Association’s souvenir ignores founding reality of Jaffna College

“Whatever the claimants of the 185th year founding of Jaffna College may say, the irrefutable historical fact is that the Batticotta Seminary founded in 1823 was closed by the American Mission in 1855 on the grounds it had failed in its proselytizing mission. Seventeen years later after severe search and struggle Jaffna College was founded by our own people. Why should anyone challenge this historical reality and the courage of our ancestors to embark on such a huge venture? We are not a mercenary force of Man Fridays serving in subservient servility the Robinson Crusoes. We must learn to honour and appreciate our own ancestors for their courage, wisdom and vision. Jaffna College was their creation; without them there would not have been a Jaffna College and the Colombo Alumni Association had no heart for them.”

by Victor Karunairajan

(September 03, Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian) Recently the Colombo Jaffna College Alumni Association published a souvenir to mark as they claimed the 185th anniversary of the founding of Jaffna College. Remarkable more for its omissions, it certainly appears to be an attempt to promote the pro-Father Jeyanesan interests of the rogue institution, the Church of the American Ceylon Mission (CACM). Even the celebrations appear focused on insulting the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (JDCSI), the church with primary responsibilities to manage Jaffna College as a Christian institution.

The JDCSI was totally ignored in the souvenir’s pages. The head of this church, the Rt Rev Dr Daniel Thiagarajah who is also the General Secretary of the Jaffna College Board of Directors was not invited. In protest, the chairman of the Board of Directors the Rt Rev Dr Subramaniam Jebanesan turned down their invitation. The general impression is that the carpet under the feet of the association’s president, S Kandasamy was connived and pulled without him realizing the conspiracy behind it. He is known to be a loyal alumnus of the school but he should have been wiser.

The publishers of the souvenir whose editor Newton Gnanaratnam, a vituperative pro-Jeyanesanist just cannot be confused about the actual founding date of Jaffna College. It has to be an act committed with mischievous intent to overlook the reality that Jaffna College was founded by our ancestors when the Batticotta Seminary was insensitively closed in 1855.

Why is it so difficult to take pride in acknowledging that it is our own people who launched Jaffna College in 1872? Last year Father Sellathurai Jeyanesan attempted to pull the wool over the eyes of American mission folks in the US with a campaign of incredible falsehood against Bishop Daniel Thiagarajah, the JDCSI and the Church of South India. This was the way he reacted when he lost his quest to become the bishop of the JDCSI which alone is a serious reflection on his character and proves his unsuitability for a high ecclesiastical position.

Several court actions he filed both in Sri Lanka and India are falling like nine pins and questions have been raised about massive financial frauds about him and his deputies like the brothers the Rev Annappah Jeyakumar and Annappah Jeyarajan, and illegal appropriation of JDCSI properties.

Souvenir editor Newton Gnanaratnam is one of the accused in the matter of church invasion while the congregation was at worship. This occurred at the JDCSI Church in Colombo and among others who were involved in this worship disruption was Chandran Ariaratnam, the secretary of the Colombo alumni association. This was not an act of protest of any sort but a criminal violation of the right to worship; and indeed a deed of enormous stupidity unworthy of persons who are officers in an alumni association.

Whatever the claimants of the 185th year founding may say, the irrefutable historical fact is that the Batticotta Seminary founded in 1823 was closed by the American Mission in 1855 on the grounds it had failed in its proselytizing mission.

This action by the American Mission Board left the people of Jaffna without access to education especially teaching English considered vital for our needs, Sri Lanka being a British colony at that time. Jaffna College was founded as a result after seventeen years of search and severe struggle by our very own people as a Christian school. This is a legacy created for us by our own folks and it must be honoured, revered and held dear and sacred.

The Colombo association’s souvenir did not have the courtesy let alone the integrity to merit this great reality. Do we still want to be Man Fridays to the Robinson Crusoes?

One guy seated in Singapore and publishing scurrilous material against the JDCSI wants a pro-Jeyanesan pseudo historian to verify whether Jaffna College was founded in 1823 or 1872. Is he so ignorant as not to know this historical fact? He is determined to twist and contort historical realities and this cannot be tolerated for such challenge our own integrity as a community. This Singapore man has now introduced a new whip of mischief and slander by implying that this writer and two leaders of the JDCSI are involved in printing Indian counterfeit currency notes. This is certainly a matter for the Interpol.

