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Five Miscalculations (Part 03)

The Appapillai Amirthalingam Eightieth Birth-anniversary Memorial Lecture ',A Time for Tamil Introspection and Reassessment in the midst of Myth and Propaganda '; delivered by Prof. S, Ratnajeevan Hoole on London, 26 August, 2007

What then are the issues confronting the Tamil community? What are the presumptions and mis-assumptions we make, that have brought us, a once proud community, to our knees as it were, to the point of near extinction as a people?

It is of utmost importance for our survival that we honestly reassess ourselves and how we think, at this crucial juncture in our history without any further delay, and do so undistracted by our own propaganda. I will now list five matters of immediate concern this evening:

1. Believing our own propaganda without verification and acting on it
2. Declaring anyone who disagrees with us to be a traitor
3. Overseas Tamils presuming to be Tamil Representatives
4. Believing Tamil histories to be right and Sinhalese histories to be propaganda
5. Presuming Tamils to be a Monolithic Community

Let us go through these one at a time
1. Believing our own propaganda without verification and acting on it:

First and foremost, we have come to believe our own propaganda. We are victims of our own propaganda. As a result we get our analysis all wrong. We play cards that we do not have.

We rightly condemned standardization requiring different admission standards from different groups. We rightly confronted it then. But did we ask the equally relevant question whether it is right for one community under 10%, the Jaffna Tamil Vellahla community, to dominate at least 103 of 150 engineering places in 1970? If we had asked that question and engaged the state in a dialogue, perhaps the wisdom would have dawned on everyone that Tamils and Sinhalese are indeed different peoples (which, after all, is why we are asked how many are Sinhalese and how many are Tamil in a state pretending to be made up of one people). It would perhaps have dawned on us that Sinhalese and Tamil aspirations are both well served and our conflicts best avoided by having a Tamil state whose universities Tamils try to enter and a Sinhalese state that Sinhalese compete in. Our filing a case against standardization under Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution, then still very much in force, rather than taking to street demonstrations, I think would have helped the dialogue start in a less strident way, thereby provoking thought and promoting solutions. I think a lot of our activism, both political and military, has been directed at controlling the minds, passions and loyalties of Tamils rather than at finding a solution.

We rightly condemn the burning of the Jaffna Public Library by the state and the destruction of culture. But how many of you know that powerful men went about Jaffna’s village libraries and FP offices pulling out and destroying every copy of any material on and photograph of Mr. Amirthalingam? Is that something we do not want to hear? Or is it something that does not matter? Is it not also cultural genocide as we make out with the Jaffna Library?

Again we make much of the TRO and its functions being disrupted by the Sri Lankan state and western governments as it is investigated. We speak among ourselves on what great work the TRO is doing and how the west is illegally obstructing its work. Highly agitated, we work towards getting the ban reversed? But how many of us know that when my students went through the Pettah after the tsunami pleading for donations and drove their convoy of lorries with supplies to the affected Tamil areas, they were stopped at the border and not allowed to proceed? After a week of waiting, the TRO took over the supplies that had not spoilt by then and my students had to return, dejected.

Again, do you know about the bicycles that a foreign NGO had given each family when they were shown a village near Point Pedro devastated by the tsunami? After the NGO had departed, those who had brought the NGO confiscated all the bicycles. An FP MP who went there later got the shelling of his life from the villagers for obediently standing by when all these things happen to them.

Most significantly I know from first hand sources that in 2005 a representative came to New York to raise money for the so called final push for Eelam. When concerned potential donors asked if there would be no problems from their giving to a proscribed organization, they were assured that the money could be given through the TRO or the Thamil Changam. Western intelligence agencies have their foul-ups but they are not stupid. We must assume that when they go after the TRO they have something solid to go on. When they know the true facts and we argue for the TRO, western governments have little respect for our community and stop listening to us.

2) Declaring anyone who disagrees with us to be a traitor

Our second mistake – a grave and self-defeating error that has robbed us of several of our ablest leaders – is our assumption that those who disagree with us are traitors to our cause. What we have created is the Tamil Bandwagon that everyone must climb on to and this bandwagon assumes the proportions of a Juggernaut.

The word Juggernaut is a phrase derived from the old practice of Jegannathah’s Ther under which devotees threw themselves in self-sacrifice as it rolled on, for merit in the afterlife. It is an event that has been noted by Friar Oderic in the 14th century and confirmed from British records of the nineteenth century banning the practice. As for the Tamil Juggernaut, we must all climb aboard or be crushed. It is no accident that followers of this Juggernaut – Jegannathah or Krishna – have compared him to Krishna of the Bagavad Gita, arguing that the killing fields are part of the dharmic order. In Time dated September 16, 2002 Jaffna psychiatrist Daya Somasundaram says the faithful make pilgrimages to Mr. Prabhakaran's former home in nearby Valvettithurai to fill little boxes of soil “like a holy ritual, as though they are collecting water from the Ganges.” He adds, I quote: “Many of my patients regard Prabhakaran as higher than their own god.”

And those of us who refuse to climb aboard the Tamil Juggernaut immolate ourselves. A long line of Tamil leaders such as Mr. Amirthalingam, Mr. and Mrs. Yogeswaran, and Neelan Tiruchelvam came forward to see if some via media could be worked out for the Tamil people to live in Sri Lanka with a modicum of self-respect and safety. They tried to make the harsh world we faced under Sinhalese aggression as comfortable as possible for us in the circumstances. Mrs. Yogeswaran, my class teacher’s sister, tried to run the municipality to do something for our people through it. They were all deemed traitors and killed.

Part 01

Part 02

To be continued …….

About Lecture, S. Ratnajeevan Hoole, Scholar Rescue Fund Fellow, Institute of International Education, New York, NY Drexel University, Philadelphia and former Vice Chancellor in University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka

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