The word ‘parliament’ originated from the French verb ‘parler’, meaning to speak, talk, discuss, converse, communicate, etc. The English term ‘parliament’ was rooted in the 11th century French ‘parlement’ which then evolved during the Anglo-Norman period of the 14th century.
When we research the functions of parliaments – we find that the elected representatives initiate actions, considering the safety, security and welfare of their citizens. For this reason they debate, make laws, plan budgets and monitor the government for the smooth running of their State.
In some countries, whether democracy is maintained or not, they will show a facade to the outside world that everything happening in the parliament is democratic. Sri Lanka is a good example of this.
Now let us consider what is happening or has happened in parliament in Sri Lanka, or then Ceylon since independence in 1948.
In recent days, the world has witnessed what occurred in the Sri Lankan parliament. Did it bear any resemblance to a parliament? What happened was real thugment (thug+ment). It may be a surprise for those don’t know the history of this parliament. Of course, politicians from the South have invented a new weapon (Chilli powder), presumed to be more powerful than other weapons.
Here, I would like to give some examples of what took place within and near the parliament. I would like to remind the international community including India that this same parliament passed many discriminatory measures against the Tamil population. It must not be forgotten that a few motions in favour of Tamils could not be passed due to objections from the Sinhala Buddhists.
Former PM in ‘amude’!
On 14 June 1956 Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranayke, father of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga proclaimed the “Sinhala Only Act”, which made the Sinhala language the only official language of then Ceylon. A peaceful non-violent (Satyagraha) campaign was staged by the Tamil MPs in front of the old Parliament at the Galle Face Green in Colombo. This peaceful protest was brutally savaged by Sinhalese thugs with the connivance of government. This was followed by the outbreak of the first anti-Tamil riots in which more than 150 Tamils were burnt or hacked to death and millions of rupees worth of properties belonging to Tamils were looted and destroyed. These were the first riots in what became a systematic pattern.
In 1964, Prime Minister Mrs. Bandaranaike, mother of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga ordered a ration of two yards of textiles per person per month. Protesting against this textile ration, former Prime Minister and an MP Wijeyananda Dahanayake tried to enter the Parliament wearing only an amude or a loin cloth! The Police prevented, Dahanayake going into the Parliament in this attire. It is to be noted that right from the beginning many fist fights have taken place in this parliament.
On 15 November 1948, the Citizenship Act and laws of disenfranchisement were adopted against the ‘hill country’ or ‘plantation’ Tamils. As a result more than a million plantation Tamils were rendered stateless.
On 26 July 1957 an agreement known as the “Banda Chelva” pact was signed between Prime Minister Bandaranayke and the Tamil leader S. J. V. Chelvanayagam. This agreement was based on a quasi-federal system devolving certain powers to the Tamils in the North and East.
Within a week of signing the “Banda-Chelva” pact, it was unilaterally abrogated by Prime Minister Bandaranaike due to vehement protests staged by the opposition party the UNP, Buddhist clergy and SLFP. This was followed by more anti-Tamil pogroms in 1958, which resulted in many Tamils being massacred and millions of rupees worth of properties belonging to Tamils looted and destroyed.
In 1964 the Srimavo-Shashtri pact was signed for the repatriation of the disenfranchised ‘plantation’ Tamils to whom citizenship had been denied through the 1948 Citizenship Act. They had lived in the hill country for over 115 years.
On 24 March 1965, an agreement known as “Dudley-Chelva” Pact was signed between the Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake and the Tamil leader S. J. V. Chelvanayagam. The agreement was abandoned without being implemented due to opposition from the SLFP, the Buddhist clergy, and UNP backbenchers.
Ceylon became a “Republic” on 22 May 1972 and Ceylon was officially renamed as the “Republic of Sri Lanka”. The United Front government enacted a Sinhala-Supremacist "Republican Constitution" for the country, which made Buddhism the state religion. The minimum protection that the Tamils had in the earlier constitution was removed in the 1972 constitution.
In the same year, discrimination against Tamil students' admission to Universities reached a peak with the introduction of "Standardisation". University admission based on merit was abandoned deliberately to stop Tamil students entering Universities.
In 1979, President J.R. Jeyawardena’s government enacted the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act - PTA, banning the Tamil militant organisations. On 11 July, the Jaffna peninsula was brought effectively under martial law, with the Public Security Ordinance. Anti-Tamil pogroms broke out. Many Tamils were killed and again properties belonging to Tamils were looted and destroyed.
In June 1981 another anti-Tamil pogrom was unleashed, followed by increased military repression in the North. The Jaffna Public Library was burnt down by the Sri Lankan armed forces, allegedly under the direction of two senior government ministers. 95,000 volumes of books including numerous culturally important and irreplaceable manuscripts and the buildings were totally destroyed by arson. The Jaffna city market, the office of a Tamil daily newspaper, the office of a Tamil political party were all burnt down by the Sri Lanka security forces. Another anti-Tamil pogrom broke out. Many Tamils were killed and looting of the Tamils properties were widespread.
