Sri Lankan Tamils, especially in the island nation’s Eastern Province, are facing a problem of a different kind despite the end of the civil war in 2009 — they are being targeted for conversion to Islam.
In particular, the population of Hindu Tamils in the province has been reduced to a half in the last 40 years, according to C V Vigneswaran, former chief minister of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.
Though Sri Lanka has a law against conversion, it is not being implemented as the Sinhala government sees it as a problem between Tamils and Muslims, he said in an interview to a Tamil television channel.
Vigneswaran was the chief minister of the Northern Province from October 2013 to October 2018. He formed the Tamil Political Alliance to look after the welfare of Tamil minorities after his tenure ended.
Vigneswaran, who was on a visit to Tamil Nadu last week, was responding to a question on his statement expressing concern that over 9,000 Tamil women have been converted to Islam, in an interview to Tamil television channel Puthiya Thalaimurai.
In particular, he was asked about his statement that Tamils had to initially give away their lands and now their women. Responding to the question, Vigneswaran said that Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province faced a peculiar problem.
“Forty years ago, the Tamil population was 65-70 per cent in the province. Sinhalese made up 5 per cent and Muslims the rest. Today, the population of all the three communities are almost equal between 30 and 33 per cent. Tamil population has halved,” he regretted.
Conceding that his statement could have led to confrontation between Muslims and Tamils, he said he could not ignore such a development and keep quiet.
Vigneswaran said after he commented that Muslims had burned over 300 villages of Tamils, people called him to give more information on the burning of Tamils’ villages.
“Many streets had Tamil names, they have all been changed to Muslim names,” he said.
Dwelling on the reasons for the conversion of Tamils to Islam, he said there were two or three reasons.
“Though I am ashamed to say this, I am forced to confess. Casteism is prevalent in Hinduism, while it is not so with Christianity or Islam. The downtrodden people convert thinking that their social status will rise through conversion,” he said.
The second reason is that Muslims are dominant as landlords in the Eastern Province unlike the Northern Province where Tamils are landlords.
“Tamil labourers working under Muslim landlord take loans on interest from them. When they find it difficult to repay the loans, the landlords ask them to convert as quid pro quo. Many have got converted this way,” Vigneswaran said.
On the conversion of Tamil women, the former Northern Province chief minister said that these women went to work in shops owned by Muslims. “They finally end up becoming one or two of the four wives of these men,” he said.
Stating that conversion on economic grounds was illegal, he said the Sri Lanka government did not want to interfere, though Sinhalese and Tamils are united on the issue of the rise of Islamists in their country.
Vigneswaran said a Buddhist monk had told him that it was wrong for the Tamils to allow conversion of their people.
The former northern province chief minister said it was essential for Lankan Tamils to return to their homeland as their population was low in Northern and Eastern provinces.
After many Sri Lankan Tamils fled to India during the 26 years of civil war between their army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the government had taken over their lands and given it to the Sinhalese.
In Sri Lanka, a person can enjoy the rights to land only as long as he/she occupies it. Since the Tamils had fled, Sinhalese are being settled in their lands as the government can take and give it to others.
If Sri Lankan Tamil refugees return home, they will be given land. “But we are not in a position to provide them basic facilities. India needs to finance us in a big way,” Vigneswaran said.
To a question on he favouring dual citizenship for one lakh Sri Lankan refugees in India, he said India, Sri Lanka and Tamil leaders should discuss and take a “good decision”.
“Many refugees have lived here for 30 years. They are comfortable living here. Some of them have Indian connections, land and house. They can also own lands in Sri Lanka. So, dual citizenship can be given,” he said.
The lack of a treaty between India and Sri Lanka over dual citizenship was a hurdle in this issue, he said, wondering why it has been made a big issue in Tamil Nadu.
Opposition parties led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have brought up this issue to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019.
Vigneswaran also met Tamil film actor Rajinikanth during his visit. On the meeting, he said both of them discussed spiritualism.