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Hidden agenda for demographic change in Trinco

Apart from the distorted demographic transformation through colonisation, there was another reason for Trincomalee changing. It was of strategic importance due to its natural harbour and the tank farm. It was also in the north east and the federal party spoke of Trincomalee as the capital of a Tamil state. This made Trincomalee important in a politico-military sense

The ‘pancha maha bala vegaya’ or five great forces that brought S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to power in 1956 comprised the Buddhist priests, ayurveda physicians, teachers, agriculturists and workers.
There is a ‘nava pancha bala vegaya’ at work now that seeks to ‘Sinhalaise’ Trincomalee District in particular and the Eastern Province in general. The new five forces striving to alter eastern demography consists of sections of the Buddhist clergy, security forces, bureaucrats, politicians and business persons.
The 2001 National Census was not conducted in seven of the eight districts in the north and east. As such, exact population figures are not available. In 2006 an estimate was tabulated from figures provided by the respective district kachcheris. According to these figures, the Eastern Province population was 1,519,771. Of this Tamils were 674,193; Muslims 573,258; Sinhalese 265,469; and others 6,851.
Trincomalee District had 412,547 people. Of these 168,696 were Muslims; 143,282 Tamils; 100,454 Sinhalese; and 115 others. Batticaloa District had 565,780 people. Of these 415,217 were Tamils; 145,349 Muslims; 1,246 Sinhalese; and 3,968 others.
Amparai District had 629,644 people; of these 259,798 were Muslims; 251,166 were Sinhalese; 115,912 were Tamils; and 2,768 others.
These figures have changed now as more than 20,000 Tamils have left the district in the past year.
Apparently the objective of this hidden agenda for demographic change is to make Sinhala-speaking people the single largest ethnic group in the Eastern Province. According to plans, the Sinhalese population will increase over the years in Trincomalee and Ampara, to become the dominant entity in those districts. It would substantially increase in Batticaloa.
Pressure would be exerted on Tamils in Trincomalee to move out gradually. The economy of Tamils and Muslims would diminish through calculated manoeuvres, while state input would help develop the economy of Sinhala people in the province.
Ethnic enclaves
At the outset let me state very clearly that all citizens in this country have the freedom to reside in any place they wish to live. The state is duty-bound to protect them. This country belongs to all of her people and deliberately fostering ethnic enclaves is not desirable.
Philosophically, I would say that land does not belong to people but people to the land. It is also a fact of life that certain ethnic groups have lived for generations in particular regions and regard them as their areas of historic habitation. Yet this does not give them an exclusive right to those areas
Another reality in Sri Lanka is people of all ethnicities living in all parts of the country. This population distribution has been uneven and does not reflect the overall population ratio. Thus, the Tamils dominate the Northern Province and are the largest group in the east.
Until the escalation of the war, nearly two-thirds of Sri Lankan Tamils lived in these two provinces. One-third of the Muslims lived in the east. The Sinhala people are the majority community in the island and dominate seven provinces but form only a ‘minority’ in the north and east.
Tamil political discourse speaks of the north and east as the “traditional homelands of the Tamil-speaking people.” The “Tamil-speaking” concept includes the Muslims. The north and east are large, under-populated provinces with large chunks of the sea coast.
State-sponsored schemes
If one detaches from emotion and views it from a reason-based perspective, it would appear that a minority segment population of one-eighths cannot indefinitely ‘hold’ on to a region consisting of one-thirds of the total landmass and two-thirds of the coastline. This is simple arithmetic!
Therefore, there would have been internal migration from ‘Sinhala’ areas to the north east just as people of the north east migrated to the south. Colombo, being the capital, was common to all people and not the exclusive preserve of any single community. It is a common phenomenon to see major cities having a multi-ethnic population. This is the case in Colombo too.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, this issue became politicised. The state became majoritarian friendly. State-sponsored schemes were set up to populate areas in the east with Sinhala persons. The demographic patterns of the province transformed drastically.
This was not a case of natural transformation but an artificially engineered one. It was a political project whereby the population in these provinces was deliberately altered with ulterior motives. The Tamils and Muslims resented this politics of colonisation.
