THE TAMIL LANGUAGE IN SRI LANKA Part 8
Posted on February 25th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga appears to have been the first President to take an interest in entrenching the Tamil language in the island. President Kumaratunga had issued a letter on June 1997 to the Cabinet and senior public officials regarding non-compliance with the Official Languages Policy,

Six specific directions were issued which had to be implemented within two months. The Minister handling the subject was to personally supervise the matter and report on action taken within one month.

The directions    issued in this 1997 letter were as follows. All regulations, legal provisions and information to be available in all three languages,  all forms to be printed in all three languages,  all letters from the public to be replied in the language in which it is received or at least with an English translation,  all name-boards of public institutions and other signage to be displayed in all three language,  all vacancies for Sinhala – to – Tamil translators and Tamil typists to be filled and temporary staff recruited for this purpose where permanent cadre do not exist.  Also, a senior official in each institution to be charged with responsibility for implementation of the official languages policy.

These instructions are of a minimal nature as far as the implementation of the language policy is concerned, said the Tamil lobby  and in any case, the circular was not implemented by the Ministerial Secretaries and Heads of Departments to whom it was addressed.

In 1999 President Kumaratunge directed that all District Secretariat divisions where there are over 20% Tamils,  be declared bilingual divisions, where languages of administration have to be both Sinhala and Tamil. In these divisions Tamils can transact government business in Tamil  and Tamil will also be the language of record. This instruction was a triumph for the Tamil language lobby. Tamil had   become an additional language of administration outside of North and East.

The first bilingual divisions were twelve divisions in the districts of Badulla and Nuwara Eliya. In Badulla district 41 DS divisions were declared bilingual. 29 other divisional secretariats in six districts, where there were more than 30% Tamil speaking peoples, were thereafter designated as bilingual administrative divisions. These included areas where the Tamil speaking population is as high as over 70 percent as at Nuwara Eliya and Ambagamuwa (Nuwara Eliya district) and Kalpitiya and Puttalam (Puttalam district).

In 2005 Official Languages Commission   recommended that another forty-three D. S. divisions in thirteen districts be declared bi-lingual DS divisions.  The districts were in Ampara, Anuradhapura, Colombo, Gampaha, Kandy, Kegalle, Kurunegala, Matale, Matara, Polonnaruwa, Ratnapura, Trincomalee and Vavuniya. A further 29 will be gazetted shortly said DEW Gunasekera in 2008. This covers all bilingual areas in the Island in terms of the ethnic wise population.

 

The watchful Tamil lobby complained in 2008 that there were no objective criteria by which these areas were   designated as bilingual divisions .No minimum threshold of Tamil speakers appear to have been used in the selection of areas. Two divisions in Badulla district with fewer than 15 percent Tamil speakers were taken whereas several divisions where the Tamil speaking population average 30 percent (including Matale, Rattota and Ukuwela (Matale district) Kuliyapitiya (Kurunegala district) and Lankapura and Welikanda (Polonnaruwa district) are omitted.

Devanesan Nesiah was asked in 1999 to make recommendations for use of Tamil in these DS     divisions. His recommendations were not followed and he repeated them in 2012. Here are his recommendations.

Nesiah wanted the various A.G.A. Divisions categorized in terms of the language composition of the population as follows: (i) Not less than 87 ½ % Sinhala speaking (ii) Not less than 87 ½ % Tamil speaking (iii) Not less than 50 % Sinhala speaking and not less than 12 ½ % Tamil speaking (iv) Not less than 50 % Tamil speaking and not less than 12 ½ % Sinhala speaking.

Public officers in were also to be graded into six levels according to their language proficiency:

(1) Officers fully proficient and who can correspond in Sinhala (this will comprise mostly but not exclusively those whose mother tongue is Sinhala; a special high level proficiency examination could be prescribed for those whose mother tongue is not Sinhala)

(2) Officers fully proficient and who can correspond in Tamil (this will comprise mostly but not exclusively those whose mother tongue is Tamil; a special high level proficiency examination could be prescribed for those whose mother tongue is not Tamil)

(3) Officers fully proficient and who can correspond in English (a high level proficiency examination could be prescribed for this purpose)

(4) Officers who have passed the prescribed proficiency examinations in Sinhala   other than the special high level examination referred to in (1) above. (This will comprise mostly those whose mother tongue is Tamil)

(5) Officers who have passed the prescribed proficiency examinations in Tamil other than the special high level examination referred to in (2) above. (This will comprise mostly those whose mother tongue is Sinhala)

(6) Officers not included in (3) above but with minimum proficiency in English (Proficiency examinations could be prescribed for this purpose)

Nesiah then suggested that that every A.G.A. Division classified under (i) should have staff in all cadre grades of at least 50% of (1), 10% of (2), 10% of (3) and 15% of (5). All the Divisions of Colombo District excluding the Colombo A.G.A. Division would fall into this category,

Every A.G.A. Division classified under (ii) should have staff in all cadre grades of at least 50% of (2), 10% of (1), 10% of (3) and 15% of (4). All the divisions of Batticaloa district would fall into the category and would require a minimum of 10% Sinhala speaking staff to meet the recommended norm.

Every A.G.A. Division classified under (iii) should have staff in all cadre grades of at least 50% of (1), 25% of (2) and 10% of (3). Colombo A.G.A. Division would fall into this category and would require a minimum of 25% Tamil speaking staff to meet the recommended norm.

