18 November, 2018

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Salient Features Of The New Under Caste

By Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Tamils & The Political Culture Of Auto-Genocide –VI

The new under caste has an overlap with the old, in that social and economic privilege traditionally went with caste status. The labour and humiliation suffered by the low castes, kept the high castes in honour and privilege. Thus the traditional caste system determined to a large extent the class of persons who migrated to Colombo and overseas, among whom the LTTE has found a support base. Soon after the LTTE resumed war in 1990, its deputy leader Mahattaya announced that all persons in Tamil Eelam, their lives and their properties are hereby declared the property of the Tamil liberation struggle. A pass system was introduced which made it possible for only the privileged to leave the North. This concession too was given, partly in order to let off steam. The pass system was lifted for two days in October 1990. A large number of persons, especially young, who had connections in Colombo and abroad, left in droves. All along their way out, LTTE loud speakers blared, excoriating them as traitors and scum. Most of them found their way to Britain, Europe and Canada, and joined the new high caste. Many of them took to financing and supporting the LTTE and so became patriots.

Those left behind at home are literally treated as the property of the LTTE’s liberation struggle. No rules applied to them and they have to live on their wits. They are vulnerable to bombing and shelling by the government forces. Then their children, frequently malnourished, are constantly targetted for recruitment by the LTTE through unscrupulous means. We thus see that there is an intimate correspondence between the class system and the caste system – a wealthy elite who are allowed to love life, and a proletarianised mass who are expected to die for them.

To outsiders, anecdotes are given about how liberating this life is and of the new dignity given to women under the LTTE regime. Indeed, every fascist force, which needs women to play a military role, can on the surface appear liberating. But in reality, it distorts womanhood, turning women into sadists. The recorded behaviour of Nazi women towards women prisoners is hardly different from what we have recorded of LTTE women towards their women prisoners (our Bulletin No. 5).

An instance recorded by us (Report No. 6) is of a woman Vasantha Sulosana (39) who had been an LTTE helper at great personal risk during the Indian Army’s presence. In 1990, she was arrested for minor financial misdemeanour, which was quickly settled by her relatives. Her daughter, who was to have her age attaining ceremony on 15th August 1990, was expecting her mother home. In response to an appeal from the family, the LTTE had the previous day promised to release the mother. LTTE women came at the time appointed and asked the expectant girl to come and see her mother. The girl went with her little brother. The women dumped the dead body of her mother from the back of the vehicle with a taunting smirk and zoomed off. Sulosana had been executed publicly a little while earlier by a woman.

A recent instance concerns a young man Baheerathan (24) in the Batticaloa District who was detained by the LTTE on 17.9.1997. He had come to know the local LTTE leader Ravi’s liaison with a married woman with 2 children of Mahilavadduvan, Aithyamalai. On 18.12.97, Baheerathan’s fiancée, was summoned to the interior across the lagoon. She was asked by two women of the LTTE intelligence wing to aid their terrorist network in Colombo. This was after they found out that she was a student there. The fiancée left without committing herself, after a dizzy hour spent staring at the drink she was served.

Subsequently Baheerathan’s father, Thamotheram, who was in Batticaloa town, moved to Mahilavadduvan on 30th January 1998 to secure his son’s release. Mayuran of the LTTE asked him to move back to Batticaloa and to transport a parcel of explosives into the town. Thamotheram firmly declined saying that he will not cause the death of another to save the life of his son. On 21st February 1998 Baheerathan’s face was covered with a black cloth, and at 10.00 AM he was brought to the centre of the interior village of Eechchantivu by LTTE women Veni and Malini. Baheerathan was then executed. The local leader Ravi who was present, expiated his personal anger by firing his weapon thrice into the dead body of the victim. A bystander who tried to cover the victim with a cloth was assaulted by the LTTE. Ravi ruled that no one should remove Baheerathan’s body from the street before 4.00 PM. Such events are the hidden features of a society where all that is seen by outsiders is controlled, and what is shown is reported as authentic. In an ironic postscript, Ravi had since surrendered to the Army and is operating against the LTTE. Such are indoctrinated youth exercising power over life and death among their fellows.

*To be continued..

