18 November, 2018

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On My Third Return From Jaffna

By Somapala Gunadheera

Somapala Gunadheera

Somapala Gunadheera

My first return from Jaffna was in 1958, when I finished my cadetship in the Kachcheri there. I felt happy to have worked among a friendly and accommodating people, with my 1 ශ්‍රී car unscathed, despite the ongoing anti-ශ්‍රී campaign. Back in Colombo, I walked into a communal riot on the ‘Sinhala Only’ issue. The second return was when I was suddenly recalled in 1998 to save the Southern Development Authority, while I was engaged in rehabilitating the North after ‘Riviresa’. I was the first Chairman of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority of the North. I returned from Jaffna for the third time last week, after a three day tour organized by Travel Eye for senior citizens.

When I embarked on the tour, my knowledge of what was happening up in the North was based on rumor, gossip, protest and propaganda. Though my ‘flash in the pan’ visit was grossly inadequate to form an incontrovertible opinion on the issues involved, it made me review some impressions I had entertained in absentia. What I had heard about army activity in Jaffna, had created in my mind the picture of an occupied territory. In that background, I was surprised not to see at least a police constable on the many streets through which we were driven on our tour. There was not a single check point on our route. I saw an army officer on duty at the Kantharode ruins and another at Dambakola Patuna. A couple of navy officers were seen at the piers on our way to and from Nagadeepa and Nagapuusani Amman Kovil. All these officers were on legitimate duty and they had nothing to do with us.

A fear psychosis

I managed to make friends with those who were assigned to look after us, thanks to my ability to talk to them in their own language. I had built enough rapport with them to ask them point blank why they were complaining about an occupation army when there was no soldier in sight for miles. The reply was, “They may not be in uniform but they are all over in civvies keeping watch over us.” Whether this assumption is true or not, it appeared to be at the bottom of the aloofness and tension that was writ on the faces of the public that had received me with smiles on my first visit. Doubtlessly, this apprehension is an insurmountable roadblock to reconciliation and the armed forces should do all that is possible to remove the suspicion, if it is really unfounded. This can be done only by a genuine effort to win the confidence of the people.

I am not aware how the forces are dealing with the civilian public now. I had no chance to meet them this time. When I moved up North after Riviresa, I found an army that was prim and proper in their relations with the general public. One of the first officers I met immediately after my appointment, was Brigadier Kalupahana who was in charge of Vavuniya.  He, along with his then assistant, General Nanda Mallavaarachchi, had a true Buddhist attitude to the sufferings of the people placed under their charge. Brigadier Kalupahana upstaged reconciliation over control. He was never tired of telling me how other countries had resolved their differences through mutual understanding and negotiation, supplying me with relevant literature. Brigadier Kalupahana’s approach had a dominant impact on my assignment in the North.

The Army’s response to the situation in the Peninsula was not different. General Rohan Daluvatta and his deputies like the late General Janaka Perera had a strictly professional approach to their assignment. They were fighting for their Government to quell a local uprising but they did not identify themselves with the communal undertones of the conflict. At the beginning of my assignment, I had to stay in army barracks as no safe civilian accommodation could be found for me. In the evenings I met the officers at drinks and dinner. All those who came together on these occasions were Sinhalese but never ever did I hear one spiteful or disparaging reference to the ethnic identity of the rebels the forces were trying hard to subdue.  The army shops spread over the peninsula supplied scarce commodities to civilians living in their neighbourhood. I remember General Janaka Perera regularly meeting community leaders of his division to maintain a dialogue with them. All the divisional heads of the Army were keeping in cordial touch with my civilian administration by calling me to dine with them every now and then.

A progressive role for the Army

I have referred to these activities in detail to underscore the objective professional contact the Army maintained with civilian life after Riviresa. They were there to preserve the integrity of the country but they had no political or ethnic bias. I have heard that the acclaimed War Hero, General Kobbekaduwa himself was very sympathetic to the plight of the people who were affected by Army activity. Even the Army Commander in charge of the Peninsula at present is reported to have a positive approach to his assignment and that he wanted to be helpful to the public as much as possible under the circumstances. Presumably, his initiatives are getting shot down in the political crossfire.

