23 September, 2020

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The Last Of A Generation Of Tamil Marxists

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

He was my comrade and neighbour and oft would we sit out on my veranda, sipping the stuff that cheers and first talking sensibly, then slinging it out in voices that kept the neighbours, too polite to complain, awake till the late hours, as a bottle of the golden water of life emptied itself gently. He was a Christian, more than a superficial one as his wish that his funeral be both spiritual and secular shows. But this was less potent than the convictions that anchored his political sentiments. He was historian, scholar, writer and twice a local government election candidate of a left alliance.

A man of many parts who lived to the full and committed himself to its duties; however, what was most important about the life of Santasilan Kadirgamar? On reflection, and leaving to one side the wonderful family that he and Sakuntala raised and about which others are more qualified to write than I, I believe that what is most significant about Silan’s life’s work is that he was one, the last one of his generation, of Tamil Marxists. His commitment to righting the wrongs that had been done over decades to the Tamil people was indisputable; at the same time, the perspective he brought to bear was that of a Marxist. Silan was not a card carrying member of any party nor he did he proclaim a stance in public. But his method and approach, those he supported in political battles, and his description of himself in private conversation, marked him off as a Marxist.

SanthasilanSantasilan Kadirgamar (1934-2015)

I first got to know Silan in the mid-1970s through MIRJE (Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality). Father Paul Casperz, Rajan Philips, Upali Cooray and I founded MIRJE in Colombo and I was sent off to Jaffna to hold seminars and popularise its objectives. Silan was present at one, promptly joined, and became our anchor in Jaffna. It was a time in which it needed considerable courage; the state, (soon to be JR), the military and the police had taken the law into their own hands on the one hand, and the Tamil youth were mobilising under numerous umbrellas – the LTTE was not dominant yet. Neither the Sinhalese government nor Tamil militants respected law or liberty; in Jaffna you were at considerable risk. Still MIRJE held at the centre, Silan survived in Jaffna, and we managed to get a lot of work done, including exposure (Emergency ’79) of the cold blooded murder of several young Tamils in one night when the authorities came knocking at midnight.

As a historian and scholar, Silan’s forte was pre-independence radical Tamil activism. He had a deep well of knowledge of this period and was a productive writer. He was meticulous in attention to detail and precise in the use of reference material. He had a rich body of documentation which I hope will be carefully archived with the agreement of his family. Silan and I kept close contact after he moved to Japan and I to Hong Kong, and in 1989 we brought out a jointly edited book, Ethnicity: Identity, Conflict, Crisis. Silan’s 30 page meticulous chapter “Lanka: Nationalism, self-determination and conflict” typifies the quality of his work and his range of interests. Lawrence Surendra who wrote a concluding chapter rendered invaluable assistance in getting the book out via ARENA, a research and documentation centre.

Silan continued his work as a historian after getting back from Japan and about two years ago he brought out what may be his magnum opus, a history of the Jaffna Youth Congress which was founded in 1924 and was the forerunner of the Suriyamal, Samasamaja and the southern left movements. As is always the case with Silan, it includes an analytical part and a volume of substantive documentation.

More by design than accident the two of us purchased adjoining houses in Dehiwala on our return to Lanka and this was splendid, not only because staggering from one gate to the next, much enriched by Single Malt posed no problems, but also it allowed us to engage in endless political conversation and note comparing (and watching cricket on his big screen TV). It also enabled us to get back from Kinross together in a car with a driver, or to share a three-wheeler. Now that is all over! Silan passed away on Saturday 25 July and will be cremated on Tuesday.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    20

    Thank You Professor Kumar David for a well-deserved appreciation. As for me I came to know him only for the last few years. His attendance at the Jaffna Managers Forum along with his son Ahilan was cherished. His mere presence enriched the Forum. His presentations and incisive questioning were educative themselves especially to the younger generation.

