By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
I am neither surprised, nor overly worried about the Tamil students of the Jaffna University beating the Sinhala students. Intermittent inter-ethnic conflicts in various locations have occurred in the past and will continue to happen in the foreseeable future which is, hopefully, transiting from Nandikadal to a more rational and settled period of race relations. Of course, it all depends on whether the current indicators, which are seminal, would turn into a consolidated and irreversible trend.
What is disconcerting, however, is the fact that the violence of the Jaffna students had taken place at a time when the usual litany of complaints, starting from “1956” to “1983”, have receded into the depths of healing time. The unwanted violence unleashed by the Tamil undergrads had exploded just when the political climate has begun to change, though tardily, to ease tensions and resolve issues within the framework established under the Yahapalanaya regime – a regime, mark you, enthroned by the Tamils, the Muslims and the NGOs and their masters in West. This makes any Tamil violence counter-productive. They will be putting their own security and future at risk if they revert to violence again. Besides, at a time when the international community is ganging up against terrorist violence as never before – and the violent Tamils are still on the international list of terrorists – any violence raising its menacing head in Jaffna will have a hard time in convincing the world that they are the victims of a democratically elected state allied to the West.
In the latest outburst of violence there is some consolation in the fact that the Tamil student leader was caught by the cameras wielding only a solid piece of wood and not a kalashnikov. There were also heartening and spontaneous efforts made from both sides to douse the flames of wrath. In a calculated move the state has played down the import of violence which is commendable. However, in dismissing the campus rumpus as another one of those passing events, it should not be forgotten that the violence has its roots in the indigenous Tamil political culture to exclude non-Tamils from the Jaffna. The campus violence cannot be dismissed as a sporadic outburst of some misguided students. What took place in Jaffna campus is a part of the political culture that has dominated Jaffna in the post-independent era.
In many ways this incident fits into the Jaffna-centric violence driven by their political obsession to preserve Jaffna as the exclusive domain of the Tamils. It is another episode in the recurring criminal chain of ethnic cleansing to keep the Muslims and the Sinhalese out of Jaffna. It is the latest manifestation of the Tamil propensity for mono-ethnic politics. It is also a micro-mini replay of the Vadukoddai violence that was aimed at carving out a racist state for Tamils only. In fact, the language used to excuse Tamil violence in the Jaffna campus echoes the Vadukoddian slogans of “demographic colonisation”, “the primacy of Buddhism”, cultural invasions and even the “vamsa chronicles”, etc. Recycling the Vadukoddai slogans is another way of reviving the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist racism that dragged Jaffna all the way to Nandikadal.
The overwhelming post-Independent streak of Jaffna reveals that the North has lived ONLY (emphasis is mine) by the sword of anti-Sinhala-Buddhist racism. There was no space either in the feudal fascist-casteist (Vellahla) phase, or in its morphed manifestation of fascist—Prabhakaranist tyranny – the only two dynamics that dominated Jaffna — for liberal, democratic, socialist or humanistic politics. The closed society of Jaffna resisted the liberal and pluralistic winds of change that swept the south. Behind the ubiquitous cadjan curtain there was space only for authoritarian cults of fascist casteism or fascist Prabhakaranism. Both cults ruled Jaffna with an iron fist, denying the hapless Jaffna Tamils even the right to walk in the sun. The arrogant leadership of Jaffna always assumed that they knew what was best for their people and led them by their noses to Nandikadal. In the end the leadership of both cults paid with their lives for their arrogance and folly.
There is no one else to blame except the narrow-minded, short-sighted but cocky leaders of Jaffna who overestimated their power and, consequently misled themselves and the people, missing the best opportunities of power sharing that came their way, with international guarantees. When the end came they had no one else to blame except their own arrogance and stupidity. With no one else to blame in the last days the Tamil leadership turned on the Tamils. They blamed the Tamils who were deserting them in droves and running into the shelters provided by the vilified Armed forces. The immorality of Tamils killing Tamils, even when they were fleeing in the hope of finding safer alternatives, reflects the ruthless and obscene politics ingrained in the political culture of Jaffna.
