An ACSLU Report

The Myth of Discrimination Against Tamils in Sri Lanka


(Date: Feb 1996)

A Refutation of Claims used to Justify Racist Terror in Sri Lanka

An ACSLU Report




SL Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan
ITSL International Tamil Separatist Lobby
UNP United National Party
SLFP Sri Lanka Freedom Party
LTTE Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
TULF Tamil United Liberation Front


The statistical information included in this report has been obtained from a variety of official and unofficial sources. Most official sources are from the Department of Census and Statistics of Sri Lanka whose methodology is the same as that adopted in the Statistical Bureau of any Western country. Thus their accuracy, subject to normal statistical errors, have not been seriously questioned. Besides most of the statistics come from the period before the Tamils had made a great issue of the alleged discrimination. They are not statistics that are presented after the event, but had been available all along for interested groups to check.


In 1983 Tamil racists in Sri Lanka commenced a terrorist war to carve out for themselves out of the sovereign territory of Sri Lanka an apartheid-style state to be called Eelam . In the twelve years since this war has claimed over 50,000 lives comprising people of all communities living in Sri Lanka. It has touched almost every part of the country even though most of the fighting has been confined to the North and East. Terrorist bombs have exploded in southern Sri Lanka several of them claiming more victims that the notorious terrorist bomb in Okalahoma City in April 1995 which resulted in widespread condemnation of the terrorists responsible. Systematic ethnic cleansing has been instituted in the North and the East, the main victims of which have been Sinhalese and Muslims long resident in these areas. Even Tamils in the North have been killed by the separatist terrorists for not co-operating fully with the terrorist leadership. The military campaign has also resulted in the death of a number of non-combatants, as has occurred in almost every war. Since the US war against Iraq this kind of casualty has been called "collateral damage", but it has of course been characteristic of all wars. The Sri Lankan conflict has been no exception. In addition to the direct victims several thousand more had been made refugees, many of the Tamils fleeing to foreign countries, even though only a very small fraction of those given asylum in the West are genuine refugees.

Simultaneously with the military action of the terrorists in Sri Lanka their support groups overseas commenced a propaganda campaign to mislead foreign governments, the media, voluntary groups concerned with human rights, religious bodies and the international community in general. The perpetrators of this misinformation ranged from private individuals to a multitude of well-funded organisations, which collectively have been referred to as the International Tamil Separatist Lobby (ITSL). The constant theme of ITSL propaganda was that the Tamils of Sri Lanka had been subjected to "discrimination" and other disabilities, and that political separation from Sri Lanka was the only available option. To anyone really conversant with the situation in Sri Lanka this claim was laughable. Perhaps it was because of this that this propaganda was not adequately refuted in its incipient stages by those interested in the unity of Sri Lanka. Perhaps they underestimated the military threat posed by the separatists. Gradually when it dawned that the terrorist war in Sri Lanka was a carefully orchestrated international campaign to break-up Sri Lanka the charges of the separatists came to be refuted by the correct facts about the Sri Lankan situation. Unfortunately these remedial measures were not adequate and many of the persons who were converted by the separatist propaganda continue to entertain the views propagated by the ITSL.

This work is yet another attempt to debunk the propaganda of the separatists. The stock-in-trade of the ITSL propaganda was not to cite facts, because there are none of any consequence to support them, but to rely on personal anecdotes of persons allegedly the victims of a plot by the majority Sinhalese community. Most of these personal anecdotes were fabrications, but the listeners could never establish their veracity but believed them going on the general presumption that a minority must be discriminated because they are a minority. They forgot that whatever truth this maxim may hold it is not true of Sri Lanka where the Tamils have since colonial times been a privileged minority. Thus the ITSL propagandists were generally very successful with unthinking elements in the Press, and also with certain politicians who neither had the time nor the inclination to ascertain the full facts of the situation.

