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Tamil Racism is the Kami-kaze of Tamil Federalist Politics

By Sebastian Rasalingam, Toronto

(February 22, Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian) When the first tiger plane appeared in the Sri Lankan skies two weeks after the Ides of March, 2007, client intellectuals of the LTTE cooed glowingly and applauded the "innovative engineering skills" of the emerging Eelam. Kumar David, an engineering professor whose vain effort has been to engineer the "permanent revolution", wrote in the Tamilnet extolling the innovative engineering that had gone into it.

When I, a non-technical old fogie inquired from my more tech-savvy grand children, the facts seems to be quite the opposite. Apparently, one can buy kits for less than the cost of a motor bicycle, together with instructions on how to fit them together. Dime a dozen magazines like "Popular science", "Popular mechanics" etc. discuss these hobby kits all the time It seems that undergraduate students have small hobby clubs where they assemble such planes for fun, during the Canadian summer holidays. So then, why did this Professor Kumar David rush to extol the adaptation of these hobby planes into weapons of terror and suicide?

Kumar David is arch-typical of the lost intellectuals of the Colombo set. They read and write for the benefit of self-anointed "cosmopolitan people" of Sri Lankan extraction who are actually "Scotch" by absorption. Their biggest horror is being bed fellows of the "Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists" (SBCs). These SBCs were the people who took control of government in 1956, and whose regime was threatened from three sides. First of all there was the Sydney Soyza-Jungle Dissnayake-Anghie types, representing the right-wing Christian groups who felt that the country had "gone to the dogs". Then there were the Marxist elders of the Kumar David types, thinking that the SBCs are like the Menshevik government that proceeded the "Great October Revolution" of Lenin. The great dialectical sages argued that "according to Historical materialism", it is the turn of the "true revolutionary left" to come to power next, displacing the SBCs. The third force was the Tamil Sovereignty lobby, led by Samuel J.V. Chelvanayagam, E.M.V. Naganathan and others who had belonged to the Christianized governing classes of the Tamils.

Today we see Kumar David, Wickramabahu Karunaratna, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and other left-over stumps of the old left become clients and fellow travelers of the LTTE. How did this happen? How can so called "word revolutionaries" who do not even recognize national boundaries gradually come to support a racist, fascist outfit and even accept the territorial claims of the Eelamists? Why does Wickramabahu K go to Kundasle with Ranil Wickremasinghe to say that Sinhala youth are dying in a "land which is not theirs". These Marxists differ from the "Sinhala" Marxists of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) because they do not have any links with the majority, but are themselves a minority, largely coming from the English educated scotch loving community. Many journalists like Tissaranee Gunasekera, "Shanie" etc., belong to this culture. They are still fighting the battle they began in 1956 against the "Sinhala Buddhists". Hence they see the LTTE as natural allies .

It should be emphasized that a good section of the English educated Tamils were NOT racists, but cosmopolitan individuals who had middle-of-the-road liberal views. There were also many English educated Sinhalese who held similar liberal views. Politicians like the Senanayakes, Arunachalam Mahadevas, civil servants like the Kanagasundarams, and their immediate kith and kin were probably in that class. Also, one can say that the middle and lower classes among the Sinhalese, as well as among the Tamils, were people who were tolerant individuals, NOT bitten by the scourge of racism which was at the root of the "Arasu katchchi" campaign of Chelvanayagam et al.

The racist program of the Arasu Kadchi had, already in 1949, stated an exclusive claim to the North and East of Sri Lanka as "traditional homelands" of the Tamils. Even though the name "Tamil", "Dameda", or "Dravida", had not even been used until about the "cankam period", circa 1st century CE,, the Arasu Kadchi writers claimed that the "original inhabitants" of Sri Lanka prior to the arrival of Vijaya were Tamils. Thus Ravana was claimed to be a Tamil king, and Kuveni was conscripted as a Tamil princes deceived and discriminated by Vijaya, the first Sinhala. The stage was set for the "struggle" to drive out the Sinhalese, the Muslims and other "invaders" from "The Tamil homeland".

