1 October, 2020

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Sri Lanka Ethnic Conflict: Past And Future

By Imtiyaz Razak 

Dr. Imtiyaz Razak

On May 17, 2009 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the major Tamil resistance movement, admitted defeat in the war that was waged without any witnesses, but with the all blessings from the major global powers. The LTTE, which was the by product of the Sri Lanka’s Sinhala centric policies for political outbidding vowed to silence guns against the Sinhala-Buddhist state. On May 18, Sri Lanka security forces announced that the LTTE Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, was killed by Sri Lanka’s military in a firefight that signaled the effective end to one of Asia’s longest-running military conflicts. The war was waged with the promise of offering solutions to the Tamil national question, and thus there was and is a strong perception in the south of the country that Sri Lanka would embrace peace because the LTTE has been militarily defeated. This short article attempts to discuss some issues surrounding the symbols and also focus on how ethnic symbols are powerful and why they often become barriers to win peace when they are being politicised for war (by political forces).

Analytical Notes

Sri Lanka, which has been practicing democracy since 1931 (well before independence), now ranks as one of the poorest states in Asia and was notorious for the Tamil Tigers who were claimed to be a revolutionary product of the country’s seven decades old democracy. In other words, the competent political outbidding of Sinhala politicians on Sinhala-Buddhist emotions and symbols against the minorities, particularly the Tamils eventually produced a state-seeking violent Tamil resistance movement, which erased the country’s stunningly beautiful global image as a tropical paradise and made the country one of the most dangerous places on Earth to live in.

Democracy is a beautiful political way for political representation.  Such system in deeply divided societies can trigger dissonance and instability if politicians embrace irrationalised-emotional cards such as ethno-nationalism to win a political position. On the other hand, these symbols have a profound influence on the masses, who take political and religious sayings literally, particularly among economically and socially disadvantaged groups. Hence, when politicians employ symbols and myths, it is often with underlying political agendas, which serve to enable them to cling on to power without addressing other pressing socio-economic questions.

To induce people to make choices, political actors make use of existing or primordial identities of targeted groups such as language, mother-land, religion, ethnic values, national flag and food. The identity of the groups always matters and is sensitive because it shapes their decisions and existence. Thus, it is likely that groups would respond positively to the needs of political actors when the latter sympathetically plays politics on the formers’ identity. Moreover, these symbols often work well in non-peace situations. In other words, symbols generally speaking often work well among the not well-off sections of masses or in any tensed conditions such war against ethnic enemies.

These symbols, on the other hand, would induce the people to make choices and support hostility or war against the others who do not share their symbols or way of life. This is the bottom line of symbolic politics theory. The essence of this argument, people respond to the most emotionally driven appeals. Therefore, theoretically, we can define symbolic politics as a sort of political game by political elites and politicians on arousing emotions to win and hold a political power rather than educate the masses in a logical way to address the issues.

Symbols in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s Sinhala political establishment used Sinhala symbols in both war and peace with the LTTE. They were used and are being used to consolidate power of the Sinhala political class and to alienate the non-Sinhalese. In fact, the politicization of ethnic differences began in the 1950s.  Successive Sinhalese political parties formulated policies such as Sinhala Language Only in 1956.  This made Sinhala the only official language in the state and sharply discriminated against the Tamil speaking population.  Then an educational standardisation policy in 1972 allowed Sinhalese students to enter Science and Medical schools with lower scores than the Tamil students.  The Constitution of 1972 conferred special status to Buddhism both in the state and for the public.

Besides, peace packages of the successive Sinhala ruling class did not provide either genuine political autonomy, in clear political science language power-sharing democracy nor did they have the political guts or need to seek a solution beyond the current unitary state structure, which is one of the major symbols of the Sinhala nation. The regime, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa that came to power in 2005 by employing Sinhala symbols such as war against the LTTE and anti-peace slogans, successfully defeated the LTTE in May 2009 with the anti-Tamil statehood campaign and with the support of the global political, economic and military aid.

The global actors (like certain sections of Tamil moderates who directly or indirectly supported the war) assumed that the regime would deliver peace. But it is a plain fact that the regime in Colombo is not interested in building peace, and in fact, it is difficult for the regime to commence genuine peace when the Sinhala political elites had used the symbols in its war against the Tamils. The political elite may think it can retract its symbolic promises once in power. However, a recent study on Sri Lanka’s political outbidding strategies points that, when they have employed religion and/or ethnicity to maximize their votes or consolidate power, politicians find it next to impossible to backtrack on their divisive promises. And the same problem befalls their successors.

