Militants come to the fore

Militants come to the Fore

Jayewardene’s media attack on Amirthalingam, the police rampage in Jaffna and the 1977 riots had the combined effect of pushing the Tamil moderates aside and brought the militants to the fore. Jayewardene’s expectation that Tamil people would be frightened failed, though it succeeded to some extent with Amirthalingam and the TULF leadership.

The TULF participated in several conferences the government called to deal with the Tamil people affected by the riots. It made use of those meetings to raise the problems concerning government servants affected by the disturbances. Jayewardene readily agreed to accommodate TULF concerns.

The TULF attended the Jaffna District Agricultural Committee meeting held on 18 December 1977 at the Jaffna Secretariat which was presided over by Trade Minister Lalith Athulathmudali. The TULF waived its decision to boycott the meetings attended by ministers for this purpose. When that decision became known, the youths were boisterous. They pasted posters condemning that decision all over Jaffna town. They threatened to demonstrate opposite the Jaffna Secretariat. Police protection was provided to Tamil leaders to enable them to move around in Jaffna, denoting the fall of the influence of the moderates in Jaffna.

I was in Jaffna to cover Athulathmudali’s visit. I reported Amirthalingam’s eloquent speech extensively in the Daily News.

A. Amirthalingam

He said: It is the duty of the Tamil community to extend its support to Prime Minister J. R. Jayewardene and enable him to solve the many problems that the community faces. The Prime Minister has assured us that he will solve them in a just and fair manner. He should be given a fair chance. Goodwill is a vital commodity today. This is being extended to the government in full measure. I hope the government will translate its promise into action.”

The TULF extended this policy of cooperation in parliament also. Amirthalingam told parliament on 21 December 1977: An opposition’s role is not to oppose everything. They have to criticize whatever they thought was wrong, support whatever they thought was right and give their suggestion on the manner the administration should be carried on.”

On 26 December, he told me in a special interview to the Daily News, “This is not a new stand. The TULF election manifesto itself had declared its support to a peaceful solution to the problems.”

Jayewardene was pleased with that far-fetched interpretation Amirthalingam gave to the TULF election manifesto.


That was what he wanted the TULF to do, to lend him credibility in the eyes of the international community, to be looked on as a reasonable leader who treated the Tamil minorities with justice and fairness. He declared in January 1978 that he would take steps to solve the problems of the Tamils, whatever the consequences. This made the TULF to further soften its stand towards the government. It did not organize the usual black flag demonstration on 4 February 1978, the thirtieth anniversary of independence. It said it had decided to forgo the demonstration because Jayewardene, on whom it had placed great trust, was taking his oath as the Executive President on that day. Jayewardene took this office of Executive President by amending the 1972 constitution. On 22 April 1978, TULF went a step further and decided to serve in all standing committees of parliament.

Militants followed these developments with extreme irritation.

Civil War and Poverty by Muttukrishna Sarvananthan

Twenty years of civil war has left the Sri Lankan economy in general and the economy of the North&East Province (N&E) in particular tatters. The civil war had its impact on poverty as well, inter alia. However, the impact of the civil war on poverty differed in different regions of the country. Whilst the N&E Province and the adjacent areas experienced increased and acute poverty as a direct result of the war, the rest of the country did not experience war-induced poverty.

According to available evidence the proportion of the poor in the total population of Sri Lanka actually declined between the early-1980s and the late 1990s. In 1980/1 half the total population was poor, but in 1996/7 only 31% of the population was poor using the higher poverty line.1 That is, the income or consumption poverty seems to have dropped. However, we have to remember that post-1983 poverty data does not incorporate the N&E Province and therefore the decline in poverty in 1996/7 may have been overstated. Yet it would be reasonable to infer that the incidence of poverty declined between the early-1980s and the late-1990s, though we cannot be sure of by how much.

