26 July, 2017

“Will It Disappear, If You Stop Talking About It?”; A Question On Caste And Ethnicity In Jaffna

By Thanges Paramsothy

Thanges Paramsothy

Thanges Paramsothy

Caste and ethnicity continue as important organizing principles among the Tamils in Sri Lanka, particularly in Jaffna. Caste identities have been maintained, fashioned, modified and (re)strengthened from ancient times to the present era in multiple and complex ways in Jaffna society. There is a widespread belief among the general public and those who are keen to strengthen Tamil nationalism that caste may disappear if people stop talking about it. This is not very different from the claims made by the Sri Lankan state about the ethnic identity of the Tamils:  If the Tamils stop speaking about their ethnic identity or the Tamil nation, then Tamil nationalism will gradually disappear and there will be no ethnic conflict. For the former, silencing discussions on caste issues is an approach that seeks to unite the Tamils under the umbrella of an ethnic identity so that they can fight for the Tamil nation collectively. On the other hand, the Sri Lankan government highlights, time and again, the caste divisions and caste discrimination within the Tamil community with the hidden motive to weaken the mobilization of Tamils towards achieving ethnic solidarity. However, both these approaches have failed repeatedly, as discourses that have caste and ethnicity at their heart continue to be meaningful to us given that we face caste and ethnic or national discrimination in our everyday lives. Whereas Tamil nationalist activists give a lot of importance to national oppression, they show hardly any interest in discussing caste discrimination or addressing the grievances of the oppressed castes within the Tamils. This brief paper will discuss the ways in which caste exists within today’s Tamil society and analyse the implications of the claim that ‘not talking’ about caste would make caste disappear from the Tamil community.

The political significance of the interplay between caste and ethnicity within the Tamil community has increased during the last few decades unlike before. This is in fact a general phenomenon in most South Asian societies. Even though a nuanced and deeper analysis of Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka indicates that its origins could be traced back to the colonial period, it only is during the post-independence period that Tamil nationalism started to openly confront Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. An age old system of ‘untouchability’ within the Tamils underwent changes following the famous temple entry struggle at the Maviddapuram Murugan temple in 1968. After the tragic events caused by physical violence between the dominant caste, the Vellālar and oppressed caste groups, major Hindu temples including Maviddapuram opened their doors to ‘untouchables’. Pfaffenberger (1990) indicates that this was a turning point where Tamil nationalism attempted to ‘heal caste wounds’ within the Tamil community while addressing the greater threat looming against the Tamil ethnic identity from the Sinhala dominated state. However, the temple-entry struggle within the Jaffna Tamil community achieved only limited success. This struggle did not change the discriminatory practices undertaken by caste-based Hindu Temples, which are located in Jaffna’s villages. Sivathamby (2007) rightly points out that the temple-entry struggle has achieved only a symbolic success. In many villages in Jaffna, people from different caste groups have their own temples to perform their rituals. In certain villages, even now, oppressed castes are not allowed to enter into the temples run by the so-called ‘upper-caste’ families or ‘upper-caste’ trustees. Even the temples where oppressed caste communities are allowed to worship, they are not allowed to carry the idols of Hindu Gods on their shoulders during temple festivals. This practice that is generally observed in the villages has made underprivileged caste groups build their own Temples rather than winning access to Temples owned by dominant caste communities.

A brief description of the photo: Renovations are underway in a Murugan temple in Koddaikkaadu Mallakam, Jaffna belonging to an oppressed caste community (Pallar-agricultural labours). Although non-agamic rituals were in this temple in the past, rituals are now conducted in this temple in line with the Agamic tradition.

A brief description of the photo: Renovations are underway in a Murugan temple in Koddaikkaadu Mallakam, Jaffna belonging to an oppressed caste community (Pallar-agricultural labours). Although non-agamic rituals were in this temple in the past, rituals are now conducted in this temple in line with the Agamic tradition.

The Tamil diaspora plays a key role in keeping Tamil nationalism alive within the country of its origin and beyond. They financially support traditional religious rituals conducted in the temples located in the homeland. The traditional practice of building caste-based temples in the villages of Jaffna due to caste antagonisms in the religious domain has been further accelerated by diaspora remittances sent by members of different caste groups to their own communities in the homeland. Many oppressed caste temples in Jaffna have been renovated with the financial support provided by the diaspora. Many of these temples have been upgraded from temples that practised multiple non-agamic traditions to temples that adhere to the agamic tradition. The mobilisations and investment of oppressed castes in the religious domain have, on the one hand, supported their efforts to live with dignity and respect; on the other hand, they have reproduced and/or re-strengthened old caste-based religious identities in a new modernised society.

As regards caste and nationalism, Jaffna Tamils act differently in different periods of time for different purposes. The Tamil community and its leadership, which includes both democratically elected leaders as well as militant leaders, adapted different modes and measures to address the caste question within the Tamils. Hellmann-Rajanayagam (1993) has argued that the LTTE fought a two-sided war. The first one was against the government in order to establish a separate Tamil homeland in the North and East regions of Sri Lanka. The second war was against its own Tamil (Vellālar) establishment. The LTTE and even Tamil ethnic politics have achieved a considerable success in unifying Tamils politically in favour of ethnic solidarity irrespective of the caste divisions within the community. Mobilising the people towards a unified ethnic consciousness was comparatively easy for the LTTE, as the Tamils, irrespective of their caste identities, felt that there was a greater threat to their Tamil ethnic identity due to actions taken by the Sri Lankan state and its military forces over an epoch. However, when the LTTE demanded social changes within Tamil society, particularly with a view to creating a society free of caste discrimination, they were not welcomed. When such a situation arose, the Vellālar dominated Tamil politics denounced the LTTE.

Political leadership and its social and caste composition significantly vary from times of war to relatively peaceful and settled times. Those whose ancestors previously worked for the Vellālar and/or were oppressed by the Vellālar came to power in Tamil militant movements. The LTTE was dominated by the Karayār caste (fishermen). Thus, we see the opening of a space where traditionally underprivileged castes could occupy powerful political positions. For example, Thamilchelvan, coming from an oppressed caste community, became the leader of the political wing of the LTTE. The LTTE leadership emerged from subordinate caste backgrounds and wanted to mould Jaffna society by eradicating caste and gender discriminations and exclusions carried out in the name of caste and gender throughout its known history. However, to produce a casteless society was not an easy task. In a number of cases, in order to get support to its military mobilisation against the Sinhala chauvinist state, the LTTE could not act explicitly against the Vellālar majority. The LTTE was able to punish individuals who were identified as acting in favour of caste, but could not do the same when caste-based issues led to confrontations between different groups in the villages of Jaffna. Following the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, in a scenario where Tamil resistance shifted to non-violence, the Vellālar became dominant in electoral politics as they did before the emergence of Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka.

