ஞாயிறு, பிப்ரவரி 28, 2010

Disgrace and death brings more happiness than supporting a cruel autocracy


Letter form journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who was abducted on 24th January 2010 in Colombo Sri Lanka



This personal letter written by Prageeth Eknaligoda to a non relative daughter living in abroad provides window to his perceptions on political - military terror that has engulfed Sri Lankan Society. Written two months after he was abducted for the first time and later being dropped in a quarry in August 2009,. this is a personal narrative of his life after the abduction. The context of this narrative is the popular pro war sentiments in Sinhala society in the aftermath of war victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which made people like Prageeth a traitor. He was abducted for the second time and so far all efforts to trace him has failed .This is an English translation of his original Sinhala letter.



03 November 2009



My daughter Ruwandi,

I read your email you sent me. Please excuse this late reply. Today you are not the small cute baby whom I cajoled in my lap. Now you are a grown-up person who understands things. My heart is full of joy for that. I didn’t have time to write you back in peace because I became isolated among thousands of human beings. I had again to adopt to tedious safe life patterns whether I liked it or not. I had to leave my job which made me loose my income. Even my closest ones didn’t have any other option than leaving me alone. This is not a personal fault of anyone. It is a logical reality. In these times no one can support anyone else. Furthermore, no one dares to help someone like me who has become a target of the sacred military regime. But if there were not two, three persons who were courageous enough to help me, my situation would have become unthinkable. The terror can even change the way a person thinks and acts.

What we have in this country today is a terror aimed at individuals. This is not like the generalized terror on society which we faced in 1988/89. It is a terror that is not visible because everyone tries to take care of oneself but does not pay attention to others. Like in those days no one helps the ones who became targets. The dependents become helpless. Although there is no open discussion among people fear is lurking in everyone’s mind. Instead of facing the fear in an organized way in this country people are living making fear a virtue. In this way, cowardness is masqueraded as tactical intellect or cleverness. They say that one is facing danger because of his foolishness. If not this, they look for some errors which he has made or they look for justifications for the suppression he is facing. Accordingly I am now confirmed as a fool or wrongdoer or sinner even among my closest ones. I am not going to make efforts to change this belief or argue to justify my stand.

I look at them with compassion. I am not going to use the terror as a reason to change or degrade the politics I believed as just and right and in which I was engaged in accordingly. I cannot act against my conscience. The government has a power stretched towards New Delhi, Beijing, Islamabad and Tel Aviv. I know they have a torture-army trained in methods of placing the body on nailed beds, picking up body parts and liquidating them in acid basins to destroy the opponents. And I know that puritan, common society is ready to provide billions of rupees to carry out those crimes. I know that killing me, being a patient and physically week to the lowest level, is easier than killing an ant. But just because of that I cannot support building a cruel autocratic state. I cannot support killing thousands including infants and old, humiliating them, imprisoning them, and grabbing their property and land. I cannot be a wise man who pretends not to see these actions. I cannot support dividing a country which should be united. That is against the morals I adhere to. Disgrace and death brings more happiness than supporting such a policy.



I have become a wrongdoer although I have not done any wrong against anyone. I do not blame anyone for this. I do not have anger against the soldiers who tortured me while abducting and taking me away to assassinate me. Why? Because they just did a job assigned to them. If they are not in that job they, too, would have been innocent persons like me and could have fallen victim to this cruel reality. And I know that the power of this cruel reality does not rest on those armed men or on President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Actually, as it came out from the President’s mouth he is only the trustee of the following: The power rests on the popular society which holds this sinful ideology. Mr. Rajapakse cannot do anything other than to say ‘black’ to things this society calls ‘black’ and ‘white’ to things this society calls ‘white’. I have understood that this is a historical reality like the social illness described by Albert Camus in his novel The Plague. So I am not shocked. Daughter, I don’t have a party and I am not part of any organization, therefore, there is no organization to work on behalf of me. Even the people whom I represent don’t know that I am suffering because I work on behalf of them. I do not expect them to know about me. As I detached myself from kit and kin early in my life, there are no social connections, too. Under these circumstances, the only path open for someone like me, who does not have any value or respect in this society and therefore, who receives no help from anyone, is to walk alone the destined path. I select that option by my own will.

Daughter, isolation and humiliation of a person in danger is the same physical assassination but in a different form. In other words, it is part and parcel of the assassination. The characteristics of this other type of physical assassination is that the one being assassinated can watch how it is being carried out. This brutal pressure is exerted from the unknown gunman alias physical assassin who is in front and the known gunman alias soul assassin who is behind. This is completely different from the 1988/89 terror. I am experiencing this new kind of terror now. I am not the first person who is facing this situation but I would like to be the last one. I believe that this situation will not last long. Sometimes I may not see the future peaceful time following this fearful situation. But I am confident that the future will be better. The most important thing is to sacrifice the present for that future.

What I am writing here now is part of my conclusions I have reached after studying what happened to comrade Sunanda Deshapriya. Daughter, the society we are living in is indebted to him. But my belief is that no one took this into consideration to help him. I don’t know where he is living today and there is no way to find this out. At least, I was not able to render any help to him. But I think that for him, as well as for the whole society and for children like you to whom the future belongs, someone should make a detailed description of the cruel reality that everyone has become a victim of. I do not have the education to do that. I am not the right person. Because of that, even in these difficult and uncertain circumstances, what I am trying to do is to write down the present reality for the future in the hope that someone else will complete this in the time to come. My wish is that I will have enough time to do just that.

Daughter, please do not keep this note after reading it and say hello to Bertie Uncle.

