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TAMIL RACISM BOOSTED BY BOGUS THEORIES

H. L. D. Mahindapala

When the political caste/class of Jaffna initiated their extremist demands it was the British who rejected them and not the Sinhalese. The British cultivated them as subservient and pliant agents of their regime. But this protection given to the privileges of the vellahla ruling elite of Jaffna was beginning to erode under the relentless invasions of modernity. The arrogant vellahlas reacted convulsively when the encroachments of modernity began to undermine their feudal (casteist) and colonial privileges. They were reluctant to challenge the British whose patronage had made them the most privileged community in British Ceylon. They preferred to go along with the British colonialists, covertly aiding their white masters as complying agents in the legislature and in the administration. This political ploy was a common tactic, both under the Dutch and the British, to win a nudge-and-wink from the colonial masters to siphon off a disproportionate share of the state's resources to the vellahla base in the peninsula. The Dutch records categorically identify the need to win the vellahla consent to be in command of Jaffna. Their fleeting intervention as nationalists in the 20s' (very much like their brief honeymoon with Gandhism in the 30s') was doomed to fail under the overwhelming pressures of the vellahla culture.

The besieged vellahlas, who were bereft of a valid political justification to maintain their feudal and colonial privileges in the 20th century, disguised their casteist ambitions to dominate the political system as a struggle for minority rights. They turned to racism as a unifying factor within the peninsula. The signs of escalating ethnic fanaticism of Jaffna that was to explode in the post-colonial period were making its menacing presence felt in colonial times, long before "1956". After the withdrawal of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the only great liberal produced by Jaffna, the peninsula withdrew into a reactionary hole of racism led by his brother, Ponnambalam Ramanathan. (For details see Prof. K. M. de Silva essays in "The Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies" on the break-up of the Ceylon National Congress - January- June 1973). Ramanathan led the opposition to democratization by opposing universal franchise proposed by the Donoughmore reformers in the 20s. Later, isled by their own rhetoric, they boycotted the State Council in the thirties. Taken aback by their folly they raced to catch up for lost time by raising a demand for a "50-50" share of power in the forties. G. G. Ponnambalam argued for 10 hours before the Soulbury Commissioners demanding "50-50" for the minorities. Neither the other minorities nor the British agreed with him.

Though Ponnambalam lost that battle he laid the solid ideological foundations for the next stage of racism in Jaffna. "Fifty-fifty" was repackaged in a more virulent form under the leadership of Chelvanayakam's Tamil State Party in 1949. Irrespective of the actions of the Sinhala-Buddhists in the south the Jaffna electorate embraced the escalating ethnic fanaticism directed against the Sinhalese. Ponnambalam succeeded in burying the "aristocracy" of the old guard led by Mahadeva & Co.with his "50-50" cry. Chelvanayakam buried Ponnambalam by taking "50-50" to the next stage of separatism. And from the grave of Amirthalingam rose Prabhakaran. Each death was a milestone in escalating racism. No other community has pursued and injected racism into an electorate as the vellahla casteists fighting for their survival, with Jaffna as their base. The rest is history - the bleeding history of bitter racism of the peninsular political caste/class that refused to be a part of the multicultural democracy.

In the post-Ponnambalam phase, the most notable representative of Tamil racism in its most rabid form was Chelvanayakam, the immigrant child who found refuge in Sri Lanka at the age of four after his father found it convenient and comfortable to live in Malaysia, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves in a remote village in the northern corner of Jaffna. He saw his father only once after he was exiled with his mother and family to live in Sri Lanka. Later in life, the fatherless son had to make a solo trip to Malaysia to refresh his memory of what his father looked like. Did this abandonment and feeling of alienation cause a permanent injury to Chelvanayakam's psyche? Did this bleeding wound call for revenge on those who gave him refuge and succor? Ingratitude is a fairly common reaction among recipients of generosities showered on them by benevolent hosts. The hard fact is that if he continued to live in Malaysia he and his gang of racists would have been snuffed out before they could say "bhumiputra". In the host country which gave him everything to be what he wanted to be, he took to virulent racism, playing the imaginary and presumptuous role of "the father of the Tamils because he had no father of his own", as stated by Prof. A. J. Wilson. Today the children of Jaffna are paying for the sinsof their racist "father".