What is attempted here is not to rely on hearsay or unsubstantiated anecdote, but to state the facts. Fortunately Sri Lanka was one of the few developing countries with a wealth of statistical information on a variety of social and economic indicators. Census survey in Sri Lanka have been on par with those of the West for a very long time, and a wealth of statistics on other matters are available from official and private sources. This information can be combed to easily refute the claims of the ITSL propagandists.

In this situation we shall look at the statistical picture relating to a number of indicators as it was before 1983. This year is crucial to this question. After the terrorist war commenced the whole fabric of civil society was disrupted and with large areas of the country under the control of the terrorists normal activity could not continue. In fact there has not been a census since 1981, and it is very unlikely that once could be carried out in the whole of the country until the war is ended.

The Sri Lankan Tamil Claims

This is not the place to give a history of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, another subject on which ITSL propaganda has woven many myths. Historical records show that the ancient Sinhalese kingdom of Sri Lanka had been subjected to waves of invasion by Tamils from the South of India and that for long periods of time the Northern part of the country had been ruled by Tamil invaders from South India. It was during these periods of colonisation that a Tamil presence was established in Northern Sri Lanka, particularly the Jaffna peninsula. Prior to this even this region was inhabited by Sinhalese as historical records and archaeological ruins testify.

The rest of the country was relatively free of Tamil occupation, even the Eastern part of Sri Lanka which is now claimed as part of a mythical Tamil homeland. In fact when Robert Knox, the most famous of European captives in Sri Lanka, landed in Trincomalee he was apprehended by representatives of the Sinhalese King who ruled this part of the country. But during colonial times the Tamils spread to other parts of the country, including the East, mainly under the patronage of the colonial ruler.
          TABLE 1.  Ethnic Composition of the Population

          Ethnic Group                Per Cent

          Sinhalese                    74.0 
          Sri Lankan Tamils            12.6 
          Moors                         7.1 
          Indian Tamils                 5.6 
          Other                         1.3 
          TOTAL                       100.0 

Table 1 gives the ethnic composition of Sri Lanka as revealed by the 1981 Census which is the last Census we have. It shows that the Sri Lankan Tamils, who are the main party involved in the separatist movement comprised only 12.6(roughly one-eighth) of the population. The Indian Tamils, who were brought to Sri Lanka to work the tea plantations by the British inhabit a different part of the country and are not a party to the plan to create a Tamil "homeland" called Eelam. When we refer to "Tamils" in this document we shall mean only the Sri Lankan Tamils. It must not be thought that all Tamils live in the area that is claimed as their "homeland". In 1971 29.20f all Tamils lived in areas that are generally called "Sinhalese areas". By 1981 the figure has risen to 32.8As mentioned before no census has been taken since 1981, but if a count be now taken it would exceed the 1981 figure. The reverse has taken place in the Northern Province. In 1971 4.50f the population was Sinhalese; by 1981 this had fallen to 3 0E+00ven this small number has not been tolerated and has now sunk to zero, with many actually killed by the Tamils. A similar process is now taking place in the Eastern province through ethnic cleansing.

The proportion of Tamils in the population is a significant statistic when we seek to establish whether the charge of discrimination against Tamils is a valid one. If the Tamils are indeed discriminated then the proportion of Tamils in the area in which discrimination is claimed must differ from the one-eight share which a non- discriminatory policy may be assumed to yield. In what follows we shall devise a statistical measure, which we shall call an Index of Advantage which is obtained by dividing the proportion going to the ethnic community by the proportion of that ethnic community in the total population. If this index is unity there is neither advantage nor disadvantage to the community concerned; if it exceeds unity that group will have a positive advantage, while if it is less than unity that group will have a negative advantage, i.e. be discriminated against. If the ITSL claim about the existence of discrimination against Tamils is true then the Index of Advantage will be less than unity in all the relevant areas (such as employment eduction, health, or economic development.

The principal claims of the Tamil propagandists are:

The next three sections examine the evidence on discrimination, and following two section will consider the language policy and the ethnic riots.

