By Rajan Hoole –
Our observations about Neelan’s harshest critics above have a wider application. They are a reflection of the social aspirations of the Tamil elite which can be described as being zealous about mediocrity that is also materially gainful. It comes in part from conditioning the mind over several generations to playing a useful, but intermediate role in administrative and public service structures. Their forte comprised the clerical, engineering and medical services in Britain’s eastern empire, the Malayan Railways and so on. It provided security and was financially rewarding and respectable.
But they were essentially servants and did not aspire to anything more. In this culture, the drift of the mind into other challenging areas of human endeavour such as art, poetry and history and to ponder the condition of mankind at large, was not encouraged. It is a society whose great men are mostly divided into doctors, engineers and accountants. The culture it bred was oppressive to the society as a whole. The acceptance of servanthood in one sphere of existence, was compensated by being absolute masters in more parochial spheres – their village where their status was also reinforced by caste, the temple and other local associations. The others who did not come up to their educational and other hereditary attainments were made to feel conscious of their inferiority by the society around them.
With post-colonial changes where Tamils suffered discrimination in their former environments, newer opportunities in North America, Britain, Western Europe, Africa and Australasia enabled them to adapt the same social outlook to new environments in a far wider diaspora. Wherever they went the material rewards were good. Even so, they continued to be servants and marginal people, playing intermediate roles. They could be professionals in the white English-speaking world sending their children to prestigious educational institutions, and yet remain excluded from the ruling establishment.
In the former Straits Settlements, Malaya and Singapore, the Tamils feel increasingly insecure beside the Chinese. In Malaysia there is even greater insecurity. The Jaffna Tamils who were prominent during the British colonial era have given way to a Malay state establishment and Chinese power in commerce. Although opportunities are still good, the Straits Settlements Tamils have today very much the psychology of servants. The cases of two LTTE supporters are instructive.
One is a recently deceased Jaffna Tamil, Yogaratnam Hunt, who spent his working life in the Malaysian diplomatic service defending Malaysia’s Bhumiputra Policy, which was supposed to discriminate temporarily against non-Malays and is anathema to most Tamils and Chinese. He became, after retirement, a propagandist for the LTTE cause and was given the title ‘Devotee of the Nation’ by the LTTE leader and his followers draped his coffin with an LTTE flag. Another is an Indian Tamil lecturer in political science at a university in Kuala Lumpur. In his academic work he dare not discuss Malaysian politics freely. But at his university office he proudly sports a large portrait of Prabhakaran.
Thus the Tamil elite everywhere in the diaspora have an ego problem – a problem of self esteem – of a servant class denied the highest plums of power and influence that are the prerogative of those in the mainstream. As before, there are attempts to compensate for this by creating parochial organisations, which give them a sense of belonging and a feeling of home. There were societies founded for charitable purposes to help causes back home, cultural societies, Tamil schools, fund raising dinners, temples and Christian worship in Tamil. A number of them thrived, but there were also a large number of expatriate Tamils who were indifferent and tried to forget their Tamilness. Many Tamil émigrés made a virtue of forgetting their roots and adopting the ways of their new country which offered them prosperity. In this unpromising environment, the LTTE leader Prabhakaran was the cause of a major revolution. Many previously indifferent Tamils in the diaspora who were feeling inferior and alienated, flocked enthusiastically to the flag of their new messiah, Veluppillai Prabhakaran.
*To be continued..
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here