He raised the perennial cry of discrimination - a cry raised originally by the Jaffna Tamils in the Legislative Council even when the British were ruling - to its feverish pitch. Discrimination has many twists and shapes. The JVP Marxists, who were the first to take up arms on the cry of discrimination, argued that it was based on class antagonisms. The Jaffna Tamils gave discrimination a racist twist. Disguising it as "minority rights" the vellahlas raised racism within its Jaffna base to preserve their privileged status, both within the peninsula and outside. This Jaffna-centric gathered momentum as a movement in which only the ethnic fanatics of Jaffna had rights and not the other communities. Multiculturalism or pluralism was not advanced as a necessary condition of inter-ethnic harmony. Their idea of justice and fairness is in grabbing hundred per cent of their rights plus 67 per cent of others, as demonstrated in the coastline demarcated as their "homeland". In other words, their fight has not been for rights but to be in a commanding position to be on top of everyone else. This has been the intrinsic and guiding force of the intransigent and ruthless vellahla culture.

It is totally unrealistic to claim that Sri Lanka is the ideal non-violent multicultural society, or is free from discrimination. The worst discrimination and persecution, perhaps, occurs among the Sinhalese. When the UNP comes into power their opponents are killed, houses burnt, refused their dues, demoted or transferred, and this is repeated in reverse by the SLFP when they get their chance. When the JVP of LB got their chance they massacred their opponents indiscriminately. It is estimated that 20,000 died in the JVP reign of terror in 1971 and 80,000 in the second reign of terror (1988-1990). But in comparison to the raging ethnic and religious tensions that plague the contemporary world, the nationalist leaders (D. S. Senanayake in particular) took over the semi-feudal, semi-capitalist socio-economic order left behind by the British and created a multicultural society in keeping with the historical values and traditions that prevailed in Sri Lanka from the time the Sinhala-Buddhists started constructing their brand new and unique civilization.

Had Roberts, who restricts his historical excursions to the limited areas that fit into his propaganda, gone a bit beyond into the Munneswaram Tamil Inscription of Chilaw in which King Parakarambahu VI (1412 - 1467) records his donation of land to the Hindu Tamils of Munneswaram Temple (for details see Journal of the Sri Lanka Branch of Royal Asiatic Society, 1974, Vol.VXIII - pp.54 - 69, S. Pathmanthan) he would get some understanding of the extent of tolerance and generosity inherent in the Sinhala-Buddhist consciousness. Parakramabahu VI also constructed the Nallur Temple after he subjugated the Jaffna feudatory. Isn't Munneswaram a monument raised (like the Nallur Temple) to respect the Tamil-Hindus and their culture? Isn't the Munneswaram Tamil Inscription one of the many outstanding examples that invalidates Roberts' "Vamsa theory"? Will any culture that does not recognize egalitarian rights of a minority erect such monuments? But LB joins Roberts in saying that the Sinhala collective identity was never egalitarian. Why? Because Roberts had picked up expressions like " 'sadi demala' and a range of other foreigners such as 'Kannadi, doluvara, Kaberi and Tuppahi' ".

It is a common tendency for "insiders", whether in a profession, caste, class, community or institution, to refer to "outsiders" in disparaging terms. It is also too easy to pick such references from the written and the spoken languages of any group. Roberts, LB and I live in Australia. I don't have to tell them how "the frogs, the slanty-eyed bastards, the dagos, the wogs, boongs, booris (both refer to Aborigine or blacks), etc" are a part of everyday speech in Australia. Lenie Johansen's "Penguin book of Australian Slang" lists them all. Roberts is fully aware of the racist remarks hurled at non-white cricketers in the cricket field - a ground that is sacred to him. So how valid is Roberts' yardstick of egalitarianism? Is there a single unique society which can come within their definition? For instance, what has France, which burst into the modern world with the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, produced at the end of over two centuries? Answer: Jean-Marie Le Pen!

