Territorial Identity of Tamil Eelam:Tamil  & Sinhalese Perspectives (2022)


Territorial Identity of Tamil Eelam:
Tamil & Sinhalese Perspectives

S. Nagarajan,
Professor & Head, Department of Tamil Studies, Tamil University, India
Journal of Eelam Studies, Spring 1988

[see also
Territorial Identity of Tamil Eelam:Tamil & Sinhalese Perspectives (1)The Material Basis for Separatism: The Tamil Eelam Movement in Sri Lanka- Amita Shastri, 1990;
Territorial Identity of Tamil Eelam:Tamil & Sinhalese Perspectives (2)- C.Manogaran, 1997;
Territorial Identity of Tamil Eelam:Tamil & Sinhalese Perspectives (3)"Without a homeland we could not havebecome a people and without a homeland we shall cease to be a people"- Nadesan Satyendra, August 1985 and
Territorial Identity of Tamil Eelam:Tamil & Sinhalese Perspectives (4)SinhalaColonisation of Tamil Homeland]

Change, not status quo is the meaning of History. Changinginternal or external balance of power might add or reduce orrestructure the territories of a State. Crisis management throughaccommodative spirit of give and take might help a state to carry ontogether. Under such circumstances a liberal federal set up couldemerge in a plural society. But if willingness to live together andmutual love and trust is lost then there is a likelihood of amultinational state fragmenting. Under such circumstances newnations like Pakistan or Bangladesh will emerge. The concept ofterritorial identity of Tamil Eelam reflects the changing mood ofthe multinational Sri Lankan State. Political and military realitiesalone can give life and substance to such a new Sri Lankan concept.

Origin of the Concept of Tamil Eelam

Tamil Eelam as a cultural concept existed from the beginnings ofSri Lankan history. It appears to have existed as a politicalconcept, especially during the time of the Kingdom of Jaffna, fromthe 13th century or probably even much earlier. However, in thecontext of the modern philosophy of nationalism it can be said thatas a concept of nationalism it came into being only during thepost-independence period in the twentieth century.

Suntharalingam could be described as the originator of theconcept of Tamil Eelam nationalism. He spoke about Tamil Eelamnation for the first time in 1958 in the House of Representatives ofCeylon. He said then on 14-8-1958;

"We have made up our minds, come what may, that we shallconstitute a separate state of Eelam" 1

He established Eelam Tamil Unity Front' in 1959 and published aleaflet known as Eelam Tamils Freedom Struggle' (1959) and a book"Eylom: Beginnings of Freedom Struggle" (1967). But, it appears, hedid not with clarity define the territorial personality of Tamil Eelam 2.

In 1970s the concept of Tamil Eelam nationalismbegan to take concrete shape. But only in 1976 after the passingofVaddukoddai Resolution did the concept of its territorialidentity begin to take shape.

Regarding the concept of the territorial limits of Tamil Homelandthree viewpoints have emerged among the Tamils. Tamil speakingpersons live in the whole of Sri Lanka. Tamil speaking refers to SriLankan Tamils, Muslims and Indian Tamils.

Sri Lankan Tamils mainly live in the North and East of Sri Lanka.Tamils also live outside the Northern and Eastern provinces. IndianTamils live mainly in the plantation districts of Nuwara Eliya andBadulla. Tamils also live in the Districts of Colombo, KandyPuttalam and Gampaha. In 1981 two hundred and ten thousand Tamilswere living in Colombo.

Sri Lankan Tamils have been living in Sri Lanka since the ancientperiod, but theIndianTamils went to Sri Lanka's hilly region as indentured labourersonly from the 19th century. Sri Lankan Tamils are predominantlyHindus, but there are also Christians and a sizeable number ofMuslims.Sri Lankan TamilMuslim population is much more in the East of Sri Lanka than inthe North. These Tamil Muslims' mother tongue is Tamil.