Thank you,
Prageeth Uncle”

வெள்ளி, பிப்ரவரி 26, 2010

Caste in modern Sri Lankan politics

by Michael Roberts



In a recent intervention in the www.transcurrents.com (10 Feb. 2010), Lakruwan de Silva has conjectured that caste rivalry between the Govigama and Karava contributed in a secondary manner towards the rift between the Rajapakse clan and General Fonseka.1 In his broad survey of caste undercurrents in the history of the Sinhalese, he also refers to the Kara-Govi rivalry that surfaced during the contest for the "Educated Ceylonese Seat" in the Legislative Council in British times in December 1911. In serendipitous coincidence a gentleman named Nadesan recently alluded to this famous occasion when the Govigama elite of that day is said to have backed Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s candidature and helped him defeat Dr. Marcus Fernando for this coveted post.2

Let me begin by clarifying the background to this contest. A coalition of Ceylonese activists from the Burgher, SL Tamil and Sinhalese communities had begun to exert pressure on the British rulers from circa 1906 seeking devolution of power. The British authorities responded in miserly fashion in 1910 with the Crewe-Macullum reforms conceding a modicum of expansion in the advisory Legislative Council and introducing the electoral principle for the "Burgher Seat" and the newly-created "Educated Ceylonese Seat;" while still maintaining the existing nominated seats.

Voting rights for both these new seats were determined by property and educational qualifications so that the electorates were tiny. Within the body of 2938 who exercised their votes for the Educated Ceylonese seat, the "Ceylon Tamils" made up 36.4 per cent of the voters and Sinhalese 56.4 percent.3 The Karava elite made up a significant proportion of the Sinhalese voters because of their success in both the educational and entrepreneurial paths of mobility.4 Therefore, they were able to field Marcus Fernando from a brilliant scholastic family that had secured twin-marriages with C. H. de Soysa’s daughters, thereby rendering the Fernandos part of the Warusahännadig? clan that commanded fabulous wealth. In this situation those Govigama activists who were Govigama-minded "did not consider themselves strong enough [to field a candidate] and took the pragmatic course of supporting … Ramanathan’s candidature."5 This emphasis needs a caveat. As Kumari Jaywardena has shown, not all the Govigama rich supported Ramanathan; he was so much a conservative that they preferred the mildly liberal Fernando.6

This caste alignment did not emerge out of the blue. There had been a long history of Kara-Govi rivalry in diverse quarters and at various social levels from the 1860s if not earlier. Let me detail some facets without claiming that this brief review is comprehensive.

Those with the closest affiliations with the British ruling class in Ceylon in the mid-nineteenth century were the educated Burgher elite and Govigama aristocrats from the mudaliyar class in the Low-Country, especially the Obeyesekere-Bandaranaike clans. But the Warusahännadig? de Soysas had amassed such wealth and prestige by the 1860s that they snaffled the right to feast the Duke of Edinburgh when he visited the island in 1870. The first-class Govigama were so miffed that they attempted to boycott this function.7

However, these Govigama families enjoyed other eminences: the British invariably appointed one of their educated sons to represent the Sinhalese as Nominated Member in the Legislative Council – a post that was re-designated "Nominated Low-Country Sinhalese Member" after the Kandyan aristocracy were given a nominated seat in the 1890s.

This monopoly was quickly challenged by the ambitious Kar?va. In 1894/95 they mounted a series of public meetings at the little towns of the south west quarter which presented the British with petitions supplicating the selection of James Peiris for this nomination. 8

At the same time one witnessed electoral competition for seats in the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) between Govigama and Kar?va gentlemen cultivating electorates defined by restricted property/educational qualifications. Among those who entered the CMC in the 1890s were the Jayewardene brothers, Hector and Justus on the one hand, and, on the other, C. M Fernando, younger brother of Marcus Fernando. Subject to correction I believe that one will find that Hector Jayewardene and C. M. Fernando contested each other for the post of President of the Law Students Union in the 1890s. It was Hector Jayewardene in fact – more than the Senanayakes, correcting Lakruwan de Silva – who is said to have marshalled Govigama votes in favour of Ramanathan in 1911.

All this, of course, was elite-level politics that might seem rarified folly to those attached to grass-roots advocacy. They should pause awhile. Caste jostling for status had deep roots. From the mid-nineteenth century Karava and Sal?gama personnel challenged the conventional claims to superior ritual status attached to the Govigama. These challenges were mostly in the Sinhala medium and generated a pamphlet ‘war’ at different moments in the period 1868-1911. While several were written under pseudonyms, it is known that Itihasa (1876) was the work of the Karava monk, Weligam? Sri Sumangala thera and that the Govigama reply in 1877 was composed by a collective that included Hikkaduv? Sri Sumangala thera and some lawyers.

The respectability of the authors did not constrain them from the use of vituperative, and even filthy, language. The vernacular-educated intelligentsia, among them the journalist, G. D. Pälis Appuh?my, were at the centre of these writings in pamphlet and newspaper. 9

Such contestation was not a product of the British period. Malalgoda has revealed that the questioning of Govigama hegemony and exclusiveness began in the eighteenth century in response to a royal decree in 1765 that restricted higher ordination to the city of Kandy and its chapters. Non-Govigama laity and monks combined to effect upasampad? ceremonies in the lowlands in 1772 and 1795. Then, between 1799 and 1813 five caste-specific parties went to Burma and returned with ordained monks of unquestionably authenticity. Three of the groups were Sal?gama, one Dur?va and the other Kar?va.10 The preponderance of Sal?gama is no accident. Their clout in the cinnamon trade in this era meant that they had both the economic means and political networks to initiate such moves.

These examples of caste rivalry – within an incomplete survey on my part – would seemingly give weight to Nadesan’s scathing criticism of one of my recent short essays on the ground that "CASTE was more important than RACE and religion" in the British period (see fn. 2). Not so. Nadesan’s bizarre misreading of my essay on "The Sinhala Mind-Set" is guilty of oversimplification11 and subsumed by a form of either/or reasoning. The political arena is a complex one, involving many strands and many alliances that could shift according to context. Jostling, competition and hostility between the different religious collectives on the one hand and, on the other, between ethnic communities (usually known then as "communities") co-existed with caste competition within the Tamil and Sinhalese communities.

Within such a situation at any point of time particular sets of actors in a specific context may be directed strongly by Factor or Identity X, say the caste factor. This does not mean that Factors and/or Identities Y and Z are weak or non-existent; rather they are on hold – a metaphor from the world of air-traffic control – because deemed irrelevant to that specific context. Indeed, for a good part of the twentieth century (and the centuries before) one became Sinhala by being Govigama, Dur?va or whatever, just as one became "Thamil" by being Vell?lar, Kar?iyar, Koviyar etc (though Pallar and Nalavar were occasionally deemed "not Thamil" in the pure sense12). For a good part of the twentieth century it would have been rare for a Govigama family to seek a Vell?lar spouse, so that cross-caste marriages of this type – or any type – arose as exceptions among the highly Westernised ‘decaste-ified’ elements of society, or in the urban slums and shanties or in the malaria-ridden backwoods.

