by Sebastian Rasalingam, Toronto, Canada
(August 05, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Three cheers for Mr. Sooriyasegaram on the very balanced and sensible opinions expressed by Mr. M. Sooriyasegaram on the Nallur Hotel controversy, in the artcile published in the Island, 1st August, and in Transcurrents (). What he has said about the proposed hotel project is so eminently reasonable that one would wonder why such common sense is so rare in the Tamil community.
However. my point is to draw every one's attention to several other very important themes that surface within his article. I list them as follows. (a) The misguiding of the Tamil-speaking Sri Lankans by the "wise old men". (b) Unity in diversity. (c) Need to welcome the Sinhalese and the Muslims back into the Tamil community.
The folly and hubris of our wise old men.
Mr. Sooriyasegrama writes: "Those with education, land, wealth and foreign connections, who can survive under any circumstances, must not be allowed to make decisions at the expense of the have-nots and the disadvantaged and marginalized communities, who will suffer as a result of such decisions. Therefore active participation in such decision making by all, especially the downtrodden and marginalized communities, cannot be overemphasized."
The Nallur hotel issue potrays the age-old problems of Tamil politics.
The elitist upper-caste men of the Tamil community, (usually Christian lawyers) who licked the boots of the British, and applied the boot to the fellow Tamils (and the Sinhalese), made the decisions for the Tamils. First it was the attempt to incorporate the caste system into the constitution, led by Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. Then it was the effort by G. G. Ponnambalam to replace caste divisions by race divisions, partly as a ploy for him to pick up the leadership of the Tamil community. The ordinary rural Tamils did not really matter except as their political power base for the upper-class Tamils. To preserve this power base they were prepared to oppose universal franchise, divide the country and create "exclusive Tamil homelands (Tamil "apartheid"), oppose the building of causeways, roads etc., to connect many of the villages in the Jaffna peninsula because they would "make lower-caste villages more uppity". The land-owning Colombo Tamils - the old wise men of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), and the Tamil congress (TC) were the ones who prevented, in the 1950s, the upgrading of the Jaffna urban council to a municipality because these absentee landlords did not want to pay higher taxes!
Instead of fighting for the up-liftment of the Tamil people's economic and social development, the Colombo elite turned the political battle towards an attempt to grab a separate kingdom from themselves. No wonder their remnants today want to glorify the image of Sankilian. King Sankilian was surely in no sense a civilized man, but a brutal tyrant.
Mr. Sooryasegram is completely correct. The voice of a representative sample of the people, and not the self-appointed old elites, should be consulted, not only in the matter of the Nallur Hotel, but in general, for all political action.
Unity in diversity
Mr. Sooriyasegram writes:
"A sculptured work of art must be incorporated with a chosen theme, such as "unity in diversity", recognizing the rich multi-ethnic nature of Sri Lanka. This could be an integral part of the building’s front elevation or an independent sculpture. It is essential to be creative in all aspects of our work to reach the hearts and minds of people if we want to achieve the aim of a genuinely united Sri Lanka."
How refreshing at last to ready this kind of sensible statements - statements that we heard in the D.S. Senanayake era. Then there was less and less of it. Instead, it was the false rhetoric of the ITAK. The ITAK talked of federalism in its English writings, and even forged a hollow "Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam" pact, while in Tamil it talked of eventual separation and the setting up of Eelam, as early as 1949, and also in the 1952 elections. The so called "sathyagrahas", using the "sinhala-only" legislation as the bone of contention, was used by the ITAK to polarize the amicable Ceylonese society into two warring factions. The nationalist Sinhalese were deliberately provoked by the ITAK, with its Tar-brush campaigns against the Sanskrit letter "Sri" introduced onto car registration plates, and by issuing "Eelam stamps" and civil disobedience. The forming of clandestine militant armed youth groups began already in the 1960s.
Old men like myself, who grew up in the pre-second world war era, watched this turn of events in horror and disbelief. Events that were fuelled by the hubris, pride and greed for power shown by the Colombo-Christian Vellala Tamils. The Gajan Ponnambalams and Sampanthans of today, and the RudraKumarans of the Global Tamil diaspora are the remnants of that noxious breed of Tamils.
So it is so refreshing to see some common sense coming from the pen of Mr. Sooriyasegaram.
Welcoming the Sinhalese and the Muslims.
Mr. Sooriyasegaram writes: "I therefore like to respond to these racist utterances by warmly welcoming all Sinhalese and Muslim visitors to Jaffna and at the same time demanding that the Jaffna Municipal Council and the Government provide decent hotels, accommodation and improved infrastructure facilities in Jaffna".
I grew up in Jaffna, moved to Mannar and then to Hatton. Finally, after marrying an "Indian estate Tamil women", I moved to Colombo. I have seen, in my young days at school, the utter impossibility of being a "low-caste" person and have a modicum of dignity. A christian baptism provided some softening of the harshness of the discrimination that many of the "lower castes" had to face. However, it was only when I moved to the Sinhalese areas in the central hills and in Colombo that I learnt that there was a much more just and equitable society in Ceylon.
The alleged "discrimination of Tamils by the Sinhalese" was nothing compared to the
discrimination of the Tamils by the upper castes of the Tamils themselves. It was even after Vaddukkodaai (1976) that Mr. Shanmugathasan of the Communist Party challenged Chelvanyagam to clarify his caste policy in Mavattipuram.
The best way to soften the caste-ridden, superstition-deriven insular society of the North and the East is to infuse other groups of people closest to us by encouraging multi- culturalism and multi-ethnicity in our so-called "exclusive" Tamil homelands. We need to encourage and invite the Sinhalese and the Muslims to the North and the East. So I am very happy that Mr. Sooriyasegaram has also urged the development of inter-ethnic communication. This is in strong contrast to the writing of "educated" Colombo Tamils like Rajan Phillips whose bigoted writings suggested that the Sinhalese pilgrims are an unwelcome nuisance in Jaffna!
The Marxist fellow travelers of the LTTE, e.g., the Kumar Davids and Wikramabahus, they too have not welcomed the government's attempts at integration, siding with the TNA and even with Sarath Fonseka, the jingoist right-wing ex-general who commanded the Sri Lankan army. These pseudo- Marxists also support separatist Eelamist doctrines!. It is in the interest of the down-trodden Tamils to guard against these misguided "wise men" of the "left".
Once again, I salute Mr. Sooriyasegaram for giving voice to common sense. What Tamils need is common sense, a most uncommon commodity!