Sinhala ‘Army & Archaeology’ target 600 sites for heritage occupation in Batticaloa

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 22 July 2020, 23:38 GMT]
Colombo's Sinhala ‘Army and Archaeology’ have identified around six hundred various sites for ‘heritage’ occupation in Batticaloa district alone. There are Saiva and folk-deity temples of Eezham Tamils in most of these places. The Government officials at the District Secretariat have been explicitly instructed to inform the SL Presidential Secretariat about organisations and individuals failing to ‘cooperate’ with SL Archaeology Department and the monks of the Presidential Task Force for so-called Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province, Batticaloa District Secretary (Government Agent) Ms Kalamathy Pathmarajah has told civil society activists in a meeting on Wednesday.

A group of Tamil civil society activists from the Eastern Province met Batticaloa GA to raise their concerns of the ongoing ‘heritage interventions’ by the SL Archaeology Department in the recent weeks.

Batticaloa GA's superiors have informed her that the SL Department of Archaeology, backed by the recently appointed SL Presidential Task Force, was pushing for declaring specific locations as coming under its purview.

Some Gazette notifications are expected in this regard soon, even before the elections, the GA told the visiting civil society representatives.

“Once the locations get gazetted and noticeboards put up at these locations, you can’t even clean up cobwebs there,” Ms Kalamathy has told the civil society representatives.

The civil society group was represented by Sornalingam Erambamoorthy from Batticaloa and R. Wigneswaran from Ampaa'rai district.

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The text of the statement handed over to Batticaloa District Government Agent Ms Kalamathy Pathmaraja by R. Wigneswaran (Ampaa'rai) and E. Sornalingam (Batticaloa) who represented the Tamil civil society groups in the East, follows:

The Civil Societies that work in the Eastern Province express a grave concern on the Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province established by Gazette Extraordinary no 2178/17 dated on 2nd June 2020.

The task force is homogeneity in its nature in terms of ethnicity whereas the Eastern Province being the heterogeneity in culture, ethnicity, religion and its predominant language is Tamil not Sinhala. The appointment comes on the eve of General Election and in the thick of economic crisis. The Civil Societies are aware that the danger of timing of the statement for it could be manipulated by the forces that would want to capitalise on the ethno-religious strife, for there is no other place better than the East. Nor the signatories would want to widen the ethnic cleavage already existing in the island. Admitting that the historical heritage needs to be preserved and preserve it for the future generations for the archaeological heritage is the source that builds the uniqueness of the Island, we are concerned about the intent of the Task Force as it does not reflect the representation of the pluralist nature of the Province which is heterogeneous.



  1. Background
    The field of archaeology in Sri Lanka has been problematic and contested as it became solely the project of the State that was dominated by the Majoritarian culture that vests on constructing mono historical narrative where other less powerful interests may disagree with or contest the archaeological knowledge, values, and practices concerned with management and material culture. The claim of the Tamils that North-East as their homeland that constitute the claim for self-determination has been put in danger as the State concentrated on changing the demographics of the North-East.

    Limiting the Task Force only to the East constructs a picture that the heritage in the East is in danger and the appointment of the Task Force by the President comes in to effect after having met the Buddhist advisory council and the promise that he made. The background of the appointment comes after a delegation led by the Governor of the Eastern Province, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Chief of Defence Staff and Commander to the Army, Commander to the navy, acting Inspector General of Police, Chief of National Intelligence, Commander of Security Forces-East along with other military and police officials visited Deegawapiya and Pottuvil areas1. Followed by the visit on 16th May 2020 the Commander of the Navy orders a naval contingent to be established in order to protect the Pottuvil Muhudu Maha Vihara and its land2.