Alleged Discrimination in Employment

Discrimination in employment has generally been the most important forms of discrimination where a group has been subjected to discrimination. In many Western countries blacks and coloured people have been confined to low-paying jobs and generally the highly paid professional jobs have been confined to the privileged group. Many people who listen to the claims of the ITSL propagandists would believe that this is the case with the Tamils as well.

     TABLE 2.  Important Position held by Tamils

Ministers of State The Chief Justice of Sri Lanka The Inspector General of Police The Commander of the Armed Forces Chairman of the Central Bank Chairman of the State TV Heads of Government Department University Professors and Vice-Chancellors Ambassadors and High Commissioners

In fact the opposite is the case. In Sri Lanka the Tamils have been a favoured group with respect to employment. This is seen in the proportion of Tamils holding key positions, their representation in the professions and the employment opportunities available to them generally.

Table 2 lists some key positions held by Tamils both before and after the present emergency. Of course at any given moment of time Tamils may not have held all of them, but many of these positions are usually held by Tamils at any given time. It is not necessary to mention the names of prominent Tamils who have held these positions as this information is readily available. In positions like Cabinet Ministers and Heads of Departments the number of Tamils occupying these positions usually exceed the proportion of Tamils in the population. Only after the commencement of the current emergency,

TABLE 3   Professionals by ethnic group, and
          advantage Index, Public Service 1982.

               Sinhalese               Tamils
 Engineers        60 (0.81)             34 (2.72)
 Surveyors        72 (0.97)             32 (2.54)
 Draughtsmen      63 (0.85)             32 (2.54)
 Doctors          61 (0.82)             34 (2.72)
 Dentists '       92 (0.97)             25 (1.96)
 Vets             58 (0.78)             38 (3.02)
 Accountants      68 (0.92)             35 (2.78)
 Life Scientists  57 (0.77)             41 (3.29)
 Pharmacists      70 (0.95)             28 (2.25)
 Surveyors        70 (0.95)             28 (2.25)

with the terrorists taking reprisals against Tamils they see as collaborating with the Government has there been some reluctance on the part of Tamils to hold some of these positions.

Table 3 gives the percentage composition (with Index of Advantage in brackets) of six key occupational groups in the Public Service in 1982. It will be seen that in every case the Tamils enjoy and advantage and it is the Sinhalese who are disadvantaged. If the proportion of professionals in the private sector is included the

     TABLE 4. Male Unemployment  rate by ethnic group, 1981.

       Group   Percent Unemployed
       Sinhalese         14.7
       Sri Lanka Tamils   8.8
       Indian Tamils      5.0
       Moors             11.8

advantage would have been greater. Statistics in this area are not readily available and in any case the charge is that it is the Government that is discriminating. Thus there is no foundation for the claim that Tamils are discriminated against in top-level employment. The fact is that there have never been a racial requirement for holding any position in the Public Service and Tamils can aspire to any position in the public service and have reached the top positions.

     TABLE 5 Male Unemployment by district and race. 1981

                  SIN    TAMIL                     SIN   TAMIL
        Colmbo    17.6   10.9      Jaffna          2.7   10.1
        Kandy     14.7    9.3      Vavuniya        6.9    4.6
        Galle     20.7    6.7      Mannar          3.2    2.4
        K'gala    10.4    6.5      M'tiv           1.1    4.8
        Matara    22.3    2.5      Batticaloa      2.8    7.2      

Nor can it be claimed that Tamils are left out on the unemployment heap. The unemployment rate is generally much higher amongst the Sinhalese than amongst the Tamils. Table 4 gives some statistics which shows that not only is the typical Sinhalese twice as likely to be unemployment, but also has the highest unemployment rate of all ethnic groups. A more detailed analysis of the unemployment statistics by district and race also gives the same picture. In Table 5 five districts where Tamils constitute a majority of the population is shown in the second column and 5 typical Sinhalese-majority districts are given in the first column. For these 10 districts unemployed males are shown as a proportion of the relevant ethnic group. It will be seen that in all cases the unemployment rate amongst the Tamils is less than that amongst the Sinhalese.

