The Sri Lankan government has appointed a Tamil and a Muslim to the country’s Task Force on Archaeological Heritage Management for the Eastern Province, which earlier did not have a single member from the country’s minority communities.
In a gazette order issued on Monday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa inducted the two new members to the Task Force, increasing its strength to 18.
The original panel was announced in June 2020, in which no minority community member had featured. Tamils and Muslims together make up 70% of the Eastern Province’s multi-ethnic demographic composition.
The Task Force’s official mandate is to “identify the extent of land that should be allocated for archaeological sites, take necessary measures to allocate them properly and legally, preserve the cultural value of sites of archaeological importance, promote the uniqueness of Sri Lanka, both locally and internationally, and make recommendations for the promotion of such heritage”.
The addition of minority community members assumes significance as the two communities have been alleged land-grabbing by officials under the cover of ‘heritage conservation’.
Countering these claims, Buddhist monks and scholars have pointed at preservation of Buddhist heritage sites in the province which had declined during the three-decade-long civil war.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had led an armed rebellion against the Sri Lankan government to set up a separate Tamil homeland in northern and eastern regions of the island. It was defeated by the Sri Lankan Army in May 2009.