If Jaffna College was re-founded by the American Mission Board then some kind of credit could be given to them and even continuity canvassed though the grounds are slippery for such an effort. The greatest pride we can have is that Jaffna College was founded by our own people.

Nowhere in the entire souvenir has it been acknowledged that those who spearheaded the founding of Jaffna College were members of the predecessor church to the JDCSI. Even in the case of contribution of features, the editor Newton Gnanaratnam appears to have encouraged only pro-Jeyanesan activists. They include Silan Kadirgamar who has never attended any of the meetings of the Colombo Alumni Association. He was one in a mission that went to Chennai to canvas support for Father Jeyanesan to be made bishop among the executives of the Church of South India (CSI), a kind of unusual and strange attempt to interfere with the constitutional options of the CSI Synod.

It is time for Mr Kadirgamar, a perennial writer on the Jaffna Youth Congress to realize that this organization which should have become a dynamic political party of the Tamils failed because most of its adherents did not have the pride to place a value on our culture and traditions once they stepped out of Jaffna College; Mr Handy Perinpanayagam was among the exceptions. The very same is happening with the founding of Jaffna College where a lie is being perpetrated most strenuously to deny that pride to our founding fathers.

The souvenir has been published as if propagating the view that the closing of the Batticotta Seminary by the American Mission did not take place in 1855 and Jaffna College was not founded by local people in 1872. In both cases, the closing was total and the founding was also total by two different groups, one foreign against us and the other local for us.

In the very first paragraph of his message, the president of the Colombo association says: “Jaffna College founded by the American Missionaries in Vaddukoddai, Sri Lanka.” The president of the Trustees of Jaffna College Funds, Eric A Gass said: “Jaffna College was founded on sound and enduring values and not merely for the gain of any individual or group. One of those values is service to the whole community. For this reason the whole community has stood by it through good times and bad.” But Mr Gass has fought shy of acknowledging as to who founded Jaffna College.

But he rightfully avers that one of the founding principles was service to the whole community of Jaffna. Why was this principle not respected when the American Mission closed the Batticotta Seminary abruptly? Will he be able also to reveal how a particular clan received favours from the trustees as against more deserving candidates of the community? In what way are those privileged to receive scholarships serving the community now?

The Alumni Representative on the Jaffna College Board of Directors states in his testimony as if the college was established since 1823.” President of the Jaffna College Alumni Association UK, C J Gunasekaram said in his message that “Jaffna College has become a strong institution over the 185 year history . . . . . .” The Colombo Association secretary Chandran Ariaratnam talks in relation to Jaffna College and commends the “sweat, toil and dedication of the missionaries.” These sentiments would have been more acceptable, if he did have the heart to commend the “sweat, toil and dedication” of the locals who have served Jaffna College over the years especially the founders. From his message as in those of others too, it is evident none of the locals in their views deserved any recognition.

Newton Gnanaratnam in his message has the following paragraph: “Civility is beauty or behavior. It requires for its perfection, patience, self-control and an environment of leisure or genuine curtsy is a creation, like picture, like music. It is a harmonious blending of voice, gesture and movement words and action in which generosity of conduct is expressed. It reveals the man himself.”

Overlooking the way this sentence was formed and reproduced here without any editing, the author of these words stormed the JDCSI Colombo Church while at worship along with his friends. He also said: “The College stood firm on these value systems during the last 185 years.” On values Mr Gnanaratnam certainly is wanting immensely; otherwise he would have respected a church and its premises especially when it was in worship. As to what he had attempted to say in the paragraph quoted here, it looks like a “chakra” from some strange world.

Sometimes ago, Principal Emeritus Rajan Kadirgamar in a message commemorating the “Haystack Anniversary” stated Jaffna College was founded by the American Mission. Fortunately to some extent the only exception was what the present principal Noel Vimalendran said in the opening lines of his message. He observed: “Jaffna College is an institution that has existed in one form or another for over 185 years.” In his recent Prize Day Report, he was quite clear about the founding year of Jaffna College.

The myth is continuing to be propagated that the American missionaries founded Jaffna College by the forces that do not have the preference, pleasure and pride to acknowledge that it is our own ancestors who had the foresight and will to launch Jaffna College. They seem unwilling to believe the manner in which Batticotta Seminary was puffed out of existence by the American Mission when it was developing towards becoming a university. Like a band of Man Friday mercenaries, they would rather adore and worship the White Man than take pride in our own people; and in great obeisance receive the crumbs off his table.

