13 June, 2024


Jaffna’s Upcoming Elections: Caste Ramifications

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Caste: Compromised Conscience

Caste is a fact of life in Sri Lanka and its elections. No one talks about it. Some religions sanction it, defining dharma as caste duty. Others are ideologically opposed to it but compromised. For, going against the system has consequences as in marriage.

The America Ceylon Mission in Jaffna undermined caste much, but in 1826, because Church expansion required respectable converts, it targeted agriculturists, saying “Vellalas are emphatically our people.” They opened up a female boarding school so that agriculturist boys may marry Christian agriculturist girls; otherwise they would marry their Hindu cousins when they went home,  leading to reversion. Accordingly the Church even supplied a dowry. As the Church compromised, she also worked for the conversion of the low-castes. Depressed areas like Ariyalai West were converted by St. John’s’ The Rev. Canon SS Somasundaram and Chundikuli’s Muriel Hutchins who cooked and ate with them, holding night classes over the Hindu Schools Board’s objections. I was recently at a community function when an elder tearfully recalled these.

As with churches so it is in politics. Egalitarian parties need to compromise against what their hearts tell them is right just to win elections.

Caste and Communalism

Among Sinhalese, the British had undermined caste by allowing non-agriculturists to come up through businesses and by creating new aristocrats like the New Radalas. Despite Vidyodaya valiantly defending agriculturist superiority in the 1860s, caste seemed undermined. With St. Thomas’ shifting from Mutwal to Mount Lavinia in 1918 (Footnote 1), the fisher-castes of Moratuwa were further empowered. Ironically this strengthened caste-based thinking as the empowered fisher-folk, instead of undermining caste, strengthened it by seeking caste status, arguing that their caste appellation “Karawa” is from Kshatriya.

Among Tamils, the Sinhalese also influenced changes. Fisher-caste Sinhalese bishops insisted on Jaffna producing low-caste Tamil priests. Sinhalese communalists taunting us on our caste practices helped clean up some of our more shameful customs. Christian schools under predominantly non-Tamil boards admitted scavengers and palanquin-bearers, first as students, then as teachers, and by the 1990s there were non-agriculturist Principals. The exodus of educated agriculturists has seen two non-agriculturist vice chancellors from nonpolluting lower-castes appointed by Sinhalese Presidents (though for political reasons, not caste).

Caste and Elections

Many Tamils hold that caste is of the past. But Jaffna is Jaffna. Recently Colombo’s Law Faculty produced a documentary on caste-based temples. Profane caste put-downs during website discussions exhibit our primitive home cultures. Agriculturists who say the low-castes have profane habits, show their own true colors when swearing at the low-castes in website discussions.

The FP with agriculturist roots, brought a private member’s Prevention of Social Disabilities Act as far back as 1957 to ban caste discrimination, intervened at the Maviddapuram Temple in 1968 to give low-castes access, and nominated the depressed caste G. Nalliah to the Senate. But it has suffered a relapse since. All its Jaffna MPs today are said to be agriculturists; they had other candidates who lost. Attempts at remedy failed as those like Mudiyappu Remedius changed camps and are now UPFA candidates, entrenching agriculturist stereotypes about low-castes and Muslims. (In fact, when agriculturists like Thiagarajah and Arulampalam crossed over in the 1970s it was not attributed to their caste habit but to Tamil Congress members’ qualities).

The FP, however, is able to get votes from all castes and survives with an agriculturist leadership because the other castes still have not reached middleclass status. The few low-caste graduates are reluctant to be candidates and have their caste become an issue. With non-agriculturists as numerous as the agriculturists, the position is not sustainable (Footnote 2).

The TNA has appointed 15 people, 3 from each constituent party, to nominate PC candidates. The FP’s Jaffna Branch has decided on Mavai Senathirajah for Chief Minister. The nominations committee will likely endorse this. But trouble is foreseen over each constituent getting the same number of candidates whereas some will get no seat without riding FP coattails. FP Senior VP SK Sittrampalam accuses the party of lack of transparency and being controlled by its parliamentary group. Sorting these out amicably challenges the TNA.