Throughout its history Jaffna politics was driven by hate politics. The Vellahla leadership that steered peninsular politics justified their hate of low-castes with Hindu dogmas revised by Arumuka Navalar, the revisionist who elevated sudra farmers (Vellahlas) to the status of Brahmins in Jaffna. Under the cover of Navalar’s Saivite sanctions, the Vellahla elite oppressed the imported Tamil slaves and the low-castes as if they were a breed of beasts not fit for human society. In the post independent period they diverted their hate politics towards the Sinhala-Buddhist of the south. The Vellahlas maintained their grip on power in the peninsula by stoking hate politics against these two sectors. The Tamil leadership waged wars against both.
Tamil spiritual and secular leaders joined hands to keep the fires of hate politics burning. Arumuka Navalar, the greatest religious icon of the Vellahlas, led attacks on the low-caste schools to prevent them from coming up. Even their revered leader Sir. Ponnambalam Ramanathan did his utmost to retain the oppressive caste system. In the twenties he went to London on a special mission to legitimise the casteist system. In the sixties, Prof. C. Sutheralingam, the caste fanatic, made a desperate bid at Maviddipuram Temple to keep the low-castes out of the sacred premises.
According to Prof. Bryan Pfaffenberger the Tamils hated S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike not because of the Sinhala Only Act, though it was there in the background, but because of the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act which was aimed at dismantling the pernicious caste system. Language was to protect government jobs. But the attack on the caste system was to threaten the entire way of life that was sacred to the Vellahlas. When the Vellahla leadership switched their anti-low-caste politics to the Sinhala-Buddhists in the post-independent phase they were making their last stand to save their feudalistic and colonial powers and privileges. The hidden agenda in the Vadukoddai Resolution was to protect and maintain the Vellahla supremacy at any cost. And when they declared war against the Sinhala-Buddhists at Vadukoddai it was the last throw of their political dice. It was their biggest gamble.
It can also be argued that they were pushed into the Vadukoddai War by the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist mania generated by them in the post-independent era, with promises of a Tamil Eelam. Over the years it gathered a momentum of its own, raising unattainable expectations. They had steered post-independent politics demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists which left no room for compromise. Besides, with S. J. V. Chelvanayakam’s “little now and more later” tactics he was dragging peninsular politics, step by step, to the bitter end of mono-ethnic extremism. Tamil expectations had reached the giddy limit by 1976. At this point the Northern leadership was in a dither unable to deliver their promises. They were hoisted by their own petard. The disillusioned Tamil youth, partly influenced by the JVP youth and partly by Southern missteps, were at their throats demanding solutions. The desperate Tamil leadership rushed to pass the Vadukoddai Resolution, declaring war, as a politically expedient move to get out of their predicament. The Tamil leadership legitimised violence and opted for a military solution, abandoning the democratic mainstream. The ageing leadership urged the Tamil youth to wage the Vadukoddai war against the demonised Sinhala bogeyman. The Vellahlas were hoping to ride into power on the backs of the misguided Tamil youth drawn from the low-castes mainly. The Vellahlas youth went abroad with their parents to pursue careers in middle-class professions.
The Tamil leadership went as far as they could, living on anti-Sinhala-Buddhist hatred. Inside Jaffna, they defeated their Tamil rivals in electoral politics by pursuing hate politics that demonised the Sinhala-Buddhists. Any attempts to co-exist in a multicultural, pluralistic society was anathema. Those who were inclined to co-exist were stigmatised as “collaborators”. Competing Tamil parties scored electoral victories by wielding the sword of Sinhala-Buddhist hatred. The Biblical judgment that condemns those who live by the sword came down decisively to crush their arrogance and bitterness at Nandikadal. For a while, before the fall at Nandikadal, there were ample opportunities for the Tamil leadership to negotiate a peace deal with honour. But the hatred of Sinhala-Buddhist blinded them to the new possibilities. The Tamil leadership chose to live by the sword of hate. In the end they died by the sword of hate.
What is ominous in the latest Jaffna outburst of violence is the re-birth of the venomous hatred that led to Nandikadal. Hate was written all over the faces of Tamil students wielding their home-made weapons. Though the latest Jaffna incident can be dismissed as a manageable aberration, it nevertheless signals dangerously that Jaffna is ever ready to revert to Vadukoddian violence on the slightest pretext. And, as will be shown in due course, there are rabid elements waiting for an opportunity to exploit the ingrained strain of anti-Sinhala-Buddhist racism for their own profit and glory.
