1 October, 2020

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Tamils: A Self-Imposed Isolation?

By Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Authoritarianism and the Crisis of Identity – IV

The justification for communal politics in defence of Tamil rights and an indication of the future direction it would take, are contained in S.J.V. Chelvanayakam’s deeply felt speech of 1948 on the Citizenship Bill:

The Honourable Leader of the House told us that race is an important factor and that we must do everything to protect the race. What race did he mean? Is it the majority of this country? I say that this is the wrong approach to the whole question. Therefore, I say on behalf of those of us in the minority community who feel frightened by this trend of legislation that I protest against this type of legislation. As long as there are activities directed against communities and as long as these communities are minority communities, they must for their self-protection bind themselves in a communal way. The moment you remove the necessity for communal organisations, these communal organisations will cease to exit.

There was also in the speech a sense of the Tamils having to look to India for their protection, which became a reality in July 1983:

If the plantation labour in Ceylon did not even have the semblance of protection that it now has from the Indian Government, would they have even this measure of concession granted to them of becoming B-class citizens? Therefore, what is the use of saying that they ran away to India? That is their only piece of protection and you want to deprive them of that one piece of doubtful protection and place them completely at your mercy to do what you like with them.

ColomboburningBlackJuly1983He admonished Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake who made a show of amity with Indian Prime Minister Nehru by flying with him in the same plane from New Delhi to London.

He pointed out that the duplicity over the Citizenship Bill had resulted in Ceylon ‘not being able to come to agreement with our nearest neighbour on an extremely important matter’. It is not any number of joint plane rides, Chelvanayakam told the Prime Minister that would bring amity with Nehru. Senanayake, he added, ‘must join the Honourable Prime Minister of India on a different plane, on the mental and moral plane in which the latter is flying through history.

It is difficult not to be moved by Chelvanayakam. But on looking back it is also difficult to avoid the conclusion that the isolation and exclusive sense of victimhood Federal Party politics brought to the Tamils was unhealthy and ultimately tragic. There was little hint of recognition by him that the Left which was then powerful in the South took the same stand as the Federal Party on the key issues of the day – the Citizenship and Language issues. The possibility of an alliance was never taken seriously, if ever contemplated. After all, it was a time when perhaps most of the leading intellectuals in Jaffna, including school principals and former veterans of the Youth Congress, supported the Left rather than the Federal Party.

The Federal Party need not have lost electorally. Its main electoral rival was the Tamil Congress from which it had split off in 1948. It could have allowed the Left two or three seats in the North where they had a strong following and have used Left support to marginalise the Tamil Congress in the remaining seats. It would have helped the Tamil cause a great deal. There were probably many reasons why it did not happen. One of them is no doubt that the Colombo Tamil elite who had a strong influence in the Federal Party were UNP at heart.

This brings us to the class character of the Federal Party. Its leaders were Tamils whose professional and commercial interests were centred in Colombo. For over a century they had close links with the Sinhalese ruling class with similar westernised backgrounds. Thus, even as the Sinhalese elite drifted towards dangerous chauvinistic posturing, they also tried to soften its impact on the Tamils and even woo Tamil votes. This they did by giving private assurances to the Tamil leaders with whom they had close personal links – through for example University College and schools like St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, where Bandaranaike and Chelvanayakam were contemporaries. This worked up to a point.

For example, when Bandaranaike started articulating Sinhala Only, the UNP, then led by Sir John Kotelawela, increasingly became shaky over its previous commitment to parity of the languages. At a reception at Kokkuvil Hindu College, Jaffna, in 1955, Sir John pledged that his party remained committed to language parity. Subsequently, while Sinhalese cabinet ministers remained tight- lipped on language policy, Tamils in the government went about reassuring the Tamils. Eventually the UNP adopted Sinhala Only in time for the 1956 elections where it lost badly to Bandaranaike’s SLFP and its allies in the MEP.

Knowing that he had played a dangerous game, it was Bandaranaike’s turn to reassure the Tamil elite through the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam Pact, which he then unilaterally abrogated. Tamil votes were also useful in the South and assurances of future remedy were kept up by both the UNP and the SLFP. The Tamil elite were thus divided into apologists for the government and Tamil nationalists. But both were closely linked to economic interests in Colombo and the Tamil elite were in practice made amenable to waiting in hope over promises made, rather than leading the Tamils in sustained protest. The class character of the Federal Party moreover made it a natural ally of the right-of-centre UNP, rather than the left- of-centre SLFP.

The violence of July1983 was the final slap- in-the-face to Colombo-based Tamil elite aspirations. It turned the majority of the uncommitted Colombo Tamil elite into nationalists, separatists, and later in foreign climes, the propaganda vanguard of the LTTE. Their earlier indifference to the rural Tamils was, from their safe vantages, transformed into an eagerness to turn the children of these rural Tamils into cannon-fodder.