War is a powerful political game. It is a rational choice, because politicians/leaders plan well and take careful measures to implement it. Wars also need solid propaganda and marketing. Wars generally fail to win support if there is a lack of good propaganda and marketing. War becomes a part of symbolic politics when masses without any critical thinking respond to politicians’ call. Actually, war makes harder to negotiate peace, because symbols were being used for war against the others, and thus it would not provide any easy political space for politicians to use the same symbols to build peace.  Also, victims would not easily veil the ugly memories coming out of war. This is the result of politicisation of symbols.

In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala symbols (such as language, flag, and territory) were being politicised both for politics and war. Hence, politicians would find difficulties to fight the same symbols and to give justice to the ethnic others, particularly the Tamils after the war.  This explains the difficulties pertaining to winning peace under the Rajapaksa regime.

Evidence does not suggest that the Rajapaksa regime has the political will, or for that matter maturity to challenge symbols and to broker peace with the ethnic Tamil nation and minorities.  In actual fact, peace is a more serious business than war, and when divided and conflict-ridden societies represented by power-hunger elites who resort to symbols to cling to power, peace would face severe challenges. The fact is that ethnic reconciliation is a serious political exercise, and given Sri Lanka’s current political climate and inability to seek a political solution beyond the unitary state structure any hope for true reconciliation and evocative democratic practices will effectively wane.

One of the major challenges for ethnic reconciliation directly links with the war crime accusations targeted at the Sinhalese dominated security forces. The way the war had been fought by the Sinhala political and military establishment to defeat the LTTE triggered global concerns. The war won without witnesses and the Tamil deaths, including children, constituted some acts that can be safely cited to make a case for ethnic genocidal war against the Tamil nation.

It is also true, according to the existing reports on the  Sri Lanka war, the LTTE and its leaders committed some forms of horrible war crimes. Evidences suggest that during the last stage of the war the LTTE played a role as child catchers to fight the Sri Lanka forces. Moreover, there was a strong support among the Tamil diaspora for the LTTE. The Tamil diaspora did morally and financially supported the LTTE’s activities, including war. Actually, there was an opportunity for the Tamil diaspora to apply pressure on the LTTE to seek exit strategy to save innocent trapped Tamils, but influential  sections of Tamil diasporas did not show any serious interests in pushing the LTTE for negotiable end. It seems these elements within Tamil diaspora thought that the LTTE anyway would win war or the global actors apply pressure on Colombo which would lead to (1) save the top LTTE leadership and (2) win comprehensive political solution to the conflict.  This political miscalculations and naïve expectations from the Tamil diaspora, without seriously analyzing the global conditions, contributed to the lose of so many Tamil lives.

But evidences suggest that Sri Lanka security forces knowingly killed the Tamils in the war zone and the security forces got the order from the top (political and military hierarchy) to kill everyone, including Tamil civilians. Moreover, according to the International Crisis Group investigation, many thousands of Tamil people may have been killed in the so-called “No-Fire Zone” due to government fire “than previously estimated and targeted hospitals and humanitarian operations as part of their final onslaught on the rebel Tamil Tigers.”

The findings are very serious, and thus there must be global efforts to push for an impartial international investigation on this grave human slaughter allegedly committed by the security forces of Sri Lanka. On the other hand, State killing and war fades the prospect of ethnic reconciliation and peace between the Tamil-Sinhala nations, because they reveal the State’s nature and its desire to uphold Sinhala symbols and identity. Sri Lanka would not experience any serious ethnic reconciliation as long as (1) there are allegations of war crimes against the Tamil nation and (2) Sinhala elites constantly pursue hostile symbols for electoral and  war purposes.

Conclusion:

As I often argue, the future for the island of Sri Lanka, however, offers three stark alternatives; (1) kill all remaining Tamils (another form of all out war against the Tamil nation) (2) power-sharing package and (3) partition.  As Chaim Kaufmann pointed out, “war itself destroys the possibilities for ethnic cooperation.” Hence, the first choice would not help ease the situation for better.  The second alternative is to find a solution that provides guarantees for security, stability and ethnic peace, which can be materialized in ethnically divided societies through restructuring the State system with power sharing (consociational democracy).  There should be a political appetite among masses for broader peace agendas. Importantly, there need to be a political regime to pursue peace. Propaganda and marketing not only need to launch war, but also to seek peace. Actually, more aggressive form of propaganda and marketing is needed to seek peace in society where symbols are sold to pursue war.

