THE TAMIL LANGUAGE IN SRI LANKA Part 5A
Posted on February 12th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

‘Sinhala Only’ was not going to be allowed to live happily ever after. The Tamil language was determined to get its place in the sun,  to somehow see that Tamil ranked equally with Sinhala  island wide, even if it could not dislodge Sinhala altogether. Tamil’s chance came with the   1977 Constitution (effective   September 1978).

  1. 1978 CONSTITUTION

The 1978 Constitution has a separate chapter on Language. This chapter is all about Tamil, about entrenching Tamil in key areas of state activity. This shows that a Tamil lobby has been at work.  We do not know the names of all the Tamils active in this lobby but one name is publicly available, that of A.J.Wilson, a respected   Professor of Political theory and son-in- law of S.J.V Chelvanayagam.

Wilson by his own admission was   a close advisor to J.R. Jayewardene before and   during Jayewardene’s rule as President. ’ I was in close touch with President J.R. Jayewardene, when he was in the opposition. I had advised him on questions relating to 1978 Constitution of which the President had been the principal architect’, said Wilson. https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/JCS/article/viewFile/14564/15633

Laksiri Fernando, a student of Wilson who had remained close to him, stated that It is on record that Wilson helped the drafting of the 1978 Constitution  [He] opted to support and in fact helped to draft [it], I have met him several times during his visits in 1977 and 1983.  Mrs. A.J.Wilson however has stated firmly that her husband ‘was not involved in the preparation or drafting of the constitution for Sri Lanka.’ But she confirmed that ‘Professor Wilson acted as an advisor to ensure that the Tamil voice and views was expressed and heard in the political process.”

In the 1970s Tamil was still very much a minority language. According to the 1971 Census of Population   there were 9,131,243   Sinhalese and 1,423,981 Tamils. The percentages were Sinhalese 71.96% and Tamils 11.22%.  The 1978 Constitution however, recognized Tamil and gave it much prominence.

The 1978 Constitution   said that Sinhala shall be the official language (sec 18) but that there would be two national languages, Sinhala and Tamil. (Sec 19). All the rights enjoyed in the Tamil (Special Provisions) Act of 1958 were incorporated into the 1978 Constitution and cannot now be changed except by constitutional amendment, observed KM de Silva.     The Official Languages Department was re-established once the Constitution was approved. The Department had lost much of its importance in the 1970s and had been reduced to the status of a mere division in the Ministry of Public Administration.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE PROVISIONS OF CHAPTER IV: LANGUAGE” OF THE 1978 CONSTITUTION:

  1. The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala. (1978)
  2. The National Languages of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala and Tamil, (1978)
  3. A Member of Parliament or a member of a local authority shall be entitled to perform his duties and discharge his functions in Parliament or in such local authority in either of the National Languages. (1978)

21/1 a person shall be entitled to be educated through the medium of either of the National Languages, (1978

21/2 Where one National Language is a medium of instruction for or in any course, department or faculty of any University directly or indirectly financed by the State, the other National Language shall also be made a medium of instruction for or in such course, department or faculty for students who prior to their admission to such University, were educated through the medium of such other National Language :Provided that compliance with the preceding provisions of this paragraph shall not be obligatory if such other National Language is the medium of instruction for or in any like course, department or faculty either at any other campus or branch of such University or of any other like University. (1978

Provided that the Tamil Language shall also be used as the language of administration for the maintenance of public records and the transaction of all business by public institutions in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. (1978

22/1 The Official Language shall be Language of the language of administration throughout administration, provided that the Tamil Language shall also be used as the language of administration for the maintenance of public records and the transaction of all business by public institutions in the Northern and Eastern Provinces(1978.

22/2 a A person, other than an official acting in his official capacity, shall be entitled-(a) to receive communications from, and to communicate and transact business with, any official in his official capacity, in either of the National Languages (1978)

22/2/b if the law recognizes his right to inspect or to obtain copies of or extracts from any official register, record, publication or other document, to obtain a copy of, or an extract from such register, record, publication or other document, or a translation thereof, as the case maybe, in either of the National Languages: (1978

22/2/c where a document is executed by any official for the purpose of being issued to him, to obtain such document or a translation thereof, in either of the National Languages. (1978)

22/3) A local authority in the Northern or Eastern Province which conducts its business in either of the National Languages shall be entitled to receive communications from, and to communicate and transact business with, any official in his official capacity, in such National Language. (1978)

