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Why is everyone silent about 443 years discrimination against the Sinhalese?

Sri Lanka: by 1956, 30% Ceylon administrative service, 50%clerical service, 60% engineers & doctors, 40%armed force were held by ONLY Tamils who were less than 10% of the population.

There are some facts stubborn to accept but need to now be brought to the table. Everything cannot revolve around one community. Every change and every solution cannot be determined on what that one community only demands completely ignoring the other communities. No solution or option can omit some ground realities ignoring how and who created the issues the currently prevails. Are people aware of the actual discrimination and the foundation by which the current status has arisen? The discrimination against the majority lasted 443 years whereas none of the minorities were marginalized before 1505 under the majority rule. The leaders of minorities want to return to the 443 years. This has never been showcased.

Firstly, it must be accepted that Tamils did not evolve in Sri Lanka. If so, then they should refer to themselves not as Tamils but by another name. If they evolved in Sri Lanka how can they explain the existence of Tamils in South India. The same race cannot evolve in 2 separate countries. The Missionary Guide Book too affirms this “The Tamulians who it is supposed came over from the opposite coasts of India”. While Tamil Nadu politicians and Indian Government show concern for Tamils because they descend from South India which is why they always interfere into Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. G G Ponnambalam himself said Tamils are not Ceylonese but Dravidians.

Secondly, there was an influx of Tamils to Sri Lanka especially after the arrival of the colonials because the Sinhalese refused to work as labor while there was insufficient Tamils living in Sri Lanka to work on the colonial plantations, even if they were willing to work. This was the prime reason for the colonials to transport scores of aliens from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka who ended up coming with their families and having children which eventually led to Sri Lanka being forced to keep them using the foreign legal terms contrived by these illegal occupiers. Colonial records and the post-independence interactions with Indian & Sri Lankan Government gives further details of the actual numbers who were living and working in Ceylon in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Thirdly, divide and rule policy was to not only divide the people but also to convert as many as they could and create locals who were stooges and worshippers of foreign rule. At independence what took place was only a transfer of powers from the white sahibs to brown sahibs. Education and medical missionary work was the modus operandi used which invariably meant publishing material ridiculing and insulting native religions, their cultures, values and practices. So when we raise alarm over these same missionary NGOs distributing pamphlets and virtually doing the same as the missionaries did in ancient times people should not feel offended or find fault.

The point of a “divide and rule” policy was to put a minority into a position of power that they would not otherwise possess. By doing this the colonial administration created a group of people who were dependent on them for their power/livelihood and would carry out the colonial desires. The majority were made to feel inferior while the minority were encouraged to adopt a superiority complex.

Anyone looking at the troubles in Sri Lanka should first ask why were there no troubles between the people before the foreigners arrived?  

Isn’t it odd that all these ethnic issues emerged only after 3 colonial powers invaded, occupied & ruled Sri Lanka? Therein lies the answer. It was their divide and rule policies that split people up to pieces and plunged them against one another using deceptive ploys and strategies. Should these same countries be allowed to return to interfere in our internal affairs, is what we should all be asking ourselves now.

With the sole objective of proselytizing, first the Americans followed by Catholic & Protestant Missionaries were set up in North Sri Lanka. The American Methodist Missionaries began its first Mission School in 1816. The American missionaries became fluent in Tamil and used this as a basis to influence. By 1818 according to Jane Russel, Tamils constituted over 40% of the franchise for the Educated Members seat. By 1822, 42 schools were functioning in the peninsula. In 1823 Asia’s 1stEnglish education school was opened in the Batticotta Seminary in Vaddukoddai (Batticotta is not Batticoloa)

By 1848, 105 Tamil schools and 16 English schools had cropped up in the Jaffna peninsula. In 1862, Rev. Miron Winslow published the first Tamil-English Dictionary.

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By 1929 Jaffna peninsula had 65 English schools and 426 Vernacular schools.

With unfair and favored English education imparted on Tamils, it enabled Tamils to emerge as the first Asian surgeons, accountants, engineers and teachers and were even recruited by Colonial British to Malaysia and Singapore.

(Kandiah Arundavarajah)

Look at the composition of population!

