Statement by A.Amirthalingam,
Secretary General, Tamil United Liberation Front
at All Party Conference, 1983/84
chaired by Sri Lanka President. J.R.Jayawardene
19 January 1984
This Conference of All Parties is the last opportunity we have of working out
an acceptable solution to the problems confronting the people of the
I do not propose to go into distant history to justify any position that I
may be taking.
It suffices to say that from the dawn of history the Sinhalese and Tamils
have been living in this country, have been sharing power, have been engaged in
war to oust each other from power and have also ruled over separate parts of the
country for several centuries.
These facts distilled from millennia of recorded history cannot be
disputed by anyone. We are all today here to solve problems that have, been
created by the imperialist rulers.
At the time the European conquerors first arrived in the Island in 1505,
there were three separate kingdoms. The Portugese subjugated two of the
kingdoms, one by succession, and the other by waging war. The Dutch took over
the territories conquered by the Portugese and the British in turn took them
over in 1796. Having subjugated the kingdom of Kandy in 1815. the British
unified the entire administration for their convenience in 1 833. They
introduced English education which resulted in the emergence of an English
educated elitist class which cut across barriers, of race, religion or
Inspired by the Independence movement in neighboring India, this class of
English educated people staffed movements for freedom from British rule. When
the Ceylon National Congress was formed in 1918 a Tamil - Sir
Ponnambalam Arunachalam was elected President, but one has to note with pain
that within six years Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam had to break away from the
Ceylon National Congress and form the Ceylon Tamil League in 1924. The
differences that emerged between the Sinhala & Tamil Leaders were shown up
in the debate on the Donoughmore Reforms when Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan was
constrained to remark that the reform proposals spelt the death of the
With some measure of responsible government passing into the hands of
Sinhalese under the Donoughmore Reforms further conflicts surfaced. These were
no doubt encouraged by the imperialist rulers for their own purposes, but the
Tamil Youth under the leadership of the Jaffna Youth Congress boycotted the
first election to the State Council in 1931 and demanded full independence. lam
mentioning this to show that inspite of differences among their leaders, the
Tamil Youth even at that time were inspired by ideals of anti-imperialist
struggle for the freedom of the whole country.
The formation of the Pan-Sinhala Board of Ministers in 1936 kindled fears in
the minds of all minorities and they banded themselves under the leadership of
Mr. G.G. Ponnambalam demanding balanced representation so that any one community
may not be able to dominate the other communities put together.
This was misrepresented by rabble-rousers and tension between the majority
and the minorities developed in the late 30s.
The British rulers, in the wake of Indian Independence, handed over power to
the local capitalist class in return for an agreement to give them the use of
the Trincomalee Naval Base and the Katunayake Airbase. The unimaginative
Soulbury Constitution that did not take into consideration the heterogeneous
nature of the population is responsible for the present plight of the country.
Though national parties were formed, within a decade of Independence most of
them were forced to adopt communal policies pandering to the lowest instincts of
the majority in competition with each other.
At the time of Independence it was made out that under the Soulbury
Constitution out of 95 elected members 42 minority members will be
Within four years of independence the whole scheme of representation, which
involved weightage to the minorities, was totally distorted. The passing of the
Citizenship Laws which decitizenised and disfranchised one million Tamil
workers and deprived them of the representation they had in Parliament was the
first blow directed against the Tamil people.
It also resulted in the majority Sinhalese people who were 68% of the
population at that time capturing 80% of the representation in Parliament. The
Citizenship laws also made the totality of the Tamils & Muslims in the
country doubtful citizens and they are still undergoing several hardships in
registering title deeds for lands, in obtaining passports and other matters, to
which hardships the Sinhalese are not subjected.
Before Independence, the State Council adopted a resolution in 1944 that
Sinhala & Tamil should be the Official Languages of the country. You
yourself moved the resolution — Your
Excellency, which was amended by a motion by Mr. Nalliah which you accepted, to
make both languages- Official Languages.
