History Of The Conflict

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At the turn of this century, there existed an elite group of mission school educated Christian Tamils in Jaffna and Colombo, who held privileged positions under the colonial government. Like many colonials, the British had a policy of 'divide and rule', thus favouring and patronising a small minority group and elevating them above the majority (Sinhalese) and also above ordinary Tamils and Muslims.

This was a rather effective mean of colonial administrative control. This elite group became prominent political leaders in the early 20th century. They had been nurtured in the Christian-mission-schools set up mainly in Jaffna and Colombo for that very purpose. Table 3 shows the bias towards the Jaffna peninsula if not the Northern Province (36 Schools) while many Sinhalese dominant provinces had hardly any such schools.

As long as the British ruled the country, the favoured groups of Tamils had no qualms about enjoying their privileged position, but with the impending departure of the British, they foresaw a grave threat to their privileges from the majority (non-English educated) Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims who would naturally take over the reins of power.

Since the call for independence was strong and too strong to resist (many colonials were granted independence after World War II), these Tamil politicians were alarmed and demanded what is euphemistically known as the 'fifty - fifty' solution (i.e. 50% seats in parliament to the 13% minority Ceylon Tamils and other minority groups and remaining 50% to the 74% majority Sinhalese). If this had been granted, it would have ensured Tamil minority dominance in Sri Lanka and would have given rise to an apartheid situation as in South Africa under white minority rule. The British Government quite rightly rejected this demand outright, and granted independence to Sri Lanka in 1948.

Having failed in their unreasonable attempt to dominate the political arena in Sri Lanka, one section of the Tamil elite formed the first quasi-separatist political party in 1949 (one year after independence) it was called (in Tamil) "Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi" (Ceylon Tamil State Party) which they misnamed 'Federal Party' for the purpose of their real intentions, viz., separation. S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, an elite-Christian, Tamil lawyer was its founder leader. Having failed to dominate the political scenario in the country, the 'Federal Party' s express purpose was to work towards the establishment of a separate Tamil State within the so-called 'Tamil Homeland' in the North and East. This was the sequel to the loss of colonial privileges to this elite group of Tamils.

Origin of Tamil Separatist Movement:

In 1947 two years prior to forming the FP, S. J. V. Chelvanayagam claimed in Parliament that: Tamils had a right to secede and federate with an independent South India.' Meanwhile, a secessionist movement was developing in the South India and the DMK party was formed, Prof. Appadurai of the DMK party, writing on its aims and objectives stated that:
"Ceylon is already semi-Tamil and when Ceylon comes under their rule, the envisaged Tamil Free State will possess the best Tamil harbour in the World, Trincomalee."

These moves and statements by Tamil leaders of Sri Lanka and South India at the time of independence are significant. They clearly herald impending moves towards separation of 'Tamil Regions' in both countries to form a 'FREE TAMIL STATE' (some named it Tamil Empire).

Homeland Theory and Campaigning:

To legitimise the separatist campaign thus originated to claim for the existence of a historical and linguistic Tamil 'Homeland' within Sri Lanka as well as its geographic boundaries had to be established. Towards this process (there actually being no historical Tamil homeland in any part of Sri Lanka) history had to be distorted and rewritten and an international disinformation campaign launched. This campaign has been very successful in portraying a highly distorted picture to the international community. Its success has been partially due to total inactivity of successive Sri Lankan Governments, which never made any serious attempt to counter this insidious campaign. However, this myth seems to have been abandoned now by some separatist followers in view of the facts established against it by recognised historians at least at a late stage.

Distortion of history for the purpose of legitimising the purported existence of a 'Historical Homeland' is best illustrated by the following resolution adopted by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in May 1976 at Vadukkoddai.

"Whereas throughout the centuries from the dawn of history, the Sinhalese and the Tamil nations have divided between them the possession of Ceylon, the Sinhalese inhabiting the interior parts of the country in its Southern and Western parts from the river Walawe to that of Chilaw, and the Tamils possessing the Northern and the Eastern Districts"


"...Tamil Eelam shall consist of the Northern and Eastern Provinces."

The TULF resolution tries to establish a Tamil homeland (Eelam) in the Northern Province and Eastern Province and is based on a paragraph from a single piece of writing, the Cleghorn Minute of 1799. Briefly,
stated, Hugh Cleghorn was a colonial official, who after a brief visit to the island wrote a memorandum on the Dutch system of administration of justice in the maritime regions which the British had just conquered. The Dutch maritime settlements referred to was a thin strip of coast line in the South West which had a Sinhalese majority and a thin strip of coastline in the east Jaffna in the north where were Tamils and Muslims.

The TULF has deliberately distorted this to extend the Dutch-held coastal strip occupied by Tamil speaking people (as described by Cleghom who referred to the Dutch maritime settlements only) to the whole of the present day Northern Province and Eastern Province. (Map 1), which were created much later around 1874.

