Discrimination in Sri Lanka: Myth or truth?

Posted on 06 October 2017 by admin

  • A response to Dr. Nalaka Godahewa’s speech at the UNHCR session in Geneva

By K. Anaga – Courtesy: DailyFT.

Dr. Nalaka Godahewa’s speech delivered at the 36th session of the UNHCR in Geneva on 27 September as reported in various newspapers contains half-truths and untruths. In short it is devoid of facts. I would like to refer to some matters stated there in and give my views and clarification thereto.

The prominent Tamils

Lakshman Kadirgamar was considered a ‘good bat’ by the then Government for defensive batting, to distort facts to the world with regard to the discrimination heaped on the minorities in general and the Tamils in particular. This he did well to the satisfaction of his masters. However, Kadirgamar would have been respected by the Tamils too if he brought to light the problems faced by the Tamils as well, in the hands of the successive Sinhala governments. Instead he was keen to satisfy the Sinhala people only.

In appreciation, suggestions were made by certain individuals in the Government to ‘appoint’ him as the prime minister. He was never a contender. He was only an intended contender, but tenderly dissuaded from doing so, because he was a Tamil. Kadirgamar never had the capacity to fight his way through or demand, for fear of hurting the Government.

K.J. Sripavan was a Chief Justice of the country by fortuitous circumstances. The President and Prime Minister had to take oaths under him as he was the acting Chief Justice. There was a void in seat of the Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake due to the unfortunate situation created by the Rajapaksa Government. Sripavan was a good choice as he would never have gone against the Government’s thinking.

Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy appears to be good choice but what about his predecessor Arjun Mahendran? Mahendran was appointed as Governor of the Central Bank, but it appears that the reins were held by his friend the Prime Minister, which resulted in a pathetic situation.

The Bar Association is not a Government institution to talk high of Geoffery Alagaratnam’s appointment as its President.

Muttiah Muralitharan’s world record was not bestowed by the Government. It was an achievement by him through his efforts, supported by his team mates, especially by Arjuna Ranatunga. However, according to recent press report, moves are afoot to remove his name from the Pallekelle Stadium. Why?

The Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan took this position not by right. He was appointed by the Government to shield them from the onslaught from the Joint Opposition. True to the Government’s expectation Sampanthan is flirting with them, forgetting the purpose of his election by the Tamil people.

He has amplified his faithfulness by his actions including the failure to attend the recent UNHCR secessions’ in Geneva for fear of antagonising the Government. Sampanthan would have been very comfortable with Godahewa in Geneva, if he had gone there. In effect he is not a trustworthy leader of the opposition even for the Sinhalese.

It will be waste of time to write about the private companies which have grown up on their own despite obstacles placed by the Government. Most of these companies were remnants of the British companies. Due to sheer hard work they have been able to continue successfully. Nevertheless it may be prudent for people like Godahewa to analyse and ascertain the ethnicity of the senior executive staff in these so-called Tamil companies.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer.

National Flag

In the National Flag, the Sinhalese are not represented by the maroon background but by the lion holding the sword and the four bo leaves in the four corners. The Sri Lanka flag was originally designed only with a lion and the sword in the flag. However, when the Tamils and the Muslims protested, they were given two stripes (popularly referred to as amude).

You will note that the sword held by the lion is pointed at the strips as a warning to the Tamils and the Muslims. The need to give recognition to the minorities in the national flags of other countries did not arise as their national flags did not depict any ethnic divide. In the recent past too there were moves to erase the strip and sing the National Anthem in Sinhala only.


Thesavalamai does not prevent any Sri Lankans buying land in Jaffna. This is a deliberate misrepresentation of facts. Please refer the article written by Vivekanadan under the headline ‘The Myths and Misconception of the Thesavalamai Law,’ which appeared in the Sunday Times of 30 January 2015. Notwithstanding this, Thesavalamai is a proof of an existence of a separate kingdom.

Further, please note that the Tamils are not opposed to Sinhalese buying properties in the north and east individually. But, they naturally fear the State-aided colonisation so as to change the texture of the existing population, which was the hallmark of D.S. Senanayake.

This was/is continued unabatedly by others, with the ulterior motive of reducing the Tamil representation in Parliament and elsewhere. Even a part of the 75% of the population colonising the 25% of population may result in completely destroying the identity of the Tamils.

Caste system

The caste system prevails not only in Jaffna but almost all parts of Sri Lanka and Asia. Even among the Sinhalese the caste system prevails – Karavas, Goviyas, Dhobis, etc. Late C.P. de Silva, Colvin R. de Silva and even the late President Premadasa suffered immensely because of their caste. In fact, subtle efforts were made by the so-called high caste MPs to prevent Premadasa becoming the president.

