Two Lankan Tamils - Two perspectives

| by I. S. Senguttuvan

(September 20, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Dr Rrajasingham Narendran’s (RN) piece is tiled both as “A Brief Overview of post-Independence" as well as "History of communal relations" A perusal of the brief comments show they are more a critique on those who were at the helm of affairs in Jaffna Society from Independence (until the Tigers imposed their fascistic rule)Having read RN’s regular comments in diaspora and other journals, one is left with two conclusions.

1. For reasons not clear, he is a strident critique of the TNA, the TULF and the Tamil leadership under
Mr R. Sampanthan and colleagues – bar the few instances he passes some complimentary remarks on this grouping

2. He gives the impression of being more pro-government even in instances where this appears to be patently against Tamil interests. He makes very little effort to leave the impression he is more inclined towards pro-Douglas Devananda politics.

The treatment by the Tamil leadership from the middle of the 20th century of “Indian Tamils” – now referred to as the People of recent Indian origin (PORIO) – in spite of their being part of the same race and subject to the same socio-political disadvantages in the post-1956 is one feature that will continue to haunt the community.
He is perfectly free to express his views on his chosen perspectives – on both of which he has, incidentally, earned a considerable following among regular Sinhala readers and.Commentators His passion to help out chart a course for a New Future for the Tamils in the NEP, his vision of cooperation in a Govt-Tamil political leadership in continuing discussions to ensure a future of peace and prosperity - gains for him many friends. The terrible tragedies members of his famlily have endured in the post 1977-period – and more in the post-1983 times – secure for him both sympathy and support across the ethnic divide.

The treatment by the Tamil leadership from the middle of the 20th century of “Indian Tamils” – now referred to as the People of recent Indian origin (PORIO) – in spite of their being part of the same race and subject to the same socio-political disadvantages in the post-1956 is one feature that will continue to haunt the community. No less the inhuman treatment of the socially disadvantaged in the indigenous Tamil people of the NEP will be remembered in poor light for a long time. Reviewed from a more understanding and empirical light, such aberrations were not uncommon in many societies. In near-by Kerala, the Hindu Belt in North India (UP, Bihar, Orissa) man’s inhumanity to man occurred over centuries. In Russia – as Tolstoy, Gorky and other literary giants were to structure their plots – the treatment of serfs was no less barbaric. Although some Western writers mock at the weaknesses in our system, the fact is today in 2011 there is at least one racial grouping in Europe – the Romas - ostracised in their areas in Romania, Bulgaria and in many other East and West European States where they live in significant numbers. It is shocking to learn even priests in Churches meant for them refuse them entry. The Tsarist Empire was overthrown and the world saw the first Socialist-Communist state as a consequence of crimes against the Serf is often cited. Admittedly, the passage of time and a more enlightening world, greatly enabled by increasing education and the culture free-thinking, was forcing the searchlight inwards in many societies – with the Christian churches in Europe leading the way. Our societies were reluctantly forced to yield to the new order. Jaffna society has since changed in as much that high-caste lead society in Kerala.

Differing with RN, I make bold to suggest education did not only benefit one section of the Jaffna Tamil society only. It benefited all of them, arguably, some more than the others.

RN’s finest contribution in this piece is his own critique on that Great Mistake of the Sinhala polity. His comments are worthy of mention :-

How the Sri Lankan governments tried to correct this imbalance was wrong, short sighted and brutal. Instead of investing in education in the South and other disadvantaged Tamil areas and bringing in a time framed affirmative action program, the governments forced the pace through Sinhala only, dismantling of merit based selection processes and, of course, the standardization schemes for University admissions. The language used by the Sinhala politicians and some societal leaders to justify their actions were insulting, inflammatory and unwise These measures, while advancing the cause of the Sinhalese, set back the country as a whole. The section of the Jaffna Tamils who had planned their entire life on following a particular path to education, employment and prosperity, were literally caught with their pants down!