Thus in terms of this most universally regarded indicator of discrimination there is absolutely no truth in the claims of the ITSL.

Alleged Discrimination in Education

It is often claimed that Tamils have always held education in high regard and discrimination in this area has been most galling to them. Once again the facts tell a different story.

Incidentally the Tamils had been favoured with regard to Education in colonial times. The British for a long time left education to religious bodies, and because a larger proportion of Tamils converted to Christianity the missionaries established more schools there than elsewhere. Besides the Tamils were regarded by the British as a group that could be counted to give them support and therefore looked to that community to provide it with many of its functionaries. The privileged position of the Tamils continued under independence, but the Government sought to provide educational facilities to those who had been deprived of it hitherto whether they be Sinhalese, Muslims or even Tamils.

     TABLE  6  University Enrolments by race and
     Faculty, 1981.

        Faculty        Sin. Tam.    PercentTamil (A.I)

        Medicine        291  101        25.3  (2.0)
        Dentistry        36   24        40.0  (3.1)
        Vet Science      23    7        23.3  (1.8)
        Agriculture     132   49        27.1  (2.1)
        Bio Science     257  105        28.9  (2.2)
        Engineering     321  142        30.5  (2.4)
        Architecture     28    9        23.9  (1.9)
        Phy. Science    354  219        38.0  (3.0)
        Commerce        227  118        34.2  (2.7)

Table 6 shows that as far as the higher levels of education are concerned the Tamils once again occupy a favoured position. In all the faculties listed (which are generally considered the more prestigious areas of tertiary education) it is the Sinhalese who continue to be discriminated against. Incidentally the preponderance of Tamils have been in large part been due to the system of admissions. All students sit for the qualifying examinations in their mother tongue, and it is a well established fact that Tamil examiners consistently mark up the Tamils as against other examiners who stick to normal academic standards. It is to prevent this kind of abuse that for a short period admissions were to be limited to the population of each district. This scheme did not disadvantage the Tamils, but merely established a level playing field. However the system was abandoned when Universities were established in regional areas, including one in the North.

        TABLE 7  Some School Statistics
            (selected Districts 1983)

        (1)       (2)  (3)     (4)  (5)

        Colombo    231  251    18.7 179
        Kandy      273  749    24.6 213
        Galle      200  509     3.4 148
        Matara     164  417     4.6 116
        K'gala     143  386     8.0 126

        Jaffna     207  568    99.5 137
        Mannar     247  106    96.2  13
        Mullativu   16   87    98.9   5
        Vavuniya    22  124    83.1   7
        Batticaloa  72  266    96.5  35

        Sri Lanka 3460 9575    27   2337

        (1)  School District
        (2)  No. of Students (Thousands)
        (3)  No. of Schools
        (4)  Percent of Tamil Schools
        (5)  Total Expenditure (Rs. Mn)

When it comes to the provision of general education the picture is no different. Table 7 gives some selected school statistics for the year 1983, selecting five districts where Tamils predominate and five where Sinhalese predominate. The statistics for the entirety of Sri Lanka is also included. It will be seen that once again, in terms of the provision of schooling no systematic bias cannot be identified. However direct comparison between the ethnic groups is not possible and several schools in Colombo ane the other large centres of population have bilingual schools, and school facilities are available to students of both communities. This accounts for the larger expenditure on per student in Colombo than other provinces including Jaffna. One significant figure is that 270f all schools in the country are classified as Tamil- medium schools which gives the Tamils a favourable Index of Advantage at least on the basis of this index alone.

Another statistic that could be used to illustrate the favourable situation of Tamils in education is the enrolment of science students in pre-University (Advanced Level) classes. In 1982 the average for Sri Lanka was 36.7 students per 1000 in the population. But in the Northern and Eastern provinces (the areas were the bulk of the Tamils live) the figure was 51.7 per thousand. Science education is considered a key indicator in Sri Lanka. On this score too the Tamils do better than the rest of the country.