*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here

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Latest comments

  • 6
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    Thus we understand why upper caste Tamil Tiger supporters venerate the lower caste terrorist leader Prabhakaran. For only someone who was himself a lower caste Tamil could have successfully enslaved the lower castes in the north and east as cannon fodder and human sacrifices while the upper castes made their escape to greener pastures.

  • 8
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    A perspicatious and courageous acoount of what transpired in the ‘Eelam’ of the LTTE. I hope those who yet consider the LTTE, the ‘Manna from heaven’ bestowed on the Tamils will have the moral courage to reconsider their position. We, the Tamils have to chart a new road in our politics. The extract from Dr. Rajan Hoole’s book. is timely and focuses the floodlights on the illusions and delusions that blasted our so-called freedom struggle into smithereens.

    In an opinion published in the Daily Mirror in 2005, titled ‘A9 Highway -The Road to Nowhere’ (http://archives.dailymirror.lk/2005/04/18/opinion/01.asp) , I wrote. ” Delusion, illusion and disappointment are three words that would best describe my experiences on the A9 highway to Jaffna”.

    The tragedy was that the MR government chose to learn and practice the tactics of the LTTE and undermined itself! The student bettered the teacher!

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 7
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    Caste system and its affect on Tamil politics is not some thing new. It started long time ago, from G.G.Ponnambalam’s days. I remember, when I was associated with left politics, people call the left supporters as low caste people. While I don’t dispute Rajan Hoole, Tigers, did use the caste system for their advantage but it is not a major factor. Both low caste and high caste Tamils supported Tigers for various reasons. The problems with Tamils are lack of understanding of international politics and economic realities. It is not necessary to highlight the caste issue as a major issue. The caste system is a product of the Hindu religion and Brahmins of India.

  • 3
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    What I see how free this author felt to tamilize all the sinhala places in Sri lanka.

    Leave it to them they will destroy Sri lanka and write even Mahavamsa also as a Tamil Epic.

    • 4
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      Jim Softy,

      Never a Tamil would claim Mahavamsa also as a Tamil Epic, since only it is only a “modayas'” creation and and only modayas would believe it!

      • 1
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        I don’t think so.

        Thanks to Indians, there are Tamil classics too.

        • 0
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          [Edited out]

  • 1
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    If by some accident the LTTE created their Eelam, Rajan and Plato would be journeying in Sansara!

  • 4
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    I think you are writing about caste and how you grew up learning its ugliness within Jaffna society. The next gen or the current gen is quite different by a huge scale. Its takes some skill to understand how caste is perceived and analysed by todays gen in Colombo/Chennai/Madurai/London streets, etc.

    Jaffna will change if and only the younger current generation delink from Tamil parents who want to teach them the vicious caste analogies. Lol

    • 2
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      FrmTamilNadu,

      “Jaffna will change if and only the younger current generation delink from Tamil parents who want to teach them the vicious caste analogies.”

      There has been change. What Dr Rajan Hoole describes is partly history.

  • 5
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    Velupillai Prabakaran isnt a low caste. may be low within the Vellalar ranks. But he grew up in a fisherman town of VVT, where 90% of the inhabitants are fishermen. His names got a Pillai in it, isn’t that proof Pillaimar ? Lol folks

    But most of us hate him for disrupting Jaffna peaceful society by waging a 3 decade war and one lakh poor tamil souls dead. Others traumatised, others without limbs, etc.

    Blame it on India which initially funded and trained early Tamil political movements in the 1980’s to militant groups. It will take another 3 decades to nullify that.

    • 4
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      It was the prevailing state of the nation at the time that facilitated the creation and sustentation of the characters of people like Prabakaran.

      If Prabakaran were not there, somebody would have been there to have done what he has done. remember how many militant leaders that were there when he was in his political embryonic stage?. Most were even dominant.
      his was the survival of the cruelest.

      LTTE was not even readily given the training by the Indians as he did not like the other groups getting the same,I heard.

    • 1
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      Tamils never accept blame for anything. They are the victims from everything.

      What does it say ?

    • 1
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      Tamils never accept blame for anything. They are the victims from everything.

      What does it say ?

      Their only uniting factor is the language which they don’t talk even in Tamilnadu. Once they go over the seas, it is any other language.

