The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) got a nasty shock at the recently concluded general elections. Meera Sirinivasan for The Hindu warns in the article titled “The Centrality of Devolution in Development” that to interpret this result “as a shift away from long-pending political demands is at best reductive and at worst dangerous”.
As Sri Lanka is yet again at a juncture where a new constitution is being contemplated, a reality check on Sirinivasan’s warning is timely. It is important to understand the validity of the demand as well as its feasibility. After all, this demand for self determination has been dominating Sri Lankan politics and international relations for a very long time.
Despite the passage of time, persistence and international pressure, this “historic” demand is still far from its goal. Sirinivasan argues that it is a legitimate and democratic right to be able to “actively shape their political and economic destinies” and a necessity as “a vital check against a ‘majoritarian’ state deriving power and legitimacy from its core ethno-nationalist base.”
The first question that must be clarified is: who is it that is being referred to as “their”?
Who are “They”?
Throughout her argument, Sirinivasan interchanges “their” to refer to both the Tamil community and the Tamils living in the North and East. However, Tamils in Sri Lanka are not confined to only these two areas of the Island. In fact, over 52 percent of Tamils live outside these two areas. Furthermore, the North and East there are not only Tamils in the North and East, but also Sinhalese and Muslims live there.
In the East, the three communities live in roughly equal proportions. The rising Muslim population however may overtake the other two communities before long. It is true that at present the Sinhala and Muslim presence in the North is marginal. However, that absence was artificially created by the LTTE.
The domestic mechanism to investigate the causes for the three decade war against terrorism, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) finds that the ethnic cleansing of the Sinhala families living in Jaffna began as far back as 1977. By mid 1980s, the LTTE were evicting the Sinhalese in earnest. “By 1987, there were no Sinhala residents left in Jaffna.” According to the census department, in 1981, there were 5,684 Sinhala families living in the Jaffna district. These families have told the Commission that they wish to return to the North, where they were born and bred.
On October 30, 1990 the entire Muslim population, numbering around 72,000 persons, were expelled from Jaffna within two hours. In 2002, LTTE strategist Anton Balasingham apologized for it, calling it a “political blunder” and invited the Muslims to return. However, the fact remains that the reason for the LTTE to expel the Muslims in the first place was the Muslims’ objection over the creation of a Tamil homeland.
Therefore, as Attorney-at-Law and author Dharshan Weerasekera reasons, there cannot be any further devolution until the evicted Sinhalese are resettled in their former homes in the Northern Province as they too have a right to enjoy the benefits of such devolution. Without taking this foremost step, the very demand for self determination for Tamils is nullified because the fundamental principle of law states that “one cannot benefit from one’s own wrong.”
To ignore this fundamental principle “would in effect be validating ethnic cleansing as a tactic for gaining ‘self determination’, which would be an absolute travesty of justice, not to mention morality,” points out Weerasekera.
Therefore, the reference to “their” cannot be exclusive to the Tamils, but must also include the Sinhalese and Muslims as well. This however still leaves the question as to the Tamils who can claim ownership to this political solution – will it entitle all Sri Lankan Tamils or only the Tamils in the North and East?
For whose Benefit is the Demand for a Political Solution?
The TNA represents only the Northern and Eastern provinces. Their sole focus is winning self determination for Tamils. Yet, they received a very poor mandate from their own voters. Their abysmal election results have been attributed to neglecting the economy. Yet, even in the political front, the TNA has failed by,
1. Miscarrying the proposed constitution
2. Allowing Provincial Councils to become defunct
1. Miscarrying the Proposed Constitution
Despite international support, TNA failed to implement the much touted political solution. This was due to the passive resistance by other minority parties, including the Tamil parties outside the North and East.
It is noteworthy that the Good Governance Government (GGG) from January 2015-November 2019 was a coalition of minorities and some other parties. Furthermore, GGG had the most unusual setup where both main political parties cohabited in the Government. The legitimate Opposition, with 55 MPs representing eight provinces, was ostracized. Instead, the TNA with only 16 seats within the aforementioned two provinces was appointed as the official Opposition. Equally contentious was the obvious partnership the TNA had with the Government.
With a two-third majority in Parliament on its side, the TNA had the best working environment to push their most desired solution. TNA indeed took up the opportunity. They designed a system that would pump Central Government’s powers into the Provincial Councils (PCs), making the Central Government a dependent of the PCs.