Every A.G.A. Division classified under (iv) should have staff in all cadre grades at least 50% of (2), 25% of (1) and 10% of (3). Nuwara Eliya A.G.A. Division would fall into this category.  Nesiah also suggested that similar norms be prescribed in respect of each Municipal and Urban Council administration based on the linguistic composition of the population within the Council limits.

In 2008 Dew Gunasekera, then Minister of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration said D. S. Divisions which have been already declared to be bi-lingual areas of administration do not function in the way it should be functioning   because they lack the facilities to do so. They are unable to receive communications and to communicate and to transact business in the Tamil language. Nor are adequate facilities available to citizens to obtain copies of or extracts from or translations from any official register, record, publication or other document, in the Tamil language, Dew said.

in some of the areas where the language of administration is declared to be Tamil the police stations and other institutions dealing with security do not operate in that language for maintenance of records or for transacting business with the people of the area. If this is the case in the areas where the Tamil Language has been declared to be the language of administration it is too much to expect that the implementation of the use of Tamil language in other areas will be satisfactory, concluded Dew Gunasekera.

In 2008 or so, N. Selvakumaran  did a field study of  the implementation of Tamil as an Official language in selected  Divisional Secretariat divisions in Colombo, Nuwara Eliya, Puttalam, Trincomalee and Vavuniya.  The Divisional Secretary’s Divisions selected for the field study have been Colombo D. S. Division and Thimbirigasyaya D. S. Division in the Colombo District, Ambagamuwa D. S. Division and Nuwara Eliya D. S. Division in the Nuwara Eliya District, Mundel D. S. Division and Puttalam D. S. Division in the Puttalam District, Trincomalee Town & Gravets D. S. Division and Muttur D. S. Division in the Trincomalee District and Vavuniya D. S. Division and Vavuniya South D. S. Division in the Vavuniya District. The study concentrated on Tamil in civil administration, transport, police, law courts and health.

Selvakumaran found that in the districts of Trincomalee and Vavuniya, the Tamil language as an Official Language was satisfactorily implemented in almost all thematic areas referred to above, save some exceptions particularly in the Police department. In the Nuwara Eliya District, the civil administration in major offices such as Divisional Secretary’s Office, Grama Niladhari’s Office, Pradeshiya Sabhas, Registrars of Birth, Marriages and Deaths, Land Registry, Local Authorities, is carried out satisfactorily. This is due to the fact that a satisfactory number of Tamil speaking officers has been employed in the area. Similarly, the police stations had a satisfactory number of Tamil speaking officers, said Selvakumaran.

In the Nuwara Eliya District, the civil administration in major offices such as Divisional Secretary’s Office, Grama Niladhari’s Office, Pradeshiya Sabhas, Registrars of Birth, Marriages and Deaths, Land Registry, Local Authorities, is carried out satisfactorily. This is due to the fact that a satisfactory number of Tamil speaking officers has been employed in the area. Similarly, the police stations had a satisfactory number of Tamil speaking officers; but there seems to be some reluctance on the part of these officers to function in Tamil.

In Colombo the Attorney-General’s Department and the Legal Draftsman’s Department have adequate staff to operate in Tamil very satisfactorily, the Department of Registration of Persons, Registrar General, Health, and Post Offices provide somewhat manageable services to the Tamil speakers compared to the Departments of Police, Divisional Secretary’s offices, and Grama Niladhari offices where the state of the implementation of the Tamil language is very unsatisfactory.  Further, registration of marriages could be done in Tamil as Tamil speaking Registrars have been appointed in the Colombo district. Official translation of certificates could be obtained in Tamil. This is also the same with regard to birth and death certificates.

Police Stations in the Colombo district are not geared to record statements or question and interview witnesses/suspects in Tamil. Copies of extracts or police clearance certificates are issued to Tamil speakers in Sinhala. They are not issued in Tamil or English, as constitutionally stipulated. Police officers and soldiers, who visit homes for ‘checking and verification’ purposes, do not speak the Tamil language.  To obtain copies of records of proceedings in Tamil is also very difficult.

In the Puttalam district civil administration offices, such as District Planning Secretariat, Divisional Secretariats, Grama Niladhari offices, Registrar of Births, Election Departments, etc., have sufficient number of Tamil speaking officers. Police Stations also have adequate number of officers who are Tamil speaking, though the administration is mainly carried out in Sinhala. Records are maintained in the Sinhala language. With regard to the transport sector staff of the road transport has a satisfactory number of Tamil speaking officers. The train transport sector too is the same.

With regard to  law courts, although staff is satisfactorily representative of Tamil speaking officers, most of the documents, notices, forms, name boards, etc. are in Sinhala only. Translators are available from Sinhala to Tamil and vice versa in courts. Cases are filed in the Sinhala language and conducted in the same language. Lawyers are capable of managing their client’s cause, though clients may not understand what is taking place with regard to their cause. On the whole, the people in the area manage to transact business in the Tamil language although the government service is not fully geared to provide its services in the Tamil language, concluded Selvakumaran. (continued)

One Response to “THE TAMIL LANGUAGE IN SRI LANKA Part 8”

  1. dingiri bandara Says:

    Irrespective of any regulatory requirement, My personal opinion is that all Sinhalese need to learn, for their benefit, all three languages used in Sr Lanka namely Sinhalese, English and Tamil and any other language like Japanese, Korean and Chinese.I have no doubt that given the encouragement and the opportunity the young people of today are capable of doing that

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