Majority's view point:North and East Tamil Homeland

Majority of the Sri Lankan Tamils as represented by Tamil UnitedLiberation Front (TULF) and LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)favour the inclusion of the whole of North and East of Sri Lanka.

Since 1976 from passing ofVaddukkodai Resolution they have been demanding theseterritories as integral part of Tamil Eelam4.

The reasons given by them for demanding North and East as part ofTamil Homeland are many. The most important are

(1) Geographical contiguity of North and East and henceclearly identifiable as an indivisible single region
(2) traditionally and historically this Homeland belongs to theTamil speaking people in the country.

Historical perspectives : Two view points

History is also a handmaid of politics. Hence omissions,exaggerations and distortions will be there in politicisedhistorical writings. Such interpretations become possible all themore if the evidences about the past are dark and dim.

The Sinhalese view point is that Northern and Eastern provincesare not alien territories as far as the Sinhalese are concerned.There is ample historical evidence to show that these areas were anintegral part of Sinhala Kingdom.5 In theiropinion any of the Standard works on Sri Lankan history refers to orlists a long line of Kings of Sri Lanka (that is of the wholeisland) going back to 543 B.C. Even non-Sinhalese historians likeH.W Codrington 6, Burgher author L.B. Blaze7and the 'The Standard Concise History of Ceylon" published by theUniversity of Ceylon Press Board 1961, give a similar list of Kingsgoing back to antiquity 8.

The Mahawamsa is replete with references to the unity of SriLanka and overlordship of numerous kings over the entire island.Their seat of Government for sixteen centuries from the fifthcentury B.C. to the eleventh century A.D. was Anuradhapura. Onecannot ignore the evidence from rock inscriptions in all parts ofthe island including the northern and eastern parts. e.g.Tiruketisvaram Pillar inscription of Sena 11 (835-837), the Sinhalainscription of Dappula IV (10th Century) at Kandarodai and Nainativuinscription of Parakarama Bahu I (12th Century) 9.

Further the existence of a large number of Buddhist vihares anddagobas in Jaffna and in the adjacent islands as referred to byMudaliyar Rasanayagam10, indicates that they wereconstructed by the Buddhist Kings of Sri Lanka who were well knownfor constructing these vihares and dagobas11.

Tamil's Reply

Throughout the centuries from the dawn of history the Sinhaleseand Tamil nations have divided between them the possession ofCeylon, the Sinhalese inhabiting the interior of the country in itsSouthern and Western parts and the Tamils possessing Northern andEastern parts.12

The ancient geography of the sub-continent also proves that SriLanka was the traditional homeland of the Tamils. Sri Lanka was thena part of Kumari Kandam and its land boundary was a continuation ofRamanathapuram and Tirunelveli Districts of the present day TamilNadu. Later due to geological changes Sri Lanka became an island andwas renamed as `Eela Nadu'. The works of Russian and Greekhistorians as well as the Ceylonese Buddhist epic Mahavamsa,Sulavamsa, support this view point. For example Greek and Romanhistorians described Sri Lanka as `Tamaraparani Nadu'. Tamaraparaniis a river existing in the present day Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu, whichit is believed during the ancient period was running through SriLanka before mixing with the sea. Sinhalese historian Paranavitanaalso refers to some of these facts 13.

Doctor Paul Peries, a Sinhalese historian refers to the existenceof four Tamil Siva temples at Koneswaram in the east, Nakhleswaranin the North, Tiruketeeswaram in the West and Munneswaram in theNorth-West about three thousand years ago in Sri Lanka14.

Regarding the ancient Tamil rulers the following facts could becited. Senan, a Tamil was ruling in Sri Lanka around 206 B.C.Mahavamsa talks about the Sinhalese King Duttakaimanu's victory overthe Tamil ruler named Elala Singan in the 2nd century. It saysEelala Singan was a just ruler. He ruled for 56 years. Thus there isSinhalese proof that the Tamils were ruling in Sri Lanka more thantwo thousand years ago 15.

