15 August, 2020

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Pathways Of Dissent: Tamil Nationalism In Sri Lanka

By Imtiyaz Razak –

Dr. Imtiyaz Razak

Edited by Cheran, R. Pathways of Dissent: Tamil Nationalism in Sri Lanka. New Delhi, India.: Sage Publications, 2009. 283 pp.

Book Review;

Many scholarly studies on Sri Lanka explain the nature and the roots of the ethnic conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, which eventually opened the way for the birth of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the separatist Tamil organization, commonly known as the LTTE, established in May 1976 and violently defeated in May 2009).  However, very few studies on Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflicts focus on the Tamil perspectives and the complexities of their struggle or the dynamic evolution from the non-violent stage (1947-1976) to the violent phrase (1976-2010) of this historical chapter.Pathways of Dissent: Tamil Nationalism in Sri Lanka edited by Cheran fills that gap and offers profound insight to readers. The chapters provide a combination of narrative and analytical information, thus making the volume appealing to both the general readership and scholars who are well versed in Sri Lankan history.

Several essays in the early segment of the book concentrate primarily on the roots and nature of Tamil nationalism as well as the profound origin of the Tamil ethnic identity and its historical stages of transformation. As Cheran aptly points out, “nationalism involves and evolves from a fusion of several elements: language, territory and distinctions, from contiguous neighbors in ways which sustain a group’s sense of us and them” (p. XVI).

Ethnicity exists and affects the behaviors of members of different ethnic groups; however, ethnic identities alone do not cause tensions among them. Tensions and conflicts occur in divided societies between groups when political forces politicize the ethnic identities to win power. In Sri Lanka the Sinhala political class has made systematic efforts to politicize the ethnic relations by providing state concessions to the Sinhala ethnic nation. The concessions from the “Sinhala only” language policy in 1956 to the pro-Sinhala ethnic standardization education policies in 1972, and from the religious policy establishing state patronage of Buddhism in the 1972 Constitution to land policy which, as early as 1948, began state colonization of the Tamil land, all contributed to the growth of Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka. It is worth noting that the Tamils, who were victims of the Sinhala violence, mobilized politically without any violence under moderate parties such as the Federal Party (FP).  However, Sinhalese chauvinism neglected the Tamil moderates. More tragically, the Tamils’ peaceful protests were met with Sinhalese ruling class’ violent responses.  The aggressive Sinhala response to the moderate demands of Tamil nationalism encouraged some Tamils to seek violent alternatives to win justice and peace. This helps us to understand the socio-political conditions behind the birth of Tamil violent movements, particularly the LTTE in the 1979s (pp.34-37).

The LTTE claimed that it was the inevitable result of the Sinhala oppression and thus identified itself as the liberation movement.  However, anti-LTTE critics argue that the LTTE’s anti-Sinhala and Muslim positions and actions have seriously compromised the LTTE’s claims.  It is true that LTTE targeted innocent Sinhalese villagers. The Muslims, whose political leaders supported all the anti-Tamil legislations of the Sinhala regime since independence, have accused LTTE of confiscating Muslim wealth in the North- Eastern Province. In addition, LTTE did not tolerate liberal opposition of the Tamil polity and violently targeted Tamil politicians and activists who challenged its position in the Tamil political apparatus.  However, it is also true that the LTTE’s anti-liberal policies in its 30 years’ struggle are characteristics similar of many other political/military movements in other third world countries. One of the key reasons for their radical nature is attributable to the fact that these movements are often the product of the postcolonial states that have, not uncommonly, resorted to the use of violence in cracking down oppositions.

The point is that, as Vaitheespara acknowledge, “despite its many mistakes and blunders, it was possible to convert the movement from a strictly nationalist organization into a more liberation organization” (P. 47). Also, the growth of the non-violent movements, particularly the LTTE, affected how the Tamil polity deals with the social issues from economy to caste and from family to feminism. The chapters in the book expressively and critically analyze these changes and their consequences.

The defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 came with the loss of an enormous number of innocent Tamil peopleBut the question remains: will Sri Lanka embrace ethnic peace in order to heal the historical wounds and minimize ethnic hatred?  Historical experiences confirm that when political elites politicize ethnic symbols of a particular group to win power, it would put different groups at the risk of security crisis and war. Such developments increasingly weaken the prospect of peace when wars claim innocent civilian lives.  Sri Lanka’s current dilemma in its efforts at constructing a precarious peace serves to reinforce this theory, a point that is made by several contributors.

This edited volume provides a unique insight into the Tamil perspectives of the ethnic conflict and, in doing so, it fulfills its stated purpose of addressing “the complexities and contours of Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka” (p. ix), thus adding an important dimension to the analytical framework of the Tamil-Sinhala ethnic struggle.  It is an valuable source of information for all students of Sri Lanka history in general, and ethnic conflicts in particular.

*Dr.  A. R. M. Imtiyaz’ research and teaching are mainly focused on ethnic politics. He has published widely in peer-reviewed international journals. He currently teaches at the Asian Studies/Department of Political Science, Temple University, Philadelphia, USA.

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Latest comments

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    The history of liberation movements is that even when they do “terror actions”, they still are liberation movements. The ANC of South Africa, the ZANU-PF of Zimbabwe and SWAPO of Namibia, that are governing their countries now, fit into this category and so did the LTTE.

    The LTTE was ahead of them in that it formed, administered and protected the de facto state of Tamil Eelam(TE) for more than 20 years.

    The Chief Justice of Sri Lanka(SL), said last week that sovereignty rests with people. The people of TE are sovereign, having agency over their destiny from 1977.

    But psychophantic governments of SL (GOSL), instead of giving self determination to the people of TE, embarked on a propaganda culture of blatant and venomous lies against the liberation of TE.

    While having Cease Fire Agreement with the LTTE and holding “Peace Talks”, the GOSL continued to covertly stategise to; 1) Step up state terror and Human Rights violations against Tamils, 2) Split the LTTE using Karuna and isolate the East, 3) Abuse the West, India and Russia, driven by reflex panic about terrorism, and make them act like scared kids, 4) Prevent UN action on SL and 5) occupy TE, kill civilians and rape its resources.

    The recent violent and arbitrary arrests made in Jaffna University Campus, as “LTTE suspects”, shows that SL is not a wholesome country that can think like and act as adults to bring peace through poltical justice and reconciliation.

    A monster is a monster even if it talks like an angel. Therefore, the UN must engage in damage control in TE. It must sponsor and speed up the decolonisation of TE.

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    If the Rajapakse Family are of the “happy” conclusion they have settled the Tamil Question, these comments should make them think. Its a different world out there. The need of the hour is to empower Tamils to run their own areas in the spirit and reality of local governance that is allowed to ALL other provinces. If you ask me, it is the NEP that should be given PC’s and not the others. My point is shared by just about everybode in the South who call PCs there “sheer waste of time and refer to them as white elephants” In the NEP, it can well be divine blessing in bringing us peace and reconciliation, at last. The Tamil struggle will continue to proceed gaining strength as it goes along until they eventually get long due justice.

    Senguttuvan

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      Senguttuvan

      As ususl I am finding it difficult to understand your idea of two nation one in country solution.

      Could you write a paper on this subject, arguing theoretical basis of such arrangement and what does it mean in practical term.

      I hope Colombo Telegraph would be pleased to publish it.

      There is also one other topic which puzzles me upto this day. namely the “Thimbu Principles. Could you also consider a detail analysis of these principles since its birth to its death.

      • 0
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        native vedda it is pleasure to reply to you since i know you from 2009 through dbsjeyaraj blog.unfortunately sinhalese are unable to understand the basics of devolution whiich is being practised worldwide except srilanka where it is a dirty word and often associated with tamil separatism.what senguttavan tries to tell is since sinhalese are not ready to accept devolution of powers as they are paranoid about it.let us implement devolution in north east since it will only provide meaningful solution to tamil problems.other provinces need not have devolution because there is no problem there to solve atleast ethnic problem.sinhalese need to come out of the paranoia that devolution is first step towards separatism only then they can progress.