The interlacing complications can be seen in the manner in which the mobilisation of caste fraternities within the Sinhala Buddhist world energised the resistance of Buddhists to the evangelical imperialism of the Christian orders in the British period. Their ‘training’ in caste polemics during the late Dutch and early British periods stood them in good stead when they had to face up to the missionary challenge on platform as well as print. Indeed, to follow Malalgoda, the presence of energetic Buddhist chapters organised on caste lines provided a multifaceted basis for Buddhist revitalisation.

Thus, in the late nineteenth century one sees Buddhist monks who had espoused the superiority of their caste working together with monks from other castes in movements directed against Christian privileges. Likewise, in the 1890s and 1900s the jostling for political position between the Fernandos and the Jayewardenes did not prevent their cooperation in the polite agitations of the Ceylon National Association – an elite political grouping that challenged notions of white superiority and the racial bar by pressing for the Ceylonisation of the Ceylon Civil Service.

In opposition to Nadesan, I note that the movement of Buddhist revival did not derive inspiration from Arumugar Navalar’s sturdy programme of Hindu revitalisation. Young & Jebanesan are firm on this point: "There is … no evidence at all of a pan-Lankan, Ceylonese … reaction to Chritianity at any time in the history of the island’s encounter with that religion."13 Both movements of religious revitalisation were reactions to the denigration heaped on native "idolatry" by Christian missionaries, disparagement that was sharpened by the general circumstances of political subordination and White racism.14

Many people today are aware of the movement of Buddhist revival that developed from the mid-nineteenth century and are familiar with the ardent attempts of Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) on this front. It is also known that what were called the "riots of 1915" – involving assaults on the Muslims in the south western regions – erupted as a result of disputes surrounding religious processions.15 Similar disputes had generated a clash between Catholics and Buddhists at Kotahena in 1883.16

Such incidents have enticed some scholars to downplay the significance of Sinhala-Tamil competition and the collective identities which sustain such rivalry in the decades before universal franchise (1931) and/or independence (1948).17 The historians’ overwhelming focus on the activities of English-speaking Ceylonese elites who pressed for constitutional devolution in the vocabulary of liberalism has compounded this leaning.18 As a result, the force of Sinhala nationalist thinking in the six decades 1870 to 1931 has not received adequate weight in many writings.

I delineate this period because of the availability of printed material in Sinhala in newspapers, pamphlets and books; and on the foundations provided by my research work on this type of material in the period before 1915. There was a recurrent discourse among the vernacular intelligentsia that was alarmed by the degree to which Westernised lifeways were threatening Sinhala culture. The dangers were regarded as both cultural and economic. The reliance on Western imports was adversely remarked upon. The widespread adoption of a Westernised life style and the diffusion of Christianity among the Sinhala people were seen as marks of their degeneration as well as instruments which furthered this process—undermining their gunadharma (religious virtues), kulacaritra (traditional customs) and bhashava (language).19

The tone of the articles, pamphlets, novels and plays which exhorted the Sinhalese varied from the didactic to the biting satire of the zealot. An index of the convictions that drove these ideologues is provided by the consistency with which they birched the Sinhalese themselves—indeed to such a degree that one can speak of self-flagellation. Perhaps the sharpest diatribes were directed against those Sinhalese who were aping the Westerner. In Piyad?sa Sirisena’s writings such Sinhalese are even rendered into a distinct ethnic category: the samkara (mixed) and/or the tuppahi (low and mixed).20

Indeed, the titles of Sirisena’s early novels, Apata Vecca De [1909] and Maha Viyavula [1916], capture this anxiety in capsule form. The Api here, in his thinking, are the truly indigenist Sinhalese of the hinterland, the people of the rata as distinct from the people of the thota. Numba ratay da? thotay da? asked the hero Jayatissa from Rosalin21 when he fell in love at first sight [first novel in 1906]. That is, the Sinhalese of the littoral, significantly Westernised and/or Christian, are not authentic natives of the soil. They are potentially para and tuppahi. Therefore, we see here the early makings of J?tika Hela Urumaya thinking.

Diatribes were not confined to the inauthentic Sinhalese. Abuse was also heaped on the ultimate source of threat, the paradesakkara (low and vile foreigners). These foreigners included the British, the kocci (Malay?lis), the hamba (Indian Moors), the marakkala (all Moors), the hetti (Chettiyars), the javo (Malays), the bhai (Borahs), and the para demala (low and vile Tamils).22 In one of Anagarika Dharmapala’s essays in 1911 there is even a polemic directed against the kocci demal?.23

Nor should one forget that at the same time as Dharmapala’s campaign there was a strand of Sinhala patriotism that concentrated on the purification of the Sinhala language, identified specifically as the Hela language. Munid?sa Kumar?tunga (1887-1944) may have been its modern-day flag-bearer, but this emphasis had several forerunners as well as others (e.g. Jayantha Weerasekera) who bore the torch into the post-1948 era.24

Sinhala nationalism, in other words, had many strands and was not confined to a Sinhala Buddhist revivalist thread. Sinhala Christians participated in some currents of the nationalist awakening such as the Sinhalese National Day campaign of the 1910s. Nor were all the Westernised Ceylonese who pressed for constitutional reform by knocking at British doors, such men as D. B. Jayatilaka and D. S. Senanayake, wholly removed from nativist ideals and their associated prejudices. Though it has yet to be documented in thorough ways, there are suspicions that threads of communalist thinking resided within the Senanayake clan.