No one can seriously question a government’s right to guard its territory with adequate facilities, against known and apprehended intrusions. Problems arise only when such facilities are patently excessive or used for political purposes. Now that the armed forces have successfully quelled the insurgency, they have an even more important duty to make way unobtrusively, for the people to settle down to a life of their choice. That calls for confidence building, support and objectivity. Positive action is needed to eradicate the psychological barriers that give the people an impression of living under surveillance. If the apparent atmosphere of tension in the North happens to be unfounded, it is hoped that the armed forces would make a visible effort to disabuse the apprehension and go all out to win hearts and minds, however tough that task would be, in the background of which they are called upon to act.

Breakdown in communication

While my companions were peeping into the Bottomless Well at Puththuur, I walked into the bakery in front to contribute my little bit to a problem that I thought was deeper than the well. That problem is the breakdown in communications. The bakery’s name board contained its name in Sinhala as well. I spoke to the baker in Tamil as he did not know Sinhala. The entrepreneur was Tamil but he had got down his equipment from a Sinhala manufacturer. I congratulated the baker for using Sinhala also on the board and suggested to him that he could increase his turnover if he learnt a little Sinhala to converse with the hundreds of Sinhalese that may be coming to see the Bottomless Well. The baker who was happy about my speaking to him in his mother tongue, promised to learn enough Sinhala to deal with his customers from the South.

In town, I met a Muslim trader who initially mistook me for a Tamil. He had opened a hardware store vacated by one of his kind in the exodus. He told me that forty or fifty of them had returned out of a total of about two thousand. He had no problems. Business was good. Several Sinhala bakers who monopolized the pastry market in the good old days also were reported to have returned. The returnees were said to be working in collaboration with Tamil bakers who had entered the market in their absence. All in all resettlement appeared to have had a smooth start. The deserted roads on which I raced from pothole to pothole in my previous visit were now congested but smooth. New and taller houses were coming up on both sides of the road. I learnt from the minor staff at the hotel at which we stayed that employment was scarce even in the labour grades. From where was money coming for the visible development? I was told that the bulk of investments came from the Diaspora. Even the beautiful hotel in which we stayed was owned by a Tamil couple resident in Australia.

Travel in the ‘Yarldevi” was comfortable and enjoyable. On the way back from Jaffna I sat away from our group in a sub compartment with two double seats facing each other. All four of us seated there sat silently until I started a conversation with the person seated next to me. He thought I was a Tamil until I told him who I was. He was a teacher from Kilinochchi who had passed out of the Jaffna University. By and by, the passenger opposite me, joined the conversation. He himself was a teacher in Trincomalee and a product from a different campus of the same university. The fourth joined the conversation much later and he himself was a teacher, I believe. My co-travelers spoke to me about the difficulty of finding employment in the North. The highest posts that they could get came from the teaching profession. As the train reached the Fort Railway station, the teacher from Trincomalee said, “If each of us learnt the other’s language like this gentleman here, we will have no problem.” And everybody smiled in agreement.

Cultural identity

I had an intriguing experience at Kantharode. The Panel fixed by the Department of Archeology at the site stated that Sangili who invaded Jajjna in the 16th century, had killed 60 Buddhist monks resident at the site in an effort to wipe out Buddhism from the area. The ruins at the shrine consisted mainly of the tombs of the dead monks. They appeared to be untouched. Kantharode was completely under the thumb of Prabakaran when he was in full control of the area and I wondered why he had not done a ‘Sangili’, seeing to it that this telltale evidence was eradicated. As I pondered on the seeming paradox, it dawned on me that although the two persons had a common ethnic origin, their orientation was different. Sangili was an aggressor from another country seeking to annex foreign territory by hook or crook. Prabakaran was a citizen of this country naturalized over time like all other immigrants who arrived from India. Kantharode was a part of the culture he shared with his compatriots, a culture that had common and compatible roots, giving rise to what Gunadasa Amarasekara calls ‘Jaathika Chintanaya” – a shared thought process born of lengthy coexistence.

Another presumption that appears to obstruct reconciliation is that devolution would automatically lead to disintegration. That argument presupposes that Sri Lankan Tamils are identical in all respects with those living in South India. This assumption betrays ignorance of the distinguishing cultural traits of the two people. A comparative study would highlight the differences not only in lifestyle but also in the accent. Attachment of the Sri Lankan Tamils to their country of birth is evidenced by the influx of SL Tamil refugees from India, whenever there was a letup in the fighting. Even the Diaspora in the West is delighted to return to their native country for their holidays, except in rare cases where their exit was associated with bitter memories. Of course, in the case of the Western Diaspora, economic factors are severing their cultural roots imperceptibly.