In 1983, a large-scale anti-Tamil pogrom took place in July all over the island with the buoyed up support of the government. During the four days of riots, more than 6,000 Tamils were killed and over 250,000 were rendered refugees. Thousands of Tamils fled the country and went to India and to Western countries. Billions of rupees worth of Tamils properties were looted and destroyed by the Sinhala rioters.
53 Tamils massacred in the prison
Between 27th and 28th July 1983, fifty-three Tamil political prisoners were massacred by Sinhala inmates inside Welikadai high security prison in Colombo. The government masterminded this massacre and the Sinhala attackers were released from the prison and rewarded with houses and properties in the Sinhala settlements in the Tamil homeland – North and East.
Tamil Members of Parliament sought asylum in India.
On 8 August 1983, J. R. Jeyawardena’s government enacted the 6th amendment to the constitution rejecting the right to self-determination of the Tamil people in the island. This amendment outlawed the mandate for the right to self-determination voted for, by the Tamils in the 1977 general election.
The Sixth amendment and the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 1979 along with the Emergency Law provisions became the instruments through which repression was unleashed on the Tamil people.
Now let us consider what is happening presently in the Sri Lankan parliament. There is little difference to what former President Chandrika Kumaratunga did in October 2003. President Sirisena must be following or practicing what he learned from Chandrika. Let us see this in sequence.
In December 2001, Ranil Wickremasinge won the Parliamentary elections and became Prime Minister. He signed a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE – Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on 22 February 2002.
On 31 October 2003, the LTTE submitted a proposal for an interim solution which was known as the ISGA – Interim Self Governing Authority. This was to facilitate an interim government during the peace talks mediated by Norway.
Chandrika dissolved parliament
When the ISGA was submitted by the LTTE, on 04 November 2003, President Chandrika sacked three Ministers – Defence, Interior and Information in Ranil Wickremasinghe’s cabinet, and the parliament was suspended for two weeks.
On 07 February 2004, Chandrika dissolved the parliament. All these actions were justified by Chandrika as in the name of ‘security of the country’.
A general election took place in April 2004 and President Chandrika’s party won the election. During this time there were many initiatives including by the JVP – Janatha Vimuki Permunai to appoint former Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar as the Prime Minister. But, as Kadirgamar was a Tamil, Mahinda Rajapaksa fought strongly with the help of Buddhist monks and was sworn in as the Prime Minister, side-lining Kadirgamar purely on racial grounds.
When Kadirgamar was killed in August 2005, a hypocritical move was initiated by the same Mahinda Rajapaksa. He renamed the “Sri Lanka Institute of Strategic Studies – SLISS” and it became the “Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies - LKI” in memory of him. This was to attract the international community to gain support for his regime. This shows how Tamil energy and sweat is used by the Sinhala Buddhists for their own benefit, with nothing in favour of Tamils.
Therefore the International Community including India, which took a blind decision to supress the saviours of the Tamils in North and East, should take a note of these discriminatory measures that took place in this parliament. Considering these facts, the expectation of the international community including India that Tamils in the North and East may get their political rights in this parliament is totally unrealistic. They will not materialise. In other words, accountability and reconciliation for the victims is a day dream in this parliament.
New Democratic Front – NDF
Since 1948, there has been no democracy which respects pluralism in Sri Lanka. If such democracy existed, more than a million Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims from Sri Lanka wouldn’t have sought political asylum in foreign countries.
The Sri Lankan constitution is powerful enough only to supress the Tamil struggle for right to self-determination and any seeds which lead to granting a meaningful political solution.
It is very confusing that Sarath Fonseka and Maithiripala Sirisena contested the Presidential elections in 2010 and 2015 under a political party known as “New Democratic Front – NDF”, with the symbol of the Swan. What is surprising is that the founder and the leader of the NDF is a British National - Shalila Moonesinghe. It is believed that he is well known for many scandals abroad and in Sri Lanka. Does the Sri Lankan constitution or the Election Commissioner allow any foreign citizen to found or lead any political party in Sri Lanka? If so, what about Geetha Kumarasinghe’s case? If Geetha Kumarasinghe had a problem concerning her dual nationality, how can this NDF be recognised as a political party in Sri Lanka?
Is this the reason that both Ranil Wickremasinge and Mahinda Rajapasa’s factions are black-mailing President Sirisena? More analysis is needed on the NDF. However, Tamils are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea!
We understand that it will take years or even decades to accept or recognise genocide in any part of the world. By the time preparations are made to punish the culprits of that genocide, either they are no more alive or they are nonagenarian or centenarian. Armenians in Turkey, Tutsis in Rwanda, Srebrenicians in Bosnia, Khmer in Cambodia and some other peoples are good examples of this.
The genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar is an exceptional case. It’s a pity that a Tamil/Sri Lankan who used her binoculars to conclude that what happened to the people of Rohingya is genocide, could say nothing about what happened in her compound to the Tamils! A slave mentality doesn’t allow anyone to realise that ‘charity begins at home’.
However, we should continue to work tirelessly in the right direction to prove that what happened to the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka is genocide. Whether in our period or later, one day it will be proved as genocide. Unfortunately those who caused it may not be alive during that period or they may be brought in failing health to witness the tribunal.
By S.V. Kirupaharan , France