In fact, the military defeat of the LTTE provided opportunities to commence serious discussions on power-sharing with the Tamil nationalists. In actual fact, irrevocable power-sharing could strengthen Sri Lanka’s democracy, its war-ridden economy, and bring about religious and ethnic harmony.  But many Tamils both at home and abroad (Tamil Diaspora) are convinced that Sinhala political establishment would not offer any meaningful power-sharing democracy or federal system. The behavior of successive Sri Lankan Sinhala rulers correctly proves the Tamil conviction.

If there is resistance to offer power sharing, the third option is partition.  As I discussed in my research on ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, “partition experiences of Pakistan from India, Eritrea from Ethiopia, Bangladesh from West Pakistan, and Greeks from Turks on Cyprus all show that partition can be helpful, even if it is less than completely successful in terminating violence.” Moreover, the experiences of Kosovo and the South Sudan further validate the case for partition when ethnic nations refuse to live together.

It is not clear to what extent the developments of the past can help resolve the basic issue at stake: whether, federalism – as repeatedly asked for by the Tamil nationalists, Sinhala political elites will not go beyond the failed 13th Amendment. Then again, one would have to be a considerable optimist to believe that the global pressure will compel Sinhala ruling hard-line elites to change direction toward the Tamil question.

 (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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    Good article with some great FACTS.

    *The LTTE, which was the by product of the successive Sinhala regimes.

    *Sri Lanka, which has been practicing democracy since 1931 (well before independence), now ranks as one of the poorest states in Asia

    * there was a strong support among the Tamil diaspora for the LTTE. The Tamil diaspora did morally and financially supported the LTTE’s activities, including war. Actually, there was an opportunity for the Tamil diaspora to apply pressure on the LTTE to seek exit strategy to save innocent trapped Tamils, but influential sections of Tamil diasporas did not show any serious interests in pushing the LTTE for negotiable end. It seems these elements within Tamil diaspora thought that the LTTE anyway would win war or the global actors apply pressure on Colombo which would lead to (1) save the top LTTE leadership and (2) win comprehensive political solution to the conflict. This political miscalculations and naïve expectations from the Tamil diaspora, without seriously analyzing the global conditions, contributed to the lose of so many Tamil lives.

    *
    One of the major challenges for ethnic reconciliation directly links with the war crime accusations targeted at the Sinhalese dominated security forces. The way the war had been fought by the Sinhala political and military establishment to defeat the LTTE triggered global concerns. The war won without witnesses and the Tamil deaths, including children, constituted some acts that can be safely cited to make a case for ethnic genocidal war against the Tamil nation.

    (Sorry for copying your Article. But These are real facts)

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    This is a fine article. Imtiaz Razak is right that the manipulation of symbols was a major driver of the war. And now that the war is officially over, the emotions evoked by the symbols remain. Establishment of peace and trust between Tamils and Sinhalese is exceedingly difficult, and few appear motivated to undertake the effort it would take to do so. Another major driver of the war was money. People in and from Sri Lanka, and some overseas actors as well, invested in the war and made money in a range of different ways. Investors won again when the war was over and property values sky-rocketed. Members of the Tamil diaspora who became openly involved in the war only added fuel to the fire.
    None of the three alternatives found for the future of Sri Lanka is viable. The first option would provoke military action from India, not on the ground this time, but from the air. Neither the second nor the third would be acceptable to the majority of Sinhalese in their current state of mind.
    But other options might be acceptable to both sides. One such option is, as the LTTE has truly lost this war, the remaining Tamils on the island might receive recompense from the Government of Sri Lanka, fie the damage they suffered from the war. This recompense should be munificent. All symbols of Sinhala dominance could be removed from Tamil areas, destroyed Tamil temples restored, and remaining ones left to stand. If the Government of Sri Lanka could perform such acts, it would be a great boost to Sri Lankan credibility among non-authoritarian overseas countries, and a source of pride to Sinhalese Buddhists, whose reputation and sense of themselves as charitable people would be strengthened. There is even precedence in the Sinhalese Buddhist text, the Mahavamsa, in Duttugamani’s honoring of Elara after the latter was killed by the former.
    Another such option is a change in government, promoted by the Sinhalese. The tumult and the shouting have died over Rajapaksa’s government. Some murmurs of economic unrest have arisen among some Sinhalese, most of all those many (God bless them) with unquelled Marxist sentiments. Eventually Rajapaksa will no longer be head of state. Then an even more compassionate head of state may emerge.
    Eventually, one by one, individual Tamils and Sinhalese will become friends again. Eventually the two cultures will become commingled again as they were for centuries before. True reconciliation will take time. Those who genuinely desire reconciliation will be patient and will let this happen.

