Sri Lanka a nation of settlers made up of many factions, whose ancestors have each voyaged into the little island at different time many centuries ago like in Australia, Canada, Singapore, USA and many other nations where the settlers have ruled them for a lesser period and today well developed leading nations. The last settlers to arrive in Sri Lanka were the upcountry Tamils in from South India to work on the plantations called as estate workers brought at the beginning of the 19th century. Had the past leaders understood this fact and addressed the many deficiencies in the system to meet the needs of the population, particularly in the rural villages and upcountry estates. the country would have developed into a leading country in Asia. Instead the elite leaders pursued divisive polices that led to many uprisings and a bloody civil war that ruined the nation over a period of six decades. Thanks to the civil groups led by a true Buddhist Monk, rulers were changed and the country salvaged from a point of no return and coalition government formed. Opportunity exist for the new rulers to take the nation to greater heights.
Sri Lanka is the homeland for a multi-ethnic and multi religious inhabitants, a nation of settler factions consisting of Sinhalese, Tamils, upcountry Tamils, Muslims, Malays and Burghers. After gaining independence the egotistical elite in power accommodated Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism to succeed and reacted in haste on many matters such as the Sinhala biased colonization, over a million estate workers were rendered stateless, the introduction of Sinhala only policy and the decentralization introduced with the Indo-Lanka accord. Over the years this tyranny produced hardship on the neglected rural and urban poor Sinhalese as well as the minorities causing two uprisings in the south and one in the north. Sadly the tactics of the armed northern uprisings engulfed the east and spread to the rest of the country including foreign soils. It developed into a massive bloody civil-war lasting three decades resulted in many countries assisting the rulers to silence the guns to finish the civil war. Many lives were lost in the final battle and much more incapacitated for life and the rest who survived are still living grieving over the massive torment experience.
Today the population who having lived through a bloody civil war over the past three decades followed by half decade of negative peace settled for a democratic rule of governance. The extent of suffering differs from place to place is breathing in relative freedom recovering from the long term psycho-social, mental and physical consequences of the civil war. The civil-war did impact on the populace, more so on those in the war torn regions, who underwent multiple displacements, deaths, injuries, deprivation of shelter, food, medical care and other basic needs caught between the shelling and bombings of the state forces. During the war this condition had driven more youths to join the fight on the front-lines to liberate themselves from the oppressing state, a situation created by the rulers. Understandable from the apology made by the Prime Minister in House of Parliament the other day for burning the Jaffna Public Library, a matchless asset of the Tamils lost forever, one of many of issues that drove Tamil youths to take up arms. By the time guns were silenced the family and community relationships, networks, processes and structures were destroyed and there was collective despair, loss of values and ethical traditions; leading to resilience but painful live with dependency on external assistance. The population in rest of the country was not spared from the miseries of the bloody civil-war; their experience was the other side of the same coin. With the civil war old big-headed elite were replaced by a new generation of rulers who were trapped in their own bubble of greed and were a curse to the population and opinions of masses were disregarded in most callous way; sooner the people realize it the better for the country.
Earlier as the moderate Tamil legislators had failed to resolve the ethnic issue through negotiations in parliament; the Northern youths, resorted to guerrilla warfare against the state, were joined by affected Tamil youths from other regions in the country particularly from the Eastern Province; received military training overseas, acquired arms for conventional warfare and civil war ensued; situation worsened with the Tamil legislators prevented from parliamentary sittings by the state. Facing a determined opposition the untested state tri-forces forces faced many setbacks at the battlefields, resulting with the Indian intervention at the request of the state with the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord. As the rulers simply road-rolled the objections from the Sinhala majority, without allowing time for them to dispassionately study and understand the accord encouraged by the southern fighters led to more unrest in the country. With the accord the Indian Peace Keeping Force arrived and took control of the North and East of the country; that enabled the state to shift its forces to the south to quell the southern uprising bloodily over the next two years. The situation intensified in the north into a full scale civil-war between the determined Tamil youths turned men and the now experienced state tri-forces both heavily armed with modern arsenal that engulfed the east. With the tri-forces of both sides made up of rural youths, the southern youth fought a war to keep their elite leaders in power in the name of saving the country. While the northern youths took to arms to liberate their oppressed people were also from the rural poor. In effect the rural poor youths of the country were at war killing each other in the conflict that came to an end when the guns were silenced at a heavy cost of lives in 2009. The country lost more than one generation of youths and thus the fighting impacted everyone in the country and only the extent of it differed. Many able middle class young people of all communities capitalized on the civil war situation and left the country to better their life that caused a heavy brain drain to the country, while considerable number mostly rural families fled the country as refugees.
Now the country is having an opportunity to resolve the ethnic issue and some key elements for inclusion into the proposed new constitution to get the country back on the right footings are listed below:
- Governor of each province appointed on the recommendation of its Chief Minister;
- Provisions to take care of dispersed minorities in each province;
- All district secretariats to come under the control of the respective Provincial Council;
- Fully implement the Language provisions;
- Sinhalese people to accept the reality that all are settlers in this land that has multi-ethnic and multi religious base;
- Tamils to accept with the end of the war that a separate state is an unrealizable;
- Implement the 13th Amendment in full without any concurrent list;
- Reinstate the upper house in parliament;
- Tri-Forces to be released of civil activities at present undertaken by them in the north and east provinces;
- Merger of provinces with common borders feasible if the people vote in favor for it;
- Prime Minster to be head of state and with a limited size cabinet;
- Last but not least the President to hold a ceremonial position answerable to the Parliament.
All to accept the reality that there are extremists from the Sinhala south and the Tamil north to be contended, while the Muslims from over the country non-committal both in the Parliament and outside while the rest wanting a conclusion to this national issue while the two large political parties are in government and many in opposition supporting them on this matter.
While the Sri Lankan legislators are busy drafting a new constitution for the nation to replace the present most amended and yet imperfect constitution that should help among other things resolve the ethnic issue; the government is taking measures with a peaceful revolution to address issues pertaining to the neglected population to improve their living standard. The last of the settlers in the country were the old-time pillars of country’s export agriculture economy – estate workers in the Tea and Rubber plantations. They were excluded for generations and are the most deprived in the island are for the first time to be grouped and assigned to grass root village units; would bring them into the main stream with the rest of the population. All this would create a climate “to love your neighbor as you love yourself” and the country propelled to go forward to become a leading nation in Asia.