It must be remembered that Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world where Tamils can study from the Kindergarten to the University in the Tamil Language. This is not possible in many parts of India, which is the place of origin of Tamils, let alone in the other countries to which the Tamils have migrated.

Other Areas of Alleged Discrimination

Employment and education are the main grievances on which Tamils have claimed discrimination. We have shown that on these grounds there is no basis for a claim of discrimination. But discrimination may be claimed in other areas as well.

        TABLE 8. Public Health Indicators
                 (Supdt. of Health Services Area, 1981)

                        (1)        (2)     (3)   (4)

        Colombo         5130     10.835    395  15.50
        Kalutara       11486      5.626    421   5.80
        Kandy          10632      7.665    315  16.00
        Matale         25833     11.923    382  10.00
        Galle           6849      7.212    444   9.50
        Matara         24837      7.796    495  11.10
        *Jaffna         7420      7.555    314   6.90
        *Vavuniya       9367      9.065    384   8.20
        *Batticaloa    13333     11.803    513  10.40
        Kurunegala     12768      5.514    417  11.40
        Puttalam       17000      8.082    443   7.90
        A'pura         15364     10.833    398  21.10
        Badulla        13186      8.546    402   4.90
        Ratnapura      11371      8.379    337  10.00
        Kegalle        16634      5.370    418   8.00
        Sri Lanka       9453      8.071    399  10.10

        (1) No. of Persons per Doctor
        (2) No. of Persons per Public Health Midwife
        (3) No. of Persons per Hospital Bed
        (4) No. of Persons per Health Centre

We may, for instance, take the provision of health services. Table 8 gives some indicators of the provision of health case in Sri Lanka according to the main health divisions in the country. These show that while some diversity can be expected due to the location of the principal hospitals there is no systematic difference between the districts in which the Tamils predominate (indicated by asterisks) and the other areas. However as in the case of educational provision many Tamils live in "Sihalese areas" and would be entitled to the use of health facilities in these areas along with the other communities inhabiting these districts.

For discrimination in economic development let us take several indicators. If we consider the provision of roads in 1980 there was on average 1.89 km of roadway for every 1000 in the population. Yet the figure in the 5 Tamil districts exceeded this: Jaffna (1.99), Mullaitivu (8.45), Vavuniya (6.03), Mannar (4.88), Batticaloa (2.45). In 1981 the expenditure per head of rural population on irrigation was Rs. 47.6. Yet the corresponding figure for the Northern and Eastern Province was Rs. 93.2. This is over twice the national average. At the time of the outbreak of the insurgency the Government had a scheme for the allocation of investment funds for the various District Councils. Under this scheme the per capital investment for the whole country was Rs 28.28. Yet the per capita investment for most of the Tamil districts exceeded this: Jaffna (33.09), Mullitivu (32.46), Batticaloa (32.21) and Vavuniya (26.31). Only Mannar (23.58) fell slightly short of the national average. Thus on the basis of economic development the Tamils have no basis to claim discriminatory treatment.

Several other indicators of the "quality of life" exist in Sri Lanka. These include mortality rates, levels of nutrition, calorie intake, etc. It would be a tedious task to analyse these figures to disprove charges of deliberate discrimination towards Tamils. After all the onus of proof on matters like discrimination must rest on those who make the allegation, and it is strange that the Tamil Lobby has not produced any evidence on this score.

Another claim of separatist propagands is that in the Land settlement policy of the Government there has been discrimination. This again is not correct as in all settlement of regions land has been set aside for Tamil occupiers to an extent that is not less than their percentage of the population. The claim that because the land development schemes have been in areas claimed for Eelam they should only be settled by Tamils is unteneable. Tamils have a right to buy land in any part of Sri Lanka and have been doing so in recent times. On the contrary it is the Sinhalese who are prevented from buying land in the North, a policy which was initially instituted under colonialism.

The Language Question

Next to the charge of discrimination against Tamils levelled against Sri Lanka the most commonly heard complaint is the allegedly unsatisfactory place given to the Tamil Language in the affairs of the country.