Politics vs. Self-help

Boys selling joss sticks opposite Nagavihara could not speak Sinhala, despite the fact that the bulk of their clientele consisted of Sinhala visitors to the shrine. They had solved the language problem by enlisting a Sinhalese to their venture. I bought a bottle of soft drinks from them and left half of it to be consumed after my return from the temple. There was a large cutout of the President in front of the shop. I tried to involve the boys in a discussion on the hoarding by asking them to translate its wording for me, whilst consuming the drink I had left with them. They were evasive and their comments were inaudible. Several such cutouts erected in connection with the recent visit of the President were seen at prominent places. They looked meticulously preserved. Whether their preservation is due to diffidence or deference is a question that the oncoming elections should answer.

Our respective political parties have been at a tug of war to resolve the ethnic issue ever since the end of the armed conflict. Five years after, we do not see a light even at the end of the tunnel. There is no spirit of give and take. In that sense, the “Yarldevi” appears to be making a greater contribution to reconciliation than all our politicians put together. They are engaged in an empty battle of wits holding the county to ransom. When this inaction ultimately produces a failed nation, the brunt of it has to be borne by all citizens, irrespective of ethnicity and religion.

For that reason, civil society has to take note of this hiatus and organize itself promptly to avert that calamity. The effort calls for the organized participation of opinion leaders, heads of religions, intelligentsia, administrators, professionals and the thinking public on all sides. Even the armed forces have a positive role to play in this campaign. North-South tour operators have to deviate from traditional methods of route planning and create more space for their clients to meet their counterparts to engage them in a dialogue of discovery. A good part of our tour ran through miles and miles of causeways and uninhabited territory. Although our tour took us to the ruins of Mahavamsa, it did not give us a chance to meet the high priest of the Jaffna Buddhist temple for us to learn what he thought of the current situation. While my companions were being shown the inside of an empty cathedral, I crept out to leave a message of thanks to the Bishop of Jaffna who was a tower of strength to me, when I headed the RRAN. My Tamil impressed the Bishop’s Secretary so much that he broke all protocol to arrange an impromptu audience with his Lordship.

The message

The Indian Ocean that has surrounded this little island relentlessly from times immemorial, shall hold us and our progeny together until dooms day. It is only a miniscule of the privileged who are able to cross the shores to live in strange climes even as their third class citizens. The rest of us will have to live here willy-nilly, irrespective of our cultural backgrounds. Self-seeking politicians have always used us as a cat’s-paw to acquire or remain in power. They have used our petty differences to achieve their egocentric objectives. The continuing confrontation has placed us in the predicament of the two proverbial cats who fought each other, until only their tails were left. Let us be wise enough to realize this danger and work hand in hand towards a free and fair society, in which all of us can live in dignity, peace and harmony, despite the diversity of our respective cultures. I see ‘Yarldevi’ as the harbinger of this message.

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Latest comments

  • 12
    5

    This is call “Smart lobby”. Well done.

    Not biased, not partical but certainly smart way of puting things to brain wash the readers.

    • 5
      6

      Ganesh,

      You are right the author is trying to brain wash the readers to believe that the army is doing the right things all along to Tamils and everything is fine and if only the suspicion of Sinhala rulers is soothed out!

      What bull shit is this from a former servant of the Sinhala state oppressors?

  • 6
    5

    Somapala

    dont forget it is your dreaded politicians who in the end made the Yarldevi run . And What fear phycosis I was there last week in the yarl devi as well and there were very few soldiers to see beyond Elephant pass.

    In fact most of the tourist business is from the Sinhalese travelling north . Jaffna does not have enough proper tourist hotels . even the few the Military has commissioned does not have sufficient rooms to make it is proper tourist destination .

    Yerl Devi still takes 9 hours . I think when the Highway from colombo to Jaffna is built things will improve a hundred fold .

    Cheers

    Abhaya

    • 7
      1

      If Jaffna did have tourist hotels, they would have gone bust by now as I recall Jaffna and the North are closed to tourists.

      • 1
        2

        They can get approval if they requested . it only takes a day . There is a lot of diaspora that visit .

        Cheers

        Abhaya

  • 8
    4

    Mr Gunadheera,

    “There was a large cutout of the President in front of the shop. I tried to involve the boys in a discussion on the hoarding by asking them to translate its wording for me, whilst consuming the drink I had left with them. They were evasive and their comments were inaudible. Several such cutouts erected in connection with the recent visit of the President were seen at prominent places. They looked meticulously preserved.”