  • 0
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    We Hope Sri Lanka learns a lesson from the past and makes every effort to builds its future on the foundations of:-

    (A) MULTI-CULTURE (B) MULTI-LINGUAL (C) MULTI-FAITH (D) EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES TO ALL CITIZENS (E) RESPECT ALL COMMUNITIES, THEIR HONOUR AND PROPERTY RIGHTS. (F) NO COMMUNITY CLAIMS SUPREMACY OVER THE OTHER OR MANIPULATES ELECTION OUTCOME (G) STRICTLY MERIT BASED GOVERNANCE (H) ALLEGIANCE TO ONE COUNTRY, ONE NATION. (I) MAKE A DIPLOMATIC EFFORT TO CONVINCE THE NEIGHBOUR TO BE PART OF THE SOLUTION AND RELIEVE THEIR CONCERNS AND ASSURE THEM OF A FAIR TREATMENT TO ALL COMMUNITIES.

  • 0
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    All the details discussed in the article is nothing new and widely discussed. However when thought from a different angle i see similarities between Nazism and Tamil Nationalism and similarities between hitler, fascim in Prabhakaran and LTTE. Nazists believed they are a special race superior to others and when reading many opinions of made by Tamils you can see a similar trend. I think this also needs to be discussed.

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      sach

      Please bear with me I am bit thick.

      What is Nazism and what is Tamil Nationalism?

      What are the similarities between these two?

      Did these two share common historical experience?

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        Bravo, Native Vedda…Brilliant brain. What ever you write stupid tamil and sinhala never understand. Thanks any way stupid sinhala modaya comparing tamil nationalism and nazist. Idiots dont know meaninfg of nazism.. I beleive you must be thamil native vedda….

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          R.Kovian says:

          “I beleive you must be thamil native vedda….”

          I am sorry to disappoint you.

          I am a authentic Veddah with an attitude. You can bear with me or ignore me, at your own peril.

          I am not partial to any one of you, be Sinhalese or Tamils. For both of you are self destructive irredeemably land grabbing stupid people.

          In fact I want my ancestral land back both the stupid Tamils and stupid Sinhalese to go back to their motherland, India.

          By the way tell me what you know about Veddah people? I suspect it won’t take more than a paragraph.

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        Uru warige Booru attho, you cant understand these things. Go and find a honey comb in the jungle.

        • 0
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          sach says:

          “Uru warige Booru attho, you cant understand these things.”

          Of course I can’t understand as the comments are written by the most stupid people in and around Asia.

          You have not answered my questions. I copy them here again:

          What is Nazism and what is Tamil Nationalism?

          What are the similarities between these two?

          Did these two share common historical experience?

          You say:

          “Go and find a honey comb in the jungle.”

          You are playing the person than the ball.

          The easy way out for you is to say “sorry, I never understood these isms”.

          Thats all.

          Talking about honey combs, you (kallathies) have already destroyed jungles and grabbed all my ancestral land. I have no place to find honey combs. The only alternative is to send both people back to your mother land, India.

          Please go.

          Do you know the meaning of “Uru warige Booru attho”?

    • 0
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      I am neither Tamil nor Sinhalese. I am not even Sri Lankan, but have followed the situation in this country for several years now, listened to both sides and been to the country several times. The comments of Sach can not be denied! I have come to a similar conclusion many times over. This is not to say so about all Tamils of course. The average Tamils are a very good group of people. It is rather the politicians behind the TNA that use every trick in the book to appeal to the outside as victims. Well they are far from it. They were and are still the proxy of the LTTE and proponents of Eelam in sheeps clothing.