A brief comment on the development of the Language question is appropriate here. During the colonial times English was the dominant language of administration, politics, education, business, etc. Both Sinhalese (spoken by over 800f the population) and Tamil (understood by perhaps 200f the population), the two indigenous languages of Sri Lanka, were relegated to a distant second place. With the end of colonialism the question arose as to the national language of the land. The first attempt to address this question was in the Official Language Act of 1956. The newly elected SLFP Government introduced this Act, together with a complementary Reasonable Use of Tamil Act. They were designed to address the Language question. The first made Sinhala the "official language"; this came to be dubbed the "Sinhala Only Act". The second defined the status of Tamil and guaranteed its use as the medium of education and instruction up to the highest levels, and ensured that it could be used in the courts, parliament, etc. and as a medium for entry into employment, and for all economic and cultural purposes. These Acts have been widely misrepresented as involving unfair treatment of the Tamil language. The Tamils demanded "Parity of Status" between Sinhala and Tamil, and in many ways this was the trigger to what came to be called the "ethnic question", which in course of time became the separatist conflict which we are now witnessing.

In matters like this Sri Lankan practice has to be judged against the framework of international practice. In almost every nation there are more than one language spoken. Yet almost all countries have used the language spoken by the majority as the official language. Exceptions to this rule are extremely rare, e.g. Switzerland where three languages are recognised, Belgium and Canada where two languages are recognised. These handful of countries are the exception to the rule that the majority language is the official language of the country.

Thus the policy enshrined in the 1956 legislation merely conformed to international practice and cannot be taken as an act of discrimination against Tamils. If it is indeed discrimination then almost all countries in the world, including Australia, the United States, France, Russia, etc. are also guilty of the same offence. In fact many Tamils have migrated to such countries as refugees, but they have not demanded "parity of status" for the Tamil language in these countries. In multicultural countries like Australia it would be absurd to give parity of status to all languages spoken in the country concerned.

The charge of discrimination with respect to minority languages lies not in the absence of a "parity of status" in all regards, but in denying the minority concerned of reasonable language rights. This is exactly what the Reasonable Use of Tamil legislation in Sri Lanka was designed to achieve.

Changes subsequent to 1956 have further strengthened the status of Tamil. In the 1971 Constitution Tamil was declared a national language. Indeed Sri Lanka is the only sovereign state to have conceded to Tamil the status of a national language even though only a small proportion of the world's Tamils live in Sri Lanka. Thus Tamil figures in the National Insignia, the currency, postage stamps, in all official documents and forms, etc. English is also declared a national language to assuage other minorities than Tamils. In practice today Tamil is given virtual parity of status with Sinhalese and English in the public life of the nation. This is seen in the educational, political and legal systems, as well as in all other important areas of public life. It must be remembered that there are few countries which have given to a language spoken by less than a fifth of the population the place that has been accorded to Tamil in Sri Lanka. If judgement is to be based on international rights and practices the claim of discrimination against Tamils on language grounds in Sri Lanka cannot be sustained. The language policy of Sri Lanka may be contrasted with that in India which is the closest neighbour to Sri Lanka, and also contains what can be termed the original motherland of the Tamils. The Indian constitution states: "The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in the Devanagari Script" [Art 343(1)]. It is precise this that was established by the Official Language Act of 1956 in Sri Lanka when Sinhala was declared the official language. The significant difference is that less than half of the Indian population use Hindi in the Devanagari script, which over 800f the population is conversant with Sinhala. The Indian constitution's language provisions have remained unaltered for nearly 50 years even though their implementation has been slow. This is also the case in Sri Lanka where the 1956 Act has not been implemented in full.

While language agitation has continued in India there has never been a case made for separatism on the basis of the constitutional requirement that Hindi be the "only" official language. In Sri Lanka however this has been made the basis for the demand for the creation of an apartheid Tamil state, with no language rights whatsoever to the non-Tamil people, should they be allowed to live in the state of Eelam if and when it comes into existence.

