SOME OBSERVATIONS ON CASTE IN JAFFNA Part 2
Posted on January 24th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Sooriasegaram pointed out that In spite of many obstacles and obstructions by the Tamil ruling elites we have seen slow but definite progress among the oppressed caste community in education and in being able to receive healthcare facilities. This was made possible by the welfare state, introducing free education from primary school all the way up to University and a free national health service and also laws against caste discriminatory practices. In particular, he said, the nationalization of all state funded schools.

Mass Movement for Social Justice (MMSJ)  formed by a group of leftists,  held a conference in Kokuvil, Jaffna on 15 October 2016  to mark the 50th year since the 21st October 1966   demonstration in Jaffna,  and to review the past as well as to strategise the way forward. A series of academics and activists spoke about the ongoing perpetuation of caste-based discrimination and the disregard paid to it by Tamil political parties and leaders. Speakers pointed to numerous recent examples of caste-based discrimination in respect of government administrative officials in the North-East, land disputes, marriages and entrance to temples and churches.

The MMSJ Conference looked at education. The MEP government helped to provide schools for the non-Vellala. At the request of the Maha Sabha, Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party government established nearly 15 schools in the peninsula to cater to the educational needs of minority Tamils.

In the 1960s, Director of Education in Jaffna and the principals of Jaffna Central College and Parameswara College were very keen to educate children coming from oppressed castes and gave them admission. But it was still difficult for the children of minority Tamils to get admission to leading schools, like Jaffna Hindu College, and Puttur Sri Somaskanda College. The Department of Education took action against principals who flouted the regulation.

During MEP rule, more than 200 non-Vellala youth were appointed as teachers at these schools. These appointments were given to those who had three credit passes in the O level exam.  A. Amirthalingam, then an MP in Parliament, opposed this move under the pretext that it would bring down educational standards.

While students from all castes could now go to the same school, you had to look beyond that kind of superficial equality, said a speaker at the Conference.  Discriminatory practices continued in the enrolment of students at schools. I saw on a school admission form that parents had to fill to enroll their child in Grade 1 – details had been asked about the parents’ income, educational levels attained, and even whether they owned land. What has the parents’ income or education (which would knock out many of the oppressed castes’ parents), and especially their ownership of land, got to do with their child’s education?”asked one speaker.

 

Another participant said We know of a certain school that knocks out applicants based on their addresses – they use the addresses to perceive if a child comes from a dominant caste or not. So oppressed caste parents who want to enroll their children in that school have now learned to give fake addresses – thereby ensuring that their children are given a seat which would otherwise be denied them.”

In many schools, upper-caste teachers discriminated against students from marginalized castes. These students were not given benches or chairs. They had to sit on the floor. Even if they were given seats, they had to use the seats at the back. They were unnecessarily punished by their upper-caste teachers. The teachers insulted these children by pointing out their caste background in front of upper-caste students. The MMSJ Conference noted that the majority of jobs and positions of power were still held by Vellala caste (high caste) Tamils in Jaffna and even if students from oppressed castes were able to succeed in school, they were offered few job opportunities.

P.J.Antony was asked in 2011,   by an interviewer, have you noticed any significant changes in the caste hierarchy over time? P.J. Antony provided a bouquet of observations. Discrimination against minority-Tamil students at schools has declined. We no longer need separate schools for minority Tamils.  Minority Tamils have been able to become graduates, doctors and engineers.We rarely see caste discrimination in public sector offices these days. Barber saloons are free of caste discrimination. Some hairdressers, for instance, have customers exclusively from the Vellala community, whereas others cater to customers from the less-privileged castes.

The younger generation of the downtrodden castes thinks that there is no caste discrimination now. Similarly, people belonging to the upper castes claim that caste oppression has come to an end. But caste discrimination exists on the ground in multiple ways. at the University of Jaffna, minority-Tamil students, even if they excel in studies, are hardly appointed to positions above demonstrator. A person from an underprivileged community was not appointed to the post of Registrar at the University of Jaffna, even though he had the necessary qualifications.