      If Tamils are from Sri lankan civilization, they would not die this much about caste.

      They are indians, that is why they are so much into caste.

      • 4
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        Yes . You are correct about Tamils changing their language. We know that many of the so called Sinhalese speakers or Sinhalese more than 50% ( may be even you), many of them ardent Sinhalese Buddhists nationalists and racists ( just go through all the surnames of the bloggers and contributors of the Sinhalese extremist site Lankaweb) are in reality descended from recently migrated low born immigrant Indian Tamils from Tamil Nadu and then Tamil Kerala and southern Andhra. Basically most of the modern day so called Sinhalese both low and high born now baying for Tamil are in fact not Sinhalese but in reality largely Sinhalese speaking immigrant Indian Tamils, DNA has proved this. Prince Vijaya the lion are all Mahavamsa myths that were concocted to prove that the Sinhalese were not descended from the Tamils. The ancient Nagas ( or Nairs in Kerala) were Tamil speaking Dravidians.
        As for the caste system the Sinhalese are even far worse than the Tamils. The “caste” talk is getting embarrassing. Caste is never spoken about in the open in Sri Lanka but is always present. There is no caste census or reservation. It is never mentioned in newspapers except in the marriage classifieds. But it most certainly determines who we marry, who we vote for and in which Buddhist temple we worship. In this essay I would like to highlight an alternate glimpse of hierarchy, caste and exclusion in Sri Lankan Buddhism.
        Old Sinhala language religious documents such as the Pujavaliya, the Saddharmaratnavaliya, the Kadayimpoth, and the Niti Nighanduwa refer to an elaborately ordered caste hierarchy in Buddhist Sri Lanka. In the 2nd century BC, the famed Sinhala king Dutugemenu had a son by the name of Saliya. Saliya was exiled because he had married the outcaste girl Asokamala. In the 11th century AD, King Vijaybahu denied access to the lower Sinhala castes to venerate Buddha’s foot print at the summit of Sri Pada in central Sri Lanka. The lower castes were confined to a terrace much further down. King Nissanka Malla in the 12 century felt threatened by the dominant Sinhala caste, the Govigama. He warned them in stone inscriptions to never aspire to high office. Much later, the Siam Nikaya, the Buddhist Sangha in Sri Lanka, denied membership to those who were not of the Govigama caste. This forced the Karava, the Salagama and Durava castes to seek ordination in Myanmar. Many others converted to Christianity in protest.
        The Practical Sinhala Dictionary published as late as 1983 by the Government of Sri Lanka referred to the caste divisions in Sinhala society where the Govi were declared high caste and others denied that characterization. This forced the Karava, Salagama and Durave caste petitioners to appeal to the Supreme Court to have the caste references deleted by judicial order, a ruling that was subsequently granted.

        So what is caste in Sinhala Buddhism At the apex, one has the Govigama or agriculturalist land owning castes who account for roughly 50% of the Sinhalese population. All Sri Lankan Presidents and Prime Ministers with the exception of Ranasinghe Premadasa, belonged to this caste. Many had Anglican Christian antecedents like Bandaranaike, the founder of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party. He was born and buried an Anglican although he espoused a Buddhism and Sinhala nationalism to win the polls in 1956 even if his shrill demagoguery triggered a Tamil separatist response. Sri Lanka’s current President Mahinda Rajapakse is also from a prominent Govigama family. Sri Lanka’s elite families hail from this caste. They include the low-country Goonetillekes, the Jayewardenes, the Bandaranaikes, the Senanayakes, the Kotelawalas, the de Sarams, the de Liveras, the de-Tisseras, the Wijewardenes and so on. Then there were the up-country Kandyan Ratwattes (Sirimavo was one), the Meedeniyas, the Eknoligodas, the Dunuwilles, the Tennekoons, the Moonemalles, the Nugawelas, the Panabokkes and the Kobbekaduwas.

