20 April, 2024


The Tamil Question: The Agony Of An Unsettled Ethnic Inequality

By Vishwamithra1984

Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”  ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

Kadiresan woke up early morning, a couple of hours before sunshine, looked up towards the starless skies and let out a deep sigh; he knew it was going to be another scorching, hot day in the peninsula. In the distance, beyond a parched landscape full of palms and groves lay his oasis of land; although it was only a quarter of an acre in area, it was watered regularly and with the rich red soil to nourish a crop of vegetables from cauliflower to beets, carrots and red onions, Kadiresan knew that his harvest promised more than an average cash inflow into his family of three, his wife and a school going daughter who was only seven years old and quite bright in her studies. Kadiresan managed to get her daughter admitted to the great Vembadi Girls High School, which according to some educators, is the best secondary school in all of Sri Lanka, surpassing Ananda, Royal, Nalanda, and other elite schools in the Island. aaa-tamil-cvilians-nkl

Kadiresan’s journey has not been an easy one. His middle-class parents bequeathed the land and other properties to him via Thesawalamai law. Whereabouts his parents are yet unknown and that is after the war. Right through the life story of Kadiresan flows the tale of our Tamil brethren in the North and some parts of the East. It is absolutely futile to run through the history of Tamils and try to portray a picture of negativity or one of positive genre, depending on the reader’s prejudices. Erudite historians and scholars may disagree with me when I point out that ‘you see one, you see all’ notion applies to Northern Tamils. However, the canvass that I intend to paint on seems too broad and the finesse and training that a specialist historian needs, I confess, I do not possess. Yet the simple, but not simplistic, approach I intend to take would have equipped me to confront the issues that our Tamil brothers and sisters had to face over the last century or so.

However, my task here is not to catalogue what had happened in the past, ancient or modern, the various events that had provoked the subsequent actions by succeeding generations, sometimes as a response to the varied state-sponsored or otherwise-underwritten legislations, regulations, constitutional changes or proactive measures initiated by the Tamil leaders over the last few decades. But I can certainly talk about events and proceedings that had a direct or indirect effect on the overall status of the mindset and psyche of a community that has been sharing the same land, traditional values and cultural bonds with the majority which happens to be Sinhalese Buddhist.

Human values whether they are born and nurtured by one community or another do not disempower our inherent powers. On the contrary, they enrich the very core of our being, they continue to upgrade our responses to various crises and every now and then catapult us from treacherous chasms to subliminal heights. When crises that are born essentially out of prolonged suppression of a people, in India in the eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds, the world was blessed to see a Mahatma Gandhi; in the nineteen fifties and sixties in America we saw Martin Luther King Jr.; in the latter part of the Twentieth Century we saw Mandela in South Africa. All these leaders managed to stay above the fray and transcend the mundane issues that irritate and annoy people at large.

The Tamil Question in Sri Lanka could be analyzed and understood only in the context of a rich environment of two able but inwardly narcissistic communities battling it out in the dark shadows of racial discrimination and ethnic mistrust. However rich the respective histories of these two communities, Sinhalese and Tamils, when it came to real decision-making levels, discrimination and mistrust crept in and any resolution to the issues at hand got buried under a sandstorm of vitriolic barrage and non-participation at meaningful discourse of real propositions. I have written earlier and I would not hesitate to repeat now, any attitudinal changes that are essential to a long-lasting resolution of the fundamental divisions and breakdown of mutual trust and faith have to be preceded by objective changes in our societal structures and societal makeup. As much as the ’56-Transformation made a change in the psyche and mindset in the Tamil people, the Thirteenth Amendment did have a very serious and grave adjustment in the mindset of the majority Sinhalese Buddhists. The ‘minority mindset’ that has crippled the minds of our majority Sinhalese and provoked them to pogrom-like massacres of innocent Tamil civilians in the South as was evidenced in the ‘83 ethnic riots was given additional fodder when the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in Parliament under severest of conditions in the country in 1987. The political leadership in the Opposition was led by the SLFP and further strengthened by the then JVP which had turned into an ultra-chauvinistic protest group which later graduated into a mindless killing machine in the ’87 – ’89 ‘Second Revolution’ phase.

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, (LTTE) led by a murderous Prabhakaran of the Northern Tamils on the one hand and Rohana Wijeweera and Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya (DJV) – Patriotic People’s Movement- an even more ruthless killer-group of the Sinhalese Buddhists on the other held the nation to ransom and the central government led by an Executive President, particularly between 1987 and 1989. Sharpening of the already distorted mindsets had already occurred and what was necessary was the settling of the residue at the bottom of the barrel. Two peoples who boast about their respective cultural heritage, two peoples who claim two non-violent religions- Buddhism and Hinduism- as their religious foundation, two peoples who are seen almost each Sunday at the front entrance of their ‘Temples’ were entangled in a bitterest of all bitter battles, some at the negotiating table, Colombo, Timpu, Bangalore etc. and more in the thickest jungles of Mulativu, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Jaffna.

