Rising separatism, racism

Ceylon Today Editorial

The Constitution says that no person (citizen of Sri Lanka in this instance) shall, directly or indirectly, in or outside Sri Lanka, support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment of a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka.

It further says that anyone who’s guilty of contravening such provisions has committed an offence.

Needless to say, there appears to be a lucuna vis-à-vis treating separatism as an offence in the Constitution. Whereas, Article 157A of the Constitution eschews separatism and Article 157A (1) affirms of such, however, in the case of Article 157A (7), it does not expressly spell out the requirement of a provincial councillor or a servant of a provincial council or member of, or person in the service of such, of taking an oath of affirmation of upholding the Constitution.

Nevertheless, the Constitution clearly says that every member of, or person in the service of Parliament or local authority, development council, pradeshiya mandalaya, gramodaya mandalaya or public corporation and every Attorney-at-Law shall swear to uphold the Constitution.

It, however, excludes Provincial Councils (PCs) by word in this oath taking exercise. This may be because the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which established PCs was passed in Parliament in October 1987, whereas the Act pertaining to the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution which included these anti-separatist clauses was passed much earlier, i.e. four years before, in 1983, long before the establishment of the PCs.

Nonetheless, successive legislators and the Attorney General’s Office, in the intervening 30 years to the present, have, however, appeared to have had overlooked addressing this seeming lacuna in the law, by not including members of PCs by word, also having to swear allegiance to the Constitution.

Howbeit, despite this apparent shortcoming in the law, the Constitution is quite clear, that every citizen (and that also includes provincial councillors) should eschew separatism and if he/she doesn’t, that person has violated the provisions of the Constitution and hence is guilty of having had committed an offence.

It is in this backdrop that one has to look at ‘Eluha’ Tamil or ‘Arise Tamil’ campaign carried out by Northern Province (NP) Chief Minister (CM) C.V. Wigneswaran recently (See Ceylon Today’s issue of 11 February 2017).

Among Wigneswaran’s/Tamil People’s Council’s (TPC’s)-which he leads, proposals was: ‘…the need of preventing the Indian fishermen and the Southern fishermen of Sri Lanka coming into the Northern waters…’

While no one is contesting the fact that Indian fishers should not be allowed to fish in the northern waters, or for that matter on any of the island’s coastal or territorial waters, what is contentious is the CM’s/TPC’s demand to stop southern fishers from fishing in the northern waters.

While the CM/TPC doesn’t appear to mind ‘eastern fishers’ (those living in the country’s Eastern Province (EP) fishing in the northern waters, they, however have an axe to grind against southern fishers for fishing in northern waters.

Southern fishers are generally identified as Sinhala fishermen, while the EP is generally considered by the likes of Wigneswaran and presumably the TPC which he heads, as being an integral part of the Tamil speaking people, together with, ipso facto, the NP.

It was this theory of the ‘traditional homeland of the Tamils,’ that led to Sri Lanka suffering from a 26-year old bloody terrorist war which ended only eight years ago on 18 May, 2009.

But, nowhere in the Constitution does it exclude anyone of the country’s citizenry from fishing anywhere on the island’s territorial waters, except, perhaps, on those coastal waters, for the purposes of national security, being identified as ‘no go’ zone(s) for fishers, such as those close to Naval bases.

Fishing is however not on the PC list of the Constitution, and, for that matter, falls under the ‘Concurrent List’, meaning that in this instance, fisheries is jointly owned by the Central Government (Colombo) as well as by the PCs.

Therefore, fishing is not the sole prerogative of either the PCs or the State, but, instead, is jointly owned by both. Therefore, it’s not right for either Wigneswaran or for the TPC to call for a ban of southern fishers (i.e. fishers emanating from the majority Sinhala populated provinces of the island) from fishing on northern waters.

Freedom of speech is enshrined in the Constitution, but not so separatism. However, when a politico and a ‘party’ which he leads, advocate the banning of a group of fishers belonging to, or coming from an area where one particular race predominates its population, from fishing on the waters, purportedly belonging to another geographic area dominated by another race, but belonging to the same country, then such a clarion call smacks clear of being a cry for secessionism, in contravention of the Constitution.