It is important that we understand the transformations that caste-based relations among the Tamil people underwent during the war and displacements. Inter-caste relations within the people varied as the Tamils went through periods of crisis and of relative stability. People from different caste groups had to intermingle and interact with each other in emergency situations of all kinds, making it difficult to sustain ‘untouchability’ and caste-based social distance. The ‘new’ emergency practices that promoted inter-caste relations, however, did not last long as the community stepped into relatively peaceful times. There is an overwhelming representation of certain oppressed caste groups in the long-term IDP camps in Jaffna. More importantly, unlike spaces that cut across caste boundaries, long-term IDP camps emerged along caste lines. For example, the four IDP camps in Mallakam a village, in Northern Jaffna, comprises only oppressed caste groups, namely Pallar (agricultural labours) and Nalavar (toddy tappers). Old geographies of caste get reproduced in new social settings produced by the war like the long-term IDP camps in Jaffna. It does not mean that caste is the only factor that shapes this new social setting. In fact, many factors including poverty, landlessness, limited social networks and capital and traditional caste-based segregation and spatial practices are at play in these settings (Thanges and Silva 2009). As a constellation of multiple social, economic, cultural and political forces, they act upon people’s capacity and agency. However, we need to acknowledge that caste plays a very crucial role in shaping this constellation and its impact on the communities. One cannot understand the modern (re)configurations of the traditional caste system without examining them vis-à-vis colonialism and its impact on the social fabric of our communities, the emergence of Tamil nationalism, Tamil militancy, the civil war and its consequences like displacement and post-war political developments.

Arranged marriages are instances where caste belonging is openly expressed and taken into consideration. People are willing to reveal their caste identities in public in order to find a partner from the same caste group. We see this trend in the matrimonial columns published in Tamil newspapers. The Tamil diaspora is not free of this traditional matrimonial practice. When they look for a partner for their child, parents from the so-called ‘upper caste’ background take extra care in finding someone from the same caste group. Even though the second generation follows certain principles and practices of their parents, they seem to get confused as to how they would want to deal with caste in choosing their life partners. There are many examples of broken relationships among the second generation diaspora due to the barriers created by caste.

In conclusion, a major trend observed in contemporary Jaffna society, as opposed to the 50s, and the 60s that witnessed struggles against caste discrimination, is that  open discussions on caste or the annihilation of the caste system are not appreciated much by the general public, even though caste plays an important role in political mobilizations and in the selection of political leaders, the appointment of persons to positions in higher education and public administration, in religious practices and performances, and very noticeably in marriage. There is a complete silence within the community on the question of caste discrimination, even if caste is either intentionally or unintentionally practised in public as well as private spheres of life. This development can be interpreted as part of the Tamil nationalist mobilisation aiming at uniting all the different groups within the Tamil community towards building ethnic solidarity. However, such political mobilizations sweep caste and caste discrimination under the carpet. It is quite right to assume that the Tamil community’s silence on caste oppression does not intend to  eradicate caste-based traditional practices in political, educational, religious and cultural domains; instead, it enables  the continuation of those practices, albeit in new forms, in those domains, without allowing room for potential internal struggles within the Tamil community.

*Thanges Paramsothy, PhD Research Student in Anthropology – School of Law and Social Sciences – University of East London, UK

Reference

Hellmann-Rajanayagam, D. (1993) Jaffna Social System: Continuity and Change under Condition of War, International Asienforum, 24(3-4): 251-281

Pfaffenberger, B. 1990, ‘The Political Construction of Defensive Nationalism: The 1968 Temple-entry Crisis in Northern Sri Lanka’, Journal of Asian Studies, 49(1): 78-95.

Sivathamby, K (2007) ‘Divine Presence and/or Social Prominence: An Inquiry into the Social Role of the Places of Worship Jaffna Tamil Society, in Sivathamby (ed.), Sri Lankan Tamil Society and Politics, Chennai: New Century Book House, pp. 24-56.

Thanges. P, and Silva, K.T, (2009) ‘Caste Discrimination in War-affected Jaffna Society’ in Silva, K. T, Sivapragasam, P. P, & Thanges, P. (eds.), Casteless or Caste-blind?: Dynamics of Concealed Caste Discrimination, Social Exclusion and Protect in Sri Lanka, Copenhagen: International Dalit Solidarity Network, pp. 50-77.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    5

    I don’t think caste is a major factor in the Jaffna society except for few miscreants. For example, my marriage is an arranged marriage and we are from different castes. No one made any fuss about it.

    • 8
      2

      What Thanges Paramjothi has written was true around 30 years ago (pre-LTTE) but it is NOT true today (post-LTTE). The Diaspora Tamils who left the country after ’83 are still practising the old caste system as it was 30 years ago but those in Jaffna today have completely given up the caste system. Thanges Paramjothi must be one of those Diaspora Tamils whose parents left the country 30 years ago, if he goes to Jaffna today he will see a big change has taken place in the North regarding the caste system.

      • 3
        3

        Its all in the genes!

        Yes you are right because the ones left have been reduced to 2nd class citizens in their only known land.

        however, caste/class is an important feature when forming judgments of behavior and in an age when its the boys and girls from old ties that matter than what you know.

        Otherwise its like saying lets have sports/cricket without politics which happens even at school.

        Its very naive of the writer to whip up caste differences based on western lies and one sided analysis.

        Take US we have seen the Bush dynasty created from Ivey League beginings. Then we have seen the Clinton dynasty created from Ivey League beginings. Lanka followed Oxbridge tie but it was just drowned by Cambridge from across the sea.

        So what the writer is dreaming can never happen for all in the real world. In the west they have tried to force feed this equality at university level and sadly it is not working. It has quite a bit to do with what you are worth but after that comes the music.

