Return of Exiles and the State
In responding to a question in Parliament by Charles Nirmalanathan on Wednesday 8 August, 2018, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe assured the country that all facilities and help are being and would be afforded to returning exiles, including airfare. He stated that from 2010 to date 9,509 persons had returned from India, and a further 3,815 exiles domiciled in India have expressed their desire to return.
This Prime Ministerial policy of inviting exiles to return is not new. It was stated as Item 94 of the new government’s 100-point program, and followed up by a special announcement by the President in Parliament on 01.09.2015 promising a “Red Carpet Welcome” to returnees. That promise, three years later, remains unfulfilled, except for party supporters and dual citizen applicants who more often than not, use their citizenship to come into Sri Lanka on vacations without visas and use the duty free allowance for citizens. Few have made this their home.
That day, 08.08.2018, also brought refreshing news. Judge M. Elancheliyan of Trincomalee High Court sentenced to death by hanging two soldiers, a colonel and a major, who on 10.09.1998 had taken in for questioning a young man from Jaffna and murdered him. His body had 21 wounds. The army claimed that he had jumped off an upper floor!
Future of Tamils
I am so glad and thankful. The future of Tamils in this country, to which I feel deeply committed, depends on a stable, secure population protected by a caring state. These policies must continue and the government must stop, as it does from the highest levels, calling murderers our national heroes. We do not need bestial brutes on our streets claiming to protect us. We need the security of numbers revamped by the absence of the state’s bid to settle Sinhalese in traditionally Tamil areas. Of the many horrific stories, that of Manal Aru (now Weli Oya) and how it was ethically cleansed of Tamils in 1984 by the army tells us the importance of Tamil homelands and why we are keen on federalism as a means of protecting not only our way of life but also our lives. While any citizen has the right to live anywhere, the government must stop inducing Sinhalese to come and live in Tamil areas.
It is a simple matter for the government administratively to rectify the injustices of the past – for example, those displaced fishermen in Mullaitivu whose fishing rights have been abridged by settling fishermen from the Negombo area. In India there are many refugees whose children were born there or are married to Indian-born refugees. Hampered by administrative hurdles when they returned by boat, they were arrested in Kankesanthurai and not offered the kindly treatment we owe them.
Higher Levels of Tamils
Most refugees who return are at the lower levels of society and are an important component of making Tamils feel that this is their home. However, Judge Elancheliyan’s presence shows the importance of upper level Tamils seeing this as home and playing their role fearlessly. That is all the more difficult because that is the segment of society that finds it easiest to settle comfortably abroad.
Another aspect is keeping those who have made this their home, not want to flee abroad. In the simple matter of school admissions, we have come to assume that Tamils are second class and no one even challenges this. For example although about a half of the residents of Colombo are Tamil speaking, most schools (Royal and St. Thomas’ included), often have one and rarely two divisions for Tamils while there are as many as six divisions for Sinhalese. A government committed to reconciliation cannot countenance this. The situation is far worse for girls – especially in Kandy where even church circles spoke of Mowbray’s as being for estate coolies, and Kandy Girls’ High School had room for Tamil children only from Grade 6 on. My daughter, before our exile in 2006, had to sit in a class in Viharamahadevi with 65 children. My exile under LTTE threat really proved a blessing in disguise for all our children.
Do we need to exile ourselves to escape the school system? As one sample of the inimical effects, at the Election Commission our few senior Tamil officers prefer to live in the North and the East because of schooling. One of our only two Tamil Deputy Commissioners has no admission to Grade 1 for his daughter in Colombo. Bishop’s turned her down, despite a strong recommendation from the Bishop of Colombo. Our man is planning to send his family to India and will surely follow soon. In the meantime, Chandrika Kumaratunge is trying a Roman Catholic school. That is their last hope. The other Tamil Deputy Commissioner refuses to come to Colombo, despite all inducements, and had asked for a transfer to Puthukudiyiruppu, leaving his children in Jaffna for secure schooling.
Those who stay and serve loyally must have all obstacles removed, including the school system which is not willing to care for minorities in Colombo.
The Jaffna Example
I was in Kilinochchi’s Engineering Faculty on 04.08.2018 when the PM declared open offices and hostels worth 3 billion rupees. The faculty equipment was financed by India. The commitment to the development of Kilinochchi was under-scored by the presence of Minister Wijeydasa Rajapaksa, besides his Secretary, the IGP, the UGC Chairman and Deputy Chairman, and other bigwigs. In his speech, the PM generously announced other projects like an airport in Kilinochchi and a Mannar-Vavuniya-Trinco Expressway. Then came his punch-line: “We have given you the Faculty and the equipment. Now it is for you to put in the quality.”
Well-meaning and well-intended words. However, as the examples of Hartley College that the PM quoted and Batticotta Seminary (which the UGC refuses to acknowledge as the first modern Sri Lankan university) show, there can be no quality without good personnel. They had stellar standards under cadjanned buildings. Throwing money cannot buy quality. Committed staff are the lynchpin of a good university. I will give some glaring examples as to why Jaffna is going wrong in staff quality.