However, when Buddhist activists approached Senanayake as Prime Minister in the early 1950s to complain about undue Christian influence in high politics and the decline of Buddhism, he is said to have dismissed this contention in his pragmatic style. Such a response laid DS and his successors open to the charge of being "brown sahibs" catering to the Westernised Ceylonese. The epithet "tuppahi" (pronounced thuppahi) was part of the effective weaponry wielded against these elements of society.25

This line of nativist ideology coalesced in the mid-1950s with the vociferous hostility to the brown bourgeoisie presented by Leftist parties and those underprivileged. Thus, as we know full well, in 1955-56 one saw the upsurge of the underprivileged marshalled within the coalition headed by SWRD Bandaranaike’s SLFP under the umbrella MEP. The targets were the privileged English-speaking community, Christians and the UNP.26

This combination drew its energies from a fusion of nativist thinking and radical socialist currents. In the result it attracted the vernacular speaking petit-bourgeoisie and even Tamils disposed towards the vernacular and/or the underclass. However, the cry of Sinhala-only privileged the Sinhala language over the Tamil and had economic implications. Therefore the political transformation by ballot in 1956 was seen by many Tamils as disadvantageous to their interests – as indeed it was. In this manner, Sinhala nativism and Sinhala linguistic nationalism moved to the front reaches of power on the basis of a democratic process and numerical weight compounded by a first-past-the-post electoral scheme.

Significantly, many motifs paraded by the Sinhala activists in the 1950s echoed themes that had been raised since the late nineteenth century. There was a considerable measure of continuity both in content of political expression and the type of personnel in the intermediary layers of society who were in the forefront of agitation.27

I do not need to dwell upon the consequences of this moment in Sri Lanka’s history, the "revolution of 1956" as it is sometimes referred to. The processes unleashed then, as we know full well, contributed substantially to the sharpening of the ethnic divide and the outbreak of a series of wars.

As vitally, the currents of Sinhala nationalism were sustained in subsequent decades by those generational cohorts associated with the upsurge in the 1950s and 60s as well as new generational forces. Two examples suffice. The JVP youth of 1967-71 who launched an insurrection in April 1971 were a new generation that was a product of the changes in the educational order that began in the 1940s; but in ideological terms they were both children of the "Old Left" and children of "1956." Thus, as a "New Left"they shared ‘kinship’ with the Leftists who were part of the alliance that brought the MEP-led-by-the-SLFP to power in 1956.

The anti-Tamil strains of thinking that resided within the JVP of Stage One were muted in the second stage of this party’s history from 1977-1983 when it attempted to entice Tamil radicals to their cause through political activity directed by Lionel Bopage and others. But, after the Presidential election of 1983, Wijeweera’s nativist and chauvinist leanings surfaced in full measure so that the period 1987-90 revealed this Sinhala ideological virulence in a powerful manner.

At the same time, the 1980s and 1990s witnessed the flowering of a strand of political rhetoric identified as Jatika Chinthanaya (Nationalist Thought). Two individuals linked to this stream of consciousness were middle class professionals who had been associated with Leftist circles in the 1950s and 1960s and can thereby be placed directly within the 1956 generations. One was Gunadasa Amerasekera, a dentist and frontline Sinhala novelist. The other was Nalin de Silva, a mathematician and university lecturer. Both were competent in Sinhala as well as English.

Serviced by such forces, these currents of Sinhala nativist thinking – ideologies that shaded both imperceptibly and in glaring fashion into chauvinism — emerged strongly under the aegis of the new SLFP during the presidential election of 2005. The manifesto known as Mahinda Chintanaya presented itself explicitly as the heir to the political triumph of 1956 at a moment when the strength of the LTTE was deemed a severe threat to the existence of state and people.

In one swoop, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his team stole the clothes of the JVP at the same time as they allied with the latter to win the Presidency stakes.28 They also had the Jatika Hela Urumaya as one of their allies. Thus a revamped SLFP, JVP and JHU in 2005 represented a powerful fusion of Sinhala bhumiputra thinking.

Having vested themselves with some of the JVP garments, once in power the Rajapaksa family and their SLFP were able to entice some members of the JVP into the fold — together with umpteen others from all parties snared by pork-barrel patronage. Today, the core JVP is alienated from the Rajapaksas and outside this combination, but has been severely weakened by the process. The presence of Champaka Ranawake and Upali Gammanpila in the corridors of power, however, implies that the engine room and masthead are both Sinhala populist and nativist – in short, that the governing SLFP regime is hardline bhumiputra. The horses of 1956 are riding the summits of the rata again.

* * * *

The caste factor may well have been relatively insignificant in the Presidential and parliamentary elections of the recent past. I have limited knowledge in this field, but I speculate that it has a bearing at the local level in the selection of parliamentary candidates and in sustaining some clusters of caste voting-blocs. I think that those who criticised Lakruwan have to attend, with provisos, to the blogger Rashan’s slashing note: "Cast [sic] is still a major factor in elections in Sri Lanka, go to Mathara Ambalangoda."29

Lakruwan’s main contention, however, is that Karava personnel figure disproportionately among the military officers who have been interjected by the government. DBS Jeyaraj’s marvellous work of investigative journalism has identified some of these men.30 We now need their ge names (the genitives) and locality of origin so that Lakruwan’s suggestion can be evaluated in empirical terms. On a priority grounds, however, one would think there is an operational logic in such a caste clustering. IF – note the stress on the "if" in the manner Jeyaraj — one mounts a subterranean revolutionary movement or coup plot, trust and loyalty are critical criteria in recruitment. This assemblage could be on a class basis as in the elite club-set involved in the failed officer/gentlemen coup of 1962.31

But such clandestine groupings could be based upon kin networks or school friendships. Where there is localised caste clustering, as in the Jaffna Peninsula and in some parts of the south, kin-affiliations and schoolmates at peer generational level are often weighted towards a caste core. The JVP leadership of the years 1967-71 seems to have contained a strong Karava core and in such areas as Elpitiya and Kegalle clusters of youth from the more depressed Wahumpura, Batgam and Rajaka castes were prominent. However, we can probably follow KM de Silva in seeing the caste factor as "secondary to the class factor" and the centrality of a "revolutionary ideology" as motivational inspiration forthis failed uprising.32

When a resistance mushroom known as the Tamil Liberation Organisation assembled in 1969 its key personnel seem to have been Karaiyar from the Valvettithurai locality, namely, Thangadurai, Kuttimani, Periya (Big) Sothi and Sinna (Small) Sothi, besides young 15-year-old Velupillai Pirapaharan. This cluster seems to have transmuted into the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) led initially by Thangadurai (aka Nadarajah Thangavelu), and Kuttimani (aka Selvarajah Yogachandran).