Another challenge is ensuring the candidates’ democratic credentials. In 2010 with the war just over and not knowing if LTTE remnants and military intelligence would kill TNA candidates, few came forward.  The candidates were therefore professional politicians for whom politics was a way of life or militarists and murderers used to standing up to armed enemies. Now, there is an opportunity for the party to invite low-castes (and lower-castes), professionals and women. One way is to invite public discussions and op-eds on pressing issues by people with ideas. When good people get engaged, they will in time come forward to carry their ideas to reality seeking political power.

The EPDP and Caste

Douglas Devananda stands exposed on caste. Recall 2010 when my friend Manuel Mangalanesan, well below the agriculturists in caste, received the highest preferential vote in Jaffna among those vying to be Mayor. His base was the Christians of Ariyalai West. Devananda chose the present agriculturist mayor Yogeswari Patkunarajah. When Mangalanesan protested, he was beaten up in front of them (his family at church tell me) and locked  up at Sridhar Theatre till Devananda’s candidate was installed. That Mangalanesan is still with Devananda exposes the lack of options the depressed castes have and the TNA’s lack of vision in making overtures to them.

Devananda’s supporters go out of their way to say that he is agriculturist; for agriculturist support is critical. But to his credit, his support base is low-caste. Of his two MPs one is a washerman and the other is said to be of fishercaste. But when his men are identified by the US State Department as rapists and murderers, it strikes terror into the middleclass on a caste basis. (See an associated article “From the Tamil Press: EPDP Jaffna Municipal Council Member Remanded for Robbery,” which further proves how the EPDP lives off the public, including by Devananda appropriating Sridhar Theatre from an owner who has been trying to get it back for years but fears to press his case).

Devananda’s supportive but uncultured writers hint at Devananda’s thinking and their own family backgrounds. M.Sivananthan writes:

“The US and [its] agents work against Douglas … the term ‘paramilitary’ is a product of American embassy cables. EPDP is a registered political party and he is an elected person. … EPDP officials are given guns for their protection. How can the Americans brand them as ‘paramilitary’ while allowing Americans to carry guns as a constitutional right? … Majority Tamils are Hindus. What [did] these catholic morons contribute to the Tamil people? … Catholic Church is the loot keepers of LTTE and shared the loot of LTTE. … All the inscriptions and OLA leaf books were destroyed by the Catholic criminals. … [Church of South India] ancestors came from Vedarnyam and belong to a fishing caste of Sempadava! … Christians have no hesitations to tell lies!”

Devananda’s lower-caste MPs, Christian Regional Body Chairmen and supporters in Ariyalai, Delft, Kayts and Velanai must wonder what monster they have created.


The TNA must identify women candidates and they will. The UPFA, however, is struggling because of the certainty and shame of a rout. Men do not mind that shame for the perks and money they pick up by trading on government influence even in defeat. It is indeed few women like Devananda acolyte Suseeladevi Sarangapane who after 20+ votes in the LG elections, can still show their face in public.

Routing the Government

The government, hell-bent on eliminating Tamils, can work only with Tamils wanting to bilk public coffers and people who were with the LTTE when that affiliation gave them money and power. Tamil politics is so abysmal that even as we do not want Sinhalese policing us, some Tamils have asked the police to prohibit unmarried couples from using the same umbrella! This request is to a government that says all lands appropriated by the LTTE now belong to it; and that TNA protests are hypocritical because they never objected to the LTTE’s original appropriations. But the rights to the property of the people whose lands were taken over, are not vitiated by what the TNA did or did not do. Further, neither the TNA nor the public could argue against the LTTE. People like Sampanthan were LTTE victims.

What we think of this pernicious government we must show through the ballot. A second chance is also in the offing as the Jaffna Municipal Council finishes its term soon.

Footnote 1: In 1918 Bandaranaike was 19 years old and it is unlikely he studied at Mount Lavinia as often claimed.

Foootnote 2: Agriculturists were 30% in Dutch times but had risen to a half by 1960 through false claims. More would now claim agriculturist status but the countervailing exodus of the educated makes estimates difficult.