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    The good doctor’s allegation that the Tamil Diaspora/LTTE is to be blamed for the genocidal massacre of the Tamils is utterly misplaced.

    He fails to point out (at which stage and) for what reason the Tigers should have withdrawn.

    With hindsight, my answer is: well before Sri Lanka unilaterally abrogated the CFA.

    By then Sri Lanka had sought acceptance from important countries like India, US, UK to demolish the LTTE, and with their approval forged alliances with Pakistan, Israel, China, Russia etc for obtaining military wherewithal (without any of these countries declaring their hand). The LTTE and the Diaspora were totally unaware of the technical and military capability that the SL forces were acquiring helped by these countries, thereby drastically altering the power balance that existed between the two sides previously. (Even today, the extent of the backstabbing by these ‘global actors’ has not been fully realised by the Tamils). Blaming the Diaspora or LTTE for this lapse in intelligence is unfair.

    Yet, if the war was conducted according to established conventions and won, Tamils will not sulk.

    But for this genocide, I would squarely put the blame on the Sri Lankan state and those collaborating countries that knowingly supplied colossal destructive power to the hands the Sri Lankan state but failed to restrain it when it was committing war crimes and genocide on Tamils.

    Why these global collaborators are still pussyfooting when it comes to Sri Lanka is obvious.

    As one who professes to have known the answers (when Diaspora and the LTTE didn’t) why has he not unambiguously elaborated the long term outcome? His conclusions are anything but unambiguous!

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    It is a good article – no doubt but I am sorry we have to keep going round and round like this….

    what are the root causes? and when are we going to put them on the table?

    This is what the Dalai Lama said – I am sorry to quote but it is necessary

    QUOTE

    When we look for the source of all the problems that confront human life we usually blame everything but the root cause: our lack of spiritual discipline and realization. Particularly in this degenerate age, the world atmosphere is so very negative and the conditions around us conducive to little but evil karma and meaningless distractions, that not to have the protection of spiritual knowledge is to leave ourselves totally defenseless against the negative mind.

    UNQUOTE

    The Path to Enlightenment, page 38.

    It is also a matter of reflection that the Dalai Lama whilst universally recognized as a buddhist leader is not officially acknowledged in SL….

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    Sinhalese buddhists are victims of a vicious successful campaign by the tamils and muslims as being the perpetrator of discrimination. On the contrary they are economically deprived and a subjugated race who are being ethnically cleansed even from their own so called areas. 60% of the tamils live in Sinhala areas but keeps harping on the need for federal state in lands which are sparsely populated. Their human rights are being abused daily be it in terms of employment, or even making a genuine protest against injustice. Unfortunately no one can talk about their plight with out being accused of chauvinism, mahavansa mindset etc. This game will finally end up in more violence. It is time the minorities stop shouting about discrimination, federal state but concentrate on the higher ideals of good governance.

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    The Author is not deserving for a good assessment as he has done a grave mistake in the beginning with his false heading “Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka. This notorious theme is quite often orchestrated by anti-Sinhalese local and international conspirators. If there was any ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, the Tamil or Muslim minority would have already eliminated from Sri Lankan soils long ago. All the Tamil and Muslim extremists use the same soil to throw mud to their Sinhalese brothers and sisters without a bit of thankfulness for the majority Sinhalese.

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    LTTE is a byproduct of ignorant, arrogant and inability of the tamils to coexist with another rase…. the onlything we can tell the tamils (incudling the owners of this website , tamilnadu politicos etc..) is if you want another war BRING IT ON…. your rase has already gone down from 21%to 12, we just need one more 15year war to finish you off…

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    It is a funny article.

    Tamils knowing that Sri Lankan state is responsible for creating LTTE,they funded it and tamils tolerated tamils getting killed in thousands by LTTE. Who made Tamils the suicide bombers, child soldiers, drug smugglers, credit card thieves, international criminals. Did all these were asked by the Sinhala State.

    Tamils, three years after the war, are still international smugglers, Is that how they fight the eelam.

    They came to Sri Lanak looking for greener pastures. Every where whether it is Tamilnadu, Sri Lanka or any where else in the World, Tamils exploit Tamils. In Sri Lanka, earlier it was high caste tamils exploited tamils. Only thing the state did was listened to the high caste tamils who oppressed low caste tamils and low caste tamils became killers.

    IT is still happening. Tamils exploit tamils and they take tamils to Canada, UK or Australia. Blame Sri Lankan state for every thing.

