“In 1952 the language issue had not come to the front stage. Senanayake had indicated his support for parity of administrative usage for the two languages, but clearly did not wish to make this into a public issue. The burning battle that took place between the ITAK and the Tamil Congress (TC) in 1952 was over the Indian citizenship act. Ponnambalam and Natesan of the TC were contested by Chelvanayakam and Naganathan, and it was during this election that the highly distorted picture of the Indian citizenship act was presented to the Tamils of Jaffna.”
by Sebastian Rasalingam
(March 22, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) There has been a number of articles recently, e.g, Groundviews (Feb.22, 2008) on "Ethnos or Demos?- questioning Tamil nationalism, and various responses to it. Other news media have published other articles, e.g., that of Mr. Rohana Wasala , as well the comments made by the Island columnist Shanee, mainly touching on the Estate Indian citizenship act and its relatiuon to the Tamil question. Some clarity can be achieved if the historical settings to these issues were revisited.
A distorted picture of the Indian citizenship act (1948 and 1949) was launched by S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and others partly as a means of attacking G. G. Ponnambalam, who at that time held the leading position in Tamil politics. At the end of the Soulbury commission's sittings, a sense of healing between the communities took place, largely because Senanayake had imposed a dignified silence, instead of a heated exchange between communities in front of the Soulobury commission. It was at this point that G. G. Ponnambalam, Arunachalam Mahadeva, Natesan and others called for "responsible cooperation" with the Sinhalese leaders and supported the new Senanayake government.
Chelvanayakam and others proposed the two-nation concept (instead of the failed fifty-fifty approach). One aspect of this proposal was to regard the Sinhalese as invaders of the Tamil homeland which had already begun to be defined, for example, with the formation of a society calling itself the "All_Ceylon Aboriginal Inhabitants of Jaffna", coming into being in May 1940 (Hindu Organ, May 13, 1940). The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchchi (ITAK) hoped to use the example from India, where the mass Satyagrahas finally drove out the British, as the weapon to unleash against the Sinhalese. This policy required a deliberate attempt to discredit the Seananayakas and others who stood for the "one-nation of Ceylonese" concept. Collaborators with the Sinhalese automatically became traitors or " thurogis". Thus it was how G. G. Ponnambalam was declared a traitor by the ITAK. With this turn of events, the ITAK was not a pan-Ceylonese party even for appearance's sake. Its task was to destroy any bridges which existed between the two communities, and insist that the Tamils, with their grander history and destiny, are utterly different from the Sinhalese, and should seek its own "Arasu".
In 1952 the language issue had not come to the front stage. Senanayake had indicated his support for parity of administrative usage for the two languages, but clearly did not wish to make this into a public issue. The burning battle that took place between the ITAK and the Tamil Congress (TC) in 1952 was over the Indian citizenship act. Ponnambalam and Natesan of the TC were contested by Chelvanayakam and Naganathan, and it was during this election that the highly distorted picture of the Indian citizenship act was presented to the Tamils of Jaffna. The ITAK as well as the Marxist leaders in the South went around building a picture of Senanayake as a sinhala racist who has rendered a million Tamils "stateless". Senanayake's citizenship act, drawn up with the help of leading Tamils (like Vaithiyalingam), and most probably with the advice of Senanayake's principal constitutional Guru, Ivor Jennings, was actually an unusually liberal document, when viewed against the practices that existed at that time in other parts of the world. The Canadian "Indian" citizenship act, applied in 1952 to (native) Canadian Indians, required that an Indian be judged "civilized" by a white government official before he could enjoy the rights of schooling, health care and other basic amenities. Or else he had to remain shut out from the external world in "Indian Reserves". Senanayake's citizenship act required seven years of residence in Ceylon as a condition for citizenship. Compare this with the Hispanic workers in America today. The Hispanics were the original inhabitants of California, New Mexico and Southern Texas. But Spanish is not a recognized official language, and California does not attempt to reserve its borders to Hispanics as their homeland. The millions of Hispanic workers are so essential to the US economy that it would collapse if they were to go on a mass work-stoppage. And yet, a Hispanic worker cannot even get a "green card" without jumping through many hoops.