        Many of the low-country Govigama elite embraced Anglicanism and rose the ranks of the colonial bureaucracy. They were the favoured and trusted lieutenants of English rule. With independence and the emergence of political Buddhism, many returned to Buddhism. Jayewardene, Kotelawala, Bandaranaike and Wickremasinghe were examples. The Govigama elite had collaborated with the colonial masters benefiting in terms of employment, education and land ownership. The Maha Mudaliyar Christofel de Saram and his son Johannes Hendrick were examples of the deracinated and Anglicized Govigama elite in the early 1800s. The de Sarams were the forebearers of the Jayewardenes.
        Just below are the Karava or fishermen caste who dominate the maritime districts. The Karava account for roughly 10% of the Sinhala population. The Karava challenged Govigama power in the two Sinhala youth revolts of 1971 and 1987 led by the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP). The JVP was led by Rohana Wijeweera. The JVP appealed to the dispossessed and poor. While it did not articulate its ideology in terms of caste, its caste base was exclusively non Govigama. General Sarath Fonseka, who led the war successfully against the Tamil Tigers, was also of the Karava caste and ran for the position of President against Mahinda Rajapakse. He was jailed soon thereafter.

        While many of the low country Govigama had become Anglican during colonial rule, about half of the Karave Sinhala population converted to Roman Catholicism. The Sinhala Karava western maritime belt of Puttalam, Chilaw, Wennapuwa, Negombo, Ja-Ela, Wattala, North Colombo, Moratuwa and to a lesser extent Panadura had become Catholic.The Sri Lankan navy has traditionally been a Karave preserve. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith is of the Sinhala Karava caste. Reports suggest that he is a strong contender for the papacy. He is seen as Asia’s candidate for that position next month.

        The third caste of consequence was the Salagama or Cinnamon Peeler who accounted for roughly 5% of the Sinhala population. The veteran Sri Lankan politician C.P. de Silva belonged to his caste. He was denied the Prime Ministership in the 1960s. This forced him to abandon the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Nimal Siripala de Silva, another prominant Sinhala politician, also belongs to this casThe Durave or toddy tapper castes are related to the Ezhavas of Kerala or the Nadar or Tamil Nadu. Mangala Samaraweera, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, one time member of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party and fired by President Rajapakse belongs to the Durave caste.

        Other significant castes includes the Wahumpura or jaggery makers, the Padu or palanquin bearers and the Beravas or drummers (from the South Indian root – parai). There were two Sinhala outcastes, the Rodiya and the Kinnaras or mat weavers. The Wahumpura, the Padu, the Berava and the Rodi joined the JVP youth revolt in large numbers. Wimal Weerawansa, staunch anti Tamil, belongs to the Berava caste.

        The Portuguese arrived on our shores in 1505 AD. We were ruled by the Europeans for approximately 450 years. This dented the caste divisions in Sinhala society as did the left movement that was intellectually dominant between the 1930s and the 1950s prior to the emergence of a Buddhist nationalism.

        However, caste remains a factor in marriage, in the nomination of party candidates for elections, and in the Buddhist Sangha. If any one were to read the marriage classifieds in the Sri Lankan media, one will be immediately struck by the caste requirements for a prospective Sinhala Buddhist bride or groom. In elections likewise, the caste composition of electorates is factored in by all major parties before a candidate is identified. Salagama candidates get appointed to seats in Balapitiya, Boosa and Rathgama while Karave candidates are nominated for Karave constituencies. But it is the Buddhist Sangha or clergy which traditionally had been most divided by caste.
        The dominant Siam Nikaya was once exclusively confined to the Govigama caste and remains overwhelmingly Govigama. The Karava, Salagama and Durava castes obtained ordination in Myanmar setting up the Amarapura Nikaya. The Amarapura Nikaya is subdivided into 21 sub sects defined on caste lines. The Buddhist modernist Ramanya Nikaya sect rejected caste as a qualification for entry into the Sangha. Each of the three sects run their own temples. Karave Buddhists tend to patronize Buddhist temples belonging to their sub-sect of the Amarapura Nikaya. Buddhists belonging to other castes do likewise. In short, Sinhala Buddhism was ordered on the basis of caste.
        At least The Tamil will accept a Christian ( like Chelvanayagam ) or a non Vellalar/Brahmin like Pirapakaran as their leader, however on the contrary the Sinhalese will never accept a non Buddhist or a non Govigamma as their leader. All their so called upper caste Christian leaders had to convert to Buddhism to elad the Sinhalese. The only low caste who was allowed the lead was Premadasa, however he was bumped of by the elite and the blame conveniently laid on the LTTE.
        People on glass houses should not throw stones

        • 1
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          Paul,

          “Then there were the up-country Kandyan Ratwattes (Sirimavo was one)”

          The up-country Kandyan Ratwattes are from the Radala caste. Radala refers to the highest caste in the Kandyan Kingdom. They were the aristocracy of the Kingdom of Kandy.