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    But first we have to admit we are lost….

    that we don’t have the answers – only questions and a desire for answers

    we all have the basic ingredients to find a way out

    suffering – and a questioning mind …. why not stay with these fundamentals?? our identities are of course very important but they are not fundamentals – just concepts

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    we can still rise from the ashes to build a beautiful srilanka if we adopt the south african style of truth and reconciliation.both sides have to admit they have blood in their hands. both sides must forgive each other.for this we need statesmen from both sides not politicians.
    talking of the past and blame game will never achieve anything worthwhile.to support this peace initiative,we have most tolerant and inclusive religions,budhism and hinduism coupled with christianity whose founder christ exemplifies forgiveness.islam is a religion of peace to support peace in srilanka.

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    From the 13th century when migration of Vellalar to Jaffna took place, Tamil Nadu has seen a decline in the traditional power of Vellalar. Successive colonial powers in Sri Lanka found Vellalar useful where Brahmins were not forthcoming. The Vellalar were not only cultivators, but a section of them which had developed scribal skills, provided the local officials, interpreters and accountants. Vellalar took the advantage of the situation and submitted themselves as slaves to the colonials and in return colonials were more kind towards their loyal servants. That is how Vellalar became the civil service force to help rule of colonials.
    In 1847, Kandar Arumukampillai(aka Arumuga Navalar) left the Jaffna Central College where he was a teacher because a ‘low caste’ Tamil student from the Nalavar caste was admitted to the school by the principal Peter Percival. Three decades later when a famine hit Northern Sri Lanka Kandar Arumukampillai worked tirelessly to provide food and medicine to Vellalar only.
    The lower caste Tamil speaking Sri Lnakans were treated as stray dogs by Vellalar. Caste system among Tamil speaking Sri Lankans has given rise to serious social evils. It denied certain civil rights to a large number of people and let to the oppressions and exploitations by Vellalar, which paved a constant source of discontent or unrest.
    Vellalar were the founders of the fascist culture in Jaffna. Despite the civilized veneer presented to the outside world Vellalar ran a fascistic regime reducing the depressed loer caste Tamil speaking Sri Lankans to slaves. Vellalar’s cruel caste system has no other parallel in any other part of Sri Lanka. Vellalar virtually had a free run of the Jaffna peninsula because the colonial rulers turned a blind eye to the subhuman Vellalar’s culture of violence. Thesavalamai legitimized slavery and the Vellalar ruled the land with an iron fist, with the colonial administrators often refusing to interfere in the laws and customs of the Vellalar.
    In 1871, Caste clashes erupted between Vellalar, Dhoby caste and Barber caste in Mavittapuram when Dhoby caste people refused to wash the clothes of Barber caste people. Vellalar were blamed for the violence.
    September 1923 in Suthumalai, Vellalar attacked lower caste people who had hired drummers for a funeral alleging that lower caste people had no right to employ drummers for their funerals as they were ‘low caste’. In 1931 a similar violent riot took place in Chankanai where Pallar were attacked by Vellalar people for hiring drummers for a funeral.
    Do Tamil speaking Sri Lankans need to be reminded that they did not allow low castes to enter any place that Vellalar frequented? In June 1929 caste riots broke out again in Jaffna in response to the ‘equal seating directive’ of the government which was applicable to grant-aided schools. Under this directive ‘low caste’ students were allowed to sit on the bench. Until then they sat either on the floor or outside the classroom. This was how Tamil speaking Sri Lankans treated their own! Resultant riots bunt a large number of houses mainly of low caste Tamils. Their children en masse were stopped from attending schools. Repeated petitions were made to the government by Vellalar begging to cancel the directive! Ponnambalam Ramanathan went to request the Colonial Office in London to encode caste into legislative enactments. Ponnambalam Ramanathan led the opposition to democratization by opposing universal franchise proposed by the Donoughmore reformers in the 1920′ on the ground that it would give the lower caste Tamil speaking Sri Lankans the right to vote.
    When Vellalar initiated their extremist demands it was the British who rejected them and not the Sinhalese. The British cultivated Vellalar as subservient and pliant agents of their regime. But this protection given to the privileges of the Vellalar was beginning to erode under the relentless invasions of modernity. The arrogant Vellalar reacted convulsively when the encroachments of modernity began to undermine Vellalar’s feudal and colonial privileges. Vellalar were reluctant to challenge the British whose patronage had made them the most privileged community in British Ceylon. Vellalar preferred to go along with the British colonialists, covertly aiding their white masters as complying agents in the legislature and in the administration. This political ploy was a common tactic, both under the Dutch and the British, to win a nudge-and-wink from the colonial masters to siphon off a disproportionate share of the state’s resources to Vellalar. The Dutch records categorically identify the need to win the Vellalar’s consent to be in command of Jaffna.
