By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole –
I had brought up my children to love Jaffna as I did. They too love Jaffna but I wonder if I made a big mistake.
The problems of life in the North and East include thieving evangelical priests in the East sheltered by the widely held belief that if we exposed them, it would let down the message of Christ. As I saw it, our covering up their thefts is what gave the church a bad name. Even mainline churches have fallen victim as priests steal. These thieves include archdeacons and retired bishops who use money from endowment funds without the required authorization of the Diocesan Council to buy themselves luxury cars. The Bishop looks the other way as it obligates the thieves to him.
There is inexorable settlement of our private lands by Tamils as well as Sinhalese. A cousin from the US gave me a frantic call asking me to help with land her father had owned and now taken over by thugs of a Minister in Omanthai.
She is quite rich and has made many investments here. She says no more if property is not respected. Government fails in this when it favours Sinhalese encroachers to take over long settled Tamil lands. The National Heritage Ministry, almost fully staffed by Sinhalese, provides the panzer like juggernaut clearing the way for communal encroachment. Tamil newspapers are full of how ancient Buddhist land in Kurundi in Mullaitivu and Thiriyai in Trincomalee District have become aggressive settlement points by Sinhalese.
We Tamils rightly cry foul. The East is almost lost to Tamils. The Northern Province is the last frontier as Sinhalese waves sweep over, drowning us Tamils. There are signs aplenty as many Tamils, particularly Tamils with wealth and talent, see the writing on the wall and migrate abroad.
Reflecting on this – the tendency to lord-it over the weaker and for the weaker to accept their treatment meekly – seems a general human condition. We see this as many Tamils suck up to the government despite how we are treated; in how the lower castes suck up to the higher castes without protest, etc.
What is worse is that sauce for the goose is no sauce for the gander. A clear example is when we Tamils protest most vocally as we should when the Sinhalese do us in, while we seem not to see what we ourselves do to minorities among us. As the Sinhalese claim this blighted piece of earth cursed by God Himself as Buddha’s own, we Tamils get angry and shout ourselves hoarse in protest. At the same time, we proclaim Jaffna to be Siva’s Land as announced as the city of Jaffna is entered from Chemmany Bridge on the A9. The huge Lingam figure of black granite planted for all to see, depicts us as a people of Middle Eastern origin because the oldest lingams there date to 8500 BC whereas the Tamil lingams are as recent as 600 AD. The lingam at Jaffna Municipality entrance taints us with the vulgarities associated with the ithyphallic statue (i.e. permanently erect as the fountain of life) which is most unsuitable for children. Its colour is indicative of the true complexion of us Tamils in ancient times before we mixed with other races.
The lettering Sivaboomy all around the platform on which the Lingam stands, proclaims Jaffna City as Siva’s Land. According to M. Vithiyananthanesan, Deputy Director (Census and Statistics) at the Kachcheri office, Christians are in Majority within the Jaffna District Secretariat area (approximately 29,000 Christians versus 21,000 Hindus from the official 2017 Statistics Handbook). The silence without protest by the Christians shows how cowardly we have become through years of oppression.
The entrance arch to the city proclaims the mantra associated with the word OM. In subservience minorities suck up to those in power. The Anglican Archdeacon of Jaffna recently chanted OM Shanthi endorsing an illegal land-take-over where a low-caste group encroached on and took over the land held in trust by a Vellala (Goigama).
As a tactic against the upper castes, Anglican priests in Jaffna give prestigious assignments in parish to fellow-caste persons with no skills for the assignment like writing parish history to a warden who bought a doctorate but cannot write English. In another case when the Warden of a Church was caught filming a young girl while she bathed, that culprit was defended by the fellow-caste Vicar but the voyeur could not be sustained as Warden after the police arrested him. When it was pointed out to the Bishop of Colombo that such things happen under his administration, back came the haughty reply:
“I hope you realize that our Church does not make any distinction among people and has always recognized individuals as equals in the eyes of God. In fact, ‘refusing Christian fellowship for caste, class or ethnic reasons, or acting in a manner likely to encourage caste, class or ethnic prejudices in society’, is a punishable offense under Section 42 of the Constitution of the Church of Ceylon.”