        Art of intelligence: Live poor with lots of money.-Pablo Picasso

  • 3
    2

    your conclusion appears to be wrong. when you say that the jaffna public do not want to discuss about caste discrimination that includes the affected parties also. in other words according to your view the disadvantaged sections of the jaffna society also do not want to discuss these matters. if such discrimination is existing seriously and openly they will definitely come out with that. i do not want to say that discrimination is totally absent. i do not think that it is operating to that extent to say that there is discrimination as before. personally i know highly educated members of the disadvantaged groups do not want to give much publicity to caste matters because for them that is not the basic/major contradiction that is existing in the society.
    there other major contradictions which are impacting the tamils very very seriously irrespective of caste differences among tamils.
    -sundaram

  • 4
    5

    Thanks Thanges for this illuminating article – I commend you for your courage to be honest about internal conflict among a minority group. Often such conflict is ignored at times of stress in order to unite the people under one umbrella. However such intentional ignorance does not erase the conflict -rather it festers like a wound deprived of oxygen.

    I hope that Tamils can successfully eradicate castism, which has had many negative consequences to many Tamils in SL. In Tamil Nadu, it seems that the “low” castes have been doing better and better, financially and academically. i wonder what role the Mandal Commission’s reforms have played in this effect. Mandal commission is an example of positive discrimination (affirmative action) to help improve the status of historically under-served populations. This is similar to what they did in Sri Lanka after independance. However these reforms have their own negative consequences, as can be seen in Sri Lanka. Many of my upper-caste Tamil friends in India,complain of negative discrimination against them in university entrance. This phenomenon resonates the grievences of /Sri Lankan Tamils about not being able to get in to university in the numbers they used to pre-independance and pre-swabasha Sri Lanka.

    I’d be interested to see someone analyze these two phenomenon in a comparative study – the similarities and differences in the postive discrimination policies in India vs Sri Lanka.

    Perhaps such an analysis will provide the CT readership with much food for thought.

  • 1
    4

    It wont and that is the short answer. It will take 2 -3 generations. Since most of DIE ARSE PORA is affected, good that will keep them out !

  • 6
    4

    Caste issues pervade all ethnic groups – those of tamils are slowly disappearing – even Christian tamils believe in ‘caste equality’ in marriages.
    What is there to “research” in this? Does the shame disappear?
    His PhD will be a sham one without any usefulness to society in the north.
    His supervisers in London will swallow his b.s as they are unfamiliar with the reality in sri lanka society.
    What will he do afterwards – teach?
    That will be a disaster.

    • 3
      4

      Justice, could you support your argument with facts? Your comment says your shallow knowledge

  • 5
    14

    Thanges, I agree with you. There was a time in Jaffna, when Low Caste Tamils were not allowed inside Hindu Temples.
    Even during the 1980s Riots, Tamils in Colombo divided themselves by Caste into separate Storeys of a Building in Wellawatte where they were seeking refuge.
    Tamils cannot complain of Discrimination by other ethnicities, in Colombo and the other big cities in the South.
    Dominant Tamil Ethnicity and Caste segregation is the root of all evil.

    • 4
      2

      “”Tamils cannot complain of Discrimination by other ethnicities, in Colombo and the other big cities in the South. Dominant Tamil Ethnicity and Caste segregation is the root of all evil. “”

      Mule don’t display your stupidity or is it a fault of the brain eh??

      rather they have the birth right to discuss both effects on them and protest until they have equality or sever/divorce both are possible and part & parcel of free world.
      Pls dont tie anyones hand before as that is the root cause of all evils.

      Cast is beyond your realm just puta madre also sings and everyone else listens.

  • 0
    1

    This guy [Edited out]
    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/

  • 6
    2

    A good analysis of reality especially in the Jaffna society. Hopefully this will serve as an eye opener at least to the educated people in Jaffna. At the same time we have to admit that social habits will die only slowly. A positive step to expedite change will be social uplift which will mainly be an economic uplift for the affected parties namely the oppressed castes. Let us all consciously work towards that noble goal which will be beneficial for all. It will take time. We have to be patient. There is no other way!

    Sengodan. M

  • 5
    3

    The system you describe as the caste system is a tradition in every society, both Oriental and Western, although not explicitly called or categorized as such, or followed or practised in the same name or to the same extent. The national question of Tamils – a struggle for political rights with dignity – is another kettle of fish.

    As a student of Societies and Customs, you should be careful not to spread your complexes and confusions on to others.

    I hope that your dissertation survives such an unwise approach.

  • 6
    10

    How sad is this?. Untouchable people still exist in Jaffna.

    There are Apartheid Temples there..

    Toddy Tappers, Toilet Cleaners, Laundry personnel aren’t allowed to carry their deities on the shoulder.

    One thing common among these different castes is they are all poor.

    They don’t have proper houses, They are landless.They don’t have the means to send the kids to school to get an education and break out of the poverty cycle and caste entrapment.

    Did Prabakran liberate these people at least from this pathetic discrimination?.

    Vellalas, who fell out with Prabakaran, over caste according to the Writer are now in control of the North.

    Their Vellala CM has been around for nearly a year now.

    Have they highlighted any of these issues and offered remedies?.

    All they want is a Vellala Police and total control of the land as well.

    Will the untouchables get a better deal from the Vellalas once the TNA gets a Vellala Police and the Land Bank?.

    Wonder whether the UNHR Commissioner knows about this caste system?.

    • 7
      0

      Suppose if K.A Sumanasekera is from the rodi caste or any other low caste and his son wants to become a Buddhist monk and is interested in getting ordained in Malwathu and Asgiri Chapters of Siyam Nikaya in the upcountry. Unfortunately, Malwathu and Asgiri Chapters will reject his son, they will not ordain him because he is not from the Govigama caste. He will be told to select the Ramanna or Amarapura Nikaya where they accept low castes.

      Before you talk about other peoples caste, why not talk about your own?

  • 3
    5

    The writer should study the writings of Sebastian Rasalingam, a “low-caste” Tamil who has written many many articles about caste oppression as experienced by him, and within the context of the political leadership of the Tamils by the Land owning upper-caste Tamils who live in Colombo but rule the north. The Tamil leaders opposed universal franchise (one vote per person, both men and women, irrespective of status) because they felt that only high-caste MEN should vote. Ramanathan went to England perhaps twice to request the Colonial secretary to legislate and include the caste system in the State-Council constitution of Ceylon because the Tamil leaders of the time argued that the caste system is an inalienable part of Tamil culture.