From the outset, the LTTE seems to have been sustained by a Karaiyar caste and peer-group network while the disappearance (by death, eviction or withdrawal) of capable Vellalar seniors36 in the years 1984-87 sustained the Karaiyar weightage within the top rungs of the LTTE in subsequent decades.

To my mind, however, Lakruwan’s article is more significant for the commentary it has attracted from various quarters. These blogs indicate that there are several people of various age ranges for whom caste is irrelevant if not abhorrent. However, a few swallows do not make a summer. One must be cautious about sociological generalisations relating to subterranean and interstitial currents of activity, namely caste networks which, for instance, operate in the organisation of Buddhist pilgrim groups heading from localities to hallowed sites.

What remains on the surface and hardly subterranean, however, are the virulent thoughts expressed in response to Lakruwan. Many of the bloggers hostile to his article seem to be products of the 1956 ideology. Their hostility to the caste factor has been aroused because they read it as a threat to the unity of the Sinhalese. Sinhala patriotism impels their vituperative reaction, including bile directed at Fonseka. They seek to protect the unitary state. In speaking as Sri Lankans they subsume the whole within their Sinhala sentiments. The issue of the part/whole relationship that I have underlined in my essay on "The Sinhala MindSet" resides below the surface … as powerfully as dangerously.



1The initial representation by De Silva is as conjecture but he subsequently adds this note: "Reports suggest that [the government] deftly and subtly played the caste card within the military to deny Fonseka the military vote. The President succeeded. In the ensuing post-poll purge of the military, the Karave have disproportionately been targeted. Other Karave generals have been sacked from the armed forces. Karave Buddhist monks had been arrested. Much to my chagrin, caste may still be alive in Sinhala Buddhist society, albeit as an undercurrent."

2 See "comment" in www.thuppahi.wordpress.com.

3 See Table 3 in Roberts in History of Ceylon, 1973, p. 283. Also see Jaywardena 2001: 335.

4 See Roberts 1973 and Kar?va, 1982 for illustrations of these processed of social and economic advancement

5 Roberts, Kar?va, 1982: 116.

6Jayawardena 2001: 336 referring to the Hewavitarnes and EG Jayawardene as examples.

7Some members of the Govigama aristocracy pursued this course, but those holding official position could not do so. For details, see Roberts et al, People Inbetween, 1989: 93.

8Roberts 1974: 561-64.

9 For details, see Roberts, Kar?va, 1982: 159-65; and for a list of pamphlets, pp. 336-40.

10 Malalgoda 1976. Also Malalgoda 1973, Roberts 1982: 133-40, and Young & Somaratna 1996.

11 My article was a brief Memo that did not attempt to survey the 19th and 20th centuries.

12"In the early 1970s some Vellalars expressly denied thatNalavrs and Pallars were Tamils" (Pfaffenberger 1994: 149).

13 Young & Jebanesan 1995: 33.

14 On Navalar, see Young & Jebanesan 1995 and Hellmann-Rajanayagam 1992.

15 On the issues that provoked such clashes, see my "The Imperialism of Silence," in Roberts 1994: chap. X and the details on the 1915 in chap. 5 [which latter is reprinted as chap 00 in my Confrontations, Colombo, 2009].

16Somaratna 1991.

17 One instance being the article by Nissan & Stirrat 1990.

18For the constitutional agitation see K. M. De silva 1973 and 1981. Also note Jayawardena 2001.

19 Roberts et al, People Inbetween, 1989: 10-21, 80-81.

20 Sirisena, Apate Vecca D?, 1954 [1909]: 9ff and Sucaric?darsaya, 1958: 126, 130.

21 Jayatissa saha Rosalin was Sirisena’s first novel published in the year 1906. See Amunugama 1979 and Roberts et al, 1989 for fuller analysis.

22 See "Rat? tibena ävul, apatama ve tävul" in Sinhala J?tiya, 1 June 1913. Sinhala J?tiya 30 March 1915: Sinhala Bauddhay?, 2 Jan 1915: translation of article by WDA Gunatilaka in the Sinhala J?tiya, March 1915 in Dowbiggin 1915b and Roberts et al, People Inbetween, 1989: 10-21.

23 Kocci Demal? (Malay?lam Tamil) is the title of his piece too (Sinhala Bauddhay?),14 Jan. 1910.

24See Dharmadasa 1992: 261-86.

25 Roberts et al, People Inbetween, 1989.

26 See Roberts, 1956 Generations, 1981 and "Political Antecedents," 1989; and Mervyn de Silva 19

27 See Roberts, 1956 Generations, 1981 and "Political Antecedents," 1989.

28 In effect they replicated the tactic of John Howard’s Liberal Party in the 200s when t it stole the platform of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party.

29 A blog comment within the Lakruwan article in transcurrents.

30 Major-General Jammika Liyanage; Major General Jayanath Perera; Major General Samantha Sooriyabandara; Major-General Mahesh Senanayake; Brigadier Bimal Dias; Brigadier Duminda Keppetiwalana; Brigadier Janaka Mohotti; Brigadier Athula Hennedige; Brigadier Wasantha Kumarapperuma; Lt-Colonel L. J. M. C. P. Jayasundera; Captain R. M. R. Ranaweera; Captain B. Krishantha.

31 See Horowitz 1980 & Roberts 1983.

32 KM de Silva 1981: 342. Also Jiggins 1979: 127-36. My comments are also informed by diluted memories of conversations with Paul Caspersz, Victor Ivan and Gamini Keerawella.

33 Sabaratnam 2009. Varatharaja Perumal [not Karaiyar] was also a key figure.

34 It was probably this locality-cum-Karaiyar affiliation that enabled Pirapaharan to join TELO circa 1981 when he briefly split from the LTTE after a clash with Uma Maheswaran (who was Vellalar).

35 Hellmann-Rajanayagam’s early review of the LTTE concluded that it was "a Karaiyar-led and dominated group" (1993: 274). Besides Pirapaharan, Baby Subramanium, Seelan, Victor, Mahattaya, Thilakar, Kittu and Kumarappa were Karaiyar.