If at all I disagree it is in RN;s comment “they were literally caught with their pants down” Multiple thousands of them had their educational and professional careers destroyed – and, they, were made virtua aliens in their own country. As lethal as the Language disability imposed in 1956 was the carefully engineered Language in Courts part of the legislation that virtually disqualified the large number of able and useful Tamil lawyers practicing in the Sinhala South with much distinction. Looking in retrospect, one is tempted to ask has the country – the Sinhalese in particular - benefited by a better legal and professional system in the country when English was replaced by Sinhala. The appetite for racial prejudice may have been quenched but what we substituted was a good system now replaced by the rampant non-governance or poor governance that is place for all to see.

On a personal note, I was beginning my business career in the mid-60s when I had occasion to visit the CTO and the Bank of Ceylon often. The excessively large number of Tamils there in the clerical staff concerned me – in the light of the environment unleashed by the nascent communal politics. I thought it was something that needs to be corrected before much damage is done. And when I visited these institutions 10-20 years later I found the exact opposite. The change has neither helped the majority, minority communties nor the institutions or the country. It has only exacerbated the divide and resulted in a suspect quality of service.

Yet another area in which I agree with RN is where he states “Tamils were no more intelligent than the Snhalese and no more capable either” Some of my finest teachers were excellent Sinhala ladies and gentlemen. Some of them I respected as I do my own parents and visited them often. The late H. V. Perera, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, CWW Kannanagara (who gave us Free Education – and the versatile Prof. Carlon Fonseka from whose learning we still profit - are men who will be considered brilliant in any country anywhere and at any time of history. The Sinhala Modaya thing is more rhyme and limerick than a racial slur like ECB Wijesinghe’s Brinjal joke in his celebrated play “He comes from Jaffna”

Once more on the subject of PORIO let me recall RN’s own words “The plantation Tamils were virtual slaves, looked down upon by all so-called Sri Lankan Tamils. Basil Rajapakse calling Muthu Sivalingam a Para-demala, which is much referred to, was totally uncivilized. However, how we the Sri Lankan Tamils looked down upon and treated the plantation Tamil was also uncivilized and disgraceful” The irony is that even the well-to-do PORIO do not take to the Dalits among them with great affection – even today. But certainly, things have improved a great deal. Whether BR or Mahinda Aluthgamage (Nawalapitiya) called my friend Muthu Sivalingam as PD is immaterial. This is because, in the heat of the moment, both sides use unfortunate expressions that is best allowed to be forgotten - instead of making a mountain off a molehill.

In conclusion, the leadership, inspiration and resources must come from the Rajapakse regime to, once again, make Tamils feel part of the Lankan Nation. Talking a few words of broken Tamil in the UN and refusing to sing just as many words in Tamil while respecting the National Anthem is not an example of sincerity –but of crass hypocracy. Speaking in Tamil by the President in Jaffna has far more relevance than in New York. Refusing to provide that List of the Missing to multiple thousands of Tamils even in the 10th round of GoSL-TNA talks does not enhance confidence. Douglas Devananda can step in here and take whatever brownie points there are if he can provide this list. The Tamil people are ready and willing to join hands with their Sinhala cousins – lead by the Rajapakse Brothers – if rhetoric and assurances are met by performance. The Rajapakse regime has had nearly 3 years to show their goodwill to the Tamil people - and the world. Having ex-army men as Governors and a highly excessive army presence in the Tamil areas, this nonsense of Grease Devils are hardly good signs of men claiming to have peace as priority in their Agenda. Asthe old saying goes "words matter - but action is eloquence"

Let us hope the good influences NR is believed to enjoy with the Rajapakse Brothers, whom he goes out of the way to defend and uphold, will enable him to expedite the seeing of the day of that much heralded Uthuri Wasanthaya. To start with a transparent list videa the media of large projects done, details of location, value of project and source of funding etc will be a grand tool to re-assure the Tamil people the Rajpakse government is doing something and may be trusted.
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