22 February, 2024


Muslims & Upcountry Tamils Have Different Problematics: The Rise Of Intolerance In Sri Lanka

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Here is a correspondence that is worth a wider readership than the few who have accessed it so far; for obvious reasons I do not give real names. The storyline goes like this. I was involved in a rather quarrelsome exchange with a friend of Engineering Faculty days who was a leftist; let’s call him/her Ratne. The issue of dispute was anti-Rohingya genocide against Muslims in Burma’s Rakine state. I was harshly critical of Burman Buddhists, the army, and I have not spared Aung San Suu Kyi either. Such critiques are standard fare in political circles. Ratne, no longer a leftist, retorted with a bout of ‘whataboutism’; what about the Christians, what about the British etc.

I then raised the matter with a few friends and one of them, Gamma, was alarmed about possible outbreaks against upcountry Tamils and a wider e-mail discussion followed. The next item is how I initiated the wider circulation and includes an extract of Gamma’s concerns. Then I reproduce the two principal responses.

My general e-mail including a quote from Gamma

From: Kumar David

Sent: Friday, 13 October 2017

To: Several leftists and liberals

Subject: Is this a credible scenario?

Dear Friends and Comrades,

I received the e-mail quoted below from a politically alert friend. The context is the Army cum Buddhist assault on Rohingiya Muslims. What Gamma is asking, at rock bottom, I think is: “Will there be a similar perhaps JO led movement directed against Tamils in the plantations?” Presumably in addition to continuing BBS instigated, widely encouraged, anti-Muslim campaigns.

His reference to “another” in the first line in the quote refers to Burma. Shameful support given to Burman anti-Muslim ethnic cleansing by a former the EFac leftist who is now a Buddhist extremist and corresponds with me supporting ethnic cleansing in Rakhine Province. He borrows anti-Muslim and anti-Christian parallels from the BBS. (“What about the Christians?” “What about colonial times?”).

The question I am asking is this: “Is it credible that the JO, BBS or other extremists may resort to anti plantation worker race-baiting rhetoric in SL?” I hope not; but what do you think?


An extract from Gamma follows.


“Dear Prof.

“What are the lessons for us, another “Buddhist country”? Will a similar situation arise in the plantation sector (now pronounced dead) with devolution of power?

“I see this as a strong possibility from what is happening in the tea industry. Small-holders outperform the big plantations which are loss making according to some. I know personally small-holders thrive. Big plantations have a few exceptions, where productivity is high and labourers get paid double. That’s a grouse of the extremists.

“I feel this picture is a prelude to taking back the plantations and redistributing to the villagers. It will be a popular slogan and serve chauvinist political forces nicely




Two of the responses I received are worth sharing. They are analytical and predictive. On the whole the responses were not symphonic; they are what I call creative cacophony, in counterpoint, in varied keys. Here are the two important ones.

Response 1 from Velkhu


“In the plantations, the historic practices cannot continue anymore. Furthermore, they have connected with the external world.

“Now, there is a demand for land, education and housing. Already young people from the plantations are leaving the estates in droves and moving into urban areas searching for different kinds of jobs. They are not content with what the plantations have to offer. 

“And, they are not willing to accept the old CWC leadership. The weakening of the CWC has created several political formations. Competition among this new breed of politicians is bound to sharpen and their presence will be felt in the national polity.  They will be looking to use their clout through existing institutions to get more resources into their areas in order to improve condition in their base and ameliorate poverty. 

“The world is also watching these historic inequities and encouraging the government to address them. More than anything else the government of India will not be a passive bystander. You remember in 1977 after Sinhala mobs attacked the plantations, India without even the courtesy of informing the Sri Lankan government, very publicly sent an envoy from Delhi in the guise of fact finding. Jayewardene could not do anything about it. Nowadays India is fairly active in the plantation sector. Modi made a special visit there underlying India’s special interest.

“Yes, there is some Hindutva activity in the plantations. This is by RSS type organisations against the Christians who are proselytizing the uneducated and poor among plantation workers. I believe, presently, such groups are working closely with organisations like the BBS. 

“But as you say, when plantation workers are empowered and they take over Provincial Councils people will take notice. Further, when land is redistributed and houses are built for the plantation workers, Sinhala politicians can whip up the usual racist frenzy. I believe this is unlikely but not impossible. People have to be vigilant about such movements. Right now, the Rajapaksas are trying to mobilise a Sinhala Buddhist coalition using SAITM, land issues involving Hambantota Port and Airport etc. Spearheading anti Tamil and anti Muslim activities is unlikely to help them to power. Namal, without experience, may lead such activities, but they are vote losers; shouldn’t they have learnt their lessons by now?

“My conclusion is that it is possible that people like Namal in desperation, may try this route to power mobilising the disgruntled Sinhala poor. But they are aware of the forces arraigned against them. More than anything else, such moves will get serious responses from India and the international community. 

But ultimately, it is a vote loser.


End of first response

Response 2 from: Jayasoma  


“My own sense of racially/religiously motivated extremism and violence in Sri Lanka, is that it is rooted in fear. And this fear is usually based on a sense of being marginalised or dispossessed.

