That Irresistible “Exclusivity” Pledge

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe

There was once a contented man who worked in the king’s palace. The king was baffled how this one man could be happy when others could not. When he asked his chief advisor about this, the chief advisor requested the king to give this man a bag of 99 gold coins. Almost that day onwards, the king observed a change in this man. He was no longer happy or at peace with himself. He seemed harassed and under pressure. The king asked his chief advisor what could have caused the change in this man.

The adviser explained that since this man got 99 gold coins, he has become obsessed with somehow earning the hundredth gold coin. Instead of appreciating the 99 gold coins he has at hand, he is now tormented with what he does not. In pursuit of this one coin, this man was losing his contentment and health.

The Tamils living in the North and the East are like this man who is obsessed with the one coin that is not in their possession. That one coin is more important and significant to them than the 99 coins they do hold.

Sri Lanka is the home of all Sri Lankans – not just home to one community. True, the majority of the country are Sinhala Buddhists. That fact however has not made any of the other citizens less stakeholders in this country. Yet, from the minute the idea was planted to create the Northern peninsular and the Eastern coastal stretch into an exclusive homeland just for the Tamils, the fact that they have an entire island as their home is lost on them. That “exclusivity” has become the missing coin to the Tamils in these areas.

As the Tamils in these areas failed to appreciate the fact that they are Sri Lankans, they had never been able to understand the affairs of the country from a national perspective. As a result, their thinking has become both parochial and paranoid. Important pieces of legislations that were introduced to redress national anomalies such as language and education have been misinterpreted as a direct assault on the Tamils.

Many political analysts like to believe that the root for a separation arose with the recognition of Sinhala as the administrative language of the land. At the time, over 95 percent of the population was fluent in Sinhala. When the population constituted about 75 percent Sinhalese, it is obvious that Sinhala was the widely used language that was used by all communities in Sri Lanka. English on the other hand was known to less than five percent of the population. A less acknowledged fact is that while Sinhala was thus recognized, Tamil was also recognized to be used in the North and the East due to the predominance of Tamil speaking communities. Subsequently, Tamil was also made a national language of Sri Lanka.

By making Sinhala the official language, people across the communities that were ostracized by the British and by their followers were freed. They were able to progress in their lives that had been denied to them before.

The case with education is similar. Until standardization was introduced, only few areas such as Jaffna and Colombo were able to produce students who could qualify for a tertiary education. By introducing standardization, students from schools with lesser facilities were also able to enter universities.

Yet, this was interpreted as a move against Tamil students from North from gaining a university education. Again, the unacknowledged facts are that it is not only the schools from the North, but also from areas such as Colombo, Kandy and Galle that had to attain a higher aggregate than other schools to enter universities. Apart from Jaffna, the other schools are from predominantly Sinhala populated areas. Therefore, standardization could hardly be interpreted as a move to discriminate Tamil students from the North. Yet, it was thus interpreted.

Those who speak of ‘standardization’ in terms of discriminating Tamils conveniently ignore how this helped the Tamils in the Central Province to gain social migration. During colonization, the Tamils in the Central Province who were brought to the Island by the British as indented labor was perhaps the most marginalized community in Sri Lanka. They were much deprived and were in fact treated as sub human by the British.

However, afterwards, by living and moving with the majority using the language that everyone spoke, the so-called “estate Tamils” were able to move out of the indented labor and into other fields. Though their education facilities were poor, they were able to gain entrance to university education and were able to qualify into professional fields such as medicine, engineering, accountancy and so on.

Standardization is not a panacea to the inequalities among schools from different areas. A child from a rural area may earn the opportunity from the grade five scholarship program to be educated at a better facilitated school. That child’s A/L results may be higher than the peers back in the village. Yet, due to standardization, a child who did not win the grade five scholarship may gain entrance to university with lesser aggregate than the child who performed consistently well throughout the schooling career.

The unfairness of this system is not reserved for any particular community – this can be the story of any child from any community from any rural area. For the record, Monaragala in deep down south was the poorest district even during the height of the war against terrorism.

After thirty years of war against terrorism, Sri Lanka finds a complete reversal between the Central Province Tamils and the Northern Province Tamils. While the upcountry Tamils had moved out of their once kennel-like lined rooms to proper houses and unto other professions, the Tamils from the Northern Province had lost touch with civilization. At the end of the thirty-year war against terrorism and separatism, basic sanitary facilities were not with them, much less career prospects due to interrupted education.

The question is, who is to be blamed. The upcountry Tamils, also known as Indian Tamils, are represented by politicians who have their own sense of “non-alignment”. Though known as “Indian Tamils”, they did not bother with the Indian Government as much as the North and East Tamil politicians do. Instead, they made sure that they had a parliamentary seat no matter which party came to power.

On the other hand, the Tamil politicians from the North and the East had always been running after the Indian Governments whilst rejecting the Sri Lankan Parliament. Even during the Yahapalana Government in which they were clear stakeholders, they chose not to bring any form of development to the people they represented. Instead, they were beseeching upon the Indian Government to somehow safeguard the Yahapalana Government in the hope of getting self-rule.

During the near five years of Yahapalana Rule, the youth in the North and the East understood the importance of economic stability over political solutions. The rise of crime and loss of economic opportunities and development were keenly felt.

Yet, just as was in 2010 and then again in 2015, the Tamils in large numbers voted yet again for the candidate that promised them “exclusivity”. The fact that this candidate could not assure an economy where individuals could afford Rs. 100/= on the most basic of items and so he promised all at Government expense did not dissuade the people. To a reasonable mind, it was quite obvious that this candidate could not honor his promises without bankrupting the country. Furthermore, under this candidate’s Government the Provincial Councils that were created to empower Tamils were allowed to lapse. Yet, it was this promise of “exclusivity” that proved too compelling.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his inauguration speech revealed that he invited other communities to be part of the victory. However he noted, they did not as much as he hoped. Nevertheless, as the president of every citizen of the country, he pledged to bring development to every community and corner of the country. In his visit to India, he was quite frank that the 13 Amenbment has already been enacted as far as it can go. Instead, he wants to concentrate on development, which the Tamil politicians has yet to address.

President Gotabaya is a man of action. He will not pledge without a plan. He has promised development and development is something we can all expect. Many of the projects which were in the pipeline during the previous Rajapaksa Administration, such as creating water ways to the Northern Province allowing fresh water tanks in the peninsula might get reignited soon. However, whether the Tamils in these two provinces will be satisfied with only development alone remains to be seen.

As long as they insist on holding on to this “exclusivity” coin, they will continue to be manipulated by self-serving politicians and will be used as pawns in geopolitical games. They may one day earn their “exclusivity”. However, like the good people in Kosovo they would also learn that you cannot eat “exclusivity”.

– Asian Tribune –

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