    In 1931 the Vellalar attacked the lower castes for hiring drummers for funerals. The message of the Vellalar was clear – no low castes could hire drummers for funerals!
    Even after Independence, the Sinhala speaking Sri Lankans hardly knew of the existence of the lowwe caste Tamil speaking Sri lankans. As far as the Sinhala speaking Sri Lankan leaders were concerned the Tamil speaking Sri Lankans whom they met in Colombo, the leaders of Tamil Congress and the Federal Party, the Tamil speaking professionals and academics, and the Tamil speaking public servants were the real Tamil speaking Sri Lankans, indeed they were only Vellalar!
    G.G.Ponnambalam succeeded in burying the “aristocracy” of the old guard led by Arunachalam Mahadeva with his “50-50” demand. Veluppillai Chelvanayakam buried G.G.Ponnambalam by taking “50-50” to the next stage of separatism. And from the grave of Appapillai Amirthalingam rose Thiruvenkadam Velupillai Prabhakaran. Each death was a milestone in escalating racism. No other community has pursued and injected racism into an electorate as the Vellalar fighting for their survival, with Jaffna as their base.
    It was S.W.R.D Bandaranaike who opened the doors for low caste Tamil speaking Sri Lankans to attend schools & temples – places that were taboo to them by their own Tamil speaking brethren.
    The Social Disabilities Act No. 21 was passed in the parliament in 1957 giving lower castes of Tamil speaking Sri Lankans the right to attend schools & temples as the part of S.W.R.D Bandaranaike’s plan was to penetrate into the “low caste” votes of Tamil speaking Sri Lankans.
    Lower castes Tamil speaking Sri Lankan children could attend school regularly only after this act. A reawakening happened in the north among previously marginalised lower caste Tamil speaking Sri Lankans.
    No sooner Vellalar realized the dangers of SLFP government led by S.W.R.D Bandaranaike courting the low caste Tamil speaking Sri Lankans, Vellalar devised their response. It was to create the best division possible. A rift between the Tamil speaking Sri Lankans and Sinhala speaking Sri Lankans which would strike better success than low caste – Vellalar divisions among Tamil speaking Sri Lankans. It is important to note that the satyagrahas, the tarring of Sinhala letter “SRI” instead of English letters on vehicle licence plates launched by the Veluppilai Chelvanayagam led Federal Party and G.G Ponnambalam led Tamil Congress – both Vellala high class political parties happened a year after making Sinhala the official language. Why did Federal Party and Tamil Congress not cry foul over the Sinhala Only Act in 1956 but oppose the Social Disabilities Act on 1957 with such venom? It is because Tamil speaking Sri Lankans wanted to deprive their own.
    Wijeyananda Dahanayake who was the Minister of Education in 1957, gave teaching appointments to many lower caste Tamil speaking Sri Lankans who had three credit passes in the S.S.C Exam (G.C.E O/L). Appapillai Amirthalingam who was an Federal Party MP then, opposed this move under the pretext that it would bring down educational standards.
    Similarly, when the Sirimavo R.D.Bandaranaike led SLFP Government introduced university standardization in 1973 those that opposed were those who were against equitable distribution. The schools in thirteen out of twenty two districts did not produce a single engineering or medicine student until 1974. Students from Colombo and Jaffna who had been privy to education opposed opportunities that would be enjoyed by students from Mannar, Monaragala, Vavuniya, Ampara, Kilinochchi & other less developed districts. While the composition of the ethnicity did not change entrance, for Tamil speaking Sri Lankans it meant not only the Vellalar but lower caste Tamil speaking Sri Lankans too would gain university entrance. This was why Vellalar opposed the 1973 university standardization introduced by Srimavo Bandaranaike led SLFP Government.
    Tamil speaking Sri Lankans who cry “discrimination” may like to recall how in the refugee camps during the 1983 riots Vellalar refused to share common toilet facilities with the low castes and a lot of problems arose inside the very camps housing only Tamil speaking Sri Lankans!
    From feudal and colonial times until May 18, 2009 Jaffna peninsula was under the jackboot of, Vellalar’s fascism followed by their equally brutal fascists in the LTTE. Both Vellalar and LTTE oppressed and subjugated their own people and denied their victims the fundamental right to live with even a modicum of dignity and self-respect. The LTTE took over from where the Vellalar left and perpetuated the cult of fascist violence which reduced the Tamil speaking Sri Lankans of the North and East to subhumans.