    Here are some of Rasalingam’s articles and other articles that Mr. paramasothy should study:

    http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/07/keeping-tamil-culture-and-uprooting.html

    http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/06/sinhalization-of-north-and-tamilzation.html

    http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/10/tamil-caste-discrimination.html

    http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/05/dynamics-of-caste-politics-in-jaffna.html

    Furthermore, it is not correct that the LTTE attempted to irradiate the caste system. It used the caste system to its own purposes, exploiting the tendency of the “lower castes” to implicitly obey the upper castes. Some of the truly lower castes tried to rebel against the upper castes and become informers to the government. They were promptly lynched and hung on lamp posts by the LTTE.
    See:
    http://dh-web.org/slpol/posts/Lamppost-murders.pdf
    During the LTTE war, low-caste people who ran to seek refuge in high-caste villages were turned away: See:

    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/recasting-caste-war-displacement-and-transformations/

    Thus caste system is still very important among Tamils (much more so than among the Sinhalese, due to the influence of Buddhism), and so it is very important to study this social phenomenon. It is only study and understanding that will lead to finding a social cure of this scourge which was powerful enough to banish Buddhism from India.
    However, the strong win by the TNA in 2013 reestablished the old domination of the Vellalar group over the Tamils of the North, that has existed since early British times. Why is there no change of leadership among Tamils for over a century, except for the LTTE aberration?

  • 8
    0

    Thanges Paramjothi,

    When were you in the north of Sri Lanka last and how long did you stay? Your research must bed conducted in north, as it is of a sociological nature. The north is your laboratory to verify your hypothesis. If not, your thesis will not advance the frontiers in your field of study. The north and the east of Sri Lanka are a rich field for sociological and psychological research in a post-war context. However, these issues cannot be studied only through literature reviews from remote locations. The research has to be meticulous and painstaking. I hope your’s is.

    Your references are also outdated in terms of the post-war realities. The only positive achievement of the LTTE was the iron hand with which it tackled the caste issue. While the caste issue is not dead, it is breathing its last. While some people in Jaffna may whisper about caste affiliations of people, they will not dare make it a public issue.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 8
    0

    Resubmitted because of a posting problem.

    Thanges Paramjothi,

    When were you in the north of Sri Lanka last and how long did you stay? Your research must be conducted in the north, as it is of a sociological nature. The north is your laboratory to verify your hypothesis. If not, your thesis will not advance the frontiers in your field of study. The north and the east of Sri Lanka are a rich field for sociological and psychological research in a post-war context. However, these issues cannot be studied only through literature reviews from remote locations. The research has to be meticulous and painstaking. I hope your’s is.

    Your references are also outdated in terms of the post-war realities. The only positive achievement of the LTTE was the iron hand with which it tackled the caste issue. While the caste issue is not dead, it is breathing its last. While some people in Jaffna may whisper about caste affiliations of people, they will not dare make it a public issue.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 1
      4

      Dear Dr RN,

      Re “While some people in Jaffna may whisper about caste affiliations of people, they will not dare make it a public issue.”

      They wouldn’t because that would be inimical to the Human Rights stance. That doesn’t mean it does not exist or is breathing it’s last.

      Kind Regards,
      OTC

      • 0
        0

        OTC,

        The caste system exists subliminally in the public sphere and is in its death throes as a despicable social phenomenon. The social, societal , attitudinal and cultural changes that have taken place over three decades in the north and particular in Jaffna are phenomenal- mostly negative and some positive. The face of Jaffna has changed. The north is a rich field for research on these aspects. The Jaffna University has failed to lead this much needed research because of both internal factors and the absence of the political-security environment to engage in such research. This is loss for the Tamils, Sri Lanka, the world and posterity.

        Dr.RN

        • 2
          0

          Dr.Rajasingham

          Caste conciousness whether overt or covert is evil and against all human decencies.

          Could you look at the Matrimonial column in Sunday times and please tell us what do you read from that one page.

          http://www.sundaytimes.lk/140504/matrimonial.pdf

  • 3
    9

    There is a widespread belief among the general public and those who are keen to strengthen Tamil nationalism that caste may disappear if people stop talking about it.

    The Tamil nationalism that was whipped by the likes of C.C. Sundaralingam, E.V. Nagatahan was to strengthen the Jaffna caste system.

    Tamil nationalism exists to strengthen the caste system – not the other way around.

    Its all here |->
    http://www.colomboherald.com/world-politics/tamil-caste-discrimination
    <-|

    It ironic when Prabakaran picked up he thought the intention of the Vellalar was Tamil emancipation. I suspect he realized it later when he kept gunning down TULF Vellalars one after another.

    If Prabakaran was here today, he would not want TNA to take over Jaffna precisely because its regressive. TNA is taking back Jaffna to square one before the violence.

    • 5
      1

      CASTE DISCRIMINATION IN SINHALA SOCIETY:

      The Sinhala caste system consisted of roughly about 15 caste groups ranging from a ruling aristocratic caste (Radala) to a servile beggar (Rodi) caste. A vast majority of population (roughly about 50% of all Sinhala people) belonged to the Goigama (lit. farmer) caste, a peasant group with independent land holding and broadly defined as worthy recipients of services of all caste groups below them in terms of caste hierarchy.

      All other caste groups had some specific occupations, services, or functions assigned to them. Some like Karawa (fishermen), Durawa (toddy tappers) and Salagama (cinnamon workers) held economically lucrative but socially less prestigious occupations of hereditary nature. As these occupations gained considerable economic prominence in the colonial era, their relative status within the hierarchy too seems to have improved. Below them were the service castes, which were expected to render specific services within a hierarchical framework to those above them in the caste hierarchy. The service castes were Nawandanna (smiths), Hena (washer men), Kumbal (potters), Wahumpura (jaggory makers), Batgama (manual workers), Berawa (drummers) and the like. Some caste services such as washing of clothes for others were considered to be particularly demeaning but the relevant castes were not socially ostracized but rather offered lower rank in the social hierarchy as manifested in seating arrangements for them.

