Police Superintendent Sunderalingam reveals how Vellahlas at Maviddipuram ganged up against him
Posted on March 14th, 2016

H. L. D. Mahindapala

I wish to forward the following e-mail I received from Mr. Ramachandra Sunderalingam, the Police Superintendent of Jaffna when the Maviddipuram revolt of the low-castes was at its peak. I think this letter has value for research students digging deep into the caste issue in Jaffna. It  is an insightful first-hand account of an eye-witness who actively participated in the negotiations with his  namesake, C. Suntheralingam (CS), the casteist firebrand who was leading the Vellahla counter-attack to keep out the low-castes storming the gates of Maviddipuram Temple. It also reveals the tightly-knit  caste network of  the Vellahlas who were pulling  for each other from  their commanding  positions  in strategic places.

Mark you, CS was a professor  of mathematics and had been a Cabinet Minister in the Cabinet of D. S. Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. CS  is the archetypical Vellahlite who combined in him the two main characteristics that defined a Vellahla : 1. casteism and 2. racism. He was well-known for running down the Sinhalese saying: Sinhalaya modaya, kavun kanda yodaya. As revealed in this letter CS went as far as the Privy Council to defend Vellahla supremacy denying the low-castes their basic right of worshipping the shared Hindu God/s. Readers  will also remember that  another star Vellahla leader, Ponnambalam Ramanathan, too went to London to urge the colonial masters to legalise the caste system in the interests of the people of  Jaffna. Which, of course, meant the Vellahla ruling  elite.

Mr. Sunderalingam retired from Sri Lanka Police and served in the top rungs of Interpol located in Paris. He now  lives in Chennai. Here’s the full text of Mr. Sunderalingam’s letter:


Dear Mahinda,

Just returned to Chennai from Hyderabad. A Lecture at the Police Academy. Well, you have written a thesis on Vellala caste Tamils in the Jaffna Penninsula. A well researched  analysis. My input will be minimum, confined to my personal experience and happenings on caste disputes during my 6 year tenure in Jaffna as SP Northern Province. It was  a fact the Vellalla community, considered the High Caste, dominated all political and economic activities in the Peninsula for decades in the pre-Independent and post-Independent Ceylon. In 1970 all Jaffna MPs were Vellallas. If one had visited  a village in Jaffna, one could have  observed that the Vellalas lived in residential area in well built houses, the lower castes always lived in clusters in the outskirts in cadjan sheds doing daily menial  work for the high caste Vellalla Hindus and Christians. To be fair,  Christians were more compassionate. It was during the sixties the  so called depressed classes including  Nalavas, Pallars, Parayas etc etc woke up , thanks to Mr Shanmugathasan and his Peking-wing  set up a Minority” (low-caste) front  to fight for their rights

Prevention of Social Disabilities act 1957 was only an act in the statute book to deal with social disabilities based on caste discrimination, more applicable to Jaffna Penninsula. The bubble burst with the Maviddapuram Temple Dispute in 1968. My namesake Mr C. Sunderalingam (CS), a fanatic, put up a barricade in front  of the Temple dividing  the area. The  outside area was exclusively for the Lower castes while a separate entrance was erected for the so-called Vellala caste people to walk closer to the inner sanctum.

I visited the Temple with a Police Squad when tensions were running high. I saw CS, with a walking stick, ordering the Palla community worshippers to do  their worshipping by standing  behind the barricade. They were not allowed to enter the sacred area reserved only for the upper caste. In the meantime, GA Jaffna, Vernon Abeysekera, and Mr Stanley Senanayake, SP Special Operations Anti-Immigration, KKS also arrived on the scene.  Negotiations failed and free-for-all occurred between CS group and Minority group. It was not a major clash. Only a few were injured.

I mentioned to CS that he was morally bound to open the Temple to all persons alike or close the Temple doors for everyone.  I remember telling him God  is equal to every one standing before him. Mediation with CS failed and Temple doors were closed. In one of the telegrams sent by CS to IGP and PM  he alleged that  the SP was acting as a Dictator and asked for my removal. PM Dudley Senanayake was well briefed by IGP. PM’s response : Let the Sundaralingama fight it out”. The next morning Sunday Observer headlined The Battle of the Sundaralingams rages in the North.”  Police filed a plaint against CS under the Social Disabities Act.  Same time CS filed action against me for Unlawful Assembly etc in Mallakam Courts.

The Magistrate was a die-hard Vellalla who was determined to go for trial. I went to Colombo, and met Attorney General, Mr Victor Tennakoon. By virtue of his position under the criminal procedure he  had the right to withdraw any private plaint filed against any Government official. When the State counsel appeared in Court with A/G’s letter  on the next date, this caste-minded Magistrate rejected   A/G’s plea and  document. Believe me, this case  went up to Supreme Court (SC) in Colombo. It overuled the Magistrate’s order and granted  my discharge.  In the meantime, Police filed action against CS   under Social Disabilities Act and he was fined Rs 100. 00 and warned. When, however, SC upheld the Magistrate’s order  CS went to Privy Council.  With his personal appearance he was hopeful that the conservative Lords  will accept his arguments based on the customs and traditions  of the Jaffna Tamils but the Privy Council upheld the SC order. Mr Gratien appeared for the Govt of Ceylon. This was the last Privy Council case from Sri Lanka with no more appeals after that ( I believe).

