Dr Amir Ali: SL Archaeology aims to obliterate Tamil traces, shrink territory of Muslims in East

[TamilNet, Friday, 19 June 2020, 23:30 GMT]
In Israel and India, archaeology is used as a weapon to disenfranchise a whole community, writes Dr Amir Ali, a renowned academic based in Australia, in a guest column of the Colombo-based Daily Financial Times on Friday. “What the Sri Lankan archaeologists did was no different from what Israeli and Western archaeologists accomplished in Palestine,” he observes. “From the time of independence, archaeology has been a powerful tool in the hands of Sinhalese nationalists to obliterate any vestiges of an ancient Tamil civilisation in Sri Lanka,” writes Dr Ali from the School of Business and Governance in Murdoch University, Western Australia.

The Tamil Tigers, who controlled the North for 30 years left the Buddhist relics untouched “because they must have believed that those ancient relics are a heritage of the whole humanity, and not belonged to the Sinhalese or Buddhists only,” Amir Ali observers.

“With the defeat of the LTTE, archaeological activities in the North received fresh impetus, spearheaded by an ultra-nationalist and supremacist Buddhist clergy backed by armed forces. The main objective behind this activity was to justify and encourage Sinhalese encroachment into areas claimed by Tamils as their traditional homeland,” he observes.

There is no questioning the fact that ancient ruins should be protected because they are not only part of a nation’s history but also are the heritage of humanity. This is one of the reasons why UNESCO was created, which keeps watch on preserving ancient heritage sites, the academic who hails from Kaaththaankudi writes.

“But, what is questioned and feared is the political motive behind certain archaeological activities. They have become weapons in the hands of ultranationalists to promote Buddhist settlements, which can upset the demographic balance and destroy ethnic harmony in the region.”

Apart from the heritage perspective, Dr Ali was also pointing out the disparity of land allocation among the Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims in the three districts of the Eastern province.

According to 2012 census statistics, Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese form roughly 40%, 37% and 23% of the population respectively. But, in terms of land holdings, Muslims overall are at a terrific disadvantage, he notes.

In the province as a whole, Muslims with 37% population hold only around 3% of non-contiguous land.

For example, Batticaloa District, with 73% Tamils, 26% Muslims and 1% Sinhalese, has a total area of 2,632.7 km squared of which 106.3 km squared are water-filled, which leaves a total land area of 2,464.4 km squared. Of this land, Muslims who form one-quarter of the population hold only 30 km squared or less than even 1%.

How congested their settlements could be witnessed in Kattankudy, where nearly 50,000 souls are cramped into a land area of little over 3 km squared. Likewise in the Ampara District 26,000 Muslims are packed into a land area of 6 km squared in Sainthamaruthu.

* * *

An interview recorded in Tamil and English by TamilNet during Dr Ali’s trip to the island in 2018 is reproduced below:

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DailyFT: Archaeological Task Force to shrink space for Muslims



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