National integration and ethnic segregation, the dilemma of a nation.
Posted on September 12th, 2011

Dr Sudath Gunasekara

Throughout history Sri Lanka had been one of the best examples for integration of people belonging to different ethno-religious groups to form one strong nation. What followed the advent of Vijaya and the more recent wave of south Indian immigrants during the medieval period could be cited as classic examples of such harmonious socio-cultural integration. Its insularity and isolation from other countries in the early years and the dominance of the Sinhala Buddhist culture in later years had greatly influenced in shaping this unique society. The numerous ethnic groups that have come from the mainland India have integrated with the native people at least from the 6th century up to the advent of the western colonial powers in the early 16th century. As such communal politics and ethnic segregation was unknown then in this country. But today it has become the main bane of the Sri Lankan nation. Although the necessary ground work had been done over a period of four centuries by the colonial powers towards this sinister goal, its first active emergence was seen only in 1921. Therefore definitely it is an invention of the colonial period as a part of their conspiracy to destabilize this Island nation. Even by that time they had divided the nation in to watertight compartments of mistrust beyond rectification.

The emergence of organized communal politics began with the formation of the “ƒ”¹…”Ceylon Tamil Congress’ in 1921 breaking away from the “ƒ”¹…”Ceylon National Congress’, a national political body that comprised representatives of all communities who together agitated for independence. This was the first attempt where Tamils openly tried to emerge as a separate political group giving the red signal that they want to be identified as a separate nation in this country for the first time in the history of this Island nation, which had been identified as the Sinhala Buddhist country where minorities like Tamils and Muslims, having accepted that reality, lived amicably among them often integrating with the natives of the country from the dawn of history. This was more so with the Muslims who took even Sinhala ge names such as mudiyanselage, vidanelage, arachchilage and muhamdiramlage etc and Sinhala women as their wives.

Communal politics and tendencies for ethnic segregation also marks the culmination of the Divide and rule policy adopted by the British in this country. The year 1921 therefore, I think marks the year that triggered off the first shot splitting the Lankan nation in to two distinct and adverse socio-political groups. Therefore it could be described as a turning point in the political history of this country. It began at the top where the Tamil social elite took the lead. Arunachalam Ramanadan spearheaded the movement. This was followed by G.G.Ponnambalam in early thirties with his fifty-fifty demand. In 1947 this took a different turn with the formation of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) by Chelvanayagan which he called the Federal Party just to mislead the world by hiding their sinister communal motives behind that disastrous movement. The formation of the ITAK spelled out in no uncertain terms that it objective is to form a “ƒ”¹…”Lanka Tamil State’ separated from the rest of the Island. Though this movement took a temporary back step it gathered new momentum and further strength with the satyagraha, launched by the ITAK in 1956. With this move ethnic violence emerged as a byproduct of decades of communal politics and communalism got permanently settled down in our society as a cantankerous factor. With the Vadukkodai Declaration of 1977 it reached the culmination and took an aggressive turn. This movement was high jacked by the young Tamil terrorist outfit LTTE. The 30 year separatist war waged against the government of the country by the terrorist outfit was thus based on the ideological ground work invented by the Tamil Politicians. That thirty year curse ended in 2009 was the climax of this communalist political movement that was started in 1921.

Even though the LTTE was defeated at home in 2009 the TNA politicians still have not given up their determination for a separate state. The following statement by Suresh Premachandara MP of the TNA clearly shows their stand.

“ƒ”¹…”It would be impossible to reach a political solution and bring about lasting peace, justice and democracy in the North without the devolution of police and land powers. Mr. Premachandra said these two subjects were extremely necessary for lasting peace, justice, democracy and northern development’.

I discern a six tier series of reasons that have brought about this situation.

First, The British colonial policy of divide and rule

Second, Political parties evolved on the ideology initiated by the Ceylon Tamil Congress in 1921 based on language and ethnicity

Third, Proportional representation,

Fourth, International interference Eg; South India, the Indian government and the International Community including USA and the western block led by Britain etc

Fifth, Lack of vision and strategy on the part of our politicians

And finally, The absence of non-political national movements, strong enough to counter wrongs done by politicians and political parties and leaving everything in the hands of the politicians.

