What are the Grievances Exclusive to Sri Lanka’s Tamils?

Sri Lanka Tamil Girls

– by Shenali D Waduge –

This question has been propping over periods of time without any conclusive answer primarily because the topic has been perfect for political advantage to both political parties and individuals. With the chapter of terrorism more or less closed it is no perfect a time than now to directly address this issue. We need to once and for all know what it is that ONLY Tamils are suffering from that are not shared by Sinhalese or Muslims or even Burghers? For it is in knowing these exclusive Tamils only grievances that any Government or foreign leader has any right to champion on behalf of the Tamils. If nothing exclusive can be proved or shown then it is time we call the bluff and ask Tamils to get on with their lives just as how the other communities are without inviting every Tom, Dick and Harry onto Sri Lankan soil whereby bringing more troubles than solutions. We do not need any sound from them either.

Let us get down to the question itself.

Sri Lanka’s population stands at just over 20million of which the Sinhalese comprise 14.8million, Sri Lankan Tamils comprise 2.4million (2,400,000). It is believed that 1million of this number now live overseas.

Health sector

  • Are Tamils denied entry to Government or private hospitals because they are Tamil?
  • Are Tamils denied medical attention by doctors or nurses because they are Tamil – do Sinhalese doctors or nurses refused to treat any Tamil because he was Tamil?
  • Are Tamils purposely segregated and denied operations/surgery because they are Tamil?

The answer is that there is nothing in the health sector of Sri Lanka that Tamils can say they are discriminated against. In fact throughout LTTE terror the Sri Lankan Government sent medical supplies to the North including the final stages of the war. It is not the fault of the Government that the TNA heroes – the LTTE confiscated these medicines to be given to LTTE cadres and their families ONLY without giving them to the ordinary Tamils.

It is also to be stated that the Tamils of Jaffna do not donate blood because of their high caste mentality and majority of blood supplied to the Government hospitals in the North is by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces who donate blood on a voluntary basis regularly to ensure the blood bank is not short of blood. It must also be said that Muslims too do not donate blood but they are recipients of blood by Sinhalese. A little appreciation for this gesture is quite in order instead of always finding fault with the Sinhalese.

Education sector

  • Are Tamils denied entry to schools even day care or Montessori because they are Tamils?
  • Are Tamils denied education because they are Tamil?
  • Are Tamil children systematically denied high honors at exams?
  • Are Tamils denied entry to Universities because they are Tamil?

Answer is NO. In fact there has always been the allegation that in the North, Tamil teachers gave bogus high marks to Tamil students during paper marking and even while exams were being held so that Tamils could enter university in large numbers. These allegations were never investigated. Moreover, enough of Tamils have secured top class honors at the GCE Ordinary Level/Advanced level and even Medical/Law and other university competitive exams throughout. Gold medalists in medical and other degree programs for Tamils have been awarded – if there was discrimination for being Tamil would such awards have taken place?

Tamils drove out 400 Sinhalese undergraduates and lecturers from the Jaffna university in 1977. Some of these Sinhalese were handicapped for life. These attacks were so that the university would become an ONLY Tamil university while other universities throughout the country were taking students of all communities. Now the Muslims have started Only Muslim universities using their clout. There are no ONLY Sinhalese universities in Sri Lanka.

Daily domestic chores

  • Are Tamils denied entry to post offices, public or private banks, cinema, museums, shops or shopping malls because they are Tamil?
  • Are Tamils not served vegetables or other essentials in shops, market places or malls simply because they are Tamil?
  • Are Tamils denied entry to eat at Restaurants or Hotels because they are Tamil or are they made to sit in a separate area that says “Tamils Only”?
  • Are there sign boards that explicitly says “Tamils are not welcome’ or ‘No Tamils”?
  • Are there Sinhalese shops that deny the right to purchase to Tamils?
  • Are Tamils charged more or Sinhalese are waived off on any item because they are Sinhalese?
  • Do Tamils have to stand in different queues because they are Tamil (like how America/UK and South Africa treated blacks)
  • Are public facilities and utilities like washrooms, public drinking water denied to Tamils because they are Tamils (again like America/UK and South Africa treated blacks)
  • Are public transport – buses and trains denied to Tamils because they are Tamil or do Tamils have to sit separately because they are Tamil?

Let us remind the Tamils that the Blacks of America had to eat separately, use separate toilets, sit on separate benches, drink from separate water fountains, sit separately in restaurants, cinemas had separate ticket booths, libraries had separate sections, there was even separate telephone booths, whites had restrictive selling to ensure properties were never sold to blacks. While in Tamil Nadu 80% of its population are Dalits and over 60% of them are illiterate. This is in a State that is run by Tamils for Tamils.