          “Rajapakse is also from a prominent Govigama family.”

          Rajapaksa’s are born Catholics of Malaccan (a state in Malaysia) origin. Their Malaccan relatives were banished by Islamic Rulers of Malacca for helping the Portuguese conquest of Malacca. By looking at the physical (Mongoloid) features of the Rajapakshe siblings one cannot deny the fact that their ancestors were Malay migrants. In Sri Lanka they converted to Sinhala-Buddhists for Political mileage. President Mahinda Rajapakse’s poor ancestor became an informant to the British during the late 19th century anti-British local uprising around the Hambantota salterns. This information led to the capture of Karava Mudaliyar Amadoru and other leaders. The British rewarded the informant with the name Rajapakse (British gave this name to people in who helped them), appointed him as an Arachchi and granted him 600 acres of land at Hungama for his service. The area was a Veddah territory of Giruwa pattu and the name of the land was Degampotha. This land was sold off in stages by Rajapakse Arachchi’s descendants to finance their indulgences leaving only Medamulana. Later, the land owning Sinhala-Buddhist Rajapakse family hailing from the south joined the Govigama caste around 1930s, long after D. S. Senanayake and other aspiring political families acquired the Govigama identity created by the mudaliar families of the De Saram clan and emerged as the dominant political force in the Hambantota district. During the last few year, the Rajapakse family was controlling around 75% of the country’s national budget.

          • 1
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            Yes I know the real origin of the Rajapakse clan but did not bring it up as the they have now become part and parcel of the low country Govigama. The low country Govigamma and the Sri Lankan Tamil Vellalars have now become one super caste. However this is not so amongst the Kandyans or the Indian Tamils. You get the ordinary Govigamma amongst the Kandyans and then above them you get the other Higher Govi sub castes like Radala Nilame ETC. Radala is the highest. Similarly in Tamil Nadu you get the ordinary Vellalars and then you get the Pillais, Mudaliars, Goundars Kongu Vellalars , Saiva Pillais etc. All this is more academic so did not bring this in. Even many of the so called Govi both amongst the low country and Kandyan have a Tamil origin. Just look at their surnames. Mudali from Mudaliar. Pilli from Pillai. Hetti from the Tamil Chetti. Arachchi from Tamil Arachchiar. Koon/Kone from the Tamil word for king Kone. Banda/Bandara from the Tamil non Brahmin temple workers Pandarar. Sekera from Sekaran. Tunga from TamilThungan like Kulathungan. Peruma from Tamil Perumal. The list goes on. Even the word Govi is of ancient Tamil/Dravidian origin. Govi means the reaper ( hence the farmer) this comes from the old Tamil word to reap or pluck. Koiyuthal. Like Malar Koiyuthal. The Sinhalese word Gama or village my have two origins. From the ancient Tamil word for farming agriculture kammam hence agricultural land. or the Sanskrit word for Village Gramma.

        • 1
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          Paul,

          Thanks for reproducing an illuminatin essay. I hope the ostriches that comment in CT, while deiberately burying their heads in dreary desert sands, will stop pretending and see light.

          Hypocricy and pretence are two chracteristics that ubite us as peoples in this country. These are our national curses!

          Dr.RN

      • 2
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        “They are indians, that is why they are so much into caste.”

        Jim softy,

        The Tamils believe that not only South India but also Sri Lanka (the extreme South Asian region) was a Tamil (Dravida) country before the Sinhalese came from North India. The NASA satellite images will show the old link (bridge) between South India and Sri Lanka.

        However, according to Jaffna Tamil Vellala elite politicians of the past (the Colombo 7 type), the Sinhalese are nothing but low caste South Indians (Kerala, Tamil Nadu & Andara) who got converted into Sinhala-Buddhist.