These plans were not scuttled by the Sinhala Buddhists. It was the Muslim politicians and their Tamil counterpart outside the North and East who quietly rejected this effort. Not only would they have not benefited from this arrangement, it would have adversely affected them.
Without an overriding central control, the province’s ethnic ratio would become the domineering factor. In very simple terms, the province will be ruled by the majority of that area and the minority communities within will have very little say. The Central Government will be without the powers to redress any wrongs or injustices or assure equity. The national politicians will not have a say in matters concerning their respective communities.
As political analyst CA Chandreprema observes, for minority parties outside North and East to agree to this solution would be political hara-kiri. Even Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe did not want to claim ownership of this proposal, notes Chandreprema. This will certainly not be the “vital check against a ‘majoritarian’ state,” that Sirinivasan seeks in a political solution.
Even for the Tamils in the North and East to benefit, the two provinces need to be merged, explains Chandreprema. Without such a merger, the Tamils in the East will come under the Muslims’ dominance. They will never agree to such a situation. However, a merger between provinces cannot and should not take place without a referendum from the two provinces. It is highly doubtful that the Muslims and Sinhalese will agree to a situation where they will come under the Tamil domination.
Therefore, this is a solution that looks great on paper to those who sees the Central Government as a Sinhala-Buddhist “majoritarianism” and hence a bully; and the Tamils in North and East as the underdog and ignores all other stakeholders. In reality, this will hurt the minorities more than the majority for it is only in the North and East that the Sinhalese are without a greater presence. Thus, this will effectively divide the country with the North and East under Tamil dominance (if the two provinces are merged) and the rest under the Sinhala dominance. Hence, this will not see the light of the day unless this is forced through against the peoples’ will. That of course would be most undemocratic.
2. Allowing Provincial Councils
to fall defunct
PCs were formed at the behest of the Rajiv Gandhi regime as a foundation for Tamils to exercise self governance. The rest of the country was forced to accept this system that they neither asked for nor needed. This was bitterly opposed by the nationalists for they feared this as a step towards separatism. However, India was firm and the then Sri Lankan Government under President JR Jayewardena conceded. Except for the land and police powers, the PCs are currently empowered with all the other legislative powers as per the Constitution.
It is most unfortunate that the Chief Minister of the temporarily merged North-East province Annamalai Varadaraja Perumal acted in a manner that heightened the nationalists’ fears. He moved a motion in the Council on March 01, 1990 to unilaterally declare the merged provinces as “Independent Eelam”. The then president R Premadasa was thus forced to quickly dissolve the PC and take it under Colombo’s administration.
However, after the East was freed from the terrorists, the Eastern PC was formed on May 10, 2008. Election for the Northern PC (NPC) was held on September 21, 2013. Yet, quite petulantly the TNA dominated PCs refused to use the opportunity and prove their case that they are capable of governing themselves.
Instead, NPC Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran for five continuous years returned the funds and projects from the Central Government claiming that these are not “theirs”. Instead of making use of the powers already at hand, TNA continued to demand greater autonomy. Ironically, those provinces that once opposed the system are now working smoothly with the Central Government.
By 2018, the terms of all nine PCs had expired. The previous government in which the TNA played a prominent role hung on to a technicality to postpone elections. To date, the TNA had not protested over this outcome even though the PCs were formed specifically to give them autonomy.
It is not a surprise that the TNA’s vote base is steadily and rapidly declining. Living the life of elitists the TNA had quite sadistically allowed their own electorate to suffer by not utilizing the powers granted by the PCs. As a result, the people in these areas suffer enormously from unaddressed and accumulating economic and social woes.
The TNA is being disingenuous. Their proposed constitution is not democratically possible. Despite the drama, they presented a proposal that is unacceptable to all stakeholders – including the Tamils in the North and East (unless the two provinces can be merged).
They also failed to protect the PCs. This was handed over to North and East Tamil politicians on a platter at India’s insistence. This intervention cost India heavily. Yet, during its five year term, neither of these two TNA dominated PCs looked after the people, nor allowed the Central Government to do so. People are held hostage to prove a political point – not unlike the TNA’s erstwhile boss, the LTTE.
It is obvious that the TNA is not serious about a political solution. This call for autonomy for Tamils is just a political slogan that gives them a reason for their political existence.
The most important component in this debate however should not be about the politicians’ rhetoric. It is the people, their worries and hopes that matters the most.