The British colonial policy of divide and rule

Divide and rule was a fundamental colonial policy followed by the British. They adopted a divide and rule policy right from the beginning of their advent in all colonies to keep the native people divided in order to achieve their political and economic goals in all the newly acquired territories. In Sri Lanka they not only made use of the existing ethnic and religious differences between the main ethnic groups Sinhala, Tamil and Muslims but they also divided even the same ethnic group, for example Sinhalese in to two distinct groups as Kandyans and Low country people. At times they even set one group against the other. For example even some Governors have argued for a separate federal state for the Kandyans. Among the Sinhalese the most mistrusted by the British were the Kandyans. While winning over the contemporary social elite by way of land grants and government positions as an attempt to control the masses they conferred special privileges on minorities through education and employment etc. This they achieved by neglecting Sinhala areas and providing better facilities, especially for English education to Tamils. They established more schools in predominantly Tamil regions while neglecting the Sinhala areas. For example by 1840 out of 106 schools for the whole Island Jaffna district alone had 35 while the entire Central Province had only 3. Obviously this policy enabled more Tamils to get in to government jobs than the majority community Sinhalese. What is worse was that this situation gave a superiority complex to the Tamils over the Sinhala people who comprised over 90 % of the country’s population. Of course the principle of divide and rule or get your goals achieved through such action is nothing new. The cunning fox always got his goals achieved by creating dissention even between the lion and the black bear.

Secondly, they adopted a well calculated administrative strategy by dividing the country in to Provinces on an ethnic basis. Thirdly they imported and planted south Indian labour right at the centre of the country (on the heartland of the nation) in their newly opened up plantations in hundreds of thousands and kept them as an enclave completely divorced from the natives. When Independence was granted in 1948 they left behind the army of Indian labour so planted who continued to be Indian citizens as a colonial legacy to the detriment of this small country. They also introduced the concept of minority for the first time by enshrining a special clause even in the Soulbury Constitution to safeguard their rights. This minority concept is a factor which has never appeared in the annals of history before. Previously the country had only one nation called Lankans or Sinhala (the people of the Sinhale) and all others who had come from time to time were only integrated members within that main nation. The estate labour on the plantations that were the indentured labour brought from India continued to be Indians adding a new dimension to this problem. Had the 1948 Constitution scrapped the Provinces and re-introduced the earlier Tun Rata system and expatriated all Indian estate labour the present day estate labour problems would never have arisen.

Communal Political parties based on ethnicity and religion.

The first communal political party (politically oriented group) formed was the Ceylon Tamil Congress formed in 1921 as stated before. Thereafter in 1930s Muslims also initiated similar action. But it was short lived and later they integrated with the national parties. Tamils however continued even after 1948 to have communal political parties and consistently agitated for separation of the north and the east on an ethnic basis as mono Tamil areas while at the same time they claimed to be citizens enjoying equal privileges with the Sinhalese all over the Island. The creation of the Ilankai Tamil Arasukachchi in 1947 under the disguised name Federal Party was the high water mark of pre-LTTE Tamil divisive politics in this country. Had they nipped it in the bud the story of Sri Lankan politics would have been different. What I contend is that the government in 1948 should have banned the formation of political parties on ethnicity or religion. They should have enshrined a clause in the Constitution to this effect. If that had been done members of all communities would have rallied round broad policies and issues according to economic and social policies of national political parties. Even those minority parties who join governments to get portfolios today contest elections under their own communal parties. Is it not a tragedy that no government has the guts to say no to this kind of political mockeries?

In my opinion even now it is not too late to do so. That will be the best reconciliation approach for long lasting peace and prosperity for this country because that will integrate the various ethnic groups and create a centripetal political force in place of a centrifugal one. Since Communal Political parties based on ethnicity and religion has become the biggest curse in nation building I reiterate the need for such vision and far reaching action on the part of all patriotic forces in this country.

