Thursday, March 6, 2008

The beginning of the problem

by Prof. Nalin de Silva

The so-called national question cannot be solved unless the problem is formulated consistently taking into consideration the historical facts, which are however not independent of theory contrary to the opinion of some who think that facts are sacrosanct. What is required is a consistent whole comprising the question, concepts, theories and other facts. Without formulating the problem in a consistent manner as described above neither a solution nor national integration is possible.

It is customary for the NGO, INGO, University and other pundits in collaboration with the western "intellectuals" to begin with the Sinhala Only Act or the Citizenship Act, which are both post "independence" events. However, what is very often forgotten is that the birth of the so called Federal Party or the "Illankai Thamil Arasu Kacchi" (ITAK) meaning the Lanka Tamil State Party took place before both these events. It is as if Mr. SJV Chelvanayakam anticipated the problems and formed his party in advance. In Western Physics there is a concept called advanced potential in Quantum Field Theory due to Feynman and a pundit mentioned above may be able to apply this concept in Political Science with some modification, if he/she is creative. Unfortunately these pundits are not known for their creativity and would have to look around for some help.

Leaving the creative part to somebody else if these pundits could explain the necessity for Mr. Chelvanayakam to found his ITAK and further the naming of that party as Federal Party in English they could be happy in that they had done their duty at least by the Tamil people not to mention the Sinhalas who happen to live in this country. There is no point in preaching on national integration without explaining this contradiction. Perhaps it is not a contradiction in terms of an advanced political potential or some such other concept but most of the unfortunate Sinhalas who have been more or less equated with the white South Africans (Africana) who practised apartheid, eagerly await an explanation from the pundits. Recently there was a news item on black students being forced to drink urine in the most developed country in the world, but I am unaware of any such incidents on racial or ethnic or religious grounds in the Universities of this country that is supposed to be discriminating against the "minorities".

Let the pundits and the Tamil politicians first explain the contradictions before they get on with devolution and such other so called solutions on ethnic grounds. They go on accusing the Sinhalas, especially the Sinhala Buddhists for all the problems in the country. The Sinhala Buddhists have become the proverbial deer skin that get assaulted (muva hamata thadi bema) whenever the so called ethnic problem is discussed. The high commissioners and other diplomats should insist, if they are genuinely interested in solving the so called ethnic problem, that these contradictions are explained first as with contradictions no "solution" can be reached. This applies to the leaders and others in the "Marxist" Parties that boast of such uttering as "two languages one country and one language two countries". Surely Mr. Chelvanayakam was thinking of a Tamil State long before the Marxist pundits thought of these slogans.

It is in this background I read articles by Mr. Rasalingam with enthusiasm as they contribute towards finding a "solution" to the "ethnic problem". Of course one always finds satisfaction in reading articles that collaborate at least to some extent with one’s ideas on the causes of the "ethnic problem", and it is no exception in this case. In a booklet entitled "An Introduction to Tamil Racism in Sri Lanka", which is an English translation of "Prabhakaran, ohuge Seeyala, Baappala Ha Massinala" I have attempted to find the root causes of the so called ethnic problem. This work refers to the political ancestors of Prabhakaran and they happen to be from the elite Tamils who studied with Sinhala leaders, in the English Medium, thus discarding the myth that one of the causes of the present "ethnic" problem is the segregation of the students along ethnicity or the mother tongue into different streams. The interested parties want to project this myth also as a corollary of the Official Language Act even though educating school children in "swabhasha" has a history going back to at least a few years before 1956.

It is not only the pundits and the Tamil politicians who propagate the myth that it was all rosy before 1956, and everything started with the Official Language Act or at "best" after the Citizenship Act. There are some influential Sinhalas who "think" the same way. These Sinhalas have read all about communal politics during the state council days and have come across the help given by the British governors to the Tamil elite. They know how the Legislative Assembly was formed with six unofficial members, one representing the Sinhalas, one representing the Tamils and one representing the Burghers, while three represented the Europeans. The Sinhalas who constituted more than seventy five percent of the population and who had built a unique culture in the country that is not found in India or any other part of the world, over a period of more than two thousand years were equated with Tamils constituting about twelve percent of the population, prominence being given to the Vellalas in Jaffna over all other Tamils in the North as well as in the East. The Vellalas were the darlings of the Dutch as well as the British and the latter connived with them to undermine the status of the Sinhalas.

However, unfortunately though these Sinhalas have some knowledge of the communal politics, they do not attribute the beginnings of the so called ethnic problem to the link that existed between the British and the Tamil elite in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They are also happy to say that everything was rosy before 1956 citing how they studied with Tamil colleagues in the same schools in the English medium. If one were to study the beginnings of the Tamil problem in the early part of the nineteenth century and the later developments one will find that it was those class mates who studied in the English medium who conspired with the British against the Sinhala class mates who had by then become leaders. These elite Vellalas are responsible for the creation of Prabhakaran and even today the fascist leader is fighting for the Tamil Diaspora and one can be certain that the Diaspora does not constitute mainly of the Karaivars. Ramanathans and Ponnambalms (GG) were the political grand uncles (seeyala) and uncles (mamala) respectively of Prabhakaran, who did not want to give the Sinhalas their due share in the Legislature during the Legislative Assembly and State Council days.

Incidentally there is a cast called Vellalas in Natal in South Africa, who were taken there by the westerners. If anybody is interested in writing a so called scholarly paper in the Sociological jargon giving references I can provide the URL of the relevant website where this information is found. These Vellalas are referred to as agricultural labourers and during the colonial period when politics and economics dominated unlike in the present where cultural colonialism dominates the westerners were fond of people from South India who worked like slaves for their masters. The Jaffna Vellalas were brought by the Dutch for their tobacco cultivation and in Sri Lanka their status has been elevated from agricultural labourers to farmers so that they could dominate in Jaffna over the Sinhalas who had lived there before they were absorbed into the Tamil community and culture under Koviar and other casts. It is ironical that Koviar is derived from Sinhala Govia meaning farmer and that agricultural labourers from South India became the dominant cast while Koviars were relegated to a so called low cast.

If anybody is not happy with what I write over the origins of the Tamils in Jaffna all that has to be done is to analyse the Tamil as spoken by people in Jaffna and in South India and find out the difference in ages of the two dialects. It will be found that the difference is less than three hundred and fifty years and that Vellalas became dominant in Jaffna with the help of the Dutch. Under the British the Vellalas became dominant in Colombo and with the assistance of the British governors and others gradually became dominant in the Legislature and the Professions. The Tamil Vellalas did not want to lose the dominance they had over the Sinhalas and all the later developments stemmed from this unwillingness. When finally the Parliamentary elections were held in 1947 some of these Vellalas realised that it was not possible to dominate with universal franchise (It has to be remembered that people such as Mr. Ponnambalm Ramanathan argued against universal franchise). The Vellalas reacted to this situation in two ways. One group was contended to become ministers in the Parliamentary government. The other group led by Mr. Chelvanayakam realising that they could not dominate in the centre wanted a separate state in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces, paving the way for separatism.