The IDPs, the Church and Social reconstruction

“Jesus was a man of the people who had to go into the Temple and throw out the established church fathers, the money bags, the Pharisees and Sadducees. The overthrow of the LTTE is also the opportunity to clean up the Tamil society, over-burdened by its colonial and Shavite elites, untouched by 20th century egalitarianism.”

By Sebastian Rasalingam

(September 03. Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian)
Mr. Lanka Nesiah, writing in the opinion column of the Island (28-august-2009) has attempted to explain some of the politically easily misunderstood remarks of Bishop Duleep de Chickera. I thank him for bringing out the background details. However, the issue is not in the details but in the political fallout ignored by Mr. Nesiah and the Pious Bishop, within the big picture of the so called "national problem". It is this big picture, and the place of the church that I wish to discuss in this reply to Mr. Nesiah.

The big picture, i.e., the long term problems of our country and our communities has got crystallized into the short term problem of the IDPs stranded in the Menik Farm. This is particularly evident from the Island editorial of the 29th of August. It seems that one reason for the consternation of some Tamil politicians like Mr. Ganeshan is that the ruling party is winning favors with the IDPs via the government's approach to the IDP problem! That is, the opposition is worried that a substantial number of IDPs approve the present approach!

There are several classes of IDPS. There are the well to do who have got caught in the tidal wave of the war. They have the means to go to courts and get themselves extricated. Indeed, if people have a place to go, and if they are not suspected of subversive activities, then they should be free to go. Bishop Ranjit Malcolm, the newly crowned Prince of the Church, has called for the immediate release of the IDPs. If each IDP family had on the average five members, then 300,000 people imply 60,000 families. Families having children who may have been LTTE cadre are most suspect. However, if we have 100 senior detectives and their staff reviewing and following up the antecedents of each family, and if each family takes three working days of review, the whole process would take 200 working days. In some cases the three-day review would indicate the need for further review. However, the 180 days that the government has asked for review and re-settlement of the IDPs is, in my opinion, perfectly reasonable.

The possibility that the IDPs could be released in 180 days arose because the Armed Forces freed them from the clutches of the LTTE. If not, they would remain under the LTTE jackboot for many years to come, just as they have been since their ejection from Jaffna in the mid 1990s.So, the church fathers and the Tamils in particular must be thankful to the Armed Forces. They have, be it due to Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism or what ever, demolished the biggest tragedy that befell the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran was a criminal who hijacked the legitimate nationalism of the Tamils and used it to create a fascist organization based on terror for the Tamils and Sinhalese. This is a great moment which should have been celebrated by the Tamils even more than by the Sinhalese.

And yet, such celebration was denounced as "triumphalism". Bishop Ranjith Malcolm uttered no words of praise for the liberation of the Vanni by the Armed forces. Bishop Malcolm used the hallowed celebration of the Madhu effectively to send the political clarion call that the pro-LTTE diaspora has been sending. This is why I was so disappointed and sensed an effective "catu-varkkam" by the political incomprehension of the church. Understandably, the church, just like civil society, will have its pro-LTTE as well as anti-LTTE individuals. However, the church fathers are supposed to be more politically aware and sensitive.

When Bishop Chickera called for the use of Killinochchi wine in church rites, he may have been innocently and simply thinking of using the wine fermented by the girls of Karuna Nilayam. But then, the Bishop has to be utterly insensitive to the political realities of the country, and such prelates should stick to the cassock and not get involved in politics. In effect, when Mr Nesiah asserts that the Bishop "never met Prabhaharan and has therefore never had occasion to refer to the personal qualities or characteristics of that gentleman", he is making a politically very incorrect statement about the "gentleman" who has been found guilty of murder and much more by the Indian High court as well as the Supreme court of Sri Lanka. It is this political blindness which is the tragedy of the contemporary Christian and Catholic churches of Ilankai.

The church came to this country with western colonization, both as a liberator and as an invader. Today, it can continue to play the role of the liberator to the full, if it can align its moral and political sensitivities with the majority of the people, who are the down-trodden and oppressed. The early Christian missions in Jaffna did a singular service in fighting against the hierarchical caste system based on the Hindu Manu Dharma that ensured that a powerful minority maintained the rest of the North and East as serfs. However, when the westerners left the church in the hands of the "-pillai class" of Church fathers, old hierarchical ideas came back to our society even within the Christian church. As a child attending a Christian school, I had to carry around my low-cut stool from class to class as low-caste children could not sit like other children. While Chelvanayagam's Maradana resolution of 1949 and the TULF resolution of 1976 in Vaddukkoddei insisted on the rights of Tamils against the Sinhalese, they ignored the abject discrimination that existed in Tamil society itself where many Tamils could not work in dignity, send children to suitable schools, worship where they liked, bury the dead like everyone else, buy land locked in by Tesavalam, or even draw water from a well.

Those are the true aspirations of ordinary Tamils. This situation existed even in 1980, and the only good thing that came via the destruction brought in by the LTTE was the dismantling of this traditional hierarchic system.