It was on that basis that the Tamil speaking people -
both Tamils & Muslims joined the government after
Independence in 1955 a wave of Sinhala nationalism swept the country. Bhasa
Peramunas sprung up demanding that Sinhala be made the only Official Language.
The major parties the UNP and SLFP succumbed to this wave.
It should be said to the credit of the Lanka Samasamaja Party
and the Communist Party that they stood up for parity of status for Sinhala
& Tamil. Mr. S.W.R.D, Bandaranaike who was swept to power in 1956 introduced
the Sinhala Only Act in Parliament in the 5th of June. Oblivious of history even
learned people now say that the violence against Tamils is the result of the
demand for a separate state. They further say that the violence that we
experienced in 1977, 1981 &
1983 was the reaction to the action of the Tamil
They seem to forget that the 5th June 1956 marked the first
mob-violence against Tamils. We performed Sathyagraha on the Galle Face Green
exposing ourselves to the mercies of the weather and were attacked by a crowd
who had been assembled for that purpose, The crowds were infuriated at our
daring to sit there on the green that they beat up the unarmed peaceful
Sathyagrahis with sticks and stones, one of them even bit away the ear of one of
the Sathyagrahis. The stones thrown by the crowd broke my head in two places,
and when I walked into Parliament with a handkerchief tied round my head and my
clothes soaked in blood, the then Prime Minister quipped “honorable wounds of
This violence that was unleashed on the Sathyagrahis spread to
the streets of Colombo. Tamils were pulled out from cars and buses and beaten
up. It spread even to places like Amparai where a number of Tamils were killed.
Can anyone who values truth say that this was the result of the Tamils resorting
to violence? or because the Tamils demanded a separate state? I can only say
that it was the result of deep seated antagonism between the two ethnic groups
which had been inculcated into their minds through the history that was taught
in our schools.
The introduction of Sinhala as the only Official Language and reduction of
Tamil to an inferior position placed the stamp of perpetual inferiority on
Tamils and Muslims who spoke the Tamil Language. It also resulted in their being
denied equality of opportunity in employment. This law gave rise to the first
demand for a separate state.
The father of this demand was no less a person than Mr. C. Sunderalingam who
was a close associate & advisor of Mr. D. S. Sennanayake in the
pre-independence era. But we who were members of the Federal Party and the All
Ceylon Tamil Congress resisted the demand for a separate-state. We wanted to
preserve the unity and the integrity of the island. My late leader, Mr. S. J. V.
Chelvanayagam felt that the unity has to be on the basis of the recognition of
the separate identity of the two nations. We put forward the demand for a Federal
form of Government.
No one who understands the federal systems of governments will
say that federalism means division. The most powerful nations of the world -
the USA & USSR have federal structures. Their unity or
strength is not affected by the political structure. Little Switzerland -
which is 3/5th the size of Sri Lanka has a federal
structure. No less a, person than Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike advocated federalism
as the only feasible system of government in Ceylon in 1926. The Kandy Youth.
League demanded federalism before the Donoughmore Commission, but when the Tamil
people demanded the recognition of their autonomy and the federal system of
government it was misrepresented to the Sinhalese people, by politicians who
should have known better, as a movement for division.
The demand for regional autonomy and the safeguarding of the Tamil homelands
became imperative in the context of planned and systematic colonisation of parts
of the Eastern Province with Sinhalese people which was started in the 50s,
Allai & Kantalai schemes in Trincomalee, the Galoya scheme in the present
Amparai District and later the Morawewa & Padaviya schemes in Trincomalee
are examples of this policy. The colonisation was carried out in violation of
the Land Development Ordinance. The Muslims who were the majority in the Galoya
development area and the Tamils in Kantalai & Allai and other areas in
Trincomalee were made minorities in those areas.
We listened two days ago to Rev members of the Buddhist clergy speak on
the necessity for free movement of people. I want to ask the reverend priests
what freedom of movement do the Tamil people have in this country. The only
freedom they have is to be moved by ships from refugee camps in the South to the
North & East.