36 for e. g., Ragavan, Radha, Tileepan, Ponnamman, Curdles and Rahim,

37For e. g. KP, Castro, Soosai, Nadesan. But note that Bhanu and probably Pottu Amman are Civiyar.

38 Ironically, but not surprisingly, the early LTTE leaders, R?gavan and Pirap?haran, also expressed some distaste for caste divisions and stressed the need for cross-caste unity in the Tamil struggle (Ragavan 2009 and Narayan Swamy 1994: 69).
Courtesy: The Island

Tamils distancing themselves from India

By S. Sivathasan



In the Asian region, hardly any people have had such close cordiality as the Tamils of Sri Lanka with the people of Tamil Nadu and by extension with India. Ethnic affinity, linguistic homogeneity, cultural identity and physical proximity, all conduced to a remarkable harmony if not solidarity. Today all what remains is an edifice in ruins. Friends have turned foes. Admirers have become detractors. Where a bridge stood, there is now a chasm. Never the twain shall meet is the verdict of the percipient. Forget the North, turn East to China is the voice of those who dare.

Intellectual nourishment of the Tamils when they are young, commences with Tamil literature. Poets of high intellect spanning two millennia nurtured us. Judged by any standard, Thiruvalluvar of the first century and Bharathy of the twentieth were of world calibre. In between them were poets and scholars of great renown. The independence movement in India brought forth a galaxy that dazzled us with their brilliance. Gandhi and Nehru, Patel and Bose, Tagore and Aurobindo were scholars and leaders who commanded our admiration. We coveted their aura and lived in a world of make belief.

From such an India steeped in idealism, the Tamils of Sri Lanka looked for a perfect dispensation to the ethnic problem. Expectations were high, but what we got in 1987 was military invasion, though by invitation. The army of occupation certainly brought in negative benefits. Firstly, its brutality knocked the scales from our eyes. Destruction without restraint, death with unconcern and merciless assaults brought the people down from their ethereal heights. In the period October 1987 to march 1990, indignities of every description were visited on over 50 percent of the Tamil population in the North East of Sri Lanka. Tamils have vowed, never again to look back. India stands banished from their consciousness. The void is now clear for the most formidable power of the future-China-to enter. Benevolence will replace malevolence.

What caused this change of stance? Dissipation of trust. A whole picture fell into place with a series of events. A quarter century of space gave sufficient opportunity to the Tamil intelligentsia to read, discuss, interact, reflect and arrive at a clear consensus.

Facts were gathered and their veracity ascertained. Strands of discernment when woven together made the motivation of India clearly visible. The overtones became apparent and there was evidence. It is idle to talk of the permanent nature of interest, permanence of friendship or impermanence of enmity. The emerging reality is the distancing of Tamils from India.

At the height of the war in 2008-2009, the defence advisor of India made a special visit to Sri Lanka with one message. Buy arms from India only. Never from China or Pakistan. It was tantamount to saying kill the Tamils only with Indian bullets. Could a more grotesque demand have ever been made? What has been the drama from the eighties? When a leaf rustles in Sri Lanka, the sabre rattles in India. Pretence was the posture. Inaction was the actuality. Forcing concessions to Tamils was prated loud. With what results? Under what law? By what authority and through what means? One is wont to ask.

It turned out that an aggrieved minority clamouring for justice, had expected assistance from an imagined benefactor. That foreign government however unleashed its military might on an unsuspecting and battered people. "Know your friends, know your enemies." This simple truth cryptically presented by Mao Tse Tung, is fundamental in political or military strategy. It eluded the grasp of Tamils. The enemy having clearly calculated every step, feigned friendship. Tamils danced attendance upon the counterfeit from 1983. In 2009, they lamented that the vengeful had wreaked vengeance. What else could have happened?

The objective was clear. Destabilise the country — Sri Lanka. Identify the aggrieved ethnic entity—Tamils. From this premise events followed in logical sequence. Select impressionable youth, make them militants, train them and promote infiltration. Be conscious of the need to manipulate them at will. Therefore keep them on a tight leash. When the dominant group did not lend itself to manipulation, other groups were proliferated. When the latter were found to be Lilliputians, they were decreed to be on par with Gulliver and conferred equal stature at Thimpu. To resolve the Tamil problem, fake discussions were held to give the appearance of serious talks. Beneath the veneer was the red claw. An agreement was forged with the government of Sri Lanka for the ostensible purpose of enforcing peace. The Indian army however launched its mission only to eliminate militancy and to subdue the people whom militancy represented. True to purpose, it became a Frankenstein. The occupation army killed, pillaged and destroyed. Not even a semblance of remorse was shown either then or up to now. The people at large suffered the loss and shared the privation helplessly.

Germans compensated the Jews in full for the loss sustained by the latter during the Nazi regime. It was a gesture of admission of guilt and acceptance of responsibility for cruelty inflicted. The aggrieved were assisted to rebuild their lives, develop the nation and move on with a fund of goodwill. Humanity admired the culture and refinement of the Germans. To compensate the Tamils and others who suffered loss, should India await a request? Justice demands it. Honourable conduct will be appreciated. Those subjected to indignity and deprivations know well their cruel nature. Their goodwill will help forward movement.

There was a category of thought which outlined certain ideas. When a danger to Tamils is sensed, India will swoop in on Sri Lanka, upbraid her, pretend to rescue the Tamils, foist an instant solution and march back to Delhi after its mission is accomplished. Why should India intervene? So questions the cynic. The charlatan answers—the security of India is tied up with the stability of Sri Lanka. Therefore India is obliged to assuage her (India’s) concerns. Courting the Tamils composing 13 percent of the population is a surer bet than getting 75 percent Sinhalese to their side. The question arises: why? The Tamils of Sri Lanka have an umbilical chord relationship with the Tamils of Tamil Nadu. The latter will rather embrace immolation than see the Tamils suffer. New Delhi unable to withstand needling from Tamil Nadu will intervene in Sri Lanka, whatever the norms governing international relations. So runs the argument. The reasoning is weird logic at its convoluted best. How well has this worked and what has India contributed to the Tamils in the last quarter century, the cynic asks. The charlatan is dumbfounded, but stutters 13th Amendment.