The ITAK had to build up a repertoire of original sins committed by the "Sinhalese invaders of the Tamil home lands", if its political program of driving a wedge between the two communities were to succeed. Note that this is already in the period PRIOR to the arrival of "Sinhala Only". I list the following which have become "accepted beliefs", mainly among the Colombo Tamil intellectuals of the younger generation (i.e., those who grew up after the World War II).
The litany of sins began with the famous claim of "deception" of Ponnambalam Arunachalam (AP), by the Sinhalese leaders, in the early 1920s, in regard to the "Colombo seat". At that time, all politicians, be they Sinhala or Tamil, were beholden to the Governor for their political positions. If the Governor had given even the slightest indication that he wanted AP appointed to the Colombo seat, the Sinhala leaders would have rushed to execute the Governor's wish. AP himself realized that the Governor needs to be wooed, and that is why he invited the Governor to Jaffna, received him lavishly and presented a secret proposal asking that he be appointed. Unfortunately for AP, the Lake House press managed get a copy and to splash the "secret memorandum", ensuring that the Governor turned against a highly embarrassed AP. Not surprisingly, it heralded the end of AP's political career. AP claimed that two Sinhalese leaders who had promised to support him had deceived him, and left politics claiming to be "disgusted with such "deception". And yet, this incident which reflect the vanity and political incompetence of Arunachalam Ponnamblam has become the primodial "origin sin" cited by Tamil Nationalism.
The next weapon of assault used by the ITAK was simply taken from G. G. Ponnambalam's list of grievances that had been presented to Soulbury, viz., the discriminatory Sinhala colonization policy claimed to have been "set in motion" by Senanayake, and his predecessors under the aegis of the the Colonial Government. It is unfortunate that the Tamil nationalist movement continues to make the false claim that the 1925-1955 period was an example of Sinhalese land grab. Soulbury's report as well as the analyses of most historians reject this claim. The claim forgets that most of the top civil servants who ran the Galoya board were Tamils.
We have already discussed how the Indian citizenship act was a god-send to the ITAK which was trying hard to build a political case for itself. However, the Jaffna electorate and the Tamil intelligencia of the early 1950s did NOT buy Chelvanayakm's platform. The learned judges of the Ceylon supreme court, and the Privy council in London, both rejected a case filed against the Citizenship Act by the ITAK, and judged that no discrimination had occurred either before, or after the act. The strident cry that Senanayake was a Sinhala racist cut no ice at that time. Every one knew that in March 1939 it was Senanayake who moved to exclude the Sinhala Communalist extremists from the Ceylon National Congress. Senanayake and Francis de Soyza held that "the first plank must be nationalism against communalism. Ceylon for the Sinhalese is as a good slogan which will go down with the Sinhalese villager. There are those who say they are prepared to die for the Sinhalese. The sooner they die, the better it will be for the Sinhalese " (Hindu Organ, March 6, 1939). It should be remembered that these were strong words in 1939, although they may sound tame in today's context of the politics of Terror and Suicide.
Another weapon of assault is the so called "Mahavamsa mind set". This was brought to the political front, at least as far as the Tamil public is concerned, by G. G. Ponnambalam. This rapidly raised his stand among Jaffna nationalists, but also invigorated SWRD's counter campaigns of racial rivalry. The Mahavamsa had indeed been used by Anagarika Dharmapala (a sinhala Buddhist version of Navalar), mainly against Christian evangelism, but no one used it as well as GGP in rousing up the public, and calling for a "Dravidian" pride. The "Dravidian" concept soon gave way to pure Tamil nationalism. The latter has led to suicide cadre and political assisinations. Thankfully, the "Mahavamsa mindset" has only launched a set of political monks who may prove be the best argument against that mindset!