From the Tamil Press: EPDP Jaffna Municipal Council Member Remanded for Robbery

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole –

The EPDP’s Sutharsing Vijayakanth, Member of the Jaffna Municipal Council, has been remanded by the Jaffna Magistrate for 14 days for robbery. He is said to have had 5 lovers whom he would adorn with robbed jewelry and admire them. He was apprehended when he went to a bank to pawn some of his loot and a bank official recognized it as his. This led to the recovery of 103 sovereigns of gold.

Jaffna’s Crimes Branch confirmed that he had forced tribute from traders over the phone and brought girls from the south for prostitution. He is also known for going about Jaffna in his white car with school girls.

English language papers up to Friday 12th generally did not cover this major incident while The Colombo Gazette and Sri Lanka Mirror mentioned it distancing the EPDP from Vijayakanth without details such as his being an EPDP Municipal Council Member. The self-censorship is an indication that powerful people were in league with him. The police had no choice but to act against the dark forces ruling Jaffna because of the bank report. Now it will be damage control by the police.

The EPDP Secretary General Kamalesh announced that they were suspending Vijayakanth from the party and all party members should cease dealings with him forthwith. Scoffed a Federal Party man, “Did Devananda and the others not know from his lifestyle? This is what they have been caught at. The rest is a lot more!”

Just before provincial elections, Douglas Devananda will find the arrest of a powerful and prominent colleague difficult to explain away.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Hools comes fom a family converted to Christianity to get a job under British. When several others did not rejectedftempting offers. That trait shows in this article. Thanks to right honourable Pirapaharan caste system has lost its importance in Jaffna.
    People in Jaffna are wishing that at least some remanats of LTTE exist in Jaffna to safeguard their lives property culture and freedom and they are distressed that nothing exists. Still Tools thinks they might kill TNA Candidates. HOW Many dinners he has with occupying army governor alleged WAR CRMINAL Chandrasiri and commander alleged war criminal Hathu rusinghe and in Jaffna where Tamil girls are systematically lured into sex what other perks are offered
    LTTE never acquired land for the proprty taken over by them they gave rent and returned it to the rightful owners when they did not need them
    People like me gave them voluntarily when they asked because they were our freedom fighters not anrmy of Environmental occupation we gave it willingly because we were with them we were not collaborators like Hoole
    Let him dare write about the hospital shelling and other war crimes committed on 100,000 killed and 300,000 put on interment camp rather writing about caste system eradicated by right honourable Pirapaharan and almost non existent in Jaffna. Is wri ting this as a per life to cover up the massive election fraud to be committed by the occupational on the directions of his pay msters

    • 0

      Hooles are Christian because they accept the doctrines of Christianity and see their God in Jesus. This cost him some important jobs. With grace to all malice to none….

    • 0


      St. Thomas moved to Mount with the money given by that legendary philontrophist.
      Ship, fish, warrior or carpenter is not an issue.

      Yea, During Dutch times, because the Salargammar, the Govi become Govigama, thinking better than the Bathgama
      Maha-goia; Nilaperumal Kalukapuge, aka Bandranayake
      Then there was Don barthelamews Senanayake), now Don Davith, Don Henrik Rajapaksa, a Salagama copy.

  • 0

    [Among Sinhalese, the British had undermined caste by allowing non-agriculturists to come up through businesses and by creating new aristocrats like the New Radalas]

    This is total nonsense . Buddhisum unlike hinduisum was always against caste . the British did shit to undermine caste .

  • 0

    who the hell is right hon pripharan ? was is that naked donkey on the bank of the lagoon ?

  • 1

    This guy is a cookoo who thinks he is an intellectual, whose opinions matter to people. Talks rubbish!

    • 0

      Dear Thiru: In your opinion, isn’t caste an issue the Tamil community should try and solve? Or do you think the caste system has advantages that the community should try and preserve this aspect of its cultural heritage? Do you think Hindu priests should be Brahmins (caste based) — or should there be a technical college for priests where anyone can apply and spend time training to become a priest? Would you have been upset if a room-mate allocated to you at Peradeniya hostel was from a lower caste (I assume you are from a higher one)?

