29 May, 2023


The Donoughmore Heritage – Roll Back On Equality & The Challenge Of Identity Politics

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

This paper celebrates the 85 years of universal suffrage in Sri Lanka that came with the Donoughmore Constitution in 1931 with its inherent idea of equality of all persons. This constitution in turn led to the Soulbury Constitution of 1946 which entrenched equality of all citizens and through Article 29 prohibited Parliament from enacting laws that did not treat citizens equally.

However, with a view to reinforcing that highpoint in our achievements, this paper then focuses on how electoral politics has the weakness of candidates having to appeal to differences in identity to outbid others for votes and win. Thus our high achievements were rolled back in the 1972 republican constitution which did away with Article 29 and favoured Buddhism, making lesser citizens of those who are not Buddhists. This regressive change was not corrected in the 1978 constitution that followed and demeaned our democracy further with authoritarian elements. The best part of our colonial heritage was annulled by our own indigenous mismanagement.

As a new constitution is being drafted, these are matters to be thought about and learnt from to ensure that we return to our highpoint as a democratic nation.

The Legacy of Equality and Human Rights

The world is getting to be a better place. As Time put it, Human rights is the legacy of the twentieth century. Our stronger democratic institutions and our human rights legacy strengthen each other.

This march towards an increasingly better democracy came to us in Sri Lanka with the Donoughmore constitution which for the first time gave us Sri Lankans “one-man, one vote.” Whether man or woman, whether Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim, whether Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim or something else, whether high caste or not, whether we liked a member of a group or not, one was entitled to one (and only one) vote. Intrinsic to this was the revolutionary idea in our feudal society that we are all equal. We had universal adult franchise to choose our representatives and take us into a modern egalitarian society.

The Commissioners were Lord Donoughmore an Irish Peer (Chairman), and Dr. Drummond-Shiels and Frances Butler, both MPs. Donoughmore is said to have been a champion for women’s right to university education. Sir Matthew Nathan served during 1927-1928.

Roll-back on Equality

Universal suffrage and one-man one vote put Sri Lanka on the threshold of the new equality between persons making us very proud. Naturally the 1946 Soulbury Constitution that readied us for independence reinforced the idea of equality of all person through Article 29 which limited the legislative powers of Parliament. Article 29 is reproduced here drawing particular attention to 29(2):

(1) Subject to the provisions of this Order, Parliament shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Island.

(2) No such law shall –

(a) prohibit or restrict the free exercise of any religion; or

(b) make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions are not made liable; or

(c) confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions, or

(d) alter the constitution of any religious body except with the consent of the governing authority of that body, so, however, that in any case where a religious body is incorporated by law, no such alteration shall be made except at the request of the governing authority of that body:

That is, no law could confer an advantage or impose a disadvantage unless it was done to all communities. In addition to this guarantee was the right to appeal to the Privy Council.

This faith in appeal to the Privy Council in London was reinforced when the Privy Council ruled in “Bribery Commissioner Versus Ranasinghe that Article 29(2) cannot be amended even with a two-thirds majority” and that Section 29(2) represents “the solemn balance of rights between the citizens of Ceylon, the fundamental condition on which inter se they accepted the constitution and these are therefore unalterable…”  (http://swarb.co.uk/the-bribery-commissioner-v-ranasinghe-pc-5-may-1964/).

However, in 1962, when S. Kodeswaran, a government employee adversely affected by the Official Language Act of 1956, challenged the government claiming that in passing that Act, it had violated Section 29 of the constitution, Judge (later Justice) O.L. de Krester agreed. The Government took up the matter at the Supreme Court which, without considering the substantive constitutional issue, ruled that the Government could not be sued. Kodeswaran appealed to the Privy Council which found with him and directed the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutional question (72 New Law Reports, p.337).  That never happened because the Supreme Court was hesitant to rule on the constitutionality of the Official Language Act and Mrs. Bandaranaike, immediately upon coming to power in 1970, passed Act No. 44 of 1971 which abolished appeals to the Privy Council.

Minorities have always viewed foreign judges at the Privy Council as relatively fair and neutral arbiters while the Sinhalese majority saw them as a colonial intrusion into their sovereignty. That same argument is being played out again today in the War Crimes issue.

It must however be kept in mind that the right to appeal to a tribunal outside the jurisdiction of the state, enhances the rights of an individual and is a salutary check on judicial processes at home. But all human institutions are fallible and no limitation need be placed on the right to appeal. It is well to remember that the 1953 Privy Council ruling which supported the Government, and the Supreme Court’s ruling, on the denial of the franchise to labour of Indian origin, remains a matter of deep controversy. The Citizenship Act marked the dethroning of the Donoughmore ethos. Apparently, administrative actions could not be questioned under Article 29. Nonetheless, the meager protection that the article afforded to minorities was removed.

In 1972, the new Republican Constitution drafted by Colvin R. de Silva, failed to incorporate even this weak Section 29. Worse, Article 9 of the new Constitution (which required removing the old constitution’s Article 29) stated:

The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).

No longer is everyone equal. If one is Buddhist, ones religion will be protected and fostered by the state, but not if one is not a Buddhist. The equality between people conferred by the Donoughmore constitution’s concept of one-man, one-vote and explicit in Article 29 of the Soulbury Constitution, had been rolled back.

As a new Constitution is being discussed in 2016, the ruling coalition at the Seventieth Anniversary UNP Rally on 10 Sept. 2016 announced that this pernicious clause will be retained. These are sad times for all of us wanting a secular Sri Lanka.

Identity Politics and Caste: Spoilers in the Egalitarian Order

How did we mess up our system of governance? It was through identity politics that emphasizes differences among people. Doing away with Article 29 and making Buddhism effectively the state religion were means by which politicians tried to outbid each other for votes by offering advantages to one community over others.

Even as we celebrate 85 years of the new Donoughmore era and the egalitarian ethos that it ushered in through the publication of this volume, we have just noted a flaw in our system of constitutional governance without the protection of Article 29 of the Soulbury Constitution and in the special status and protection afforded to Buddhism in the two republican constitutions that followed in 1972 and 1978. In our enthusiasm to celebrate our democratic heritage, in our pride in our making history as one of the first nations to have universal adult franchise, we have a reluctance to recognize the problems that came with the Donoughmore Constitution. We are blind to our weaknesses while outside observers will quickly see through the fictional self-serving arguments about sovereignty to keep out the Privy Council and foster Buddhism.

Democracy and its corollary of universal adult suffrage exacerbated what A.R. Mohammed Imtiyaz and Hoole (2011) call identity politics and the use of ethnic symbols in politics to prey on the candidates’ and voters’ identity to reap exploitative advantages from their communal identity. Giving Buddhism foremost position and protection is a result of this identity politics. Few (other than Sri Lankan Buddhists) would buy the argument that the foremost position given to Buddhism does not create two classes of citizens. This is why having outside points of reference (such as the Privy Council – too late for that now – and the UNHRC, the International Criminal Court under the Rome Statute, the International Court of Justice in the Hague, etc.) will always be salubrious to us as a nation and make for true nation-building.

What then is this identity politics? According to North, Shaw, Grossmann and Lipsitz (2015), five factors influence how voters vote:

1)   Social identity. Social identity – the class background, ethnicity, and/or religion of the voter – affects who voters tend to choose in an election. Parties tend to cater to social groups in order to garner loyalty, and during a campaign are likely to “remind” any aligned social groups that they are the best choice through ads and their basic messages.

2)   Voters’ party identification. Party identification or voters’ psychological attachment to a political party – not just affiliation with a particular political ideology or opinion. Usually, citizens tend to learn party affiliation early in life, from family or social ties, as well as the political context during which a citizen grows up.

3)   The national economy. The state of the national economy is seen as a reflection of incumbent performance, and voters respond accordingly—rewarding incumbents when the country prospers, and punishing either the incumbents or their political party when it is not.

4)   Policy issues. Although these are one of the five factors, policy issues are not as important as the aforementioned three factors, but certain voters will also make choices based on specific policy choices. Candidates accordingly try and adjust their positions on these issues to ones which they believe will gain them the most votes. In most cases, however, issue voters still tend to vote on party lines if they are also affiliated with a party, so policy issues are still of secondary importance.

5)   Candidate Traits: There is conflicting evidence as to whether candidate traits affect voter choice in elections. In general, most campaigns function with the assumption that voters tend to take both physical attributes and personality into consideration when making their decision on whom they vote for in an election. Appearance and personality, however, will only typically matter significantly when party affiliation has already been accounted for, and in smaller elections when other information is not as readily available and distributed.

Thus we see that a focus on policy during an election campaign is not as rewarding in winning as would drawing attention to the social background of a candidate be. While party loyalty is the second-most important factor, voter choice based on party is usually already predetermined in a campaign and there is nothing much to be gained by appealing to party loyalty.

Therefore election campaigns tend to draw attention to a candidate’s social background. An example would be the debate over who should be the next Prime Minister of Sri Lanka when the United People’s Freedom Alliance won a majority at the elections on 2 April 2004. Lakshman Kadirgamar, the very successful Foreign Minister in an earlier government, was widely talked about, but, going by newspaper debates of the time, his ethnicity worked against him and Mahinda Rajapakse was appointed. Where it is not acceptable to attack a person on his ethnicity directly, it is done by proxies. An example is Mark Burns, who has been described by CNN (1 Sept. 2016) as Donald Trump’s most prominent black surrogate. Burns had tweeted a message depicting Trump’s rival Hilary Clinton in a black face and speaking in dialect. The message seemed to be that her appeal came from Blacks and therefore White voters should think carefully before voting for her.