Ven Madihe Pannaseela Mahanayakka Thero referred to 276 Buddhist places of
worship scattered over the Northern & Eastern Provinces and he said that
Buddhist Priests should be settled in each of these places and Buddhist people
settled around these temples.
In this connection I wish to refer to a news report that appeared in the ‘Silumina’
on the 1st of January 1984. No less than a person than the Commissioner of
Archeology - Mr. Sirisoma has stated
that 200 sites in the North & East referred to by the reverend priests have
been excavated and Buddhist people are to be settled in those places.
If this were to be carried out the Tamils and Muslims will be
made minorities even in the Northern & Eastern Provinces and the next time
they are beaten and herded into refugee camps there will be no place where they
can be taken and dumped. Even the Tamils in the Northern & Eastern Provinces
will have to be in refugee camps, as happened in parts of Trincomalee and
Amparai during the recent ethnic violence.
According to the 1921 census the Sinhalese were 3% of the population in the
Trincomalee District and 15% of the population in the combined Batticaloa &
Amparai Districts. They were less than 4% in the whole Eastern Province. The
Priests and others have tried to make out that even the Northern & Eastern
Provinces were peopled by Sinhalese several centuries ago. They referred to the
presence of Buddhist ruins as proof of this fact. They forget that the whole of
Tamil Nadu and the majority of the Tamil people were Buddhists in the 3rd &
4th centuries AD. The well known Tamil epic Manimekalai and several other Tamil
Literary works of this period bear ample testimony to this fact.
These places in the North & the East were places worshipped by Tamil
Buddhists. The claims that are
being made to even the Northern & Eastern Provinces as Sinhala territory are
on a par with the claims of the Jews in Palestine. Successive Governments have
pursued the same policies as the Jews are pursuing in Palestine in dispossessing
the Arabs of their land and driving them from their homes. The Tamils &
Muslims of the Northern Eastern Provinces do not want this fate to
overtake them. That is why the demand for autonomy under a Federal Union was put
We wanted to safeguard our rights while preserving the unity of the country
and we agitated by peaceful, non-violent means for the achievement of these
objectives. The answer we got was rioting, burning and killing of Tamils. A
Hindu Priest was burnt alive in Panadura in 1958. Hundreds were killed,
thousands. were shipped to the North & East as refugees. I am not referring
to what happened in 1983. I am yet in 1958.
There were four demands that were put forward on behalf of the Tamil people
by the Federal Party in 1956:
1 The introduction of a Federal form of Government.
2. Parity of status for the Tamil Language with Sinhala.
4. The grant of citizenship rights for all Tamils who have made this
country their home.
When we started a peaceful agitation for these demands the late Prime
Minister - Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike
negotiated a pact with our leader - Mr.
S. J. V. Chelvanayakam. He agreed to establish Regional Councils -
the Northern Province to form one regional area, whilst
the Eastern Province was to be divided into two or more regional areas and
provision to be made in the bill to allow two or three areas to amalgamate even
beyond provincial limit. It was also agreed in the matter of colonisation
schemes, the power of the Regional Councils shall include the power to select
allottees to whom lands within their area of authority shall be allocated
and also power to select persons to be employed to work on such
It was also agreed that the language of administration of the
Northern & Eastern Provinces was to be Tamil and that any necessary
provision be made for the non-Tamil speaking minority in the Northern &
Eastern Provinces. I don’t have to repeat the history of what happened to the
In 1960 March, the S.L.F.P. then headed by Mr. C. P. De Silva
came to power as part of an understanding with us to
implement the pact. When they came to power in July 1960, they not only failed
to honour their undertaking, they went to the extent of introducing the Language
of the Courts Bill to make Sinhala the language of the Courts even in the
Northern & Eastern Provinces.