The ITAK came to the political fore-front only after the UNP, with Kotalawala at the helm, totally bungled the language issue. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (SWRD) swept the polls with his unmistakable jingoist cries. The ITAK could now add a genuine grievance to its litany of anger against the Sinhalese. This gave the ITAK an emotional basis for its "satyagraha" campaigns, within the concept that the Sinhalese are invaders of the Tamil homeland. This was, I believe, a grave error. Unlike the period 1925-1955, we now entered an era where the Sinhala leadership had NOT earned the trust of the minorities. Unlike Senanayake and others who had the disciplinarian mentality of estate superintendents, Bandaranaike and the Marxists believed in spontaneous uprisings of the masses where "normal justice" was replaced by some romantic, wild form of "justice". The tamils would get "punished" for their "rapacious claims" by the ofrces of natural justice. Is that why SWRD did not enforce law and order when the riots irrupted in 1957? The Indian model of "satyagraha" against the invader worked because the party carrying out the Satyagraha was a vast majority (of Indians) against the British Colonial administration. The ITAK program merely exacerbated the already inflamed political situation, with the certain guarantee that Tamils will suffer violence in the hands of racial mobs as well as the state. The actions of Tamils led by the ITAK were no different from a small Tibetan minority trying to contest the Chinese state. Worst of all, the arrogant Queen's counsels who led the ITAK were fool enough to believe that a Nationalist Sinhala government would simply hand over a coastline starting from Puttalam and going around the perimeter along the eastern coast upto Pottuvil, simply because they launched a program of civil disobedience! Their political blindness was caused by their nationalism which was as chauvinist as that of the Sinhalese extremists.
The ITAK activities further polarized the two ethnic groups and brought us to the horror that we have today. As feelings hardened, earlier nationalists were labeled "thurogi" and bumped off. A large body of post-war Tamil intelligentsia completely believe the distorted litany of grievances popularized so ably by Chevanaakam, A. J. Wilson and others. So I am not surprised by the contents of Shanee's column in The Island. We had a small window of opportunity to grab the reality that the Tamils and the Sinhalese are nearly identical people in language, culture and religion. But we failed. Of course, the Colombo Tamil leadership was predominantly Christian and unaware of Tamil culture, except that the caste system endorsed their pre-eminence. It is interesting to note that the Batticaloa Tamil leadership had actually, even in the 1930s and 40s, followed a path very different to that indicated by the Colombo Tamils. Mr. E. R. Tambimuttu, coming from Batticaloa was the only Tamil to support the Donoughmore constitution and universal franchise. He opposed Ponnambalam's 50-50 proposals and also objected to Ponnambalam's attempts to speak on behalf of the Muslims (Hansard 1939, Column 1705). The modern dissociation of the politics of the Eastern province from that of the North, under Karuna and Pilliyan goes back to perhaps 1910.
The main grievance of the Tamils (and indeed, certain sections of the Sinhalese), at least as I see it today, is that they cannot be sure of their personal safety under a sinhala administration. This problem requires stringent enforcement and respect of the law, and creating conditions of trust between the various ethnic groups of the nation. The bridge building must come by noting the similarities and commonalities of all the citizens of the country. These constitute the core needs of employment, health, education and security. The two major ethnic groups are so close linguistically, culturally,
and by consanguinity that what we have in Sri Lanka is nothing but a fratricidal battle.
We have to stop the round of accusations and counter-accusations, about AP's deception, Senanayake's citizenship act, Mahavamsa mind set, etc, etc., and find what we can do together. Black July should not be a day to beat up a lather of frenzy against the Sinhalese. It should be the day when we re-collect that Tamils killed Duraiappah and many other worthy leaders. Every Jaffna Tamil, when he makes it good, migrates to Colombo, and form thence even to foreign lands. Tamils have excelled in commerce, banking, the professions, worked and lived everywhere in the Island with all ethnic communities. This will happen again, when a new set of Tamil leaders and intellectuals, possibly coming from the Estate Sector, NOT wedded to the myths and litany of grievances of the Colombo clan, ecomes up from the ashes of today.
- Sri Lanka Guardian