Leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) R.Sampanthan has written a lengthy letter to President   Gotabaya Rajapaksa raising several questions about the               establishment of a Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province,as per proclamation published in Gazette Extraordinary Number 2178/17 of June 02 2020.

Sampanathan drew the attention of the President to historical, archaeological  and other factors about the EP saying  the Province has  been a multi - ethnic province though the majority has always been predominantly Tamil speaking.

“In its composition the Task Force is Pan Sinhala. The manner of its composition clearly indicates that it is meant to serve the interests of one community – the Sinhalese, and one religion – Buddhism who it must be admitted are the majority in the country. It would be pertinent to raise the question, why other provinces have been left out, why other communities and other religions have been left out. As a Sri Lankan Tamil and as a devout Hindu, my concerns are aroused, because of the deep roots the Tamil Hindu people have not merely in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, but also in the whole country, “Sampanthan said

The  11-member Presidential Task Force to  conduct a comprehensive survey of archaeological sites in the Eastern Province and recommend measures to preserve them  is chaired by   Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Major General (Retired) Kamal Gunaratna and none of its members are  from either the Tamil or Muslim community even though they collectively make up over 70 per cent in the district.

Here is the full text of the letter sent by the TNA Leader to the President on 15 June.

Your Excellency,

Establishment of a Presidential Task Force for Archeological Heritage Management in the EASTERN PROVINCE, as per proclamation published in Gazette Extraordinary Number 2178/17 of June 02 2020

I write with reference to the above matter.Initially I wish to make the following observations.

1. Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi lingual, multi religious, multi-cultural pluralistic society.

2. Sri Lanka comprises of Nine (9) province of which the Eastern Province is one.

3. The Eastern Province has been a multi ethnic province though the majority has always been predominantly Tamil speaking.

4. In its composition the Task Force is Pan Sinhala. The manner of its composition clearly indicates that it is meant to serve the interests of one community – the Sinhalese, and one religion – Buddhism who it must be admitted are the majority in the country.

5. It would be pertinent to raise the question, why other provinces have been left out, why other communities and other religions have been left out.

As a Sri Lankan Tamil and as a devout Hindu, my concerns are aroused, because of the deep roots the Tamil Hindu people have not merely in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, but also in the whole country.

The eminent Sri Lankan Historian P E Pieris has in his historical works stated that “Long before the arrival of Vijaya there were in Lanka five recognized Isvarams of Lord Siva which claimed and received the adoration of all India. These were Tirukketiswaram near Mahatittha, Munnisswaram dominating Salawatta and the Pearl Fishery, Tondeswaram near Mantota, Tirukkoneswaram opposite the great Bay of Koddiyar and Nakuleswaram near Kankesanturai”. Two of these Ishvarams were in the Northern Province one in the Eastern Province one in the Western Province and yet another one in the Southern Province. It is significant that according to P E Pieris this renowned historian these recognized Ishvarams of Lord Siva which received the adoration of all India existed in different parts of Sri Lanka long before the arrival of Vijaya. Vijaya is believed to be the precursor of the Sinhala race.

Since the proclamation pertains to the Eastern Province I will now refer to Thirukoneshwaram the Ishvaram of Lord Siva referred to above which is situated at Trincomalee in the Eastern Province. Thirukoneshwaram is referred to as Dakshana Kailas in the Puranas. This renowned Temple of Lord Siva had three Gopurams. One on either side abutting the sea and one in the Centre, on the site presently comprising the Fort Frederic. The main Mandapam is believed to have comprised of one thousand (1000) pillars. Father Queyroz Priest and Historian of the Portuguese period has said in his writings – “The Pagoda of Triquilimale was at this time the Rome of the Gentiles of the Orient, and more frequented by pilgrims than that of Ramanacoir near the shoals of Chilao, and that of Xilavarao, eight leagues from Nagapatao, and that of Canjavarao, two days journey from S. Thome and Tripiti and Tremel in Bisnaga and Jagarpati in Orixa, and Vixante in Bengal, which are the most frequented in these days by the Gentiles” – This statement by a catholic priest / historian of the Portuguese period that Thirukoneswaram situated at Trincomalee in the Eastern Province was venerated more and frequented more than the prominent temples in South India, establishes how renowned the Temple was – The Thirukoneswaram temple was ruthlessly destroyed by Portuguese Viceroy Constantine De Saa when he took possession of the port of Trincomalee in 1622 A D. The material of the Temple was used to construct Fort Fredric, at the same site, and stone slabs of the temple are yet in the vicinity and embedded in the adjoining sea.

The then Prime Minister of India Shri Charan Singh visited Thirukoneswaram during the Presidency of His Excellency J. R. Jeyawardne. I was amongst those who received him at the Thirukoneswaram Temple on arrival as Member of Parliament for the area. The words uttered by him when he alighted from the vehicle on arrival were “I have come to Dakshana Killas” – meaning I have come to the Southern abode of the Lord Siva. The Northern abode of the Lord Siva Uthara Kailas is believed to be in the Himalayas North of India.

It is also necessary to state certain facts pertaining to Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Amparai and the Eastern Province. It is well known that since Independence in 1947 there had been strenuous efforts to convert Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Amparai and the Eastern Province into majority Sinhala speaking areas. Several Land Settlement schemes – Colonization -  settling of the majority community in large numbers on newly irrigated Land in the Eastern Province, particularly in the Amparai and Trincomalee Districts in violation of the Laws of the Land and the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam Pact and the Dadley Senanayake – Chelvanayakam Pact were intensively carried out. In areas of such Sinhala settlement, new electoral and administrative divisions were demarcated so as to strengthen the Sinhala speaking people and to weaken the Tamil speaking people.