  • 8
    22

    I am very sad that Silan has gone. My earliest memories of him are associated with the SCM and the University Anglican church officiated in by Father Lakshman Wickremasinghe in the late 1950s and early 60s. We had cause to exchange emails about a year ago, Silan responding instantly to an emailed request for help from me out of the blue after many years.

    My deepest sympathies to any of his family that may read CT. He was truly an exemplary figure.

  • 16
    7

    ,,,There were Tamil Marxists as well…..

    • 9
      18

      KAS:
      Don’t you have ONE decent bone in your body? You have to stick in your two cents worth even on an appreciation of a decent human being.
      You are beyond description and CT should seriously consider blacklisting you.

      • 8
        11

        Emil

        I think KAS hasn’t lost his humanity completely. In fact he is paying an oblique tribute to Seelan by limiting his comment to few words, cutting out his usual harangue full of uncouth language such as “Jaffna Vellala,” “Colombo 7,” “Christian,” “Westernized elite,” etc. This only goes to show Seelan commanded respect from all quarters by his exemplary role as a public intellectual genuinely committed to social justice and fairness. He was a very open, unassuming, unbiased individual of great integrity.

      • 3
        3

        sorry Emil,,but K A Sumanasekera left his decency at Mahindas residency so much so that he will even sell his wife/mother if it will help MR

      • 3
        2

        Ok guys…… Before one gets all over-enthused about the JVP-Ranil pact, we must make it clear about what the sudden appreciativeness for Lankan-Marxism is all about.

        Is it to be Country-Unified-Sinhala-Buddhist-Marxism inclusive of Tamil comradeship?

        Or is it to be federalism, with Tamil-1/3rd choosing either socialism with the remaining Sinhala 2/3, or capitalism in tandem with Tamil Nadu. And with capitalist-Tamil-1/3 then benevolently spreading-out its capitalistic wealth with Sinhala socialist masses.

        • 3
          1

          ramona therese fernando

          Thanks

          You never fail to confirm your stupidity.

          Are by any chance related to KASmaalam KA Sumanasekera?

          What is your argument/point if there is one?

    • 0
      0

      [Edited ou] TAMILHATER.

    • 9
      2

      KASmaalam K.A Sumanasekera

      “,,,There were Tamil Marxists as well…..”

      You would be surprised to learn there were great human being as well. They happen to be secular Tamils in India . Read the following news item and learn:

      Former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam has died, aged 83
      Kalam, known as the father of the country’s military missile program, died on Monday after collapsing while delivering a lecture

      Tuesday 28 July 2015

      Former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam, known as the father of the country’s military missile program, died on Monday after collapsing while delivering a lecture, a top state official said. He was 83.

      The president from 2002 until 2007, he was a scientist and science administrator for four decades before that, mainly at the state-run Defense Research and Development Organisation and the Indian Space Research Organisation. He played a key organisational and technical role in India’s nuclear program.

      He also served as a scientific adviser to the prime minister.

      Kalam fell sick on Monday while addressing the students of the Indian Institute of Management in the Meghalaya state capital, Shillong, said PB Warjri, chief secretary of the state. He was rushed to the hospital, but was declared dead after doctors could not revive him, Warjri said.

      The federal government would declare national mourning for seven days for him, said federal home secretary LC Goyal.

      Kalam’s body will be flown to New Delhi on Tuesday for burial.

      India’s president Pranab Mukherjee said “Kalam would be long remembered for his passion for science and innovation and his contribution as an eminent scientist, administrator, educationist and writer.”

      The prime minister, Narendra Modi, said “his death is a great loss to the scientific community. He took India to great heights. He showed the way.”

      “He was an inspiration to an entire generation,” home minister Rajnath Singh tweeted.

      Sonia Gandhi, the president of the opposition Congress party, described Kalam as “one of the greatest scientific minds, a scholar statesman and a true patriot who inspired millions of young and old alike by his works and deeds”.

      After his presidential term ended, Kalam traveled to remote schools and colleges, speaking to students and inspiring them to follow their dreams.

      Even after he left office, he received hundreds of emails each day from high-school students and other young people seeking his advice. He would reply to most of the children who wrote to him.