The UNP under Mr. Dudley Sennanayake, in the presence of
Your Excellency, entered into a pact with Mr. Chelvanayakam in
1965. They were
able to form a Government because of our support. Some Tamil Language
regulations were introduced on 8th January 1966 by Your Excellency, but during
the five years that the UNP ruled not one syllable of these regulations was
implemented. The District Councils that were promised in the pact were only in
white paper. The solemn undertaking given in regard to colonisation in the
Northern & Eastern Provinces were never honoured.
This is the sordid history of pacts and solemn undertakings
given by successive Governments to the Tamil people. No honourable person can be
happy about this record.
The introduction of the 1972 Constitution removing the safeguards against
discriminatory legislation ‘contained in the Soulbury Constitution resulted in
all the Tamil Parties getting together and forming the Taniil United Front. We
submitted six demands, very modest ones, for inclusion in the constitution. They
were not even acknowledged.
In the meantime the standardisation in
education, shutting out deserving
Tamil students from Universities was introduced. Employment opportunities in the
Public &. Semi-public Sector
were denied to Tamils On top of all these - police
terrorism was unleashed on Tamils, culminating in the massacre of nine innocent
Tamils at the World Tamil Research Conference on the 10th January 1974 in
It was in this background, having failed to get their
legitimate demands within a United Sri Lanka, that the Tamils on the 14th May
1976 resolved to demand the restoration of the sovereign state that they had
before the European arrival and conquest of the country. This was placed before
the Tamil voters in the 1977 Elections and out of 26 seats in the Northern &
Eastern Provinces, the TULF won 18 seats. I may even say out of the 19 Tamil
seats in the North & East the TULF was elected to 18 seats.
The UNP itself in its Election Manifesto in the 1977 Election identified a
number of grievances of the Tamil people as having led to their supporting a
movement for the creation of a separate state.
In the statement of Government policy made by the President on the 4th August
1977 the UNP Government promised:
“My Government accepts the position that there are numerous problems
confronting the Tamil People. The lack of a solution to their problems has led
the Tamil People to support even a movement for a separate Tamil State. In the
interest of national integration and unity so necessary for the economic
development of the whole country the Government. feels that such problems should
be solved without lose of time and will take all possible steps to remedy their
grievances in such fields as:
3. Use of the Tamil Language
4. Employment in the Public and Semi-public Corporations.
My government will summon an All Party Conference to resolve these problems
and implement its decisions.”
It cannot be denied that these promises were never kept. The provision in the
Constitution regarding the use of Tamil Language has not been implemented upto
date. The position of the Tamils in employment in the public and semi-public
corporations has deteriorated further. The District Development Councils which
were established were never given a chance to function properly by the
The Tamil people have been subjected to repeated racial pogroms in 1977,
& 1983. Each succeeding spate of violence surpasses the previous one in its
ferocity and intensity. Under these circumstances can anyone say that the Tamil
people or TULF have any reason to go back on the stand they took in 1977?
The position that the TULF has taken is that although their mandate in the
1977 Elections was for the liberation of the Tamil nation by the establishment
of a independent state, if a satisfactory alternative which could meet the
legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people and. redress their grievances which
gave rise to the demand for a separate state was offered, we would place it
before the Party which would take a decision in consonance with the wishes of
the Tamil People.
One has to keep in mind the deep feeling of insecurity and alienation that is
felt by the Tamil people after the latest spate of violence in June, July &
August 1983 in working out an alternative.
Rev. Dr. Walpola Rahula in the course of his speech two days ago appealed to
me not to ask for Regional Councils, I wish to tell him that we are not asking
for Regional Councils. The mandate given by the Tamil people to the TULF is to
fight for a separate state. It is upto you, the leaders of the Sinhala people to
offer a satisfactory alternative.