      Among the service castes, Wahumpura (jaggory makers) and Batgama (manual labourers), who together comprised of about 15% to 20% of the Sinhala population according to some estimates, were often economically and socially underprivileged due to the consideration of a combined hereditary status, landlessness and unemployment. Both these castes have been traditionally dependent on Radala and Goigama families for land and livelihoods. In some instances, at least they were like bonded servants of Goigama or Radala households. Both the Batgama men and the Wahumpura women often served as workers and domestic servants of high caste landlords, respectively.

      Often these relationships were very hierarchical as outdoor expressed in honorific or derogatory forms of address used in relevant interpersonal communications. Gradually, these feudalrelationships have undergone erosion in recent times with educated younger generations in service caste families refusing to show traditional deference and demeanour, and their relationships with high caste families have characterized by avoidance, resentment and open hostilities in some instances.

      At the same time the growing numbers of impoverished members in these low caste communities have turned into casual wage labour, political patronage, land distributed under state sponsored colonization schemes, village expansion schemes, and crime, violence and illegal operations for their livelihoods (Moore and Perera 1978).

      They have not been able to articulate their grievances politically within the existing political parties often controlled by high caste families, and within the existing electoral systems and arrangements (e.g. delimitation of electorates) splitting low caste concentrations and low caste votes (Jiggins 1979).The emergence of the JVP among the Wahumpura and Batgama youth from these communities in 1971 and 1987-89 reported by many authors (Jiggins 1979, Chandraprema 1991) must be understood in this context.

    • 5
      1

      At least the vast majority of the Hindu temples in Sri Lanka allow everyone to enter and participate in rituals. But the Sinhala Dalits like Karava, Durava, Salagama (17th century South Indian migrants) and Rodi – caste people could never become the Mahanayake of Dalada Maligawa or Diyavadana Nilame. They can’t even walk in the Esala Perehera procession. They must stay on the side and just watch the parade.

      Sinhala Buddhism is nothing but a gaudy caste carnival . The Buddha hated any division among Human beings, but in Sri Lanka, only high caste Kandiyan Sinhla Govigama (equivalent of Tamil Vellala) can become Diyvadana Nilame and even the prelate of Malwatte chapter must be from high caste Govigama.

      The Sinhala Dalits cannot touch the sacred tooth relic they cannot carry the relic in the Prehara to be mounted in Elephant. Only the High caste Kandiyan Govigama can do that. The only thing the Sinhala Dalists allowed to do is stay away from the tooth relic and to say sadu sadu.

      The Kandyan Govigama Sinhalese still don’t allow the coastal Karava Dancers in the Kumpal Perehera but they allow the Japanese dancers. The Japanese have more rights than the coastal Sinhala Dalits in the Esala Pereherea of Kandy, that is supposed to be the National festival of the Sinhalese.

  • 4
    4

    Caste is devil thought. This is really Hindu religious discrimination: it is a common sense that this is dangerous and barbaric concept. Who are you to divide human beings into low and high caste? Who have you the authority to do that? It is so called some hindu fanatics for thier own benefits did made up this story. Poor Tamils still believe in it . People are exploited and they are cheated and they are discriminated . What a shame today we have this ?
    Who gave them this devil idea to make differentiation between people ? This is really bad and this is really uncultuered and uncivilised way of treating people : Ban caste and Ban descriamntion and ban this devil practice
    English man can marry low caste Tamil lady and yet, Brahman can not marry so called low caste Tamil ladies. When European marry Tamil ladies do they look into caste . This persist made up for their living

    • 3
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      I completely concur on the point that the casteism is barbaric and inhumane. Hinduism was at the forefront of it because it was the religion of South East Asia. Hence, casteism exist in all South East Asian societies including within the Sinhala Buddhists. People must not view this as a Tamil or Sinhala issue but view it as a human catastrophe that needs to be tackled both socially and legally. To start with the Buddhist sangas need amalgamate and take a lead.

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    Dead Samarasekere.
    You do not have much to be proud of your caste as well. Sinhalese have some caste system in Buddhism. Some low caste Sinhalese are not allowed to go inside Daladamaligawa. Or Kalanj temple : or hold high post in these places . Moreover, I hearted that some religious occasions people are made to wait outside temples and in last rows in according to their status and family ranking : I do not make it up but your Sinhalese people tell us this

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      Nass,

      Poor Sinhala Buddhist people who happen to be the great majority only want to find a job, educate their children, enable them to find a decent jobs and break out of the poverty cycle and live as their Elite brethren in the cities.

      And most kids who have broken out wouldn’t careless whether their girl friends or boy friend are vellalas or untouchables as long as they are on par with their social backgrounds.

      They have that opportunity now, although there is still a long way to go.

      I don’t think they are worried about which temple they are allowed into as long as they can pay their respects to Buddha.

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    Thank you the clear Exposition of a deep-seated discrimination within the Tamils all over the world. We who are Tamils of the Island, while fighting the oppression from outside, overlook conveniently our own oppression of one another in various forms, the chief being caste, poverty, and regions..
    I have highlighted my convictions from my younger days and fought for it even within my church. In recent times I have spoken to the Diaspora in many ways including my TV interviews –
    Tamils will not have true Liberation merely by fighting the external oppression. Internal oppressions weaken us.

    one with internal disorders cannot struggle against an external threat.

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      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/

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      Good to hear the good Reverend still has his ex Dioceans in his prayers, when he is preaching to the Diaspora.

      Those Dioceans who are mainly the non Vellalas and even the untouchables, as the writer points out became Christians because of their poverty.

      That is why there are no Catholics among Vellalas.

      These poor people paid a heavy price serving their late Liberator, under the guidance of the Reverend.

      Has the standard of living of these people improved after the Reverend escaped , the Liberator perished and the Vellalas took charge?..

      Not according to this remarkable article.

      The current Vellala rulers of these non vellala inhabitants do not talk much about elimination of caste discrimination and removing apartheid system in Temples.

      Neither do they mention about the 22 % Economic Growth in the North.

      Can the landless non Vellalas expect land from a Vellala controlled land bank?.

      Will the untouchables get unrestricted access to places of worship from the Vellala Police?.

      Isn’t this massive allegation of land grabbing real when the writer says most non Vellalas are landless?.

