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The myth of a traditional Tamil Homeland unmasked - Page 2

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The myth of a traditional Tamil Homeland unmasked
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Question

He lamented, “...although 80 million Tamils live all around the globe, the Tamils do not have a country of their own.” How many of these 80 million Tamils does Prabhakaran hope to settle in his mythical “Tamil homeland” in the North and the East?

The question that immediately springs to mind is whether Prabhakaran is seeking to establish a “Greater Tamil homeland” beyond the shores of Sri Lanka. If he is seeking a homeland for 80 million Tamils around the world, this would certainly appear to be the case. Remember the separatist struggle of the Tamils in Tamil Nadu in the 1950s, until secession was forbidden by the central government of India in 1963? Ambassador Goonetilleke recalled the statement by Thamilendhi, the financial czar of the LTTE, on March 18, 2008,”In ancient times, the whole of India was a Tamil land. And the Chola kings (from Tamil Nadu), ruled over Sri Lanka for 70 years. Today, the Tamils are slaves in India, and are fighting for their liberation in Sri Lanka.” On the same subject, the Ambassador whizzed me off to a flashback, to 1939, when the Tamils in India were demanding a separate state, to the first “Tamil Nadu for Tamils” conference, where Mr. C.N. Annadurai was the principal speaker.

This was the time that the Dravida Kazhagam (DK), and its offshoot, Dravida Munnetra Khazagam (DMK), had as their primary goal, an independent Dravida Nadu. Subsequently, with the Central Government enacting a law banning parties and individuals from demanding independence from India, DMK abandoned its demand, and those who supported secession were eventually forced to demand something short of total independence from India.

Embryonic

This brought to life an embryonic ‘Tamil Nation,’ within India, with maximum devolution of powers. Due to the crackdown by the Indian central government, the ‘Tamil Nation,’ concept went underground in India and resurfaced in 1976, in a less hostile environment in Sri Lanka. Is Bruce Fein, unaware of the diabolical plans of the Eelam lobby? Has he any idea of the history behind the dubious claim for Tamil Eelam? May be not, for his ignorance becomes more apparent each time he attempts to assert his opinion. For instance, he tries to justify the separatist demand of the Tamil lobby, by bringing in the recent unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.

“The reason why the Kosovo independence is so significant is because it addresses an issue that’s prevalent throughout the world...” continues Fein, “But surely I think the Kosovo independence should shine a spotlight on these areas of the world, because I think in the long run separate statehoods create greater stability,” and gives the example of the breakup of former Yugoslavia, unmindful of the carnage that ensued. He seems to ignore the ethnic mix in the Eastern Province, and the greater number of Sri Lankan Tamils, who have made other areas of the island their home, since fleeing the Tigers’ den in the North and the East.

Ambassador Goonetilleke observed that Fein appears to be desirous of drawing a parallel between Sri Lanka and Kosovo. However, he seems to have overlooked statements made by the countries, which hurriedly recognized the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo. For example, on February 18, 2008, U.S. Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice, said, “The unusual combination of factors found in the Kosovo situation — including the context of Yugoslavia’s breakup, the history of ethnic cleansing and crimes against civilians in Kosovo, and the extended period of UN administration — are not found elsewhere and therefore make Kosovo a special case.” She emphasized, “Kosovo cannot be seen as a precedent for any other situation in the world today.”

Similarly, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, in an interview with BBC Radio 4 Today programme, on February 19, 2008, said of Kosovo’s declaration of independence, “What makes it unique is that for nine years, there’s been a UN protectorate within the independent country of Serbia. That does mean that this is a unique case and I think it’s not one that can be equated to the Basque issue or some of the other issues that have been raised.”

That was not all. When the EU members met in Brussels recently, they agreed that Kosovo should not set a precedent for other states, with Spain and others, concerned about separatism stalking their countries. However, such principled positions are not expected to deter a hardnosed lawyer of the ilk of Fein.

Not familiar

Ambassador Goonetilleke pointed out that although Fein, on February 24, 2008, confidently referred to, “Sri Lanka in particular, with which I am familiar,” his article in the Washington Times on January 29, 2008, reveals that he is ignorant about even the basic facts on Sri Lanka - such as the difference between Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils. Fein says in his article, “Immediately upon independence, the Sinhalese denied citizenship and disenfranchised a staggering 1 million Tamils, ...” He appears to believe he is referring to Sri Lankan Tamils, but in reality he is talking about Indian Tamils. I find it presumptious that he should boast of his familiarity with the Sri Lanka situation, when he is ignorant of this basic distinction between Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils.