When we move from India to other areas where Tamils have migrated we do not find anything like the position accorded to Tamil in Sri Lanka. There are substantial Tamil minorities in Malaysia, Singapore, Fiji, parts of Africa and even the West Indies. In most cases they have been taken by colonial rulers. Of these countries it is only Singapore that has given a limited place to Tamil in official notifications. But even in Singapore there is nothing like the widespread use of Tamil in Sri Lanka. Of course Tamils have move to Western countries particularly after the troubles in Sri Lanka, but they have not articulated a demand for the use of Tamil in these countries, and of course, Tamil is not accorded any special place in these countries.

In countries like the United States and Australia English is the de facto offical and national language. It was felt that there is no need ot enshrine its usage in law as this is what will occur in practice. Indeed this has been the case. But it is interesting to note that there are moves in the United States to enshrine the position of English as the sole official language in law. If this is so it will be a parallel to the 1956 Sri Lankan law. Yet the U.S. is often regarded as role model for democratic practice, and is certainly the most articulate spokesperson for democracy. This would mean that the 1956 SL law is not as undemocratic as it has made to appear.

The example of several other countries too could be analysed, and would generally show the liberality of Sri Lanka's current arrangements relating to the use of Sinhalese and Tamils as national languages.

The Civil Disturbances

It is a sad fact of history that the Sri Lanka has seen a series of communal disturbances and riots between 1959 and 1983. In this Sri Lankan experience has been paralleled in many developing countries, particularly in South Asia. Further by the standards of many Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia the communal riots of Sri Lanka have been less violent. Despite this these riots have occupied an undue share of public attention in the West and the misrepresentation of the nature of these has been a major objective of the propaganda of the Tamil lobby.

According to the Tamil lobby the riots are an attempt by the Government to exterminate the Tamils living in the South by instigating Sinhalese mobs to attack them. This is an interpretation given to these unfortunate riots which are not supported by any evidence. Of course many Tamils have lost their lives in these riots, and much property owned by Tamils have been destroyed. This is particularly true in Colombo and certain other parts of Sri Lanka. While some Sinhalese criminal groups may have participated in these attacks they cannot be ascribed to the Sinhalese in general, let alone to Sri Lankan governments.

Just as some Sinhalese may have participated in these riots many more Sinhalese have been involved in providing protection to Tamils. The Government, of course, moved in quite early by deploying the security forces, and providing shelter to the refugees until more permanent arrangements could be made. There may have been some confusion and administrative failures especially in the early hours of a communal riot, but once its dimensions and purport have become clear all governments of whatever complexion (UNP or SLFP) have arisen to their reponsiblities.

Another fact relating to these riots is that it was not the Tamils who were the only victims. In fact in many instances it was the Tamils who first moved against Sinhalese groups in Tamil dominated areas. The first riot, that of 1959, was the reaction to acts against Sinhalese perpetrated by Tamils in the North and the East. Thus if the Sinhalese mobs were guilty in the Southern parts (and undoubtedly they were) so were the Tamils in the North. In fact almost all the Sinhalese who were resident in the North were quickly liquidated by these riots, and the remainder simply fled. In fact the Sinhalese victims in the North did not find any support from the ordinary Tamil population unlike the Tamil victims in the South. Ever since the language legislation of 1956 a number of language-oriented agitations had been carried by the Tamil political parties with inflammatory speeches made. It was these which triggered first the riots in the North and the East and they the reprisals in the South.

The most publicised of the riots were those of 1983. This was a spontaneous, if unfortunate, response to the first military action of the LTTE in the separatist war when an army convoy was ambushed and all the soldiers killed. When the bodies were brought for burial there was local rioting which soon got generalised. The causes for the riots was the general atmosphere of racism generated by the Tamil demand for a racist homeland. Even though later propaganda adduced these riots as the reason for the demand for a separate homeland they were in fact the cause of this racist demand which antedated the 1983 riots. In the case of these riots, which were televised for all the world to see, the Government came into the scene quite rapidly even though with hindsight it was not rapid enough. Once the situation was brought under control the Tamils victims were sheltered, and in many cases compensated for the loss of property. Unfortunately loss of life cannot be compensated.

