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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Gal Oya massacre ... the continuing woes of tamils in Sri Lanka

Tamilnadu is concerned for the welfare of tamils in Sri Lanka.  Recently, TN Chief Minister Ms.J Jayalalithaa has strongly urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to instruct officials to send back two Sri Lankan defence officers undergoing training in Tamil Nadu.  The CM is right in urging the PM to take a policy decision that Lankan armed personnel will not be trained in India till a satisfactory resolution of human rights violations against the Tamils in Sri Lanka is arrived at, and illegal attacks by the Sri Lankan Navy on Indian fishermen stop.

There are many political parties which try to strengthen their base on srilankan sentiment………not all know the deep history of our neighbouring country…. Do you know Gal Oya, a river in Eastern Sri Lanka…….. and its connection to the suffering of tamils in Lanka ??

With so much of political tension in Tamilnadu, it had its impact on IPL too. The political fallout of the issue led to the DMK, a Tamil Nadu-based party, pulling its ministers out of the federal coalition government in New Delhi and threatening its future.  There were no Lankan players in matches at Chennai, though Pak Umpires, Commentators and Coaches were there in all parts of IPL World…  getting back,  Sri Lankan Tamils issue  rages in many political platforms but not many could trace its origins and may not know anything about the Donoughmore Commission which suggested creation of Provincial councils in 1928 much before the Nation became independent.   In 1940 the Executive Committee of Local Administration chaired by  S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike considered these proposals which were approved by legislature.  The stamp of approval by the Tamil parties, then who were only seeking federalism, came when in July 1957 S.V.J.Selvanayagam –Bandaranaike pact was signed.  It advocated the creation of a series of regional councils in Sri Lanka as a means to giving a certain level of autonomy to the Tamil people of the country, and was intended to solve the communal disagreements that were occurring in the country at the time. 

Gal Oya, is the river rising in  the hill country east of Badulla and flows north and east past Inginiyagala to the Indian Ocean 10 miles (16 km) south of Lalmunai. The Gal Oya river is the main source feeding the Gal Oya scheme, a government program that dammed this and smaller rivers to create Senanayake Samudra—the largest tank (reservoir) in Sri Lanka, at Bintenne. The project opened up 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares) of land to the cultivation of paddy, sugarcane, chilies, potatoes, and other crops. The Gal Oya National Park (founded 1954) has an area of 198 square miles (512 square km) and a wide variety of wildlife, including bear, elephant, and leopard.

Sadly, none of these would inspire the Tamils but Gal Oya would only bring melancholic memories to the Tamils for it is associated with the massacre  of tamils in Ceylon. The Gal Oya riots or Gal Oya massacre were the first ethnic riots that targeted the minority Sri Lankan Tamils in post independent Sri Lanka…….the riots occurred in June 1956. Local majority Sinhalese colonists and employees of the Gal Oya Development Board commandeered government vehicles, dynamite and weapons and massacred minority Tamils. It is estimated that over 150 people lost their lives due in the violence.

During the British colonial period, when Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon, most civil service jobs (roughly 60%) were held by minority Sri Lankan Tamils who comprised approximately 15% of the population. This in some ways was attributable to their penchant for westernized education.  The overrepresentation of Tamils was used by populist Sinhalese politicians to come to political power by promising to elevate the Sinhalese people. The pro-Sinhalese nationalist Sri Lanka Freedom Party came to power in 1956 promising to make Sinhala, the language of the majority Sinhalese people the sole official language. The so called Sinhala only policy was opposed by the Sri Lankan Tamil, Federal party which conducted a nonviolent sit-in protest on June 5, 1956 in front of the parliament in Colombo, the capital city. About 200 Tamil leaders and politicians took part in this protest. But the protestors were attacked by a Sinhalese mob that was led a junior government minister.  The same mob, after listening to a speech by populist Sinhalese politicians urging them to boycott Tamil business, went on a looting spree in the city.

Gal Oya settlement scheme was begun in 1949 to settle landless peasants in formerly jungle land. The riots in this settlement area took place 57 years ago, on this day… in the evening of June 11, 1956  whence properties owned by Tamils were looted and burned down. The woes of tamils in the island Nation have continued, have been exploited by many political parties but their welfare has not been taken care of though….. sad is their plight.. !!

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

11th June 2013.

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