Proportional representation

This is the third factor which has brought national disaster to this country since 1988. This system has completely made representative democracy in this country a big joke and today it is a big mockery. It has made representative democracy meaningless. There are a large number of electorates throughout the Island without a representative and the voters of such electorates are left high and dry without anybody to air out their grievances. On the other hand it has made elections extremely cumbersome and expensive for the candidates. Today elections are mini-battles rather than elections. This system also has promoted and induced communal segregation which has strengthened the hands of communal politicians. More over it also has increased corruption and thugery in the field of politics and those elected to Parliament have become soul representatives of party leaders. Polarization of uneducated ruffians in place of educated men of character today has come to stay as the norm of the time. As such today the government has become a form of government by the uneducated ruffians and thugs who care for no law or morals. Electing them to run the affairs of the country is like handing over the poultry yard for safe custody to a bunch of crafty foxes. For these reasons it is high time that we do away with this disastrous election system and replace it with the earlier system which is more democratic.

After all thugery, intimidation, corruption and even mass murder today has come to stay as the accepted norm rather than the exception in politics the world over. The end justifies the mean. The law of the jungle has come and settled down permanently in modern day society. Man appears to have once again gone back to the age of savagery. This is exactly what is happening even in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. This is what is being done today by the USA and the NATO. This is what Chanakya termed as the Matsyanyaya-the survival of he fittest. In this context the meaning of the word legitimacy, I think, have to be reinvented and redefined.

Fourth international meddling

Communal segregation and ethnic violence could never have reached such lofty heights in this country if not for the International support for the Tamil community. The list is headed by South India, the Indian government and the western block led by Britain and the so-called International Community including USA and the international organizations like Amnesty International, Human rights Watch etc. that are nothing but the puppet agents of the western block. Each one of these parties has its own agenda.

South India started with the We Tamil movement to change the political map of India. But it could not do so as the Indian government crushed the movement in the bud. Today what South India is trying to do in Sri Lanka is what it could not do in India. That is to first get the EELAM established in Sri Lanka and then move on to the second step of expanding it to the Indian subcontinent. Besides this the fact that Sri Lankan Tamils and South Indian Tamils represents the same ethnic group and they have so much in common also plays a big role in South Indian politics. So much so the Sri Lankan Tamil issue had been a very big issue in Tamilnadu politics.

The Indian government on the other hand is trying to pacify the Tamilnadu government in order to retain its support for the stability of the government in Delhi. With this objective in view, though India does not like the LTTE, it supports them openly because of exigencies of domestic politics. Apart from the short and long term political and economic interests the Indian government also inclined to do so as it wants to maintain the policeman role in south Asia.

Lack of vision and strategy on the part of our politicians

This is self explanatory. The reason for this situation is found in the cunningness and vote-centered mentality of the self-centered politicians. Every time there is an election each party makes election promises that will bring the largest number of votes. They are only interested in getting the majority to come to power. In this game they completely forget long term implications of such promises. It is mere political survival for them more than broader national issues. This I think is the biggest tragedy in Sri Lankan politics that has completely negated national development. In the barren Sri Lanka political desert I see only four solid highlights of far reaching vision taken by our politicians.

Among them the first is the opening up of the Dry Zone for agricultural development By DS Senanayaka. Apart from the far reaching socio-political impact it generated, if not for the economic benefit generated in rice production, by this time we would have been a starving nation. The second, free educational policy of CWW Kannangara, that put an end to education only for the privileged and opened the gates for the underprivileged, thereby providing equal opportunities for all. The third is the Cultural Revolution set in motion in 1956 by SWRD Bandaranaike with giving due place to Sinhala Language and Buddhism. The final achievement is the defeating the 30 year terrorism by Mahinda Rajapaksa

Finally, to touch upon the absence of strong non-political national movements, strong enough to counter wrongs done by politicians and political parties, one could say that this is one of the most serious problems we face in this country today. The need for such non-political institutions that provide the necessary checks and balances against excesses by the state is a sine qua non for the smooth operation of the democratic process that will finally leads t broad based public good. In Sri Lanka this is a far cry almost unattainable since none of the organizations, social institutions or individuals are independent. They all are so dependent on political patronage. Few of those who are not, do not have the character or the strength to stand against state terrorism. So the country and the masses suffer as a result and human civilization heads towards a no-return situation.