      Aren’t the jobs, good incomes, which has eliminated the need for the non Vellalas to bow down to the Vellalas in the Diaspora?.

      Isn’t that the answer for the Reverend’s ex Dioceans back home too?.

      Are the Reverend and his PM Rudra waiting till the Vallalas in Colombo get the Eelaam in the North, to fix up the poverty and the caste problems of the untouchables and the dalits ?.

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      “ We who are Tamils … overlook conveniently our own oppression of one another in various forms, the chief being caste….”

      It has been said on more than one occasion that the Tamils who converted to Christianity in Sri Lanka were the ‘Dalits’ or the ‘low caste’ people. They apparently saw this as their emancipation from the lowly status imposed on them by Hinduism (and also the prospect of the western education that came with it). In South India we have seen this happen en masse in recent times with conversion to Buddhism, and sometimes to Islam.

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    I have seen actual caste studies in Sri Lanka amongst Tamils in post war conflict by researchers who spent time in Sri Lanka. This is the kind of study we need, not a review of existing literaturehttps://www.anthro.ox.ac.uk/fileadmin/ISCA/JASO/Abeyrathne.pdf

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    Oh, but nowadays, the Tamil Vellalars are into caste-system with the Sinhalese. Shamed by the LTTE war, they are sucking up to our stupid Sinhalese and convincing then that Lankan unity is achievable via caste ; Vellalar caste should copulate/aggregate/intertwine with high caste Sinhalese (Govigamas?).

    This is especially seen among diaspora societies in the West where Tamil Vellelar, rule the roost, and our mutt-unsophisticated Sinhalese are gaping at this as something very high-minded , feeling that it is very grand and proper thing to suck up to (“see, we are non-racial against Tamils as long as they are of high-caste or high-brain status”).

    Hence Lankan social groups in the West are UNP prone, as they can take out of Sri Lanka 1) caste, 2)money 3)brains(it is seen that caste and brains are interlinked, with high castes having the time, money, and privilege to study, although a few lower-caste are acceptable, provided they have brains, money and karmic-priveledge).

    All this is happening while Lanka goes to hell. Pray that the Sinhalese won’t succumb to such stupidity. It will clash with the Buddhist psyche, and nothing will ever be well in Sri Lanka ever again.

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    This is good study mr paramjorthy, you are trying to combine caste issue and nationalism, people need a deeper understanding rather having a shallow look

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      Shall shall ow ow,
      The buruva has taken a long on shot of looking simple
      `lying race` of the two. Tamil speaking Demela and the
      Sihala speaking Demela both of Hora Oru/Kallathoni.

      Rather than a straight bat thesis/dissertation the
      `buruva is at it. Both the sihala and demela speakers
      have cast and they are very similar in practice depending
      on the political climate.

      To retrieve data you will need a microscope – nothing
      exists as wholes and parts in their natural context.

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    There is greater consciousness in contemporary Tamil society – within and outside Sri Lanka – on the caste issue. The influence of the liberation struggle has, in a way, closed ranks in the caste issue. There are more inter-caste marriages among Tamils in the diaspora than within. Although by no means is the caste issue totally irrelevant in Tamil society, there is now greater semi-open discussion against the system than before – encouragingly lead by those in the higher castes. In many instances, class replaces caste in Tamil society, as it does in Sinhala society too. It is in a way so in South and North India too where politics, cinema, industry-trade and commerce has breached hitherto steel walls in respect of caste issues. Two matters that brought VP and the LTTE much acceptance was their “war” against caste and dowry – both social evils that are gradually on the way out.

    Despite relative progress in recent times and the coming of the Global Village and the vast advances in Information Technology, it will take further time for the caste issue to be totally out of social discourse and practise.

    R. Varathan

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    I am not surprised by the level of hostility shown in some of the above comments, that is the level of societal and kinship/family tyranny in Tamil life. Dr Narendran!, a simple Google search would have provided you some information about the author. The author has had his primary research training in Sri Lanka, and he has done his research in the north, “rich field for sociological and psychological research”. Your conclusion that the LTTE “tackled the caste issue” effectively is patently wrong.

    http://archive.cmb.ac.lk:8080/research/bitstream/70130/1102/1/P%20Thanges_Caste%20and%20Social%20Exclusion%20of%20IDPs%20in%20Jaffna%20Socie.pdf

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      Appy with ass grapes’

      you are part of the same ac.lk `lying race`??

      who is going to not prove that he was hibernating as
      a pukka tourist under the army shade where
      people are constrained??

      Kybmshut.

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      Anapayan,

      Thanks for the reference. This paper is based on an undergraduate research project in Peradeniya and post-war visits to Jaffna.The post-war data has been collected at IDP camps in a particular locality in Jaffna, which to me are not representative samples. My comment were based on the article in CT, which did not give a pointer to how the data was collected,other than references to other publications.

      In the absence of an acceptable survey of the numbers and distribution of Vellalah vs other castes in the north and the Jaffna in particular, no conclusions can be reached about the strength and endurance of the caste system’ My impression (which would be the hypothesis) is that there is a sea change on this front in Jaffna.

      The migration of Tamils-internal and external- have depleted the ranks of the Vellalahs much more. They appear to be the minority now. The other castes are the visible face of Jaffna today. Further, most of them are poor (both Vellalah and other castes) and likely to stay in IDP camps longer. The Vellahlah presence in the camps will be also proportionately lower for this reason.

      Although, a substantial number among these so-called low castes are climbing the social and economic ladder quite rapidly, unfortunately, those who reach the top, no longer identify themselves with their caste identity and kin. Many among them claim they are Vellalhas.

      Unless these apparent impressions are researched on the ground through well designed investigative studies,it will be both wrong and dangerous to draw negative conclusions. Social hierarchical arrangements are inherent in both animals and humans-the naked apes. However, as humans we have to endeavour to avoid these becoming gross violations of fellow humans rights as individuals.

      I welcome Paramsothi’s interest in this field of study, but would encourage him to produce a magnum opus, with a well designed and funded study on the present situation, which would indicate the direction in which Sri Lankan Tamil society is evolving.

      Dr.RN

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    Thanges Paramsothy,
    What caste are you and your spouse.
    This will surely influence your outlook on others in Jaffna.

