Incidents of the past broke Tamil-Muslim unity

The Chief Minister of the Tamil-majority Northern Province of Sri Lanka, C.V.Wigneswaran, has admitted that “some unfortunate incidents” of the past had inflicted wounds on the Muslims which are yet to heal.

He said this while addressing the Ezhuga Tamil (Arise Tamil) rally at Batticaloa in the Eastern Province on Friday.

Batticaloa town and district have a substantial Muslim population. It was in a mosque in Kattankudy in Batticaloa district on August 3, 1990, that the LTTE massacred 143 Muslims while they were bent in prayer. Later in October that year, the LTTE expelled 75,000 to 90,000 Muslims from the Northern Province with jut 24-hour notice.

These two incidents totally alienated the Tamil-speaking Muslims from the Tamils, weakening the latter’s movement to secure political rights of the Tamil-speaking minority in Sri Lanka.

Wigneswaran neither identified the “unfortunate incidents” nor did he tender an open apology on behalf of the Tamil people, but admitted in a regretful tone that “some unfortunate incidents” of the past had inflicted wounds which continue to fester.

However, he urged the Tamils and Muslims bury the past and unite to fight for their rights as minorities and as Tamil-speaking people, who are being denied their rights. In his view, despite the events of the past, the Tamils and the Muslims have got together when needed, as both are coming under pressure from Sinhalese majoritarian forces which appear to have the backing of the government. If the Tamils are being denied rights to their lands, and their demand for devolution of power is being rejected, the Muslims are subjected to hate speeches and their mosques are being attacked, he pointed out.

Supporting his plea for a Tamil-Muslim joint front against Sinhalese majoritarianism, Wigneswaran said that in the years after Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948, Muslims leaders from the North and East had routinely fought elections as members of the Tamil party, the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK). Muslim leader MHM.Ashraf had attended the Tamil United Liberation Front’s Vaddukoddai conference in 1976, which passed a resolution calling for an “independent Tamil Eelam”.

Faced with the challenge from the Tamils, who were fighting for outright independence, successive Sinhalese-dominated governments created animosity between the Muslims and the Tamils, and won over Muslim leaders with a large number of ministerial positions, Wigneswaran said.

But once the Tamil revolt was quelled in 2009 through a “genocidal war”,  the “eagle’s eye” of the Sinhalese majority began to focus on the Muslims, their mosques were attacked, and racially loaded statements were made, he pointed out.

He urged the Muslims to join the Tamils’ struggle for a federal constitution and promised that his outfit, the Tamils’ Peoples’ Council (TPC) will ensure that in a united North-East Tamil-speaking province under a federal system, the Muslims will be given a separate autonomous unit.

The Chief Minister said that federalism can be attained if Tamil-speakers across religions unite and secure international support. The Tamil-speaking communities must show the international community that they are united.

On the current plight of the Tamils, Wigneswaran said that while promising a new constitution, the leaders of the majority Sinhalese community have repeatedly said that a federal structure or a secular constitution cannot be granted because  these provisions will not be accepted in the mandatory referendum. This, despite the fact that the Tamils are not asking for independence but only a federal system of the kind found in Canada, Belgium and Switzerland, Wigneswaran said.

He also wondered why eight years of the purported annihilation of the LTTE, troops in such large numbers are stationed in the North occupying thousands of acres of peoples’ lands; why every legitimate demand of the Tamils is painted as extremist and divisive; why the Prevention of Terrorism Act is not repealed as promised; and why the Office of Missing Persons has not been set up even after being sanctioned. (NIE)

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