India has a quasi-federal constitution. The most inappropriate model to frame a political arrangement for the Tamilian predicament in the Sri Lankan situation! Yet the commencing point of political deliberations from the Indian side was that no devolution for the Tamils would go beyond the devolutionary parameters of the Indian constitution. With this preconceived and unrealistic limitation, all discussions were skewed from the very beginning. The devolution exercise was thus poisoned at its very source. The result was a caricature of a settlement that was embodied in the 13th Amendment. It is basic that any political solution should be home grown. The contending parties have to thrash out issues and evolve strategies which can be worked out only over time. There can be no finality as if a perfect document with the last comma in place and the last ‘i’ dotted were an eternal guarantor of Tamil expectations. Experience and bitter knowledge mandate that Tamils have to disengage their sights from foreign capitals, particularly from Delhi and Chennai. What has been realized in 30 years? Only shameful failures and shameless betrayals! "Was the 60 year domestic experience any the better?" Tamils more particularly would ask with cogent logic. An alternative needs to be evolved. It is left to fresh initiatives.

Bickering needs to be drowned in a sea of economic activity and social growth. A good beginning has been made with the advent into Sri Lanka of the foremost Asian power, China. Aid for power plants will make a significant impact when all three phases are complete. Harbour development is great in itself, but the direction it points to is far greater. At Hambantota lies a potential Shenzhen and China can make it happen. Part of the Northern railway and the road network to be delivered in the North by China are sure to resonate well with the Tamils. They will whet the appetite of the people of North East for more aid, more projects, more growth and greater Chinese presence. Special Economic Zones concept is a vehicle to lift the NE from its present state. Closer rapport for a century at least will be good for the nation and better by the Tamils.

When a finger is pointed, a fool looks at the finger. The wise man looks at the direction. So goes a Chinese saying. ‘The God That Failed’ can no longer evoke homage or even respect. Temples of worship are wanted anew. The need for this change can be seen conspicuously.
Courtesy:The Island

A Man Full Of Passionate And Selfless Intensity

By Charles Sarvan



Paul Caspersz, S. J. ; "A New Culture For A New Society: Selected Writings 1945 – 2005"



Father Paul Caspersz went to school in Colombo, entered the Society of Jesus in 1942, and was ordained a priest 10 years later. He read Politics and Economics at Oxford and, returning to the island, was a teacher till 1971. A year later, he co-founded the Satyodaya Centre for Social Research and Encounter, Kandy. New Culture, marking Paul Caspersz becoming an octogenarian, testifies to a remarkable man, and a remarkable life of quiet, sustained, service to the poor and the disadvantaged, animated by the spirit of Decree IV of the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus: “The reconciliation of men and women among themselves, which their reconciliation with God demands, must be based on justice.”


Caspersz has a special sympathy for the Upcountry (or Plantation) Tamils because they are among the most wretched of “the wretched of the earth” (Frantz Fanon), suffering from both the vertical and horizontal lines of ethnicity and class: “not only was the estate isolated from the village but, through a series of vicious and restrictive laws, regulations and customs, each estate was carefully sealed off from every other” (p. 32). The surrounding Sinhalese villages deeply resented both the expropriation of their land and the importation of foreigners, but unfortunately their anger found expression not against the real villains – British imperialism, the tea companies and their managers – but against the hapless victims.

Callously exploited by estate management (motivated by profit and heedless of the human cost); resented by the Sinhalese; betrayed by some of their leaders, theirs has been a most unfortunate fate. New Culture traces the sorry story, independence (1948) bringing the deprivation of citizenship, disenfranchisement and, in the case of thousands, expatriation (not repatriation) to India. Caspersz argues that, given the long passage of time, these folk should no longer be seen as “Indian Tamil”. The “ethnic origins of the overwhelming majority of (all) the people now living in the island are Indian, and it is highly probable that the origins of the great majority are South Indian” (p. 1. Emphasis added). Unafraid, wishing to provoke thought, Caspersz argues that if the plantation folk are “Indian Tamil,” then the Sinhalese are “Indian Sinhalese” (p. 18).

On Easter Sunday, April 5, 1942, Japanese dive-bombers attacked Colombo. There was general panic, shops and hotels were closed, and the (British) Government of Ceylon, fearing the reaction of the plantation workers, sent Deputy Controller of Labour, M. Rajanayagam to reassure them. The plantation folk were puzzled at being asking whether they intended to leave the island: Our forefathers lie buried under the tea bushes. ‘We will not leave the plantations’ (Sithamperam Nadesan, A History of the Up-Country Tamil People in Sri Lanka. 1993 : 140). It was home — the only home they had ever known.

Caspersz acknowledges that he had welcomed the Land Reform Law of 1972, not anticipating that nationalisation would lead to Tamil plantation workers being ordered out of the estates, often without notice, “hungry, homeless and helpless” (p. viii).

Misled by racialists

The Sinhalese are by nature one of the friendliest people in the world but (they) can be easily but diabolically misled by Sinhalese racialists, who stop at nothing and are stopped by nothing, not even by compassion, the kindness and the non-violence of Buddhism, in order to whip up hatred against the Tamils to a frenzy. “The estates are now ours,” they shrieked. “Get out!” And the Tamil workers on many estates close to the Sinhalese villagers left the estates where some of them had lived for generations defenceless, friendless, their hearts in the dust like a tea bush uprooted, to roam the streets of the cities and live off garbage bins (p. 35)

Not surprisingly, there is collective amnesia: for example, someone I knew, a Kandyan, retired planter, disclaims any knowledge of this. Caspersz is aware of the suffering of Sinhalese villagers, but cautions against a “dangerously divisive” competition of misery: “Both estate workers and poor peasants suffer oppression. To ask where the oppression is greater is much less important than to end it, both on the estate and in the village” (p. 36).