No Staff Quality at Kilinochchi
The Head of the Engineering Faculty, the Dean, was transferred to Jaffna from Peradeniya in violation of the Universities Act, thereby preventing better persons from applying. Then, by some rigmarole, his promotion to Professor, in the only real engineering there, was by treating him as a Peradeniya staffer seeking promotion, thereby again obviating the need to advertise the post.
Almost every promotion to professor in Jaffna is rigged. Deshamanya Dr. D. Nesiah, while on the Jaffna Council, had documented how the present Dean of Agriculture at Kilinochchi was promoted through untruthful claims and openly iviolating the relevant Circular 916. Nesiah was ignored. When he complained to the UGC Chairman, he too ignored that. Instead, the UGC Chairman has filed three affidavits at the University Services Appeals Board that he has no power to prevent universities from acting illegally – whereas regulating the Administration of Universities, according to the Universities Act, is one of the primary objects of the UGC. When the PM called for quality, little did he know that the primary obstacle to quality was seated on the stage with him.
In a milieu where the heads of the two primary faculties at Kilinochchi owe their positions to cheating, would they allow anyone else to join the staff? Indeed not. They would want unqualified persons. I have a copy of a memo to the Council under the hand of previous Jaffna VC, Vasanthi Arasaratnam, untruthfully certifying that a person who really retired as a manager of a US company, had retired as Professor of Mechanical Engineering in America, and on that basis secured for him a Visiting Professor title in Jaffna. Whither quality? How could he complain against corruption?
Academic Cheats are, in fact, assisted in their wrong-doing by a member of the Council who was promoted to Senior Professor at Peradeniya without the requisite 8 years as professor. While on the Council as an external member, he was given a visiting position at Kilinochchi, violating the internal-external division on the Council that gives the external members a majority.
Members of the last Council who insisted on rules, like Nesiah and Professor Tharmaratnam, were removed when the new Council was appointed by the UGC recently. Tharmaratnam relentlessly pursued sexual harassment charges by students through the Council, while the previous VC tried hard to keep the accused lecturers on board. I am reliably aware that Prof. Tharmaratnam has told people that money is paid to Council members to secure lecturer positions – a graduation from a previous time when only those who sucked up to Minister Devananda, the effective Council Chairman, got non-academic staff positions. Tharmaratnam and Nesiah were decapitated from the Council for doing their jobs. They quarreled only against cheating.
Today, only some 10% of Kilinochchi engineering students are Tamil and the faculty is a means of blitzkrieg-colonization. They cannot keep the staff Tamil for long and there will be an implosion. Even a Tamil Vice Chancellor’s son who did not enter here and got a first class from India where there are many first classes awarded, was preferred to local batch-top first classes. According to Council reports top-administrators are clearing campus teak trees for profit and want an employee fired for that. All was revealed when Tharmaratnam said an employee fired had to be reinstated because there had been no inquiry. That report opened Pandora’s Box. With Tharmaratnam removed by the UGC, what now?
Where will quality go?
I returned to Sri Lanka soon after the government promised a red carpet welcome to returning exiles. I left behind a good salary and an innovative, challenging job. Here I have remained academically unemployed; similarly, my wife, whose renewable energy research facility was funded, visited and approved by President Obama himself, followed me. Yet, Jaffna denied me a position even as Senior Lecturer (after I held the title of Senior Professor at Peradeniya). Although the Universities Act in Section 30 states “no test of religious belief or profession shall be adopted or imposed in order to entitle any such person to be admitted as a teacher or student of the University,” the UGC Chairman has in a letter to Chandrika Kumaratunge defended denying me a job saying that:
a) I quarrel wherever I go. (However, if I quarrel it is only on upholding rules as I do here, not by a cantankerous nature as often conveyed);
b) I am Christian and not eligible for a senior position; and
c) I have challenged Arumuga Navalar’s iconic status—this is in my denying that he translated the Bible into Tamil in my scholarly writings. If I am wrong, it is to be debated in the university and not used as a reason for denying me a job.
Quality can never be instilled in Jaffna under the current social and political climate. Those running the university with corrupt methods will not allow good people in.
When a common friend asked the PM why my experience is not used, he had replied that senior people do not want me. How would they, when they are the instruments of corruption that I have challenged? I note that I have been cleared by the Court of Appeal of the trumped up wrongdoings I was accused of and the university fined. The Ombudsman agreed with me when I complained that VC Elections at Peradeniya were rigged. He ordered a new circular. Would senior academics love me for that?
In the meantime, Dr. Rangarajan who went to India as a refugee child and returned recently with a PhD in Tamil, has been kept out of Jaffna for three years because his scholarship is in the English language too. Does that encourage the return of exiles?
If the PM wants quality, he should not side with the corrupt. Clean up first if you want quality. Several refugees and expatriates will return. We will all rejoice.