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      Justice, You are bringing unnecessary issues which are not related to the topic here, in my personal experience I think you are really affected by Thanges Paramsothy’s rapid growth. I don’t understand the fact that why you are worries that what he is going to do after his Phd? I think you only know the narrow way out to ending up in teaching, come out of the narrow circle, and appreciate his growth. If you could teach a future generation with such low attitude, think about our society where it is heading, Mr Justice, be justice not only on your name but in acts, thank you.

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    Justice,

    You are bringing unnecessary issues which are not related to the topic here, in my personal experience I think you are really affected by Thanges Paramsothy’s rapid growth. I don’t understand the fact that why you are worries that what he is going to do after his Phd? I think you only know the narrow way out to ending up in teaching, come out of the narrow circle, and appreciate his growth. If you could teach a future generation with such low attitude, think about our society where it is heading, Mr Justice, be justice not only on your name but in acts, thank you.

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    It is true that cast system was introduced into the Tamil culture through Hinduism. The ancient Tamil culture promoted a life of simplicity with the emphasis on equality for all. Ouvaiyar, the renowned Tamil woman scholar, who has the total authority on these issues, has written,
    Saadhi Irandozhiya Verillai Saatrungaal
    Needhi Vazhuvaa Nerimuraiyin Maedhaniyil
    Ittar Periyor Idadhaar Izhikulathor
    Pattaangil Ulla Padi

    meaning, If people should be classified based on caste, the truth is to say that there are only two such classfications. The one who does not go off the path of ethical values, ethical behaviour, generosity called as Noble (Periyor) and the ones that don’t – Ignoble (Izhikulathor). Other than that there are no other castes.

    Her writings have lived on in written as well as in oral traditions amongst Tamils and taught from Day 1 at schools. I have confidence especially now, that followers of this system will be frowned upon once there is relative normalcy in the North & East as there is greater awareness among Tamils about their roots and origin. The problem of the ‘other’ is well addressed in the Tamil culture.

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    I am a Hindu and I will say that Hinduism is the stupidest religion of all. Not only do Hindus believe in the caste system, they also believe in astrology, numerology, palmistry and certain other occult practices.

    If you study the tribal rituals of the ten most primitive tribes on this planet you will find that they are no more stupid than the religious rituals of the Hindus, especially that of the Tamil Hindus. Many of them would still like to believe that the earth is flat and the only thing that prevents them from persisting in that belief is that the absurdity of such a notion has been established incontrovertibly.

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      You sound like the servant boy in the home Hindu who has no idea of the faith and how it works- Hindus are born, no discussion of faith with non believers, no crusades no conversions exclusivity from birth.

      The fact is even in India most Indians don’t know their faith well enough to practice. Hinduism is the known religion of India and the others all foreign even Buddhism the toy boy are of idiotic conversions for political favours- I am certain you belong to this category.

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    It is obvious fact that caste in one of the social issue that discriminate people along with other social issues such as gender discrimination, dowry system etc. I agree with the author that this is one of the major issue that inhibits the liberation struggle for self determination of Tamils from Sinhalese Buddhist oppression. It is true that liberation struggle made some impact on the caste discrimination at public life but the resistance still prevail in the personal level.

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    Dear Thanges Paramsothy,

    I admire your courage in even attempting to address the Cast issues of Jaffna Tamils.

    You are amongst the few fearless persons within the Tamil Community to do so. Ms Perle Thevanayagam, Mr Sebastian Rasalingam and Dr Thomas Johnpulle being the only other persons who I have come across that had been so fearlessly truthful.

    Dr Nagalingam Ethirweerasingham the Olympic and Asian Games Medalist and the first president of the Global Tamil Forum has also documented some aspects of Cast, very mildly. The majority of comments here stands testament to the extent of opposition that you will experience from your community now and in the future.

    If my memory is correct, there was one cast that was not allowed to come out during Daylight hours. Perhaps you could shed some light on that as well.

    Mr Neville Jayaweera was handpicked by the PM, Ms Sirimavo Bandaranaike and appointed as the GA Jaffna to implement the Language Policy in Jaffna.

    Mr Jayaweera was instrumental in implementing the yet ungazetted (though passed by Parliament) Reasonable use of Tamil Act, in Jaffna, instead of the original Language Act which never saw the light of day in Jaffna.

    During his tenure as the Government Agent Jaffna, he did research in to the Tamil cast system and his findings would be illuminating to any serious researcher on the subject.

    Here are some extracts

    The Brahmins, who were at the apex of the caste ladder, were primarily a priestly group, mostly officiating in temples, and their numbers among the people of Jaffna were too minuscule to provide a basis for power.

    The Vellalas were the next rung on the caste ladder. Although they constituted only about 40% of the total Tamil population, they were the dominant caste, but they were more than merely a dominant caste. They also constituted an economic class, a formidable power system, owning most of the means of production, and exercising total social, economic and political control.

    The non–Vellalas were all those castes who fell outside the Vellala fold, and included even the fisher folk. They owned little or no land and had no basis for economic or social power.

    The Prevention of Social Disabilities Act of 1957 had made the denial of entry into places of worship on grounds of caste, an offence.

    However, as late as 1964 the practice of denying the non-Vellalas entry to temples in Jaffna continued, as if the Act had never been passed. Several delegations from these castes began to see me and protest the refusal of temple authorities to give them access to temples and said that if I did not take action to enforce the law they will take the law into their own hands.

    Significantly, there were no protests from any of the 11 MPs of my district over my failure to enforce the Social Disabilities Act, and of course they were all from the Vellala caste!

    Equally sinister was that all 14 DROs of my district seemed to pour cold water on any move by me to even look into the problem, and needless to say the DROs were also from the Vellala caste!”

    The responses I got from every leading Hindu citizen of Jaffna whom I consulted was that the denial of entry into temples, and indeed the whole Tamil caste system, was deeply embedded in the Hindu religion, and that any attempt by me to enforce the law will not only be resisted, but will be interpreted as an act of sacrilege, and furthermore, that it will embroil me in a confrontation which will be far more problematic than the attempt to enforce the Sinhala Only policy. Needless to say, all those whom I had consulted were also Vellalas!!

    On the other hand the Christians whom I consulted were all of the opinion that the caste system was evil but they also conformed to it willingly and would not violate its boundaries.