Thus the facts of history, demography and geography have been distorted by Tamil political groups and a clever attempt has been made to mislead the international community on this dubious claim of the existence of a 'historical Tamil Homeland' in Sri Lanka.

It must also be categorically stated that this has been rejected by well known scholars as not conforming to known facts of history and that the paragraph from the Cleghorn Minute has been misinterpreted in support of Tamil claims.

The accepted position of the Sinhalese is that Sri Lanka is the homeland of ALL its citizens, irrespective of race or religion. The Sinhalese have never proposed any discriminatory measures against minorities nor have they claimed special privileges or territory in contrast to the Tamil separatists.


What Tamil Homeland:

A certain ambiguity becomes evident when dealing with the claim of the Tamil separatists. When questioned on the validity of the historic, 'evidence' in support of their 'Tamil Homeland' theory, they immediate evade the issue. They know that no valid evidence is available instead, they insist that the demand for a Tamil Homeland' arose as a result of Tamils being discriminated against by successive governments after independence.

This is red herring, designed to hide the fact that the real demand for a Tamil state is based on the 'historical homeland' concept, which concept is emphasised in their three non-negotiable demands and which has no valid historical basis.

The homeland concept was officially submitted by the FP in 1949 just after independence, while the first 'Tamil problem' mentioned by Tamil separatists (viz. the Sinhala only language policy) arose in 1956 that is seven years later Tamil separatists are unable to explain the discrepancy.

How the so-called 'Tamil Problem' could have been foreseen years before these problems arose and how a solution (creating a Tamil Homeland) could have been suggested to problems yet unborn, remains a mystery. Thus, Tamil separatist ambiguity becomes almost self-evident. The issue of 'Tamil Problems' is no doubt a red herring, basically for the purpose of propaganda.

At the All-Party Conference (APC) of 1984, Tamil political groups were requested to specify 'Tamil Problems' so that solutions could ' discussed without resorting to separating the country into ethnic regions. The Tamil groups refused to specify these 'problems' saying that they can solve their own problems once a separate state was granted them.

From a reading of documents emanating from the Tamil separatist lobby, it would appear that the Tamil problems are basically administrative issues except for episodes of anti-Tamil violence between 1956 and 1983. Issues have been generally distorted and blown out of proportion for propaganda purposes. Many of these issues have been effectively addressed by successive governments.

  1. These problems are as follows:
  2. The Sinhala only language policy of 1956
  3. Anti-Tamil riots
  4. Disenfranchisement of Indian (plantations) Tamils
  5. State - aided colonisation in the Northern Province and Eastern Province
    Arbitrary arrest of Tamils
  6. Poor educational facilities and standardisation of marks for University admissions
  7. Poor employment opportunities and discrimination in employment


The following are brief explanations to these problems, many of which have already been addressed and solved.