“A century ago, the antipathy towards the Coast Moors from India which led to the anti-Muslim riots of 1915, was based on the fear that they were exploiting the rural Sinhalese poor as well as eclipsing the nascent Pettah Sinhala trading class.

“Similarly, the campaign against the in-migration of Tamil plantation workers and urban (Tamil and Malayalee) workers in the first quarter of the twentieth century was the result of a fear. A fear that was fanned both by Goonasingha at one end of the political spectrum, and Bandaranaike and Jayewardene at the other end. The fear that the livelihood of the Kandyan peasantry, the urban Sinhala worker and the Pettah Sinhala trading class would be affected by Tamil plantation workers, Malayalee urban and white-collar workers and Indian Chettiar and Nadar traders. The Citizenship Laws and the expulsion of TRP-holders in the 60s were seen to rectify this.

“The post-1956 SLFP changes in language and university admission policies were aimed at the perceived disadvantage that the Sinhala middle class believed they were at vis-a-vis the English-speaking Burghers, Tamils and Christians. Victory in the Civil War and consolidation of a bipartisan Sinhala-Buddhist-first policy has addressed this perceived disadvantage.

“Therefore, perceptions among the majority have changed over time. For example, between 1960 and 2010 the perception of Ceylon Tamils in the eyes of the south changed from a privileged professional westernised class (a threat) to a marginalised dispossessed community (no longer a threat). With the north and its people needing the assistance of the state and the south to get by.

“As the perception of Ceylon Tamils, plantation Tamils, Burghers and Christians changed, so did the perception of the Moors. During the Civil War it was vital for the state to keep them onside for two reasons. First, they did not want a war on two fronts, second they needed Tamil-speaking Moors to man military intelligence and to win the war. (Lalith Athulathmudali told me in 1988 that he was using Moor teachers to provide Tamil language training to the military.)

‘The south had been made to believe that economic belt tightening was critical in order to win the war and that prosperity would follow on the morrow of victory. When this did not happen, and shows no sign of happening a decade later, it was necessary to create a new bogey, the Moors. The visible prosperity of Moors, who have always been a trading community, has made them a scapegoat for the perceived continuing economic disadvantage suffered by Sinhalese. This is now augmented with propaganda that the Sinhalese will be demographically swamped (this time by the Moors not by the Tamils of India and Ceylon), that they are receiving unfair aid from the Gulf, that Buddhists are being converted etc.

“The plantation Tamils, the westernised Christians, the northern Tamils are spent bogeys. So, to answer your question: Unless there is a complete change in perceptions I cannot see the foregoing communities being a major target of antagonism. So, I do not expect the JO or the BBS to turn against the plantation workers of Indian origin.

“On the other hand, the issue with the Moors, short of a miracle, is where the real problem lies. As you observe, your own Sinhala friends are expressing this. They are pointing to Burma as the parallel for understanding and legitimising what is happening in Sri Lanka.


End of second response.

Issues have been starkly posed and the best thing that I (KD) and do is to leave it that except add that though it is comfort that the upcountry Tamils may be spared, the anti-Islamism peril is alarming. I know many who unabashedly say to me “I don’t mind (sic!) Tamils and Christians, but I hate (exact word) the hambayas”.

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Latest comments

  • 4

    Thank you very much Prof Kumar ..
    An excellent piece of writing with some sense of social responsibilities to humanity.
    This correspondence tells us many things ..
    But it appears some people even within academic circles support extremism..
    Secondly large portion of them reject extremism.
    Thank you Prof Kumar for timely alerting public about this .
    My observation is that government would not not allow to touch any upcountry Tamils at all ..why ?
    Governments would not want to anger India at all .
    Today country Tamils have more closes connection with India than jaffna Tamils ..
    So; I assume that if upcountry Tamils are touched now India will send its forces again to Sri Lanka.
    Is it too simple to say that…it may look like …even if India does not send troops to protect upcountry Tamils India can put pressure upon Sri Lanka…
    It’s in the interest of Sri Lanka to protect Tamils in upcountry .
    Now they are stronger than ever before …..as noted they no longer want to work as they did in the past ..
    A lot change we could expect ..
    So it would be wise for BBS shut up and not to Go for them..
    Let us see what would happened if Bbs touch them ..
    Can BBS pluck tea leaves ?
    Can they work in plantation?
    Can they replace plantation workers ?
    No way?
    So.people should be more clever now ..

  • 1

    IT is Garbage in Garbage out article.

  • 1

    Dear Prof;

    Interesting insights.
    a] I rule out attacks in the Plantations,for several reasons.
    b] Srilankan Tamils in the North-East segment are perceived[ correctly] to be a spent force.Thus, racist elements would not be able to launch a platform.on this traditional cottage industry!