Accoding to the Sinhalese work `Rajaveli' the first Chola King toinvade Sri Lanka was the early Chola ruler Karikalan in the 2ndcentury A.D. Between the sixth and eleventh century A.D. there wasconstant war between the Tamil Kings of Tamil Nadu and the Sinhaleseand a majority of the battles were won by the Tamils. Sri Lanka cameunder the later Chola rule between 915 A.D. and 1070 A.D. Butaccording to the Sinhalese historians it was under complete Choladomination for over 86 years. The Chola rulers not only built Hindutemples but also Buddhist vihares in Sri Lanka 16.

Jaffna Kingdom: Sinhalese view point

At the peak of their power the kings of Sri Lanka ruled not onlyover the entirety of the island but extended their power as far asSouth India and for a brief period even to Burma. Parakrama Bahu Ifor example sent punitive expeditions to Burma and landed an army inSouth India. Among other Kings who sent expeditions abroad were SenaII (866-901) who captured Madura and Gajabahu (113-135) who invadedthe Chola Kingdom in South India and brought back 12,000 prisoners.Kings as powerful as these are scarcely likely to have tolerated anindependent Kingdom of Jaffna within Sri Lanka itself.17

If there was an independent Jaffna Kingdom, it existed for only abrief interlude in our history of twenty-five centuries-from thethirteenth century to 1619 when its weak organisation collapsedbefore the Portuguese. However, even during that period, thisKingdom often paid tribute to the Vijayanagar empire in South India18 and the Sinhalese Kingdom in the South 19. According to the Dutch Historian Baldaeus, the King of Kandy included the description "King ofJaffna- among his many royal titles.Fr. Fernando de Queyroz , a contemporary records that when thePortuguese arrived there were 15 "Kinglets" subject to the King ofKotte among whom was the "Kinglet" of Jaffna Patao 20

Among the "Kinglets" mentioned byQueyroz as being subject to the king of Kotte were the"Kinglets" of the Bay of Trincomalee and Batticaloa. Around 1660,when Robert Knox the Englishman landed near Trincomalee he wascaptured by the officers of the king of Kandy and not by the Tamils.21

When Sri Lankan Muslims were massacred by the Portuguese in 1626the survivors appealed for asylum to the king of Kandy, who settledthem in the Eastern province. He could not obviously have done thisif he had no power over that area. Some 4000 were settled inBatticaloa alone. 22

Jaffna Kingdom: Tamil viewpoint

In the thirteenth century we see the emergence of the kingdom ofJaffna. Magha the Kalinga invader was probably the founder of thekingdom and the Javaka invaders succeeded him. At the end of thethirteenth century the Pandya feudatories, Aryachakravarttis, gainedcontrol of the kingdom and began a career of conquest along theWestern Coast of the island. Under them the Kingdom with its capitalat a place called Cinkainakar (Skt. Simhanagara) emerged as the mostpowerful one in the fourteenth century. Foreign trade was the basisof its power and we find that merchant vessels from this kingdomplayed an important part in the Indian ocean trade. TheAryachakravarttis controlled the Chank and Pearl fisheries off theWestern Coast and enjoyed a share of the island's cinnamon trade.Under them there must have been a significant growth of Muslimsettlements on the Western Coast 23.

The Kingdom had closer political, economic and cultural ties withSouth India than with the Southern part of Sri Lanka. At this timethere were minor chieftains called the Vanniyars controlling thesouthern parts of the present Jaffna district, and most of theMannar, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee Districts. Thesechieftains usually paid tribute to the Jaffna rulers and theirterritories served as an effective buffer between the Tamil kingdomin the north and the Sinhala Kingdom in the South. Only on oneoccasion did the armies of the South succeed in penetrating throughthis buffer and holding the Kingdom briefly on behalf of theSouthern ruler. That was in the middle of the fifteenth century whenSapumal Kumaraya (Senpaka Perumal), the Prince of Kerala originbrought up by Parakrama Bahu VI in the court at JayavardhanapuraKotte, led an invasion to Jaffna and occupied the Kingdom forseventeen years. He later returned to Kotte on the death ofParakramabahu to ascend the throne there and Jaffna again came under the rule of the Tamil dynasty24.