        Today, the genetic studies show that more than 50% of the Sinhala population is having South Indian genes proving what those Colombo 7 Vellala Tamils said long ago, that is most of them (Sinhalese) are South Indian converts.

        Even Sinhala elites like J.R. Jayawardene (grandson of Tamil Thambi Mudaliyar) and S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike (a direct decedent of Nilaperumal, a Tamil from South India who arrived in Ceylon in the early sixteenth century) are included in the above.

        On the other hand, according to the Mahavamsa, the Sinhalese (Sinhabahu’s grandson Vijay and his men) are criminal convicts who were exiled from India, Sinhapura (Bengal/Orissa). Their boat came and landed in the Veddha country called Lanka.

        G. G. Ponnambalam in his 1939 Nawalapitiya address said that ‘the Sinhalese are a hybrid mongrel race split from the aboriginal Tamils and mixed with Aryan invaders’. This was the spark that ignited the first Sinhala-Tamil riot in Sri Lanka in 1939 but the British were quick enough to put it down.

        Now Jim Softy, can you please tell us from which TN tribal area (Dalit) your ancestors came to SL and got converted?

      • 0
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        Well ALL aryan caste elite came from north western india. and they have migrated to other parts of india notably to the far-east, to Nepal where a brahmin is PM. In Pakistan a Rajput caste man is commander of the armed forces. India is literally called Hindustan which directly translates as the ‘land of castes’. (A 1.5 billion people vs 20 million sri lanka’s.)

        Sri lanka had its Vellalar(Pillai, Mudaliar and Gounder/3 roses) come as invaders and merchants during the times of trade expansionist Cholas, Pallavas, Cheras from Southern part of India.

        Hopefully if the Hanuman bridge is built again and the Indian government should be happy to give us Indian citizenship & we will be happy to go and settle in southern Tamil Nadu or chennai..

        (Today Tamil Nadu is India’s ‘second largest economy’ among 28 other states. #1 is Maharastra that has Mumbai as its capital.
        Tamil Nadu GDP is $170 billion. Twice Sri Lankas that is $74 billion.)

        Because we are somehow strictly aligned with the caste and norms of Tamil Nadu we take the business of caste seriously generally. Today our young boys and girls are ALL on the streets and caste which used to be practised as a vicious cycle is all gone. What hatred the old gen spewed/practiced is all gone NOW. Since 1994 we noticed this positive trend among our young boys and girls. Lol

        So yeah the Sinhalese too have caste, its elite is called Govi.
        But the Sinhalese are also very positive about caste and respect lower castes all that. But the fact remains is that the Sinhalese caste structure is a VERY loose system and doesn’t have real orgins. Its caste system came about because of the existence of a caste system in Jaffna. Govi literally means FARMER. Lol. A lot of Indian caste has nice, unique and historical names when it comes to their caste tag names but Govi is lol stuff.

        Anyway what i meant to say was the Sinhalese were never meant to have a caste structure but it somehow evolved into Karavas,Govis,etc over time.

  • 2
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    Over to you Ms. Usha SriSkandarajah,

    What have you got in response to Dr.Hoole?

  • 0
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    Paul.

    A very comprehensive treatise.
    Prof:K.M.De Silva in his History of Srilanka notes that the present day Karawes,Salagama and Durawe castes migrated from South India between the 14th-17th centuries.
    In fact the Election held for The Educated Ceylonese seat during British Rule had Sir.Ponnambalam Ramanathan and Dr.Marcus Fernando pitted against one another.Sir PR. won due to the Sinhala Goigama vote.,reflecting caste rivalry between the Goigama and Karave castes.
    Dr.Michael Roberts in his Caste Conflict and Elite formation- The rise of the Karave elite in Srilanka 1500-1931 has highlighted this.

    In the old days,there were anecdotes about the Supreme Court Bench.Whenever,HV the Maestro,HWJ and GGP addressed court on knotty legal issues the Judges were referred to as Admirals;Apparently they were at sea.DeSilvas,Fernandos constituted the Bench!
    Am I right in saying that Cyril Mathew belonged to the Wahumpura caste?

    True to style Wimal Weerawansa is DRUMMING away and those drums had even taken him to the cabinet!

    Cheers.

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