As a result of policy issues being much lower than identity in importance when it comes to voter choice, Sri Lankan Tamil politics has tended to focus on identity issues – Tamil Versus Sinhalese issues – like the government blanketing the North-East with the army, detention of Tamils without charge under the PTA, refugee resettlement and lands occupied by the army. Taking these up is indeed very right. However, what is wrong is the neglect of bread and butter issues like the Northern Province having the lowest performance in examinations and the highest consumption of liquor; and the Districts of Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Mannar being denuded of people and having the lowest population density. President Sirisena has noted that “There are three districts which pay very high amounts of taxes on liquor. Jaffna is the first. Nuwara Elya comes second while Batticaloa ranks the third.” He added that the  people of Nuwara Eliya spend Rs. 16 Billion per year on liquor and tobacco (The Island, 26 June, 2016). It should be of high interest and concern to Tamil representatives but no one seems to care. Ignoring this, however, makes good electoral sense!

In trying to outbid each other for votes, the TNA and its opponents in the TMP (Thamil Makkal Peravai) spend so much energy that they do not have time for the less rewarding exercise of talking of these bread and butter issues. They talk mainly about identity issues which make a real difference in voter choice. To cite two examples, in the examination for the intake of nurses, Mullaitivu, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya performed abysmally with under 10 persons qualifying from some of these districts while many Sinhalese districts had hundreds qualifying from each. Secondly, when the Election Commission conducted a test to select staff, Tamils performed very badly, especially from Mullaitivu. Interestingly in the two-part test on IQ and language skills, the IQ part had Tamil students getting 80, 90 and so on, but in the Tamil language part the same students obtained 15, 20 and so on. This surely is not a plot by the Sinhalese to put down Tamils. When Tamils are the examiners, it may be safely said that there is something seriously wrong in the way we teach the Tamil language.

But who cares, under identity politics? Not the TNA which has been overwhelmingly chosen by the Tamil voters as their representatives; extrapolating from the second most important of the five reasons why voters vote for a candidate as given by North et al. (2015), presumably out of blind loyalty to the House symbol. Not the TMP which wants to replace the TNA as the representatives of the Tamils. Neither is interested because speaking on identity issues is more effective in getting support.

Thus, the Donoughmore constitution brought to us not only equality and the right to representative government, but our mismanagement of our beautiful heritage has also brought to us the many communal ills that have plagued us since, through bidding for votes by raising and playing up identity issues.

The most profitable and effective campaign message for a candidate, therefore, will draw attention to the fact that that the candidate has the same background as the voter. Similarly, the most effective campaign message against a candidate would draw attention to that candidate’s social background being contrary to that of the voter. This is the identity politics spawned by the Donoughmore era.

As elections and election campaigns came to centre stage in our lives determining the direction of our nation, we see many Christian politicians converting to Buddhism to identify with the majority of Sri Lankan voters. This brought to us Sri Lankans the phrase Donoughmore Buddhists to designate Christians who became Buddhists to play identity politics and thereby attract votes.

Accordingly, we see J.R. Jayewardene, the Anglican choirboy at St. Michael’s Church, Polwatte (in Colpetty), being among the earliest to play the Buddhist card openly (Rajan Hoole, 2001). Campaigning in the 1940s against his opponent E.W. Perera for the Kelaniya seat, Jayewardene asked,

As much as I hold E.W. Perera in great esteem, how can this hallowed city of Kelaniya be represented by a Christian?

Both Jayawardene and Perera were Anglican Govigamas[1] but Jayawardene had switched to Buddhism and this scored points over Perera.

Caste and Caste as Practised in Sri Lanka

Caste is as old as Hinduism’s most ancient texts. Although Buddhists also practise caste, we will draw from Hindu-Tamil sources because Hinduism gives us the real ideological and theological basis and justification for caste. In the Purusha story (Rig Veda, Book 10, Hymn XC) the origin of the four caste groups from Purusha, the Cosmic Man (Maha-atman and Brahman) from Proto-Indo-European religion, is mentioned:

From His face (or the mouth) came the Brahmanas (Priests). From His two arms came the Kshatriyas (Warriors). From His two thighs came the Vaishyas (Traders). From His two feet came the Sudras (Labourers).

The much venerated and oft-quoted text, the Gita, has god Krishna telling us that he created these four caste groups according to our qualities and activities (van Buitenan, 1981). So persons of the lower castes are also created with unclean habits and bad morals. The lower caste are therefore ritually polluting and are invariably associated with human and animal bodily excretions including hair and dirty clothes.

However, caste is peculiar in Sri Lanka. The four-fold Varna Caste System is the foundation of caste everywhere but we in Sri Lanka have only the bottom stratum of Sudras. We are all by definition, really low caste Sudras but in denial. When some of us call ourselves high caste, we really mean we are at the top-end of the many subcastes that make up the low caste Sudra group.

Under Hindu law Sri Lanka is an island where the lowest caste Sudras dominate because so called good caste people were prohibited from crossing the ocean (Rawlinson, 1975) and therefore from coming to Sri Lanka. As a result early last century it was found that not many Indians sympathised with the struggles of fellow Indians in South Africa because “many Hindus have no sympathy with the man who sacrifices his caste by crossing the kala pani (black water) and settling in the land of the Mlechchas” (Archer, 1918).

Since those above Sudras could not come to Sri Lanka while maintaining their purity, the Vellalas in Sri Lanka will argue that the four-fold Varna system does not apply to us. This is the means of arguing that we are not low. So Sri Lanka, except for about 2000 Brahmins who are here to service temples, besides outcastes and statistically insignificant members of the other two top three castes, has only Sudras – the lowest group of whom the agricultural castes (Govigama among the Sinhalese and Vellalas among Tamils) are at the peak. To date no major Sri Lankan party has willingly nominated a non-farmer as its prime ministerial or presidential candidate. (The exception is the early 1990s when death threats and rigging were widespread in a time of insurrection and an outcaste became President). This is because everyone knows (but will not admit) that it is difficult for a non-Govigama to contest and win.

Broadly speaking, writing from the Tamil-Hindu situation which underpins all caste structures in Sri Lanka, among these low-caste Vellala Sudras are Upper Stratum Vellalas (Uyarthara Vellalas) who are farmers and Second Class Vellalas (Irandaamthara Vellalas) like Kovias (household servants) and Nattuvar (musicians). Among the lowest stratum of Sudras are the polluting Panchamar – Paraiyar (sanitation workers), Pallar (agricultural labourers), Nalavar (toddy-tappers), Ambatter (barbers) and Vannaar (washermen). The fishing caste Karaiyas (sea-shore dwellers) are in an odd position. The Vellalas do not accept them because they trade in the killing of fish; but as fishermen they have a livelihood independent of Vellalas and stand next to Vellalas at public functions. The Sinhalese do not accept them (called Karawas in Sinhalese) as Govigama, as judged by candidatures at elections denied to them.

The Vellalas dominate intellectual life. They control what is taught in school texts. That dominance is complete. For example, Avvaiyaar the poetess has taught that only those who till the ground and live are those who truly live. This is taken to refer to farmers but the reality is that it is the Pallar who really till the ground and live. The Vellalas simply hire the Pallar and sit back. Because Vellalas teach and write books in Sri Lanka, their version is swallowed whole by everyone without a second thought and even Panchamar children repeat Avvaiyaar in classrooms in the rote system of teaching practised. The Vellala dominance of Tamil society is complete. To show that the Vellala establishment can make black into white and have everyone believe it, we will take up some examples to show what those not in that establishment face.

The grade Six Tamil language text says that Rao Bahadur C.W. Thamotharampillai, an ancestor of this writer’s, was born a Hindu and pretended to be a Christian for benefits whereas the reality is that according to America Ceylon Mission records (ACM, 1839) he was born on 30 Aug. 1832 to a Tamil Assistant Priest Cyrus Kingsbury and his wife Mary Dayton (Vayiravi and Periyai before their own baptism)[2] and baptized as an infant on 24 Feb. 1833. Since the Vellala Hindu establishment has usurped Thamotharampillai their own, they want to elevate him further. Today short names like Thamotharampillai’s parents’ prior to their baptism, indicate low caste status but not in the old days. So the Isurupaya textbooks have changed these names to Wairavanathar and Perunthevi! This is what school children are taught. The dates and names cited are from books in this author’s possession (ACM, 1839) and this information has been published but that has not stopped the Vellala writers at Isurupaya from cooking up these stories for our school children.

Other school texts say that the unlettered Arumuga Navalar (who knew neither Hebrew nor Greek) translated the Bible into Tamil whereas the Bible had already been translated into Tamil in India and The Rev. Peter Percival and a team of missionaries working with several native assistants merely revised that translation to come up with the Jaffna Version of the Tamil Bible which on the cover page says it was translated from the original languages (JABS, 1868). To boot, Navalar who was Percival’s Man-Friday, quarreled bitterly and split with Percival taking away over half the students at Jaffna Central College when Percival admitted Gabriel Jerony, a 15 year old boy of the Nalavar caste (The Morning Star, 25.11.1847) and was sacked according to Zvelebil (1997).[3] In his hatred for Sudras below him, he derided those who took coffee at the missionary’s house (because the cook there was a Paraiya) – Navalar’s taunt was for “drinking the Kusinip Paraiyan’s Koepi.” Yet he is foisted on us as a national hero without whom there would be no Tamil Bible. This is how Vellalas control Tamil intellectual life.