22/4 All Orders, Proclamations, rules, by-laws, regulations and notifications made or issued under any written law, the Gazette, and all other official documents including circulars and forms issued or used by any public institution or local authority, shall be published in both National Languages(1978)

.22/5 A person shall be entitled to be examined through the medium of either of the National Languages at any examination for the admission of persons to the Public Service, Judicial Service, Local Government Service, a public corporation or statutory institution, subject to the condition that he may be required to acquire a sufficient knowledge of the Official Language within a reasonable time after admission to any such Service, public corporation or statutory institution where such knowledge is reasonably necessary for the discharge of his duties: Provided that a person may be required to have a sufficient knowledge of the Official Language as a condition for admission to any such Service, public corporation or statutory institution where no function of the office or employment for which he is recruited can be discharged otherwise than with a sufficient knowledge of the Official Language(1978)

22/6) In this Article-“official” means the President, any Minister, Deputy Minister, or any officer of a public institution or local authority; and” public institution ” means a department or institution of the Government, a public corporation or statutory institution(1978)

23/1 All laws and subordinate Language of legislation shall be enacted or made, and Legislation published, in both National Languages together with a translation in the English Language. In the event of any inconsistency between any two texts, the text in the Official Language shall prevail (1978)

23/2 all laws and subordinate legislation in force immediately prior to the commencement of the Constitution, shall be published in the Gazette in both National Languages as expeditiously as possible. (1978)

23/3 the law published in Sinhala under the provisions of paragraph (2) of this Article, shall, as from the date of such publication, be deemed to be the law and supersede the corresponding law in English. (1978)

24/1 The Official Language shall be Language of the language o f the courts throughout Sri the courts. Lanka and accordingly their records and proceedings shall be in the Official Language: Provided that the language of the courts exercising original jurisdiction in the Northern and Eastern Provinces shall also be Tamil and their records and proceedings shall be in the Tamil Language. In the event of an appeal from any such court, records in both National Languages shall be prepared for the use of the court hearing such appeal; (1978)

24/1/1 the record of any particular proceeding in such court shall also be maintained in the Official Language if so required by the judge of such court, or by any party or applicant or any person legally entitled to represent such party or applicant in such proceeding, where such judge, party, applicant or person is not conversant with the Tamil Language.

24/1/2 Any party or applicant or any person legally entitled to represent such party or applicant may initiate proceedings, and submit to court pleadings and other documents, and participate in the proceedings in court, in either of the National Languages.

(24/1/3 Any judge, juror, party or applicant or any person legally entitled to represent such party or applicant, who is not conversant with the language used in a court, shall be entitled to interpretation and to translation into the appropriate National Language, provided by the State, to enable him to understand and participate in the proceedings before such court, and shall also be entitled to obtain in either of the National Languages, any such part of the record or a translation thereof, as the case may be, as he may be entitled to obtain according to law.

24/1/4 The Minister in charge of the subject of Justice may, with the concurrence of the Cabinet of Ministers, issue directions permitting the use of a language other than national Language in or in relation to the records and proceedings in any court for all purposes or for such purposes as may be specified therein. Every judge shall be bound to implement such directions. (1978)

  1. 13th AMENDMENT

The 13th amendment of 1987 raised Tamil from the earlier level of national language to the higher level of Official language. This Amendment stated that in addition to Sinhala, I) Tamil shall also be an official language 2)English shall be the  link language 3) Parliament shall by law provide for the implementation of the provisions in this> chapter.” (Article 2)

  1. 16TH AMENDMENT

The 16 amendment of 1988 repealed sections 22 and 23 of the 1978 Constitution.  It made Tamil   a language of administration, legislation and the law courts. The transformation of Tamil from a minority language to an official language  was now complete.

Devanesan Nesiah explains, in the 16th amendment of 1988 Tamil was included as a language of administration throughout Sri Lanka. Tamil became an official administrative and court language and English is the link language also used in administration  .