Besides, why pick on the use of derogatory terms only when the Sinhalese say it? Where is the egalitarianism of the casteist Jaffna Tamils who referred to their own Tamil-speaking peoples as "coolies", or "pariahs" or "tambiahs" or "nanas"? If Roberts and LB are seriously looking for egalitarianism among the Sinhala consciousness they will find it carved in the Munneswaram Tamil Inscription, in the Hindu gods sitting side by side with the Buddha statutes, in the Nallur Temple built by the Sinhalese, in employing Tamils as their Chief Ministers from time immemorial and, above all, inscribing their works in Tamil acknowledging Tamil as a respected language. How many Western democracies have given the languages of the minorities the place given to Tamil in Sri Lanka? What are the chances of Tamil language announcements being piped into the cabins of Quantas or a Canadian airlines? What are the possibilities of Tamils being given an exclusive place in the national flag of Britain? Has anyone seen the language of the minority Samas printed on the currencies, stamps and air letters of Norway? Among the nations where the Tamil diaspora live and campaign against the Sinhala-Buddhists which one has the better record of egalitarianism?

Despite the sporadic outbursts of violence in modern times, the Sinhala-Buddhists have a tolerant record of giving protection not only to LB and Uyangoda running away from the scene of crime but also to the persecuted Catholics and the Muslims and even wives and children exiled by their fathers. With all its glaring defects, who built the long-standing democracy in Sri Lanka? Prof. A. J. Wilson states that it is Buddhism that strengthened the democratic institutions of Sri Lanka. Unable to challenge the evidence in the monumental achievements of the Sinhala-Buddhist culture Roberts deliberately picks the muck floating in the gutter to fabricate his theories. It is this perverse tendency that has led superior scholars to cast him among the scum in academia.

When Roberts' fraudulent practices are added to his anti-Sinhala-Buddhist obsession, can he be trusted to produce objective or credible interpretations of Sri Lankan history? In his bitter hatred of the Sinhala-Buddhists Roberts will stoop to anything. But these factors do no enter the cadjan-curtained mind of LB. On the contrary, he considers Roberts as a kind of scholar who has the right answers to the current political situation that has gone wrong. But consider how right both are in the defence put up for Roberts by LB in the following statement:

"Michael's thesis on deeply entrenched nationalist thinking appears to hold ground in the context of the recent Sri Lankan political history. However, the true test of this thesis will be an analysis of the expression of the will of the Sinhala people since the 60s. The current petrifying situation is not, I believe, due to "deeply entrenched nationalist thinking" but due to cyclically peaking, treacherously extremist nationalist positions taken by power-starving readerships of the mainstream political parties." First he says that Roberts' "thesis on deeply entrenched nationalist thinking appears to hold ground in the context of recent Sri Lankan political history". Then, in "an analysis of expression of the will of the Sinhala people since the 60s" he says that "(T)he current petrifying situation is not, I believe, due to "deeply entrenched nationalist thinking." If so how can "Michael's thesis… hold ground"?

Confirming the rejection of "extremism" by the Sinhala-Buddhists he says in another paragraph: "Inspite of growing nationalism in 1950s and 1960s, it is interesting to note Sinhala peoples' rejection of Rajaratne's extreme nationalism couched in socialist slogans and Tamil peoples' rejection of extreme nationalism couched in separatist slogans ascertain this matter beyond doubt. Further verifications are witnessed in the recent voting patterns of the Sinhala people, latest being in voting for a peaceful negotiated settlement in 1994." Doesn't this blast Roberts' thesis sky high? If "(I)nspite of growing nationalism in 1950s and 1960s," the Sinhala people rejected "Rajaratne's extreme nationalism" what validity is there in Roberts "Vamsa theory" that blames Sinhala-Buddhists for acting like "extreme nationalist" devils? And, again, when LB says that "in the recent voting patterns of the Sinhala people, latest being voting for a peaceful negotiated settlement in 1994," have not the Sinhala people rejected Roberts' thesis of "deeply entrenched nationalist thinking" and thrown both LB and Robertsinto the rubbish bin?

