Tamil myths, NGO theories and the silence of the Church exposed by a Dutch missionary
Posted on June 7th, 2016
H. L. D. Mahindapala
The very first analyst to see through the veneer of Jaffna and get to the corrosive core of Jaffna politics was the Dutch Commander of Jaffna, Hendrick Zwaardecoon. (See Lanka Web : “Moddely Tambi – the Father of Vellahlas”). His analysis of the peninsular social structure, dominated exclusively by the aggressive Vellahlas, gives a clear insight into the inner workings of politics in the formative stage of the Vellahlas rising in power and status. In 1706, on the advice of Zwaardecoon, the Dutch went as far as making the first study of the ossified caste structure that had an overwhelming impact on the politics of Jaffna and the nation as a whole.
Starting from the Dutch period, Jaffna-centric casteism developed as an oppressive fascist political force internally, reducing its own people to slaves and outcasts. Later, in the 20th century, when the dominant Vellahlas were gingerly stepping out of their rigid casteist cage into a class they found it necessary to discard the out dated ruling ideology of narrow Vellahlaism and shift into a more broad-based mono-ethnic front with the sole aim of grabbing territory and power outside the borders of Jaffna. This leap from internal oppression to external aggression related to the political ambitions of the Vellahlas. When it directed it violence against the low-castes in Jaffna it was to maintain their internal supremacy. When it formed the mono-ethnic front and turned against the Sinhala-Buddhists it was to grab the Tesawalamai territory to retain their feudal and colonial power, privileges, position, properties, perks and inter-personal relations that defined their supremacy. It this eternal agenda that dominated the post-independent political agenda. Shades of it began in the time of Zwaardecoon in the form of the first revolt of the Vellahlas, led by Moddely Tambi, the Father of Vellahlaism. It foreshadowed the events that were to explode with greater fury in the 20th century. The Vellahla history which began as a 17th century comedy in the Dutch period – the revolt was over the issue of appointing a non-Vellahla to a government post – repeated itself as a cataclysmic tragedy in our time.
By an unexpected coincidence it is Ben Bavinck, a Dutch missionary-teacher who, in his revealing diaries, had continued the Zwaardecoon’s tradition of looking deeper into the hidden layers of Jaffna society. Bavinck, who lived and worked with the Tamil people in the North, off and on during 33-year-old Vadukoddai War (1976 – 2009), has produced a running commentary of the events driven by violence of both sides – the Security Forces and the LTTE. It is his sensitive and perceptive reactions to the unfolding events of the longest running war in Asia that makes his diary, Of Tamils and Tigers: a journey through Sri Lanka’s war years, an invaluable and revealing document. His diary confirms not just the evils of wars in general, but the evils of the particular Vadukoddai War prolonged wilfully and unnecessarily by Velupillai Prabhakaran, “the latest Pol Pot of Asia” (James Burns – The New York Times). The published excerpts from Volume 1 (Vol. II is yet to come) shines a penetrating light to reveal the failed past of national politics, particularly the fascist Tamil politics led by Velupillai Prabhakaran. Apart from documenting some of the crimes committed by both parties, Bavinck focuses on the immorality of the peddlers of morality whose calculated silence helped Prabhakaran to oppress, suppress and persecute his own Tamil people. The total surrender of Jaffna society to his Pol Potist will is the haunting thread that runs through his diary. Bavinck repeatedly mourns the immoral silence of those who knew better and refused to speak out in defence of the Tamils oppressed and persecuted by the Tamils.
Most of the details were known to those who were willing to see through the smokescreen thrown up by the pro-Tamil lobby. It was a powerful lobby whose tentacles ran into the core of NGOs, Churches, media, academia and a global network manipulated mainly by the Tamil diaspora. The main mission of this well-organised international network of anti-Government lobbyists was to (1) demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists and “the Sinhala governments”, as they called it and (2) divert attention away from the crimes committed by the quasi-state headed by Prabhakaran. It is the ceaseless manipulations of this lobby that sustained Prabhakaran for as long as he did. The initial gains of the Prabhakaran’s military forays can be attributed to a considerable extent to the international pressures (financial, political bases in Western electorates, penetration into key decision-making processes in the Western fronts, propaganda machinery, etc.,) generated by this lobby.