The revised article 22(1, 2, 3) now read as follows ‘Sinhala and Tamil shall be the Language  of administration throughout Sri Lanka, and Sinhala shall be the language of administration  be used for maintenance of public records and the transaction of all business by public institutions of all provinces other than the north and east where Tamil shall also be used.   Provided that the President having regard to the proportion which the Sinhala or Tamil linguistic minority population in any unit comprising a division of an AGA bears to the total of population in that area, direct htat both Sinhala and Tamil  be used as the language of administration   for such area.  In any area where Sinhala is  used as the language of administration a person other than an official shall be entitled to received communication and transact business with an official in either Tamil or English or ask for documents translated to Tamil or English. And also get a document executed in Tamil or English. The reverse shall also apply and the same services can be demanded in Sinhala.

Revised article 24(1) now reads Sinhala & Tamil shall be the Language  of court throughout Sri Lanka and Sinhala shall be used as the language of courts except in any area where Tamil is the Language of administration  concluded Nesiah.

HERE IS SOME OF THE TEXT OF THE 16TH AMENDMENT:.

Section 3 Replacement of Article 22 and 23 of the Constitution

  1. Articles 22 and 23 of the Constitution are hereby re-pealed and the following Articles substituted therefore; –

22 (Languages of Administration)

(1) Sinhala and Tamil shall be the language: of administration throughout Sri Lanka and Sinhala shall be the language of administration and be used for the maintenance of public records and the transaction or all business by public institutions of all the provinces of Sri Lanka other than the Northern and Eastern Provinces where Tamil shall be so used:

(2) in any area where Sinhala is used as the language of administration a person other than an official acting in his official capacity, shall be entitled –

(a) to receive communications from and to communicate and transact business with, any official in his official capacity, in either Tamil or English;

(b) if the law recognizes his right to inspector to obtain copies of or extracts from any official register, record, publication or other document, to obtain a copy of, or an extract from such register, record, publication) or other document, or a translation thereof, as the case may be, in either Tamil or English ;

(c) where a document is executed by any official for the purpose of being issued to him, to obtain such document or a translation thereof, in either Tamil or English.

(3) In any area where Tamil is used as the language of administration, a person other than an official acting in his official capacity, shall be entitled to exercise the rights and to obtain the services, referred to in sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of paragraph (2) of this Article, in Sinhala or English.

(4) A Provincial Council or a local authority which conducts its business in Sinhala shall be entitled to receive communications from and to communicate and transact business with, any official in his official capacity, in Sinhala, and a Provincial Council or a local authority which conducts its business in Tamil shall be entitled to receive communications from and to communicate and transact business with, any official in his official capacity, in Tamil :

(5) A person shall be entitled to be examined through the medium of either Sinhala or Tamil or a language of his choice at any examination for the admission of persons to the Public Service, Judicial Service, Provincial Public Service, Local Government Ser-vice or any public institution, subject to the condition that he may be required to acquire a sufficient knowledge of Tamil or Sinhala, as the case may be, within a reasonable time after admission to such service or public institution where such knowledge is reasonably necessary for the discharge of his duties:

(6) In this Article-

23 (Language of Legislation)

(1) All laws and subordinate legislation shall be enacted or Made’! and published in Sinhala and Tamil, together with a translation thereof in English :

(2) All Orders, Proclamations. rules, by-laws, -regulations and notifications made or issued under any written law other than ‘ by a Provincial Council or a local authority, and the Gazette shall be published in Sinhala and Tamil together “with a translation thereof in English.

(3) All Orders, Proclamations rules. by-laws, regulations and notifications made or issued under any written law by any Provincial Council or local authority, and all documents including circulars and forms issued or used by such body or any public institution shall be published in the language used in the administration in the respective areas in which they function, together with a translation thereof in English.

(4) All laws and subordinate legislation in force immediately prior to the commencement of the Constitution, shall be published in the Gazette in the Sinhala and Tamil languages as expeditiously as possible.

Section 4 Amendment of Article 34 of the Constitution

  1. Article 24 of the Constitution is hereby amended as follows:-

(1) by the repeal of paragraph 0) of that Article and the substitution of the following paragraph there-for :-

“(1) Sinhala and Tamil shall be the languages of the courts throughout Sri Lanka and Sinhala shall be used as the language of the court situated in all the areas of Sri Lanka except those in any area where Tamil is the language of administration. The record and proceedings shall be in the language of the, court. In the event of an appeal from any court records shall also be prepared in the language of the court hearing the appeal, if the language of such court is other than the language used by the court from which the appeal is preferred :

(2) in paragraph (2) of that Article by the substitution for the words ” in either of the National Languages “, of the words ” in either Sinhala or Tamil” :

