Continuing the series on WHAT HAPPENED IN THE HISTORY OF JAFFNA -Who are the Vellahlas? Part 1
Posted on July 7th, 2012

H. L. D. Mahindapala

 Jaffna has a unique history: from its womb came the first mass murderer (Sangkili) of Sri Lanka and also the last (Prabhakaran). Sangkili killed 600 Catholics. Prabhakaran repeated Sangkili’s example by killing 600 policemen who surrendered to the LTTE on the undertaking given by Anton Balasingham, the Chief Negotiator of LTTE, to the Foreign Minister, A. C. S. Hameed, that they will be protected. The massacre violated the Geneva convention of protecting prisoners and also the undertaking given to the Sri Lankan Government who ordered the policemen to surrender in the hope of saving the peace process going on at the time. Jaffna was also the first to carry out genocidal slaughtering of the Sinhala-Buddhists and ethnic cleansing by forcing the living to escape into the Vanni. Rulers of Jaffna were the first ever to expel the Muslims and Malays.

 The crimes of the Tamils against non-Tamils are recorded in Yalpana Vaipava Malai. (See pp. 33 – 34 of Y.V.M edited by C. Brito). This historical record written in Jaffna by Mylvaganam in 1736, at the request of the Dutch governor, confirms that committing war crimes and crimes against humanity have been an integral and natural part of the violent political culture of Jaffna — a culture which ran its course like a river through the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial phases of its history. The record states that the history of Jaffna began and ended with mass murders, ethnic cleansings, persecution, massacres of Tamils by Tamils and fascist tyranny, which eventually denied even the children the right to return home from school safely without being abducted by Tamil “liberators”.  

 The  recurrent violence came out of the womb of Jaffna as an autochthonous force without any provocation from the Sinhalese or other minorities. The violence of the Tamil against Tamils confirm this. For instance, Jaffna is also unique in that it was the only place where the Tamil man could not walk with dignity ever since the Vellahlas took command in the colonial period, particularly from the Dutch period when the Thesawalamai (laws/customs of the land) legitimized their power to own slaves. Some like the turumbas were allowed to walk only in the night to protect the purity of the sight of the high-caste Vellahlas who were likely to cross the path of the polluted low-castes in day time. Jaffna, the heartland of Tamils, was the only place where the Tamil man was reduced to a subhuman slave and kicked around like a pariah. In fact, the word pariah entered the English vocabulary from Jaffna. It is the only place where the Tamil man could not enter a kovil to worship their God unless he belonged to the right caste.

 Jaffna was the only place where a Tamil boy or a girl could not go to school if they were not from the right caste, or sit in a chair of equal height occupied by a Vellahla student. It is the only place where a Tamil could not drink water from the well of the Vellahlas. It was the only place where a Tamil could not wear the customary clothes, jewellery or even bury the dead according to Hindu rites. It was also the only place in which the Catholic Church had separate pews that reserved the front rows for the high castes and kept the low-castes confined to the remote back rows. All the privileges and rights were instituted and reserved, by divine (Hindu), ecclesiastical (Catholic) and secular (Thesawalamai) laws, only for the upper-caste. The Vellahlas, in short, were the unrivalled supremacists and oppressors of Jaffna.

 The oppression, persecution, massacres of Tamils by Tamils which began in the pre-colonial period did not end with the Portuguese occupation of Jaffna in 1619. The denial of basic human rights were enforced under the Hindu casteist ideology  throughout its historical phases. The systemic persecution and oppression of casteism inherent in Vellahlaism were continued unabated under Prabhakaran who ruthlessly politicized his violence to maintain his supremacy. Prabhakaran transformed casteist  violence into institutionalized political violence. Prabhakaranism was  undoubtedly a gruesome genie that came out of the corked bottle of Vellahlaism that pursued Tamils — boys, girls and elders — relentlessly until they fell at his feet as subservient robots paying obeisance to his personality cult.