Though minority Tamils are able to secure jobs in various departments and boards, they are denied promotions, though not overtly, on caste grounds. Many temples in Jaffna still remain closed to minority Tamils. When the people of Jaffna were displaced to Chavakacheri in 1995 during the Eelam war, upper-caste well-owners threw litter and excreta into wells on unused land in order to prevent displaced people belonging to non Vellala castes from using those wells. All in all, many oppressed-caste people are impoverished in many ways, concluded Antony.

Non Vellalas are angry and frustrated that there were no Tamil politicians from any political party that were willing to take a public stance against caste and address the issue.  Tamil nationalist groups and dominant Tamil political parties have not shown much interest in abolishing caste oppression, said Antony. ‘Today not a single high caste Tamil intellectual or politician talks openly about the problems of the Tamil underclass, said Jayaweera.’ Caste discrimination is never discussed in Tamil nationalist politics said Swasthika Arulingam and Aheelan Kadirgamar. ‘Human Rights Organizations never talk of the humiliating oppression of the ordinary Tamils of the north by the land owning Tamils, either.

the TNA parliamentarians , domiciled in Colombo,  are typical absentee landlords of the north, the best lands are owned by a small 15% of such upper caste Tamils,  These absentee landlords became MPs and blocked any legislation that  would benefit the non-Vellalas. The leaders of the Tamil Separatist Movement are also Vellala, they   are a landowning caste based elites. It is an ironical that they oppress a substantial section of the Tamil community while at the same time fighting to secure equal rights with the majority Sinhala community. These observations were made by Rasalingam and Sooriasegaram.

Tamil Congress, Federal Party and the TULF never supported freedom struggles of the oppressed people r in the past or present. ‘They always took the side of the oppressors’  which means the Vellala. These political parties unashamedly practiced or promoted or at best remained silent on the marginalization and oppression of the lower caste communities and prevented them from improving their life chances.

Tamil politicians have done their best to keep the Non-Vellala castes down. The Tamil strongly opposed giving the vote to low caste persons, during the Donoughmore commission. After Independence, Tamil Vellala MPs blocked any legislation that would benefit the non-Vellalas.   Federal Party campaigned against the nationalization of schools, which eliminated or at least minimised discrimination against low caste community in school admissions. Building of causeways and road that would make the depressed caste village accessible was opposed. Upgrading of village councils and Town Councils in the North were opposed.

Caste distinctions continue.  Even in the temporary shelters after the Eelam war the upper castes did not like live next to the lower castes.   Tamil youths who migrate to the Colombo also maintain caste distinctions. Lunch groups and social gatherings are exclusive. The different caste groups that constituted the minority-Tamil community do not have marital relationships with one another; they maintain their insularity. Intercaste marriage is still tabooed and the couple are ostracized. The minority Tamils who are educated and hold prestigious jobs conceal their caste identity and regard themselves as superior to the less-privileged members of the minority-Tamil community.

Representation of the non-Vellalas in local government, Provincial Councils and Parliament is almost zero in spite of the fact they represent over 40% of the population in the NP. Non-Vellalas were denied membership in local government bodies such as the village council and the town council. When a non-Vellala was elected to the Kopay Village Council in the late 1950s he was not given a chair he was asked by the other members to sit on an old mortar.

When wards were demarcated for electoral purposes, Vellala bureaucrats split the areas densely populated by minority Tamils into several segments and merged them with the different wards where the Vellalas were the majority. Minority Tamils could not become a majority in any of the wards that came under a local government body. Consequently, they could not send their representatives to the local government bodies in Jaffna.

Non-Vellala Tamils have therefore gone before the recently concluded Pubic Representation Committee on Constitutional Reforms and asked for Caste based reservations in governing bodies. Caste based reservations in governing bodies and educational institutions have been sought by some political parties, organizations and individuals in Jaffna in their submissions to the Pubic Representation Committee on Constitutional Reforms, the Committee said. This is the only province from where they came openly about the caste problem.

The EPRLF was one political party that sough such reservation citing that caste based discrimination was so acute. They said there was discrimination. They even said the depressed castes accounted for 40 per cent. ‘I asked why they did not fight back if the number were so high’ said one committee member.