Similarly Ponnambalam Ramanathan is sustained as another national hero despite fighting hard for the denial of schooling and the franchise for lower castes; indeed his sympathetic biographer Vythilingam (1971) states that Ramanathan and his brother Coomaraswamy were “removed” [read sacked] from Presidency College because of “youthful excesses” and spending time on body-building rather than studies. This writer’s family sources tell of Rao Bahadur C.W. Thamotharampillai’s embarrassment as their guardian in Madras over dismissal for examinations offences. His is education thereafter was as an apprentice to become a lawyer. There is also evidence that the governor favored appointing Ramanathan to Britto despite the great public support that Britto had, because the Ponnambalam family had bought its way into power improperly lending money to British Governors and Colonial Secretaries (for which they were sent back to the UK in punishment (Jayawardena, 2002, p. 219). While his Tamil wife was alive, he had begun going by train in private compartments with his White companion whom he married after his wife mysteriously fell in their well and perished.

On the other hand, while a fraudster and examination cheat who held back the education of the lower-castes is made a national hero, Joel Paul, a real hero, no one has heard of because of Vellala power in making history. Paul was a depressed caste school teacher who did not get to practice his profession, according to his daughter Dr. Daisy Paul Dharmaraj. He took to work as a building contractor (winning the Jaffna Town Hall contract among his many successes), became very wealthy and worked for universal suffrage encompassing the low caste. He founded the organization, Sangam for Workers Suffering Social Disabilities (Nalinthore Ooliar Sangam) in 1917. Having no confidence in the Jaffna Tamil establishment, they appealed not to Tamils but to the British and Lord Donoughmore, and the Sinhalese. This was a fatal mistake that identified him, together with Mr. M.C. Subramaniam (nominated MP in the 1970- parliament) as traitors in the dominant Tamil Vellala mindset. This label of traitor (thurohi) is freely stated in many conversations and newspaper articles (Jeyaraj, 2015)

Panchamar: Dispossessed

Seeniar Gunasingam (formally Gunanayaham), President of the All Ceylon Tamil Minorities Sabai in an interview for this article says the Farmer-Vellala control of institutions and histories is complete. He says he arranged with the current President Maithripala Sirisena when he was Minister of Health in 2010 to have a Jaffna hospital administrative committee with many Panchamar including a Nalavar-caste Vice Chairman; and as soon as the Minister looked the other way, they were replaced in a short while by Vellalas. He points to 200 cemeteries in Jaffna where his people have encroached and live in unhygienic conditions and are facing eviction issues from Vellala officials; whereas the Punnalaikattuwan Villoondi Maayaanam (Cemetery) which till recently had 40 lachams of land, has been encroached upon by Vellalas and reduced to 8 lachams with the collaboration of Vellala government officials.

Gunasingam is viewed as a traitor by the Tamil establishment because, like Joel Paul, he works with southern officials and political parties rather than Tamil leaders in whom he has no faith. People like Gunasingam have much to offer society. For example, the Vellala girl Velayuthapiilai Rajini was raped and murdered on 30.09.1996. The suspects were 4 soldiers and 2 policemen at a checkpoint near Gunasingam’s home in Urumpirai. Gunasingam was the only eyewitness. But at the trial in the Colombo High Court, he was threatened with death if he testified. He went into hiding. It was during the ceasefire in 2003 that he testified, having been brought to Colombo under detention. Convictions with sentences of life imprisonment were obtained for three soldiers with Gunasingam as principal witness and corroborated by the two policemen and the fourth soldier who turned state witnesses (Thinakkural, 8 and 10 May 2007).

Seeniar described for this article the lot of a Pallar Jaffna hospital doctor who skipped his convocation. His biochemistry professor, having discovered his caste, asked him what his parents did for a living. He had truthfully answered “growing grapes.” The professor in turn responded in pretended innocence, “But I thought you were in the arrack brewing business.” The doctor did not want to be at that convocation with that professor playing a key role.

The lower castes, despite having much to offer, live in the shadows of Tamil society.

Caste: The Basis of Identity

As Rajan Hoole (2001) points out, In South Asia in general the principal mark of identity is caste. Right before our eyes, Tamils become Sinhalese (especially along the Sinhalese area coastlines) and Sinhalese became Tamils some years ago, although there is no incentive now for anyone to do so. Christians become Hindus and Buddhists. But Caste stays immutable. Language and religion are transmutable. Thus, in the words of Rajan Hoole (2001),

when the Kandyan kingdom in the 18th century was in need of a Kshatriya prince to fill the throne, a Hindu Tamil-speaking Nayakkar from South India was made king and the protector of Buddhism.

He was fully accepted; his line’s later unpopularity was due not to their being Tamil but to their cruelty as Kings. Their royal (Kshatriya) caste is what made them meet requirements. It did not matter that they were both Hindu and Tamil. Their religion and language were matters of little consequence. What mattered was their royal-caste pedigree that entitled them to rule.

We thus have the birth of identity politics in Sri Lanka. Rajan Hoole (2001) writes further,

The introduction of universal adult franchise with the Donoughmore reforms of 1931 found several members of the Sinhalese ruling class changing their religious allegiance from Christianity to Buddhism.

The derisive term, “Donoughmore Buddhist” shows the effect of the Donoughmore Constitution in bringing us to the era of identity politics, identity being based not on religion or language, but on caste. Among the Donoughmore Buddhists were Bandaranaike and Jayewardene who had been Anglicans as already noted. Their religion had transmuted, but their caste remained immutable – in their case, Govigama.

Among Tamils too, many changed their western surnames. But that change cannot be so easily tied up to democratic politics or the Donoughmore Constitution. The main reversion to Hinduism came with the freedom of religion that the British ushered into our lives through the East India Company Act 1813, also known as the Charter Act of 1813. This opened the door to Christian missionary activity which had been prohibited by the East India Company thinking that conversions are inimical to their trade. The large scale conversion to Christianity under the Dutch had been because of rules that precluded employment under the Dutch unless one was Christian and recognition only of those marriages solemnized in the Dutch Reformed Church. This meant that the right of inheritance of parental property could be exercised only when the marriage of ones parents was in Church. With the arrival of the British and especially the Act of 1813 those who had converted for privileges and were not sincere in their Christian faith, reverted to their ancestral religions.

The most notable pre-Donoughmore reversions to Hinduism were by those of the Ramanathan family and Arumuga Navalar[4]. It is recorded in the biography of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan (Vythilingam, Vol. 1, 1971) that Ramanathan’s mother’s, mother’s, father, Vairavanatha Mudaliyar, was the Governor of the Vanni District under the Dutch. Combine this with the fact that the Dutch made, “assent to the Helvetic confession of faith necessary to the holding of any office of profit or trust under the government” (Howland, 1865; p. 7).[5] To have held such high office, besides baptism into the Christian faith by this Vanni Governor Vairavanatha Mudaliyar, a European bloodstream in his and his descendants’ veins is most likely although caste consciousness would lead to a stout denial of that possibility by family members. Similarly, Arumuga Navalar’s father served as an Aratchi under the Dutch as noted by Sivathamby (1979).

As for post-Donoughmore conversions to Hinduism by Christian politicians, there were few unlike among the Sinhalese to Buddhism, although dropping western names has been common without changing religion. The most notable of the latter was that of Mr. Naganathan Hensman, the Secretary of the Federal Party who, dropping the illustrious surname Hensman, became E.M.V. Naganathan of royal descent from Changili-thoppu. He was the direct descendant of The Rev. John Hensman who was the first Tamil from Jaffna to be ordained an Anglican Minister in 1865 at St. James’ Church Nallur which in its early form, according to Rev. Fr. Jeyaceelan of the Jaffna Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, was built as a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary by the newly converted Queen of King Changili on the site of the royal temple of Jaffna which had been razed by the Portuguese.[6]

The late Kumar Ponnabalam and his son Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam are rare Hindu politicians from the Christian line of Cloughs who may be called Donoughmore Hindus. Many western names carried by Tamils, besides Clough, such as Porter, Volk, Stetson, Adams, Champlain etc. have disappeared; some like Hemphil and Kingsbury because of the end of the male line rather than to reversion to Hinduism. However, unlike among the Sinhalese, rarely have Donoughmore Hindus retained their western-Christian names. There are some rare exceptions, however, such as the Brodies and Joshuas who reverted to Hinduism without giving up their baptismal western surnames. Among Sinhalese, the practice of retaining their baptismal western names adopted at conversion to Christianity (like Silva, de Silva, De Silva, Zilva, Fernando, Fonseka, Soysa, Mendis, Pedris, Perera, Pereira, Peiris, etc.) even after reversion to Buddhism is probably because these names had merged with their immutable caste identity and changing would separate them from their family and that identity.