      Lot of questions Hoole’s article raises, right? I believe that IS the role of the intellectual, so please don’t dismiss the writer as “cookoo talking rubbish” and try to face the issues he raises.

      • 0

        Religion is the opium of the masses, and is the cause of many ainjustices all over the word. Think of all the atrocities committed in the name of religion for several millenniums.

        However, I agree with you the Brahmins introduced the caste system for their advantage. Prabaharan put an end to the caste system in the North-East.

        Religions use Sanskrit or Pali to fool the masses in a tongue they don’t understand. I don’t condone it.

        • 0

          Dear Thiru,

          //Prabaharan put an end to the caste system in the North-East.//

          How accurate is this? Who were priests in Wanni temples during VP’s rein? Maybe it was suppressed briefly at gunpoint, but the system has come back quickly and is very much alive now — have you not noticed? And even during VP’s brief suppression of it, the Toronto, Paris and London Tamils (while bankrolling VP’s misadventure), continued to keep the caste system alive, didn’t they? Why is this? Should this not concern you?

          The point is, change should come as a result of discussion. As a result of intellectuals and critical thinkers in a society raising these issues. As a result of observing how other societies have advanced (not in all, but in certain) directions. Maybe we can imitate them. Copy good ideas from them. Tamil people are spread out all over the world. They can help observe and bring back good ideas.

          See, Thiru, for all this, the gut reaction from Tamil people like yourself (educated at university level) should not be to just dismiss the likes of Hoole. Instead, you should debate with him. You should point out if there is anything wrong in his data. You should point out if there is anything wrong in how he draws conclusions from the data. Don’t just call him names in one-liner comments, OK?

          Is it then too much to expect from your good self an apology to Hoole for the “cookoo rubbish” comment, followed by a detailed analysis of where and how Hoole is wrong in this article. Please?

          • 0

            Der Sunil,

            I’m not going to debate with you, but these are my final words
            on cast issue among Tamils: This artificial topic is brought time and again by the ruling Sinhala elite and their henchmen to divide the Tamils and rule to spread the Sinhala Buddhist hegemony in the Tamil region. Nobody talks about the Sinhala cast system before elections.

            Ask Tamils about the Hooles and their bloated sense of importance because they are Christians who were close to the ruling “suddhas”.


      • 0

        Ponnambalam Ramanathan tried very hard to get the caste system included in the constitution, just as the later leaders are trying to get the Race distinction included in the constitution by creating ethnicity based “exclusive homelands” and provincial councils. Remember that Ramanathan’s caste-based politics was trumped by G. G. Ponnambalam who brought in race-based politics. The sinhalese also had caste-based politics early in the century. Then they too had Kandyan and low-country sinhalese groups who regarded themselves as separate Nadus and demanded federalism from the British. But it took only a generation of intermingling to heal all that and unify the sinhalese. But the Tamils, with our caste system enshrined in the <i<Manu Dharma will not give it up that easily. WE actually gave it to the sinhalese and the Buddha and the Jains did not tolerate caste. Our discrimination of the “lower-castes” is much more horrific than any discrimination thrown at us by the Sinhalese.

        Prabhakaran did not remove caste distinctions. He USED them to his advantage. He let all the wealthy high-caste people to pay a sum of money and leave with their children who could go to foreign schools. But all the poor people had to stay there and give up their kids
        as cannon fodder to the sinhalese army.
        Many Tamils were outside Prabhakaran’s rule. He had about 4-5% people in the North. What utter idiocy to put a mere 5% of the people against a huge 75% Sinhalese? Luckily the war ended in 2009. Otherwise, each year more and more Tamils got killed, and in the end there would have been no Tamils left, given the stupid policies of the Psycopathic Prabhakaran with his cyanide Kuppi and the fund-raising Diaspora.

  • 0

    How many of the ex Captives are Vellalas?.

    How many vellalas are there among the ex LTTE leaders who have been working with the ex Captives to improve their situation and now want to represent them in the soon to be formed NPC.?.