In a febrile attempt to explain the campus violence the NGO and other assorted pundits have rushed to recycle the hacked theories that led to the futile Vadukoddai war. The latest theoretical construction claims that too many Sinhalese students have been sponsored by the state to occupy academic places in the exclusive homeland of Tamils and, what is more, they are manipulated by the Army and the state to enforce”cultural colonisation”. Predictably, Jehan Perera is in the forefront of this propaganda campaign to demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists and white-wash the Tamil violence.
His theoretical jiggery-pokery has been consistently to keep the fires of anti-Sinhala-Buddhist hatred smouldering. Throughout the longest war in Asia he not only sided with the Tamil Pol Pot but even went to the extraordinary extent of conferring the Pol Potist ideologue, Anton Balasingham, the Tamil translator at the British High Commission, with a doctorate which he knew was a lie. Now that “Dr.” Balasingham and his master are no longer there he has thrown his weight behind V. Wigneswaran, the Chief Minister of the northern province, who is making a strenuous bid to take the place of Velupillai Prabhakaran, dressed not in military fatigues but in symbolic and ritualistic Hindu garb, with an unmistakeable dash of holy ash splashed right across his forehead. This symbolism, unfortunately, is not a soothing display of spirituality. Rather, it represents militant Hindu fascism.
Falling in line more with the extreme politics of the Tamil “Surya Devan”, Wigneswaran’s political conduct indicates that he is bent on keeping peninsular politics tied intransigently (Surprise! Surprise!) to the extreme end of Hindu-Tamil racism. His egregious resolution branding all Sinhala leaders as “genocidal” killers of Tamils, his prickly relations with the TNA which is, at least, making a show of wanting to find accommodation with the Sri Lanka state, his role as the Abominable Tamil Showman attempting to fill the vacuum left by his Surya Devan, his demand for a disproportionate share of power bordering on a separate state, his latest resolution on Jaffna violence in which he raises the evil ghosts of the destructive Vadukoddai Resolution etc., reveal his ineradicable mono-ethnic extremism. Apart from adding Prabhakaran to his political pantheon, he is also known to be a devotee of Swamy Premananda who was convicted of raping 13 girls and also murder in India. Using his judicial credentials, he pleaded with the Indian Prime Minister to pardon Swamy Premananda which, of course, was rejected.the fall
It is also well known that Wigneswaran is allied to Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) of India – an extreme, right-wing, anti-Muslim political organisation that spits racial hatred, provoking inter-ethnic violence. VHP programme is to cleanse India of Muslims. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Wigneswaram participating in VHP platforms in Delhi and urging Indian Hindus to lead a pan-Hindu regional front to protect Hindus. He is noted among the Muslims of Jaffna for marginalising Muslims, almost treating them a non-persons. Despite Muslims of Jaffna raising issues of education, health and welfare with him, he has turned a deaf ear, refusing to give them even a hearing.
Painting a dismal picture of Jaffna under Wigneswaran’s rule, Prof. Rajan Hoole states: “Hindu nationalism, already a festering phenomenon in Tamil run institutions, particularly in Jaffna University, attained a more open manifestation in the form of the northern province chief minister, C.V. Wigneswaran. His rise to power in 2013 signified a deep rot and was a sign of things to come.” As in the south, the rot in Jaffna begins at the top. Wigneswaran represents the worst elements of the hate politics of Jaffna. He wriggles like the worm in the pus that oozes out of the incurable hate politics of Jaffna. But what is most depressing is the rot that is eating into the Jaffna University. Of the 17 universities it is the most scandal-ridden tertiary institution. Academics giving an “A” for a lay has sullied its integrity. Jockeying for academic positions, unqualified hacks getting promoted over the qualified, and funds flowing into private pockets are unacceptable in a community that reveres education on the same plane as Ganesh – the God of knowledge. Dr. Noel Nadesan, the Tamil expatriate journalist and activist of Melbourne who was targeted by the LTTE, wrote after his latest visit to Jaffna : “The most essential elements lacking in the North are moral, social and political leadership. The Jaffna university incident has been the clearest example of failed leadership.”