    The Buddhist Monk Asin Virathu of Burma, sometime leader of Myanmars 969 was described by Time Magazine as a Buddhist Bin Laden. Previously, in 2013 there were riots against the Muslims spearheaded by thousands of Buddhist Monks of 969 led by Virathu. Govt: of Burma supported 969 in the Muslim clean-up
    However, this time around Virathu was not seen anywhere around but the Rohingya Muslims were mercilessly driven out.

    Across South Asia, Muslims [I am told] display 786[ Not Ramanujams No!]
    969 proponents see this as a plot to conquer Burma, in the 21st century.
    7+ 8+ 6 = 21.
    Bodu Bala Sena, though quiet now , are most probably developing their own number!

    • 2

      Racist LAnkan 1: virathu, BBS, Ven. Galaboda atthe Ghanasara are pawns for western agendas, Why don’t you muslims talk about why Sinhale has muslims only and Tamils only political parties. YOu people are racists. Only when sinhala people talk you people oppose it.

    • 0

      Plato, you are writing without knowing what 786 stands for. You compare it with 969 a racist number of Wirathu. Of course no Buddhist or their clergy in Burma, Sri Lanka and other Non-Muslim countries knows what it stands for (the meaning). The hidden anti-Islam forces responsible for changing many words in Quran to show them as having bad meaning in order to bring hatred towards Muslims gave prominent places in their Medias to these changed meanings. So such one force (the Zionist) would have taught the donkey racist Wirarthu, “Hey look, Muslims across South Asia display 786 to show their racism or hatred towards Buddhist so you follow a number to popularise your movement”. So the donkey gulped it. I think this advice was not given to BBS otherwise they too would have had a number. The Muslim use this number because it represent beginning of first Surah, numerically 786. That is “In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent and Most Merciful” so instead of writing that in Arabic in the beginning of their letters etc. they simply write 786. This is all to it, nothing else. This number not only in Asia but all over the world used by Muslims.

  • 0

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  • 3

    BBS is curse to Buddhsims and sinahslee…its does not bring any good but all bad .
    It does not give any good name for the country.
    Look lit bit of stock of oil shortages has crippled the country?
    What about if all Arab countries decided to put grip on oil export to Sri Lanka…
    If not common international laws on oil exports and mutual interests …Sri Lanka would need to find alternative import..
    May be Iran or some other countries.
    Use your brain.
    Sri Lanka badly needed ME for its revenue.
    It’s 3 millions people work in ME .
    It’s earning is connected to ME
    Sri Lankan situation is different from Burma issue in many ways .
    Do not comparison at all ..

  • 0

    Prof. David

    Though topical, I was much saddened to read your incendiary correspondence.

    The frightening prospect is that the growing, empowered, racists have vowed to stop at nothing until they get, at least, quiescent minorities.

    There is a pecking order; Tamils, Muslims, Up-Country Tamils, Christians. Expect all to have to endure the attention of the rabble at some time or another.

    Intolerance and its close cousin Apathy continue be stay alive and well in our blessed land, and until good people stand and be counted there will be more dark days ahead.

  • 2

    Dear Prof David
    It is indeed a very interesting and somewhat amusing catalogue of your dialogues with your ex varsity chums, leftist or otherwise.
    I was intrigued by certain comments about the Upcountry Tamils in the plantation sector
    For ease I have opted to “copy and paste job”

    “Governments would not want to anger India at all .
    Today country Tamils have more closes connection with India than jaffna Tamils ..
    So; I assume that if upcountry Tamils are touched now India will send its forces again to Sri Lanka.
    Is it too simple to say that…it may look like …even if India does not send troops to protect upcountry Tamils India can put pressure upon Sri Lanka…
    It’s in the interest of Sri Lanka to protect Tamils in upcountry .
    Now they are stronger than ever before …..as noted they no longer want to work as they did in the past “..

    The above comment by “Sinhalese pundit “has in most parts have validity in my view , if not in it’s entirety, I hasten to add. This debate is for another day and time


    • 1

      Part 2 – The plantation Tamils as the good Prof has quoted; are a sector, the time has forgotten. If any one of CT readership is interested, please read one of my articles in CT on this matter some months ago.

      These unfortunate people are let down by its own saviours vis a vis the trade unions- CWC,UPF, LSSP and virtually hundreds of them,
      No one seem to take up their issues. How many times MPs, purported to be representing these souls have raised their issues in parliament?. The naked truth is bare minimum it would say zero.
      All mouth and bucketful full of empty promises when campaigning during elections. After that you will never see them.
      By the way If you happen to go to CWC (one of largest Trade unions in the land if not in the world) head office/quarters, in posh Colombo 7 , you wouldn’t be offered a seat to sit because there are none. You get the gist of my predicament!. Believe me I am not joking. What a state of affairs.
      By the way,were they included in the Constitution consultation/making process which is in full flow , pun not intended . None I believe is the painful truth

      Thank you Prof Kumar David – For my dharmic karma I am a part product of Moratuwa and elsewhere in Mech &Elec Engineering.
      I have been reading your articles on Coal fire power plants and renewable energy sources with interest, in most part and amusing in other areas. I for one, is not for fossil fuel sources . I am all for saving the planet for our future generations

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