It is against this backdrop that contemporary designs on altering demography have to be viewed. There have been several attempts in this respect during the past. Some were successful and others not. But what is being planned now is a well-coordinated long-term project to ‘Sinhalaise’ or make the Sinhalese the dominant entity in the east in general and Trincomalee District in particular.
This plan has backing right at the top and involves sections of the Buddhist clergy, security forces, bureaucrats, businesspersons and politicians.
Majority hegemony
Once again I wish to emphasise that my criticism of this plan is not based on the traditional homeland theory or due to opposition to Sinhala people relocating to Tamil areas. As someone who was born in Colombo and lived for the greater part of his life in the south and as one now living abroad, my worldview cannot be parochial.
It has been my experience and privilege to enjoy the multi-ethnic life of Colombo and Toronto. This diversity is something to celebrate and not resent. Cordial interaction of different ethnicities is a blessing in practice.
My criticism on this issue is about the state acting as the agent of the majority community alone and attempting to transform the demographic composition of areas as a politico-military project. It is seeking to impose majority hegemony and convert the non-Sinhala people of those regions into a minority.
What is worse is that this is being done after the people of the east lie bruised and battered by a cruel military campaign. The vulnerable civilian population remains utterly helpless after the shock-and-awe tactics and is unable to articulate any effective protest even as its historic habitat is usurped by the mighty state.
Liberating the east
A protracted 15-month military campaign has seen the Eastern Province coming under Colombo’s writ. From Pulmoddai to Panamai, there is no area controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) now. The Government of Sri Lanka boasts of having liberated the east.
More than 200,000 people have been displaced and much of their dwellings destroyed or damaged. Instead of prioritising their needs and concerns, the Rajapaksa regime has grandiose plans of developing the province. The President talks of a Rs. 20 billion project while his brother Basil Rajapaksa heads these efforts to make the east ‘awaken and rise.’
This writer has in earlier articles pointed out the exclusion of Tamil in policy announcements and propaganda about these eastern development projects. The province is 75% Tamil speaking but the language is pointedly omitted. This does not seem an unwitting error but a wittingly symbolic one.
The master plan devised to develop the east is actually an important component of the hidden agenda to alter demography. The emphasis on Sinhala in a predominant Tamil speaking region is not merely an exhibition of callous insensitivity but a pointer to the future where the east is to be ‘Sinhalaised.’
These plans envisage, among other things, demographic changes through tourism development and Buddhist revival in Ampara District and agro-business promotion in the Kudumbimalai/Toppigala areas coming under System B Maduru Oya scheme in Batticaloa District.
Prize target
But Trincomalee for many reasons is the prize target and receives top priority in the ‘Sinhalaisation’ project. I will therefore focus on Trincomalee alone in this article.
Facts and figures from census statistics about population growth in Trincomalee District will help illustrate how demography patterns have been unnaturally altered or distorted through state-sponsored colonisation.
In 1881 the Sinhala population of Trincomalee District was only 935 or 4.2 %; the Tamils were 14,394 or 64.8 % while Muslims were 5,746 or 25.9 %.
One hundred years later in 1981, the Sinhalese were 86,341 or 33.6 %, but the Tamils were 86,743 or 33.7%. The Muslims were 74,405 or 28.9 %.
In a century the Sinhalese had gone up from 4.2 % to 33.6 % and Muslims from 25.9 % to 28.9% but the Tamils had decreased from 64.8% to 33.7%.
Distorted transformation
In 100 years, the Tamil population increased 502 % and Muslims 1,068 % but the Sinhalese had gone up 9,134%.While the Muslim increase of double the Tamil percentage can be attributed to larger families and a greater birth rate, the astronomical increase of Sinhala percentage was primarily due to colonisation.
This distorted demographic transformation being accelerated in the post-Independence years through colonisation is further illustrated through other statistics.
From 1953 to 1981, the Sinhala population of Trincomalee town and Gravets AGA division increased 210 % but Tamils and Muslims increased only 109%; In Seruwila and Muttur AGA divisions, the Sinhala increase was 291% while the others were only 143%.
