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Report 11


Late 70s and early 80s : Naked administrative aggression - Development or Destruction?

State Patronage of Buddhism:

Late 70s and early 80s : Naked administrative aggression - Development or Destruction?

Increase of population in an area through genuine national partnership in developing its resources is a positive gain. Even communal ratios in population can gradually change when there is trust to overcome the possibility of polarisation along communal lines. But when a state that was responsible for the July 1983 holocaust talks about ethnic ratios when it is convenient and concentrates huge resources and assiduous attention in supposedly developing an area, it breeds suspicion. What is again most singular about the feverish attempts to develop  Trincomalee in the late 7Os and early 8Os is that almost none of it was meant to benefit the local people. They eventually lost both their wealth and security. There could be many valid and natural reasons why a government would seek to develop and maintain a high profile around a place so famous as Trincomalee. It is the communalism of the state that vitiates the whole exercise. Under normal conditions the local people would not mind the state taking over land for development. But here they with good reason feel threatened by any activity of the state for which the healthier motivations now seem secondary - whatever these may have been earlier.

The concentration of virtually Sinhalese, rather than national, armed forces in the district added to the general  insecurity of the minorities [See below], leading to vividly devastating effects from 1983 onwards. These overshadow other possibly valid reasons for their presence.

When communalism and development mix, the result is usually futile and a drain on resources. This becomes apparent on perusing the information booklet on Trincomalee published by the Office of the Chief Sectetary, North-East Province, in January 1993. From the mid-80s to the present, the number of hectares of paddy harvested during the Maha season dropped from 40 000 to 15 000. The number of metric tonnes of sugar produced by the Kantalai sugar factory dropped from about 100 000 to 35 000. Ilmenite produced by the mineral sands corporation at Pulmoddai dropped from 130 000 tonnes to 60 000 tonnes. Only the catch of fish has not changed significantly.

Again, particularly during this period, gigantic tracts of state and private lands were acquired by or were vested with state bodies. The projects for which these lands were earmarked were envisaged to bring in a large influx of Sinhalese. About 500 acres of state land in China Bay was released to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation. The entire extent of land from Maddikali to Palampoddaru (Monkey) Bridge on the eastern side of the Trinco - Kandy Road was vested in the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. An extent of over 2000 acres of land off Marble - Bay, in the Karumalaiyoothu area in the Town and Gravets AGA’s Division was reserved for the Ceylon Tourist Board for tourist development. Land acquisition proceedings commenced in the early 8Os to take over all the land - both private and state lands - on the eastern side of the Trincomalee - Pulmoddai Road from 3rd Mile Post (Uppuveli) to the Salappai-Aru Bridge, a distance of 11 miles, for tourist development. Once completed, this could have deprived Tamils of several thousands of acres of land belonging to them in Sampalthivu, Athimoddai, Nilaveli,Gopalapuram and Irakkandy. An extent of about 500 acres (originally leased to the late R.G.Senanayake ) at Kumburupiddy was handed over to the National Youth Services Council to set up a training centre and a farm. About 2000 acres at Thiriyai was earmarked for use by the State Cashew Corporation.     

Several state-run industrial projects have been established in the Trincomalee District. Mineral Sands Project at Pulmoddai, Sugar Factory at Kanthalai, Fisheries Harbour Project at Cod- Bay, Bulk Petroleum Depot at China Bay are some of these projects. As we mentioned earlier these projects overwhelmingly assisted the influx of Sinhalese into the Trincomalee District. Development projects not only bring in additional Sinhalese into the district, they also result in the renaming or creating of villages. There was a proposal to re-name Pulmoddai, a traditional Muslim village, as Kanijavelipura. Pudawaikakku, another Muslim village, was renamed Sagarapura after settling in a few hundreds of Sinhalese fishing families. We find a model village called Dhanyagama in China Bay. This is an NHDA assisted housing scheme to house Prima Flour Mill employees. A large village called Agbopura has sprung up near the Kanthalai sugar factory.

