No common ground

nuwaraeliyaBy Mirudhula Thambiah:                             

With arrangements being made to adopt constitutional reforms to repeal the Sri Lanka Constitution, representatives of each community in this country have been suggesting various proposals for inclusion in the Draft.

The Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces have been articulating a demand for autonomy in a merged North and East on the basis of the right to self-determination. The Muslims have always emphasized their demand for an Administrative District in the East. They have now upped that demand to a separate Administrative Province on the premise that the Muslim community had become the majority community in the Eastern Province.

Similarly, now the representatives of the Up Country Tamils also have demanded for Separate Ruling Unit providing a separate recognition to their community. Former Minister and the Leader of the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC) Parliamentarian Arumugam Thodaman points out that Tamils of recent Indian origin (Up Country Tamils) should be recognized as a separate nationality in Sri Lanka by allocating them a Separate Ruling Unit.

Contributing to a parliamentary debate on a new Constitution he said that Indian Origin Tamils welcome the government’s move to introduce a new Constitution. “Although various Constitutions such as the Donoughmore and Soulbury were enacted and amended from time to time, they only embodied elements which were relevant to progressive periods in our history. They lost relevance to socio-political and other developments over time. For example, it is argued that those constitutions failed to address the needs and uphold the rights of the Indian Origin Tamils. To date no Constitution has never embodied recognition of the Tamils of Indian Origin as a separate entity” he said.

Thondaman stressed that ” In 1948, the Tamils of Indian Origin were deprived of citizenship rights. From 1948-1978 we were denied political rights. Our community was pushed into the background. This situation has persisted to date. We have hitherto merely concentrated on our livelihoods, but we have now begun to consider our right to life. We are relegated to fourth place among the communities of this country and we are pushed back”

The Indian Origin Tamils must be recognized as a separate nationality and a Separate Ruling Unit must be established for them, he said. He said the current electoral system is not favourable to the Indian Origin Tamils. This system has in no way ensured a reasonable representation of the Indian Origin Tamils in the socio-political affairs of the country. Thus a new electoral system that ensures equitable representation for Indian Origin Tamils is now important.

Thodaman thus introduced totally new concepts for inclusion in the proposed Draft Constitution, with all Up Country Tamil Parliamentarians and Trade unionists being more or less in accord with these proposals. Some of them agree with the need to establish a Separate Ruling Unit for the Up Country Tamils, while the rest claim that the community should be afforded due recognition as a distinctly separate social entity within the overall national framework. Some others however, contend that Thondaman’s ideas are mere statements of eye wash in his political agenda . They contend that the demand relating to these rights and even legitimate issues of the Up Country Tamils, especially for a Separate Ruling Unit, will only create problems within the government.

Minister Palani Digambaram told Ceylon Today that nobody will accept a demand for a Separate Ruling Unit which is almost similar to the idea of a separate State. “We live in a small country and demanding a Separate Ruling Unit is unacceptable. If everyone begins to ask for a Separate Ruling Unit, where will the Sinhalese go? But the minority rights should be protected. They should be dignified and their demands must be addressed. But that does not mean everyone should demand a Separate Ruling Unit in this country. Our country is small and our demands should have relevance to this fact. Nevertheless, I must also stress the need for Up Country Tamils to be afforded treatment on par with the majority community of this country in the Constitution.”

“We feel that the representation of Up Country Tamils in local authorities should be increased. The number of Pradeshiya Sabhas and Urban Councils in the Up Country should be increased. That will make it easier to address the problems of the people in our region ” Digambaram said.

He asked “Where were Thondaman’s demands all these days? Why did he keep silent? Why is he coming up with such agendas now when he is not in power. This is mere eyewash. He did not get a Ministerial Portfolio. But this does not mean he can confuse our people now with this demand. All communities must co-exist in understanding and tolerance. But communal recognition must be given to the Up Country Tamils too.”

Meanwhile Menaha Kandaswamy, General Secretary of the Ceylon Workers Red Flag Union said that what was important was that the plantation community must not be recognized as persons of Indian origin but as Up Country Tamils. This community must be identified as a separate ethnic group like the others in this country. They have their separate culture, living lifestyle and economic history. Thus their identity as a separate ethnic group is a must. But Sri Lanka being a small country we must all come under one governing system which will not discriminate between ethnic groups. All ethnic groups must be treated equally.

” A democracy is a system under which there is equality in every respect for all ethnic groups. My fear is that when any group steps away from the mainstream, their separate needs for housing and other needs may not be addressed or implemented as well as they would be as part of mainstream society. I prefer all social groups being facets of one mainstream society whose needs can be addressed as a whole. Up Country Tamils must be treated equitably,” Menaha said.

Ceylon Workers Unity Alliance General Secretary Suppiah Sathasivam said it is necessary to establish a Separate Ruling Unit for Up Country Tamils. The Plantation Community is neglected in every aspect. The main reason is that they were deprived of citizenship for 30 years. “Our community is lagging 30 years behind other communities. We have hence become a backward community. We have totally failed in getting our grievances met by all governments in the past. They have addressed certain problems but have only afforded makeshift solutions. This has left us totally disgruntled. Thus to achieve our objectives we must have a Separate Ruling Unit. If we are given all facilities needed to develop ourselves we can do this within a 10-15-year period. We can be as successful as any other community. If the government deciding to provide self-rule for one group, they should provide it for all. Thus, a Separate Ruling Unit will be an important requirement of the minorities in this country.”

He added that the government should come up with an acceptable solution for all minority communities in Sri Lanka. Only such an acceptable and fair solution can create a platform for minority grievances to be addressed meaningfully.

“Self-rule is a must to ensure adequate education, health, housing and economic prosperity for the plantation community. We are backward in each of these sectors. We have asked for nothing more than a socially feasible remedy. We have never been provided any of these things. We were totally neglected until we articulated our demands strongly,” he said. (Ceylon Today)

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