The British historian Jane Russell states that "Ceylon Tamils had no written document on the lines of the Mahawamsa to authenticate their singular and separate historical authority,... a fact which (they) found very irksome". The many stone inscriptions and Buddhist ruins attesting to this irksome history were also very inconvenient. Thus arose the early campaigns of G. G. Ponnambalam against the "mahavamsa mindset", which later developed into the extensive
territorial claims regarding which K.M. de Silva says "in less than a decade of its enunciation in 1949, [this] theory became an indispensable and integral part of the political ideology of the Tamil advocates of regional autonomy and separatism".

Victor Karunairajan, certainly a cultured Tamil who is clearly no supporter of
violence, writing in the Sri Lanka Guardian (Link ) on the 3rd of February 2009, discusses the French-English problems of Canada as a prelude to discussing the ethnic problems of Sri lanka. Karunairajan wants to "recognize three primary stratifications in the ancient order of the Kotte, Kandy and Jaffna kingdoms in a political structure with considerable powers vested in the central government to ensure this evolves progressively into a proper federal state over a period of time". Other writers often quote the discredited "Cleghorn minute" of the 18th century to justify and validate the idea of a Tamil nation. Should we then, at the same time attempt to rectify the deep malaise of the Quebec separatists who have even refused a re-enactment of the battle of the Plains of Abraham? Should we revert to the French, English, Spanish possessions of the Americas that prevailed in 1759 CE? In the same vein, should we return to the political boundaries that prevailed in Europe within the old order of Metternich, to appease the Austrian nationalists and the Hapsburg loyalists?

Political solutions have to be built on existing realities and NOT on what existed at the time of the arrival of Chandrabhanu, Chankilli, Cleghorn or even Brownrig.

Just as there were Kingdoms of Kotte, Kandy and Jaffna in the 15th century, there were also even more important divisions into caste enclaves at that time. Are we to recognize those hierarchical structures as well? Where do we draw the line? The need to legislate the caste system into the constitution was held to be paramount by a number of prominent Tamil leaders including Ponnambalam Ramanathan who led delegations to London on that very issue. Did not this question come up even in front of Soulbury who found the very idea repugnant? If Tamil leaders could, as recently as Vadukkoddei-1976 embrace the concept of a mono-ethnic, racially exclusive Tamil Eelam whose logic is exactly the same as the Afrikaanar-Apartheid idea of separation of races, anything can happen. In fact, a recent e-mail letter circulated under the hand of "son of Eros" argued for an Eelam where the traditional concepts derived from the Law of Manu should be imposed! However, I believe that just as the issue of enshrining caste in the constitution has more or less disappeared today, the need to institutionalize the ethnic divide (and there by buttress the divide) would also disappear within one generation. Here we should note that the division between the Kandyan Sinhalese and the low-country Sinhalese has virtually healed, although this too was thought to need a "federal solution".

Victor K, as well as Ms Sharma, a "student" of Satchi Sithananthan have also taken up a defense of Federalism and argued that federalism is in no way a racist option. Indeed, this is entirely correct if taken "tabla rasa", i.e., free of context. But unfortunately, this is NOT the case in Sri Lanka where federalism was merely the English language masquerade of the Eelam objective of the Arasu lobby. This objective of the Arasu Kadchchi, and the roots of the "Tamil-nation mindset" had been identified by historians like K. M. de Silva and political scientists like A. J. Wilson (see the discussion by Michael Roberts, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, Vol.XXVII, no.1, April 2004).