But it is a measure of the extent to which racial relations have been repaired since the events of 1983 that the Tamil population in Colombo and the South generally has increased, not diminished. In the North however no Singhalese has been allowed to live, so great has been the pogrom against them.

Not only has the number of Tamils in the South increased, but the South has become an area of refuge for Tamils fleeing the LTTE terror. Even the authors of Tamil communalism like the TULF leadership had to seek asylum in Colombo, but even there they were not free of LTTE terrorists. The increase in the number of Tamils living in the South is the greatest testimony to the non-communal nature of the bulk of the Sinhalese. Despite the grave provocation as the LTTE terrorist war progressed there has not been any occurrence of communal disturbances.

As against this the real racial bigotry has been seen in the ethnic cleansing activities of the LTTE. These acts of deliberate communal massacre cannot be compared to unorganised civil rioting. The LTTE has massacred whole villages of Sinhalese and Muslims in the East in an attempt to make that a racially pure Tamil region. These acts can only be compared to the deliberate racial cleansing of the Nazi who cleared large areas of Poland and Czechoslovakia of non-German inhabitants before and during the last war. While the incidents of ethnic rioting in SL cannot be something that any country can justify to distort it and to use these unfortunate riots to instigate a system of deliberate ethnic murder, as has been done by the separatist terrorists, is to replace something that is bad with something that is worse. Once again it is the Sinhalese who have been painted as the villains by the apologists to those who have committed the real crimes.


The facts given in the present document debunking the claim of the International Tamil Lobby that the Tamils are discriminated against are not new facts and have been on the public record for well over a decade.

Why have these reasons not become generally known? One factor is the incompetence of the information services and the diplomatic and consular representation of Sri Lanka. In fact in the early days when the ITSL was disseminating the myth of discrimination against Tamils in Sri Lanka large sections of the SL diplomatic establishment was actually run by Tamils. Many of them were Eelamists who actually used to their offices to propagate the distortions of the ITSL. The others were very often political opportunists who were rewarded for their service to the party than for their competence. Another factor was the lethargy of the non-Tamil Sri Lankan expatriates abroad, and their well-known political biases. They were keen on serving the political party in power in SL rather than defending the truth about Sri Lanka. The third fact was the existence of groups in the press and other lobby groups in foreign countries who were receptive to the propaganda of the Eelamists.

A clear example of the kind of misapprehension about discrimination against Tamils is revealed by the following statement made by Senator Gareth Evans the Foreign Minister of Australia to the Australian Senate on 1 June 1995:

"...if you go back historically most of the wrongs in this whole affair have been perpetrated against the Tamils. There has been a long tradition of discrimination and prejudice and various forms of misbehaviour directed towards the Tamil by the Sinhalese. They have been a traditionally discriminated against minority." [Senate Hansard, 1 June 1995]

Such views can also be quoted from leading politicians in almost any Western countries. They are not only a testimony to the success of the Tamil lobby but also to the obtuseness and ignorance of the politicians concerned. Whether they have the grace the admit their own ignorance when the true facts are revealed to them is something that has still to be seen.

In the current situation when the racist terrorists of Sri Lanka have plumbed the depths of human misbehaviour such ignorance cannot be permitted to prevail. The terrorists are now no longer only a threat to Sri Lanka but also to the whole region. This no doubt explains the changed attitude of India to the LTTE which had initially set the LTTE in business but was not able to control its creation.

The tragedy of Sri Lanka is that the myth of discrimination is so widely believed. In fact so successful has the Tamil propaganda been that even the highest levels of the present government of Sri Lanka seems to believe them. It is perhaps because of this misapprehension that they embarked upon the policy of unconditional negotiations with the LTTE which has become an unqualified disaster to Sri Lanka.