In Thambalagamam, Kinniya and Kantalai, the Sinhala increase in 28 years was 1,180% while the others increased 183%. In Kuchaveli, Gomarankadawala and Morawewa, the Sinhala increase was 580% and for the others, 190%.
Apart from the distorted demographic transformation through colonisation, there was another reason for Trincomalee changing. It was of strategic importance due to its natural harbour and the tank farm. It was also in the north east and the federal party spoke of Trincomalee as the capital of a Tamil state. This made Trincomalee important in a politico-military sense.
Later during demonstrations like ‘Pongu Thamil’ (Tamil upsurge), LTTE elements crowed about Trincomalee being Tamil Eelam’s capital.
Under these circumstances, Sinhala fears and insecurities were revived. The presence of artillery in Sampur saw Trincomalee harbour coming under LTTE threat. It became politico-militarily imperative from a Sinhala-dominated state’s perspective to undermine Tiger, and by extension Tamil, presence in the district.
Strategic equilibrium
Thus, it was inevitable that plans would be laid both to interdict northern and eastern territorial contiguity as well as ‘de-Tamilise’ Trincomalee and ‘Sinhalaise’ it.
The escalation of the ethnic conflict saw Trincomalee District suffer. Many massacres occurred and Tamil civilians were killed. Thousands fled to India and elsewhere. Sinhala civilians were militarised through the home guard scheme. The Sinhalese were chased out in large numbers during the Indian Army period.
Later there was a strategic equilibrium between the LTTE and government forces. Now that the LTTE has been driven out and the government holds the whip, attempts are on to impose a Sinhala supremacist agenda on the diminished Tamils of Trincomalee.
Rajavarothayam Sambandan, the veteran Tamil politician and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP from Trincomalee District charged in Parliament on September 5 about a conspiracy to carve out a new district comprising northern parts of Trincomalee District and southern parts of Mullaitivu District.
This was a device to break north-eastern contiguity, Sambandan stated. This was denied and Karu Jayasuriya assured Sambandan that there was no plan to create a new district. Though Sambandan helped highlight some of the sinister designs on Trincomalee, he was apparently wrong about a new district.
New district
It is true that there was an earlier plan to create a new district called Weli Oya consisting of areas ranging from Padaviya in the west, Kokkilai in the east, Thennamaravaady in the south and Nedunkerny in the north.
This was the ‘chinthana’ of people like Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, Ranjan Wijeratne and Anuruddha Ratwatte. Tamils from 28 villages were driven out in an act of ethnic cleansing by the state. The Weli Oya District would break north eastern contiguity.
But the Rajapaksa regime does not seem to entertain that idea now. One reason for this is that a bill has to be presented and a two-thirds majority obtained to create a new district.
Apart from the difficulty of getting two-thirds, such an act will be universally condemned due to its blatant Sinhala hegemonist design. This however is not the only reason why this regime has shelved the new district plan.
The earlier idea envisaged Trincomalee as a Tamil-speaking district and therefore thought of a new district as a wedge. But this regime wants to convert Trincomalee itself into a Sinhala majority district by altering demography through ‘Sinhalaisation.’ If current plans are implemented, then Trincomalee will become the Sinhala district interdicting northern and eastern contiguity. As time progresses further, ‘Sinhalaisation’ will transform the entire Eastern Province into a Sinhala majority province. There will be no need to break territorial contiguity or consider merger of provinces, then. Instead of creating a new district, the existing one will be demographically altered.
The recent pattern of certain events indicates what future lies ahead for Tamils and Muslims in the district. The Sampur region including 12 villages has been made a High Security Zone (HSZ). People are barred from resettling in their ancestral villages. Tamils and Muslims are not allowed to fish or farm in certain areas.
In Ilankaithuraimuhathuvaaram, Tamils are prevented from resettling while plans are afoot to make it the ‘sacred’ area of Lanka Patuna.