      Kalam received several prestigious awards, including Bharat Ratna, India’s top civil honor conferred by the government.

      He played a crucial role when India tested its nuclear weapons in 1998.

      He also authored several books, notably Wings of Fire, India 2020 and Ignited Minds.

      Kalam had a humble beginning. His father owned boats which he rented out to local fishermen. Kalam used to describe himself as “Made in India,” as he never trained abroad.

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/
      2015/jul/28/former-indian-president
      -apj-abdul-kalam-has-died-aged-83

  • 24
    4

    How could one be a Christian and Marxist at the same time?

    • 1
      17

      Why is it chauvinists are also uni-formally stupid and ignorant? For one, Sumanasekera check out the comment by Uthungan below.For another Pete, as a beginning google the name of Hewlett Johnson and read and find some understanding.

    • 9
      1

      I must say I have wondered about this duality too in two friends, Dick and Pauline Hensman, also “Christian Marxists.”

    • 2
      1

      I must say I have wondered about this duality too in two friends, C.R. (Dick)(and Pauline Hensman, also “Christian Marxists.”

      • 0
        11

        Two good Christian Marxist whom I had missed out in my previous post are I.R. Ariaratnam and Wesley Muttiah.I had known them both very well.
        The former had been a Principal Stanley College and before that he had been elected a member of the Matara Town Council when he was a teacher at Matara.

    • 2
      9

      There must be some reason why many, many Christians call Jesus the first communist. And Pope Francis’ stand on poverty and on the environment (see the encyclical Laudeto Si)are hard to distinguish from what the Marxists are saying.

    • 2
      10

      If you put theology aside for a minute and look at the practical life of religious leaders Lord Buddha, Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohamed were their life styles Marxist.
      They lived the simple life, cared for the least of our brothers and sisters, thought to treat other as you would like others to treat you. How much more Marxist could you be.

  • 13
    2

    Thanks Kumar.
    When are you going to write about the others like P.Kandiah,N.Shanmugathasan,,Tharmakulasingam(,Vaithialingam,Kartigesan,Karalasingam,Annamalai& and many others.like that Brahmin priest from Nallur whose name I cannot now recollect?

    • 1
      9

      Not sure whether I am the best person to write about those others.
      With Silan there was a near 50 year personal and political friendship that made it possible for me to write with some authority.

  • 1
    11

    I came to know Silan during my student days in Jaffna Uni.He was a lecturer in Politcal Science but I came closer to him in the work of exposing the Human Rights violations of the Police and the Armed Forces in the early eighties. I looked to him for guidance in every problem we faced as university students and his advice was worthy at that time in many ways.He worked tirelessly in documenting the violations of Human Rights and as a result of this he used to get visits form the security people in the early hours of the day.As a Christian, he played a prominent role in getting the Catholic Church concerned about the rampant Human Rights violations.

    I felt really sad to know his demise as he was one of the few people who shaped my political thinking and he was the best teacher and guide in my life.

  • 12
    1

    How the world has changed. A few years ago, a genuine Marxist or a leftist would have cringed if he was described as a ‘Tamil or Sinhalese’ Marxist. But now I see a new classification of Marxists. It only shows the low depths the so called Marxists have sunk, describing themselves and others in ethnic terms.

  • 3
    0

    Silan was Tamil origin ,in fact that every Tamil has some sort of soft corner for that LTTE struggle for Tamils nationalism.

    In fact Silan too hold the the same view, that irrespective his Trotskyist ideology. You cannot blame him ,that is quite natural phenomena in underdeveloped capitalism in an Island.

    Well Silan was not Marxist he was LSSP oriented Trotskyist.
    He played certain progressive role in that issue by issues.

    He belongs to anti-UNP, anti-TNA and anti-Anarchist of groups of progressive elites school of thought. Having board perspective of working democratic pattern and norms is cornerstone of policy of Silan.