  2. Composition of the Task Force
    The appointment of two Buddhist monks, Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thero who is the founder-chairman of the JHU, a political party whose ideologue the communities of Tamil-Muslim find is very exclusive and Ven. Panamure Thilawansha Thero whose activities in the East we witnessed, the controversial Buddhist temple built in Pulmoddai and his involvement in Kanniya Pillayar Temple and he has requested from the State for 5003 acres of land to build Buddhist temples in Pullmoddai. Secretary to the Defence Ministry is the Chairman of the Task Force and the senior DIG of the Western Province whose involvement we feel shed light on the glimpse of ‘everyday militarism’ that the people in the North-East have to face every day. We wonder how the appointment of the Senior DIG of the Western Province is justified for the Task Force concentrates on the Eastern Province. The appointment of Prof. Raj Kumar Somadeva of University of Kelaniya who led the Mannar mass grave excavations and his findings unravelled that the remains from a period far back in the history raises concern over his vested agenda and problematises the credibility of the findings. The Task Force being mono ethno-religio-linguistic- group, we suspect, would promote the majoritarian agenda while obliterate any vestiges of an ancient Tamils civilisation in the Island. Archaeological excavations funded by the Government and the historical narrative that they promote is highly contestable which problematises the credibility of those involved. And the appointment of the Chairman of the private media network, (Derana)for the Task Force alarms those living in the East whether this has any hidden implication.

    The political culture of Sri Lanka, majoritarianism, has paved the way, with the mandate given in the last presidential election that majority is able to decide for the minority which is problematic and has led to minority groups being excluded. Exclusive approach strengthens the majoritarian democracy weakening the claims of the numerically less groups. Deconstruction of majoritarianism is essential if Sri Lanka were to go forward with peace building and reconciliation efforts for a united Sri Lanka.

  3. Homogenising Historiography
    Sri Lanka’s pluralistic nature of its culture, religion, language and ethnicity reflect the ‘Asianness’ – cultural territorial space where the Island is situated, promoting the culture of ‘Sri Lankanness’ as a homogenous culture does not reflect and represent its pluralism.

    Prof. Jagath Weerasinghe who claims that there are at least ten Tamil archaeologists some of whom are working in Batticaloa4, non-inclusion of the experts from Tamil and Muslim communities from the Eastern Province unravel the vested interest that the Task force seeks to promote displacing the historiography of Tamils living in the East. Lived-experience in the North-East suggests that the archaeological discoveries are turned into instruments of dispossessing the Tamil and Muslim communities thus becoming areas preserved for Buddhist conservation confiscated by the Governments.

    Buddhism in Sri Lanka the majority believes is exclusively for the Sinhalese5, the assumption denies the willingness to accept that Tamils were Buddhists in a bygone era. Acknowledging that Tamil Buddhism existed in Sri Lanka as most of the scholars admit without politicising the religion would prevent escalation of violence in the East bringing communal harmony.

  4. Territorial Integrity
    Taking into account the Tamil linguistic and territorial contiguity the Indo - Sri Lanka Agreement in 1987 merged North-East as one unit of devolution as the historical habitation of the Tamil speaking people but the majoritarian political leadership invested on deconstructing territorial integrity of the Tamils and Muslims in the North-East Provinces. Further the appointment of the Task Force, we fear would accelerate the majoritarian project alienating land to the political project with the fresh impetus that the current government received with the landslide victory of the Sinhala-Buddhist voters in the last presidential election. Bifurcation of territorial integrity by the “L” project of Mahavelli Development Programme that created ‘Weli Oya’, on the boundary of the North East is an example that unravels the intent of the majoritarian political project.

  5. Militarisation
    North-East has been intensely militarised during the war and after 2009 when the Sri Lankan claimed victory over the LTTE. ‘Everyday militarism’ has become the norm with which the Tamils in the North-East are forced live. Militarisation has not only been concentrating on civil administration but it has constructed a culture that has become the conflict resolution methodology not only in times of emergency and war but in times of normalcy where militarisation has hijacked the role of civil servants, law enforcement and the judiciary.

    There has been a growing concern in Sri Lanka where the Island moves towards a militarised regime. The North-East that has been militarised for decades, the Tamils and Muslims who are predominant the areas have brought to the attention of various organisations about grave concern but it fell in deaf ears.

  6. Recommendations
    1. Dissolving the Task Force would enhance the communal harmony prevailing in the Eastern Province that stands as a model for peace building and reconciliation.
    2. Assigning the task to the local government body, the Provincial Council to preserve and maintain the archaeological sites with the help of the experts from two universities that are in the Eastern Province.
    3. Provincial council will set up a mechanism which upholds the values of multi culturalism, rights of local communities, respect the historical uniqueness of communities and engage in protecting and preserving the archaeological and heritage sites of the Eastern province.
    This process should enhance and promote co-existence and harmony in the region.

    Civil Society Groups Eastern Province




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