Living a Lie

All of us Sri Lankans live a lie as far as caste is concerned. Thriving in our democratic environment, we dare not let on that we really are casteists. Thus while we practise caste to different degrees, the fact is that we are all very inveterately rooted in caste. Even the most liberal of us will not like his child marrying lower down in the caste structure because it is to invite social disabilities for the grandchildren and even the entire family. So it is rarely that we see glimpses of caste observation in the public sphere because by admitting to our caste prejudices and practices we take off our mask of modernity to let others see our real primitive make-up. Accordingly, we construct a pretended, lily-white, caste-free world where we vigorously deny that we observe caste even as we observe all tenets of the pernicious system – often saying as part of this pretence, “my best friend is low-caste.”[7]

On the Tamil side, many of us pretending not to have caste prejudices would put down the EPRLF (Eelam People’s Liberation Front) saying EPRLF stands for Eelaththu Pallar Liberation Front. It was a broad put-down by Federal Party supporters claiming that all EPRLF supporters are of the Pallar (farm worker) caste.[8]

On the Sinhalese side we see the publicly cosmopolitan, sophisticated Trinitian with a Cambridge degree and Kandyan pedigree, Gamini Dissanayake – the son of, note the first name, Andrew Dissanayake, a new MP and Deputy Minister under S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1956 – admitting to his prejudices in a private conversation to a visitor from England in 1983:

Earlier, in dealing with the Left, one could have talked to a good Govigama like Dr. N.M. Perera or to a good Dutch Burgher like Pieter Keuneman. But now, the leadership of the Left has gone to the scum! (Rajan Hoole, 2001)

By then, the remaining left leaders of prominence were Colvin R. de Silva and Bernard Soysa. Similarly when this writer was appointed Vice Chancellor of University of Jaffna the appointment of a Christian was anathema to many Hindus and even the modern training of the editors of a western, UK/Canada-based English-language newspaper called Oru Paper and strictly enforced hate crime laws in the UK, could not help them suppress their darker side when they wrote in their editorial:

“[T]here are a few Christians who are unable to reconcile their minds to the fact that they had deserted the religion of their forefathers. This grievance they carry against the whole community. The Hoole brothers, Lakshman Kadirgamar [Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister murdered by the LTTE] and D.B.S. Jeyaraj of Canada [a well-respected journalist] belong to this category. As for Ratnajeevan Hoole as Vice-Chancellor of Jaffna University, this much has to be said. He should not be allowed to roam free in Jaffna’s Tamil Hindu society, particularly in the university campus where there is even a Saiva temple.” [Emphasis as in the original] (Oru Paper, Issue 44, April 7, 2006, London]

Although the ostensible objection against this writer and E.W. Perera is explicitly to their religion, the real reason is caste based on their religious ideas of pollution because it is widely taught and believed that the bodies of those who are Christians and Mohammadans, by their very composition release “bad smelling particles” that are polluting (Griffith, Griffith and Tice, 1892). It is not clear however whether Jayawardene’s reversion to Buddhism would have stopped his body from releasing bad smelling particles. In this writer’s case too, since all Tamils in Jaffna were Christian in the Dutch period – see figures by K.M. de Silva (1981) – the objection, it would seem, was to someone who remained Christian and whose body presumably emitted bad polluting particles and would pollute University of Jaffna and its temple. Concern for pollution by the presence of Christians on the university campus is explicitly admitted in the Oru Paper editorial quoted above.

That caste and pollution are the dominant themes in our lives is also clear when evidence was recorded before the Hindu Temporalities Commission in 1951. As the low-caste elder (Mupanar) stated before the Commission:

The [Karaiyahs] are very brave, but as fishers they are still ‘killers’ and are not entitled to high status! (Perinbanayagam, 1982)

Even the untouchables claimed that since they are ‘clean’, and mainly ‘vegetarian’ they should be allowed inside the temples, whereas the Vannar (washermen) and Karayar (fishermen) should not be because they respectively, wash unclean clothes and kill. Posed the spokesman for the untouchables poignantly to the Commission:

Where is the logic of the Agamas in allowing Dhobies [washermen] and fishermen to enter temples and keeping us out?

That religion is far less relevant by the side of the ethnic identity is also seen in the 1983 riots where Stirrat (1984) records that the Sinhalese identity was so strong as to overpower the religious identity of Sinhalese Roman Catholics when they attacked Tamil Roman Catholics.

Caste is Real and Ancient

A part of this living lie in denying our regular caste observations is to claim that Tamils never had caste and had a very pure egalitarian society until the Brahmins came along and polluted us. Thus, we have Dr. V.S. Rajam (The Hindu 30 May, 2015; Rajam, 2015) telling us

I could not find casteism and untouchability in Sangam literature [the oldest known literature in Tamil], but found them only in the commentaries on Silapathikaram [from the post-Sangam Epic Period of Tamil literature, 3rd to fifth century AD].

Rajam is mistaken. Indeed her claims are old and not newsworthy for The Hindu to carry her claim. For example T.R. Sesha Iyengar (2004) also says “there is no reference to the term ‘Sudra’ in the whole of the Tolkappiyam.” He adds rather audaciously that the idea that

“mankind is divided into four varnas or groups of caste, such as Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra, was wholly foreign to the Southern Dravidians. Caste was non-existent.”

It is fashionable to do social engineering and historical re-engineering by making nonhistorical claims as a means of fostering ideals – in this case the ideal that caste was unknown to Tamils until introduced by Brahmins and Europeans. Worse there is a hint that caste was created by missionaries when Rajam’s publisher Ravikumar claims that those who argue otherwise are driven by the politics of deep-seated hatred, and that they cite research work of foreigners, particularly George L. Hart’s (The Hindu, 30 May, 2015).

However, George Hart is an eminent, widely respected Tamil scholar and Emeritus Professor of South and Southeast Asian studies at University of California Berkeley. He is known well to this writer. His services to the Tamil language are immense in that he was instrumental in initiating and leading the successful campaign to endow a permanent Chair in Tamil at Berkeley following his retirement. If not for him, the study of Tamil would have disappeared from Berkeley.

Dr. Rajam argues further that Fr. Henrique Henriquez, SJ, the 16th century Jesuit missionary to South India and North Ceylon, was the first to use the word casta, which later became caste in English. However, inventing a word to describe caste in a foreign language, indeed is not to invent caste itself as implied.

What then is the truth? The answer lies in the Tolkappiyam, the oldest work of Tamil literature available to us that Rao Bahadur C.W. Thamotharampillai (Hoole, 1997) is credited with ferreting out in pieces from here and there and publishing with a commentary:

  • The author of Tolkappiyam, Trinadhumagni (a.k.a. Tolkappiyar, a name adopted for the Tamil country), was the son of the Brahmin sage, Jamadagni, according to the Tolkappiyam’s prefatory verse. The Indologist, the late Kamil Zvelebil (1973), tells us in his masterpiece, The Smile of Murugan, that Jamadagni was a Rsi mentioned in the Rgveda, in the Ramayanam and the Mahabharatam. Zvelebil aso gives reasons why Tolkappiyar was a Jain; which makes him doubly Sankritized. When caste is evident in the Tolkappiyan how can we say there was no caste in the Sangam age?
  • The Tolkappiyam depicts the four-fold varna order. However, instead of the North Indian Brahmin-Kshatriya-Vaisya-Sudra division, it gives a Tamilized version of these four broad castes: Andanar (priests), Arasar (kings), Vaisyar (traders) and Vellalar. This also contradicts Dr. Rajam’s claim that there was no caste in Sangam times. That is because Vellalar have taken the place of the Sudras in Tamil usage. It explains why Sesha Iyengar ( cit.) could not find the word Sudra in the Tolkappiyam. In fact, the term Vellalar often takes the broader meaning of Sudra as in the Tolkappiyam in South India where even those like Muththuvel Karunanithy, although not agriculturists, are known as Vellalar. Modern scholarship reaffirms the Andanar, Arasar, Vaisyar-Vellalar adaptation of Varna by Tolkappiyar’s time (Tulajappa, 2014).
  • Tolkappiyam shows caste stratification when it speaks of the high born (uyarnthor) and the low born (ili-pirappalar) (Agnihotri, 2010)
  • In Porulathikaaram Sutra 75, Tolkappiyar lays down the customary occupations of the Brahmins which are exactly “the same ones to which Brahmins of later ages have devoted themselves,” keeping the Dharma, learning, teaching, sacrificing and conducting sacrifices, receiving and making gifts. Confirming these very same occupations of Brahmins, in one of the earliest Sangam works, Padirruppattu (Poem 24, II, 6 to 8), the Brahmin author Gautama tells us of a king “as following the path of the Andanar (Brahmans),” keeping the Dharma, learning, teaching, sacrificing and conducting sacrifices, receiving and making gifts. Gautama himself celebrated ten Vedic sacrifices and at the end of the tenth a Brahmin and his wife became invisible and went to heaven. Another Brahmin author in the same anthology, Kapilar, refers to a monarch “not knowing obedience except to Brahmanas.”

There is little doubt that caste among Tamils is as old as the earliest written records of Tamils. Among Sinhalese, the growth of Buddhism was as a result of the Buddha rejecting caste, and yet the Sinhalese hold on to caste as fastidiously as do Tamils when their publicly announced religion is firmly opposed to caste. Delimitation Committee members tell us that most of the numerous complaints they have received have to do with gerrymandering based on caste. It is reliably known that one of the major parties, when interviewing persons who have requested party nomination to stand as a candidate, asks what their caste is. We must therefore conclude that the Sinhalese are still adherents of their ancient pre-Buddhist religion, Hinduism, whether as descendants of indigenous Nagas or Kuveni or Ravana, or South Indian immigrants or the obviously Saiva King Mootha Siva (the father of the first Buddhist king in Ceylon) or of Vijaya the Hindu Prince from India.

Tackling the Detraction from the Donoughmore-Soulbury Heritage

We see that the firm adherence to caste and its dictates in identity politics takes away from our democratic heritage, while caste itself is not only a fiction but abhorrent to modern values and Buddhism’s tenets.