    I had an opportunity work with him closely couple of years.
    I have to pay my last respect to him Silan who work for united People of all Sri Lankan.

  • 15
    3

    Prof. Kumar David

    The Last Of A Generation Of Tamil Marxists:

    *** When I saw the name Karthirgamar alarm bells started to ring with a Flash back to 1996. But then I saw the Picture and that gave me hope. As for the man with whom you caused a lot of Nuisance from your Veranda may his soul rest in peace so is Marxism which is dead and buried.

    As for the rest let me take you through your Article which lacks depth , innovation and facts.
    I dont know what is wrong with Sri Lankan Intellects whether it be Deans, Doctors heads of Womens Brigade there is always something missing.

    1) He was my comrade and neighbour and oft would we sit out on my veranda, sipping the stuff that cheers and first talking sensibly, then slinging it out in voices that kept the neighbours, too polite to complain, awake till the late hours, as a bottle of the golden water of life emptied itself gently.

    *** You were lucky you werent in Gestapo Germany if you were and you would have been charged for Nuisance. Please dont repeat it for your own safety.

    2) He was a Christian, more than a superficial one as his wish that his funeral be both spiritual and secular shows. But this was less potent than the convictions that anchored his political sentiments. He was historian, scholar, writer and twice a local government election candidate of a left alliance.

    *** I am not sure what you are alluding to by making a Reference to his Religion and I hope you are not a Religious Biggot. I hope in addition to all of the above Qualities he was a Humanitarion.

    3) A man of many parts who lived to the full and committed himself to its duties; however, what was most important about the life of Santasilan Kadirgamar? On reflection, and leaving to one side the wonderful family that he and Sakuntala raised and about which others are more qualified to write than I, I believe that what is most significant about Silan’s life’s work is that he was one, the last one of his generation, of Tamil Marxists.

    *** How SAD with Marxism Dead & Buried he couldnt leave a Legacy. SAD indeed.

    4) His commitment to righting the wrongs that had been done over decades to the Tamil people was indisputable; at the same time, the perspective he brought to bear was that of a Marxist. Silan was not a card carrying member of any party nor he did he proclaim a stance in public. But his method and approach, those he supported in political battles, and his description of himself in private conversation, marked him off as a Marxist.

    *** If what you are saying above is true why are we still Slaves. Why didnt he team up with “Vasu” the “Pisasu”who is driving the Mahintha Locomotive to change the Tamil misery.

    5) I first got to know Silan in the mid-1970s through MIRJE (Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality). Father Paul Casperz, Rajan Philips, Upali Cooray and I founded MIRJE in Colombo and I was sent off to Jaffna to hold seminars and popularise its objectives. Silan was present at one, promptly joined, and became our anchor in Jaffna.

    *** The above is comendable. But the following is full of Truth and Half Truth.

    6) It was a time in which it needed considerable courage; the state, (soon to be JR), the military and the police had taken the law into their own hands on the one hand, and the Tamil youth were mobilising under numerous umbrellas – the LTTE was not dominant yet. Neither the Sinhalese government nor Tamil militants respected law or liberty; in Jaffna you were at considerable risk. Still MIRJE held at the centre, Silan survived in Jaffna, and we managed to get a lot of work done, including exposure (Emergency ’79) of the cold blooded murder of several young Tamils in one night when the authorities came knocking at midnight.

    *** Truth: Under Sinkalams there was no Law & Order

    Half Truth: Follwong on from the above if there was no Law & Order how could LTTE break something which didnt exist. So it is False.

    7) Silan continued his work as a historian after getting back from Japan and about two years ago he brought out what may be his magnum opus, a history of the Jaffna Youth Congress which was founded in 1924 and was the forerunner of the Suriyamal, Samasamaja and the southern left movements. As is always the case with Silan, it includes an analytical part and a volume of substantive documentation.

    *** The one you are referring to above was the birth of Freedom Struggle in Sri Lanka but look where we have ended up. Having been through two Freedom Struggles we are still trying to break free.

    I like to sing ” Queens ” song I want to break Free.