I attach herewith a statement setting out the figures of population in the Eastern Province and in the three Districts in the Eastern Province – Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Amparai between 1827 and 1981. I am not giving any figures after 1981, as since the commencement of violence in 1983 which continued for several decades, people have been substantially displaced, and no statistics can be relied upon as being genuine or accurate.

From the attached statement it is clear that between 1947 (independence) and 1981, last census while the national increase in the Sinhala population was 238%, the Sinhala population in the Eastern Province increased by 883%. In the same period, the Sinhala population in the Trincomalee District increased by 549.73% and in the Amparai District by over 1250%. This was entirely caused by colonization – settling of Sinhalese from outside the North East on Land in the Eastern province.

The Northern and Eastern Provinces adjoining each other are majority Tamil speaking and have a Tamil Linguistic contiguity. Under the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement of 29th July 1987, on the basis that they were areas of historical habitation of the Tamil speaking people these areas were merged together to form one unit of devolution. There had been strong efforts to disrupt the reality that the two provinces are linguistically contiguous and have a Tamil speaking majority in every one of the districts in the Northern and Eastern provinces and in the entirety of the Northern and Eastern provinces.

The breaking up of the Tamil linguistic continuity between the Eastern and Northern provinces has been an objective of majoritarian political leadership for a long time. A new system was created under the Mahavelli Development Program designated system “L” under which system though no water had been diverted under Mahavelli to the North as yet, Land was alienated to persons from the majority community from outside the North East on the boundary of the North East in an area called “Manal Aru” or “Welioya” and institutional arrangements set up to facilitate this program. These efforts are a continuing process. The bifurcation of Tamil Linguistic contiguity in the North – East could not however succeed due to the existence of traditional Tamil villages which had been historically inhabited by Tamil people.

Violence was practiced against such Tamil people – Tamil people living in a village called Thennamaravaddy on the Northern most border of Trincomalee District were attacked. Some were killed their homes burnt and destroyed and they were driven out in December 1984. They took up residence in the adjoining Mullaitivu District and only some of them have returned to their own village Thennamarvaddy.

These facts demonstrate the extent to which action was taken to terminate the linguistic contiguity between the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Strong resistance on behalf of the Tamil speaking people and ground realities have prevented this happening thus far.

There are places of much veneration to Hindus situated outside the North East. “Kathirgamam” the most venerated shrine of Lord Muruga deep in the south. “Muneeswaram” one of the ancient Temples of Lord Siva referred to above situated in the West. “Thondeswaram” an ancient Temple of Lord Siva, said to have been in existence in south Sri Lanka prior to the advent of Vijaya the precursor of the Sinhala race. This ancient temple is now said to be in ruins. Why has the Archeological Department not taken any steps to protect and preserve the ruins of this ancient Hindu temple. There are also several other Hindu Temples all over the country which Tamil Hindus venerate.  

The Archeological Department has unfortunately earned for itself the reputation of promoting only one religion and being harmful to the legitimate interests of the other religions.

There are functioning Buddhist Temples in the Eastern Province with inscriptions in Tamil. There are ruins of Buddhist temples with inscriptions in Tamil. These are all ancient inscriptions suggesting that at some period of time in the past Tamil Hindus followed the teachings of Lord Buddha. Lord Buddha was never against Hinduism. He is believed to have endeavored to purify Hinduism.

Why has the Archeological Department failed to make these matters public and educate all the people in regard to these facts. Would it not help to promote goodwill trust and harmony between the Buddhist and Hindu people. It is such failures on the part of the Archeological Department that raise legitimate scepticsm about the manner of their functioning and create the impression of there being sectarian.

It must be remembered by all concerned that Lord Buddha did not preach or practice the aggressive policies sought to be pursued by some now in his name. If His teachings were followed by those who claim to follow him, Sri Lanka would be a paradise of peace and tranquility.

Amongst the tasks entrusted to the Task Force is “To Identify the extent of Land that should be allocated for such archeological sites and take necessary measures to allocate them properly and legally”.

This Task raises several issues. Laws prevail in the country pertaining to the allocation of State Land. State Land and its allocation has been the most contentious issue in the country, since the achievement of Independence.

Several facts stated earlier in this letter clearly indicate the injustice that has been perpetrated on the Tamil speaking people in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

What is sought to be achieved by the above task being entrusted to the Task Force is to consolidate all that has happened thus far, and take further action to settle more Sinhalese at such sites in such identified extents of Land in the guise of protecting, preserving and promoting Buddhism, and thereby convert the Eastern Province and as much as possible of the Northern Province into majority Sinhalese Areas also severing the linguistic contiguity between the Northern and Eastern Provinces. This would be a travesty of justice with dangerous and harmful consequences and should be avoided.

No one objects to the protection, preservation and promotion of Buddhism. If anyone is acting in violation of the Law, relating to any Buddhist site the severest action should be taken, in regard to such conduct. Existing Law enforcement institutions should perform this task. Buddhist Temples and Monuments exist on Lands adequate for that purpose. They have so existed for centuries, for very long. No additional Land is required to fulfill that purpose. Additional Land is required by individuals who want to convert these areas into Sinhala Buddhist areas, populated by Sinhala Buddhist Citizens, violating the occupational and residential current and future needs of Tamil and Tamil speaking people who have lived on these areas from time immemorial, the Tamil Hindu people from long before the advent of Vijaya the precursor of the Sinhala race.

We wish to clearly state that without any new Land being taken over whatever needs to be done to protect, preserve and foster Buddhism can be done. That would ensure the maintenance of goodwill and harmony amongst all people.

We would request that the matters referred to in this letter be given your earnest consideration and appropriate action taken accordingly.

A copy of the letter was sent to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.  

President Rajapaksa & TNA leader Sampanthan when they met in Parliament in January