Answer is NO.

Have Tamils ever been treated like the manner the Allied nations treated the Germans for 5 years after World War 2 – wherein all radio and other forms of communications especially posters referred to all Germans as Nazi’s and deserved to be murdered?
Yes, the country celebrated the death of terrorists and the killing of Prabakaran. The country has no need to feel ashamed. We have every right to feel triumphant and we do not apologize for feeling jubilant that we can walk out of our homes without family worrying we will not return. For those who did not live in Sri Lanka to know what it felt like to live when LTTE was thriving have no right to be issuing how we should feel or act from overseas. Prabakaran and his terror force was responsible for murders, calculated, coldblooded murders that ran into thousands over 3 decades. If throughout these decades none mourned the deaths of those killed by LTTE, why should they mourn the death of Prabakaran unless they were part of the reason why LTTE prevailed?

Also do Tamils ever feel shy to say ‘We sell only to Tamils’ when they are selling property or home? Is this not the same practice Muslims also follow? While Tamils and Muslims don’t sell to Sinhalese purely because of racial discrimination all the houses that Sinhalese have sold to have been to either Tamils or Muslims apart from a handful who realize that soon Sinhalese would become a majority tenant population.


  • Are Tamils denied employment to public sector or even private sector because they are Tamil?
  • Are job advertisements specifically mentioning that Tamils are not entertained?
  • Are Tamils treated differently in the public or private sector because they are Tamil?

Answer is NO

On the contrary most of the Tamil-biased employers place their advertisements in such a way that ensures Sinhalese job applicants cannot apply.

Most of the foreign embassies manned by Tamils ensures Sinhalese visa applicants have their visa’s requests rejected for trivial reasons too.

In private sector there are still many high caste Tamils who will not eat with low caste Tamils in the staff canteen, they will not share their food with them or even share the same cup and saucer.

Ponnambalam Ramanathan, went several times to London in the 1930s to ask the British government to uphold the caste system.

Sports Sector

  • Are Tamils denied participation in sports because they are Tamil?
  • Are they excluded from being nominated to the National teams because they are Tamil?

The example of Muttiah Muralitharan is a shining example of how a Tamil cricketer continues to gain the respect of the Sri Lankan polity, not because he is Tamil but because he is a great cricketer.

Public sector

  • Does the Government deny water, electricity and telephones to Tamils because they are Tamil?
  • Does the Government restrict Tamils to travel to any part of the country?
  • Does the Government deny Tamil public officials promotions because they are Tamil?
  • Does the Government have any legal, constitutional and legislative State orders or policies that can prove that the State is systematically discriminating the Tamils?

Answer is No.

The language factor has been because the Government as all foreign Governments do, did not make all natives to know the Sinhalese language. In a country where 14.8million of the 20million know Sinhalese, what has stopped the 5.2m learning Sinhalese? Now the Government insists 14.8million know Tamil whilst there is no ruling that the 5.2m need to also know Sinhalese. Only then can there be true communication. However in the public service all Tamils and Muslims are required to know Sinhalese and it is only practical as 7 out of 10 are Sinhalese in Sri Lanka.

As for random allegations of public documents been sent to Tamils in Sinhalese the case is no different as Sinhalese are also in receipt of communications in Tamil. This is the fault of one or two public servants who need to have their eyes tested for there is no excuse they can give to say they cannot differentiate between a Tamil surname and a Sinhalese surname. These are only administrative hiccups and have nothing to do with purposeful discrimination against a race.

Right to Live anywhere in Sri Lanka

However, as everyone can see a man who has lived virtually all his life in the South amongst the Sinhalese, was educated amongst the Sinhalese, secured employment and was nominated a Supreme Court judge by a Sinhalese who today is the Chief Minister of the North has the audacity to declare the North belongs ONLY to Tamils and asks Sinhalese and Muslims to leave the North and thinks that a mere title of Chief Minister affords him the power to dictate who the President of the country should appoint as Governor. He is definitely suffering from some complex and one that needs immediate treatment.

Between 1971 and 1981 the more than 30,000 Sinhalese were kicked out without notice from the Jaffna peninsula where they had been living for generations.

LTTE denied access to Sinhalese for 3 decades to visit the North while no such restrictions were placed on Tamils who steadily flowed to the South to make use of the conflict situation for their own advantage which is basically why most Tamils silently feel a sense of gratitude to the LTTE for their lives became better because of the LTTE – numerically only a handful of Tamils actually suffered the majority Tamils reaped the harvest of terrorism – that unfortunately is the bitter truth.