  1. Sinhala only language policy of 1956
    Although 'Sinhala only policy was introduced in 1956, provisions were made for Tamil to operate as an administrative language in the north and east of the island. In fact, the legislation, which permitted this (introduced in 1958), was not limited in its provision to the Northern and Eastern Provinces but to the whole island. Also, Tamils were permitted to educate their children in their own language from the 1940s. This was continued undisturbed after 1956. Such a two-language policy (for an 18% minority) does not occur even in the UK, USA or other countries where minorities live. In any case Tamil was recognised as a national language in the 1978 Constitution and the problem no longer exists.
  2. Anti - Tamil Riots
    There have been anti-Tamil riots in 1958,1977 and in 1983. Since then, despite widespread terrorist activities, there have been no such incidents. Despite the brutal slaughter of innocent Sinhalese villages, bomb-blasts in Colombo and the assassination of several political leaders, there has been no anti-Tamil backlash since 1983. The early anti-Tamil riots were organised by politically motivated gangs and looters. The Sinhalese as a community were never involved and in fact, Tamils were protected by their Sinhalese friends and neighbours.
    Former Chief Justice, Mr. M.C. Sansoni, a non Sinhalese who headed the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the 1977 riots stated (Sansoni Commission Report, Page 280):"The cry for 'Eelam' raised by the TULF' was the main cause for the disturbances'.
    He further said: "Therefore the first measure I would like to recommend to prevent a recurrence of this type of disturbances is that this claim for Eelam be abandoned"
    This makes it clear that such riots were instigated by Tamil politicians who were willing to sacrifice some of their own people so as to gain political mileage in their quest for a separate state.
  3. Disenfranchisement of Indian (plantations) Tamils
    According to the several pacts between India and Sri Lanka, most of the Tamil labour should have returned to India. They were migrant labour like Mexicans in the Southern USA and Asians in the Gulf countries. Until the 1940s Plantation trade unions and Tamil
    politicians capitalised on this issue. It is therefore absolutely incorrect to say that this labour was resident here for over 100 years, since colonial government records of arrival and departure show they were seasonal migrants. Disenfranchisement was a temporary issue, until repatriation problems were sorted out. All remaining Indians are now Sri Lankan citizens. In no other country in the world has such a large group of aliens (over one million) been granted citizenship en-bloc without a mandatory period of naturalisation.
  4. State aided colonisation in the Northern Province and Eastern Province
    Irrigation projects in the North and East have significantly benefited Tamils and Muslims of these provinces. Sinhalese have been settled only in the Sinhalese predominant Assistant Government Agents (AGA) Divisions (Sub divisions of districts) of the Eastern Province. No Sinhalese were settled in the Northern Province irrigation schemes irrespective of the fact that this was an area where Sinhalese predominantly occupied right throughout history till recent times.
    The Eastern Province has always been Sinhalese occupied except for parts of the remaining coastal strip around Batticaloa. We also note that most of the remaining irrigable lands (62%) are found in the Northern Province and Eastern Province.
  5. Arbitrary arrest of Tamils
    Under the prevailing 'war' situation and with terrorist bombing in Colombo airport, Central Bank etc., suspect Tamils have to be questioned. The Government exercises much restraint in the process. Human right groups confirm that every possible measure has been taken to avoid excesses under the prevailing tense situation.
  6. Poor educational facilities and 'Standardisation' of marks for university admission
    From the l9th century onwards the Tamil community has enjoyed better education facilities than the other groups. Even now, the largest number of schools and colleges outside Colombo is in Jaffna. Two exclusive Universities (of the nine national Universities in Sri Lanka) are reserved by Tamils to themselves in the North and East. All other Universities admit all communities including Tamils.
    Although the Sri Lanka Tamil population is only 12.6% Universities have admitted a much larger proportion of Tamils over the years. In 1978, Tamil admissions were: Medicine 42%, Veterinary Science 50%, Agriculture 30% Engineering 35%, Architecture 30%.
    Standardisation (statistical weighting system) was designed to help disadvantaged students from rural districts irrespective of race. Thus, rural Tamils have benefited from this scheme. On the other hand the urban privileged students feel discriminated. This includes Sinhalese (from Colombo) as well. The system was never designed to discriminate against Tamils. In any case it was abandoned in 1978-79.
  7. Poor employment opportunities and discrimination in employment
    Tamils as a whole, are economically better off than Sinhalese. Even the plantation Indian Tamils are better off than they're Sinhalese village counterparts in the vicinity of the plantations. The Sri Lanka constitution has specific provisions to safeguard the rights of ALL citizens irrespective of ethnicity and religion. Tamils enjoy in Sri Lanka proportionately a large number of places in the professions and in business. There are large numbers of Tamil doctors, engineers, lawyers, accountants, company directors, businessmen who have reached the highest levels in their professions. As regards employment in the state sector, for instance in 1982, 35% of doctors,35% of engineers, 33% of accountants, 39% of veterinary surgeons, and 30% of the surveyors were Sri Lankan Tamils who comprise 12.6% of the population. Sri Lanka Tamils, apart form being cabinet ministers in successive governments, have occupied high positions in the state services and have since independence held high positions as the Chief Justice, Judges of the Supreme Court, Ambassadors, Secretaries to Ministers, Attorney General, Commander of the Army, Commander of the Navy, Inspector General of Police, Commissioner General of Inland Revenue, Surveyor-General and Director General of Health Services. Thus it becomes abundantly clear that Tamils were not discriminated but were treated equally or even better.


From 1972 onwards there was in the North, a reign of terror by the Youth Groups of the TUF later re-named the TULF with the full and complete support of the active leadership of that party. Some Tamil politicians who supported the Government such as Alfred Durayappah, the Mayor of Jaffna, were murdered and attempts made on the lives of others; Tamil police officers and police informers were murdered; buses and railway carriages were destroyed; guns and explosives collected through robbery and smuggling; banks and co-operatives were robbed; the Buddhist Naga Vihare in Jaffna was damaged with bombs; inflamatory and seditious slogans such as "One Race, One Religion, That is the Tamil Religion" (sic), "Let the Sinhalese Republic be destroyed", and "The dogs who betray will be shot" appeared on the walls of Jaffna; and Tamil police officers who did their duty were referred to as "traitors", and the Police in general as "an army of occupation" and as "police dogs" by TULF speakers. While all this was going on no witnesses came forward to depose to any of the multitude of politically motivated crimes committed from 1972 onwards, and police officers investigating these crimes came up against a wall of silence.

Thus the Civil war for the creation of a separate State of Tamil Eelam did not commence in 1983 as is popularly believed but in 1972, before standardization; before the communal riots of 1977, 1981 and 1983; and before the burning of the Jaffna Library. The fact that the TUF, later called the TULF, the dominant party in both of which was the ITAK which originally made a demand for a separate state in 1949, promoted, nurtured, fostered and ecouraged the reign of terror in Jaffna which commenced in 1972 is beyond question.

This is the same TULF that played a significant role in drafting the current Devolution Package.

Extracts from Tamil Separatist Issue in Sri Lanka and The Devolution Proposals by S.B .Hettiaratchi and 


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