During a recent visit to the Northern peninsula, this writer made a number of interesting observations. These observations and the exchange of ideas with the people include,
1. Many of the educated, elderly people live in empty and neglected homes. Their children are living overseas, where the economic prospects are better;
2. Despite the end of terrorism, considerable extent of land remains abandoned. The owners are overseas and do not wish to return home leaving their present comfortable lives;
3. Those in the most vulnerable segments continue to be marginalized by a rigid caste-based system. Without basics such as housing or essentials as drinking water, the poor are trapped in poverty;
4. As a political solution, people want an income that will give them the freedom to live with dignity and independence. Thus they wish for more investments in the North in the form of factories and industries. This will allow people to find jobs without leaving their hometown or their families behind;
5. The war is seen as a matter of the distant past and not something relevant to the present.
Sirinivasan argues that economic development sans a political solution “will prove futile unless citizens have the political agency to inform the process.” However, it is evident that without a robust economy where the benefits flow to all levels of society, a political solution – whatever it might be – will be without owners.
Mindset changes and the dangerous ‘Religious War’ rhetoric
Nothing could be more vital at present in the conflict and war zones of the world than positive mindset changes and the wish of the humanist is likely to be that such momentous developments would quickly come to pass in particularly the Middle East. Because in the latter theatre almost every passing hour surfaces problems that call for more than average peace-making capabilities for their resolution.
For instance, the Islamic Supreme Fatwa Council in Palestine has reportedly warned of a ‘Religious War’ in the wake of recent allegations that Israel is planning to prevent the Muslim community from having access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in the month of Ramadan. If true, this development is likely to further compound the Gaza violence and take it along an even more treacherous track. This is on account of the fact that religious passions, if not managed effectively, could prove most volatile and destructive.
As pointed out in this column previously, peace movements on both sides of the main divide in the region would need to quickly activate themselves, link-up and work as one towards the de-escalation of the conflict. What the Middle East and the world’s other war zones urgently need are persons and groups who are endowed with a pro-peace mind set who could work towards an elimination of the destructive attitudes that are instrumental in keeping the conflicts concerned raging.
This could prove an uphill task in the Middle East in particular. For, every passing minute in the region is seeing a hardening of attitudes on both sides in the wake of issues growing out of the violence. Accordingly, if peace-making is to be contemplated by the more moderate sections in the conflict, first, we need to see a lull in the violence. Achieving such a de-escalation in the violence has emerged as a foremost need for the region.
Right now, the Israeli state is showing no signs of climbing down from its position of seeing a decisive end to the Hamas militants and their support bases and going forward this policy stance could get in the way of de-escalating the violence even to a degree.
On the other hand, it would not be realistic on the part of the world community to expect a mindset change among Israeli government quarters and their supporters unless and until the security of the Israeli state is ensured on a permanent basis. Ideally, the world should be united on the position that Israel’s security is non-negotiable; this could be considered a veritable cornerstone of Middle East peace.
Interestingly, the Sri Lankan state seems to have come round to the above view on a Middle East peace settlement. Prior to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime taking this stance, this columnist called repeatedly over the past few months in this commentary, in fact since October 7th last year, for the adoption of such a policy. That is, a peace settlement that accords priority to also the security needs of the Israelis. It was indicated that ensuring the security and stability of the Palestinians only would fall short of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East imbroglio.
However, in the case of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the above change in policy seems to be dictated almost wholly by economic survival considerations rather than by any well thought out principle or a sense of fairness to all relevant stakeholders.
For example, close on the heels of the regime playing host to the Israeli Transport Minister recently, it accorded a reverential welcome to the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. From the viewpoint of a small country struggling to survive, this is the way to go, since it needs every morsel of economic assistance and succour.
However, if permanent peace is to have a chance in the Middle East it would need to be based on the principle of justice to all the main parties to the conflict. Seen from this point of view, justice and fairness should be accorded to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Both parties, that is, should live within stable states.
The immediate need, though, is to at least bring a lull to the fighting. This will enable the Palestinian population in the Gaza to access humanitarian assistance and other essential needs. Besides, it could have the all-important effect of tempering hostile attitudes on both sides of the divide.
The US is currently calling for a ‘temporary ceasefire’ to the conflict, but the challenge before Washington is to get the Israeli side to agree to it. If the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements are anything to go by, the US proposal is unlikely to make any impression on Tel Aviv. In other words, the Israeli Right is remaining an obstacle to a ceasefire or even some form of temporary relief for the affected populations, leave alone a political solution. However, changing their government is entirely a matter for the Israeli people.