 The denial of basic rights to the Tamils was first socially engineered and driven by the fascist political culture of Jaffna dominated by the Vellahlas. Their social control of Jaffna was adopted and pursued rigorously and methodically by the cadres of Prabhakaran who infiltrated every corner of Jaffna to keep a tight grip on individuals. Like the Vellahlas Prabhakaran used violence without an qualms . His innovative contribution to Vellahla violence was to intensify the viciousness and the vindictiveness to a higher level which was applauded by the Vellahlas both at home and abroad. For instance, the low-castes under Vellahlas were beaten and burnt and dissidents under Prabhakaran who resisted  his regime were liquidated summarily  (like the entire Vellahla leadership) or imprisoned in 6 x 6 barbed wire cages. According to reports, around 800 imprisoned Tamil dissidents, some of whom were fed to the crocodiles in the Iranamdu Tank, disappeared just before the Tamil Tigers pulled  out of Killinochchi, their administrative capital, and no one knows how these Tamil prisoners disappeared.

 The Vellahla casteist elite did not feel threatened seriously under colonial powers until the incrementally evolving constitutional changes introduced by the British colonial masters reached a critical point in the 30s to empower the average citizen, irrespective of caste, creed, class, religion or race by introducing universal franchise under the recommendations of the Donoughmore Commission. Democratisation of the electorate — one of the first experiments of its kind in the world in the 30s equalizing the low-castes with the high-castes — was anathema to the Vellahlas who were forced to climb down from their high pedestal and seek the votes from the low-castes. Their reaction was to oppose the Donoughmore recommendation and demand communal electorates rejecting territorial constituencies. The casteist Vellahlas who were ensconced for centuries in their impregnable feudal fortress inside Jaffna suddenly found the foundations cracking and threatening their grip on power both inside and outside the peninsula. Their instant reaction was to shift to communalism as they perceived the Sinhala majority in the south as the bigger threat to their power bases, especially with the impending constitutional changes that would lead to independence.

 Besides, they began to react aggressively only in the dying days of the British raj when they felt that they could no longer rely on the protection of their colonial masters. In the early twenties of the twentieth century, when communal divisions came to the fore, they clamoured for protection by insisting on communal representation as opposed to territorial representation. In the mid-twenties, the English-educated, idealistic Tamil youth, however, rejected communal representation and campaigned for national unity on the basis of territorial representation. But in the thirties when the wave of the idealistic Tamil youth began to wane Jaffna took an irreversible turn towards communalism. It was driven into an ethnic cul-de-sac by G.G. Ponnambalam (Snr), “the embodiment of political aggression”, (p. 65 — S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 – 1977, A. J. Wilson, C. Hurst & Co (Publishers) Ltd, London, 1994). The virulent anti-Sinhala-Buddhist line he took made the  Jaffna Tamils  prisoners of their own ill-fated mono-ethnic ideology.

 Starting from the post-Ponnambalam thirties the trend of keeping external interventionists out and internal opponents silenced and suppressed gathered a new momentum. Jaffna, in any case, was a closed society that demanded conformity at any cost. The Hindu ideology of casteist supremacy gave the Vellahlas the upper hand in controlling the socio-political forces of the peninsula. The politics of Jaffna was consistently determined    by the casteist/classist interests of the Vellahlas. No one else had the chance of  getting even a toe-hold in Jaffna politics. But as the power of the Hindu casteism as an ideology to maintain the supremacy of the ruling Vellahlas declined, particularly under the impact of Christianity and to some extent left-wing ideologies, not to mention the creeping market forces, the Vellahla elite took to mono-ethnic extremism as the next best internal force to hold the fractured Jaffna polity together under their control. So on the eve of Independence (1948) the Vellahlas were in total control of the commanding heights of peninsular politics, economics, religious and societal forces. They owned the land and the Hindu kovils — two key strategic centres that gave them almost total control of Jaffna society. The English-educated Vellahlas were also dominating the public service, a vital base needed to wield power over not only Jaffna but the whole nation. Having obstructed the non-Vellahla low-castes to gain access to education they also became the numerically superior English-educated class which gave them easy entry into the professions and the public service.