As I stated we are prepared to place it before the Party and take a decision
in keeping with the wishes of the people who gave us the mandate. We come to
participate in this All Party Conference on the basis of the proposals contained
in Annexure ‘C’ That does not mean that we accept all the proposals
contained in Annexure ‘C’. We feel that they will not meet all our
grievances and problems of the day but we can take them as basis for discussion
The two overriding questions requiring immediate solution are:
(a) Security of the lives & property of Tamil people; and
(b) The integrity of Tamil terrorities from the days of British rule. The preservation of the integrity of these areas as
the homeland of the Tamil people was the basis of the agreements and pacts
between the Tamil Leaders and the major Sinhala Parties in 1957, 1960 &
Both the 1972 & 1978 Constitutions recognised that the Northern &
Eastern Provinces formed part of a linguistic entity for purposes of
administration and as the Language of the Courts.
Preserving the territorial integrity of the Tamil areas is intimately linked
to the security of the lives and properties of the Tamil people. After every
wave of violence hundreds and thousands of Tamils have returned to these areas
and sought permanent settlement there. Historically the northern & eastern
provinces have been predominantly populated by Tamil speaking people. In the
pre-independence period, the Tamils constituted an absolute majority of every
district of the Northern & Eastern Provinces.
In 1921 the Sinhalese population was about 4- 6% in the entirety of the
Eastern Province. State sponsored colonisation of the Tamil areas resulted in
the erosion of the territorial base of the Tamils. Our claim that the Northern &
Eastern Provinces be constituted into one region is based
on this premise.
We have however suggested further that to meet the
aspirations of the Muslims who are the largest community in the Amparai District
they be given the option to decide whether they went to form part of this region
or remain out of it.
I wish to read parts of a memorandum dated 17th January
1984 which I have received from the President of the Amparai District Federation
of the branches of the All Ceylon Muslim League. Whatever views they may have
taken earlier they had met on the 15th January and taken a decision on this
matter. This is what it says:
ETHNIC PROBLEMS OF MUSLIMS IN AMPARAI DISTRICT:
I am directed by the Executive Council to place before you? the following
unanimous decisions made at the meeting of the All Ceylon Muslim League
Amparai District Federation held on. Sunday the 15th instant at Muslim Maha
Vidyalaya, Oluvil, for your earnest consideration and effective submission at
the Round Table Conference for the settlement of Ethnic Problems in Sri Lanka.
We reiterate the proposals made by the All Ceylon Muslim League and our
Federation that Amparai District should be an Independent Unit for the
devolution of power.
A. As much as our Muslim brothers in the Sinhala Speaking area have to
live peacefully with the Sinhalese, we the Muslims in the Tamil Speaking
area have to live peacefully with the Tamils. Ethnic Problems of the
Muslims-and Tamils in the Tamil Speaking area with regard to Language of
administration, Land, Colonisation Irrigation, Fishing etc., are similar.
Solution of these problems will be a solution for both the Tamils and
Muslims in the Tamil Speaking area. Therefore, the Muslims in the Taniil
Speaking area should extend our fullest, co-operation to the Government and
to the Tamils in particular, to find a permanent solution to the Ethnic
Problems of the Tamils and in no way the Muslims of the Tamil Speaking area
should be a hindrance.
Amparai District is 1,775 square miles in extent. According to the census of
1981, the Sinhalese are eligible for. 37.2% or 660 square miles but they have
76% or 1,340 square miles in the Sinhalese areas. Muslims are eligible for 41.6%
or 728 square miles but we have only 263 square miles. In the Muslim- areas
which is only 15% of the lands in Amparai District. However, the political
Authority of the previous government and the District Minister in the present
government are very keen to grab the developed and ready made paddy fields ‘of
the Muslims in Muslim areas and settle Sinhalese relatives brought from other
districts. These are .the illegal aided settlements of Sinhalese in Muslim areas
which is over and above the 38 settlements of Sinhalese under Gal Oya Scheme
1960-63. This manoeuver has very seriously affected the economy and the
political strength of the Indigenous Muslim population of Amparai District.
All land taken over from the Muslims by R. V. D. B. Sri Lanka Sugar
corporation, and the Tile Factory should be returned to the Muslims with
compensation. Muslims can cultivate the sugar cane required for the Factory.