With the Portugese conquest of Jaffna and the consequentdisruption of trade with South India, the region was gradually cutoff from the mainstream of development in Tamilnadu. This helped theregion to consolidate the developments of the period of theAryachakravattis and to strengthen its separate identity. From nowon, its fortunes were linked with those of Southern Sri Lanka andsoon it was drawn into the mainstream of Sri Lanka politics25.

At the time when the Portuguese conquered Jaffna in the east atPazhakamal and Panamai the Tamil Vannians were ruling and theseareas remained as self-governing areas till 1803. Tamil Kings hadpassed decrees affixing their signature in Tamil. For example SriVikrama Rajasingam alias Kannuswamy, the ruler of Kandy. signed inhis surrender document to the English in Tamil, which is even todaypreserved in England 26.

As late as 1833 the Tamils and Sinhalese had well demarcatedareas and the maps too show these. The map drawn by the British in1801 clearly proves that Tamil Eelam was a separate sovereign state.Even though in 1815 the English captured Sri Lanka, the Tamil andthe Sinhala areas were separately administered and only in 1833 boththese parts were united 27.

Therefore the "Sinhalese did not obtain a mandate from the Tamilpeople either by consent, conquest or legal continuity to rule us"(Tamile Eelam). Hence the Tamils have a right to claim a separatestate 28.

Concept of a Single Tamil Homeland: Geographical Contiguity

TULF, LTTE, PLOTE, in fact more than a majority of the Tamilsview that North and East together constitute a single TamilHomeland. However because of the presence of the Sinhalesepopulation and Muslim population in the East as well as the presenceof the Indian Tamils in the hill country, the Sri Lankan Government,a section of the Tamil Muslims population and a section of the Tamilmilitants do not agree with this view point of TULF and LTTE.

ENLF: We want Bigger Tamil Eelam - ENLF (Eelam NationalLiberation Front), EROS (Eelam Research Organistation) and EPRLF(Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Front) appear to favour theestablishment of a bigger Tamil Eelam, which would include also thehill country areas where the Indian Tamils, who migrated to SriLanka in the 19th and 20th centuries live' ENLF says "don'tundermine the natural territorial identity of the Tamil people byexcluding the plantation Tamils and the areas inhabited anddeveloped by them for generations29.

Disagreeing with this claim PLOTE says the upcountry areas arenot part of the Tamil Homeland because they were the traditionallands of the Sinhalese people. So we should not drag the plantationTamils, who are waging a class struggle, into our national struggle30.

Sinhalese View point

Sri Lanka is the traditional Homeland of all Sri Lankans. Herpopulation consists of Malays, Moors, Burghers, Sinhalese, Tamilsand Indian Tamils' It is true that some groups of the populationhave lived for long periods in certain areas. The Kandyans havealways lived in Kandyan provinces and have never been militarilydefeated even by the British' This does not mean in modern Sri Lankathat such groupings can claim exclusive or special rights to theirparts of the country. There would be chaos if they did. Besides, itis against all known concepts of nationhood 31

Further the expression "Tamil speaking" refers not to one ethnicgroup but to three different ethnic groups namely the Sri LankanTamils. the Muslims and Indian Tamils 32.

Therefore North and East are not only the traditional homeland ofthe Tamils but also constitute a single indivisible Tamil Homeland.Sinhalese can come into the North and the East while not one Muslimor Tamil can hold land in any land settlement scheme outside theNorth and East. It is for this reason that the TULF has claimedthat the totality of the entitlement of the land of the Tamils andMuslims including plantation workers be reserved for them in theNorthern and Eastern provinces 41.

