By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
The Vadukoddai Resolution was written by the best of Tamil political theorists/activists who encapsulated their version of the history to justify their political claim for Eelam, a separate state. In it the history of an imagined past was tailored to fit into the politics of the present. Overnight it became the Bible of the Tamil separatists. Their main objective was to demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists. Turning the Sinhala-Buddhist into a bogeyman is the best argument they could manufacture to press their claim for a separate state. So it listed a litany of complaints to project the Tamils as the victims of the Sinhala-Buddhist majority in the post-independent age.
Victimology happens to be the primary base on which they lay their claim for a separate state. Predictably, being a politicised document, the narrative in the Vadukoddai Resolution contains a quota of inaccuracies, distortions and exaggerations. At one point the Resolution claims that the Tamils have been reduced to “slaves of the majority”. Now this is a deliberate departure from the truth to distort history for political ends. No Sinhala society or state engaged in slavery the way the Tamils of the North have done throughout the main part of their existence. The legalised slavery and oppression of Tamils by Tamils had been the dominant political culture of Jaffna, enforced mainly under the laws of Tesawalamai – a legal code endorsed by the Vellala mudliyars in 1707, the Dutch period. No other community in Sri Lanka has endured and suffered the indignities of legalised and institutionalised slavery and oppression as the low-caste Tamils of Jaffna under the ruling Saivite Jaffna Vellala (SJV) elite.
Though Jaffna was ruled by Tamil kings in feudal times and Christian rulers in colonial times it was the SJV elite, acting as sub agents of kings and colonial masters, which had a firm grip on the political culture of the peninsula. As power- brokers and managers of the commanding heights of the peninsular political culture the Vellalars deprived the low caste of their liberty, dignity, security and individuality. To eke out a living, escaping cruel punishment, the low-castes had to submit to the oppressive laws and customs of SJV elite. The non-Vellalar slaves of Jaffna, though Tamil, were never treated as human beings equal to that of the high-caste Vellalars. The low-castes were kept under the heel of the Vellalars as an inferior species though they were Tamils. The subhuman fascist culture of the Vellalars deprived the basic human rights to their fellow-Tamils in the low-castes.
It can be argued convincingly that the Tamils – meaning the Tamils of all castes and just not the SJVs – had their first and enduring taste of freedom and dignity only in the last 72 years of independence. Throughout their history, which began in the 11th and 12th centuries, the dignity and the liberty the Tamils had can be compared to the freedoms and dignity they had under Velupillai Prabhakaran. Those who had the freedoms were those who cooperated with the fascist regimes, from Sankilli to Prabhakaran. Those who did not conform had to either flee from Jaffna (Prof. Rajan Hoole) or were killed (Rajini Thiranagama).
Prior to independence, all Tamils, particularly the low-castes, had to live under iron fist of the Vellalar rule. Though there was a greater measure freedom for the low-castes in the post-independent age, particularly to question and rebel against Vellalar fascism, Vellalar fascism fought back with all their fury (Maviddipural Temple entry case) to keep the low-castes in their subhuman status.
Fascist Vellalaism took root as a ruling ideology in the pre-colonial period when the Tamil kings gave their daughters in marriage to the Vellalars. The Vellalars were always in cahoots with the ruling powers of the day. They never failed to sidle up to the powers-that-be to retain their supremacy, powers and perks in Jaffna. They were the most dominant, numerous (52%) and powerful caste in Jaffna. No colonial master had dared to take on the powerful Vellalars since casteism, slavery and Vellalar fascism were codified by Claas Isaacks, the Dissawe of Jaffnapatam, on January 30, 1707. In the final stages of the codification the Dutch Governor asked twelve Vellalar Mudliyars to scrutinise it. It was officially codified only after the endorsement of the Vellalar Mudliyars. (p.27, Chapter II — The Laws and Customs of the Tamils of Jaffna, H. W. Tambiah).
Tesawalamai virtually capped the power of the Vellalas to rule Jaffna as subagents of the colonial masters with an iron fist. Tambiah wrote: “Though slavery was abolished legally many of the depressed classes remained as de facto slaves of their masters for economic reasons. In spite of the fact that slavery was abolished in 1844 it is surprising to find that arguments have been advanced in case on the footing that it existed long after 1844.” (Ibid – p.85). Tambiah cites the instance of Ponnamabalam Ramanathan arguing in court that slavery was still valid in a case where the higher caste objected to the beating of tom-toms at a low-caste burial. (Ibid – p.85). The Vellalars determined the inviolable rituals from the womb to the tomb. Tesawalamai endorsed and enshrined the status quo of the hierarchical caste system with the Vellalars at the top, empowered with the legal cover to own and employ slaves. The combined force of the legal, religious, ideological, traditional and feudal powers made the Vellalars the most formidable force in the peninsular.
The Vellalars owned most of the land, all the Hindu temples which were religio-cultural centers of power, owned or managed some of the non-governmental schools, generated ideologies through SJV leaders like Arumuga Navalar, to maintain the casteist grip of the Vellalars to oppress the non-Vellalar low-castes, produced the political and intellectual leaders who were committed to Vellalar casteism ( e.g. Arumuga Navalar and his disciple Sir. Ponnamabalam Ramanathan), occupied practically all the key positions in the colonial and post-independent governments and, most of all controlled and managed the political ideology that incrementally drove Jaffna to mono-ethnic extremism, preventing peaceful co-existence among other ethnic entities.
