is concentrated in a ten mile wide stretch along the coast.  Given demographic realities, if police powers are devolved, the majority of Tamils in the island would have to live under the generosity of Sinhala or Muslim Chief Ministers. 

There are other ‘truths’ that are footnoted or ignored.  Here are some. On February 14, 1766, Kirthi Sri Rajasinha, the King of the Kandyan Kingdom ceded a stretch of land in the Eastern part of the island, 10 miles in width from the coast to the Dutch East India Company.  Prof. James Crawford refers to this treaty in his book ‘The creation of states in international law’ as one of the earliest such agreements recorded.  The implication is that the Kandyan Kingdon had the right to cede that portion of land and that it continued to have sovereignty over the rest of the territory until the British obtained full control of the island in 1815. 

In 1766 therefore there was no question of sovereignty of any other polity and when the relinquished sovereignty was recovered and reasserted in 1948 by the State of Ceylon it naturally reverted to the political geography prior to the signing of that treaty. 

That treaty, moreover, is the genesis of the demographic realities of today’s Eastern Province, referring to above. The ancestors of the vast majority of Tamils in the Eastern Province were brought there by the Dutch to grow tobacco. Even today the majority of the GramaNiladhari divisions contain a Sinhala majority population. 

Tamil chauvinists and those who have swallowed their myths (which come with ‘fact’ tag) uncritically speak of a ‘Tamil Nation’ that co-existed with the ‘Sinhala Nation’. For ‘centuries’, they add.  Arguments that contradict this thesis are summarily brushed aside as the imaginations of Sinhala racists.  Well, here’s what a celebrated Dravidian monarch and quite a powerful one at that says about this island and to whom it belonged way back in the 10th Century.  This is in the year 993 AD, right in the middle of the golden period of Chola expansion/invasion.   Raja Raja Chola invaded the island in that year.  He is known as a builder of Hindu Temples.  The inscriptions at these places, according to the Archaeological Survey of India, resolve all doubts about traditional homelands and sovereignty.  The inscriptions at the temples in Tanjavur and Ukkal speak in glorifying vein that Raja Raja Chola conquered many countries, including one ‘Ila-mandalam’.  The inscription elaborates that this ‘was the country of the warlike Singalas’.  The plunder of wealth, one notes, is not from ‘Singalas’ who lived in ‘Ila-mandalam’ (‘Ila’ being a corruption of ‘Sihala’ or ‘Hela’) but the land of the ‘Singalas’, whether they were warlike or not being irrelevant to the issue. 

The archeological evidence shows that what is today called the Northern and Eastern Provinces were at one time the heartland of Buddhist civilization in the island.  Although there have been claims that these were the work of Tamil Buddhists, the thesis is not supported outside the rhetoric.

It is a strange fact isn’t it that Tamil chauvinists have no reliable historical tract they can reference to buttress homeland-claim?  They have to twist-read the Sinhala chronicles.  Or else bank on a lyrical fantasy whose value as even a supplementary source for obtaining historical transcript is negligible if not zero. 

These are the thoughts that came to mind when I read N. Satya Moorthy’s column in the Daily Mirror (May 9, 2011).  The name means ‘Mirror of Truth’, and I am sure the columnist would pardon and correct me if I am wrong.   His assertions were astounding and betrayed a rank ignorance of the history of this country and more seriously the demographic, geographic and economic realities upon which ‘solution’ must be planted.  Misread terrain and you get crop failure or worse, a weed that invades and corrupts. 

The term he uses is ‘incremental devolution’.  This is C.J.V. Chelvanayakam all over again, nothing else. ‘Chelva’ a non-native Tamil who is one of the key architects of Tamil chauvinism and marauding separatism, opined that bit-by-bit was the best way to get Eelam, viz., ‘A little now, more later’.  This is why ‘devolution’ is not the ‘moderation’ sweet that Satya Moorthy claims it is.  In fact, he is advocating ‘Asymmetrical Devolution’, which gives legitimacy to the fantastic claims made by Tamil chauvinism.  Once done, history will not be referenced again, for Tamil Chauvinism can claim thus: ‘The Sinhala Buddhist dominated (hardly!) state of its own accord recognized implicitly the veracity of our traditional homeland claim by resolving to devolve power to the relevant boundaries as a solution to expressed grievance’.  Throw in asymmetry, as SatyaMoorthy advocates, and it will buttress this argument even further.
He uses an interesting term: ‘victim community’.  Now there is no argument that there are citizenship anomalies and that grievances do exist. The key issue is to identify the true dimension of these grievances, in other words, obtain truth by un-frilling claim of rhetoric and fantasy.  The Sinhalese too are a victim community. So too the Buddhists.  How about some ‘redress’ for the poor, while we are at it?  SatyaMoorthy is engaging in a deft exercise of obfuscation here.  

A sense of belonging is needed.  It is needed by every citizen.  This is what constitutional reform should keep in mind.  Truth is of great value here.  Accountability too. Those who make wild claims must substantiate. And those, like SatyaMoorthy, who in ignorance and/or arrogance advocate without substantiating argument must be held accountable for they are the architects of future mistrust among communities.   That’s how we can get to ‘reconciliation’. 
The bottom line is ‘truth’.  Hard to digest, I know, but it will emerge again and again to trump the ignorant, the chauvinist and the conscious or unconscious meddler.


*This was first published in the 'Daily Mirror' on December 10, 2011.  Re-posting here because some lies are repeated so often that they have to be responded to as frequently.