    Is the purported consensus that is portrayed by the pro LTTE and pro TNA writers and the posters here that the coming election is a cake walk for the Vellalas, real?.

    If that is the case why would Daya Master,and even ex TNA Remedious warmly welcome Mervyn in Jaffna and take him around their electorates?.

    Is Mervyn Silva a freind of the Vellalas?.

  • 0

    Thanks to the prof for the illuminating article, which was all news to me, from a part of the island long self-insulated from the rest. I had been brought up in a multicultural environment very different from that described, though in the very same country. At least there seems to be a lot more interaction as equals than in the past and long may it continue

  • 0

    Yes, caste and religon are divisive issues and hence the danger of giving land or police powers to any high caste Chief Minister.

    I hope this issue will be considered by the political parties in selecting candidates for each Ward and in the selection of a Chief Ministerial candidate.

  • 0

    Caste system is in the way out among the Tamils. But some opportunist who wants to divide the society so that they can be somebody now are playing this card over over again. Prof Hoole is wounded because he lost out the VC position he rightly deserve. You dont have to create this mischief to be visible again. The community is intelligent enough to discard this type of arguments personalities and mischief makers. Caste related incidents appointments and injustices were prevalent in Sri Lanka among many communities. There is no need to revisit them and create this. What Prof Hoole is doing now is to create a wedge between the people who still holds this caste based ideas. If he is true to himself he should speak out about the very favorable treatment the Christian community enjoyed during the time of foreign rulers. There are too many of them who are known well to them.
    Dividing a community you want to serve doesn’t go well for a person who is aspiring to be a VC instead you should try to unite all the people. Even professors has to group sometimes.

  • 0

    It is strange why Prof Hoole continues to harp on the Caste issue when
    the Tamil Nation is gradually coming out of the cold in this issue that has been with them from times immemorial. Surely, he has sufficient space in many other areas to impress the Tamil readership of his learning or to play a role in Tamil socio-political matters.


    • 0

      I agree with you.

    • 0

      Dr./Mr./Mrs./Miss Senguttuvan,

      Generally when someone wants no discussion of caste, it is safe to assume that he is high caste and wants to keep it that way.

      We who are called low would welcome a discussion towards change.

      Please keep it up Dr. Hoole. Thank you.

    • 0

      Sengu and others would like to hush up the issue and follow the usual ostrich policy of burying the head in the sand. But Akhilan Kadirgamar and many other writers (Johnpulle, Sebastian Rasalingam, Anthoniz etc), and now Hoole have been honest enough to say that nothing much has changed. Indeed, I hear that even in Canada, in the Toronto-Scarborough area, there are many many small Kovils, far beyond the needs of numbers. Apparently, this proliferation of the many kovils is because the caste divisions have to be respected!!!!!!!

  • 0

    Dr. Hoole:
    You mentioned of EPDP’s Sutharsing Vijayakanth as a jewellary robber. There is a politician holding a 2nd rung post of the present government who is known as “Rattaran” It is an open secret that his profession was in the robbing business on the coastal line trains in the Kalutara region, picking gold chains from women passengers. Thus he became known as “Rattaran” (Gold). His wheel of fortune turned right. After becoming a representative and with a 2nd rung position, he became very wealthy. At his son’s wedding last year, he could afford to bring the groom to the hotel grounds in a helicopter and the couple left for their honeymoon also in a helicopter. This is what one could do if one can back the proper horse. Unfortunately Vijayakanth was very not fortunate enough as he was hauled before justice before coming to national level politics.

  • 0

    Hooles are fools. He had a difficult time with EPDP. But that cannot be generalized. What Mangalanesan is doing right now? Dr Hoole never lived in Jaffna in recent past. His children and wife fully settled in USA. when we see his family roots they are conservatives. Other than him none of his brothers or sister not following anglicanism. This article he has written just highlight his name. Jaffna now beyound what he written over here.

    • 0

      As usual writers like Lalith write what they want, whether true or not.