It is said that Premadasa lived in constant fear of being ousted by his own party men, because of his caste. If you go through the matrimonial pages in the press, you will see caste being mentioned as Karawas, Goviyas, Bodu Govi, etc. as a prerequisite.

Sinhala Only

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike advocated Sinhala Only as the official language. This was the breaking point. This was the beginning of the end of the cordiality between the Sinhala and Tamil people. The UNP too supported it. Even the LSSP stalwart Colvin R. de Silva who once stated “two languages one nation and one language two nations” subsequently caved in and supported the Sinhala Only Act and for Buddhism to be given the foremost place.

If the discrimination was a myth, why was it necessary for Bandaranaike and Dudley to enter into pact with Chelvanayakam at different times and later unilaterally abrogate the pact? Is it because the discrimination had ended?

Blood donation

It is an outright lie to say that that the blood bank in Jaffna would have gone dry if not for the blood donation made by the Sinhala soldiers. It is another publicity stunt to artificially enhance the value of the Army to be stationed in Jaffna.

It is a shame to say that the Army donated blood during the war. Only the Army was able to move about in Jaffna during the war freely. Naturally, they may have donated blood at the Jaffna hospitals, to assist the injured soldiers. Logically the injured terrorists would not have been there.

The donation of blood by 200 soldiers was a good move, but it was not due to the refusal of Tamils to donate blood but due to the soldiers wishing to donate blood and publicise it for political reasons. The press report on this matter was clarified by the hospital.

Thanks to Prabakaran, the caste system in Jaffna has been kept at bay. Today no one is prevented from entering the Hindu temples, or restaurants or schools. In fairness to the Tamil Christians, it must be said that they never prevented anyone from entering their churches or schools.


Sri Lanka you say has wiped out terrorism but who was responsible for its creation? A mass hysteria was created by the Government by introducing the standardisation of marks for the university entrance examination, which resulted in the Tamil boys/girls being pushed to the wall, resulting in the younger generation taking up arms. Even the parents could not control their children. War may be over! But has the reason for the war been eliminated?

Public documents

All public documents carry both Sinhala and Tamil languages, it is said. Please go to Police stations and try to make an entry in Tamil. I was at the Traffic Court No. 7 recently to assist a friend. I was called upon to sign a bond in support of my friend. The bond document was in Sinhala only. Neither Tamil nor English documents were available. Hence I was reluctant to sign this document as I did not understand Sinhala. But if I did not sign the bond my friend would have been in great difficulty. Hence, I had to sign the document to assist my friend; despite my knowledge of Sinhala being questionable.

The Sunday Times of 1 October carried a news item which states: “The Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) last week charged that the Ministry of Education (MOE) from the beginning of this year failed to issue circulars in Tamil language to schools.” This situation has been prevailing for quite some time.

Development funds

The development funds diverted to the north and east are a drop in the ocean. It is an eye-wash, to cheat the north/east population and the world. If the Government can release acres and acres of land held by the Army, the people there can look after themselves and mitigate their sufferings to a great extent.

The JVP detainees were released by JR without hesitation, but why not the Tamil detainees? Why is the Government reluctant to allow free flow of funds from diaspora through recognised banks to organisations involved in helping the Tamils?

Discrimination in dealing with the dead

Even in death, there is discrimination. When the beauty queen from Hambantota, Prema Manamperi, was raped and murdered during the JVP ‘insurrection’, the Army men responsible for it were taken to task and punished. Of course, the then CMU Leader late Bala Tampoe spearheaded the agitation successfully to ensure justice.

But what a about Isai Priya, the TV presenter of the north during the war, who was raped and killed by the Army at the end of the war? She was paraded naked like Prema Manamperi and tortured, but no action has been taken. Why?


You may have enough and more constitutional provisions with regard to language rights, but are they being implemented? Marriage certificates and death certificates are invariably issued in Sinhala and the Tamils have to go behind sworn translators for translations.

Even when a few of the public documents are in Sinhala and Tamil, there are no officers who understand Tamil in most places. Try your luck at the post offices to send registered letters addressed in Tamil and you will realise the difficulties. Almost all the commercial banks both private and Government have various different accounts titled in Sinhala only. No translation is provided – only transliteration is given.

In Canada all public documents are in English and French. All items put out for sale have to carry labels in both languages. What is the difficulty in doing so here? The Canadian Embassy in Sri Lanka greets you in both languages (English and French) when called. I understand that the Canadian Government funds the implementation of the language policy to a certain extent in Sri Lanka.

Finally, Dr. Godahewa needs to be thanked for prompting a reply with observations/clarifications for the Sinhala people to understand the trials and tribulation under gone by the Tamils at every turn. Facts are sometimes stranger than fiction.