It was most significant that the last item published in the souvenir was a “Golden Shawl” honour for the head of the Jaffna College Trustees, an event held some years ago. The trustees are said to be interested in converting the fiduciary trust into a mission support agency. Some of the people who have been urging anti-JDCSI activities have received favours from the trustees and yet the intentions for such support were not fulfilled by most of the recipients neither did the welfare of the community for which they were granted respected. This also accounts for cheating or one could say highway robbery executed in a very clever way.

How can we accept a situation where one gets a scholarship to teach English in Sri Lanka, acquires what the scholarship intended, and then packs his bag to work for a multinational firm that produces and markets toilet rolls in the US? The Trustees of Jaffna College Funds should regularly ensure that all their operations, accounting and granting of scholarships are transparent.

Mr Silan Kadirgamar has claimed that Sri Lanka Guardian had mischievous intent to wreck the 185th celebrations of the Colombo alumni. Either he has not read the feature properly or he wants to misrepresent matters to protect what we would say the intention of the organizers of the dinner to spite the JDCSI among other factors.

Mr Kadirgamar should have been careful taking such sweeping swipes at the Fourth Estate of the Realms for he may very well also be saying that the media has no right to criticize. While at Jaffna College we were taught to speak openly our feelings and views and Mr Kadirgamar appears to have forgotten all those and rants at a media that had good intentions and a lot of concerns especially over organizing a major party within an extremely sensitive zone at night. Far too many tragedies have occurred in Colombo and was it really important that the dinner should have been held at the Galle Face Hotel?

The other factor was that the dinner was spearheaded during the final stages of its planning in a manner of extreme hatred towards the JDCSI. This was researched thoroughly by a team of media agents and their findings caused considerable concerns. In reaction this writer was hounded as the author of a feature despite his repeated denials. If this writer had written that feature, he would have placed his name prominently as the author of it.

The pro-Jeyanesan folks belong to a clan that completely dominated the JDCSI and Jaffna College and had the lion’s share of scholarships and privileges, all opaquely operated for many years. It is more than evident that losing this clout has turned them vicious against the JDCSI and the Board of Directors of Jaffna College.

One can have a dinner, organize a massive ceremony and pretend to show that everything is going the way he wants and shout delights all around like the pathetic congratulatory letters that are being scattered via the slanderous Singapore Loop. The Shah of Persia had the wedding of the century, an example in pretentious, grandiose and ostentatious stupidity. He had a dinner in the desert of unbelievable portentous snobbishness but before long, he perished a pauper on alien soil. There have been many such who made the mistake of compromising on ethics and morals to have their ways.

Some of those who congratulated were particularly proud the dinner was held so grandly at the Galle Face Hotel a surviving monument of colonialism. Interestingly on the very same day Father Jeyanesan was canvassing for funds he never accounts for Tamil refugees shorn of all their needs and rotting under trees in the north. The terrible tragedy is that he was amassing funds for himself using the plight of our own people to great advantage. His efforts will certainly not help the refugees. He keeps all such efforts and collections very private and totally secretive.

An assemblage of negatively charged groups with their own agendas but receiving their strength from being in a mutual act together will never hold strong. The Colombo Jaffna College Association will do well to remember this inevitability. They must first learn to respect and honour that it is our people who launched Jaffna College and not some white foreigners and the JDCSI has the primary responsibility to manage and govern the school as a Christian institution. On both counts the Colombo Association has fouled up and abused Jaffna College.

Finally, this writer is a journalist and he believes strongly in his calling and will faithfully carry out what he has dedicated to his community. There is no point in attacking him and even calling him a horrible man, a liar and other things: and now a currency counterfeiter too.

He was also educated at Jaffna College and of course just managed to pass his GCE OL as someone in the Singapore Loop tried to impress but that does not mean he has no right to express his views. He believes in debate and discussion and resolving issues the Mandela Way. There are also people in the Canadian Jaffna College Alumni Association who have demanded that he be thrown out. They also claim they had their education at Jaffna College. Circumstances and seasons do make strange bedfellows of people.
- Sri Lanka Guardian