      Two of Prof. Hoole’s brothers in Jaffna are seen on Sundays in Churches in the Anglican circle. Prof. Hoole himself does not go to an Anglican Church in the US. His children have continued interest in Sri Lanka. Three have worked for long periods in Sri Lankan NGOs. It is not correct to say that Hoole has not lived in Jaffna recently.

      As for caste in Jaffna today, see the documentary வேர் களை (Ver Kalai)from the Colombo university


      (sorry it’s in Thamil)

      I am not surprised any more to see so many writers like Lalith who write with so much authority in colombotelegraph without any connection to reality.

      • 0

        Thank you Mr Correct-the -record.
        read also the many passionate articles by Sebastian Rasalingam and others.
        “How could we re-engineer Tamil society to recreate a humane structure where Tamil literature, poetry, dance forms, film etc., could flourish? We have a festering wound of horrendous inequity in Tamil Nadu showing us how horrible it could become, where money and modernization have become weapons for further exploitation rather than social justice. The war and the upheaval of the North and East have created a new opportunity to answer this issue. This real question is avoided in the writings of upper-class columnists who wax eloquent about “the national question”, and about devolving power into the hands of regional Lords, or implanting the “Indian model”, or creating two distinct, embattled nations. ………….

  • 0

    Caste is not important.

    Genocide is the main concern.

    Here is a Tamil poem from Tamilnet that decry the plight of structural genocide Colombo is unleashing on Tamils.

    “Full text of the article titled ‘Rape: Sri Lanka’s Weapon of Genocide’ jointly authored by Dr. N. Malathy and RM Karthick follows:

    My fellow Tamil women
    What have you done for peace in the isle?
    Take off your clothes and open up your vagina
    For the Sinhala warriors of the land of Buddha

    – Poem by an Angry Tamil Woman”

  • 0

    I endorse Sunil J and his requests fully.

    In these debates when people resort to personal attacks, it means that they have no substance to talk about. So you will get no answer to your relevant questions Sunil J.

    If Pirapaharan really abolished caste as claimed in these commentaries, it is good to research why his followers like Taraki Sivaram, New York Thamil Sangam and so on had long articles trying to prove he was descended from the Maravar Kings and not fishermen. The articles were when Pirapaharan was living. If he was really against caste, in his place I would have asked them to shut up without embarrassing me.

    • 0

      This is stupid as you Can get.

  • 0

    A great discourse on the entrenched issue of casteism in Jaffna. Furthermore, one cannot help detect the anti-Christian sentiments posted by some in this comments section.

    My memory takes me back to Jaffna University, 1980. I was having coffee with a colleague – a professor of philosophy, and a staunch Hindu nationalist. What he told me still lingers. I’ll quote him. “Thamby, according to Sinhala chronicles, Dutumunu, seated cross-legged on the floor, complained to his mother that he had no living space, with the Indian Ocean to the South, and the Tamils to the North. We could likewise say, there are the Sinhalese to the South and the Christians to the North. We should push them (the Christians) into the ocean.” Obviously he had erroneously assumed I was Hindu. I couldn’t help feeling for the red-faced colleagues who were seated with us.

  • 0

    Jaffna Catholic Bishops and other Christian denominations too claim they are from HIGH caste. CSI(Church of South India) is the Church of Hoole. His bishop is Thiyagarajah. He laso claims he is a HIGH caste.

    Many belong to the CSI also claim they are high caste but their ancestors were fishermen.

    In Jaffna Christians are not different from Hindus in the matters of Caste.

    Anyway I thank Hoole for using my lines but he failed to tell what is truth or lie there. He hate Douglas as other LTTE supporters because of the vote bank of Douglas come from the low castes.

    S.J.V Chelvanayakam, who was also a member of the CSI but pretended as a HIGH caste. Infact SJV’s roots are traced to low caste Parayans from Tholpuram. He simply refused to involve in the temple-entry struggles of the 60s and 70s.

    The Churches support HIGH caste politics.

    What kind of culture Hoole follows? He and his supporters wrote already that Hools ancestors betrayed the trust of their Hindu relatives. So, he also continues the foot steps of his ancestors!

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