 Besides, the Hindu religious reformation initiated and launched by Arumuka Navalar (1822 — 1879), a committed Vellahla casteist, impacted decisively in Jaffna to reinvent and reinforce the new casteist hierarchy that exist to this day. Single-handed he reconstructed arbitrarily the Hindu ideology to elevate and anoint the Vellahlas as the divinely ordained ruling caste. He was, of course, providing a vital missing link in the Hindu casteist hierarchy. The key missing link in the Hindu hierarchy based on the classical Hindu casteist ideology, was the absence of the Brahmins at the top in Jaffna. Yalpana Vaipava Malai was the first to point this out. It says: “There was one requisite, however, that even royalty could not easily supply, namely a Brahman, for performing sacred rites, as it accounted a great pollution for Brahmans to cross the sea or dwell in the land of Rakshasas.” (p.10) The Vellahlas Hindus worship Arumuka Navalar almost as a demi-god for elevating them to the rank of Brahmins — right on the top of the Hindu hierarchy in Jaffna. But the low-castes have contempt for him and when V. Navaratnam, MP, organised a procession to pay homage to his image carried around Jaffna N. Shanmugathasan of the Communist Party led a counter protest which stoned and obstructed the passage of Navalar’s image carried atop a festival cart. The “Sinhala Government” had to send a police reinforcements to keep the peace between the two caste groups.

 The colonial masters, of course, did not dare disturb the Hindu universe in case it roused political passions of the entrenched Vellahla ruling caste — the most powerful force in peninsular politics. Their power infiltrated every niche of the colonial administration, from top of the British administration to the village council in every remote corner of Jaffna. Though the Sinhalese were in the majority it was the Jaffna Tamils (read the Vellahlas) who acted as the majority. Prof. K. M. de Silva, foremost historian of Sri Lanka, stated that even Gov. William Manning was convinced that the Tamils (read the the Vellahlas because the low-castes had no voice in peninsular politics) constituted a majority.

 They were also successful in diverting a lion share of the resources to the north and the east. Jane Russell, in her well researched book, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution, 1931 – 1947, points out: “From 1900 to 1931 the Northern and Eastern Provinces had received almost 50% of the total government expenditure on major irrigation works.” (p. 170). In the 80s’ the People’s Quality of Life Index — an index which measures the quality of the life on the ground as opposed to the abstract and remote GDPs and GNPs — placed Jaffna on the top of the scale based on the high quality of health, education, transport and other infrastructure flowing into it to elevate it above the other provinces. Jaffna became the citadel of the Vellahla priviligentsia, giving them an enormous sense of being superior to all others.

 All this makes it clear that every aspect of social and political life in Jaffna was effectively controlled by the Vellahlas. The first communal political organisation, the Maha Jana Sabhai formed in 1921 was “overwhelmingly a Vellahla organisation” (p.94 – Ibid) .  The grassroot village committees too were under the control of the Vellahlas. In 1927 there were 371 Village Committees in the north and Jane Russell states: “In most instances the Vellahlas controlled the Village Committees either by successful gerrymandering or electoral wards or by manipulation and intimidation of other castes.” (97 – Ibid). She adds: “In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Jaffna Youth League had set up a number of Youth Service Leagues in the villages, but by 1934 these had fallen into desuetude. After 1933 the village political arena was dominated by the conservative, communalist and caste-minded leaders of village opinion.” (p. 99– Ibid). A. J. Wilson, Professor of Political Science, University of New Brunswick, Canada, states: “On the whole, the Tamil Vellahlas have dominated government service and the professions, with the occasional member from the minority castes.” (p. 140 — S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 – 1977, C. Hurst & Co (Publishers) Ltd, London, 1994).

 And yet it is this Tamil priviligentsia that cried discrimination. Soulbury Commissioners in dismissing the claim of discrimination by “the Sinhala Government” laid by G. G. Ponnambalam pointed out that 32% of jobs in the public service were held by 12% of Jaffna Tamils. The average mentality of the English-educated Jaffna was “fixated on working as government get a clerkship in government service.” Bishop Sabapathy Kulendram of Church of South India even urged the Jaffna Tamils to give up their “craze for clerkship”. (p.72 — Ibid). It was in support of this craze for clerkship in government service that G. G. Ponnambalam cried discrimination by the Sinhala-dominated government at a time when the British were still ruling Ceylon, as it was known then. Soulbury Commissioners dismissed this claim pointing out that 32% of jobs in the public service was held by 12% of Jaffna Tamils.