The left movement of the south had a very strong egalitarian influence in Sinhalese society where the churches were less powerful. The trade union movement and the agrarian reforms like the paddy-lands act, estate nationalization etc., changed Sinhala society immensely. The socialists were in the fore-front in proposing Sinhala and Tamil as equal national languages. And yet, Tamil society rejected the socialists. The church, strongly present among the English educated Tamils throttled the left movement and embraced the racism of Samuel J. V. Chelvanaygam, E. M. V. Naganathan (claimed to be "Royal family of Jaffna") and other Christians. Exactly as in South Vietnam and Latin America, our church fathers buttressed the rich, powerful western oriented elite class and forgot about the poor Tamils. Even today, Bishops Malcolm Ranjit and Dulip de Chickera have failed to shake off their shackles and listen to the voice of the poor people.

Jesus was a man of the people who had to go into the Temple and throw out the established church fathers, the money bags, the Pharisees and Sadducees. The overthrow of the LTTE is also the opportunity to clean up the Tamil society, over-burdened by its colonial and Shavite elites, untouched by 20th century egalitarianism. The way forward is via the formation of a multi-ethnic society, by a Tamilazation of the South and a Sinhalization of the North. Here the church can help rather than hinder. But before the church can help, younger grass-roots prelates have to spring up and take control. Commercial development, rapid transport and communication between the North and the South, and land reform where Tesavalam and other caste-discriminatory legislation are removed are a must. The church can be a motive force in social reconstruction and liberation if it goes back to the Christian principles of Jesus himself. Instead of ex cathedra statements about "releasing the IDPs immediately", the church can cooperate with the authorities, celebrate the defeat of the LTTE, and help our people as well as Christianity by developing some basic political acumen, preferably without Killinochchi wine, to avoid fermenting misunderstandings.

-Sri Lanka Guardian
Anselm Shiran said...

Well this author seems to have some grudge against the Christian Church in Sri Lanka. Over and over again he misquotes the statement of Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith saying he appealed for immediate release of the IDPs but what he said was to "expidite" the resettlement process. There is a huge difference.
The following two extracts give his actual speech from his welcome gathering at BMICH for which the President of Sri Lanka was present- "We appeal to your Excellency to ensure that the process of pacification of the North and East of this country be expedited through an effective and fast moving program for the resettlement of the internally displaced people in the villages from which they originally came. Wounds fester when medication is delayed. Speed becomes a necessity for a thorough process of healing in this country."

"I also appeal to all international bodies and governments to be more pro-active in this matter, helping the government of Sri-Lanka to redevelop the devastated North and East of this country economically so that the Tamils and the Sinhalese here can find unity, a new sense of freedom, equality and dignity. There is no point in punishing further the poor and the suffering in the affected regions through sanctions economic or political. Sanctions cannot bring about healing."

jean-pierre said...

Sebastian rasalingam is always informed and aware of the problems of the Tamil community./ I hope more people listen to him. He is correct in stating that the church itself needs a bit of cleaning up.
The church has totally lost its moral compass in porviding clandestine support to the LTTE

Anselm Shiran said...

Well Nadesan seems to think that the Church has an option when it comes to choosing either to support the oppressed or the powerful. It's always the oppressed. The Church always detested terrorism, and LTTE for that matter, but stood by the people, the oppressed. But I don't deny that there could have been some clerics who intentionally or unintentionally functioned in a manner that was biased towards the LTTE. But that does not mean that was the stand of the Church. One must go by the Church official statements to decide that. But what is alarming is the author's use of the words that Bishop Malcolm Ranjith has said to 'immediately resettle' the IDPs whereas what he said was to 'expidite' the resettlement process. At the Madu shrine he also recognized that this resettlement process faces many challenge and difficulties. He said this at His Welcome ceremony at the BMICH and at Madu shrine. What kind of responsibilily the author of the article takes when he misquotes a statement. It is highly irresponsible. If he has a point to prove, he must do it using correct details. He musn't use false doctored data to suit his clandestine motives. That is what I was talking about in my first comment. If he can defend the mistake I challenge him. You can find Archbishop's speeches in audio format in:

manuri said...

Now only it is very clear why
this war went on for 30 long years.

It is not only because of the LTTE but because of the problems within the community.Stories that were not spoken out but kept inside.

Can some one imagine a child made to carrya low cut stool from class to class just because of the caste he belonged to.this world should burn alive.To hell with the caste.

the conduct of the church and the fathers there is such a shame.

Jesue gave his life for the or.How many of them are doing justice to his death?

and a word to the writer.

write my friend .it is good that it is coming out .the truth has to be told no matter what.30 years of war is not only LTTE but too many issues that were buried and not discussed out in open and the LTTE used it for their gains.

let's talk about it and out with it. now the war is over people need wisdom to drink water from the same well no matter what the caste is.

the tamil society is highly educated and can't believe that they go after this freaking caste ystem.

Then again the more educated we are the more selfish

Ram Muni said...

The writer is correct in saying that the aspirations of the ordinary Tamil is no different from those of the other communities of Sri Lankan society.
The writer I believe is a Christian, and yet has the strength to criticize the the various churches. I find it reprehensible that he could have been treated the way he was during his school days, and that, this was tolerated by the church. His is, a far better Christian attitude that that of the church elders, and I do hope more people listen to him than to them. Sri Lanka would then be a far better place to live.