Nalaka Godahewa

Discrimination in Sri Lanka – The reality

Thursday, 28 September 2017 00:00


Following is the speech delivered by Dr. Nalaka Godahewa at the 36th session of the UNHRC in Geneva on 27 September:


Mr. President, a myth has been spread over the years, that there is discrimination against Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Out of a population of 22 million people in Sri Lanka, 11.2% are Northern Tamils while the upcountry Tamils who came to Sri Lanka during British colonial times, are about 4.1%. But these are not the only minority communities in Sri Lanka; 9.3% of the Sri Lankan population are Muslim. Several other minority communities such as Burgers and Malays amount to 0.6% of the population. The majority community is obviously Sinhalese at 74.9%. 


Political propaganda

Since we gained independence in 1948, we have been repeatedly hearing this complaint that there is discrimination against Tamils. But interestingly, no other minority community in Sri Lanka seems to be complaining about discrimination based on ethnicity. Why?

That is because, discrimination based on ethnicity is a myth, created and successfully promoted by the Tamil political leadership for so many decades. It is pure political propaganda with an ulterior motive. 

Let me explain what I mean here. Since colonial rule, we have always had Tamils holding very high positions in our country, whether it is in politics, Judiciary, academia, in the Government service or in the private sector. 

Every Sri Lankan Government since independence has had high profile Tamil ministers in the Cabinet. A very good example would be our former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. When he was killed in 2005, by the Tamil separatists, Kadirgamar was a strong contender to be the next prime minister of Sri Lanka. Who knows – he could have even been the president of the country had he lived. 


The Chief Justice of the country who recently retired is a Tamil – K.J. Sripavan. The current Governor of the Central Bank is a Tamil – Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy. Even his predecessor was a Tamil – Arjun Mahendran. 

The last President of the Sri Lanka Bar Association was a Tamil – Geoffrey Alagaratnam. One of Sri Lanka’s most popular sportsman, Muttiah Muralitharan who holds the world record for the highest number of wickets in cricket is a Tamil.

Rudra Rajasingham, a Tamil, was a former Inspector General of Police. The current Navy Commander Tavis Sinnaiah is a Tamil. The Election Commission of the country has only three members and one of them is a Tamil – Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole.

Two members of the 10-member Constitutional Council are Tamils – Radika Coomaraswamy and R. Sambanthan. The Opposition Leader in Parliament is a Tamil – R. Sambanthan. There are 33 Tamil MPs in a Parliament of 225 members. 

The present Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council C.V. Wigneswaran is a former Supreme Court Judge. The Director General of Customs P.S.M. Charles is a Tamil. The immediate past Chairman of the Colombo Stock Exchange is a Tamil – Krishan Balendra. R. Theagarajah, a Tamil, was the CEO of Sri Lanka’s largest development bank, NDB, until recently. 


The largest media network – MTV, Sirasa – are owned by the Maharaja family who are Tamils. The largest supermarket chain – Cargills – is owned by the Page family who are Tamils. The largest brewery in Sri Lanka – Carsons – is owned by the Selvanathan family who are Tamils. 

I could go on and on…!

So where is the discrimination based on ethnicity in Sri Lanka?


History behind it:


To understand the truth behind this false propaganda, we must understand the history behind it.

The colonial rulers were well known for their policy of ‘divide and rule’. In order to create division amongst the communities, they offered the minority, administrative positions over the majority. As a result, when the independence was granted in 1948, the minorities, Tamils in particular, were holding most of the senior administrative jobs. 


The high caste, Western educated, English-speaking Tamils who were holding senior positions in the Government under the British rule did not want to lose their positions of power when the country gained independence. That’s how the 50-50 power sharing demand was put forward by the Tamil leaders though they represented less than 10% of the population. 


Wouldn’t that have been discrimination against the majority Sinhalese if 50:50 power sharing was granted as Tamil political leadership requested?


Let us now see what the actual position is with regard to the minority communities in Sri Lanka.

Even in our National Flag, while the Sinhalese are represented by the maroon background, the saffron stripe represents the Tamils and the green stripe represents the Muslims. How many other countries in the world have given such recognition to the minorities in the national flag itself? 


All public documents carry both Sinhala and Tamil languages – the marriage certificate, the death certificate and the immigration forms are examples. All Sri Lankan currency and notes are in Sinhala and Tamil. All communities receive the same free education and free medical facilities in the country with no discrimination whatsoever. 

There are no places anywhere in Sri Lanka that allows only Sinhalese to enter. Tamils, Muslims and all other communities enjoy same access to public utilities. Public transportation is common to all.


There is no race based discrimination is participating in sports or representing the country even at national levels. 


So where is the so-called discrimination?


Discrimination in Jaffna

Having said that, I must also point out that discrimination still exists in Jaffna where there is a specific land law called Thesavalami. This law does not allow anybody other than a Tamil to buy land in Jaffna. But Tamils have no restriction whatsoever to buy properties elsewhere in the country. Then this is clear discrimination against the other communities.