    8) More by design than accident the two of us purchased adjoining houses in Dehiwala on our return to Lanka and this was splendid, not only because staggering from one gate to the next, much enriched by Single Malt posed no problems, but also it allowed us to engage in endless political conversation and note comparing (and watching cricket on his big screen TV).

    *** I am travelling back in time and can you please tell me when TV Channels came into being in Sri Lanka and who was playing who.

    Royals vs Thomians

    I need to verify and I know a lady who worked for Rubavahini and I will check with her to see you are not telling porkies.

    • 3
      7

      @Kali,we can certainly see that you have lost your head and your mind full of venom,this is about a decent man who died and you and K A Sumanasekera write pure venom

      • 5
        5

        Peace Lover you Sinkalam

        Dont teach me what is right and what is wrong. It is you whose intellectual capacity is far below what is needed to understand what I have said. Speak to Dr R N whose speaks the same language as you and he might be able to explain. Dont waste time he is in Jaffna at the moment by his Lagoon.

        • 1
          2

          @ Kali the man with[edited out]

          well it certainly shows the your IQ level and human quality when you write venom about a dead person such as Seelan,you dont seem to have an iota of decency

          it also shows your IQ capacity when someone dis-agrees with you you call them ‘Sinkalam’ mate you have lost your head just like that [Edited out] VP

          • 1
            0

            Peace Lover:

            Rubbish. Move on as I dont care who you are. All I know is you are not at peace with yourself. Disturbed mind and that might be because you talk to Dr. R N too much.

            • 1
              0

              @ Kali,Im more at peace with myself and others unlike you and your type man ,please go make friends with K A Sumanasekera and be buddies with him ;)

        • 2
          1

          This Kali chap is aching to be recognised as a minor intellectual. Hence his long harangue about K.David’s appreciation of the late Mr Kadirgamar. He will be disappointed; his efforts at bogus intellectualism are unlikely to interest people.

          • 1
            0

            A minor intellectual? Surely not! These people are doing the ritual known as opari in Tamil! They are singing the death knell of the movement that brought so much suffering to the Tamils and just as in opari singing they exaggerate and wail for lost causes!
            Or, perhaps I should alter the metaphor and say that they are tigers who in their defeat have become hyenas who feed on carrion.
            They don’t leave the dead from their calumnies,,,

  • 1
    8

    Heartfelt condolences to members of Silan’s family. His greatest attachment was for Jaffna College. He will surely be missed. Bensen

  • 1
    1

    Sounds like a great man ! I love the reference to single malt…the elixir of great minds !

    CT should seriously think of banning certain posters who do nothing but degrade the quality of the forum.

    Sumane and Kali are two prime examples.

    • 2
      2

      I agree 100% with you Don Quixote,i still wonder why CT does not ban such posts,but perhaps I guess CT will want such comments to make the site popular?

      • 1
        0

        Piece Lover:

        I am happy for you that you have found Don Quick Shot.

        My advice is have a SHOT but dont be too QUICK . Happiness takes a long time to manifest especially with Strangers so dont force yourself. Let love grow.
        Just put your hand up and say as follows.

        Hello Grasshopper

        Come on , Come on and Come on untill he is all over you and then you would reached the egde of Paradise. Cherish it forever

        All the best.

        • 0
          0

          hahahahaah your language and writing content itself shows that you need help from a psychiatrist (mental doctor)!

    • 1
      0

      Don Quick Shot

      I am glad you have found Peace at last. Make hay while the sun shines.

      • 0
        0

        kali ,please keep talking like this and we will be entertained by you making a total fool of yourself

  • 2
    0

    Kali,

    “Those who the Gods’ wish to destroy, they first drive insane”. You have used the name of a powerful god and you have been driven insane !

    If you have an iota of sense you will realise this and throw away your computer and use up all that spare time you obviously have, doing something productive, without proving the Gods’ right !

    Your reply will no doubt keep the editor and all those who are laughing at you, entertained.

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