However much we may dissemble otherwise, caste is a fact of life. It is not going to go away and we must learn to deal with it in line with our laws, doing whatever we can. The Mission Statement developed by the Election Commission for its Participatory Strategic Plan, is to:

Raise critical consciousness among all stakeholders, ensuring the protection of people’s rights and conduct free, fair and credible elections efficiently and effectively that safeguards the people’s sovereignty and universal franchise based on democratic principles.

Going by feelings in Jaffna (which may be expected to apply to other parts of Sri Lanka as well), the part about credible elections is still not applicable to the lower castes as they do not believe the results. They simply have no confidence in results from elections conducted by Vellalas.

For example, it is estimated at seminars on caste that 90% of the Diaspora Tamils are Vellalas and 50% in Sri Lanka. Indeed with the exception of foremost schools like St. John’s, Hartley, Hindu, Chundikuli, Hindu Ladies and Vembadi in Jaffna, most rural schools are almost entirely servicing the low castes as rural Vellalas travel far from their villages to be in these big schools. The Panchamar therefore feel there is intrigue against them.

Indeed there often is intrigue against the Panchamar as their schools are shut as the Vellalas move to the big schools. N. Thamilalahan (All Ceylon People’s Maha Sabai), says Chaiva virulence is unshakeable. The 38-member Northern Provincial Council has only 2 Panchamar, both Pallar, and perhaps a third closet Panchamar. All Tamil MPs are high-caste. Additional GA Mullaitivu (an Ilavalai Pallan) has been denied a Government Agent (GA) post while 5 of his same seniority are already GAs. Of the 15 AGA divisions, only Changanai got a low-caste AGA (and that too only recently). Two new female Paraiya teachers posted to Chunnakam Nageswary Vidyalayam were rejected by the principal and reposted. An Ambattan-caste (Barber girl) in Nelliady who was elected by her fellow students as head prefect had the teachers objecting, and obtained justice only by going to the Human Rights Commission. Nearly all IDPs in camps for 25 years are Panchamar while the others have been looked after. (It is noteworthy that almost all those executed at lamposts, according to Gunasingam, were Panchamar used for shooting practice while many Vellalas justified the executions as those of criminal elements. In the last days of the war in 2009, Gunasingam worked with international agencies to appeal to V. Pirapaharan to let the refugees go, but none of the Diaspora or major party leaders except of the EPDP, were willing to lend their voices to this appeal.)

In these circumstances, there is no confidence among the Panchamar in the operative system of governance. In their minds, election results are not credible. Seeniar Gunasingam who was an LSSP-UPFA candidate in the last parliamentary elections in 2015 lost and his results were never posted. Election officials state that they informed the three winning parties (TNA, UNP and EPDP) of how they fared and if Gunasingam had asked, he too would have been informed. Similarly, in counting, he said instead of counting ballots box by box, three boxes were emptied as three piles of ballot papers and counting went on by three different groups. He says he was able to observe only one of the three counting efforts and anything could have happened in the other two. Election officials when queried say that if they had counted box by box, the release of results would have taken two more days and if Gunasingam had objected they would have counted box by box even if it took forever. Nadarajah Thamilalahan referred to earlier, was a Pallar-caste LSSP-er and UPFA candidate in the last NP Provincial Council Elections. It is alleged he had his losing votes displayed under the unknown name Tharmakulasingam. He does not know why but thinks there was some hanky-panky. These show absolute lack of communication leading to loss of trust.

When asked why the Panchamar never contest under Tamil parties in the TNA where they will not be seen as agents of the Sinhalese, they say they meet with hostility and are never given nominations. They even blame the much venerated S.J.V. Chelvanayagam saying he was silent on the 1968 Temple Entry crisis at the Maviddapuram Temple (despite the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act (No. 21 of 1957)) as well as on the Changanai Funeral at that time when those in the procession and outsiders fired on each other over a caste dispute, leading to killings (When Sinhalese leaders queried Mr. A. Amirthalingam in parliament, he deflected the issue, joking that it is a minor Vietnam). They add that when they take shelter even in a left party, they are cheated because, even leftists, so long as they are Vellalas, have a Vellala mindset. As examples they cite two instances. First, in a recent Jaffna mayoral election, it was agreed within a party that the one with the highest preference vote would be the Mayor. When that turned out to be a Panchamar, a Vellala woman who did not do so well was made mayor citing the alleged fact that the person who came No. 1 was not quite literate. And, secondly, in the Northern Provincial Council elections, the Panchamar worked hard and got Kandasamy Kamalendran of the Nalava caste elected with the large Panchamar vote bank. He became the Leader of the Opposition in the NP Provincial Assembly, but then got arrested for involvement with a Vellala mistress named Anita and the murder of her Panchamar husband[9]. The community expected another Panchamar to be Kamalendran’s replacement because of the efforts they had put into the election, but it turned out to be a Vellala when most votes (if not nearly all votes) for their party were from Panchamar. The phrase used by Vellalas on the Panchamar, “He has shown his low-caste thinking,” was now been turned on the Vellala leader. Telling him that he had shown his Vellala thinking, some Panchamar like Gunasingam moved away to the SLFP/UPFA.

This writer’s inquiries reveal no irregularity in the conduct of elections by officials. But the lack of good will and the resulting lack of full communication between castes is leading to suspicions and the erosion of the ideal of “trusted”, “credible” election results. That is a great pity.


We therefore see that despite the many advantages we have reaped from the Donoughmore Constitution and the Soulbury Constitution that followed, identity politics and our faith in the caste system which is a form of racism, have taken away from our proud heritage. The foremost place being given to any religion makes us citizens unequal. The caste system will never go away so long it is a means for us to say we are better than others are. At best, we can weaken caste’s hold on us by pointing out that it is an intellectual hoax.

These limitations mean doing the best we can and working with the system. We need to infuse confidence in the electoral system among the dispossessed oppressed castes. This means communicating with them rather than treating them as traitors just because they do not jump on to the high caste bandwagon of nationalism. The major political parties must deliberately focus on policy issues rather than identity issues and make the effort to include Panchamar in their candidate lists and then be fair to them. Indeed, the big parties must use the ongoing constitution-making exercise to render our state truly secular. It is that kind of commitment to equality that can at the same time make the oppressed castes buy into the idea of nation-building.

The Election Commission has begun discussions with political parties to move away from identity politics. In drafting a code of ethics for parties, the idea of leaving out terms of ethnic appeal from the names of political parties has been mooted. Such example words would be Tamil, Muslim, Eelam, Hela, Sihala etc.

It is not clear to this writer, however, that such a course of action is progressive. Minority parties are often formed to protect minority rights and these words indicate why they exist and what they stand for. Can we then fairly ban these words from party titles? Especially when major parties without these ethnic appellations are essentially advancing communally charged one-sided policy positions like fostering one religion and giving it foremost place as when, at the Seventieth Convention of the UNP, both the President and Prime Minister jointly espoused and endorsed that communalist position of elevating all Buddhists as favoured citizens above all others? How does it make sense to prevent minorities from rallying people to fight for their threatened status using party names indicating what they stand for? Forcing minority parties to give up nomenclature identifying their raison d’être becomes a way of silencing minorities while the major parties claiming to be national in character systematically assert their majoritarianism.

Our new human rights based Donoughmore culture is taking hold, albeit weakly and slowly (with Sri Lanka going through accession and ratification of key international UNHRC Conventions with fanfare but not incorporation into domestic law[10]). In franchise matters, disfranchised estate Tamils have been given citizenship and many obstacles to equality are crumbling as efforts are taken for women’s representation, against discrimination, and for the disabled in terms of wheel chair access to polling stations and ballots in Braille.

However, few are yet speaking of equality for the oppressed castes and between adherents of different religions. These remain some of the last, ethnically charged frontiers as we advance against these obstacles to a New World bringing home the equality of all citizens implied and held out as a promise in the Donoughmore Constitution.

In closing, the author thanks Marshal Fernando (Editor, Gleanings, by the Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue, for permission to adapt this article).


ACM, Fifth Triennial Report of the American Ceylon Mission, Press of the American Mission, Jaffna, 1839.

V.K. Agnihotri, IAS (Ed.), Civil Services Examination: Indian History, 26th Edition, Allied Publishers, New Delhi, 2010, p. A-355

William Archer, India and the Future, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1918; p. 108.

C. A. Chandraprema, “BASL’s attempt to undermine the Supreme Court and Parliament,” The Island, 14 Sept. 2016.

K.M. de Silva, A History of Sri Lanka, Oxford, 1981

R.T.H. Griffith, T.B. Griffith and P. Tice, The Vedas: with Illustrative Extracts, Christian Literature Society, Madras, 1892.

Rajan Hoole, The Arrogance of Power: Myths, Decadence and Murder, University Teachers for Human Rights, Colombo 2001.

S.R.H. Hoole, C. W. Thamotharampillai, Tamil Revivalist: The Man Behind the Legend of Tamil Nationalism, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, 1997.

Rev. William W. Howland, Historical Sketch of the Ceylon Mission, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions1, 865.

A.R.M. Imtiyaz and S.R.H. Hoole, “Some Critical Notes on the Muslims of Sri Lanka’s Non-Tamil Identity and Tamil-Muslim Relations”, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. 34:2, 208-231, July 2011.

ISPCK, The Constitution, Canons and Rules of the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon, 1960. Reprinted by the Diocese of Colombo, Colombo, 1997.