Ethnicity is the dominant problem in Sri Lanka (p. 78), and Caspersz pleads for a united nation that permits and encourages diversity (p. 74). Unity does not mean uniformity; integration is not assimilation; pluralism should be welcomed and celebrated. The ethnic conflict is totally unnecessary, and a tragic waste. After all, Sinhalese caste groups such as the karavas, the salagamas and the duravas were “originally South Indian immigrants who over a period of centuries assimilated so successfully with the local population as to make everyone, even themselves, oblivious of their origins” (p 80). The irony is that “the vast majority of the Tamils would not want separation if there was genuine redress of their grievances” (p. 83). To support this argument, Caspersz quotes from the 1970 election manifesto of the Federal Party:

“It is our firm conviction that division of the country in any form would be beneficial neither to the country nor to the Tamil-speaking people. Hence we appeal to the Tamil-speaking people not to lend their support to any political movement that advocates the bifurcation of our country” (p. 83).

The Sinhalese who exclude the option of secession are, for that very reason, all the more obliged to work for genuine pluralistic acceptance and equality (p. 86). The nature and shape of politics is formed by people and parties: “Whenever one of the two main Sinhala parties tries to redress the legitimate grievances of the Tamils, the other accuses it of betrayal or surrender. The tragedy is that there is no question of principle but of sheer dishonest political gain” (p. 28).

Religious teaching

As I have written elsewhere, unfortunately religious teaching does not determine the nature of society; rather, it’s the people who determine the nature of religion. The same religion – whether Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism or Islam – at different times and places finds different expression: compassionate or cruel, gentle or harsh, tolerant or assertive. Christianity, born in the Middle East, was adopted by the West, and later exported to the non-Western world. It accompanied Western imperialism — and the exploitation and humiliation that imperialism visited upon the conquered.

Secondly, it came dressed in the “clothes” of Western culture and, rather than adapting Christianity to Sri Lankan culture, converts adapted Western ways. It is not surprising that many Sri Lankan Buddhists look upon Christianity with resentment. (Recently, the situation has been worsened by the methods and motives of certain USA-based evangelical groups.) Caspersz does not deny the complicit role the church played in the past.

For instance, the church stressed law and order, but did not question the moral rightness of that externally imposed (British imperial) “order”. A good Christian was held to be one who went to church, was concerned with the sacrament and the holy spirit – not with “inter-human justice” (p. 142). But since we are social beings, to be a good Christian is not only to do “social service” but also to be active in endeavouring to bring about social change. Rather than being kind within an unkind system, one must work towards changing the unjust order of things. What is desired, and longed for, is not charity but justice.

A good Christian life means a good social life – not only prayer, however pious and emotional. Rather than being spiritual preparation and prelude, prayer has become an easy substitute for action. Christ’s famous Sermon on the Mount must be given a literal (not a conveniently figurative) interpretation. The beatitudes are the beatitudes of the poor and the oppressed (p. 100). As Marx pointed out, for profit, we are willing to disregard human laws, and if “turbulence and strife” will result in material gain, so be it (see, p. 192). Marx did not claim that “the economic element is the only determining one” (p. 194). Indeed, it is this mechanically reductionist attitude that made Marx exclaim towards the end of his life, “Thank God that I am not a Marxist!” (ibid). Caspersz clarifies his position:

“The God I believe in is the God of Justice, the God of Justice — Love. The God I believe in is the God who in Jesus became human, a colonised and anti-imperialist human, a worker, immensely concerned about the loss of human freedom and the oppression of the poor” (p. 195).

And so it is that a Christian priest quotes Communist Che Guevara: “Let me say, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love” (p. 102); a Jesuit cites Che Guevara citing Jesus in his last letter to his children:

“Above all, always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone anywhere in the world. That is the most beautiful quality of a revolutionary. Jesus of Nazareth was guided above all by just such ardent love” (p. 103).

As for the role of Christians in the ethnic conflict, while almost all Buddhists are Sinhalese, and all Hindus are Tamil, the Christian congregation consists of Sinhalese and Tamils. Therefore, Christians have a better opportunity and, following from that, a greater duty, to work for inter-ethnic understanding and harmony.

Developing nations

Development is a frequently encountered word, and countries like Sri Lanka are sometimes (hopefully) described as “developing” nations. But what does development mean in practice? “Often and deliberately, the World Bank-IMF complex hides its real intentions behind difficult phrases” (p. 256). When international organisations think, plan and carry out “development” projects, the poor are peripheral (p. 241); the centre is occupied by “economic growth which means the making of more and more money” (pp. 241-2). It is assumed that the more material possessions and comforts a person or a nation has, “the more fulfilment is there of the capacity of that person or nation to be” (p. 279).

A distinction must be made between needs and wants. As Gandhi pointed out, there is enough in the world for everyone’s needs, but not enough for everyone’s greed (p. 250). Those active in “development” should remember the Mahatma’s words: “Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him” (p. 240). Marx wrote that religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress, and the protest against real distress. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless world” (p. 299).

Development, while having to do with the economy, the material, must also have the spiritual dimension of devotion to humanity, to truth, goodness, beauty, equity and justice (p. 247). In that sense, one can be spiritual without being religious. Caspersz concludes that the opposite of religion is not atheism but idolatry, the idolatry of material possession, status, snobbery, false values and power. Oscar Wilde observed that we know the price of everything, and the value of nothing. Marcus Aurelius asked himself (Meditations) how one could estimate the value of a person, and answered that a possible way was by the things to which that person gave value. It does not mean that one should not take (using contemporary parallels) an interest in fashion or cricket — there is a difference between value, the things that are really important to a person, and her or his interests.

As Caspersz observes, some books do not pulsate, do not bleed (p. 19) but, moved by love, sympathy and indignation, he himself writes with power and passion about “this once happy, but now so tragic, land (p. 19). Yeats (‘The Second Coming’) says that the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity, but Caspersz, being among the best, is full of a passionate and selfless intensity. He is one of those to whom the miseries of the world are misery, and will not let them rest (Keats, Fall of Hyperion). New Culture is an attempt to help in the creation of a new culture (a new way of life) and so, a new society, a “paradise isle” (tourist slogan) in far more important terms than landscape and scenery. A man who has rendered long and dedicated service performs yet another in making this collection available to the public.

“For good is the life ending faithfully” (Wyatt, 1503-1542).
Courtesy: The Sunday Leader
(charlessarvan@yahoo.com)