In short, what were projected as the interests / grievances of the Tamils were essentially the vested interests / grievances of the Vellalars. The Vellalars have consistently disguised their interests / grievances as that of the Tamils. But neither the interests of the Tamil-speaking communities, nor all the castes in the North have a place in the overwhelming Vellalar political agenda or net work. The Vadukoddai Resolution is a classic example. It is the one and only overarching, comprehensive and historic manifesto to come out of the peninsula expressing the totality of the SJV political agenda. It begins by narrating their version of history and ends with a declaration of war against the rest of the nation, urging the Tamil youth to take up arms and never rest until they achieve Eelam.
Though it was meant to express the collective goals of the Tamils in essence it represents only the political interests / grievances of the Vellalars. Eelam, for instance, was never a part of the Muslims or the Indian Tamils. Like the Tesawalamai it was also approved by Vellalars because it was written for the Vellalars. The SJV- led Thamil makkal Iyakkam, the pan-Tamil movement, never took off as a common front of the Tamil-speaking people, because the Vadukoddai Resolution and all other political movements initiated by the North represented essentially the political agenda of the Vellalars only. This put off the other Tamil-speaking communities who had their own interests to pursue.
Any threat to Vellalars hegemony was resisted fiercely by the Vellalars. Vellalar leaders like Sir. Ponnambalam Ramanathan went to London to argue that casteism – with Vellalars at the top – should be retained for the good of the Empire. He opposed universal franchise as “mob rule”. The first politico- legal challenge to Vellala hegemony was initiated in 1957 when Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike passed the Prevention of Social disabilities Act. At no time in the history of Jaffna, from the feudal age to the colonial period, were any attempts made by any regime to challenge the oppressive fascism of the Vellalars who treated their own people with subhuman contempt. The Tamils of Jaffna (meaning Tamils of all castes) never had the freedom and the opportunity to walk in the God-given sun, or drink a sip of water as under the post-independent regimes.
The Vadukoddai Resolution represents, by and large, the interests / grievances of the Vellalars transiting from their feudal caste system into a modern middle class. The fundamental interests of Indian Tamils and the Tamil-speaking Muslims drifted away from the Vellalar agenda because their interests were different, if not antithetical, to that of the Vellalar-led politics. They had no direct interests in the divisive, white-collar job-oriented, middle class agenda of the SJVs.
Many anthropological and sociological scholars have documented the horrors of SJVs oppression of the low-caste Tamils. They are freely available for any researcher. It is the existential experiences of the average Tamil, down the ages, that have a greater significance and relevance than the scholarly abstracts drawn from a distance. An eye-witness account from a Tamil who lived in the British colonial times can be more vivid and telling than academic reviews. Here is an account taken from the Tamil historian, Dr. Muruga Gunasingam. He says:
“A letter addressed to the editor of the Morning Star by a Hindu from Batticoloa on 17 April, 1845 is very instructive, giving us an insight in the caste system and how it worked:
“……Mr. Editor, there is a cruelty manifested in Ceylon, particularly among the Tamils, which may be regarded as worse than that of slavery. I mean the distinction of caste, by which more evil results to a large portion of inhabitants of the above-mentioned places than would be the case if they were under the yoke of slavery. Suppose a man of low-caste meets with an accident, will persons of high caste assist him? When he falls will they lift him up? When his house is on fire will they attempt to extinguish the flame? Or to save his person or property? If he is thirsty will they permit him to draw water fromtheir wells? When he is sick will the doctor attend him? Will the washerman \wash his clothes? Or the barber shave him. No, when a low-caste man visits a high caste man’s house he must go and sit very far from the house and whenever he is met by one of them he must inform that person that he is of unclean caste and cannot therefore be touched, and if he acts contrary to his case he must therefore submit to punishment.” ( p.87 – Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, A Study of its Origins, Murugar Guanasingam, MV Publication, Sydney, 1999). )
The Sinhalese too had slavery and a caste system. But as Dr. H. W. Tambiah, a leading authority on the caste system, says: “Slavery among the Sinhalese appears to stand on a different footing.” Quoting Dr. Hayley, an authority on Kandyan Law, he says slavery among the Sinhalese “was of the mildest form. Absolute in law, it was in practice tempered by a large amount of liberty and kindness…” IIbid- p. 75).
So when the Vadukoddai Resolution talks of Tamils being slaves of the Sinhalese they were talking through their hat. As stated by Dr. Hayley, the Sinhala-Buddhist culture was “tempered by a large amount of liberty and kindness.” The South was an open society. The north was a closed society. The South was inclusive. The North was exclusive. The South was multicultural. The North was monocultural. The South opened its doors and embraced all the major ideologies – from Buddhism to Marxism – that blew in from abroad. The North put up cadjan fences to prevent the Saivite Jaffna Vellalarism from being polluted by alien forces. The South was democratic. It even fought a deadly war within a democratic framework. The North was authoritarian. It fought the war under Tamil fascism which was justified by the Tamil theoreticians. Jaffna was dominated by the Sankilli culture of killing Tamils and ethnic cleansing. Prabhakaran gave the Tamils a good dose of the Sankilli culture during his stewardship. With all its infirmities common to all nations the South has maintained a liberal welfare state that has given equal opportunities to all communities. In the South a Tamil leader with only 16 MPs was given the honoured place of the Leader Opposition in a House of 225 MPs. In the North the Chief Minister passes resolution condemning all Sinhala leaders as genociders. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, the only true homeland of the Tamils, it costs (in round figures) Rs. 170,000.00 to be a doctor in a government university. Tamil students in Sri Lanka do not have to pay a cent to become a doctor or a lawyer. This is what the Tamils call discrimination!
The list is long.
More of it in the next article….