Does LB know what he is talking about? The evidence quoted by him undermines his own argument and that of Roberts. On the one hand, he wants to back Roberts "Vamsa theory" as an evil force that has bedevilled the polity but, on the other, he finds the political behaviour of the Sinhala-Buddhists contradicts this theory and reveals that they had convincingly rejected "extreme nationalism". Obviously, neither the facts nor the logic of LB's own conclusions can convince him that the Sinhala-Buddhists, who, in his own words, had rejected "extreme nationalism", are not the kind of people who behave according to their bogus theories.

But wait! This is not all! The most astounding piece of his argument is when he claims that Tamil people had "rejected extreme nationalism couched in separatist slogans". The Tamil academics and the Tamil politicians have been arguing that they had gone to the polls demanding a separate state and their people have endorsed it. But LB comes out crowing that this is not the case. It is this distortion of facts and weird logic that make LB and Roberts two peas in the same rotten pod. They have no evidence for their anti-Sinhala-Buddhist thesis or for the white-washing of the racist extremism of the Tamils but they want us to believe their fabrications.

These two confused theoreticians represent the gang of pseudo-intellectuals, whose concoctions, doctored evidence, arguments undermined by their own internal logic have been endorsed as the approved orthodoxy of the day. After the last local government elections the entire caboodle of NGO pundits was ecstatic about the tolerance and generosity of the Sinhala-Buddhist electorate which had rejected "extreme nationalism". But can these pundits be trusted? Tomorrow when the Sinhala-Buddhists demand peace with dignity and justice for all - and not for one community alone - they will be branded as racists and followers of the "Vamsa ideology".

As stated by them, the Sinhala-Buddhist electorate rejected K.M.P. Rajaratne. They rejected the man who hammered Rajiv Gandhi with the butt of his rifle. They rejected the Bhumiputras and a plethora of other extremists. On the contrary, the Jaffna Tamil electorate has been swinging from the 1920s from one extreme to another. From one extra seat in predominantly Sinhala electorate in the Western province, in addition to the seats given to them in the northern electorate in the 1920s, they escalated their demands to "50-50" and then to racist separatism in the Tamil State Party of Chelvanayakam and from there to the declaration of war in Vaddukoddai Resolution of 1976 - the final act that endorsed Tamil racist violence against the Sinhalese and produced Prabhakaran. They continue to focus only on the south and never on the northern electorate because the hidden evidence, when unearthed, will blast their anti-Sinhala-Buddhist myths and propaganda.

A holistic approach must necessarily balance the northern trends with the southern trends. A holistic approach must explain how the northern racism was heading for an inevitable clash with the other communities. The underlying causes of the current crisis can be found essentially in the over determining racist forces that spilled over from the peninsula and exacerbated the national inter-ethnic relations. In short, Yal Devi did not go on a one-way journey from Colombo to Jaffna. It also came down, disgorging its cargo of racist forces. A holistic approach can be credible only when the inter-ethnic relations are intertwined as one whole strand. Radhika Coomaraswamy acknowledges this inter-ethnic relationship, tangentially. She had stated categorically that it is the intransigence of "Tamil nationalist extremism" that is the central and continuing cause of prolonging the agony of the nation.

But neither the hard realities of the post-1956 phase, nor the valid historical evidence come into the political equation of LB and Roberts. Both brush aside the available evidence because the incontrovertible realities contradict their anti-Sinhala-Buddhist fabrications. Like all propagandist the success of their demonization or white-washing depends on exaggerating and repeating the same lie over and over again. It is, therefore, not surprising to find MARGA commissioning Roberts, C. R. de Silva, T. Bartholomeusz , Devenesan Nesiah, Uyangoda, Neville Jayaweera - some of the habitual anti-Sinhala-Buddhist agents - to rewrite a history that fits into the NGO political agenda. Their names may sound different. Their faces too may look different. But they have only one mouth and one voice to sing the same tune for their supper.

P.S: More comments are in order but I shall reserve them for the next round when LB returns with his inventions.

(Concluded)


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