How these projects were to influence the demography can be seen in the case of the Prima Flour Milling Project, the firm concerned being a private Singapore based firm. It was arranged that all appointments to it had to be cleared by GA/Trincomalee. Security reasons were adduced! Thus a private firm was

compelled to take nearly 80% Sinhalese as is employees.[Top]

State Patronage of Buddhism:

The then Minister of Industries and Scientific Affairs, Cyril Mathew, embarked on a massive restoration programme of ancient Buddhist temples. The Seruvila, Vilgam Vihare and Thiriyai Buddhist temples were restored with the assistance of the Town and Country Planning Department, the Department of Archaeology and the other state agencies. The powerful minister was the chairman of the restoration committees of these three temples. In addition as the President of the Federation of Government and State Corporation Employees Buddhist Societies. (Rajaye Ha Raajya Sangsdha Sevakayihe Baudha Samithi Sammelanaya) he began to restore several small Buddhist temples in the Tricomalee District. The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation was entrusted with the restoration of Rankiri Ulpotha Buddhist temple in the Gomarankadwala AGA’s division. The Ceylon Plywoods Corporation handled the restoration of the Ilanthaikulam Buddhist temple in the Kuchchaveli AGA’s division. The restoration of the temple at Vannathi Palam (Samanala Amuna) was handled by the Ceylon Steel Corporation.

Against this the fate of Koneswaram Temple and its precincts which the Hindus wanted declared a sacred area is well known [See 2.1 & 2]. This request was based on notions of ‘sanctity’ very generously subscribed to by the government for one particular religion. Finally a massive Buddha statue dominating the vista was erected near Koneswaram Temple. A reason commonly ascribed for this action is said to be the premise that this was once the site of the Gokanna Vihare. There is no supporting evidence for this contention admitted by serious scholars or archaeological findings. The weightiest of reasons adduced for this contention is the ‘view’ of a former archaeological commissioner, Dr.C.E.Godakumbura, ‘that the Bo-tree in front of the Koneswaram Kovil (later cut down) may have been the ancient historic Bo-tree that was planted at Gokanna. Another is the discovery in 1945 by the military authorities of statues of Vishnu and Lakshmi, Vishnu’s spouse. Dr. Godakumbura had argued that Vishnu, a Hindu god, was very much a god of the Buddhist- being a guardian of Buddhism in this country [Sun, 9th December 1968 & Dr.A.H.Mirando in the Island of 7th april 1993].

Further the official approach to lands owned by Hindu temples and encroachments on these is casual. Some of them are being acquired by the state [See 2.6].

Lands owned by temples in this country, whether Buddhist or Hindu, receive their status and recognition from local tradition rather than from land deeds. Consequently legal registration has been somewhat lax. When in a Sinhalese area a piece of land is said to belong to a Buddhist temple, no one would dare challenge it. What hurts the Tamils in Trincomalee is the state itself stepping in acquire Hindu temple lands and give them to Sinhalese.

There are some genuine problems here. These lands donated to temples by individual devotees over the centuries now amount to a third or more of the land in Trincomalee town. These lands cannot be sold and are hence leased out to individuals and are routinely renewed every ten years for a small sum. Since Hinduism did not enjoy state patronage, the administration of these lands was by volunteers, often by retired men. Where administration   was weak, there was encroachment. Over the last ten years of violence much of the administration has collapsed with several temples damaged or abandoned.

There may be a case to examine the ownership and use of lands by religious institutions on a national, non-partisan basis. But this cannot be tackled in an atmosphere of religious bigotry with special rules for Trincomalee. Here it is possible to plant  a Buddhist temple, shrine or statue anywhere, as has happened in Fort Frederick, and justify it, if necessary, with some fictitious or barmy historical reference. Recently a piece of land in town was designated for use by the Red Cross. One official in the local land office stalled the project by declaring that the land was of either cultural or archaeological interest! The reason was that there were a few bo trees on the land. It now seems that the land is not to be taken over for a Buddhist purpose as was feared. But it illustrates the long standing fear born of bitter experience. The bo tree is   a tree of meditation common to all Indian religions. Now, non-Buddhists in the North-East and in Trincomalee, in particular, fear the sight of this tree which is supposed to have a soothing influence. Several such trees were destroyed as a social service. Sometimes police sentries have been placed to protect bo trees from popular vandalism. [Top] 



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