    Who is preserving these cut outs?
    Ans – one army member for every 8.7 civilians. http://blog.crisisgroup.org/asia/2014/03/25/the-forever-war-military-control-in-sri-lankas-north/

  • 4
    5

    It may be wonderful but it is still not good enough. Thiru and the TNA want the NE run by Tamils only, plus the right to live work and prosper anywhere else in the country. It’s called ‘Having your vadai and eating it’.

    • 7
      5

      You want Sinhala hegemony all over the island and make Tamils subservient to the Sinhala masters.

      • 4
        7

        No. I want Tamils to accept that Eelam is dead and get on with their lives. It’s called ‘realpolitik’.

        • 4
          3

          Taraki

          “I want Tamils to accept that Eelam is dead and get on with their lives.”

          Thamil Eelam was dead on arrival, this was on 14 May 1976 just after passing the Vattukkottai resolution.

          You are wrong entire island is/was known as Eelam in ancient, medieval and modern times. Eelam is not dead. However the Sinhala/Buddhists work tirelessly hard to dismember this island of my ancestors.

          Sinhala/Tamil real politics means allowing foreigners to grope their women folks, and getting hammered by anyone who passes the island by.

  • 7
    4

    “I returned from Jaffna for the third time last week, after a three day tour organized by Travel Eye for senior citizens”

    Three day tour is not sufficient to judge the situation. You would not expect the Jaffna people to express their opinion to a “stranger” Among the trusted people they tell “we only open our mouths to eat”

    Regarding the Kantharoadai “The Panel fixed by the Department of Archeology at the site stated that Sangili who invaded Jajjna in the 16th century, had killed 60 Buddhist monks resident at the site in an effort to wipe out Buddhism from the area” This is a “new story” planted by the Govt. to discredit the Tamils!!!

    With this type of falsified information, do you expect reconciliation with the Tamils?

    This is a “new Story” we are hearing!!! It is an accepted fact that Tamils were one time Budhists. Several ancient literature proves that. eg. Silapathiharam, Manimekalai, etc.

    The Panel fixed by the Department of Archeology at the site stated that Sangili who invaded Jajjna in the 16th century, had killed 60 Buddhist monks resident at the site in an effort to wipe out Buddhism from the area.

    The Panel fixed by the Department of Archeology at the site stated that Sangili who invaded Jajjna in the 16th century, had killed 60 Buddhist monks resident at the site in an effort to wipe out Buddhism from the area.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kandarodai

    I don’t know what the intention of writing this little piece. But it does not seem like going to help in the way of healing or reconciliation.

    • 7
      3

      “The Panel fixed by the Department of Archaeology at the site stated that Sangili who invaded Jaffna in the 16th century, had killed 60 Buddhist monks resident at the site in an effort to wipe out Buddhism from the area” This is a “new story” planted by the Govt. to discredit the Tamils!!”

      Truth, welcome to the world of sihala/hela/ sinhala Buddhism, hypocrisy at it’s best, You may remember same archaeology department’s assertions on the graves of Mannar, when some human remains were found!. These people are pathological liars

      How convenient is to forget the Tamil Buddhist heritage in Srilanka, These idiots will not learn or interpret the history and how buddhism flourished even under the mighty cholas.

      I did not know that sangili invaded Jaffna, sangili that I know was instrumental in suppressing christianity, He could have killed monks, but where’s the evidence to the above assertion from our archaic department?

      • 9
        3

        Ken Robert

        When did the Sinhala/Buddhists worry about truth?

        They write, they read, they loud each other, they pat each others back, …….. they make history, manufacture consent, kill each other as if destruction is the only highest form of achievement, …. then justify in their history typing, ………… shamelessly attach themselves to Mahawamsa, ………

        • 2
          1

          Native
          “As I pondered on the seeming paradox, it dawned on me that although the two persons had a common ethnic origin, their orientation was different. Sangili was an aggressor from another country seeking to annex foreign territory by hook or crook. Prabhakaran was a citizen of this country naturalized over time like all other immigrants who arrived from India”

          look at the secret admirer of Prabakaran!, How Sangili who is now dead and gone, is seen as a aggressor and a foreigner, Sangili was a descendent of arya chakravartis, and his ancestors did came India,and During reign of arya chakravartis, Kingdom of Jaffna flourished unlike during the last three decades which are very painful.