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    During the colonial time Vellalar and the Madapalli castes who provided most of the Mudaliyars to village headman who owned most of the arable land. Below the Vellalar were the Koviar who were also involved in agriculture. The people of the fishing castes, collectively known as the Karaiyar, were independent of this social structure to which the landed communities were bound. The Chettys were well known as traders and owners of Hindu temples and the Pallar and the Nalavar composed of the landless labourers who tilled the land. Other castes composed of traditional barbers, washers, potters and general service providers. In Jaffna Paraiyar lived in segregated settlements and were the untouchables, just as in the modern Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Under Tamil leadership in Jaffna Thurumbar – washers for toddy tappers and other low-caste families were not allowed to walk in daytime just in case their sighting would pollute the pure eyes of the Vellalar. The Thurumbar had to drag a branch behind to wipe the footsteps they leave when they walk at midnight so that the feet of the Vellalar would not be polluted next day by treading on low-caste footprints. Schools attended by low-caste children were burnt and low-caste students physically assaulted.
    Velupillai Prabhakaran perfected the fascistic culture of Tamil violence with his cult of violence that was not restrained by basic values of humanity. Torture, murder, incarceration, kangaroo courts, feeding Tamil dissidents to crocodiles in the Iranamadu tank, kidnapping teenage school children from the care of their parents and throwing them as sacrificial lambs to a war he could not win were all a part of his cult of violence which was glorified by the Tamil Diaspora. The Tamil Diaspora wallowed lustily in Velupillai Prabhakaran’s violence. The sadism of the Tamil Diaspora was demonstrated by the increase in the collection of funds abroad each time Velupillai Prabhakaran went on a killing spree. Their heroism was expressed in filling the war chests of Velupillai Prabhakaran led LTTE. Each time the Tamil Diaspora oiled the killing machine of Velupillai Prabhakaran led LTTE it was the Tamils left behind who had to pay with their lives. The Jaffna Tamil culture gave no choice to the Tamils: it was either fascism of Vellalar or fascism of Velupillai Prabhakaran.
    In the north the Jaffna Tamil leadership failed the Jagffna people under both regimes. They never qualified to be just and fair leaders/rulers of the Jaffna people. The violence directed against their own people has condemned the Jaffna Tamil leadership as the most unbearable, unacceptable Pol Pots of our time. With all its infirmities there was democracy and liberal space in the south. In the north, fascism and violence became a common existential experience of daily life.
    The evil in the Tamil culture, which was transmitted to Velupillai Prabhakaran, is represented precisely and accurately in the LTTE flag flown by the Tamil Diaspora as their symbol of pride and glory. It is the most obscene flag under the sun. There isn’t a single redeeming feature in it to project the Tamils as members of a civilized race. Its violent symbols – a snarling tiger putting his carnivorous head out of a ring of thirty-three bullets placed against two crossed guns fixed with bayonets – represent only a barbaric, blood-thirsty violence culture inherited from the Vellalar. Every inch of the LTTE flag questions the values of the Jaffna Tamils and their capacity to co-exist with other communities in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious world.
    The misguided Tamils might read it as a sign of their power. But where have their tigers, bullets, guns and bayonets taken them? It is a flag that is comparable only to the skull and cross-bones of the marauding pirates. It is a flag that can only lead the Tamils to further deaths and destruction under another fascist leadership. And yet the Tamil Diaspora continues to hero worship Velupillai Prabhakaran, the designer of the hideous flag. Tamil Diaspora seems to be possessed by the fascist DNA of their Tamil forefathers who despised their own people and kicked them around as if they were pariah dogs. In a sense, it is fitting that Tamil Diaspora should fly this flag because it not only exhibits their vile past but guarantees that the future will be no different.
    The confrontations, aggression and violence came only from the racist Jaffna Tamils, who exploited the issue to drag Jaffna deeper into mono-ethnic extremism. They succeeded in disguising their economic and class interests and promoting it as an act of discrimination against the Tamil-speaking Sri Lankans. The Tamil language issue was driven aggressively only by the racist Jaffna Tamils and not by the Tamil-speaking plantation workers, Tamil speaking Muslims or the non-Vellala Tamils of the eastern province.
    The aggression and violence of the racist Jaffna Tamils proved the Karl Marx’s theory that the ruling class will not give up power without a struggle. And true to the barbaric character of the Jaffna Tamils they declared war on the rest of Sri Lanka by passing the Vadukoddai Resolution in 1976 – the period when Tamil supremacy was in its last legs.
    Racist Vellalar of Jaffna were the founders of the fascist culture in Jaffna. Despite the civilized veneer presented to the outside world, Jaffna Tamils ran a fascistic regime reducing the depressed Tamils to slaves. Jaffna Vellalar’s cruel caste system has no other parallel in any other part of Sri Lanka. Jaffna Vellalar virtually had a free run of the Jaffna peninsula because the colonial rulers turned a blind eye to the subhuman Jaffna Vellalar culture of violence. Thesavalamai legitimized slavery and the Jaffna Vellala slave-owners ruled the peninsula with an iron fist, with the Portuguese, Dutch and English colonial administrators often refusing to interfere in the laws and customs of the ruling caste and class.
    Thesa (land) walamai (laws and customs) legitimized the land-owning Jaffna Vellalar as the slave-masters of Jaffna peninsula. From feudal and colonial times until May 18, 2009 when the Tamil cult of violence sank in Mullivaykal, Jaffna peninsula was under the jackboot of, first, Vellala fascism followed, second, by their equally brutal fascists – Velupillai Prabhakaran led LTTE. Both Vellalar and Velupillai Prabhakaran led LTTE oppressed and subjugated Tamils and denied their victims the fundamental right to live with even a modicum of dignity and self-respect. The LTTE took over from where the Vellalar left and perpetuated the cult of fascist violence which reduced the Jaffna Tamils to subhumans.