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    Dear friend Native Veddah:

    The following are the Thimpu proposals put forward by a coalition of
    militant organisations (July 19850, as I recall :-

    – recognition of the Tamils of Ceylon as a Nation (which they
    were prior to 1505 viz: the arrival of the Portugese)

    – recognition of the existence of an identified homeland for
    the Tamils of Ceylon (this should now be Tamil-speaking people)

    – recognition of the right of self determination of the Tamil nation

    – recognition of the right to citizenship and the fundamental rights
    of all Tamils of Ceylon

    The 4th referred more to those de-franchised in 1948 and their descendants ordinarily referred to as those of “recent Indian origin”, which has been now settled under the Indo-Lanka Agreement.
    The 2nd and 3rd do not come into play if the “2 Nations in 1 undivided country” is recognised.

    Prof Sumanasiri Liyanage wrote a few years ago (long before 5/09) suggesting Sri Lankans to be prepared for a post-Eelam scenario. Eelam can be considered dead if the Rajapakse Family do what they should and save the dis-integration of the country. It will be good to see Sumanasiri’s views in the matter initially.

    Senguttuvan

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    Native Veddah,

    Nazism tried to forcibly impose its imagined Aryan supremacy on all other races with the assistance of its military power. Tamil Nationalism, on the other hand, is trying to defend its Homeland,
    languge, culture, its link with the past from a much larger and
    mlitarily superior reality which has amongst its objectives the denial of all these in a delusional fear Tamils here have as their sole objective the joining of forces with Tamilnadu – one of the States in the Indian Union – which the latter does not encourage or share.
    Lankan Tamils are currently engaged in saving them from a subtle programme aimed at their gradual extinction and the appropriation of all their ancient land. The current phase of this sinister programme is the denial of rights for their local governance – that is given to all other Provinces in the country.

    Senguttuvan

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      Senguttuvan

      Thanks for your comment.

      I wonder why the Tamils and Sinhalese can’t go back to their mother country, India and continue their self destruction there?

      Why do the Tamils and Sinhalese insist living in this island while destroying it?

      I don’t understand how their minds work.

      You say:

      “Lankan Tamils are currently engaged in saving them from a subtle programme aimed at their gradual extinction and the appropriation of all their ancient land.”

      Is their situation as bad as ours? I would not think so.

    • 0
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      You deluge ideas from your back door, Sangotta.

      Nazi supremacy was not imagined. Nazism favoured private property, freedom of contract, and promoted the creation of a national solidarity that would transcend class differences.

      Like other fascist movements, Nazism supported outlawing of strikes by employees and lockout by employers, because they were regarded as a threat to the national unity.

      Nazism rejected democracy because it believed Jews used it for their self-preservation.

  • 0
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    Allah be praised! According to the 2012 census, “The Sinhala population in Colombo city has dropped to 24% in 2012 from 50% in 1971″ http://tinyurl.com/d73va7m

    The genocidal Chingalams are being ethnically cleansed out of Colombo due to the high cost of living, which is a consequence of the economic policies of this govt. So, Fatty Prabha’s cunning plan was to ensure that MR remains in power for long enough for Colombo to be a Tamil majority city (which I think is perfectly OK). :) :)

    • 0
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      Mango stupidly says:

      “So, Fatty Prabha’s cunning plan was to ensure that MR remains in power for long enough for Colombo to be a Tamil majority city (which I think is perfectly OK)”

      More Tamils move into Colombo their claim to homeland becomes weakened.

      Their parliamentary representation being diluted.

      The king is where the capital city is. In this case capital cities can be relocated, from A pura, Polanaruwa, Dambadenia, Kotte, Kandy, to Hambantota.

      Follow the king you will find the capital city.

      The stupid Tamils did that when they relocated to Killinochi when VP built the Capital city in Vanni.

  • 0
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    Mango,

    Any idea of the current main demographic structure of (1) Colommbo city (2) Greater Colombo/WP? I have a feeling Tamils have lost out too.

    Senguttuvan

    • 0
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      Especially sangotta’s resident division 15 which was beefed with CCTV surveillance.

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