Aftermath- Maviddapuram Temple was closed, with an injunction filed by AG  restraining CS and the Maviddapuram High Priest. My evidence was recorded for 3 days in District Court of Jaffna.  In 1971 a Parliamentary Committee composed of Pieter Keuneman, Leslie Goonewardena and Cholomondely Gunawardena, with my recommendation, passed a new amendment to 1957 Act with more stringent  provisions

Caste discrimination prevailing in Jaffna,  no doubt, initially led to  the growth of extremist  Tamil Youth Movements. One Sivakumar, identfiied as a Militant Youth leader before Prabaharan in 1970, planned a campaign in the Peninsula for a common sit-down meal comprising all-caste youth in one sitting. This was a movement to get all youths of all castes together. Sivakumar was suspected in two bomb throwing incidents, including  Alfred Duraippah’s car bomb  incident, during this period. To begin with, all Youth leaders of the LTTE came from VVT  Karaiyar  caste.

I have always stated that the detention of Rohana Wijeweera in Jaffna 1971 and JVP attack on Jaffna Jail was an inspiration to Jaffna Youth. The cry in Jaffna was : If Sinhala Youths can revolt  against Government what are we doing? From one perspective, it can be argued that Rohana  Wijieweera created Prabahaharan (?).

You are free to quote me in the incidents and happenings in Jaffna during my tenure in Jaffna.

Best wishes to your wife

PS : On a personal note, may I add that Sunda’s family and my family have been close from our salad days.  In fact, my wife and I shared one  wing of the palatial house of his equally famous brother, Dr. S. Pararajasingham, the eye surgeon, at Turret Road, almost opposite  the Liberty Cinema. My wife and I lived as  his guest for years. Dr. Pararajasingham worked  as a volunteer with Fred Hollows, attending  to the optical needs of Aborigines in remote places in the  Northern Territory. Later he  joined WHO. My wife and I are grateful to  his generosity. We are privileged to  be friends of such a distinguished family, 

4 Responses to “Police Superintendent Sunderalingam reveals how Vellahlas at Maviddipuram ganged up against him”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    Thank you for the article which is very informative. It was the 1957 prevention of social disabilities act that created the so called “ethnic problem”. The act was a very good piece of law, essential for the nation. However, the caste ridden north didn’t like it a bit. Interestingly, Tamils had a better uptake of the 1956 official language act.

    Claiming JVP action in the north (including the attempted jailbreak) anyway influenced Tamil terrorism is absurd. JVP was not a terrorist group, but a subversive group. LTTE was (and still is) a terrorist group. Tactics used by the two groups vastly differ. Tamils obviously saw how ruthlessly the JVP was defeated in 1971 and it would have struck terror into their minds telling them not to mess with the Lankan government. Sadly, some failed to learn the lesson.

    Tamil terrorism was initiated in 1958 by the racist “tar brush campaign” (a carbon copy of a similar campaign in Tamil Nadu) of blackening Sinhala letters. In an interview with Canada’s National Post, General Sarath Fonseka in 2008 spelled out how Tamils tried to kill his entire family in 1958 and how they saved themselves by hiding in the jungles of Batticaloa (then the district included modern Digamadulla District as well). This was the start of Tamil terrorism, which later evolved into the LTTE. Riots in 1958 also led to burning buses and vandalism to Sinhala properties in the north and the east. These violent means were justified by Tamil media calling them the “Gandhian movement”.

    During the import restriction regime of 1970-77, illegal smuggling of goods (including commercial goods, Tamil racist propaganda material and weapons) thrived in the north. Tamil illegal movement of persons between Jaffna peninsular and Tamil Nadu also thrived. Catching a glimpse of the latest Tamil Nadu film was a popular excuse given by terrorists who shipped weapons and propaganda material back and forth. Then India entered the picture around late 1970s by arming Tamil terrorists.

  2. vyasan Says:

    Even as a school boy, I knew the Superintendent of Police Mr Sundaralingam as one of the most famous and upright police officer ever served in Sri Lanka. On the contrary, Mr. C. Sundaralingam, though an academician, was a man with a characteristic nature of some one belonged to the 18th or 19th century feudal society, not fit to live in the 20th century.

  3. Senevirath Says:

    මේ කාලකන්නි වෙල්ලාලයන් පුණ්‍ය භූමියකට සුදුසු නැහැ උන් එලවන තුරු ලංකාව ගොඩ ගන්න බැහැ මේ තරම් අශික්ෂිත කුල බෙධයක් දෙමලුන්ගේ හැර වෙන කිසිම ජාතියක නැහැ .පහත කුලේ යය කියන දෙමලු නැට්ට පුකේ ගහගන බලා ඉන්නවා . හැබය් සිංහලයන්ට විරුද්ධව නම් උනුත් එනව එක කෙලින් කර ගෙන . උන්ට ඔහොම නොවී මදි

  4. samurai Says:

    We must thank the writer H.L.D. Mahindapala and retired DIG Crimes (Colombo) Ramachandra Sundaralingam for drawing attention to the Jaffna caste issue which eventually contributed to the Tamil militancy in a big way and caused the rise of the LTTE of which most members were from the so-called low castes. It is either hypocrisy or ignorance on the part of some ‘intellectuals’ (among both the Tamils and Sinhalas) who put forward various theories as the cause of the separatist insurgency conveniently ignoring the role of the Jaffna caste factor in the crisis.

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