*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

  • 8
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    Well, leaving aside the emotional rhetoric – the legislation was simple and clear.

    One needed to have 7 years of residency in Ceylon in order to be a citizen.

    Just as a contrast, there are Tamils in Tamil Nadu refugee camps after 30 years have not been offered citizenship in India.

    • 4
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      This idiot does not know the difference between indentured labour and refugees and is blurting through his posterior orifice.

      • 2
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        A refugee is also resident you moron. How long did your application take? In Australia its about 7 years too.

        Why not bend over and stick your tongue up your own orifice? That will stop your brain from leaking!

  • 5
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    The installment of this 14 year old book that came out on the 2nd of April seemed to have been “chunked” in such a way as to almost inevitably provoke a hostile reception from “Sinhalese Supremacists”. It is to be hoped that they will study this section carefully.

    Indeed, the impression that I have is that an even closer analysis of the communalism espoused by the UNP in the run up to the 1956 elections may be necessary. I have a very hazy memory of my father saying things that seemed to indicate that he thought Bandaranaike preferable to Sir John. That shocked me; we were seven year olds belonging to a cohort that thought that there was only one party (whose symbol was a green elephant) that was respectable.

    What I understand is that Dr Rajan Hoole has handed over the entire book to CT, and that he is not exercising any control over the order of publication of various chapters. I’m sure that there is some rationale and method in the way these chapters are coming out; this is serious history, and I think that most readers of CT do study all this, although the number of comments is not commensurate with the readership. However, that readership is numerically negligible in terms of the Sri Lankan population!

    We are reading here what our generation has reconstructed from accounts of what we heard adults discussing, and then read up later. Be that as it may, in a few hours I’m off to the school (in Gurutalawa) where Rajan and I were to meet a few years later. We were the last batch of Sinhalese/Tamil students allowed to sit the O. Levels in the English Medium, that, too, only if we were studying Science. By then Badi-ud-deen Mohamed was the Minister of Education (or so I think!); with the Sinhalese determined to level down their own elite, they didn’t really mind the “Burghers and Muslims” being allowed to continue studying all subjects in English.

    For the record, I remember us having to theoretically study all subjects in the Swabasha almost immediately after 1956, but in effect we had bilingual education, and I think that we were taught together in the Bandarawela school. But that the change was coming was clear. Mr W.T. Keble went off to Vancouver, Canada, found himself some work there, and left after a few months, having sold the two schools that he personally owned to S. Thomas’. I’m pretty sure that his decision was a sudden one taken by a very shrewd and practical man!

    By the way, this is NOT carefully worked out history, and I’m subject to correction!

  • 6
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    “….Colombo Tamil elite into nationalists, separatists, and later in foreign climes, the propaganda vanguard of the LTTE. Their earlier indifference to the rural Tamils was, from their safe vantages, transformed into an eagerness to turn the children of these rural Tamils into cannon-fodder..”

    How Sad! The beginning of the End of Peace in Sri Lanka!

  • 4
    3

    Dr. Rajan Hoole

    RE:Tamils: A Self-Omposed Isolation?

    “It is difficult not to be moved by Chelvanayakam. But on looking back it is also difficult to avoid the conclusion that the isolation and exclusive sense of victimhood Federal Party politics brought to the Tamils was unhealthy and ultimately tragic. There was little hint of recognition by him that the Left which was then powerful in the South took the same stand as the Federal Party on the key issues of the day – the Citizenship and Language issues. The possibility of an alliance was never taken seriously, if ever contemplated. “

    It was Vellahala Castism and Vellahala Racism. Vellahalas did not like the Egalitarianism of the Left.

    Tamils: A Self-Omposed Isolation?

    Why? It was written by a Tamil and explained by a Tamil, Mahesan Niranjan. Amarasiri is just observing and reporting.

    The Story Of Two Graphs drawn by A Tamil Man: By Mahesan Niranjan

    Onion Prices and Tamil IQ Distributions

    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-story-of-two-graphs-drawn-by-a-tamil-man/onioniqdistributions/

    • 3
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      It is true that the isolation and exclusive sense of victim hood Federal Party politics brought to the Tamils was unhealthy and ultimately tragic, and that was why the Tamil Leftists were derided and considered an abberation by the elitist Northern Colombo Tamils with electoral constituencies in the North.
      The row over the Mavidapuram temple entry episode is an illustration of that mindset which regarded the Left with suspicion as being more loyal to it Southern supporters.
      Unfortunately the thosai, masalavadai line in 1964 confirmed that view.The rest is history.

    • 1
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      Amarasiri
      “It was Vellahala Castism and Vellahala Racism. Vellahalas did not like the Egalitarianism of the Left.”

      The above applies mainly to the North, specifically the Jaffna Peninsula.
      In the East, Batticaloa & Amparai especially, there is caste and caste rivalry and Vellala are not the dominant group. (Even the Vanni and the west coast north of Colombo was by and large free of cruel caste oppression.)