    I realised that the issue that was now confronting me had potential for turmoil on a horrendous scale, especially because I was a Sinhala, and it was easy to allege that that a Sinhala GA was trying to divide Tamil society for political ends.

    On the other hand, I also realized that those whom I had consulted were very sincere in their belief that their religion did really sanction their rigid caste system.

    I reasoned therefore that my first priority must be to research the Brahmin/Vellala claim seriously and confront them with my findings before resorting to law enforcement procedures.

    During the ensuing two years, i.e. between 1964 and 1966, I spent nearly all of my leisure hours in the Jaffna Library (that was the one that was burnt down in the 1980s) with a pundit by my side, pouring over Hindu religious texts, most of which were available in English translations, but some only in Tamil. The outcome of these studies was a monograph running into over 15,000 words in which I proved to any unbiased and rational mind, that the claim that Hindu scriptures sanctioned the Tamil caste system or that they warranted the exclusion of any group of people from temples on grounds of case, had no basis either in the Vedas or in the Saiva scriptures.

    My research bore fruit sooner than I expected. Two years after I had left Jaffna, in June 1968, having armed themselves with the scriptural facts that I had uncovered, the non-Vellalas had finally organized themselves effectively into a mass movement, and stormed the great Maviddapuram Temple, the bastion of Brahmanism in Jaffna. Vernon Abeysekera who had succeeded me as GA, and R. Sunderalingam, who had succeeded Jack van Sanden as Suptd. of Police, had tried their best to negotiate a settlement between Prof C. Suntheralingam who was the chief protagonist for the temple authorities, and the non-Vellala crowd, but to no avail. Prof Suntheralingam had stood at the entrance to the temple, flailing his walking stick over his head and threatening anyone who came within striking distance. Eventually, the protestors stormed the temple en masse, carried the day, and once and for all, a terrible injustice that had stained Hindu worship for thousands of years was finally erased.

    The police prosecuted Prof Suntheralingam under the Social Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court fined him Rs 50. In return Prof Suntheralingam filed a private suit against the R. Sunderalingam the Suptd of Police, but the case was thrown out, and Sunderalingam went on to be a Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) and later the Head of the narcotics division of Interpol.

    What it meant to be a non-Vellala

    Up until the mid 1960s when I was GA, the non-Vellalas performed all the mundane or menial tasks of Tamil society. They were the artisans, the merchants, the potters, the toddy tappers, the tenant farmers and farm labourers, barbers, road sweepers, etc, and not least the warriors. Even the fisher-folk, who among the Sinhala have a preeminent place, were in the eyes of the Vellalas, outcastes. According to a classification done by Simon Casie Chitty of the CCS in the 19th century, there were 152 of these non-Vellala castes in Jaffna, all of them categorized as pariah and the workers and their functions were permanently locked to each other by heredity.

    The central characteristic of Jaffna’s caste structure was the congruence of heredity with economic and social deprivation. That is to say, if someone was born into any of the non-Vellala castes, he was permanently locked into his prescribed role, and was also inextricably tied to his village. He had no opportunities for betterment, or for upward or territorial mobility, however clever or entrepreneurial he may be.

    This was in sharp contrast to the Sinhala caste system, where anyone outside the dominant Goigama caste could not only match, but often excel the Goigama in economic and social power. That was not possible within the Tamil caste system, within which no one outside the hallowed Vellala caste could aspire to heights that were the preserve of the Vellalas.

    Even in the mid 1960s, the following principles defined what it meant to be a non-Vellala.

    1. Regardless of natural endowments, anyone born a non-Vellala was frozen into his particular station for all of his life, be it fishing, tree climbing, road sweeping or whatever. Heredity was a cast iron frame from which there was no escape.

    2. They dared not marry anyone from the Vellala caste.

    3. They were not allowed into premises occupied by the Vellalas except for doing the tasks they was born into.

    4. They did not have access into temples owned or managed by Brahmins or Vellalas. In other words, they were non-persons.

    5. They did not have access into Hindu schools or to proceed for higher education. This barrier was breached effectively only when missionary schools began to proliferate, much to the consternation of Hindu leaders.

    6. They could not reside outside their villages.

    7. They could not drink at the village well nor use any other public amenity outside their own villages.

    8. They could not wear jewelery, nor ride in carriages nor use drums at any ceremony.

    9. When they died they could not be cremated or buried on land reserved for the Vellalas.

    Perhaps things have changed now, but in the 1960s, the Tamil caste system was nearly as oppressive as that in India.

    Quoted from Mr Neville Jayaweera’s unpublished memoirs, titled “Dilemmas” serialized in the Island Newspaper under the title “Into the turbulence of Jaffna”

    Part 7 The wretched of the earth http://www.island.lk/2008/11/16/features4.html

    Kind Regards,
    OTC

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      Off the Nut you repeat copy paste terrorist propaganda!

      Off the Nut & Butt the paid troll the garbage.

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        Hi Jadi,

        I sympathize with your poor English skills.

        Kind Regards,
        OTC

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          Off the Nut the garbage, sihala buddhist ambude troll gang of pedophiles.

          With time you are going ba bump, ba bump
          like skunk in a spin-drier.

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        Javi

        Hope you are mentally not ok to comment in such sides, most of the time I do not understand your comments. You are not clear about what you are trying to say, sorry

        • 2
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          Gamaya, the bigot go stand under off the nut’s butt you pipsqueak.

          Alternatively live in your 3 world cesspit and churn the sludge.

          You got your brains between your hind legs so don’t get it blown into minute atoms.

          never sorry.

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        We need some educated crowd like off the cuff, Javi is just bluffing in this site

        • 2
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          Ho ho , to you educated means SinGayLish of
          Off The Nut the pseudo former GA Jaffna.
          He is from night soil background- the sludge of the debacle of asia.

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    Thanges,
    It is well written. u touched upon a very true phenomenon, practiced by fellow Tamils both in Peninsula and overseas. It would be more practical ad give valid arguments if u articulate things along with a psychological existence of this nature. Good luck ur PhD!!

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    The author must be commended for his essay on a difficult and sensitive subject, which most of us would rather hide under the carpet.

    Quite a few unpalatable truths for all of us.

    • 3
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      Ram

      Crocodiles do cry.

      • 1
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        Who else would know other than a Veddah, even if he/she is only wearing such a mask.

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