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    For several centuries, “Brahmins” – the “priestly caste” – were religious and spiritual figures, educators, thinkers and philosophers in India. Among Brahmins gotras are reckoned patrilineally and each gotra takes the name of a famous Rishi (or sage) who was the patrilineal fore-bearers of that clan.The Brahmins belonging to the same gotra are related to each other patrilineally, and there may be very little else in common between them. According to the Vedic system, a man and a woman belonging to the same gotra are considered to be a brother and sister, so a wedding between a man and a woman belonging to the same gotra (known as sa-gotra) is forbidden as it will cause anomalies in the progeny that come out of such a wedding.. A married woman takes up the gotra of her husband. Ambalavaasi people (living in (by) ambalam or temple – temple inmates) and Vishwakarma (Acharis) caste people also now claim that they are Brahmins.

    The Bhagwath Gita states that caste is a birthright! A Brahmin is one who is educated and knowledgeable of the scriptures and leads a holy life and is not a birthright!. I understand an immigrant’s need to connect to his or her roots. But in western countries Brahmins have their sons go through the sacred thread ceremony and that child grows up to be a meat eater, drinker with no knowledge of the scriptures. What is wrong is that in the age of ‘Kali Yuga’ anyone is claiming Brahmin as a birthright even when they eat meat, indulge in alcohol and live arrogant materialistic lives. My Bengali Brahmin friends made never made any qualms about relishing various fish and chicken delicacies. Most of the Brahmins in North America to celebrate their teenage boys’ sacred thread ceremony which is a coming-of-age ceremony held only for brainwashed impressionable Brahmin boys into thinking within the narrow walls of their caste. Sacred thread ceremony is a ritual for initiating a boy in to the spiritual life and as per Vedas, all Hindus (except the Shuthras) have the right for sacred thread ceremony. For most of the Brahmins in North America caste is an important part of their identity as if it is the 24th pair of chromosomes and wear their Brahmin identity on their lapel. Indians keep on making pathetic efforts to tell the world that they belong to the “Brahmin” – upper caste. There is nothing to be proud about one’s so called upper caste. One contributes nothing to be born in a particular caste. It is a chance occurrence. No human being is born superior. In fact, there is nothing to be proud of a system, which is blatantly discriminatory. The caste system is a very backward culture. Indians not only embrace but also tout their upper caste while living in USA which has fought two civil wars against discrimination. It is a disgrace!

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    It is curious while Nalliah Thayabaran opens the old can of worms for discussion why these old postings appear now. Not just Jaffna but the world has changed since the late 19th century and many of the shortcomings mentioned have been set right. India has made the old inhumane custom of Sati illegal and the chasm between the castes there too has gradually disappeared with one Dalit woman, Chief Minister of one of India’s influential States, even having her eyes on PM/India.

    There are many similarities of Thayabaran’s pieces with those of the senior Sebastian Rasalingam – a darling of the Sinhala extreme to club
    Tamils. But no matter it is best to bring these dark for scrutiny under a more humane society in Jaffna and elsewhere in the country.
    Casteism is very much alive in the Sinhala South too today although not in the unreasonable levels of the distant past.

    Senguttuvan

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