          I suggest Mr Gunadheera, should read on Yalpana Irachchium, a surukka varalaru( Kingdom of Jaffna, a concise history) by Prof Pathmanathan. Since he does not seems to show interest in learning tamil, I suggest to visit the website Pathmam.
          http://pathmam2.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/kingdom-of-jaffna-ad.html

          If I am correct the ancient ruins of kantharodai, were prior to tenth century, and the so called invader Sangili was in regin in the middle of second millenium.I remember similar ruins were also present in south India. My advice to simpletons like Mr Gunadheera, they need to be careful on what they write.

          According to kallathoni concept,Sangili left Jaffna with help of Sakkiliyar of Srilanka in the fifteenth century and destroyed the ancient buddhist shrines in south india of 6th century AD. In Fact the similar ruins were found in south india. We ought to put a name board stating this was erected by the archaic department of Srilanka.

          ‘Kallothoni Kaviya’ further elaborates Sangili used a space shuttle in warp drive to travel between different time periods.

    • 2
      1

      1. Remember travel/tourism journalists getting free trips by travel agents/airlines.

      ‘Travel eye for Senior Citizens” tour is meant to get this author write exactly this piece. This is to counter what other Sinhalese going to the North without any notice write.
      It’s a pity that the senior citizens were not taken to the posh hotel run by the army, swimming pool and Tennis Courts in the 6,600-acre ”High Security Zone” where the army farms the land and sells the produce to markets where the people displaced from the land are likely to buy some produce of their own land.

      2.Fear psychosis:
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/namal-rajapaksa-building-a-cult-of-personality-in-the-north/comment-page-1/

      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/satellite-images-uncover-lies-spewed-by-sl-military-in-jaffna-land-grabs/comment-page-1/

      3.I wish I’ve time to counter every sentence in this piece.

      • 1
        1

        Punitham

        “I wish I’ve time to counter every sentence in this piece”

        We do not need to. Hopefully, Mr gunadheera a, senior statesman will understand the pain he caused by writing this essay.

        Ken

  • 6
    5

    Gunadeera appears to a completely gullible individual.
    He should read Sambanthan’s submission in parliament available in this blog.
    He has served as developer in the south, and then, of the north – it is unbelievable that writes this bilge after these two episodes of ‘service’ to the government.

    • 1
      4

      LTTE spokesman Sambandan is the most reliable source ,

      Cheers

      Abhaya

      • 6
        2

        bla, bla bl-Abhaya

        “LTTE spokesman Sambandan is the most reliable source”

        Sam is a politician as a rule of thumb you cannot and should not rely on his words.

        I suggest you speak to KP, Karuna, Douglas, Pillayan, … they can provide you with reliable facts.

  • 6
    8

    Building confidence alone is probably not going to cut things.

    Because it is seemingly credible Tamils like University Professors, Catholic Priests etc that poison their minds afterwards.

    Everyone is perplexed why Tamils here are different to other parts of the world. The upcountry Tamils have hardworking, humble and trusting outlook. Whereas the Jaffna Tamil is completely the opposite.

    It always ends up with a “how do we deal with this special child” type of question.

    There are differences between the two groups. The northern Tamil is composed of 2 groups known as Malabar and Vaduka. Vaduka is from Kerala region. Upcountry Tamils are mostly Malabar.

    The most stark difference is their education. The northern Tamil is far more educated than the upcountry Tamils and even Sinhala people.

    Its cruel experiment done by the British. They bring Tamils, isolate them in a special region in the north and educate them to be ‘keepers’ of the colony.

    The keepers know of only one thing and that is to keep. Even these Tamils are victims of this design. The keeper role ended many years ago although still trying to cling to some resemblance of their former role.

    • 9
      5

      Hey Mr. Vibushana,
      You have put some effort to judge and comment on other tribes, Upcountry Lanka Tamils as hardworking & trustworthy and North Lanka Tamils as opposite. What a judgment of others? Have you put any effort to analyse your own tribe? Are they Trustworthy? Honest? Hardworking :-( like Lanka Upcountry Tamils? Or the opposite? Do they need any help from super human like you?
      Look at nurses & doctors of your tribe, do they respect their patients, are they kind to the patients who indirectly pay their wages? Help your kind first, then if you have spare time, then you are welcome to help other tribes…

    • 0
      0

      Vibushana,
      You need to read up a lot of Srilankan history as your knowledge is so thread bare.
      The Tamils of the north were never brought by the British. They were there well over thousands of years! Have you heard of the tamil King called Ellara? Who ruled in the north in the period 2nd century BC? Do you realize that there was a land bridge between north Ceylon and south India 7000 years ago?
      While the Tamils of the north have genetic links to Chera kingdom the Tamils from the hills are from Ramnad district and were brought by British as indentured Labour.
      You might help yourself if you sit down and do some reading on the various groups of Sinhala people and where they came from? it might be healthy and humble for you to learn the genetic links they have with south India, chola Pandiya and even Telugu people. How the coastal Sinhalese hail from the fishing communities of Malabar coast?
      All in all you will learn that the the whole of Srilanka is a mosaic of genes from india irrespective what they speak now with a generous sprinkling of some Portuguese Dutch and British remnant chromosomes for a good measure!

