Sri Lanka’s Constitution – Strides in the Right Direction

India raises Sri Lankan Tamil issue in UN

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India voiced concern over the “lack of measurable progress” in Sri Lanka’s promised political solution to the long-pending Tamil national question.

Back in news: Tamil Issue

  • India has made an unexpected (for SL) reference to the crisis-hit island nation’s “debt-driven” economy in the context of its current crisis.
  • Indian delegation noted the lack of measurable progress by Government of Sri Lanka on their commitments of a political solution to the ethnic issue.
  • It sought for full implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, delegation of powers to Provincial Councils and holding of Provincial Council elections at the earliest.

Has India retreated from supporting Sri Lanka?

  • India’s statement comes ahead of a resolution on Sri Lanka that will likely face a vote at the Council.
  • Since 2009, India has voted thrice in favour of the UN resolution on Sri Lanka — two were critical — and abstained twice, in 2014 and 2021.
  • Irrespective of its vote, India has consistently underscored the need for a political settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, ensuring justice, peace, equality and dignity for the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

Issues faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka

  • According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2016 report on Sri Lanka, Tamils report systematic discrimination in areas including government employment, university education, and access to justice.
  • A large portion of the Tamil population still remains displaced.

What is the Tamil issue in Sri Lanka?

  • Violent persecution against the Tamil population erupted in the form of the 1956, 1958, 1977, 1981 and 1983 anti-Tamil pogroms in Sri Lanka.
  • Over 13 years since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed and disappeared, survivors continue demanding justice and accountability for war-time crimes.
  • In the post-war years, Sri Lanka’s human rights defenders have frequently flagged concerns over persisting militarisation, especially in the Tamil-majority north and east; repression, and the shrinking space for dissent.

What is the 13th Amendment?

  • It is an outcome of the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, signed by the then PM Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayawardene, in an attempt to resolve the ethnic conflict and civil war.
  • The 13th Amendment led to the creation of Provincial Councils and assured a power-sharing arrangement to enable all nine provinces in the country, including Sinhala majority areas, to self-govern.
  • Subjects such as education, health, agriculture, housing, land and police are devolved to the provincial administrations.

Why is it contentious?

  • The 13th Amendment carries considerable baggage from the country’s civil war years.
  • It was opposed vociferously by both Sinhala nationalist parties and the LTTE.
  • The opposition within Sri Lanka saw the Accord and the consequent legislation as an imprint of Indian intervention.
  • It was widely perceived as an imposition by a neighbour wielding hegemonic influence.
  • The Tamil polity, especially its dominant nationalist strain, does not find the 13th Amendment sufficient in its ambit or substance.
  • However, some find it as an important starting point, something to build upon.

Why India objects over this?

  • Because of restrictions on financial powers and overriding powers given to the President, the provincial administrations have not made much headway.
  • In particular, the provisions relating to police and land have never been implemented.

Why is it significant?

  • Till date, the Amendment represents the only constitutional provision on the settlement of the long-pending Tamil question.
  • In addition to assuring a measure of devolution, it is considered part of the few significant gains since the 1980s, in the face of growing Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism.

 

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