Despite a protracted civil war the poverty level seemed to have dropped primarily because of the growth of the armed forces. The number of personnel in the armed forces and the police increased to nearly 300,000 in the late 1990s from less than 100,000 in the early-1980s. A vast majority of the personnel in the armed forces and the police were drawn from rural areas outside the N&E. Thus the rural employment creation effect of the civil war contributed to reduction in poverty in the country outside the N&E. In addition, the huge rise in labour exports to the Middle East and the export garment industry (which by and large drew labour from rural areas outside the N&E) also contributed to the declining poverty levels in the country outside the N&E.

Though in the rest of the country the incidence of poverty seems to have declined during the decades of civil war, it was the contrary in the N&E. To the author’s learned judgment, around 50% of the N&E population could be under the higher poverty line. This is because of massive displacement of rural farming communities, fishing communities, destruction of farming and fishing equipment and private property resulting in loss of livelihoods to hundreds of thousands of people throughout the N&E and adjacent areas. The Northern Province is the poorest province in terms of per capita income and the Eastern Province is the next poorest.2 According to the Department of Census and Statistics, in the early-1980s Sabaragamuwa Province was the poorest in terms of per capita income and the Uva Province second poorest, positions that are now being occupied by Northern and Eastern Provinces respectively. The per capita income of the Northern Province was LKR 37,206 in 2000, while the national per capita income was nearly LKR 63,003.

According to a survey undertaken by the Council of NGOs in Jaffna District in September 2002, the unemployment rate in the Jaffna district was 28%, while at the national level (barring the N&E Province) it was only 8%. The unemployment rate among women was 32% whereas among men it was 23% in Jaffna. The underemployment rate of 37% in Jaffna was split 60% among women and 8% among men. Although no data exists, it is understandable that the unemployment and underemployment rates in the Vanni (encompassing Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya districts) would be considerably higher than that of Jaffna. The high unemployment and underemployment problems as a result of the civil war are a major cause of poverty in the N&E.

Agriculture (food and cash crops, livestock and fishery) has been the primary economic activity in the N&E Province historically. It remained so even during the civil war in the past two decades. However, the nature of the agriculture sector has undergone a change during the past 20 years. In pre-war times, the N&E was a significant surplus producer of food (e.g. paddy) and cash crops (e.g. onion, chilli & tobacco) and fish products, which used to be transported to other parts of the country for marketing. However, due to massive displacement of populations, laying of landmines in agricultural lands, absorption of agricultural lands cum coastal areas into high security zones, economic embargo on the N&E covering fuel, fertilisers & pesticides, restrictions on transport of local produce to the rest of the country, lack of electricity and severe time and distance restrictions on fishing, a surplus agrarian economy has been transformed into a subsistence/survival economy.

For example, in 1980 the N&E Province produced almost one-third of the total production of paddy in the country, which dropped to a quarter in 2000. In 1980, nearly 40% of the onions produced in the country were in the N&E, which dropped to nearly 30% in 2000. Little more than a quarter of the total chilli production in the country was in the N&E, which had dropped to just 8% in 2000. The Northern Province accounted for 13% of the total potato output in the country in 1980, which dropped to less than 1% in 2000. In 1980 N&E accounted for 56% of the total fish catches of the country, which dropped to just 16% in 2004.

The backwardness and relative deprivation of the N&E economy is not only in terms of per capita income (e.g. in terms of income or consumption poverty), but also in terms of social indicators (i.e. in term of human poverty). For example, the percentage of households with access to safe water in the country (as a whole) is 45%, whereas in the N&E it is only 20% (less than half the national average). Nationally 73% of the total households have sanitary facilities, whereas only 48% of the households in the N&E do. While nationally 17% of babies are born underweight, in the N&E 26% of the babies are born so. Similarly, while 30% of the children under-5 years are underweight nationally, it is 46% in the N&E. Almost 50% of the pregnant women in the N&E are malnourished. Almost 20% of the births take place at home in the N&E, whereas nationally only 4% do so (five times higher than the national average). As a corollary the maternal mortality ratio (e.g. death of mothers during every 1,000 live births) in the N&E is 81, while it is only 23 in the country as a whole.5 (three and a half times the national average).