There is a growing awareness among the Tamil intellectuals now of the failure of the Tamil leadership. The absence of a genuine leadership that can think out of the racist box and move forward to a more pragmatic phase of peaceful co-existence continues to plague peninsular politics. The silver lining among the dark clouds over Jaffna, however, is the opening up of free space in the post-Prabhakaran period for the Tamils to engage in reappraising their past. But no new thinking has emerged to re-evaluate the hate-filled politics of the past. Nor has a new leadership emerged to take Jaffna out of the pit into it has fallen.
Getting out of this plight is not easy. The atavistic pull of the racist past is ingrained in peninsular politics. If you remove Sinhala-Buddhism from their agenda they have nothing to go on. Wigneswaran represents this menacing force. It is the racist extremism, currently spearheaded by Wigneswaran, that will be the biggest stumbling bloc to any future reconciliation. Reconciliation demands moving away from the Tamil intransigence of the past and advancing closer to multi-ethnic co-existence within the natural boundaries of the nation. The Northern leadership threw all what they had, including children, to pursue their elusive goal of Eelam. And they failed. Unfortunately, there are no signs that their tragic history has taught them any lesson as a guide for their future.
Northern obsession with power politics at the expense of all other existential considerations dragged the Tamils to depths of a bloody hell. Prabhakaran personified this megalomania. The power he acquired did not save the Tamils. Under him the Tamils were subject to abject servility with no dignity or self-respect. The vast mass of Tamils of all ages – from school children to the aged – were forced to serve him obediently, on their knees. Of course, the apparatchiks who were a part of the oppressive one-man regime were pleased. But the others were waiting for an opportunity to escape. When the end came they voted with their feet to escape the Prabhakaranist gulag.
It is the vilified Sinhala-Buddhists and their Forces that lifted the Jaffna Tamils from the misery of the war declared by their leaders. Their leaders financed the war. They directed the war. They mobilized the forces for the war. And when the end came where were the Tamil heroes to serve the needs of the abandoned Tamils? The money that flowed from the Tamil Diaspora to kill the Tamils suddenly stopped. There was no money to build peace for Tamils. There was money only to kill Tamils.
The award-winning French film Dheepan captures the plight of the Tamils who were trapped in the Vadukoddai war. In one critical scene, Dheepan, who escapes the LTTE violence, is confronted in France by a war-mongering agent collecting money to buy arms. Dheepan says he has given up fighting. He is thrown to the ground and kicked for refusing to contribute money that goes to kill the Tamils. He survives. The film ends with Dheepan settling down in his new home in France, surrounded by multi-ethnic families. He finds peace only in a home away from home, far, far way from his fellow-Tamils killing each other.
Dheepan is fed up of fighting. He wants to lead a normal life. Politics has not taken him anywhere. Is there any point in chasing a mythical homeland that can’t give Tamils their peace? Dheepan settles for peace and normal family life. He has stopped chasing illusions of homeland that bleeds everyone to death.
Dheepan symbolises the life experienced by Tamils trapped in the violence and hate engineered by their leaders. His life experiences confirm that Tamils have lost their capacity to find peace among his own Tamil community, whether in Jaffna or France. Isn’t the violent outburst in the Jaffna campus another sign of the inability of Jaffna Tamils to find peace? Isn’t this innate and chronic violent culture of Jaffna a threat to all communities – most of all to the Jaffna Tamils? Does this mean that they are doomed to live in perpetual anger and hatred of their non-Tamil neighbours? Is Dheepan saying that there is peace and happiness in a non-violent home abroad than in their violent homeland?
The Tamil leaders have shown their capacity to lead the Tamils to Vadukoddai and Nandikadal. But can they lead the Tamils to live in peace without killing each other?
After dragging the Tamil people into a futile 33-year-old war the Tamil leadership owes it to the Tamil people to lead them into a safe haven of peace. Blaming the Sinhala-Buddhists is no longer the solution. They tried that trick long enough and failed. It is time they took responsibility for their stupidity that led them to Nandikadal. It is time they opened their eyes and, for the sake of the war-weary people of Jaffna, committed themselves genuinely for peace and reconciliation. The Tamil people deserve a future without Tamil Pol Pots and Boko Harams. They deserve a future that will save them from their Tamil saviours who had led them so far only into death, destruction and despair.