Tamil group rights and population geography
Posted on June 21st, 2009

 C. Wijeyawickrema

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure”

Mark Twain

Group rights versus individual rights

            Tamil IDPs who began growing vegetables in front of their tents in the liberated areas do not talk about group rights. These are topics for the Washington Post (Ref. essay by Neville Ladduwahetty, The Island-June 3, 2009) and of course for the APRC, the Colombo Tamil moderates, and those cabinet ministers who will be unemployed when ex-servicemen contest against them at the next general election. The average Tamil suffered enough for a generation and half going after their group rights. The group leader did not swallow his cyanide pill because he did not have one hanging on his neck. He even kept his parents as prisoners but not as part of the human shield.

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs

            At this moment all those live outside air-conditioned offices in Colombo-IDP Tamils, Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese-need their basic needs satisfied after 30 years of war and Tamil terrorism. Maslow in 1943 indicated a hierarchy of five levels of basic needs. Beyond these needs, higher levels of needs exist. These include needs for understanding, esthetic appreciation and purely spiritual needs. In the levels of the five basic needs, the person does not feel the second need until the demands of the first have been satisfied nor the third until the second has been satisfied, and so on. Maslow’s basic needs are: physiological needs, safety needs, needs of love, affection and belongingness, needs for esteem and needs for self-actualization. A group right aimed at a future separate state is not one in the list of wants of the IDP Tamils.

Group rights are man-made

            Unlike individual rights, group rights are politics and man-made. There are cases of some groups are given group rights by some others. The American Indians in USA enjoy certain privileges and benefits because they have Indian blood. The veterans enjoy some special benefits because of their sacrifices on behalf of the country. In India, certain tribes and castes are given special benefits and quotas because of their “backwardness.” In Sri Lanka there was a time when it was one’s duty and responsibility (not a legal obligation) to offer a bus seat to a pregnant woman or an elderly person. It was not a right. On the other hand the front seat of a bus was reserved for monks or priests as a right.

Parents taking care of children and later children taking care of old parents were not rights in a Buddhist or in a non-western society. They were natural duties and responsibilities in the cycle of life-birth and death. They became rights enforceable by court orders with modernization and western jurisprudence. When one group in power exploits another group and thus deny them their basic individual rights, agitation begins and after some time some kind of mitigation results in by way of granting group rights. In USA, Rosa Park refused to accept the group right of whites to sit in the front section of the bus. In Jaffna, there was a time the high castes had a group right to prevent lower castes polluting the Hindu temple. Right to strike as trade union action is a group right.

Group right to a Tamil homeland

            Unfortunately, this is not the kind of group right that some agents talk about with regard to Tamils. It is about a group’s right to have an exclusive spatial area to achieve their own “aspirations.” The trouble with this idea is that as a subjective construct one group’s right can clash with another group’s right. For example, when Turkey wanted to join EU, France said Europe is for Christians.  When Muslims in Switzerland wanted to have mosques with minarets, Christians objected to it. Here not only two group rights clash with one another, but the clash can be between a group right and an individual right (freedom of worship). While an individual right is a natural right-one is born with such rights,  group rights are man-made, acquired by men and women peacefully, historically or by force. The claim by the Jews that they have a right to a separate state in the world is a good example. Whether the Tamils in the world should have a separate country with a UN seat is a group right based on a territory.

Reasonable rights

Because “rights” is a western invention and the subjective nature of group rights as well as the possible clashes between group rights versus individual rights, one should bring another western idea, the doctrine of reasonableness in examining these rights  (actually, the Middle Path in Buddhism is nothing but this idea of reasonableness). Recently, the army commander Sarath Fonseka applied this idea to state that “Tamils have equal rights with other communities but Colombo Tamils should not make unreasonable demands.”

When one considers the latest demands, “let us have self-rule in a unified Sri Lanka” by Suresh Premachandra in Lanka e-news website on 6/14/2009) with plans for a “provisional transitional government in exile” with the International Tamil terrorist arms supplier KP and lawyer Rudrakumaran operating from USA or some others promoting “13-A now and 13-A plus later” (Lankaweb, 6/15/2009), they cannot be justified as reasonable demands because they go against the population geography of Sri Lanka.  By accepting a Tamil group right to a separate spatial area (North and East), the harmonious pattern of population balance in the other seven provinces get disturbed resulting in disastrous consequences. The APRC majority report once suggested adding Tamil police stations in these seven provinces as the solution to prevent such bad results. This suggestion was not only unreasonable but ludicrous. 

Geography of population

                The population distribution map of Sri Lanka does not support a Tamil group right theory in Sri Lanka which is presented as the moderate solution, the 13-A plus solution, the APRC solution, the NGO-UNO solution or the Indian or American solution.   No other country, whether it is the giant Canada or smaller Belgium or Switzerland, has the unique situation one finds in Sri Lanka.  Any attempt to recognize a Tamil group right will have two adverse effects: (1) a separate country for Tamils at the UN crowd will exploit it in collaboration with the separatist sections in Tamil Nadu to think that their dream is still a possibility (2) the group right recognized will spoil the harmony between Tamils and Sinhala in the non-group right area forcing them to think racially. 

 The distribution patterns of Tamils outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces indicate that the Grama Rajya level devolution of powers (which means empowerment of people not politicians at provincial level) is the best and most reasonable home-grown solution which will empower people and allow them to aspire to what they wished to achieve as human beings in a free country. At the village level the unit boundaries should be based on hydrology or watersheds-in other words language-blind and ecologically-sound. So many units will be exclusively Tamil. Arrangements could be made to allow for minority representation at the village level in case the number of minority persons is so small to have an elected representative. There is no need for Tamil police stations in villages to protect Tamils.  If APRC is not to be retired soon, then its members should visit New Zealand to see how ecology-based local government units operate in another small country.

Map exercise on cohabitation – source of data

The source of data for the five maps presented in this essay came from G. P. S. H. De Silva’s “A Statistical Survey of Elections to the Legislatures of Sri Lanka 1911-1977” (1979). An Excel table was developed using race and religion percentages data of voters in the 1977 General Election (1976 Delimitation Commission). In calculating Tamils per electorate, Ceylon Tamils and Indian Tamils are combined thus giving them an advantage at the electoral level rather than treating them separately. In the case of Sinhalese, rather than race, the religion, Buddhists, was used. This way Christian Sinhalese are separated and any advantage Sinhalese gets at the electoral level is removed. When a Prabakaran brother was studying with me in Canada in 1979, he said that the biggest headache they had in Jaffna was the scene of yellow robed monks roaming on the streets of Jaffna. I used this logic in deciding to use religion instead of race.

Provincial or District level maps can hide rather than reveal useful information. If race and religion data are available at polling booth level, that will be the ideal spatial unit when APRC suggested to deploy Tamil policemen at that level.  But on the other hand it could become so complex making it difficult to recognize useful spatial patterns, if any. In the past, Professor Howard Wriggins who was US Ambassador in Sri Lanka during JRJ presidency in his book, Ceylon: Dilemmas of a new nation (1960) produced several maps with 1947, 1952 and 1956 electoral level ethnicity data.

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