Furthermore, relative deprivation of basic economic infrastuctures is another dimension of human poverty faced by the N&E populace. For example, whilst 56% of the total households in Sri Lanka have electricity, only 30% of the households in the N&E do (little more than half the national average). Further, while on average there is 1 telephone for every 10 people in the country (as a whole) it is 1:29 in the N&E (almost one-third the national average)6. In the 21rst century world electricity and telecommunications are necessities of human life.

In addition to higher levels of income/consumption poverty and human poverty (in comparison to the population outside the N&E), the N&E population is faced with psychosocial deprivation as a result of displacement from their homes (resulting in loss of identity, self-esteem and cultural degradation) violence, torture, trauma, etc.7

The foregoing are many facets of absolute and relative poverty and deprivation faced by the population in the theatres of war. Having said that, it is important to remember that despite untold hardships unleashed by the gruesome civil war, the N&E population did not experience starvation or hunger as in some other internal war-torn regions such as Southern Sudan. The inflow of foreign remittances from kith and kin that fled abroad as refugees and assistance from international relief agencies and the Government of Sri Lanka mitigated the impact of the war on the people of the N&E.

Since the indefinite ceasefire in effect from the beginning of 2002, the general economic, social and psychological conditions of the people of the N&E are improving slowly but surely. The evidence of this change is emerging gradually. For instance, according to the UNHCR, nearly half the internally displaced people (IDPs) have voluntarily returned to their places of origin in the past 16 months. This is taking place spontaneously against the advice of the UNHCR. The UNHCR would not encourage resettlement of IDPs unless and until the landmines are completely cleared in suspected lands. Yet, the fact that the IDPs are spontaneously returning to their places of origin (vast majority to Jaffna) even before the clearance of landmines is complete is a testimony to the sense of confidence and security felt by the ordinary public.

Moreover, according to anecdotal evidence, the extent of crop agriculture cultivation in the N&E has increased significantly in the past 16 months. Since agricultural crops are seasonal the output data are still not available. However, the fish catches in the N&E were 44,000 metric tones in 2000, almost doubled to 85,000 metric tones in 2002.

The foregoing evidences indicate the enormous potential out there for economic revival and poverty alleviation in the N&E Province. However, un-cleared landmines, high security zones, remaining restrictions on fishing, arbitrary taxation and the general political and economic uncertainty appears to be some of the non-market institutional impediments for the full realisation of the peace dividend in the N&E8. The sooner these non-market institutional impediments are removed the better it would be for the alleviation of war-induced poverty in the North&East Province.

Tamil Times, Surrey, UK, September, 2003

1.Ratnayake, R.M.K. (1998:595), ‘ Poverty in Sri Lanka: Incidence and Poverty Reduction Strategies,’ Chapter 29 in A.D.V. de S. Indraratna (ed), Fifty Years of Sri Lanka’s Independence: A Socio Economic Review, Sri Lanka Institute of Social and Economic Studies, Colombo, and Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Consumer Finances and Socio-Economic Survey 1996/7.

2. Mutaliph, Wasantha and Bandaranaike cited in Sarvananthan, Muttukrishna (2003a:4),An Introduction to the Conflict Time Economy of the North&East Province of Sri Lanka, Working Paper 1, May, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo.