The campaign of the Archdeacon, The Ven. S.D.P. Selvan, the agent of the Bishop, to sow discord between castes and against the church to suck up to Hindus continues. In his sermons he untruthfully states that there was no communal strife before the Missionaries came. Clearly he has not heard of 8000 Jains being murdered by the Hindu Saint Sivagnansampanthar and celebrated through a festival to this day in Madurai Temple.
Today (17 Sept.) he thundered that the missionaries publicly listed donors and built large graveyard monuments to those who gave more to the church. Again untrue. Till recently for accounting purposes donors and their donations were listed in the annual report. But this year, contravening the Diocesan Constitution, Bishop Rodrigo accepted accounts from Fr. Selvan that were not fully passed by the Auditor. Whatever we may say, there were good reasons for putting up the names of givers so that givers knew their gifts truly went to the church. Now the Bishop and Archdeacon can play out any money and we would be none the wiser.
Besides, graveyard monuments were built by the grieving family and not by the church.
I do not know what Archdeacon Selvan is trying to pull, nor what game Bishop Dushantha Rodrigo is playing by keeping Selvan as Archdeacon in Jaffna. Both are fishing in the troubled waters of Jaffna.
It seems to me that when there is reverse discrimination, one cannot even talk about it in the Church of Ceylon. When the powerful like the President would defend the take-over of Hindu temples, those like a Bishop or Archdeacon fall in line to suck up to the state – both glibly citing laws they themselves routinely break.
In Jaffna, after the schools take-over act in 1962, a condition was that the schools taken over must be returned if they are not used for the same purpose they served. The Nallur Teachers’ Training College was nationalized and converted to the Education Ministry. Administration is not teacher-training and the law requires its return to the Church. The Practising School where I studied is associated with the Teachers’ College and shared the same playground with the Teachers’ Training College. As students dropped at the school to under 30 because of demographic changes and the number of teachers matched the students, education ministry officials say the school is Sivaboomi and carry on without returning the school. Shutting it down would force its return.
While on the Church’s Standing Committee I asked for the relevant documents and was given a letter that yielded little information by the Diocesan Secretary. Officials want to control everything. Even a half of the Mission house was taken over by the Ministry to run their canteen with no word of protest. There is a letter claiming that the then Archdeacon (Sam Horshington) gave the land for the canteen. However, he had no authority to give the church’s land. The Church does not want to let him or the state down.
In the meantime, the Roman Catholics are successfully taking back nationalized property when it is not used for its original purpose. With Bishop Rodrigo and Archdeacon Selvan, the Anglicans will lose much of the land that needs returning. Tamils in general and Christians in particular have been cowed into silence.
Equally bad things are happening at Tellippalai America Ceylon Mission where my great-great-great-grandfather, the Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury, served as Assistant Priest. That mission school too, that is Union College, was taken over. No one is contesting that takeover. But Hindutvas in the form of the school principal Mr T Varathan and his henchmen have been creating a series of ugly scenes against the Tellippalai Church community and its Governing Council, since 2019, first claiming the 360 year old ‘Mission House’, of which 200 years were under the American Ceylon Mission (ACM) from 1816, falsifying land survey documents, and staging unwarranted protests using students, old boys, and local people, with a preplanned propaganda in newspapers and the school community. The school is unlawfully and aggressively using mission house premises to park motorcycles without permission from the Church heads. Christians are weak and at the mercy of the Hindutvas. The government which is doing the same things to Hindus, will not be easily moved as they are both on the same side as partners in crime.
Yesterday 16 September saw a Memorial Dance for Suntharam Divakalala at the Hoover Auditorium at Jaffna’s Medical Faculty. Effectively saying Jaffna is Sivaboomi, Cow-dung ash was forced on guests. Prof. A.A. Hoover, a good Anglican (ACM), must be rolling in his grave as his memorial building is misused thus for aggressive Hinduism suppressing minorities. Even as Buddhists are saying this is Sinhalese Boomi, the Medical Faculty flies the Hindu flag. What is the difference?
Sinhalese, Tamils, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians – we need to go by principles that we apply to ourselves. The Jaffna I loved is gone overrun by communalists of every hue.