Accordingly, if a stable peace is to be arrived at, hostile, dogmatic attitudes on both sides may need to be eased out permanently. Ideally, both sides should see themselves as having a common future in a peacefully shared territory.
Peace groups and moderate opinion should be at centre stage on both sides of the divide in the region for the facilitation of such envisaged positive changes. The UN and democratic opinion worldwide should take it upon themselves to raise awareness among both communities on the need for a political solution. They should consider it incumbent upon themselves to work proactively with peace groups in the region.
The world is a vast distance from the stage when both parties to the conflict could even toy with the idea of reconciliation. Because reconciliation anywhere requires the relevant antagonists to begin by saying, ‘I am sorry for harming you.’ This is unthinkable currently, considering the enmity and acrimony that have built up over the years among the volatile sections of both communities.
However, relevant UN agencies and global democratic opinion could begin by convincing the warring sections that unless they cooperate and coexist, mutual annihilation could be their lot. Mindset changes of this kind are the only guarantors of lasting peace and mindset changes need to be worked on untiringly.
As this is being written, the ICJ is hearing representations from numerous countries on the Middle East situation. The opinions aired thus far are lopsided in that they do not present the Israeli viewpoint on the conflict. If a fair solution is to be arrived at to the conflict Israel’s concerns too would need to be taken into account expeditiously.
Dubai scene brightening up for SL fashion designers
Sri Lankans are lighting up the scene in Dubai, not only as musicians, but in other fields, as well.
At the recently held Ceylon Food Festival, in Dubai, a fashion show was held, with Sri Lankan designers doing the needful.
The fashion show highlighted the creations of Pubudu Jayasinghe, Tehani Rukshika and Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya, in three different segments, with each designer assigned 10 models.
The fashion show was choreographed by Shashi Kaluarachchi, who won the Miss Supermodel Globe International 2020, held in India, and was 1st runner-up at the Mr., Miss and Mrs. Sri Lanka, in Dubai.
Shashi says she was trained by Brian Karkoven and his know-how gave her a good start to her modelling career.
She has done many fashions shows in Sri Lanka, as well as in Dubai, and has worked with many pioneers in the fashion designing field.
The designers involved in the fashion show, in Dubai, were:
a 22-year-old creative and skilled makeup artist and nail technician. With a wealth of experience gained from working in various salons and participating in makeup and fashion projects in both Dubai and Sri Lanka, he has honed his talents in the beauty industry. Passionate about fashion, Pubudu has also acquired knowledge and experience in fashion designing, modelling, and choreography, showcasing his multifaceted expertise in the dynamic world of fashion.
who studied at St Joseph’s Girls School, Nugegoda, says she went to Dubai, where her mom works, and joined the Westford University in fashion designing faculty for her Masters. Her very first fashion show was a Sri Lankan cultural event, called ‘Batik’. “This was my first event, and a special one, too, as my mom was modelling an Arabic Batik dress.”
Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya
has been living in Dubai for the past 21 years and has a batik shop in Dubai, called 20Step.
According to Shashi, who is on vacation in Sri Lanka, at the moment, there will be more Sri Lankan fashion shows in Dubai, highlighting the creations of Sri Lankan designers.
A mask of DATES…
Yes, another one of my favourites…dates, and they are freely available here, so you don’t need to go searching for this item. And they are reasonably priced, too.
Okay, readers, let’s do it…with dates, of course – making a mask that will leave your skin feeling refreshed, and glowing
To make this mask, you will need 03-04 dates, and 02 tablespoons of milk.
Remove the seeds and soak the dates, in warm milk, for about 20 minutes. This method will soften the dates and make them easier to blend.
After the 20 minutes is up, put the dates in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Check to make sure there are no lumps, or chunks, left.
Add the 02 tablespoons of milk to the blended date paste and mix well.
Okay, now gently apply this mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Use your fingertips, or a clean brush, to evenly distribute the mask all over your face.
Once the mask is applied, find a comfortable place to sit, or lie down. Relax for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the mask to work its magic on your skin.
After the mentioned time has passed, rinse off the mask with lukewarm water. Gently massage your face while rinsing to exfoliate any dead skin cells.
After rinsing off the mask, pat dry your face with a soft towel, and then follow up with your favourite moisturizer to lock in the hydration and keep your skin moisturized.
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