In quelling these two wars, one commandeered by Prabhakaran and the LTTE and the other by Wijeweera and the JVP, General Sarath Fonseka and Ranjan Wijeratne, both battlefield leaders, showed remarkable traits of leadership from the front. And at both these violent uprisings, Sri Lanka showed the world that she is not ready nor is she willing to surrender to the whims and fancies of dictatorial and unrealistic leaders in the likes of Prabhakaran and Rohana Wijeweera. With all her flirtations with so-called revolutions and militant-led uprisings, Sri Lanka is yet to succumb to the unknown devil. That is the lesson that all our political leaders should learn.

In recent history, the ‘Tamil Question’ was argued by the Ponnambalam brothers, C Sunderalingam and G G Ponnambalam in the Legislative and State Councils and later in Parliament by Chelvanayagam, Amirthalingam and others. Demands from ‘Fifty-Fifty’ to Tamil ‘Traditional Homeland’ have done their usual rounds in the corridors of discussion in local and international domains. The violent expressions rendered unto these demands have been defeated with equal or even more ferocious violence. A caste-ridden community in its most discriminatory form, Tamils at one time were led exclusively by the Vellala caste leaders until Prabhakaran appeared on the horizons of Valvettithurai. When Prabhakaran took over the leadership of the Tamil militant struggle, the Colombo elites of the Tamil community buckled down and their ‘Vellala-ness’ was thrown out the window. At that time, all power ran through the barrel of the LTTE guns. Wijeweera too tried these tactics in the ’87 – ’89 struggle, but could not subject the majority Sinhalese community to his will and guns. However, in history’s strangest of ironies, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) although named as a ‘common man’s’ party, founded by a Sinhalese, Govigama, low-country, aristocrat, remains a political party, led exclusively by a man or woman of Govigama origin. In the SLFP, when caste is the issue, common man ceases to exist.

In this convoluted context, the Tamil Question remains unsettled to date and the mistrust the Tamil leadership holds against its Sinhalese counterparts has contributed to the aggravation of the issue. Prabhakaran managed to kill almost all of the moderate Tamil leadership; Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran, Thiruchelvam and Kumar Ponnambalam are all not in the land of the living; after the defeat of the LTTE forces in 2009, the leadership of the Tamil community once again has fallen on the shoulders of the leaders who belong to Vellala caste. How other caste-MPs are treated by the leadership is totally another matter. Yet this caste issue, though invisible to society as an obvious notion of grave division and discrimination, continues to keep the Tamil community, a people dwelling in a past once torn apart by this anachronism withholding talented and able men and women from the upper echelons of community leadership.

If the leadership of both communities need to resolve this irksome problem that has been haunting the souls of our people, they need to start afresh; they need to negotiate on a clean slate; they need to shed all their past prejudices, past philosophies, past mistrusts and everything that stood as an impediment to a long-lasting solution to the Tamil Question. One cannot go forward if one cannot forget the past. Future is not a mirage; it is a very real thing. One cannot step into that future with age-old baggage. Are our present leaders ready for that kind of a relationship? Are they capable of thinking of such an adventurous beginning, leave alone taking action on it?

Otherwise, Kadiresan’s toiling is in vain; his sweat is in vain, his very existence would be in vain. H G Wells said long time ago that “our true nationality is mankind”. Let us be worthy of it.

*The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 3


    Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”

    ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

    Don’t talk like an idiot.

    Trump’s country, as it is a nation made up of immigrents, they use the American flag to make people rally around. As the United Kingdom is a kingdom made up of few different nations they use the ROYAL Family to rally aroud.

    But, for Sinhale, Sinhala Culture and civilization is far older than any of those cultures, and they have to protect it. Unfortunately, Sinhale has traitors like you. That is assuming you are a Sinhala AH.

    If Nationalism is bad, Then it is the Tamils first who should give up TAMIL. Because, they accept that Sinhala people are former Tamils. Nationalism is good for Tamils. But, it is bad for Sinhala buddhists. If you are a Christian, then I can understand why you are hurting for Tamils. All the NGOs, Sihala Christians, Indians, Muslims come and preach to Sinhala buddhists why ? Are we that dumb to understand all those helped LTTE because they wanted to see the demise of Sinhala-buddhists.