They were concerned that there was no representation for them in the elected bodies and the education sector. They said the political parties were dominated by the higher caste groups today. It is difficult to get nominations from these parties. They wanted allocation of seats.” Even medical specialists came before the Committee and complained about discrimination over the caste factor.  Some members of our committee were very angry when such complaints were made. Some of our committee members took it as exaggeration,” the Committee said.

The non-Vellala castes traditionally did not own land. Thesawalamai ensured that no uppity low caste person would get piece a piece of land unless he paid the landowner and the neighbours and even then he could be chased off the land, said Rasalingam.

Today, when educated members of their community attempt to buy land, they are thwarted in various ways. Should they succeed even then in buying lands, especially in dominant Vellala areas the community around them tended to harass and marginalise them in various ways.   Upper-caste Tamils who have left the country for good are not willing to sell their land to minority Tamils, said Antony .

The government and NGOs have not done anything substantial to distribute land to the oppressed castes. Though some of them have been living on temple land for many years, they cannot become owners of that land either. In places like Vaddukoddai and Point Pedro, many are unable to build houses, even though the government is willing to provide them with financial support, as they do not possess land.

From 2016, there has been increasing agitation and a series of caste confrontations over upper caste cemeteries located within oppressed caste villages.  A problem which has been simmering for a very long time has now exploded, said an analyst.

In October 2016, in Thidatpulam, the Vellala community from Punnalaikadduvan North attempted to reassert their control over a cemetery after decades. The Thidatpulam villagers, refused to permit the use of the cemetery, where a few families had encroached and built houses over the years. The Vellalas hired sword-wielding gangs, the confrontation turned violent, and the community centre and reading room of Thidatpulam was defaced with used oil. The villagers, many of whom depend on wage labour in the landed upper caste villages, were reminded of the two young men from Thidatpulam who were murdered in 1982.

In March 2017, two villages, one upper caste and the other oppressed caste, attempted to cremate in a cemetery adjoining Kalaimathy village. There was a confrontation   which led to police action. 28 villagers were arrested and were kept in custody for over a week. Villagers launched a continual Satyagraha.

The villagers are strongly opposed to rebuilding this cemetery. they object to the unbearable smell and harmful pollution.  These Jaffna Crematoriums are open spaces with no boundary walls. There is no vegetation, trees or gardens around it. There was also a significant protest numbering to hundreds in front of the Jaffna Bus Stand on May 13, 2017. They are demanding that the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) look into the matter.  They say that local officials, the police and the Pradeshiya Sabhas, are not taking any action.

These cemeteries were not used during the Eelam wars. This attempt to start cremating in these cemeteries is seen as attempt to enforce Vellala power once again. Caste” is re-consolidating through stealth in Jaffna said an analyst. While caste is hardly discussed in public, subtle forms of caste exclusion are still seen in temples and community centres. the caste stratification of Tamils must now be acknowledged  said  Swasthika Arulingam and Aheelan Kadirgamar.  (Concluded)

 

One Response to “SOME OBSERVATIONS ON CASTE IN JAFFNA Part 2”

  1. Christie Says:

    Christie Says:
    January 23rd, 2019 at 3:05 pm
    https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-35650616
    Read and see the picture about the caste system in India.
    Those humans caste by Brahma were Caste people. Anyone else is not a Caste person.
    This is well illustrated by the fact Tribes people in India are treated as Dalits ( Chandals)in Tamil). So all people who are not Caste who happen to be Hindus are out casts.
    So for the High Caste Hindus everyone else is a Dalit. So you and me and Putin, Queen, Trump are all Dalits.
    Dalits are concentrated in their own habitat and are not allowed to leave their habitat.
    So the Chandals in Jaffna are not Dalits who have come from India. This is the case even today. The only Dalits that are found living in the West are found in USA and in Australia.
    These few Dalit families happened to come from Bhutan as refugeed in the 1990s if I am right. These Dalits are not allowed to attend Hindu Temples and the priests do not service this community.
    The first large migration or arrival of Indian Colonial Parasites started in 1792. They came with the British to take over the Dutch Administration of the newly acquired Dutch possessions.
    The Sinhalese rebelled against these High Cate Indian Colonial Parasites from the Malabar Coast. Most of these Parasites did not return to India but settled in Jaffna.
    The Sinhalese who were in Jaffna became the Sakkiliyas of Ceylon.

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