3. Sarvananthan (2003a:4)op.cit.

4. Sarvananthan (2003a:6-14) op.cit.

5. World Health Organization cited in Sarvananthan (2003a: 19-20) op.cit.

6. United Nations cited in Sarvananthan (2003a:18-19)op.cit

7. Somasundaram, Daya (1998), Scarred Minds, The Psychologica Impact of War on Sri Lankan Tamils, Sage Publications India, Ltd. New Delhi

8. Sarvananthan, M. (2003b) What Impede Economic Revival in the North&East Province of Sri Lanka? Working Paper 2, June, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo

Does (or When is) History Going to Repeat Itself in Sri Lanka? by Dr. Victor Rajakulendran, Sydney, Australia

From the time Britain started to negotiate with the Sri Lankan (former Ceylonese) legislators to hand over the governance of the country to them, Tamil legislators have been negotiating first with the British authorities, and later with the Singhalese authorities, to get parity of status for the Tamils with the Singhalese, in governing the country. British authorities, based on the goodwill that prevailed at that time between the Singhalese and Tamil legislators of the then State Council, assumed that the numerically superior Singhalese would not treat the numerically inferior Tamils as second class citizens. British authorities agreed to grant full independence to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) only if Tamil legislators also accepted the new constitution.

At this point in time Tamil nationalism was represented by the Tamil leader G. G. Ponnampalam who had popular support at the grassroots level. He advocated a formula for balanced representation for all the communities in the future legislature. Under his proposal, which later came to be known as G.G. Ponnambalam’s Fifty Fifty Demand, 50% of the seats in the new legislature would be allocated to Singhalese and the remaining 50% would be allocated to the rest of the communities, so that no one community would be in a position to dominate such a legislature. Although he did not succeed in convincing the Soulbury commission that was holding hearings on the proposed constitution, history presented the first opportunity for the Tamils after nearly 400 years of foreign occupation and rule to regain their lost freedom.

In neighbouring India a minority (Muslims) under similar circumstances availed itself of a similar opportunity and found protection by establishing a separate state (Pakistan). The Singhalese leaders in the State Council mustered all their powers of persuasion to urge their Tamil counterparts to accept the scheme proposed by the Board of Ministers. Because all the Tamil legislators at that time were drawn almost entirely from Colombo’s affluent Tamil society, which was more concerned with preserving the status quo of its interest rather than the interests of the wider Tamil community, they succumbed to this persuasive power of their Singhalese counterparts. As a result, the British authorities installed the Soulbury constitution as the first constitution of the Dominion of Ceylon under the British Crown. This constitution provided for a unitary type of government in Sri Lanka where the legislative power remained with the one-layered government that was in Colombo.

D.S. Senanyake became the first Prime Minister of the first government under this constitution. One of the first acts of PM D.S. Senanayake was to introduce a resolution in the Cabinet requesting Britain to grant complete independence. When D.S. Senanayake was negotiating for a new constitution with the British authorities he was pressing for full independence. At that time he was told by British authorities that after the general elections under the new constitution, if all the important communities jointly make such a request Britain would consider granting full independence. In anticipation of this D.S. Senanayake constituted his first cabinet to include Singhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, European and Burgher Ministers as representatives of all the communities. The cabinet approved the resolution requesting independence, and the Tamil Minister, C. Sundaralingam, gave his consent to signify that the Tamils joined in the request. Later, when the constitution was misused by the Singhalese government, Sundaralingam issued public statements that, if he had not given his consent to the independence request, Britain would never have granted it, and the Tamils would not be in the plight in which they find themselves today. By this single act of this Tamil Minister the rulers of Tamils were changed from the British to Singhalese in 1948.

D.S. Senanayke was quick to resort to measures to consolidate and strengthen the power of his Singhalese people. By passing two pieces of legislation, one after the other, in parliament, first he made the majority of the Tamils who were working in the plantations lose their citizenship and then he disfranchised the same people to reduce the numerical strength of the Tamil legislators in parliament.

Tamil legislators under the leadership of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam of the Federal Party carried out a Ghandian-style political struggle for Tamil rights. In 1955, when General Elections were round the corner and Kotelawala, the then PM, made his pronouncements in Jaffna about the need for parity of status for Singhala and Tamil. S.W.R.D Bandaranaike (SWRD), the assassinated father of the present President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga, who was in the opposition, seized the opportunity. He announced immediately that, if he were elected PM, he would make Singhala the only official language throughout the whole country within 48 hours. To counteract this Kotelawala