It is convincingly clear that “the conservative, communalist and caste-minded” Vellahlas left no space for any other force, group or individual to infiltrate Jaffna as rivals to their power. They used every means at their disposal to cling on to their feudal power and colonial privileges, positions and perks. Ponnambalam, led the anti-Sinhala racist hysteria based on fictitious claims which, however, gained currency in the subsequent years, particularly after the passing of the Sinhala Only Bill in 1956. This language issue will be dealt separately. That too was used by the Vellahla upper caste to consolidate their power. In fact, the language issue became the most pivotal and exploitable issue for the Federal (Vellahla dominated) Party to overthrow Ponnambalam and emerge as the unrivalled political party in the north  and to push peninsular politics into irreversible mono-ethnic extremism. .

 The Vellahlas were riding high on the idea of a linguistic federal state and germinated this idea successfully “among sections of Ceylon Tamils, especially lower-rung government servants in Colombo and the farmers of Jaffna” (p.66 – Ibid). The government servants and the farmers belong to the same Vellahla caste.  These two categories were also key political bases of the Vellahlas. Chelvanayakam did not launch his Federal Party in Jaffna. He preached  his separatist gospel first to the Tamil public servants at the Government Clerical Service Union in Maradana on December 18, 1949 — long before S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike ever dreamt of breaking away from the UNP and forming the SLFP.

 Another peculiar characteristic of the Vellalhlas that irredeemably fixed their mindset was their sense of superiority, unwarranted by any known civilized norms, . This was first noted by the Dutch administrator of Jaffna, Zwardekoon, who identified the two main characteristics of the Vellahlas when he referred to them as “that unbearably proud and obstinate Bellale caste…..” The unwarranted pride and the stupid obstinacy of the Jaffna Tamil leadership have inculcated their minds with ambitious illusions which are beyond their capacity to achieve them. Their failure to grasp the realities that has hit them time and time again has been not  only the primary cause of their downfall but also the cause of the untold suffering to the Tamil people. It is partly this factor that led Prof. Kumar David to label the Tamil leadership as “stupid”. It  is worse than that. The Tamil leaders have been the Pied Pipers who treated their people like rats in stinking sewers and led them all the way, lured by mantras of separatist dreams, to Nandikadal. 

 The mass massacres of Tamils, the persecution and denial of basic human right to the Tamils by the Tamil leadership puts it beyond any doubt that other than shedding crocodile tears the Vellahlas were never committed to lift the oppressed Tamils from the depths into which they had fallen as a result of  violent and vicious Vellahlaism. The most privileged Vellahlas  were adepts in  projecting  themselves as the victims of oppressive “Sinhala governments” — a line which was swallowed hook, line and sinker by the Sinhala political scientists of the left who had never explored the dark side of the Sri Lankan moon. The Vellahlas also used a sophisticated vocabulary and narrative of victimology to portray themselves as the Tamils though it never included the low-castes they oppressed throughout  their history,or the Indian Tamils or the  other Tamil-speaking communities. They always ganged up against anyone opposing  or threatening their power bases. The Dutch were the first to face the wrath of the Vellahlas when they rebelled against the Dutch for appointing a Madapalli canakepulle, writer of the commander of Jaffna, in the Dutch administration. The appointment from the rival caste of Madapallis to such a high position closest to the centre of Dutch government led the Vellahlas to revolt which, of course, rattled the Dutch.

 The biggest battles fought by the Vellahlas were not to liberate their domain from the colonial masters,or to liberate their people from serfdom of Hindu casteism but to be a part of the colonial administration at the highest level for them to consolidate their power and privileges by acquiring key positions in the administration of the colonial rulers. Vellahlas manoeuvring for positions of power in the colonial administrations were constant headaches to the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. Highlighting the Vellahla revolt against the Dutch Mudliyar C. Rasanayagam states: “…..the Madapallis perhaps on account of their royal origin considered themselves higher than the Vellahlas. Their struggle for supremacy continued for a very long time and became so troublesome that the Portuguese and after them the Dutch Governments had to secure peace by treating them exactly alike in the matter of honours and offices. The Dutch Governor Van Rhee writing in 1697 had to exclaim: “I think it necessary to state that a bitter and irreconcilable hatred has always existed in Jaffna between the caste of the Bell alas and the Madapallis so that these may not be elevated in rank and the offices of honour one above the other. For these reasons the two writers to the commander (canakepulles) are taken from these two castes so that one of them is a Bellala and the other a Madapally” (pp. 389-90 — Ancient Jaffna)

