By Rasika Jayakody –
Talking of the post-Black July history is something that earns the ire of Separatists.
The reason is clear. Atrocities committed by Velupillai Prabhakaran in the post-Black July history do not warrant any opportunity for separatists to justify or trivialize the conduct of the LTTE. The concept of ‘Eelam’ is inherently flawed in the first place. Adding to its in-built flaws, the LTTE took the political concept of “Eelam” towards a new level i.e., Barbarianism.
Whenever one speaks of the Sinhalese factor in the aftermath of ‘Black July’ and the way the Sinhalese acted with great self-restraint in the face of chillingly brutal attacks by the LTTE against civilians for more than three decades, separatists, blind to the post-Black July developments, fancy talking about 1958, 1966, 1977 and 1981 as they consider that as their comfort zone.
The mastermind behind the anti-Tamil riots in 1958, 1966, 1977 and 1981 was none other than the late S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, founder of the ITAK. The concept of Eelam first gained ground not in the soil of Jaffna, but in the mind of Chelvanayagam, to be utilized as a vote-catching device. And the genesis of the Eelamist concept had nothing to do with any of the anti-Tamil riots that started after 1958 or any attack against Tamil civilians.
Chelvanayagam, after breaking away from the All Ceylon Tamil Congress led by G.G. Ponnambalam, took a more radical path, vis-a-vis the relatively mild stance taken by the ACTC on matters concerning Tamils. Chelvanayagam left the Tamil Congress as the result of a dispute over citizenship rights of Indian Tamils who were working as labourers in ‘Ceylon’. After the split occured, Chelvanayagam realized that the citizenship rights of Indian Tamils could not be sold to the northern Tamils. Astute politician, he shifted his focus to the Tamils in the North. Making mountains out of molehills was the only way forward for him. And that was exactly what he did at the expense of his own people.
The first direct step towards secession was taken upon the establishment of the ITAK in 1949. The principle resolution passed by the party upon its establishment says, “we believe that the only means ensuring that the Tamils are guaranteed their freedom and self-respect by law, and of solving their problems in a just and democratic manner is to permit them to have their own autonomous state guaranteeing self-government and self-determination for the Tamil nation in the country: and to work indefatigably to the attainment of this objective.”
And it is important to note that this resolution towards secession was passed, way before Sinhala was made the official language, way before the introduction of language-based standardization, way before the anti-Tamil riots in 1958,1966,1977 and 1983!Moreover, the party’s annual convention in 1951, which was held in Trincomalee also passed a similar resolution that went along same lines. This is the truth to which Separatists who come up with hair-splitting arguments on anti-Tamil violence are very much blind.
In 1952, the ITAK, led by Chelvanayagam suffered a landslide defeat at the parliamentary election. One option was doing away with the separatist approach and reinventing his strategy. The second option was intensifying it and taking it to a more intense level. Chelvanayagam chose the latter.
Making Sinhala the national language was a contentious decision. But it is important to note that the Sinhalese language was known to more than 85% of the country when Sinhala was made the national language. But as a result of the conversion, a section of the Tamil community, who only knew their language, faced certain practical issues. For instance, some received birth certificates in Sinhala of which they could not understand a single word. But the solution for that was not making Tamil, which was known only to less than 15% of the country, a national language, but providing facilities to get certified translations of such important documents. Other similar issues arising from the language policy should have been addressed in the same manner. But Chelvanayagam was not interested in pushing the government towards addressing problems. He was busy eliciting anti-Tamil violence, overtly and covertly. This resulted in his rise in the domain of communal politics. Gradually he overtook Ponnambalam and the ITAK became the most powerful political party in the North. Economic issues, unemployment, infrastructural problems and other similar matters were never on Chelvanayagam’s agenda. Everything converged at the notion of “autonomous state guaranteeing self-government and self-determination for the Tamil nation”.
Chelvanayagam knew that provoking Sinhala hooliganism was an important strategy in his game-plan. That was what he did in 1958 and 1966. It took two to Tango and Chelvanagayam did his part right. As much as one condemns Sinhala hooliganism that swooped on Tamils during anti-Tamil riots, he or she should also admit that Chelvanayagam and his politics played an equally crucial role in it, creating the base for the infamous black July which resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives. It was, as some said, a well-orchestrated plan and the maestro of the orchestration was not J.R. Jayewardena or his government, but Chelvanayagam and his politics. Unfortunately, Chelvnayagam did not live long enough to see the culmination of the politics he engendered.
Tamil militancy and its inherent brutality did not fall from the sky. It was artfully developed, directly and indirectly, over a period of three decades by Chelvanayagam and his party. Although Amirthalingam ran the last hundred meters after Chelvanayagam’s death (and was shot dead at the finish), it was certainly the latter’s race. In that sense, there would not have been a Velupillai Prabhakaran, if not for Chelvanayagam.
Those who wax eloquent about pre-1983 history, those who want the Sinhalese to say “sorry” for 1983, and those who castigate the savagery of the Sinhalese should realise that the Sinhala hooliganism had an indispensable partner in crime who came from Kankasanthurai.
*Rasika Jayakody is a Sri Lankan journalist who may be contacted at email@example.com