In Jabalmalai, Muslims and Tamils are barred from quarrying. Apart from unemployment, the people will now have to buy granite at exorbitant prices from Sinhala businessmen in Kantalai. Housing schemes have been set up and families of Sinhala security forces enlisted from the district have been settled in places traditionally inhabited by Tamils and Muslims like Iraalkuli and Kappalthurai. Prominent Tamils with leadership potential are being assassinated to demoralise the civilians further.
Master plans
More important, however, are master plans in the pipeline. One is the Trincomalee metro centre urban development plan. This is an integrated development plan for Trincomalee town and other outlying areas.
Trincomalee town is currently Tamil-dominated. When this plan comes into force, a substantial number of people will be evicted. Further relocation will be necessitated in the name of security by declaring a security zone around the harbour and adjacent coastal areas.
Just as Anuradhapura was declared a sacred zone and the Tamil dominated ‘old’ town gave way to the Sinhala ‘new’ town, the Tamil town of old will be replaced by the ‘new’ Sinhala Trincomalee.
The other is the comprehensive Post Resettlement Development Plan for the eastern region. Displaced Tamils are being cruelly shuttled about and resettled without any facilities or infrastructure. They are treated as statistics and not human beings.
The haste is to complete ‘resettlement’ and then move on to massive post-resettlement development projects. Apart from minting money (more than 10%) through corrupt practices, the last refuge of scoundrels – patriotism – is also there. The master plan will facilitate the ‘Sinhalaisation’ process.
Proposed projects
One of the proposed projects for Trincomalee under this plan is the special economic zone at Kappalthurai. The first phase costs Rs. 4,250 million and the second, Rs. 2,600 million. It will be completed in 2015. There will also be a small and medium industrial zone at Kappalthurai. The first phase costs Rs. 500 million and the second, Rs. 1,000 million. It will be set up in 2008.
A new administrative secretariat will be established at Mankaiootru for Rs. 300 million in 2008. A new fisheries harbour costing Rs. 1,000 million is to be constructed by 2010 at Pudavaikattu. A new town development scheme for Andankulam-China Bay is to be built by 2010 for Rs. 1,500 million.
A massive road project linking Uppuvely and Eechilampatru is to be constructed by 2010 for Rs. 10.3 billion. This proposed outer circular road will run through Sinhala areas of Seruwila division. This is an extension of a new road constructed in Trincomalee North. Two tourist resorts will be set up by 2010. They will be in Nilaweli and Verugal at a cost of Rs. 800 million and Rs. 1,750 million, respectively.
An important project in this respect is the coal fired power plant to be set up with Indian assistance. Both phases of the project are expected to cost US$ 500 million each and will be completed by 2012. Originally it was ear-marked for Kappalthurai but Colombo wanted to set it up later in Sampur. However, New Delhi has stood firm and it is likely to come up in Kappalthurai
Developing Trincomalee
The government has called for foreign assistance and private sector investment to develop Trincomalee. The project plans do not refer to ethnicity but only to people. In actual practice there will be an ethnicised approach and employment will be given mainly to Sinhalese from the district and outside.
New Sinhala settlements will come up. Already thousands of Sinhala youths from Trincomalee are being incorporated into the security forces. Housing schemes are being set up widely.
Actual settlement of Sinhalese from outside the district is yet to take place on a massive scale but preparations are on. Sections of the Buddhist clergy affiliated to a hard-line political party are now compiling lists of people from different parts of the country who are willing to settle down in Trincomalee.
It is only a matter of time before the great north-eastern trek commences. The groundwork is being laid cleverly for future ‘Sinhalaisation.’ The state machinery is being mobilised. The Road Development Authority (a central agency), which is in charge of A and B class roads under the 13th Amendment, has begun constructing an inner ring road and an outer ring road for Trincomalee. The inner ring road links Aathimottai on the Trincomalee-Nilaweli- Pulmottai Road, Kinniya on the A12 (Puttalam-Anuradhapura-Trincomalee Road) and 189 km post on A-6 (Kandy-Habarana-Trincomalee Road).
Systematic encroachment
Arrangements are being made to get Sinhalese ‘encroachers’ to move in between A-6 and A12 on this ring road. Basil Rajapaksa is personally overseeing this project.