 Haughtiness and obstinacy that goes with haughtiness have been encoded indelibly in the DNA of the Vellahlas. They were never ashamed to proclaim it loudly. The consequences of these two characteristics will be considered in the next issue.

10 Responses to “Continuing the series on WHAT HAPPENED IN THE HISTORY OF JAFFNA -Who are the Vellahlas? Part 1”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    No point talking this over and over again.

    Govt should SCRAP Vesavalami laws NOW.

    Otherwise it will be Valla-alla-la rule.

  2. AnuD Says:

    Is the Meaning of Vellahlahmeans Tobacco – Farmer.

    These things are good to write and publish as a book.

    Conservative Tamils are unmixed Dravideans and they should be genetically violent.

    I think, Colonial missionaries used anti-Brahminism, and tamil patriotism (anti-Hindi) to convert Tamils to the ONLY TRUE FAITH Christianity. rise of Tamils also gave way to Dravistan concept by Tamil academics and intellectuals. Then, later Socialism was mixed to that. This tamil tribalism later spread into Sri Lanka because Yapapatuna was more close to South India than to Colombo. South Indian Tamil tribalism stopped when Tamilnadu came into life in 1964 ?. Early 1900s, when Tamils found that British master will be leaving Sri Lanka, They wanted a separate country and it did not materialize. That still continues.

    We have to sinhalize tamils as well we need to get rid of the Tamil tribalists from Sri Lanka. They are doing everything to achieve their goals. what ever we do, USA, INDIA and Church influence will stay there.

    Tamils are heading for self destruction. So, it is better to sinhalize them. So, we have so many Sinhala – buddhists.

  3. Kit Athul Says:

    Mr. Mahindapala, please correct: It is SCKILLI Mehan and NOT Sangili. This terrorist was captured by Don PHILLIPE De OLIVERA (By the order of the King) and taken over to Goa and was given a fair trial. He was found guilty of killing innocent Tamils. He was then hanged. We need to erect a statue Don Phillipe De Olivera.

  4. Jayantha Says:

    Within the next ten or so years (in Sri Lanka) one can see the entire country having a homogemously mixed population meaning the north and east will be densely populated by the majority sinhalese. The Tamil (jaffna) politicians in their efforts to keep the north and east separated for themselves used the BOYS to do their dirty work, who in turn killed them all one by one. The left over tamil politicians (so called TNA and their henchmen) hid behind Prabhakaran and toed the line to save their shin and their dear lives. In fact Prabhakaran was the great equalizer.

    The so called elitist tamil politicians were decimated by Prabhakaran. Defeat of Prabhakaran and his killers helped Sri Lanka eliminate the so called Elite Rascist Tamil Superioritsm and the parasites who ride the band wagon. It is now the right time to step in and make the best use of it. Sampanthan is very similar to the skipper of a rudderless, engineless old boat in a storm. The diaspora tamils and the rabble rousers in Tamil Nadu are hell bent in demanding the impossible from Sampanthan. After all the diaspora tamils have deep pockets.

    Where will it all end. Sampanthan is an old spent fragile man. He may have another five years the most before he is gone to never, never land. Tamils in Sri Lanka do not have any clear thinking leader after his demise. Running away to the west giving genocide as a reason the tamils have dug their own graves. Those who are left behind have no effective leadership than Sampanthan (almost a puppet).

    Sri Lanka’s leadership should now go through each and every dual citizenship holding tamil or sinhalese and evaluate them for suitability to be Sri Lankans. This way those who want to critisize Sri Lanka while owning land and property in Sri Lanka can be got rid of for the benefit of Sri Lanka. Every tamil who protest overseas against Sri Lanka shold be photographed, video filmed, identified and kicked out of Sri Lanka. Every dual citizenship holding tamil should be made to re-take a pledge of alegiance to Sri Lankan flag and Sri Lanka. Refusal should be reason for immediate expulsion.

