Provincial flags via Wikipedia
The 13th amendment is viewed as part of political reconciliation in Sri Lanka. It (devolution of power to the provinces) has been ignored since day one. In that sense it just hasn’t worked, and isn’t working. I’m also beginning to think it’s not even a good idea. What changed my mind was the words of a Tamil politician, Arun Tambimuttu:
What is the core issue in Sri Lanka? The core issue will give us an understanding of the 13th Amendment. The core issue was what should, or do all, communities in Sri Lanka require to ensure a society in which they feel in harmony with each other. To achieve that all you require is a belief among Sri Lankans that they are equal and they are treated equally and they feel they are part of the national fabric and they have the opportunity to improve their lives and play a part according to their own merit. That should be the fundamental. Now, does the 13th Amendment to the Constitution enable us to have that? I think it doesn’t because the 13th Amendment even though it does not refer to it in terms is creating divisions and homelands. (Arun Tambimuttu: Back To Batti)
Basically, trying to solve an ethnic problem with provinces may be like dividing water with a knife. We have different ethnicities in every province. Equal rights is a national problem that needs a national solution.
The Core Issue
What’s the core issue in Sri Lanka? It’s equal rights for all citizens. That is the problem. Does breaking up the problem into provinces solve it? Not really. Because this problem doesn’t stop at provincial lines. Nor is the problem just racial. Many Sri Lankans are denied equal rights – Tamils, Muslims, Sinhalese, women, gays, etc. We need equal rights for all, and that has to come from the center.
If you look at civil rights struggles or even ongoing revolutions, what they’re demanding isn’t something special or something separate, it’s something equal. Just to be treated the same as everybody else and given the same opportunities. In Sri Lanka, Tamil people were denied those opportunities. They’ve only slowly been getting their rights back. It’s not fast enough. At the same time, other communities have been systematically shafted however you want to slice it (class, religion, gender). Equality hasn’t been fast enough for them either.
Solving The Problem
This isn’t a provincial issue, because so many Tamils live in the south. It’s not even a Tamil issue, because other people are denied equality as well. It’s fundamentally an issue of civil rights, ie, our rights as citizens of Sri Lanka.
As such, equality has to come from the center, and anyways, that’s from whence all power flows. This is not something we can punt to the provinces like the US tried to punt slavery down to the state level (state’s rights). It’s a national problem which needs a national solution. In practice, that solution is effectively time (which does work wonders), but some intelligent policy could make that time go faster. Devolution just isn’t the right policy.
The status quo argument, of course, is that the 13th and 17th amendments solve our problem, we just need to implement them. The 17th (breaking up power at the center) is largely repealed, and the 13th is largely a dead letter. I think it’s time to recognize that they didn’t solve the problem and try something else.
We have a government with dominion over the entire island, for the first time in my life. That’s a damn good thing. Now we just need a government with equality for all, and we needn’t limit ourselves to race. We all deserve equal protection under the law, decent opportunities, and a chance for our children to prosper without being hindered by stuff they can’t control.
This not a provincial issue, it’s national, moral and something that concerns us all.