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30 MADURIKA RASARATNAM aggregated themselves into more or less fractious ethnic groups that congealed in the years before independence into Sinhalese, Tamil and a less cohesive Muslim group. The apparent ethnic cohesion was undermined by continuing disputes between Kandyan and Low Country Sinhalese, between eastern and northern Tamils, and between Colombo and eastern Muslims to name but a few of the divisions that cut across each of the groups. There was, however, a conflict between representatives of Tamils and the Sinhalese in Jaffna that in many ways prefigured the later ethnic conflict. In the colonial period, Sri Lanka’s Jaffna Tamils were over-represented in the colonial administration. A scarcity of land on the peninsula, along with relative wealth and the presence of American Missionaries gave the peninsula an early lead in English education. Tamils from the peninsula found their way in large number not just into the Ceylon civil service, but also migrated to Malaysia where they were employed as white-collar workers in the British administration until the program of Malaysianization began in the 1930’s. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Sri Lankan Tamil representatives thought of themselves on equal terms with the Sinhalese as one of the founding races of the island. This resulted partly from their overrepresentation in the civil service, but also because of the system of “communal representation.” Following the administrative unification of the island in 1833, the British introduced wide-ranging reforms including a central Legislative Council that would include some native representatives. The representatives were chosen to represent each of the major communal groups – Low country Sinhalese, Kandyans, Ceylon Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and the local British – rather than territorial units. During the 1920s it became clear that there would be a change towards territorial representation with an extension of the franchise. From this point onwards, Ceylon Tamil representatives became aware of the political implications of their numerical minority and pressed both the British and their Sinhalese counterparts for a greater weighting to be given to minority representatives. Just before independence, a Sri Lankan Tamil leader, G.G. Ponnambalam, made a demand for a complex set of constitutional safeguards and vetoes that would give the combined minorities and the majority equal representation. Although the proposal won some support in the Jaffna peninsula, most Tamil representatives, especially those from the eastern province, rejected the demand. In 1947, representatives from all communities voted to accept a unitary, majoritarian constitution that contained some provisions to safeguard minority rights. In 1956, as previously discussed, Sri Lankan politics was overtaken by a majoritarian Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. Although caste mobilization and patron client networks continued to shape electoral behaviour, the claims of

Sagar XVII — 2007  
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