You should also know that the real discrimination of Tamils actually comes from within their own community. 

For example, the Jaffna Tamils think they are superior to the rest of the Tamils. The Trinco Tamils think they are superior to Batticaloa Tamils. Tamils in the north and the east have no regard for estate Tamils. 

This discrimination apparently existed even within the LTTE who fought for a separate land for Tamils. Colonel Karuna, the former Eastern commander who defected the LTTE in 2004, has repeatedly mentioned in his interviews, that the northern cadres treated the eastern cadres as an inferior lot. 


Can anyone deny that even today, the high caste Tamils discriminate against low caste Tamils in Sri Lanka? Do they sit and eat together; are there intermarriages between the high caste Tamils and low caste Tamils? Isn’t it true that those who mix-up are shunned by the rest? 


There was a time even the places of worship did not allow the low castes Tamils to enter. There was a famous incident in 1957, when C. Sunderalingam, a former Cabinet Minister, slept in front of the gates of Nallur Kovil to prevent low caste Tamils being allowed to enter the place of worship. 


Today the Tamil politicians cry about an imaginary discrimination based on ethnicity. But it was a Sinhalese leader, former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who passed a bill in Parliament in 1957 allowing equal rights to all Tamils. The bill was needed because the high caste Tamils were denying their own low caste Tamil people the basic human rights.


The Social Disabilities Act 21 which was passed in 1957 had to define some very interesting offences. It says:

No person can be prevented admission to a school because of the caste 

No person can be denied employment because of the caste 

No person can be prevented of entering and being served in a restaurant because of the caste 

No person can be prevented or denied from using water from public water supply because of the caste 

No person can be prevented or denied entering a public cemetery because of the caste 

No person can be prevented or denied wearing any kind of clothes because of the caste 

No person can be prevented from worshipping at any place of worship because of the caste 

The list goes on…

Isn’t it shocking to even imagine that those people who have been propagating false propaganda about ethnic discrimination were actually denying the basic human rights of their own people?

Is the situation different today? Sadly the answer is no. 

The caste-based discrimination is very much alive in Jaffna. That is why the Jaffna blood bank has to repeatedly seek support of Sinhalese to find blood for Tamil patients. There are always blood shortages in Jaffna hospitals because most of the residents are reluctant to donate blood thinking it will be given to someone from another caste. 

During the war, it was Government soldiers who donated blood to Jaffna hospitals from which even the terrorists benefited. Just two months ago in June 2017, more than 200 soldiers and officers from the three armed forces donated blood in Jaffna responding to a special request from the blood bank. 

Sinister forces have not given up.

When post-independent Sri Lanka started offering equal rights to all citizens, the English-speaking, high caste Tamil politicians did not like it. When they couldn’t prevent it happening, they started poisoning the minds of ordinary Tamils with false propaganda that it is better for the Tamils to have a separate rule. The objective was very simple. The elite wanted to go back to their age-old practice of suppressing and exploiting their own people.

Unfortunately as it always happens, a lot of people were successfully misguided by these politicians. The emergence of terrorism, which brutalized the country for more than 30 years, was a result of this false propaganda.

Let us therefore be clear that Sri Lanka eventually faced a terrorist problem and not an ethnic problem. 

Sri Lanka has now wiped out terrorism. The people of all ethnicities now want to live in peace and in harmony. They have nothing against each other. We accept Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and all other communities of Sri Lanka as citizens with equal rights. The Sinhalese have already extended their hands of brotherhood to the people of the north and the east. Since the end of the war, the bulk of Government development expenditure were routed to the north and the east. Economic development opportunities are now available to all Sri Lankans. 

Yet the sinister forces have not given up. They continue to spread hatred. They continue to preach separatism. They continue to mislead the international community false information. 

It is up to the ordinary Tamils now to assess the true situation and decide how far this bogus ‘self-determination’ bid will lead them to. The must figure out whether this cry for separatism is for the benefit of all Tamils or to give power back to the elite who are unhappy with the equal rights regime?

There was a time when all Sinhalese, Tamils Muslims and other communities lived in peace and harmony. It was the colonial rulers who disturbed that peace first. Now it is continued by some Tamil elite who have ulterior motives. 


Rewrite our history books.

We must come together once again to rewrite our history books. The older generation needs to separate the realities from the lies. The younger generation should not be taught to carry the aspirations of the old and must be encouraged to live in peace and harmony. 

Let us therefore say no to ethnic-based solutions. Let us say no to the external forces who only want to divide us.

In conclusion, I like to emphasize once again that no minority is discriminated by any constitutional, legislative or judicial provision in Sri Lanka. Ethnicity-based discrimination in Sri Lanka is a total myth. Whether Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims we are all citizens of equal rights in a unitary state.


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