Populationdo not support: Sri Lankan Government

The 1977 election voting pattern indicates that only 48% ofvoters in the Northern and Eastern provinces i.e not more than onemillion Tamilians support the demand of a separate state. In theDistricts of Mannar and Mullaitivu almost half of the Tamilpopulation have opted against a separate state42.

In the Eastern Sector of Tamil Eelam the idea of a separate stateappears to have been viewed with less favour. But of the total 41 %Tamil population of this province only 26% voted for TULF. InBatticaloa 68% of the population and in the Amparai 73% of thepopulation have voted against TULF and its proposal for a separatestate 43.

Population supports our demand : TULF's Reply

Out of the 19 electorates in the Northern and Eastern provincesTamil people elected TULF in 18 electorates with a preponderantmajority44.

It is not correct to claim that they (Jeyawardene) won 10 out of12 seats in the Eastern province. There are only five seats whichcan be correctly described as Tamil seats. Of these in four places -Batticaloa, Paddiruppu, Trincomalee and Pottuvil TULF won. Afterwinning on the TULF ticket, Mr. Kanagaratnam crossed over to the UNPbefore the 1978 constitution and the constitution which had aprovision against defection had to he amended to enable Mr.Rajadurai, who won on a TULF ticket, to cross over and becomeMinister. If votes are taken into account, the votes in favour ofEelam in the entirety of the Northern and Eastern provinces were445,339, while the votes against were 389,190. Thus 53.5% percent ofthe total votes polled was in favour of Eelam. The votes castagainst TULF also consisted of nearly 75,000 Sinhalese who weresettled in the North and East after independence. If these are nottaken into account then 60% of Tamil speaking voters of North andEast opted for Eelam. The TULF won absolute majorities in the six ofthe seven districts of the North and East 45.

Referendum of 1982:

The TULF campaigned against the extension of the life ofParliament. In all districts in the North and East except Amparai,the Government lost and TULF won. These figures speak for themselvesand show clearly the will of the people 46.

Can We divide East? New Formula of the Sri Lankan Government

Sri Lankan Government has rejected the concept of a sovereign,independent separate Tamil Homeland. It also rejects the notion of asingle Tamil Homeland of the whole of North and East within theUnion of Sri Lanka. In its view three ethnic groups live in Northand East (1) Tamils (2) Sinhalese (3) Muslims. On the basis of thepresence of these three groups it offers formulas for dividing theEast to solve the territorial identity problem of Tamil Eelam.

Between September 1986 and January 1987 the Sri Lankan Governmentcame out with three different formulas relating to the territorialidentity of Tamil Eelam. All these formulas attempt to divide theEast and to maintain the separate identity of the North and Eastwithout offering to unite them into a single homeland. These threeformulas were

(a) to create a separate Tamil Batticaloa province in theEast along with a separate Sinhalese Trincomalee and MuslimAmparai47
(b) to create a Tamil majorityprovince in the East without including the Muslims and theSinhalese occupied territories in the East 48
(c) to create a Tamil majority province in the East which wouldinclude all the Muslims occupied territories minus Ampara(December 19th 1986 proposal). Regarding this third Formulaof 19th December it was stated that half of the Sinhalapopulation in the East is concentrated in the Amparai District.If this proposal is implemented then the demographic pattern ofthe East will change from the figure 42% Tamils 33% Muslims and25% Sinhalese to 48% Tamils, 37% Muslims and 14% Sinhalese49.

Tamils' Reaction

The most noteworthy change among the Tamils is that they are notemphasising the Eelam demand. In his letter dated November 3, 1983to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, LTTE leader Prabhakaran did notemphasise the Eelam demand 50. However themajority of the Tamils including LTTE emphasise that a meaningfulpolitical solution would have to be based on the recognition of atraditionally constituted and indivisible homeland comprising of theNorth and East 51. They reject the idea of aseparate Muslim province which is a deliberate device "to divide ourcommunity who have lived together in harmony. "Can we imagine TamilNadu being divided into a Muslim Tamil Nadu and Hindu and ChristianTamil Nadu" 52.