In conclusion I would suggest the following steps to be taken early to arrest the ongoing disastrous situation before this little Island nation gets splitted in to a number of communal battle grounds.

-Ban all political parties which are based on ethnicity, language and religion or any other such divisive element

-Remove proportional representation and go for the earlier system.

-Abolish Provinces and Provincial Council system and go for the time tested Tun Rata system

-Prescribe minimum qualification like education, character and wealth for those who seek to enter politics and give the power of removing them from power whenever they fail to live up to the standards prescribed by a code of conduct to ensure a decent political culture.

– Civil society and intellectuals must start a strong non-political national movement that will always look beyond party politics and always protect broad national interests, so that it could function as a watchdog of the nation.

6 Responses to “National integration and ethnic segregation, the dilemma of a nation.”

  1. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:


    He introduced the system to beat many an oponent. J.R. emulated it.

  2. jayt Says:

    Sinhalese do not have to argue with anybody or any country, just organized internationally. still Sinhalese can find many million answers to all problem. Sinhalese did not know in the past the facts about the world. Still Sinhalese do not know many facts about the world. The reason is Sinhalese organisations came very late and not organised enough to fit for today world.

    Again Sinhalese do some more effort to become globally powerful in all fields, everybody will be at peace with Sinhalese. but Sinhalese communities in the west need to appoint people who have good strong leadership qualities to forward fast to catch up what was missed in the past.

    Try best to be friendly to the West but if they abuse it, it is not SL foult.

  3. jayt Says:

    But some many things from Hitler work. Creating of European was the Hitler’s main dream. European leaders copied down Hitler’s dream and created EU. The only thing that they did not go for big war except for using tricks to break down ex-soviet and making former Eastern European poor. This was reported by independent writers in new EU.

  4. andylingam Says:

    Dr Sudath Gunasekara
    Yes , I aggred Our SL Tamil old Politician had sinister communal motives to creat a separate state call Tamil Eelam in Mother lanka, but same period of time What Sinhala politicions ( a gruop of UNP’s become SLFP) was doing same think in Sinhala society (Name Srilanka is ultra Sinhala name is not it ?- that what Tamil thninks ) .
    so We both societies had our sinister motives !

    Ok, We both have bold in our hands – Forget & forgive is the best solution for us !

    Ref:‘It would be impossible to reach a political solution and bring about lasting peace, justice and democracy in the North without the devolution of police and land powers.
    At present time all around the world this decentralised power to small administration body is working , ofcause this may leader to separation Yes I agreed but if our central Govt is clever enough than they can control well ( as in india , Canada, UK etc….).

    End of the day We do not want any more blood …… had enough( in Vanni ) for next 100 years…….

  5. Fran Diaz Says:

    British PM David Cameron said “most of the present day troubles in the world are because of the British”. So there it is from the PM himself – what more can we say ?

    Since we are stuck with this problem of dissatisfied Tamil people, GoSL should stay with the common problems of the People of Lanka i.e. Production of Food, clothing & shelter (the basic necessities), good Health care, good Education & Jobs. There is nothing else GoSL can really do, is there ?

    There are no special Tamil problems as such in Lanka except for the Hindu based Caste issues which Tamil handle by either changing religions or through a good education. There are far worse Caste/Poverty Problems for Tamils of Tamil Nadu, but the International Community & HR organisations have not touched on that issue.

    In Sri Lanka, it is time for Tamils to Integrate and help solve common problems in Lanka. TNA should comply and also some leaders in our Parliamentary Opposition.

  6. nandimitra Says:

    I heartily agree with Dr Gunasekara. A system has been created to dismantle the very noble aspects of our society. Our educational system and health care system has been gradualy dismantled under the guidance of the IMF and World Bank by none other than politicians on whom the majority have put their trust. Today the international schools are geared to the slavery of the mind geared to instilling a mind set looking to the culture of the west. A well funded christianisation programme also geared for the above is in position. The Americans/West and India led by a catholic are interfering with our way of life. Debt is been used to bribe the politicians to further destabilise us. The future is bleak. This is the new phase of colonisation led by none other than the Dharmapalas of this era. The civil society has to address these new issues.

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