All aided illegal settlements of Sinhalese other than the settlements under
Gal Oya Development Project prior to 1963 should be removed out of Amparai
District and settled under Mahaweli Settlement elsewhere.” So much for the
memorandum ‘of the Amparai District Muslim League,
The Land mass of the Northern & Eastern Province falls entirely in the
dry zone and is economically backward. If this fact along with the absence of
the infrastructure and the resources of the rest of the country is taken into
consideration it would be conceded that the land area involved is not out Of
proportion to the population it serves.
The Reverend Priests spoke of the density of population in the various
Districts. Why are the northern and eastern provinces barring Jaffna sparsely
populated? It is because those areas are backward, undeveloped and have not even
adequate water supply.
No prejudice is caused to the Sinhala people by the incorporation of this
area into a single region.
Security of the Tamil people even- in the north & east is endangered by
the armed forces which act as an army in occupation. Annexure ‘C’ gives
power to the Regional Council’ for the maintenance of internal law & order
in the region.
Unless the power is made effective there will be no security to the lives
& property of the Tamil people even in these areas. One has to remember the
words of Mr. Justice Sansoni at page 276 of his report on the violence in 1977.
He says: ‘the incidents that occurred also show that there is a cleavage
between the Sinhala & Tamil race’. Any solution will have to recognise
this fundamental position.
The cleavage is even more complete after the violence of 1981 and
irreversible after the latest pogroms in 1983,
No amount of plastering can do
away with that cleavage. Any realistic solution has to take cognisance of that
fact and workout a structure taking the separation of the two in to
consideration. I would like to refer to a prophetic statement made by Dr. Colvin
R. De Silva in the Course of the debate on the Sinhala Only Act in
1956. He in
his characteristic way said: Two Languages one state; one language, two states'.
He said this to draw pointed attention to the fact if one language is made the
Official Language the group deprived of its Rights, that had a sense of
injustice will demand separation. Any solution, unless it is founded on justice
and the recognition of the integrity of’ the Tamil Nation and its Territorial
integrity will never work.
Before I conclude, I have to refer to the element of violence that has
entered the body politic of this country. The outbreak of insurgency in South
Ceylon was the precursor to this violence. Tamil Youths who were arrested in the
early 70s were locked up with youths from the South who were involved in the
insurgency. The violent behaviour of the police armed forces against unarmed
Tamil people provoked acts of retaliation by some of the Tamil Youths. When nine
innocent people were killed by the action of the police at the World Tamil
Research Conference in 1974 it was regarded as a challenge to the Tamil
Even as the Jallian Wallah Bagh massacre in Punjab gave rise to the emergence
of the militant youth movement. The arrest and intense torture of youths led to
retaliatory attacks against police officers responsible for this torture, events
escalated in this way till we have reached the present difficult
It has to be mentioned that in the whole of this violence in the Tamil areas
not one Sinhala civilian was harmed or killed. What happened in the South is
just the opposite.
The answer to this is not torture by the armed forces against youths
suspected of involvement in violence and against innocent people. This will only
lead to more and more youths joining the ranks of the militants. Even recently,
there had been serious crimes committed by the Armed Forces in areas like
Vavuniya against Tamil people. What chance is there of identification and
punishment of these men? The removal of these armed forces who are acting as an
army of occupation in the Tamil areas is absolutely necessary.
As Your Excellency remarked in your statement in Annexure ‘A-4’ -(1) if
these proposals are implemented one may expect violent activity or support for
it to whither away. There is no other way of putting a stop to violence. I have
no time to deal with the various points that emerged from the speeches of the
Rev Priests and others, some of my colleagues will deal with them. In conclusion
I will only say whether the country is going to be plunged in further violence
or not; whether the country is going to preserve its unity or not; whether the
country is going to progress economically or not depends on the outcome of the
deliberations of the Conference and I would appeal to all to work out a solution
on the basis of justice and fair play.