  • 1824 – 841,940 – Ceylon Population (source South Asia: A Short History by Hugh Tinker)
  • 1834 – 1,167,700 (more than 100 Christian Missionary schools was teaching over 7000 students)
  • 1871 - 2,400,380 (first proper census)
  • 1911 – 4,106,350
  • 1931 – 5,312,000 (in 1938 Tamils held 19.4% of government jobs)
  • 1953 – 8,098,637

In 1946, two years before independence, 33% of the civil service and 40% of the judicial service were Tamils, (Chandra Richard De Silva, 1983 p.116) 

By the time Sri Lanka became independent in 1948, about 60% of government jobs were held by Tamils, who formed hardly 10% of the population. 

By 1956, 30% Ceylon administrative service, 50% clerical service in railways, postal and customs, 60% engineers, lawyers & doctors, 40% armed force & 40% of other labor forces were held by ONLY Tamils. 31% of students admitted to university were Tamils who comprised only 10% of the population.

WAS IT WRONG TO ADJUST THIS IMBALANCE OR SHOULD THIS 10% HAVE CONTINUED TO ENJOY WHAT THEY DID WHILE THE REST OF THE 90% REMAINED AS THEY WERE LIKE UNDER COLONIAL BRITISH RULE. 

Even this 10% is questionable given that many a Tamil were brought by Portuguese, Dutch & British and made to settle down and work in Sri Lanka, so there were not really natives.

The question or rather objection is not Tamils holding portfolios but the fact that the ratio against their population while the majority were denied such purposely because of divide & rule policies was unfair and had to be addressed and the imbalance resolved. Naturally, it caused ripples because people who were enjoying unfair privileges did not wish to give up those privileges while it must be pointed out that even amongst these minorities only a minority amongst the minority were enjoying the privileges. The low caste minorities were denied.

According to Patrick Peebles (The Plantation Tamils of Ceylon) of the 123,565 working in the 996 plantations 115,092 were Indians of which 40,604 were Indian females. That makes only 8473 Sinhalese or Moors. Peebles also confirms that 1336 were Moors so the remaining 7137 would have been Sinhalese.

Between 1843 & 1859 (within 16 years), 903,557 Indian coolies had entered Ceylon brought by Colonial British. 

“[A]lthough [the Tamils] constituted only 11 percent of the country’s population, Tamils comprised 33 percent of the civil service and 40 percent of the judicial service…[t]hey further accounted for 31 percent of students in the university system (DeVotta, 115).” 

However, even in 1971 the statistics does not reveal any discrimination.

In the 1969-1970 intake to science and engineering courses, Tamils constituted 35%, while they constituted over 45% of the intake of engineering and medical faculties.

In 1972, a district quota system was introduced in order to benefit those not having adequate access to educational facilities. The standardization afforded opportunities for poor Sinhalese, Tamils & Muslims to gain admission to universities that previously they were unable to do. Again, those against this new system were those who wanted to continue the elitist rule that benefited only them (handful of Sinhalese & Tamils)

The other very important aspect often neglected is the fact that while the colonial rulers may have planted the trouble, the troubles became regularly watered by opportunist local politicians who realized that the best way to win votes was to also drum ethno-linguistic slogans. It is also the fault of the voters for being party to this.

Returning to the issue at hand what must never be forgotten is that before 1505 the Sinhale kingdom was ruled following the Dasa Raja Dhamma by even the South Indian invaders that ruled parts of the island. Thousands of years of that rule came to an end with the arrival of European colonial rulers who through their divide and rule policies – divided people by ethnicity, created tensions, created classes, created a capitalist system and a bunch of brown sahibs and the favoritism was such that from schooling to employment given to those who converted ended up minorities reaping the fruits of colonial rule.

So we come to the question where before 1505 the Sinhalese Buddhists ruled in a just and fair system where there was no animosities between the Tamils or Muslims which eventually changed after 1505 and has continued to this day. The favoritism was such that at the time of independence the minorities were enjoying far more than their ethnic composition. No one likes to speak about this aspect and nobody wishes to acknowledge that it was unfair by the Sinhalese to have denied them for over 450 years their due place.

The argument is, was it alright for a minority of the minority 10% to enjoy 443 years of undue privileges but it is not alright for the majority to complain because when they ruled none of the issues that currently prevailed existed.

Shenali D Waduge



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