    India and USA will not lift a finger to upset the balance. Sri Lanka is too valuable though a tiny island because of the China factor. The west knows that the Tamils are expendable. JP

  5. Lorenzo Says:

    Sri Lanka’s leadership should now go through each and every dual citizenship holding tamil or sinhalese and evaluate them for suitability to be Sri Lankans. This way those who want to critisize Sri Lanka while owning land and property in Sri Lanka can be got rid of for the benefit of Sri Lanka. Every tamil who protest overseas against Sri Lanka shold be photographed, video filmed, identified and kicked out of Sri Lanka. Every dual citizenship holding tamil should be made to re-take a pledge of alegiance to Sri Lankan flag and Sri Lanka. Refusal should be reason for immediate expulsion.

    Fully agree.

  6. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    In 1805 Capt.Robert Percival of British army in Jaffna wrote in his book “An account of the island of Ceylon” that the majority in Jaffna peninsula were Moors who wore a little white round cap on their shaven heads. Second largest community was Malabars, who had migrated to Lanka after the Portugese period, from the Coromandel coast of South India. They appeared different to the South Indians in Jaffna. Capt. Percival also recorded in his book that there were more foreigners in Jaffna than the people who were native to Jaffna. These “foreigners” were those Malabars who came from the Coromandel coast to grow tobacco. The legacy of the tobacco boom in Jaffna was reflected in the thousands of odd wells that have been used and are still being used for irrigation. Even after the big massacre of the Sinhalese in Jaffna in 1478, third largest community in Jaffna at that time was the Sinhalese. The South Indian community who had arrived as merchants and invaders, was smaller than all the above three communities.

  7. myopinion24 Says:

    Mahindapala – if you have desire to write a history book Pl write a book and I am sure it will find a grateful and timeless audience in a library. I am not sure that the inane repetition of the same theme over and over again actually contributes to any meaningful dialogue other than to stroke the egos of minority hard-core fanatics. Pl stop being a prima donna and start advocating some peaceful/humanitarian approaches to sorting out the mess. As a once respected and eminent journalist we expect nothing less from you

  8. Lorenzo Says:

    Peaceful/humanitarian approach to Tamil nationalism?

    Madness! This Tamil nationalism problem has an intelligent MILITARY solution.

  9. Fran Diaz Says:

    Some Tamil people go around saying they are this caste or that caste. What proof have they of their caste ? This is Sri Lanka where we do not care what a persons caste is ! We judge people by their acts.
    It is time Tamil folk dropped their caste parts. Let us get together to build this Nation. Tamil Nadu should do the same. Time to throw out Caste, in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