(3) in paragraph (3) of that Article – (a) by, the substitution, for the words “the appropriate National, Language ” , of the words “Sinhala or Tamil”, and (1) by the substitution, for the words ” either of the National Languages”, of the words ” such language ” ;

(4) in paragraph (1) of that Article by the substitution for the word ” the use of a language other than a National Language”, of the words “the use of English”,

Section 3 Replacement of Article 22 and 23 of the Constitution

  1. Articles 22 and 23 of the Constitution are hereby re-pealed and the following Articles substituted therefore; –

22 (Languages of Administration)

(1) Sinhala and Tamil shall be the language: of administration throughout Sri Lanka and Sinhala shall be the language of administration and be used for the maintenance of public records and the transaction or all business by public institutions of all the provinces of Sri Lanka other than the Northern and Eastern Provinces where Tamil shall be so used:

(2) in any area where Sinhala is used as the language of administration a person other than an official acting in his official capacity, shall be entitled –

(a) to receive communications from and to communicate and transact business with, any official in his official capacity, in either Tamil or English;

(b) if the law recognizes his right to inspector to obtain copies of or extracts from any official register, record, publication or other document, to obtain a copy of, or an extract from such register, record, publication) or other document, or a translation thereof, as the case may be, in either Tamil or English ;

(c) where a document is executed by any official for the purpose of being issued to him, to obtain such document or a translation thereof, in either Tamil or English.

(3) In any area where Tamil is used as the language of administration, a person other than an official acting in his official capacity, shall be entitled to exercise the rights and to obtain the services, referred to in sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of paragraph (2) of this Article, in Sinhala or English.

(4) A Provincial Council or a local authority which conducts its business in Sinhala shall be entitled to receive communications from and to communicate and transact business with, any official in his official capacity, in Sinhala, and a Provincial Council or a local authority which conducts its business in Tamil shall be entitled to receive communications from and to communicate and transact business with, any official in his official capacity, in Tamil :

(5) A person shall be entitled to be examined through the medium of either Sinhala or Tamil or a language of his choice at any examination for the admission of persons to the Public Service, Judicial Service, Provincial Public Service, Local Government Ser-vice or any public institution, subject to the condition that he may be required to acquire a sufficient knowledge of Tamil or Sinhala, as the case may be, within a reasonable time after admission to such service or public institution where such knowledge is reasonably necessary for the discharge of his duties:

(6) In this Article-

23 (Language of Legislation)

(1) All laws and subordinate legislation shall be enacted or Made’! and published in Sinhala and Tamil, together with a translation thereof in English :

(2) All Orders, Proclamations. rules, by-laws, -regulations and notifications made or issued under any written law other than ‘ by a Provincial Council or a local authority, and the Gazette shall be published in Sinhala and Tamil together “with a translation thereof in English.

(3) All Orders, Proclamations rules. by-laws, regulations and notifications made or issued under any written law by any Provincial Council or local authority, and all documents including circulars and forms issued or used by such body or any public institution shall be published in the language used in the administration in the respective areas in which they function, together with a translation thereof in English.

(4) All laws and subordinate legislation in force immediately prior to the commencement of the Constitution, shall be published in the Gazette in the Sinhala and Tamil languages as expeditiously as possible.

Section 4 Amendment of Article 34 of the Constitution

  1. Article 24 of the Constitution is hereby amended as follows:-

(1) by the repeal of paragraph 0) of that Article and the substitution of the following paragraph there-for :-

“(1) Sinhala and Tamil shall be the languages of the courts throughout Sri Lanka and Sinhala shall be used as the language of the court situated in all the areas of Sri Lanka except those in any area where Tamil is the language of administration. The record and proceedings shall be in the language of the, court. In the event of an appeal from any court records shall also be prepared in the language of the court hearing the appeal, if the language of such court is other than the language used by the court from which the appeal is preferred :

(2) in paragraph (2) of that Article by the substitution for the words ” in either of the National Languages “, of the words ” in either Sinhala or Tamil” :

(3) in paragraph (3) of that Article – (a) by, the substitution, for the words “the appropriate National, Language ” , of the words “Sinhala or Tamil”, and (1) by the substitution, for the words ” either of the National Languages”, of the words ” such language ” ;

(4) in paragraph (1) of that Article by the substitution for the word ” the use of a language other than a National Language”,of the words “the use of English”,( continued)

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