    Buddhists are extremely tolerant. Politicians have taken it granted. But, Sinhala people won’t lose. Don’t think Sinhala buddhist patience as forgetful Mahavamsa Mindset. I think Pabakaran himself understood it very well. but, only at the end.

    VISHAVAMITHRA: If you are an honest person, tell us why nationalism is good for Tamils who have 65 million more Tamils north to Sri lanka in India. But, Nationalism is not good 13 million Sinhala buddhists living underneath them and among hyenas like you ?

    • 11

      “But, for Sinhale, Sinhala Culture and civilization is far older than any of those cultures, and they have to protect it”

      Before you call someone else an idiot, sit down for a moment and try to find out who you are. You are on about civilizations, cultures and Buddhism without enough knowledge of any of those subjects. I will stop with educating just on one(1) of them. Buddha was a Prince who left the palce and became begger and he was an Indian.
      Get a life man. Think before you speak. (Samma Vaacha)

  • 4

    Vishwamithra’s refreshing and scholarly analysis, sans ethnic toxicity,
    reminds me of the delightful and quality writing of the well endowed
    Tisaranee G. But this essay does not address that complex source of real political power in the island – the politicised, divided and active
    priesthood that has held surreptitious political hold from the 1950s.
    The cabal has become worst today since the 1950s and has eaten its way up the political ladder. Like the political mullahs of Iran – once the home of the great Persian Empire and the abode of Sufism – the political priests of Sri Lanka have no forseeable appetite to be too far away from the intrigues of political power.

    R. Varathan

  • 10

    “H G Wells said long time ago that “our true nationality is mankind”. Let us be worthy of it.”

    Never a Truer Word, was said!

  • 6

    The Tamil Question: The Agony Of An Unsettled Ethnic Inequality

    Apart from “Govigama” and “Vellala” castes both of which literally holds the same meaning, represents two ethnic groups responsible for the plights of the minorities of the Island Nation, there is another caste now.
    But when it comes to disseminating opposing opinions at each other two ethnic groups Sinhalese and Tamils sheds off the caste sentiments within themselves, and that is the important point that should be considered uttermost towards resolving the Tamil speaking people’s demand.
    At present there has been another caste sprout since recent times – that is “RULING LOHKKA HORU” caste – which plunders National Wealth and seeks total impunity under cover of Sinhalese Nationalistic banner and the majority gullible would always recognize them as “Jathikka Soorayo” and put them always in the saddle.
    The problem for the “RULING LOHKKA HORU”caste is if they dissolve the powers maximum to the Provinces, the plundering amount and opportunities goes to someone else!

  • 11

    The country will NEVER prosper unless they solve the ethnic issue. It is the majority community that must take the initiative. It is the stronger of the rivals who must relent first. A bit of post independence history will help. The Disfranchisement of over a million Tamils left a bitter taste for the minorities in the forties. In the fifties Sinhala Only implementation deprived thousands of Tamils of their jobs. Then came Standardization. The original version of the legislation demanded more marks from Tamil students to qualify for University admission. This was flagarant racial discrimination. Then there were pogroms in 77 and 83 where the Sinhala mobs led by politicians and Buddhist monks massacred the innocent Tamils.These are the seeds of LTTE.

    It is time that the Sinhala majority realize this and take reconciliation seriously. Otherwise they will go down with their persecuted minorities.

    • 5

      Well said James
      The People who think that they are the guardians of both Sinhala & Buddhism,
      do not believe in letting the ‘other’ groups to live as Sri Lankans with equal treatment,
      there is not going to be real progress for Sri Lanka.
      GoSL have to carry on asking for loans to run the country
      and then sell the entire country to China or any others who had been the loan provider!

  • 3

    vishwamithra 1989

    You ask the question :
    “One cannot go forward if one cannot forget the past. Future is not a mirage; it is a very real thing. One cannot step into that future with age-old baggage. Are our present leaders ready for that kind of a relationship ? Are they capable of thinking of such an adventurous beginning, leave alone taking action on it ?”

    The answer, my brother, lies in the heart of your article in CT

    “The greatest sin of man is abstinence from empathy. No man, ruler or leader can claim greatness if he shows no empathy towards his fellow beings. We, as a civilized society, are committing that sin not only as a collective body; we are continuing to commit it individually. Our worthiness as one human family, breathing the same air and sharing the immensity of natural resources on earth will be questioned by history itself one day and the legacy we are leaving behind is not a very readable one.”

    There must be a paradigm shift in our collective thinking. From one which sees every issue as a zero-sum, one-upmanship game to one which sees the critical issues as non-zero-sum games to be resolved with empathy, tolerance and compassion. Unless and until we citizens of a single nation country can bring to bear this type of thinking when attempting to resolve our inter-communal problems, all talk of unity in diversity remains hollow and fruitless.

