What has all this to do with Sinhalization of the North, and Tamilization of the South?

by Sebastian Rasalingam, Toronto, Canada

(June 29, Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian) Two recent articles highlight various aspects of a debate fundamental to the "National Question" of Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, it is hardly discussed in the national press in Sri Lanka, although much discussed in gatherings of expatriates. I hear of sinhalese "intrusion" into the north being discussed by my children (people in their fiftees) and their friends.

D. B. S. Jeyaraj, the well-known columnist has high-lighted the settling of some 150 "Sinhalese" in the "Tamil Village" of Kokkacchankulam, near Vavniya (click here to read). This is presented as an example of the "sinhalization" of the North.

A comment on Jeyraj's article, written by a Sinhalese academic appeared in the Sri Lanka Guardian (click here to read). According to him, the place-name Kokkacchankulam is said to be Sinhala, arising from Kok-Aththana, a type of Datura with fruits having hooks ("koku") for seed dispersal. 

Also the area is claimed to have a Buddhist past as recorded by the archeology department. All this utterly unsurprising to me. The majority of the Sinhalese (and any Tamils of that era) lived in the North of the Mahaveli river untill about the 10th century. Populations have moved north, and south, depending on the pressures of war, pestillance or peace.

The anger against Colombo doing things in the North reminds me of the anger of the Tamil parliamentarians in the 1940s. It was against the Colombo authorities building causeways connecting villages in the North. The real anger was that such "intrusions" disturb the power- and caste- structure enjoyed by the Lords who ran the affairs of the Tamils.

Reading through the blogs to Jeyraj's article, we find that some bloggers express the sentiment that this is a "land grab" of the territory that belongs to "Eelam". To others this is "state sponsored colonization" of "Tamil territory". Still others feel that any-one should be able to live anywhere in the Country, but settling these "Sinhalese families" have been done without notifying the right administrative officials etc., etc. Others, mainly Sinhala bloggers, have pointed out a massive "Tamil colonization" of the South.

The big North-South migration started in 1905, when the British opened the Jaffna-Colombo railway. Anyone who made it good moved to the south. Today moving to the South is a first step to moving abroad, preferably to Canada. I too moved from Jaffna to Mannar, and from there to Hatton, and finally to Colombo in the 1950s. Coming from a "low-caste", and having married an Indian Tamil woman in Hatton, I was truly an out-caste paraiah among the Tamils. Although most Tamils could readily get a housing loan from the "Bank of Ceylon" run by Mr. Loganathan, especially at the Wellawatta branch, I found that I could not even open an account even with a government pay cheque.

However, although I was an outcaste among the Tamils, I found that my Sinhalese mates invited me to have tea with them - a strange experience for a man who was always spoken to by Tamils in the curt "inga va" Tamil. The politics of the Tamils in the Ramanathan era was Caste Politics. Ramanathan wanted the caste system written into the Ceylon constitution. The Tamil politics put into place by G. G. Ponnambalam and S. J. V. Chelvanayagam was Race Politics vis a vis the Sinhalese. Caste politics continued within Tamil society itself. It was only the Leftists who went beyond these shackles -- but then they were considered a lunatic-fringe. Even in the 2010 presidential elections, they garnered less than a fraction of a percent of the votes.

What has all this to do with Sinhalization of the North, and Tamilization of the South?

The best thing that could happen to Sri Lanka, and the only thing that would guarantee the stifling of future ethnic discord is the disruption of in-grained ethnic enclaves which are not only racially segregated, but also caste segregated. Mr. Jeyaraj had mentioned villages including Kokachchankulam around Nedunkerny, but failed to note that even up to the 1980s, these had Caste Enclaves that even the war lords did not disrupt. The war did not destroy the segregation of Caste and Women in Tamil society, but mobilized them and hijacked them for political ends, as they were the easiest to subjugate and control.

I strongly believe that the State should have a clear program of settling Sinhalese in the villages of the North, and at least some Tamil IDPS in the villages of the south. The Sinhalese, with 75% of the population, would be demographically highly pressurized and hence the move to the sparse regions of the North and the East would be no different than the move of the White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestants (WASPS) of the US East coast to the "homelands" of the Hispanics West in the USA. Such redistribution of population, and NOT devolution of power into the hands of corrupt regional lords, is the best investment for long-term peace in Sri Lanka. Such a redistribution of population will also strongly undermine the Caste and gender discrimination endemic in traditional Tamil society with its Manu Dharma. Sinhalese society is far far less caste conscious, and accords greater power to its womenfolk.

The Sinhalese, lving in the prosperous and modern Southern Sri Lanka would need state incentives to settle in the sparsely populated North which needs labour as well as investors for its deveopment. The pro-LTTE expats have done little to help the North, and instead push their "boycott Sri Lanka" campaigne which hurts the poor Tamils more than any other ethnic group.

Instead of emphasizing divisions and differences, we need to emphasize the close similarities and common basics of the citizens of Sri Lanka.

Modern Hinduism and Buddhism have much in common. Instead of objecting that "Sinhalization" inevitably leads to the Buddhist temple and the Bo tree "invading Tamil land", we must welcome the Buddhist monks to the Hindu Temples, asking them to build the Buddha Statue and plant the Bo tree just next to the Temple itself. The Kururals and the Buddhist Sangha should be colleagues. After all, Buddhist temples in the South HAVE already integrated Hindu Gods like Vishnu, Skanda and Ganesh. Some Buddhist temples have Kururals, known as "Kapuralas", as officials. The Sinhalese and the Tamils have an enormous amount of common cultural and genetic baggage, as well as linguistic commonality. A Tamil sentence, translated word for word, without changing the structure, already becomes Sinhalese. The alphabets and grammar are very similar. Both Vivekananda and Radhakrishnan said that Buddhism is the most refined rendering of the Vedic-Hindu-Jain tradition of Indian belief.

So, Jayraj should rejoice in the implantation of Sinhala Villages in the North, and the Sinhalese nationalists should welcome the Tamilization of the Greater Colombo region, with its flourishing Hindu temples. Population redistribution is a must. As an old Tamil who has seen Tamil politics opposing the Donoughmore reforms, and finally morphing into Eelam militarism, I believe that these are the best investments for a future of peace and prosperity in Sri Lanka.

If there had been population restructing in Sri Lanka, together with the further development of the railway and road ways left by the British, we would never had three decades of civil war. So, let us plan for the future intellegently and avoid ethnic, caste or religious enclaves of any kind.

Tell a Friend