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How long will caste remain a curse for Tamils?

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(July 11, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) M.A. Sumanthiran MP is emerging as a promising leader who could articulate and speak up for Tamils. Having said that, would the hardliners and older generation of TNA members want him to be their representative? Yet, Sumanthiran is setting some hard targets for the government and gaining popularity among Tamils both in Sri Lanka and abroad.

BTF (British Tamil Forum), GTF (Global Tamil Forum) and TGTE(Trans-national Government of Tamil Eelam) or in world-speak Tamils without borders who gained a semblance of support for Tamils post-LTTE but who have clout neither one way or another are as weak as Mark Twain would put it `like boiling the shadow of a pigeon’.

Federal Party with its leaders such as S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, Appapillai Amirthalingam, V.Yogeswaran and All Ceylon Tamil Congress under G.G. Ponnambalam of the 50:50 demand for NE Tamils while mustering support from the UNP which appeared to sympathise with the NE Tamils would fall out of favour with the upcountry Tamils and the depressed castes of the North and East.

Tamil militancy, if one was to cast aside Tamil uprising during the Satyagraha of 1958, began with the murder of the maverick Jaffna mayor Alfred Durayappah; a cousin of G.G. Ponnambalam’s wife in 1974. Durayappah courted Sirmavo and thought he could win over the Jaffna seat in parliament. While V.Pirabakaran claims to have killed him so did Amirthalingam’s son Kandeepan at Bradford University in the UK in 1977 where this writer was present.

The late Augustine Saverimuttu was then Jaffna Correspondent for Lake House and he was a constant visitor to our house we rented from C.X. Martyn MP’s cousin to make trunk calls to Colombo and he showed us the photos he took of Durayappah with gunshot wounds to his stomach and chest.

This writer also remembers the occasion when Anura B was in Jaffna and Durayappah was supplying him with women such as Bharatha Natya dancers and other comely girls. When it comes to women and sexual exploits, caste takes a back seat.

What irked Pirabakharan was not his sexual exploits but the fact that he was willing to sell himself to Mrs B. A protégée of the TULF, he felt let down by the Tamil politicians who while whipping up Tamil nationalism sidelined them once elections were over.

Velupillai Pirabhakaran, son of an additional government agent from Valvettithurai - contrary to popular perception he was of the fishing caste- would emerge to shatter the Vellala myth of the FP (Federal Party or Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi) and later TULF comprising elite Vellalas and propagate the predicament of Tamils to world scrutiny which the former two could not have envisaged.

That Pirabakharan’s family reigned over VVT, were patrons of the temples of Valvettithurai and owned vast tracts of lands was too much to stomach by the so-called Vellala clan whose beginnings are ambiguous to say the least.

North East caste system eroded the very fabric of the unification of Tamils post independence. While the Sinhalese started to shed their own caste system thanks to Lord Buddha’s precepts, Tamils still linger in the past invoking their Saivism, vegetarianism, Brahminism and Vellalaism. These isms remain deterrents to progress in the 21st century.

Which brings us to the conundrum Tamils have faced over decades and which the majority Sinhalese Buddhists exploited to retain sovereignty citing their unique stature as the only ethnic group and inheritors of the island of Serendib. Ergo,Tamils can hot-foot it to Tamil Nadu from where they came. The fact that Sinhalese too migrated just 300 years before Tamils from India is conveniently erased from history.

Unlike the Tamils, Sinhala Buddhists renounced the caste system as their Guru Lord Buddha believed in equality of mankind and chose the Middle Path. But somewhere along the way they chose another devious path of nationalism and claim to be the sole inheritors of Mother Lanka and to this day they will cross their heart and hope to die and swear that Tamils are but imports from India.

Tamils have time and again managed to feed into this Sinhala superior mentality through their own divisive caste system. If Jaffna Hindus were so entrenched in their caste system the Tamil Christians were one step ahead. One only needs to look at the Christian schools in the peninsula where the Vellala Christians thought God destined them to scholarships from the elite Christian to propagate Christian faith.

The Niles, Hitchcocks, Bartletts and Arnolds thought their children should be sent to Velloor medical college in India. The Kayts islanders dominated Catholic church only sent Kayts born students to Rome on scholarships.

Talk of Christian charity. There was no charity among the high priests of the churches hugely funded by Rome and American missions.

Times have changed. Tamils who were dominated and enslaved by the Vellalas are now the new generation and they are not taking the caste submission lying down. Third generation Tamils abroad have more clout than the old world Tamil politicians and churches.

(The writer has been a journalist for 24 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal;where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at pearltheva@hotmail.com)

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