  • 7
    4

    What a big lie if the army is true Buddhists by this time they resigned their job

  • 5
    6

    Thank you sir for this article.

  • 7
    1

    Former senior Government official Mr. Somapala Gunadheera (SG) is a regular commentator in the media in matters of immediate public interest. It is an educative experience to read and learn from his well thought of and structured opinions. The liberal gentleman has travelled to Jaffna, again, after many years and shares with us his thoughts and perceptions on the ground situation there. His implied thoughts civil society must get involved in the search for a solution needs to be treated seriously. In addition to the regular intervention of those responsible distinguished citizens and scholars in the Friday Forum others too, ideally, should show a greater degree of interest in these times of crisis in the country. They must stand up and let their voices to heard out loud and clear.

    Few will dispute SD’s observation the army and other forces in the North should do much more to win the confidence of the people in the ground. GD has seen first hand Tamils in the area remain concerned and in fear of the oversized army four years after the end of the War. It is common knowledge many soldiers in their Intelligence Units are roaming around in civvies round the clock.

    Despite its much contested fictinal narratives, the Rajapakse regime has missed a fine opportunity in ushering peace and reconciliation in obstinately refusing to allow the popularly elected Wignewaren’s NPC to serve the people of the North. The Tamil speaking people in the area naturally have little confidence in the Rajapakse government coming out with any good for them.

    “Employment is scare even in labour grades” is an indictment of the regime’s deliberate failure to help the people of the area. How is this possible when so much of developmental work is claimed by the Rajapakse government. Clearly, most employment opportunities find the hands of Sinhala labour imported from the South.

    The government has shot itself in the foot by virtually closing the Omanthai border in a comedy or errors and confusion where the army refuses even locals to go about. One cannot blame the Tamils in the North to see their fate as a “captive people” by an unwelcome colonising army. In the nature of things corrupt elements in the army at the Omanthai end will try to capitalise on the situation now that overseas visiting Tamils are vulnerable with their bags, baggages and families stranded.

    The entire conundrum is best summed up by SD’s own comments the unity efforts of the present Army Commander is getting shot in the political cross-fire. The fate of the Tamil and Tamil speaking in the District, needless to add, is far worse. So let us not blame the TNA, CM Wigneswaren or the Tamil diaspora for all our ills. It is time the Rajapakses focussed the searchlight inwards. Therein lies the problem.

    R. Varathan

  • 8
    2

    “I am not aware how the forces are dealing with the civilian public now”

    Ha Ha

    where you were for past 30 years ?

    • 6
      3

      Pretending

  • 10
    2

    The only time I went to Jaffna was in 1977 as a 10 year old. I remember a bustling market and an enormous number of bicycles being used.

    However the most strkig thing was that all the buses (this was pre-private bus era) had names written in big bold Tamil letters. Sinhalese and English were in small fonts. It was the same in all government buildings as well. I did not feel comfortable seeing this as I was used to big bold Sinhala letters and small Tamil and English letters. However after spending some time in Jaffna I got used to it.

    Now, after 37 years I see pictures of buses in Jaffna and all government buildings have nameboards written in big bold Sinhala letters followed by Tamil and English in small letters. The people in Jaffna cannot read Sinhala. But we are imposing our superiority on the Tamils in Jaffna. Reconciliation? My foot.

  • 6
    3

    Mr Gunadheera says it all in referring to his “three day tour” during his third visit to Jaffna. Who conducted the tour? Were the participants free to travel on their own and meet the people they should have talked to? Did Mr G visit and talk to University students and/or the media? If as conveyed there was no evidence of army presence, where were they. Did MR G inquire as to what they were doing and how they were occupied in Jaffna?

    Mr G has inadvertently confessed that: the visit was of a flash in the pan nature; and was grossly inadequate to form an incontrovertible opinion.