  10. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    From the 13th century when migration of Vellalar to Jaffna took place, Tamil Nadu has seen a decline in the traditional power of Vellalar. Successive colonial powers in Sri Lanka found Vellalar useful where Brahmins were not forthcoming. The Vellalar were not only cultivators, but a section of them which had developed scribal skills, provided the local officials, interpreters and accountants.
    In 1847, Kandar Arumukampillai(aka Arumuga Navalar) left the Jaffna Central College where he was a teacher because a ‘low caste’ Tamil student from the Nalavar caste was admitted to the school by the principal Peter Percival. Three decades later when a famine hit Northern Sri Lanka, Kandar Arumukampillai worked tirelessly to provide food and medicine to Vellalar only.
    In 1871, Caste clashes erupted between Vellalar, Dhoby caste and Barber caste in Mavittapuram when Dhoby caste people refused to wash the clothes of Barber caste people. Vellalar were blamed for the violence.
    September 1923 in Suthumalai, Vellalar attacked lower caste people who had hired drummers for a funeral alleging that lower caste people had no right to employ drummers for their funerals as they were ‘low caste’. In 1931 a similar violent riot took place in Chankanai where Pallar were attacked by Vellalar people for hiring drummers for a funeral.
    Do Tamil speaking Sri Lankans need to be reminded that they did not allow low castes to enter any place that Vellalar frequented? In June 1929 caste riots broke out again in Jaffna in response to the ‘equal seating directive’ of the government which was applicable to grant-aided schools. Under this directive ‘low caste’ students were allowed to sit on the bench. Until then they sat either on the floor or outside the classroom. This was how Tamil speaking Sri Lankans treated their own! Resultant riots bunt a large number of houses mainly of low caste Tamils. Their children en masse were stopped from attending schools. Repeated petitions were made to the government by Vellalar begging to cancel the directive! Ponnambalam Ramanathan went to request the Colonial Office in London to encode caste into legislative enactments.
    In 1931 the Vellalar attacked the lower castes for hiring drummers for funerals. The message of the Vellalar was clear – no low castes could hire drummers for funerals!
    Even after Independence, the Sinhala speaking Sri Lankans hardly knew of the existence of the lowwe caste Tamil speaking Sri lankans. As far as the Sinhala speaking Sri Lankan leaders were concerned the Tamil speaking Sri Lankans whom they met in Colombo, the leaders of Tamil Congress and the Federal Party, the Tamil speaking professionals and academics, and the Tamil speaking public servants were the real Tamil speaking Sri Lankans, indeed they were only Vellalar!
    It was S.W.R.D Bandaranaike who opened the doors for low caste Tamil speaking Sri Lankans to attend schools & temples – places that were taboo to them by their own Tamil speaking brethren.
    The Social Disabilities Act No. 21 was passed in the parliament in 1957 giving lower castes of Tamil speaking Sri Lankans the right to attend schools & temples as the part of S.W.R.D Bandaranaike’s plan was to penetrate into the “low caste” votes of Tamil speaking Sri Lankans.
    Lower castes Tamil speaking Sri Lankan children could attend school regularly only after this act. A reawakening happened in the north among previously marginalised lower caste Tamil speaking Sri Lankans.
    No sooner Vellalar realized the dangers of SLFP government led by S.W.R.D Bandaranaike courting the low caste Tamil speaking Sri Lankans, Vellalar devised their response. It was to create the best division possible. A rift between the Tamil speaking Sri Lankans and Sinhala speaking Sri Lankans which would strike better success than low caste – Vellalar divisions among Tamil speaking Sri Lankans. It is important to note that the satyagrahas, the tarring of Sinhala letter “SRI” instead of English letters on vehicle licence plates launched by the Veluppilai Chelvanayagam led Federal Party and G.G Ponnambalam led Tamil Congress – both Vellala high class political parties happened a year after making Sinhala the official language. Why did Federal Party and Tamil Congress not cry foul over the Sinhala Only Act in 1956 but oppose the Social Disabilities Act on 1957 with such venom? It is because Tamil speaking Sri Lankans wanted to deprive their own.
    Wijeyananda Dahanayake who was the Minister of Education in 1957, gave teaching appointments to many lower caste Tamil speaking Sri Lankans who had three credit passes in the S.S.C Exam (equivalent to current G.C.E O/L). Appapillai Amirthalingam who was a Federal Party MP then, opposed this move under the pretext that it would bring down educational standards.
    Similarly, when the Sirimavo R.D.Bandaranaike led SLFP Government introduced university standardization in 1973 those that opposed were those who were against equitable distribution. The schools in thirteen out of twenty two districts did not produce a single engineering or medicine student until 1974. Students from Colombo and Jaffna who had been privy to education opposed opportunities that would be enjoyed by students from Mannar, Monaragala, Vavuniya, Ampara, Kilinochchi & other less developed districts. While the composition of the ethnicity did not change entrance, for Tamil speaking Sri Lankans it meant not only the Vellalar but lower caste Tamil speaking Sri Lankans too would gain university entrance. This was why Vellalar opposed the 1973 university standardization introduced by Srimavo Bandaranaike led SLFP Government.
    Tamil speaking Sri Lankans who cry “discrimination” may like to recall how in the refugee camps during the 1983 riots Vellalar refused to share common toilet facilities with the low castes and a lot of problems arose inside the very camps housing only Tamil speaking Sri Lankans!

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