Today, 15 August, 2018, is India’s day of Independence. The Consulate General in Jaffna organized a function at India House. The programme was simple and elegant. The Indian flag was raised promptly at 9:00 am – something that we in Jaffna can learn from. A speech by the President read out by the Consul General S. Balachandran, followed by the latter’s own separate speech. Then a dance-drama by Jaffna University’s Ramanathan College, and the vote of thanks. All this was culminated by a scrumptious brunch of thosai, ittaly, masala thosai, kesari and coffee/tea. Catering was by Jaffna’s famous and elegant Green Grass Hotel.
Many of us look to India for leadership in advancing a secular, caring polity. President Shri Ram Nath Kovind’s speech did not disappoint us. Even more exciting was Mr Balachandran’s vision for the North. Correspondence may be in Tamil he said. International flights from Palaly with India’s help are in the offing. Equipment for Jaffna University’s engineering faculty has been provided, etc.
Culturally too Jaffna folk look to India for many things – medical treatment, universities, musical and cinematic entertainment, and temples and even churches like Annai Velankanni and “the seven and a half churches” built by St. Thomas for pilgrimage.
Perhaps most importantly and very current is what Mr. Balachandran mentioned about the help to fisherfolk in the Mullaitivu area – boats, fishing nets etc. One hundred and fifty fishing boats are already being built. Although he did not mentions these, refugee housing, railway tracks, etc. have already been gifted. His speech was met with a lot of applause in gratitude.
Help to fishermen is a lively and current topic. The disturbed milieu among Mullaitivu fishermen flows from the relevant central government ministry giving fishing licences to fishermen from the Negombo area to fish in Mullaitivu while the resident fishermen had been displaced by the war. Now they are back. There is a lot of tension. Few Lankans are aware of the fishing rights problems in Mullaitivu.
What makes the Indian offer of boats and equipment timely and relevant is that on Monday evening there was a dispute in the Nayaaru area. The Fisheries Minister had prohibited fishing using lights because of the depletion of ocean life. However, when about 50 Sinhalese fishing boats set out with generators and lights, Tamil fishermen had stopped them. That night, Tamil fishermen had their homes set ablaze at a loss estimated at Rs. 50 lakhs by their unions (and 35 lakhs by the Disaster Management folk who used current second hand value rather than replacement value). Nine houses and fishing equipment of the residents had been destroyed. In fear, about 50 fishermen have ceased work. The fishermen live in fear. MP Charles Nirmalanathan who drove all the way across from Mannar has stated that only 2 policemen had been provided as guards when he got there at 5:45 am on Tuesday although many more had been present earlier. No report had been recorded by the police at that time.
Only Mr. Mano Ganeshan and MP Charles Nirmalanathan have shown interest so far. The police are hiding behind “fears of stoking communal fires,” whereas when victims are Sinhalese the police act with full force, complains a TNA representative.
We need more generous help from India since our government seems not interested.
The Consulate General’s Carte Blanche
Mr. Balachandran arrived recently and cannot be up to speed on everything, However, he is learning quickly the situation in the North because the Tamil newspapers generally keep us well informed on that score. However, where we are all kept in the dark is the anti-Christian communalism and peninsular nationalism that have been unleashed since the end of the war. I have written widely on the former, especially at Jaffna University, and need not repeat myself here. As for the latter, suffice it to say that even the Hon. R. Sampanthan from the East, is fearful of exercising his leadership saying “I have left Jaffna matters to my Jaffna MPs.” The peninsula is a dangerous place to navigate for those who do not know us.
The Consulate gave Jaffna University a carte blanche over the dance drama, without knowing what the university is.
The Communalist Dance Drama
I do not blame the Consul but his senior officers should know full well the anti-Christian propaganda carried out in Jaffna recently about not voting for Christians, the fall-out from Indian entertainer Solomon Paapaiah being brought by the consulate for a secular event but was hosted at the Keerimalai Temple, that other religionists would not have been comfortable attending, etc. Yet, for the one entertainment item today, Jaffna university was given carte blanche.
Here is how the university’s sung-play went that lasted about an hour. People are suffering under White rulers assisted by a Tamil-Hindu Kangaani. They are beaten as they work. Then two priests, each in a Catholic/Anglican priest’s garb (black suit and dog collar), come with Bibles and tell the people as they happily worship in a Hindu temple, “Give up your culture. Throw it away … It is wise to obey the Europeans and take on their culture.” As a result some convert to Christianity and begin to dance the western ballroom dance. The girls are in knee-length frocks, conveying a deracinated image. The common people watch with worried faces. This is like in a Tamil movie I have seen – but I expect more from the Indian Foreign Service than from “Kollywood”.
Thereafter, Gandhi comes along and does a sit-down protest. As the protestors get walloped by Europeans and their agents, Gandhi runs away without receiving even a single shot. Then the Tamil poet Bharathiyaar comes along and sings his nationalist songs. The converts and the two priests revert to Hinduism. Barathiyaar’s effectiveness juxtaposed by Gandhi’ running away, seems one more element of peninsular nationalism. The Chief Secretary of the Northern Provincial Council, seated on my right and a Christian, it seemed to me, was squirming in his seat. Hindu friends behind me gave me embarrassed smiles knowing what I would say.
Much of the imagery in the dance-drama is historically questionable, and is at least exaggerated if not untrue. Whether true or not, however, there is no need to insult Christians and our priests and faith. Are cultural sensitivity and accurate history being imparted at University of Jaffna?
Recently there was controversy when Kampan Kalaham Jeyaraj, a man of solid reputation on matters of Tamil culture, in a newspaper interview stated that Jaffna University’s fine arts people have retarded Tamil fine arts. Although the music and rhythms were far improved over things I have seen as a boy, I now understand what he meant. The University of Jaffna has failed as a multicultural, modern institution open to and catering to all communities, and has demonstrated that through this musical extravaganza.
Duty of the Indian Foreign Service
I do not blame Mr. Balachandran in any way for this fiasco. I believe he understands exactly what I am saying. For, this June, when the Election Commission had a parade carrying the Nandhi flag at the Jaffna Kachheri, he was shocked. He remarked to me, “What is this? It looks like a Hindu procession!” Obviously, he did not get the support he needed from his staff. At the time when he made this remark, I was so elated think what a different country ours would be if every SLAS officer could think like him..
Does the Indian consulate and the Indian Foreign Service in general have any business undermining India’s secular ethos? They should have at least previewed the play. If they did and still passed it, they would deserve a bigger indictment.
As I said, India has much to offer us. Their legacy is huge. They have friends and admirers here, both Tamil and Sinhalese. That legacy has to be safeguarded and not frittered away by giving carte blanche to communal elements, licensing them to speak unfettered for India, spreading their venomous message in the name of India