Their global lobbying, along with the massive propaganda campaigns, succeeded in forcing the Security Forces to wage a war with one hand tied behind their backs. The final defeat of the Prabhakaranist forces came only after the Sri Lankan forces dared to reject the imported recipes and interventions for peace and adopted home-made remedies to challenge Tamil Tigers. Until the Security Forces triumphed at Nandikadal this effective lobby succeeded in glorifying the Prabhakaranist regime as a “liberating force”. Perhaps, their greatest success was in silencing those who knew what was happening to the Tamil victims who were penned in by Tamil terror. Prabhakaran succeeded in justifying and prolonging the agony of the Tamil people because the Tamil intelligentsia, particularly those in the diaspora, conspired to cover-up the Prabhakaranist crimes committed in the name of protecting and serving the Tamil people.
The voice of Bavinck rings loud and clear against this high-pressure background designed to maintain a calculated silence. To begin with (and as stated by Bavinck) there was hardly anybody to oppose the principle that “Might is Right”. Bavinck’s diary entry of March 2, 1990 states : “I had another discussion with (K) Sritharan, (one of the few outspoken Tamil dissidents) who deplored the fact that the churches in Jaffna had spoken up so little in order to correct the militants. The Roman Catholic Church had several times addressed the government and its forces, but about the ‘boys’ they, like the Protestants, had been silent.” The deafening silence of the Churchmen, with international links, and that of the public intellectuals denied the Tamil people persecuted by their “liberator” the moral and political power needed to raise their voices or protect themselves from the fascist Tamil terror. The principle of R2P, invoked by Gareth Evans, ICES, and other NGOs, was to stop the Forces from advancing into the territory occupied by Prabhakaran. But there was no active principle invoked to protect the Tamils who were targeted from the time Prabhakaran started killing Tamil dissident in 1975. His first victim was Alfred Duraiyappah and he never stopped killing Tamils even when he was running away from the battle field. In his ruthless fashion, Prabhakaran shot the Tamils who formed his human shield when they were fleeing into the safety zones opened up by the Army. Prabhakaran wrote his own shameful history by being the one and only Tamil leader who killed more Tamils than all the others put together.
By 1990 it was clear that the plight of the Tamils caught in the crossfires was deteriorating by the day. Bavinck’s entry made on May 10, 1990 highlighted the tragedy facing the Tamil people. He wrote : “Frightening also is that the new Tigers recruits are all little boys of about 10-to-12 years-old. The Tigers cannot get the older school boys to join anywhere.” This war crime is condemned universally. But the Tamil Boko Haram got away with it because the human rights activists like “Paki” Saravanamuttu , (PS), diverted attention to the desertions in the Army. He was gloating over the news that Army deserters were weakening the fighting capacity of the Forces. The crime of forcibly recruiting Tamil children to fight in Prabhakaran’s futile war was brushed aside, or played down. Why did PS go down that misleading track? Why should a human right activist be overly concerned about the Army losing its cadres when he should be concerned more with the Tamil mothers fathers and mothers losing their children to Tamil Boko Harams? Even as a hired human rights activist what should have been his priority – the Tamil kids plucked from the breasts of their mothers or the desertions in the Sri Lankan Army? Obviously, winning the Vadukoddai War at any cost — even by throwing untrained kids into the battlefield — did not bother his foreign-funded conscience.
In other words, he was giving a nudge-and-a-wink for the Tiger Supremo to carry on the war whichever way he can, even by forcibly recruiting kids, if that is the only way Prabhakaran can stand up to the advancing Army. PS’s triumphalism was in celebrating the losses faced by the Army. The agony of the grief-stricken Tamil mothers was swiftly swept under a carpet of silence. His silence, compared to the ear-splitting decibel level raised to gloat over the losses to the Army, was obscene. When, as a Tamil, his own people were being oppressed and persecuted by a fellow-Tamil the moral choice before him was clear. But he dodged the issue by diverting attention to “the Sinhala governments”. The refusal to face the evil staring in his face makes him an intellectual pariah who should have been kicked out of human right circles with utter contempt.