  • 2


    YOu don’t know Asian or the Sinhala culture or civiliation and how important it is because you are west educated and has Christian values. Modern West is far educated than you. Because some universities in the west ask completely to remove western philosophy from their curriculum.

    But, Sri lankan idiots who were educated in the post independance schools and who got post secondary education in european universities worship western philosophy which is crap.

    Even westerners know very well how advanced Asian Philosophy is.

    That Is Buddhism, HInduism and Zen (or chen in china).

    My strong guest is you are TG and you write in a Pseudonym. I sympathasie with you too because you people do not know about the Asian culture, Asian philosophy and how Asian culture is connected to buddhism.

    Sinhala People have a unique culture that is not found anywhere and it is interconnected with buddhism. Out Language is very enriched with Pali (It is descending Maghadhi).

    As you people are half-learned write this crap.

    Ask Tamils to go to Tamilnadu and establish their country and not in Sri Lanka. Sri lanka allows them them to live without killing because they are Dalits.

    • 4

      Ask Tamils to go to Tamilnadu and establish their country and not in Sri Lanka. Sri lanka allows them them to live without killing because they are Dalits. – hahahaha

      Jim Shitty so when are you heading back to Orissa? Please let me know and I will join you.

    • 0

      I order the Sinhalese to leave Sri Lanka and go to Pakistan and north India by swimming without life jackets. Let the Tamils, Muslims, and Christians etc to live in harmony. Stop spreading terrorist ideology.

  • 1

    The picture in the article reminisced the Muslims who were asked to leave the northern peninsula in 24 hours, funny how the history repeats so quickly

    • 1

      CT and Vishvamithra are showing the plight of tamils with the photo of muslims chased out by LTTE.

    • 1

      yes also the thousands of eastern Tamils ethnically cleansed by armed Muslims refugee home guard goons in the east and southern Tamils who were forced to flee their homes and businesses due to the activities of Muslims goons in the south. Are concerned about them too or just your fake Arab immigrant refugee Dravidian community from South India? That has created so much havoc in the name of religion

  • 0

    people like jim softy are the standouts mentioned in this article.

  • 1

    What ethnic problem?

  • 0

    The Tamil upper class keeps harping about the “Tamil Question”. Still waiting to find out what the question is.
    From what I see, the upper class Tamils want a separate country for themselves so they can rule their own low caste people. Time to move a few kilometers north of Jaffna to the real Tamil homeland.

    • 1

      yeah yeah keep parroting the same nonsense. Are you intentionally ignorant or just born that way? They don’t want separate country because of mass murder and state sponsored SinHELLa colonisation intended to erase their demography but because they want to dominate lower castes. Wonderful analysis only a delusional modaya brain can come up with.

  • 2

    I truly believe the Sinhalese are a bestial, bloodthirsty and barbaric race of men just as their origin myths describe them. I say this not just because of the decades of savage violence inflicted on the Tamils on a genocidal proportion but because of an incident from a recent year. There was a photograph posted by a Facebook page depicting a Sinhala adult male kicking a little Tamil girl (a very typical display of Sinhala bravery and manhood) holding an LTTE flag. This was from a protest organised by Tamil activists in London boycotting Sri Lankan cricket team as sports is used as a tool to divert attention from the country’s human rights abuses. The responses the photograph evoked from Sinhala viewers were truly depraved and shocking. Adults, not hooligans but everyday middle class people who would be your neighbours and colleagues, who have children of their own, were calling for the Tamil child in the photograph to be stripped naked and raped (as if they wanted to repeat what their so-called war heroes had already done to the likes of Isaipriya all over again). “Rape this bitch” they exclaimed! If this is the mentality of ordinary Sinhala population, imagine what those who were given freehand and impunity to do as they pleased in Tamil areas with an assault rifle in their hands did. Many of the recruits of the Lankan forces were already from the lower ranks of society, not properly socialised. Of course as accounts clearly show the undisciplined Sinhala soldiers treated Tamils as a conquered enemy population— spoils of war to be harassed, humiliated, looted and used for their sexual pleasures. Although the lion flag for many Tamils represents Sinhala supremacy and oppression of Tamils you don’t see Tamils calling for the rape and destruction of Sinhalese, especially children, holding the lion flag. This reveals everything we have to know about the disparate mentalities of these two different nations. The values are different therefore coexistence is impossible.

    • 0

      Ok I revisited the photograph. The little girl wasn’t even holding the LTTE flag.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.