T.R. Sesha Iyengar (1887-1939), Dravidian India (reprinted by Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, 2004.

JABS, A Brief Narrative of the Operations of the Jaffna Auxiliary Bible Society – 1835 to 1870 in the Preparation of the Tamil Scriptures, Strong & Asbury Printers, Jaffna, 1868.

Kumari Jayawardena, Nobodies to Somebodies: The Rise of the Colonial Bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka, Zed Books, London, 2002, p. 219.

D.B.S. Jeyaraj, “Recurring Phenomenon of ‘Traitorization’ in Tamil Nationalist Politics,” Daily Mirror, 13 March 2015.

W.W. North, Daron Shaw, Matt Grossmann and Keena Lipsitz, Campaigns and Elections, 2nd edn, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, NY, 2015.

R.S. Perinbanayagam, The Karmic Theater: Self, Society, and Astrology in Jaffna, The University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1982.

Poolohasingam, Eelam Thantha Naavalar (Eelam Thantha Navalar), Kaanthalaham, Chennai, 1993.

V.S. Rajam, Sangap Padalgalil Saadhi, Theendamai, inna pira… (Caste, untouchability, etc., in Sangam poetry), Manarkeni, Chennai, 2015.

G. .Rawlinson, “Early Contacts between India and Europe,” Chapter XXX, p. 435 in Basham, A. L., (Ed.), A Cultural History of India, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1975.

Jagadevappa Tulajappa, [The] Caste System in Ancient South India, Chapter 4, Doctoral Thesis, Gulbarga University, India, 2014.

Rig Veda, Book 10, Hymn XC. Purusha. Hymn of the Cosmic Man (Trans. by Ralph T.H. Griffith, 1896), sacred-texts.com.

Sivathamby, “Hindu Reaction to Christian Proselytization and Westernization in 19th Century Sri Lanka,” Social Science Review (Colombo), Vol. I(1), pp.41-75, 1979, p. 61.

L. Stirrat, “The Riots and the Roman Catholic Church in Perspective,” in James Manor (Ed.), Sri Lanka in Change and Crisis, Chapter 11, pp. 196-212, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1984.

J.A.B. van Buitenen (Translator and Editor), The Bhagavadgita in the Mahabharata, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1981.

Vythilingam, The Life of Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Ramanathan Commemoration Society, Colombo, 1971.

Kamil Zvelebil, The Smile of Murugan, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1973

Kamil Zvelebil, Companion studies to the history of Tamil literature, E.J. Brill, Leiden 1997, p. 155

[1] As nationalism dominates narratives in Sri Lanka, some Sinhalese Buddhists now say that Jayawardene was a Buddhist by virtue of his mother having been a Buddhist and that it is not correct to speak of his conversion to Buddhism. Party loyalties give some support to this twist of history because his rival Bandaranaike’s undeniable roots in Anglicanism prior to his conversion to Buddhism are firmly established. This view of Jayawardene’s Buddhism is misleading. First, older Anglicans from St. Michael’s Polwatte recall Jayawardene having been a regular choirboy there. Further, even if his mother had been a Buddhist, the rules of the Church were so strict at the time that his father’s marriage to his mother would never have been solemnized without her being baptized first and would have invited excommunication even if he had contracted a civil marriage. See ISPCK (1960), Chapter 26 on Marriage Canons 2-8 for the discipline to be imposed by the Church for marrying outside the faith.

[2] This writer’s great-great-great grand parents

[3] Kamil Zvelebil, Companion studies to the history of Tamil literature, (Leiden: E.J. Brill 1997): p. 155.

[4] Two responsible, western trained Tamil Hindu scholars, K. Sivathamby, PhD Birmingham and P. Poolohasingham, D.Phil. Oxon, are very skeptical of the official narrative denying that Navalar was ever a Christian. Prof. Sivathamby (1979) tells us that, “Navalar came from a family which can safely be described as having responded successfully to the changing employment patterns of the higher caste” and goes on to say that Navalar’s father was an Aratchy at the Kachcheri under the Dutch, who had picked up Portuguese, Dutch and English, and his brothers included two Notaries, an Udayar and an Aratchy, all serving loyally in the colonial service. Poolohasingam (1993) explicitly states that Navalar was indeed a Christian before breaking with Percival over caste. He quotes Veerasamy Mudaliyar as stating that Navalar lived as a Christian and gives Navalar’s pre-Savite Christian name as Pairaat[4] and tells us how Navalar, while living as a Christian, was sent from Jaffna by Christian missionaries to Chennai to observe and learn how the Christian missions there converted Hindus to Christianity. The fact that Navalar went to The Wesleyan Methodist Seminary, a centralized establishment where the best were being trained to be Christian ministers, is also suggestive of his Christian roots.

[5]  The Missionary Intelligencer records that, “the Dutch, when they possessed the island, forced the inhabitants to forsake idolatry, built churches in every district, and compelled them to attend and receive the rite of baptism, without which no native possessed a title to land or could obtain Government employment (p. 373, Section: Jaffna Mission, 1869).

[6]  In a talk delivered at St. James’ Church Nallur in July 2011 and based on historical documents in his Roman Church archives.

[7]  At the risk of being called sexist, the observation is made that women are more likely to let on to their caste observations. When this writer asked for the use of a neighbour’s gardener for a day, the explicit instruction from the woman of the house was this: “You have to pay him Rs. 1000 for the day, no lunch, but tea at 11:00 and 3:00 for which you must buy a disposable day cup at the supermarket and not use your cups.”

[8] The party had a broader appeal and included Dayan Jayatilleka as a Minister in the North-East Provincial Government.

[9] Although many reports such as that by D.B.S. Jeyaraj accused Kamalendran also of sexually harassing Anita’s young daughter, Gunasingam says it is untrue and typifies what their community faces. Their Vellala leaders, says he, lack camaraderie (tholamai) with them although they are addressed as Comrades (Tholar), and these Vellala leaders of predominantly low-caste Left parties fear their fellow Vellalas, so whenever the Panchamar do well like Kamalendran, just one error is used to add to their woes. He says that Shanmugathasan of the Communist Party (Peking Wing) was the only Vellala Left leader with true sense and practice of Tholamai. That assessment is chilling in that if correct, there is really little hope of getting Vellalas, especially non-Leftists, to help in righting this historic wrong to the Panchamar

[10] Incorporation into domestic law is required for a dualist state like ours. See the sad case of Nallaratnam Singarasa who was convicted solely on the basis of a confession he says he signed under torture, the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal, he went to the Human Rights Committee in Geneva which asked the Supreme Court to examine his case and the Supreme Court ruled that the convention under which he appealed had no standing because it had not been incorporated into our domestic law by Parliament whose law-making powers had been arrogated by the President in signing the treaty, the matter is now being re-canvassed by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (Chandraprema, 2016)

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  • 1

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 3

    Thank you, Dr. Hoole, for a fine, thoughtful piece. Caste is a subject where society, especially Tamil society, uniformly pretends not to see what is there for all to see.

    Regarding footnote 7, however, I do not fully agree: “At the risk of being called sexist, the observation is made that women are more likely to let on to their caste observations. … ”

    A group of us Jaffna “girls” from our OGA went to a friend’s in Colombo. She is a professional. There our hostess’ daughter, a recent college graduate, made tea for us all. I took a cup for the driver, but was stopped by the daughter. She told me: “That cup is for people.” She used the word “aakkalukku.” That is obviously how she has been trained.

    I know a man would not have been so explicit. But then, I am a woman and noticed the implications. So it is not really a man-woman thing. I would rephrase to say that men, having dealt more with the world, are better at hiding their prejudices. For example, my father once objected when in a hurry I served him in a plate I had served our gardner. But he has sophisticated reasons. When I accused him of caste prejudices, he told me, “The gardner has bad teeth and is not very clean. Would you eat from the dog’s plate?, huh?”

    So here we have it. Dogs and non-people. That is how high caste Tamils see the others among us. Sorry, Dr. Hoole! I am now educated by your article. That is how Sudras at the high end see Sudras at the low end.

    • 7

      Hi Jennifer,

      Thank you for your astute and prompt spotting of Ratnajeevan’s affinity to rush to undue generalizations.
      Jeevan has done this repeatedly, generalizing based on his random lopsided personal observations and perceptions. Case in point – In an article that he published on December 26th, the day after Christmas, mind you, he was rash enough to defame the entire poor women folk of a village in the outskirts of Colombo, based on some pipe-bathing beauties that had attracted his attention, plus a buddy’s rendezvous with a married woman!
      Here I repeat the relevant paragraph from Jeevan’s article—yes, the day after Christmas at that!
      (Link: https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/standardisation-a-different-perspective-from-dr-m-y-m-siddeeks/comment-page-1/#comments)
      “Katubedde was a badly developed town – we played on the Tamil version of the name, rendering it as kaattu (jungle) paththai (bush). The girls and even married women around were villagers who were so awed by university students that some (one too many) would willingly go to bed. Given their poverty, they would bathe by street pipes and, as we passed by, soap themselves vigorously, loosening their saris at the chest and giggling at us. Many a Tamil boy from a cultured home lost his head. A few were forced to marry women they had made pregnant.”
      When I expressed my objection to this distasteful distraction in his article, his only response was to adamantly justify his use of “vulgarity” rather than showing any regrets for his crass indifference to and denigration of the entirety of the village by his grossly undue “generalization.”
      Also note how he takes it upon himself to excuse the “Many a Tamil boy from cultured home .”
      So unbecoming of an esteemed researcher – some never truly grow up!