      The Tamil situation compares roughly with hat of he Sinhaese in the southern coastal region and the Kandyan region several decades ago.
      In the coastal region, it is caste rivalry more than domination by a single group, because at least three caste groups made it in business and the professions, to fare better than the Govigama elite, well before Independence. Govigama oppression lated a little longer in the Kandyan region.
      The political changes that swept he country which culminated in the change of regime in 1956 also made an impact on caste domination. Free education, the spread of literacy and mass politics helped. Rivalries persist, but not to the point of open discrimination in public maters.

      The Jaffna Peninsula is unique not only owing to geographic isolation but also to historical factors that gave it the advantage of modern education which was snatched almost entirely by the Vellala (Hindus and Christian converts alike). The Catholics were not from depressed castes but mostly non-Vellala and were somewhat left behind. The depressed castes much depended on the Vellala gentry for livelihood and with the Vellala elite dominating education, economy and land ownership the grip on social power was strong.
      But things have changed, although slower than to my liking. The depressed castes organized themselves early in the 20th Century and protests had some impact. he Jaffna Youth Congress took a principled stand on caste. The left made an impact which reached a peak in the 1966-71 movement against caste oppression. The election of P Kandiah (Communist Party) to Parliament in 1957 was a unique but most significant event.
      Tamil nationalism dominated initially by the Jaffna Tamil Hindu Vellala under the Tamil Congress and later Jaffna Tamil Hindu-Christian Vellala under the FP played down caste oppression to ensure support from the majority Vellala, who also had control of much of the depressed caste vote.

      Tamil nationalism leans heavily on archaic traditional values (Christians are not exempt) with a male chauvinist and pro-imperialist mindset.
      Routine anti-left babbling is thus typical of every shade of Tamil nationalism.
      It has been an uphill task to overcome Tamil reactionaries– but very much possible.
      The sooner the national question settles the better for the marginalized by class, case and gender.

      • 0
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        sekara

        “Routine anti-left babbling is thus typical of every shade of Tamil nationalism.”

        Thanks.

        In the South Anti-left babbling was generally not part of the Sinhala nationalism, but it was part of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism, that was part of the babbling, and the left parties grabbed a substantial percentage of the popular vote.

        Part of the reason for the UNP to disenfranchise the Up-Country Tamils was because they voted for the left who wanted an Egalitarian society, post colonialism.

        Given the above historical events, the partnership of Vellhalaism and the Federal Party, made it very difficult for egalitarianism in the Jaffna peninsula and national integration and a just society post colonialism and imperialism.

        LSSP

        The Lanka Sama Samaja Party was the first modern political party in Sri Lanka and the first party to have an indigenous name rather than an English one and the first Marxist party in Sri Lanka. The Sinhala term samasamajaya was one coined by Dally Jayawardena in the Swadesa Mitraya to translate the term ‘socialist’. However, the usage of samasamajaya has since been superseded by samajavadaya (which corresponds to similar usage in various Indian languages) in everything but in the names of the LSSP and various of its splinter groups. The Tamil term samadharmam was used to translate ‘socialist’, but nowadays the English term is used.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lanka_Sama_Samaja_Party

        Lanka Sama Samaja Party electoral results
        Date Candidates Cand elected Votes % of national vote
        1947 28 10 204,020 10.81
        1952 39 9 305,133 13.11
        1956 21 14 274,204 11.47
        1960 M 101 10 325,286 11.26
        1960 J 21 12 224,995 7.96
        1965 25 10* 302,095 7.90
        1970 23 19 433,224 8.68
        1977 82 0 225,317 3.61

  • 1
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    Amarasiri.

    The story of two graphs drawn by a Tamil Man-Mahesan Niranjan.
    Onion prices and Tamil IQ Distributions.

    What are you attempting to say in your fractured English?

    • 1
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      Plato.

      “What are you attempting to say in your fractured English?”

      As the original article says, the onion prices are normally distributed, while the Intelligence of the Tamils, Amarasiri assumes, Jaffna Tamils is bimodally distributed.

      So, one mode, the lower mode closer to the origin comprises, the low IQ Jaffna Tamils and the other mode, high IQ or “Normal “Tamils. Aristotle talked about cause and effect. Amarasiri was wondering if the effects and agony of Tamils have a cause, the cause of bimodal distributions of Tamil Intelligence? What is not known is the population of Tamils in each mode.

      Amarasiri hopefully assumes that he was able to explain the fractured Tamil intelligence groups, to Plato, or neo-Plato, using his fractured English as per the two graphs, that was published in the CT.

  • 0
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    Jesus went into isolation several times in his life. Many VIPs’ in epics and in real life has gone into self imposed isolation. You can fine why?

  • 0
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    Amarasiri.

    My intention,lest you have misunderstood,was by no means to ridicule.

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