The outer ring road planned will begin at Kuchchaveli on the Trincomalee-Nilaweli-Pulmottai Road, cross A12 near Pankulam and meet A6 between Kantalai and Tampalakamam and proceed to Ilankaiturai-Muhathuvaram and to Sampur in further phases.
Sinhalese people have already been settled near Pankulam and on the A6 between Kantalai and Tampalakamam. The Tamils who had been living there had been chased away since the early 1980s. Now, the programme is to bring in more Sinhalese and settle them between the two ring roads. Workers on new projects will be mainly Sinhalese.
The construction work is being undertaken by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA). The RDA Chief Engineer in Trincomalee works very closely with the SLA. The planning and design are done in Colombo. The Provincial Director of the RDA is based in Batticaloa. He is completely in the dark about the two ring road projects.
Minister Abdul Majeed who is from Kinniya and who belongs to the All Ceylon Muslim Congress of Rishad Badiudeen is allegedly backing these projects for reasons of his own. Funds are provided from the Nation Building Ministry under President Rajapaksa.
During the past, Sinhalese were settled through land allotments in irrigation schemes. At present the main irrigation settlement scheme envisaged is system M lands of the Yan Oya/Kallaru basin to the north of Trincomalee. Earlier in 1983 Gamini Dissanayake settled 3,364 Sinhala families on lands under System L in the Weli Oya /Manal Aaru region. Now the plan is to consolidate Yan Oya.
Lion’s share
But there are other plans too in Trincomalee to alienate land through systemic encroachment. The new roads being constructed in Trincomalee North and the extended highway to be constructed in Trincomalee south will facilitate this.
Some of the proposed development activity will certainly benefit Tamils and Muslims. But the lion’s share will be for people of the lion. Moreover, the project will ultimately lead to strengthening the Sinhala majority and disempowering the Tamil-Muslim minorities.
People will be brought in as squatters in ‘new’ territory opened up on either side of the roads. The security forces will help set up shelters, provide food and water, etc., under the pretext of providing security. After a short period of residence (not more than a year), the encroachers will make applications to legalise their ‘illegal’ ownership.
The position of land alienation and settlement is a little complicated in the north and east as the provincial council is defunct. Be it the governor or PC, administration must refer to the GA in such a situation. The GA will refer to the provincial lands commissioner. If all parties concur, legalising encroachments will be easily done. In order to facilitate this legal ‘land grab,’ the administrative machinery is being ‘Sinhalaised.’ The previous Lands Commissioner Justina Muraleetharan was removed and former Kantalai Divisional Secretary Piyasiri appointed.
After de-merging the north and east, the Eastern Province administration is being ethnically transformed. Former Trincomalee GAs Rodrigo and Nelundeniya are chief secretary and public administration secretary respectively. Former Matale GA, Udage is secretary of the provincial Public Services Commission.
There are also many ex-servicemen in key posts. The Governor is Rear Admiral Mohan Wijewickrema. The GA is Major General Ranjith de Silva. The Rehabilitation Coordinator is Major General Amaradeva. The Governor’s Secretary is Capt. Patrick Jayasinghe.
Appointing ex-servicemen to key administrative posts has been criticised by members of the administrative service. The harsh conduct of the Trincomalee GA has been deplored. But the fact remains that this combination of retired administrative and security officials is well-equipped to implement the ‘Sinhalaisation’ process in Trincomalee.
Crime against humanity
Apart from aiding land grab activities, the administrative functions of the district can be gradually ‘Sinhalaised.’ Recruitment and transfers could be ethnic-oriented. Already there are many signs of Tamils and Muslims being sidelined and Sinhalese being given pride of place in the district and provincial administration. There are also the security authorities, whose powers are considerable in administrative issues.
The stage has been set and we may be in for a fantastic show of seeing a region being demographically transformed for politico-military reasons. ‘Kizhakku’ will set while ‘Nagenahira’ will rise.
Some would call this slow ethnocide and a crime against humanity. But then the best laid plans of men and mice go awry at times. Que sera, sera!
(D.B.S. Jeyaraj can be reached at djeyaraj@federalidea.com)