      • 3

        Hi Kumar R

        Well said and points taken.

        I would like you to go beyond and write articles on issues that you can articulate.

        We need good writers and good debates.

        Please don’t limit yourself to making some drops in these columns.

        Write in par with people whom you challenge as comments have very little impact and only few engage.

        • 2

          Oh no! Bad idea, Ayub Khan.

          All that Kumar R can write is an attack on anything good or bad by Professor Hoole.

          He cannot make an article out of those negative thoughts. He needs his own original ideas to say something useful for an article.

          • 1

            Thank you Jehan

            I still encourage Kumar R to write to prove otherwise.

            If what you say is deficiency, he must try to overcome that.

            There are only few people in the Tamil community to write articles. One of them is Prof Hoole. There are many to attack the very few writers.

            I read attacks on DBS in the CT. These are hate driven.

            Do you know who this Kumar T is? Is someone commenting under a pseudonym name?

            • 0

              Ayub, Jehan,

              I appreciate your kind/unkind, flattering/unflattering words and both the confidence and lack-there-of as expressed! Thank you.

              Jehan is correct that I write almost exclusively negatively in these columns – and that is by choice and is dependent on the need of the hour as I see it, and I am more than happy to explain.

              Jehan, however, is far off the mark in accusing me of “attack(ing) on anything good or bad by Professor Hoole” – a possible result of being a recluse addicted to Jeevans writing and that writing only.

              First, my attack on Jeevan was based on the paragraph Jeevan published – which, in my view, is more than utterly reprehensible. If any part of that feels “good” for Jehan, obviously we are worlds part in our views. God did not create us all alike – not Jehan’ s fault!

              Second, here is when I write in these columns, and write negatively. Many authors write here with sincerity. I hardly find it necessary to explicitly compliment them or congratulate them – write positively. They get their well-deserved encouragement without my two-cents worth!

              Others, actually just a few, however, write here with clandestine, self-interest motives — insincere of purpose. What is most appalling is when that is done under the cloak of legitimate academic credentials, given that the general readership is unwittingly willing to be more gullible when spoken to by an established intellect, at least on paper. So, those writers often flag their credentials preemptively – you may have noticed.

              In that very narrow category of academics with less-than-pure sincerity in purpose were, in my assessment, writings of Dayan, Rajiva, Tamara, Rajasingham, Jeevan, Muthukrishna – I may be forgetting some. I am almost certain my comments, yes negative comments, have been almost exclusively on their articles. And, I assure you, that in each case I have extremely clearly substantiated every one of the negative comments I have made, just as in the above case of Jeevan – 100 percent based on one paragraph that Jeevan, despite his academic credentials, considered proper to write.

              I must add that one exception where I had absolutely no concern of ill-motive and still made a negative (just challenging) comment was to one of Kumar David’s article, and that was on a somewhat academic or technical definitional issue on competitiveness and wages. I have great respect for Kumar D’s sincerity, possibly even more so than for his excellent writing skills.

              Now, what I write positively and with originality as fitting my field of expertise is what I make my living from, and it is unfortunately in a rather narrow field of expertise of little interest to most – so, why would I want to mix things up?!

              • 0

                Kumar R.

                It is good of you to come here and respond well. I understand your thinking now.

                Well! Instead of bashing at individuals you have quoted, you must start writing articles to expand on the counter arguments and also put across your wider vision on issues.

                I am sure CT will publish them.

                As I said, comments in these columns are restricted to few conditioned lots and only few read them. Any good articles go a long way even reproduced in other organs and readers do circulate.

                Our residual life in this world is very limited and we are stone throwaway from our ultimate destiny. Therefore, it is important we do something better than what we have done so for with all the hard knowledge and experience we have earned. It cannot be wasted.

                Attacking is the best defence! Defending is waste of time!!

                Look at us Muslims. Collectivism and positive progress are majority way of life. Allah is great. Thanks to Allah for guiding us to change the world.

                You must also follow the good aspects of Islam and strengthen your community. They need help.

                • 0

                  Ayub Khan,

                  “Instead of bashing at individuals you have quoted, you must start writing articles to expand on the counter arguments and also put across your wider vision on issues.”

                  I have several times suggested that “Kumar R.” does his own research and publishes the results here for us to comment. My latest attempt was to ask him to study the alleged ban on holy ash in Jaffna private/assisted/national schools.

                  “Kumar R” , provided I understood his endless rant correctly, believes that “aging missionaries” are running the two Jaffna national schools that are former missionary schools and that these “aging missionaries” have banned holy ash.

                  I have given up my attempts to educate “Kumar”.

                  If “Kumar R” reads this he will again start to repeat his empty claims that he refuses to verify.

  • 0

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  • 6

    What is your caste?
    Don’t say that Christians have no castes.
    Caste is a very important, though unmentioned consideration in Christian marriages.

    Your attempt again to denigrate Arumuga Navalar and Ponnamplam Ramanathan and other Tamil Leaders, shows your weakness as your so-called ‘Christian community’ with meaningless English/American names of those who converted them, have now dropped them and reverted to good old meaningful Tamil names.

    Your attempt to denigrate even the Gita is pitiable, as you do not fully understand it.
    Others can criticise the Bible too, but do not do so – for example, whom did Cain marry, after he killed his brother Abel?
    Have you read the newly discovered Judas Gospel?
    Do you really believe in “virgin birth”?

    • 0


      “What is your caste?”

      May I lend you my copy of “The Exile Returned: A Self-Portrait of the Tamil Vellahlahs of Jaffna, Sri Lanka”?

      The Exile Returned: A Self-Portrait of the Tamil Vellahlahs of Jaffna, Sri Lanka


      The book contains good observations and background information.

      • 3

        Lone Wolf,
        It is written by Hoole himself and he says that it is a novel – a work of fiction.

        A work of fiction is not proof of anything.

        • 0

          As I recall, Hoole also says that everything in the book happened.

        • 0


          Don’t comment without reading the book first.

    • 4

      He should talk about why the bible has different chapters from different saints. why these saints born in different time periods. Yet, they all quote what Jesus said as if they near JEsus when he was living.

      HE should also talk about why there are over 40,000 denomnation in the Church.

  • 6

    Oh my God! Again and again, again and again Hoole comes out with the same story but under different titles.

    When is he going to stop his anti Hindu venom?

    Readers are fed up with his oppari – cry at a funeral .

  • 5

    Indeed a long discourse plausibly presented in such a way that the reader might be expected to accept it leaving no room for second thought. However it smells …..venting personal frustration. Anyway informative.

    • 5


      “However it smells …..venting personal frustration” – unmistakably a very consistent and common theme of the writer, it seems!

  • 2

    I Don’t know this man became an educated person.

    He looks like a Racist, Religious fanatic.

    In reality Tamils can not be christians.

    some of the Tamils, that he is talking, are North Indians who talked Tamil.

    • 1

      I am Professor’s student. He is not a racist and has helped many of us Hindus.

      But real racism is saying “In reality Tamils can not be christians.”

  • 7

    // Interestingly in the two-part test on IQ and language skills, the IQ part had Tamil students getting 80, 90 and so on, but in the Tamil language part the same students obtained 15, 20 and so on. //

    Real sad, this. Everything else pales in comparison.

  • 0

    If only is the saddest phrase in history ..The Donoughmore Commission introduced Universal franchise where even women who were not given the opportunity of attending formal schooling due to the limited family resources and attitudes that made for the gender bias in making choices .The right to vote was given to the rural farmer trapped in their hamlets in the hill country living without access to road or even the fuel resources in the forests now taken over by the tea gardens ..The problem was great for those not exposed to the official language of that time of the 1930s .No one considered their mind frame when they approached a window at a Post Office or even at a public Hospital where the Medical professional never worried to counsel the vulnerable in the language of the patient .Litigation favoured those who knew the official language of the time and so even if their land was encroached they could only go to the Vel Vidane who was a law unto himself ..So we were marching towards Independence but never sat down to think in a humane manner the problems of the voters who knew not the power of the ‘kathire ‘ Reading this article add a new dimension to the problems I have observed , the caste attitudes that would have further weaken the sovereign right of the voter in a Democracy , what hope for the vulnerable ..We had all that time of time from 1931 to consider all this..surely we are not slow in our thinking as we were projected in Colonial times . Nay I read about George Silva the Minister of health establishing rural hospitals but no personnel for they were indeed dushkara palatha ., and then C W Kanangara introducing free education .incidentally I was so appalled reading on the names of those who opposed this humane enlightened move ..yes they were do Gooders both laity and clergy … ..But beyond that no commission or cabinet gathering sat to redress the problems of the fringe dwellers except solve their problem somewhat by planting them in harsh conditions of the dry zone colonies sans the basics ..but we marched towards the Independence day that we commemorate each year with school kids parade and the army and navy ..the people may be never felt the change , for de facto the old regime continued in the same paternalistic methodology of Good government . .In my days I use to read the Sinhala paper bought by my father for his wife who was marginalized by the gender bias of her time .but it was interesting how it differed from the English tabloid in attitude and presentation though published as a sister paper..some times the tone was so condescending and patronizing and I was in my teens a vivid reader who read even the kavi kola karayas analysis of social problems .