Moreover over 100s of Sinhala Cultural Heritage sites in the Northern Province and Eastern Province were destroyed with the sole aim of erasing the evidences of Sinhala civilization in the north and east. In most places after destroying the Buddhist temples Hindu kovils, Churches have been built on top of them to hide the truth.

Ethnic cleansing of Sinhalese in Vavuniya district in 1984 – with 73 Sinhalese shot dead in their villages to create a fear psychosis and make the Sinhalese leave on their own. 6000 Sinhalese refugees are still to return to their ancestral homes in the Wanni.

Ethnic cleansing of Sinhalese in the Trincomalee district 1984 – Over 150 Sinhalese villagers throughout the district including Buddhist priests have been killed and 20,000 Sinhalese refugees remain.

Ethnic cleansing of Sinhalese in Mannar district in 1980s – Sinhalese villages were attacked, their houses set on fire in order to either kill or chase them from the areas. Over 10,000 became refugees and some are still to return.

Expulsion of Sinhalese from Batticoloa in the 1980s – again attempts were made to reduce the percentage of Sinhalese living in Batticola to almost 0% by 1990s. A Sinhalese student was shot and killed in Vandaramullai University in Batticaloa in August 22nd, 2008.

Ethnic cleansing of Sinhalese in Ampara district 1980s – attempts to chase out Sinhalese by attacking villages and killing hundreds of Sinhalese whilst asleep or in their homes have been with the sole intention of forcing the Sinhalese out of the areas of North and East to claim that these areas are occupied ONLY by Tamils.

It was not only the Sinhalese who became targets – Muslims were chased out of the North too. They were given 48hours notice to vacate their homes which were looted by the LTTE and those Muslims who refused to leave were all killed. Similarly, LTTE attempting ethnic cleansing of the Muslims in the East too by killing 300 in one instance and a further 100 who were praying at the mosque

These ethnic cleansing attempts made after 1977, in 1978, 1981, 1983, 1984 and throughout 1990s have never made it to CNN, BBC or even C4. Close to 100,000 Sinhalese villagers have become refugees and around 3500 have been killed in order for the Tamils to claim a mono-ethnic area.Yet, a single event in 1983 not repeated for the past 30 odd years continues to be played like an old record still.

Why is it that the Sinhalese people being attacked, getting killed or massacred is not considered a violation of their ‘human rights’ by UN, INGOs, Human Rights Organizations or even foreign Governments?

Economic partners

Anyone contesting grievances of Tamils or Muslims need only to go to the commercial hub of Pettah to see who controls the wholesale establishments. Visit Pettah on a Friday just before 12noon and you can then count the number of shops owned by Muslims. Visit Pettah on a Tamil holiday to count the number of Tamil shops. 2 out of 10 shops are likely to be Sinhalese. Check the key business companies and count the numbers of minorities that hold top posts. More and more taking these statistics together the Government will realize that it is towards the Sinhalese in particular the Buddhists that policies have always been discriminated against. This unfortunately is the startling truth.

Making this more shocking is the fact that the minorities of Sri Lanka are not really minorities. The Tamils have the moral backing at least of 72million Tamils across the globe. The Muslim backing runs into billions. Taking the same argument by religious faith Tamil Hindus, Islam and the Christian world all have powerful lobbies and Muslims/Islam and Christian and the Vatican go hand in hand because they have all the accesses to push the correct buttons which makes the Sinhalese Buddhists the real minority in Sri Lanka with hardly 14million up against all others.

Law and Order

  • Are Tamil denied entry to police stations to lodge complaints?
  • Are there more Tamils in Sri Lanka’s jails?
  • Are Tamils falsely incriminated because they are Tamil?

Of course it is another matter how police treats ordinary citizens but that is a grievance the Sinhalese, Muslims and even Tamils can all claim equal suffering. This is not part of state strategy but simply the manner police have been inclined to behave though their courtesies have improved from what it was but not near the courtesies shown by members of the armed forces from what they were earlier.

Sri Lanka’s jails, houses more Sinhalese than Tamils and Muslims put together. whereas in US and UK statistics reveal that blacks and browns are more likely to be arrested and be put into prisons and these prisons are all private profit making entities.

There should be no areas designated to one race simply on the ground that they chase out the rest of the races in order to call it their own. Such is the case with the North. It started with the LTTE and is now being continued by the TNA their proxy. All those who can recall will remember how the bakeries of the North were run by the Sinhalese and when it came to April New Year the people of the North were in want of bread because the staff had all gone back home.