But he was not alone in this. It was a malaise with the public intellectuals right across the board. The failure to name and shame the greatest evil facing the nation at the time condemns most of those intellectuals as lifting their skirts for a quick buck. This is just not a rhetorical statement. The money, the opportunities, perks, scholarships and the kudos were available only to those who toed the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist line. Those who argued for the counter-narrative were not even invited to the seminars run by the foreign-funded NGOs. A whole new intellectual industry mushroomed to manufacture conformity. And, in that propaganda battle, they were successful. The power of Bavinck is in challenging this conventional and mono-causal theory and presenting a counter-narrative.
It was, of course, fashionable to pin the primary responsibility of providing security to the elected state of the nation. But these intellectuals pretended that there was no commensurate responsibility for the unelected quasi-state of the North was to protect the people. The mercenary mission they engaged in was to manufacture excuses for the crimes committed by Prabhakaran. Tis was a bonanza for him to get away with war crimes and crimes against humanity. In fact, till the end Prabhakaran was dependent on foreign-funded agencies to put pressure on the Government to stop the war which would have benefited only his belligerence. With the moralists in NGOs, Churches and academia pointing the finger at the Government he had a field day. He had no qualms even in using the Tamil people as a human shield to protect himself. He read R2P to mean Responsibility to Protect Prabhakaran!
What kind of a hero was Prabhakaran when he had to depend on 10-12-year-old kids to protect him? Which leader who forcibly drags young kids to protect himself can be respected as a worthy leader? When a leader uses the people, including the aged, to protect himself instead of the leader protecting his people can he be considered as anything more than a self-serving coward? Doesn’t this confirm that the Tamils never had a leader who served their interests selflessly? The tragedy of Tamil history is that they never had a leader who acted in the interests of the oppressed Tamils. The Tamil leadership has a consistent record of treating the Tamil people with utter contempt. First, the Vellahla leadership treated the Tamils as slaves, or as outcasts unfit for their superior society. In 1844, when the British abolished slavery the first step they took was to abolish the right of he Vellahlas to kill their slaves. Second, Prabhakaran followed the Vellahla tradition and even went beyond the Vellahla slave-owners : he killed the Tamils – including the entire Tamil leadership – without any compunction.
Even the Tamil human right activists like Saravanamuttu were no better than silent slaves of Prabhakaran. PS did not go round the world mobilising international opinion against Prabhakaran’s barbarism though he spent millions to denigrate Sri Lanka in every available global fora. On the contrary, they retreated into an unholy silence which, in the eyes of Prabhakaran, justified his reign of terror. And the more the Tamils fell at this feet, worshipping him as their Suriya Devan, the more he felt justified in killing Tamils. He attained divine status by his power to kill. It was his unchallenged power to kill Tamils and non-Tamils that forced the Tamils to surrender to his will. Nothing pleased the Tamils more than his power to kill their opponents. Each time he killed the coffers in the Tamil diaspora overflowed with dollars. So Prabhakaran had no qualms about killing Tamils.. And the Tamil leadership, from Appapillai Amirthalingam to Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, the current leader of the Opposition, remained silent believing that the doctrine of necessity justified the killing of the Tamils who were an unnecessary obstruction to achieve Eelam.
The failure of the Tamil moral guardians to stand up for the rights of the little children is an unpardonable obscenity. Tamil culture reached it lowest depths when the Tamil Churchmen handed over the Tamil children kept in their care by the Tamil parents to the LTTE. The Tamil priests tipped off the LTTE at midnight. The children were picked up and taken away forcibly from the Church in the morning. If the Churchmen, kicking aside all moral barriers, supplied other people’s children left in their care to fill the depleted cadres of the LTTE what was there to prevent Prabhakaran from brain-washing those children to kill their fellow-Tamils – their own kith and kin ? Whose crime is greater? The Church offering Tamil children to Prabhakaran to turn them into killers? Or Prabhakaran giving the kids their last supper of cyanide pills and sending them off to kill dissident Tamils like Neelan Tiruchelvam?
Since Prabhakaran didn’t achieve any lasting victory for the Tamils isn’t his greatness only in turning kids into brutal killers? Isn’t his cult of Tamils killing Tamils the ultimate glory of the Tamil culture? Considering the history of this cult that began with Sankilli – the killer of 600 Catholics in Mannar in 1544 — is there any chance of the Tamils going beyond Prabhakaran to produce an enlightened and humane leader who would care and work selflessly for all the Tamils?
(To be continued)