  • 4

    Incorrect there are around 50000-60000 Brahmins in Sri Lanka. They are all ethnically Tamil and speak Tamil. Some counts like the Joshua project state they are around 88000 Tamil Brahmins in Sri Lanka. Whether they all now reside in Sri Lanka is another matter. Like a large amount of Sri Lankan Tamils many have fled to the west, as many of them faced far worse discrimination in the hands of the Sinhalese armed forces than the rest of the Tamils. Around 2000 of them now may be working as temple priests, the rest like in India do other jobs.

    People with little knowledge should not comment. The four tier varna system that is practised in the northern parts of India does not relate to the southern pars of India or Sri Lanka.
    Even after the introduction of the varna concept to south India, caste boundaries in south India were not as marked as in north India, where the four-tier varna system placed the priestly Brahmins on top followed by the Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. In south India, on the other hand, there existed only three distinguishable classes, the Brahmins, the non-Brahmins and the Dalits. The two intermediate dvija varnas — the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas — did not exist.

    The dominant castes of south India, such as Reddys of Andhra and Nairs of Kerala and the Vellalar of Tamil Nadu , held a status in society analogous to the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas of the north with the difference that religion did not sanctify them i.e. they were not accorded the status of Kshatriyas and Vaishyas by the Brahmins in the Brahmanical varna system. Historically, land-owning castes like the Reddys, Vellalars have belonged to the regal ruling classes and are analogous to the Kshatriyas of the Brahmanical society.

    The Brahmins, on top of the hierarchical social order, viewed the ruling castes of the south like the Reddys, Nairs and Vellalars as sat-Shudras meaning shudras of “true being”. Sat-shudras are also known as clean shudras, upper shudras, pure or high-caste shudras. This classification and the four-tier varna concept was never accepted by the ruling castes in the south of India or in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. Please read and research before posting or commenting.

    • 0

      Once you cross the sea, you are no more Brahmin according to their own shastras.

      No. of Brahmins in Sri Lanka = 0

      • 0

        But there are many fake ones – they even feel the need to add the qualifier “Real” as if that legitimizes their claim, LOL :D
        Pity them, they only seek to escape their wretched low caste existences through online fantasy :D

  • 3

    The Vellalar
    Feudal lords, Landlords, Scholars, Farmers
    Saiva Siddhantam, Hinduism, Christianity



    Gounder — Kongu Nadu
    Mudaliar — Thondai Nadu
    Pillai — Pandya Nadu, Chola Nadu

    Vellalars (also, Velalars, Vellalas) were, originally an elite caste of Tamil agricultural landlords in Tamil Nadu, Kerala states in India and in neighbouring Sri Lanka; they were the aristocracy of the ancient Tamil order (Chera/Chola/Pandya/Sangam era and had close relations with the different royal dynasties. The Vellalar were during ancient and medieval period landlords and part of the elite caste who were major patrons of literature.[2][3][4] During the Chola period the Vellalar community was the dominant secular aristocratic caste, providing the courtiers, most of the army officers, the lower ranks of the bureaucracy and the upper layer of the peasantry.

    Vellalars have a long cultural history that goes back to over two millennia in southern India. They were the ruling and land owning community of South India.
    The Vellalar tribes are described as a landed gentry who irrigated the wet lands and the Karalar were the landed gentry in the dry lands. Numerous poems in the ancient Sangam literature extol these chieftains’ charity and truthfulness.

    They had close associations and held high positions of office with the three main Tamil dynasties, Chera, Chola and Pandya. Some of them had marital relations; Ilamcetcenni, the king known for his fleet of warships, married a Velir princess, and his son Karikala Chola also married a Velir princess from Nangur.

    Cultivation in South Asia was spread by force, people would move out into virgin land, which was used by hunter gatherer or tribal people for slash and burn agriculture or for hunting and convert into prime agricultural land.[18] This was an honorific title of select few people who would organize such raids and settlements like chiefs who were also called as Vel. Today everybody uses it but once it was restricted to village headman or founding chief’s lineage.[18]

    The Vellalars who were land owners and tillers of the soil and held offices pertaining to land, were ranked as Sat-Sudra in the 1901 census; with the Government of Madras recognising that the 4-fold division did not describe the South Indian, or Dravidian, society adequately.

    Therefor calling the Vellalar, Nair, Reddy, Naidu/Naicker/Nayagam/Kappu or even the Sinhalese equivalent the Govigamma as Sudra is stupid as they did not come under the four tier Varna system of northern and central parts of India

    • 1

      Thank you for all this knowledge on caste which is not relevant to this day and age of liberal ideas .Do not make people feel hopeless and drive them to flee the country so that they can shed this huge baggage of being born to a caste ..thank you

  • 2

    I notice that Hoole, ostensibly opposed the injustices of the caste system, never fails to introduce, inter alia, his own claims to be descended from the high vellalar stratum even claiming a connection to the owners of the prestigious Maviddapuram temple!!

    • 0

      I am not surprised because that is the only thing that gives acceptability among us Hindus. Perhaps caste is the only thing we understand. I see many Hindu friends introducing Hoole by that Maviddapuram connection. I once even heard CVK Sivgananam doing this at a public meeting.

      However, if you read the Exile Returned, you will see that Hoole does not pretend to be high caste. See his explanation of having multi-castes in his ancestry and then choosing the best in making claims. He says this is what we all do. I too have seen this. My family too does this.

      We must understand our own society. There is a saying, if you got it, flaunt it. But when we have nothing to flaunt we do not like it.

  • 0

    Hole quotes a line from my book:
    The [Karaiyahs] are very brave, but as fishers they are still ‘killers’ and are not entitled to high status! (Perinbanayagam, 1982) as if though it MY words.This is utterly dishonest use of citations.
    I was in quoting an informant’s opinion.

    • 0

      I respect Perinbanayagam and am surprised by his use of the phrase “utterly dishonest” about my use of his book as a referenc. My book is very clear. I attribute the words to an uncle. To quote from my book:
      According to this uncle, a headman of the Pariah caste — the traditional genealogists and keepers of caste ‘records’ in Jaffna society, referred to by the honorific title Mupanar — ‘the [Karaiyahs] are very brave, but as fishers they are still ‘killers’ and are not entitled to high status!
      End quotation.

      After that I reference Peribanayagam in footnote. No intelligent reader can think that I was quoting his words, or that this uncle was Perinbanayagam.

    • 0

      Further to my reply, I thought the reference by Perinbanayagam was to my book. But it seems to be to this article. To quote from the above article:

      “As the low-caste elder (Mupanar) stated before the Commission:

      “The [Karaiyahs] are very brave, but as fishers they are still ‘killers’ and are not entitled to high status! (Perinbanayagam, 1982)”

      This quotation is from Perinbanayagam’s 1982 book. No reader can think the low-caste elder (Mupanar) is Peribanayagam.

      He is going too far in calling me dishonest for citing him correctly.

      • 0

        Hoole is right. I stand corrected. I am sorry for my rather hasty misreading of his words

        • 0

          All of us make mistakes and the better ones among us are willing to accept/concede corrections.

          Thank you Prof. Peribanayagam.

  • 0

    Dr. Hoole,

    Look at American history. Thomas Jefferson, while waxing eloquent that “all men are created equal…and are endowed with certain unalienable rights,” owned slaves and fathered children with a slave mistress. His principles applied only to white men.

    Many nations and perhaps all religions were founded on hypocrisies and myths.
    So, even if what you say is verified by others to be true, it is hardly unique to Tamil society. What is important is to keep moving in the right direction toward a just society.

  • 0

    Dr Jeevan Hoole,

    “The Vellalas dominate intellectual life.”

    I don’t think that this is true today. There are many academics who are not Vellalah. Even some VCs were not Vellalah.

    Let me expand a bit:

    Many principals and vice-principals are non-Vellalah and even so called low caste especially in the private schools of Jaffna. I know many non-Vellalah children who travel from far away to the better schools of Jaffna town.

    I am not that sure about all of the MPs being Vellalah but that is partly a question of who is a Vellalah and who is not. I know many Vellalah who would never ever accept a marriage proposal from the MP families.

    I believe that the Divisional Secretaries and other government servants especially GS/economic development officer/teachers/etc are a “mixed bag” of mostly non-Vellalah.

    It would not be polite to name names here.

    The fact is that most of the educated Vellalah have left. The others are taking over.

    • 0

      The depressed communities won their right to education through struggle. Christian intellectuals played an important role, as did progressive Hindus. But the inertia was too big for progress to occur in the Peninsula.
      The Social Disabilities Act of 1957– thanks to the influence of the Left –made things much better (but not sufficiently) for access to education. There was a longer way to go: the Anti-Untouchability campaign of 1966-72 led by Marxist-Leninists made a bigger impact at the public level. Privately, however, bad practices persist, in fact among the Tamil diaspora as well.

      Now more members of the depressed community are in important posts, but not enough.

      The commendable role of several Christian community leaders failed to eliminate caste differences among Christians. Vellalas of both religions sustain the system. It has much to do with class as well.

      When one dares to take up caste, gender, class and regional discrimination, there is a chorus of Tamil nationalists out there accusing the dissenters of dividing the Tamils. It has been claimed that Thanthai (Father) Chelvanayakm and Thambi (younger brother) Pirapaakaran have done away with caste. In fairness to the latter, who needed manpower badly, he acted firmly on several matters which involved caste discrimination in public affairs. But in private many things passed unnoticed.

      Caste is part of the South Asian “Dominant Ideology”. It will take a long and persistent struggle to wipe it out of our heads.

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