  • 5
    3

    “The reply was, “They may not be in uniform but they are all over in civvies keeping watch over us.” Whether this assumption is true or not, it appeared to be at the bottom of the aloofness and tension that was writ on the faces of the public that had received me with smiles on my first visit.”

    Mr. Somapala Gunadheera has perceived the crux of the problem in Jaffna in these words, despite his short visit.

    It is not the reguar uniformed soldiers who are resented, but the intelligence operatives-both Sinhala and Tamil.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 7
    5

    Even not a single person among the millions of people came to north as tourists after 2009 from the south has attempted to know or understand the suffering the inhabitant Tamils have gone through during the last three decades.
    If any of them has done so come openly and honestly to this forum and let know what they saw and heard.

  • 7
    4

    It is the Tamils( Tamil Buddhist) suffered at the hands of the northern Indian invaders. Not the Sinhalese. At the time of Kantharodai most Tamils were Buddists. Not only in Jaffna also in south India. North Indians Used religion to capture south India Tamil area and Sri Lanka.

    In the 16 th century Jaffna was under the rule of Portuguese. Actually Jaffna is the Island called Manipallavam. It is not a Peninsula. It is an Island joined by a small causeway now. How a false thing has been converted to be true over the Time. None has quarried this so far and just follow what has been said by the colonialist.

    • 8
      4

      The concocted history written on the board in Kantharodai is a criminal act that is no doubt angering the Tamils. Mr. Gunadheera has to be thanked for highlighting this. Packs, thanks for pointing this out.

      Dr.RN

  • 1
    8

    Is he looking for another job? Bensen

    • 3
      3

      Never can you correct your warped mind. Deriving perverse pleasure through worthless comments.

    • 5
      1

      What an idiot Bensen Burner is!

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        Seems like Bensen Burner is mentally retarded

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    Hats off to the great man Somapala Gunadeera who was always respected by the Jaffna population and what he writes is true even though it is uncomfortable for both the Sinhala and Tamil extremists!

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    It is sad to read the comments. Our minds so warped to cast aspersions on the author who has presented his perceptions in a very professional manner. He deserves a much better respect than the comments herein

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    Somapala Gunadheera, you mentioned in passing that there no Tamils in the Army. Is this because Tamils do not want to join or the Army does not want them. Tamils should be encourage to join not only the Army but also the Navy, Air Force and the Police. Our schools should teach Sinhalese and Tamils from a young age but more importantly, the government should provide an incentive to learn both languages at least to the officers in public offices by giving them a bonus if proficient in both languages.

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      Unless there is law and order and justice,it would be difficult for a Tamil to be in the security forces of Sri Lanka. May be that is why the establishment is “employing or forcing” desperate Tamil youths (I think they are the so called “rehabilitated”) to “spy” on the civilians and do the dirty work for them!!

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      Sylvia,
      I guess you missed one important point in this essay. Minority in the North do not want to learn Sinhalese. I spent 3 days in Mulathive, Nadumkani area in 2012, I went to many small shops to buy stuff like King coconuts, many times, but most of merchants didn’t even try to sell thing to me, they didn’t even try sign language or couple of English words to sell anything to me. they not rude, but they just ignored me, a Sinhalese looking outsider .
      If you go to BuddhaGaya in India, most of merchants know some Sinhalese, because they want to sell their stuff to masses of Sinhalese go there. This is not happening in North of SL.. I don’t how, but somehow mutual respect in between Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims has to be reinforced… but unfortunately all are marching into opposite direction…Sad..

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        Most of the Sri Lankan muslims learnt Sinhala, speaks well in that languate. Recently they were attacked in Colombo and other areas in the south. What is your explanation to this?

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        If the Govt. seriously wants to build unity and usher in reconciliation they must make it compulsory for all Schools in the country to teach both languages to children from about the
        5th standard. Tamil as a subject in Sinhala-majority areas and vice-versa. This will not only equip the child with knowledge of one more language but also create the conditions to respect the culture of the other. This was beginning to happen in the mid-1950s but Nationalism, from both sides, intervened then and both communities went into their shelves. The country remains bitterly divided.

        The usual story of lack of funds, shortage of teachers will naturally be thrown about by the prejudiced in the system. But a smarter political leadership can easily overcome this if unity and Nation-building is foremost in their mind.

        Kettikaran

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          A great comment. Let’s hope the education ministry takes note.