They reject the creation of a separate Sinhala Trincomaleeprovince. In their view the Sinhalese are not in an absolutemajority in this district. Contiguous constituencies in theTrincomalee District have consistently returned Tamilrepresentatives in successive Parliamentary elections. There arealso strong sentimental reasons for Tamils insisting on retaining apart of Trincomalee District because according to Ramayana it was inthis area that Hanuman had landed and it came to be known as TrikulaSikavam. Further the famous Tamil temple located in Trincomalee isof great sentimental importance to the Sri Lankan Tamils. who have astrong religious attachment to this shrine 53

One of the suggestions was that the Tamil majority coastal beltof Trincomalee District could -be tagged on to the Northern provinceso that the rest of this District could be merged into one of theadjoining Sinhala provinces. But Jayewardene opposed this becauseacceptance of this demand would automatically lead to a claim for acorridor connecting the Northern Province with the new Batticaloaprovince 54.

Muslim Reaction

The Muslims are not united regarding this issue. Some want unitywith the Tamils of the North and East and some oppose such asolidarity. A section of the Muslims demand a separate Muslimprovince in the East. They reject the creation of 3 councils withAmparai for Muslims. Because the proposed scheme would only-helpcreate two councils for the Sinhalese in Amparai. where the Muslimswho were predominant have been reduced since 1981 to a minority . 55

They also oppose the the merger of the East with North as itwould reduce percentage of the Muslims from 32% in the Easternprovince to 18% in a combined Northern and Eastern province.56They also oppose the formation of Tamil Speaking councils includingMuslim areas in the Northern and Eastern provinces.57

They demand that the proposed Muslim Council should beconstituted with Kalmunai, Sammanthurai, Pothuvil in AmparaiDistrict as the base and Kattankudi, Eravur, Valaichenai.Ottainavadi in Batticaloa District and Kinniya, Muttur andThampalagamam in Trincomalee Districts as administrative unitslinked to the base. Although they are not contiguous they can beadministered on the Pondichery Model in India. The land area i.e onethird of the land of the East, do not coincide with the presentethnic concentration and the boundaries of the units will have to beredrawn.

However, it appears a majority of the Muslims do not support thisseparatist viewpoint. They believe this separatist proposal hasemerged from the Colombo Muslim leadership who have no base in theEast and who do not know what is happening here In their view Tamilswhether Hindu or Muslim or Christian have same language, commonculture and could live together. Barring some incidents the twocommunities had always lived in harmony.

Though the Muslims are concentrated in some places, their landsare in the midst of Tamil areas and thus indivisible. Territory wisethe Tamils and Muslims are linked and interdependent. Also they arenot against the creation of a Tamil majority province in the Eastcutting out the Sinhalese areas of Amparai District 59.


Thus this ethnic crisis is transforming itself into an exercisein the history, geography, cartography and demography of the easternprovince indicating that Sri Lanka is now at the crossroads.Destabilisation is eating the vitals of Sri Lanka. Politico militarysolutions would depend on the bargaining parties capacities tocontrol Tamil Eelam. Any solution can be long lasting only if it canbe backed by people power. It must be admitted that the Sinhalesehave earned the deep suspicion of the Tamils, especially after thegenocide of the Tamil civilian population by Jayewardene'sGovernment. Frankly speaking, it may take many more decades for theSinhalese to win back the warm friendship of the Tamils on thepolitical plane within the united Sri Lanka. Political unity withoutemotional unity is an empty shibboleth, but such a situation wouldbe capitalised by the politics of destabilisation. And all thesepolitico-military realities alone could determine firmly theterritorial identity of Tamil Eelam.

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