Doesn’t he know that Sri Lankan Tamils were citizens of Ceylon, and therefore the issue of denying them citizenship at the time of independence does not arise? “Disenfranchisement” was with reference to Indian Tamils, who were brought in as temporary workers by the British in the 19th century, to work as bonded labourers on the tea plantations.

Ambassador Goonetilleke illustrated with a contemporary example. “Today, Sri Lankans by the hundreds and thousands are working in the Middle East, as temporary workers. Can they claim citizenship in the Middle Eastern countries on the basis that they worked and lived there for many years?” he asked.

Right to decide

Furthermore, he maintained that any newly independent country has the right to decide who should form or has a claim to be the citizens of that country. The Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 provided for those born in Ceylon, prior to November 1949, of a father born in Ceylon, to be recognized as a citizen of Ceylon.

That Act was followed by the Indian and Pakistani (Residents) Citizenship Act of 1949, which sought to grant Ceylon Citizenship to people, who were able to satisfy residence in Ceylon for a period of 7 years from 1st January, 1939, in case of married persons, and for a period of 10 years (from 1st January, 1936) for unmarried persons.

Negotiations

This arrangement enabled about 145,000 persons of Indian Origin to acquire citizenship of Ceylon leaving approximately 700,000 whose citizenship had to be determined through negotiations with India. As the Ambassador explained, the matter was sorted out after negotiations with India in 1964 and 1974 with other local administrative and legal arrangements, ending up with the ‘Grant of Citizenship of Persons of Indian Origin Act (Act No. 35 of 2003). Ambassador Goonetilleke has a question for the Eelam lobby.

“Can they explain why G.G. Ponnambalam (Sr.) voted in favour of the Indian Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act of 1949, having voted against the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948?” And why S.V. J Chelvanayakam voted against both Acts and broke away from the ACTC and established the Federal Party in 1949? As the Ambassador explained, Ponnambalam founded the first Tamil political party, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), and stood for the principle of minority representation. He then referred to a quote by G.G. Ponnambalam (Jr.), referring to a press statement made by the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) in the “Daily News” of 23rd June 1962..... “Had the TC been given an additional portfolio, as earlier agreed, it is a matter for conjecture as to whether Mr. Chelvanayakam and his followers would have been in a position to vote against the Bill”.The CWC represents the Indian Tamils on whose issue the Federal Party claims it split from the ACTC! However, Premier D.S. Senanayake, for reasons best known to him, refused to accept Chelvanayakam to his cabinet, thereby leading to the establishment of the Federal Party by the latter. The rest is history.

If the decision taken by the newly independent government was a treacherous act, did not the Tamil leadership of the day, collude with such policies? However, G.G. Ponnambalam (Jr.) disagrees that his father’s decision in 1949 was wrong. Referring to V. P. Vittachi’s letter to the Editor in “The Sunday Times” of October 6, under the headline “G.G. Ponnambalam and the Indian Tamils” he said on 13th October 1996, “Yes, I do not deny that G.G. Ponnambalam (Sr.) voted for the Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act No. 3 of 1949, and the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act No. 48 of 1949, and see no wrong in having done so. In fact, I would go so far as to say that was the correct thing to have been done, under the circumstances. Perhaps, what he did was endorsed by the voters of the Northern Province in 1952...” Before resting his case, Ambassador Goonetilleke admitted that the tragedy of Sri Lanka was punctuated by missed opportunities and acts, the result of political greed of many.

Opportunity

What is needed is a tiny window of opportunity to demonstrate that Sri Lankans are able to leave the past behind and forge a new unity for the common good of future generations. He sees the recent decision of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to implement in full, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, as a first step in that direction. Despite the small size of the country, the Ambassador believes the island is large enough for all of its citizens of all ethnic groups. There is no need for unacceptable myths and erroneous minutes.

So, pray tell me, where are the historical, archaeological and epigraphical evidence to prove the existence of a traditional Tamil homeland in the north and the east? Where does the tradition begin?

Rizana GAZZALI

~ dailynews.lk ~ 



 

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