Constitutional provisions for Tamils

  • Under the 1978 Constitution, Chapter IV (Language Provisions) – Article 18 (1) & 18 (2) amended by 13th amendment Sinhala and Tamil official languages of Sri Lanka. Article 19 – National Languages of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala and Tamil.
  • A person is be entitled to be educated through the medium of either of the national Languages. – Article 21(1)
  • Sinhala and Tamil shall be the languages of administration throughout Sri Lanka. – Article 22(1) as amended by the 16th Amendment
  • In any area where Sinhala is used as the language of administration a person other than an official acting in his official capacity, shall be entitled:
    • I. to receive communications from, and to communicate and transact business with, any official in his official capacity, in either Tamil or English;
    • II. if the law recognizes his right to inspect or obtain copies of extracts from any official register, record, publication or other document, to obtain a copy of, or an extract from such register, record, publication or other document, or a translation thereof, as the case may be, in either Tamil or English.
    • III. where a document is executed by any official for the purpose of being issued to him, to obtain such document or translation thereof, in either Tamil or English. – Article 22(2) (a) – (c) as amended by the 16th Amendment
  • In any area where Tamil is used as the language of administration, a person other than an official acting in his official capacity, shall be entitled to exercise the rights, and to obtain the services, referred to in above in Sinhala or English. – Article 22(3) as amended by the 16th Amendment
  • All laws and subordinate legislation shall be enacted or made and published in Sinhala and Tamil, together with a translation thereof in English. – Article 23(1) as amended by the 16th Amendment
  • Sinhala and Tamil shall be the language of the Courts throughout Sri Lanka. – Article 24(1) as amended by the 16th Amendment
  • What do Tamils enjoy in par with Sinhalese and Muslims?
  • Sri Lanka’s national flag denotes the 2 ethnic minorities – Orange depicted for Tamils & Green depicted for Muslims.
  • All public documents are in Sinhalese & Tamil (marriage certificate, death certificate, immigration forms etc)
  • Sri Lankan currency & notes are in Sinhalese & Tamil
  • All public events are presented in Sinhalese, Tamil & English
  • Tamils have ownership rights to property, land, business ventures – Tamils & Muslims together out number the Sinhalese in Colombo. But Sinhalese are denied purchase of property in the North.

So now the readers must ask themselves – what do the Tamils really suffer from? What are their real grievances?

Moreover the false claim of a territory for Tamils only comes in the backdrop of LTTE killing its own people. It is on this ground that it lost its ‘freedom fighter’ status. Scores of Tamil police officers were killed on duty, the entire moderate Tamil politicians were wiped out leaving a handful of puppets that make up the TNA. LTTE has killed over 200 Tamil public servants.

We have been misguided by the notion of grievance over aspirations. We all suffer aspirations – there are many things we want to become but we cannot. Only one person can become the President of Sri Lanka but all of us may aspire for that role – it cannot be categorized as a grievance. Lakshman Kadiragamar came close to becoming the country’s first Tamil Prime Minister – but that opportunity was lost because the LTTE decided to bump him off and Sri Lanka lost a bold and patriotic crusader, smarter and intelligent and with pluck nowhere near to the incumbent in his same role.

Loose words abound – former Indian envoy speaks of ‘self-esteem’ then there are other fanciful names thrown in like ‘self-respect’ ‘dignity’ which all lead back to ask the simple question what is it that Tamils do not enjoy that Sinhalese or Muslims ONLY enjoy which is the only way the Tamils can claim they have no self-esteem, dignity or self-respect?

Moreover with the divisions of caste dividing Tamils apart in every form of living in simple actions as to deny drinking from the same cup because of one’s caste is it not this self-esteem and dignity that should be the cause for concern not a piece of land that has no practical relevance to ordinary people carrying on with their lives?

The facts speak for themselves. At a time when low caste Tamils were denied education SWRD Bandaranaike a Sinhalese introduced the Social Disabilities Prevention Act 21 in 1957. This results in high caste Tamil politicians agitating against low caste Tamil children going to school so much so that these children ended up sitting on the floor to study and the Tamil politicians even wrote to UK asking them to legitimize caste system and objected to low castes obtaining education. It was this same issue that became a hot topic during the standardization for universities because the high caste Tamils did not want low caste Tamils to gain education.

The country is not ready to seek a political solution to satisfy a handful’s aspirations.

No Government should entertain aspirations as a basis for political bargaining.

Our leaders have been too weak to demand answers and put questions when allegations are being made.

Top priority must be given to the need to first demand to know what these grievances of Tamils are that requires political solutions that demand a separately carved out territory to be ruled by Tamils? What a laugh it is to demand a separate Tamil only territory while the rest of the Tamils live amongst the Sinhalese and we just have to wonder why Governmental representatives have failed to place this simple question before all those making representations for Tamil grievances.

Simply following the same mistake the previous Governments did by not putting this all important question – the single question that would silence all Tamil politicians is likely to make the country’s leaders commit the country towards greater divisions than we can handle.