Initially, this "Tamil-Nation mindset" had no fuel to fire upon. The moderate Tamils did not take the Arasu Kadchchi seriously, while the Singhalese thought of them as a "fringe group". In 1956 the "Sinhala-Buddhist" ground-swell came up with the Sinhala-only cry and provided Chelvanayagam with the fire that he had been waiting for. The "sathyagarahas", "civil disobedience movements", tar-brushing of Sinhala street names etc., taunted the Sinhala majority and produced the violence and "state terror" that the separatists actually called for. The Chelva-Banda pacts were NOT trusted by both sides of the ethnic divide, while they were hailed as the right thing by the English educated urban set who could not read Tamil and had no knowledge of the clearly Eelamist program of the Arasu Kadchchi. Thus the polarization of the nation into two warring factions, gored into increasing frenzy at each race riot, was well on its way. Even the 1983 Black July riots were provoked by the Tamils AND certain sections of the Jayawardene government who probably thought that the Tamils can be "cowed down by suitable intimidation".

It is in this context that the word "federalism", as applied to Sri Lankan politics, has become a corrupt cover for Eelam. In fact it is even worse. One has to only read S. Makenthiran, (I believe an accountant turned political commentator) who writes in the 19th February issue of the Sri Lanka Guardian (Link) to see that Tamil chauvinism is inexhaustible. Just as Chelvanayagam labeled Ponnambalam a "traitor", Makenthiran labels Ananadasangaree a "traitor". If Chelva and Ponna had lived a few more years, they too would have been labeled traitors by the LTTE. While the Sri Lankan government issues stamps commemorating these individuals, the LTTE stamps them out! The racist, fascist nature of Makenthiran's writing is evident. Sentences like "Tamil Nadu Tamils have come out in full support of their Eelam Tamil brethren. Blood is thicker than water" etc., show the level of jingoism, self-deception and deviation from reality that is possible. The Eelam supporters are now hoping for a "federal solution" with India as the central government. That is, they envisage separation from Sri Lanka and annexation to India. I think neither Victor K, nor Renuka Sharma thought of "Tamil federalism" as a process leading to joining up with India because "blood is thicker than water". But that is the Sri Lankan reality of "federalism".

The argument that "blood is thicker than water" is just a racist idiom. In Sri Lanka's context, it is not even biologically true. Most of the Tamils in the Vanni who are considered to be Tamils today were the sinhalese who were thrown out of the Jaffna peninsula by Chankili. Names like Balasingham with the "sinha" ending, do not occur in Tamil Nadu. Such matters have been discussed by Modern sociologists as well as Swami Rasanayagam (Ancient Jaffna), and also K. Vellupillai (Yalpana Vaibhava Kaumudi). Many low-country sinhalese are descendants of the Kauvravas and other Dravidian groups. However, today they may be fiercely sinhala chauvinist, just as Makenthiran is fiercely Tamil chauvinist. So the nearest kin of the Tamils are actually the Sinhalese. Here Vicotr K has correctly pointed out that right through the ages, the Indians have used the Tamils of Lanka as pawns of their political objectives.

Today we have the chance of entirely getting rid of an armed fascist war lord who has traumatized Tamil society. Being a Tamil is a cultural thing and NOT an issue of genes or blood. We value our language, literature and our way of life. I have lived in Jaffna, Mannar, Hatton and Colombo. I found the enriching experience of multi-cultural life in Hatton and Colombo, and found that for the first time, caste and other prejudices did not really matter, unlike in our Tamil society "Race" is nothing but a bigger label similar to the caste labels of earlier times. Federalism based on racial criteria will fail in Sri Lanka.

-Sri Lanka Guardian

1 comment

IB said...

A well balanced article by a person having much exposure. I cannot agree more when you say none of the middle and lower class tamils or the singhalese need to have a separate land. It is the upper (ruling) class politicians who wanted to devide this peaceful land to enjoy power. The ordinary people always wanted to live as brothers and sisters in one country. Hope the heeling process happens in a much meaingful manner and the majority Sinhala speaking brothers and sisters extend a genuine helping hand to the tamil speaking brothers and sisters to get their shattered lives back on track. On the other hand, the tamil brothers and sisters too acknowledge this genuiness and build a lasting bondage between these two ethnic groups to form a United "One" Lankan race!!

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