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          This is exactly right. But, unless there is an incentive, learning another language would be considered an unnecessary burden and ignored. At the root of most conflicts is wanton persecutions, discriminations and gung-ho politics. The government will continue to treat the Tamils as second class citizens when recruitment to the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Police is denied to them for no other reason but they are Tamils. We seem to have learnt nothing from the debilitating 30 year conflict when we elect a government that sponsors the likes of BBS whose only policy appears to be incitement to hatred.

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    Dear author
    Why did they have the NPC ”elections” (just before CHOGM2013) please?

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    Remember why Tamils Raviraj M P and Sivaram were killed because they Spoke in Singhala Lanuage to explain the Tamils grievances in Singahala to the singhalese. Those who advocate for the Tamils to study Singhala note it.

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    A well written and thoughtful article with many interesting points

    But on a personnel note i must dissagree on a small issue
    “except in rare cases where their exit was associated with bitter memories.”

    I had an in laws coming to SL to go to Jaffna for a Wedding of my Uncles sisters daughter and their son was turned back at the omanthai check point because he didn’t have Defence ministry clearance.

    If the government wants to put restrictions that is their wish but can they give due notice so people are not inconvieniced

    This boy was left HIgh and dry in the middle of the night to return to colombo and this boy doesn’t speak tamil or sinhalese

    Is this how we want to promote reconciliation

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    I would also like to note before a meeting takes place first Army Permmision is needed

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    I have read the comments on my article and am thankful to those who have understood my intention to contribute my humble share to national reconciliation and encouraged me to move in that direction with their positive comments.
    I am saddened by these three unfair assumptions:
    “What bull shit is this from a former servant of the Sinhala state oppressors?” Thiru
    “He has served as developer in the south, and then, of the north – it is unbelievable that writes this bilge after these two episodes of ‘service’ to the government” justice
    “Is he looking for another job?” Bensen

    These three comments appear to presume that I canvased for these jobs, was obliged to the government for the appointments and that I benefitted therefrom. Although I am reluctant to talk about what I did for my country, these comments compel me to disabuse the minds of the normal readers, in fairness to myself.

    I had to give up my post as a Ministry Secretary which position I attained by virtue of having passed the CCS exam, in order to accommodate a nominee of JR. Then I took to the study of Law and rehabilitated myself as a lawyer. My appointment as Chairman of the RRA of the North was made after I was unexpectedly called by President CBK one evening and requested to take charge of the administration of the North as it had broken down after ‘Riviresa’ and no one was prepared to take up responsibility for the civilian population. I promptly agreed and assumed duties, giving up my lucrative legal practice, without any agreement on emoluments and facilities. It was only after the President learnt about my predicament from a third party, that a salary was prescribed for me and a car given for my use.
    There were no other takers for the assignment as imaginably, it was extremely risky to work as a civilian at the time in the Peninsula. I had to keep my appointment a secret to my family as they would not have permitted me to go up. They came to know that I was there only when they saw me among the refugees on television. The only other person who later volunteered to come up to help me was killed in an explosion.
    I was recalled to head The Southern Development Authority when the areas under government control in the North were speedily coming back to normal. The post in the SDA was also not an appointment sought after by me but imposed on me to solve a problem faced by government. Neither appointment bettered my lot; nor did I use either position to serve the sectarian interests of the government. I was only making myself useful to my siblings in the North and in the South when they needed my help.
    It is unfortunate that some individuals have got into the habit of wisecracking in these columns to show off their wit at the expense of others without any respect for the truth or the reputation of those whom they defame. They divert attention from matters under serious discussion and cause irreparable damage to the pursuit of knowledge that this space is meant to serve. I do not know where these smart heroes were when I was risking my life in the service of their countrymen. I am grateful to Dr.Rajasingham Narendran for his valiant effort to disabuse the readers’ minds from the misapprehensions that might have been caused by irresponsible remarks.

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      Mr Somapala Gunadheera

      I felt that you are going to respond to the comments above. In spite of not knowing your background or who you are,I sensed that your intention of writing this essay was meant for reconciliation. Unfortunately, being emotionally attached to issues at hand, commentators may have not read in between the lines. However, I agree my self and fellow commentators must avoid personal attacks.

      I fully appreciate the constraints you had to overcome and the sacrifices that you made for the betterment of our beloved country and countrymen. However, I wanted your statements regarding sangili and kantharodai to be challenged, to enable a fruitful discussion.

      I sincerely believe that these discussions should continue without digressing into personal defamation. This is how a western democracy should function, based on equality, freedom expression, and clear logic.

      Ken

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