Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Lost Battle for Tamil Eelam - What Next?

by S. Rasalingam

Satchi Sithananthan wrote a very thoughtful article in the "Sri Lanka Guardian", entitled "The Lost battle for Tamil Eelam".

Satchi S points out that the Colombo Elitist leaders, unconnected with the Tamil people at large, living in arrogant isolation from the lower castes of the rural North and East, gave the wrong leadership. He points out that these leaders spurned the possibilities that existed, in collaborating with the socialist leaders who were the very opposite of chauvinists. Unfortunately, the Colombo leaders, be it G. G. Ponnambalam, or S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, they preferred to hob-nob with the Sinhala capitalist leaders and finally drove N. M. Perera and their likes into the hands of Sirima Bandaranaike, for pure political survival.

Chelvanayakam and others rejected the "Ceylonese" approach of the Arunachalam Mahadeva-Senanayake-Goonatilleke group and began the ``two-nation'' approach as an alternative to the 50-50 formula of G. G. Ponnambalam. These leaders rejected from the outset the point of view that the Tamils and Sinhalese have much in common. They attacked the Sinhala History (Mahavamsa) and began a counter claim for a Tamil nation leading to the concept of Eelam. All this simply created unnecessary racial angst. Even today, a historian like Karthigesu Indrapala has to write at length defending the Mahavamsa against such misplaced Chuvinism. The Mahavamsa could have been quoted to show the unity and kinship of the two main ethnic groups in Sri lanka. Instead G. G. Ponnambalam and others chose to claim, in effect, that the Sinhalese are a mongral race mixed with Dravidian and Aryan blood, (Navalapitiya riots, 1939) while the Colombo leaders are of good Dravidain stock (Hansard 1934 ).

But those Colombo leaders could not really claim honest links with Hindu culture. The Colombo-Tamil leadership was largely made up of Christians who were more comfortable in London or Paris than in rural Jaffna. The rural Tamils are Hindus, mostly "low-caste" descendents of the Malabar Tamils who came to this Island during Dutch times to work in the Tobacco plantations. The Tamils of the Jaffna Kingdom were mostly sinhalese who had become Tamils. The rural Hindu Tamils and rural Sinhala Buddhists have much in common - much much more than the Colombo Vellars would wish to admit. The Buddhist religion is effectively a part of Hinduism and we can do no better than follow Swami Vivekananda and accept the Buddha as one of the highest Hindu Munis.

The Tamil language as written and used today, and the Sinhala language as used and written today, are utterly similar, once you learn to recognize the sinhala letters. A Tamil pharse has the same grammatical structure as a Sinhala phrase, and the translation is often a matter of replacing the Tamil words by the corresponding Sinhala words. The words themselves are very often quite close, and no doubt have links via Sanskrit and other source languages.Genetically, the two people are completely intermixed. There is really no way of distinguishing a Tamil from a Sinhalese, in any fundamental sense. The Sinhala can easily eat Thosai, go to Kovils and mix with us, and we have no problem living in a Sinhala village. I see Sinhala buddhists in Munneswaram and Kathirkamam. I was raised in Jaffna, lived in Mannar, Hatton, Colombo and now in Canada. In these situations I have found no problem in dealing with the Sinhalese people.

So, why did this sinhala-tamil battles happen? As Satchi S points out, the battle lines were drawn by the Lawyers, Doctors and Propertied class of Colombo Tamils whose arrogance could not accept the loss of power in a post-colonial society. Racist fire-brands like S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and Ponnambalam set the stage, already in the 1930s, for people like Chelvanayakam and Bandaranaike to begin acromonious confrontations. These could only lead to further escalation and violance. Add to it the rapidly rising jobless youth populations, and you have a dangerous cocktail. All that is history. Both communities are equally guilty of these confrontations.

What if the Tamil political leadership had been set by the Tamil businessmen? They were in a dominant position in the post-1948 era. Men like Cyril Gardiner, the Rolands and Browns group, Maharajas, and the finacial people, come to one's mind. The import-export and shipping sectors, retail and marketing, finance etc., were largly in the hands of enterprising Tamils. C. Loganathan was a key asset favouring the Tamil community. The political confrontation launched by the Federal party ran counter to the objectives of our mercantile success. If the business people, not lawyers, had set the political agenda for the Tamils, then a completely different situation would have emerged. The Jewish community in the USA has in fact follwed such a policy in converting its minority position into a finacially dominant (but politically less visible) power factor. It is able to control US foreign policy, financial and business policies to the benefit of the Jewish minority group. It is good business sense for the Tamils to learn Sinhala, and for the Sinhalese to learn Tamil. The Jews of USA did not go about asking for full implementation of all the US laws in Yiddish. The Tamils had the possibilities exploited by the Jewish community in regard to Sri Lanka, and even in regard to the South-Asian region. But instead we have busted ourselves to satisfy the arraogant ego of the Chelvanayakams and Naganathans (the latter claimed direct links with the Chola aristocracy).

The answer to "What Next"? is clear. Today, it is once again time to follow a policy of responsible cooperation with the Sinhalese and other minorities like the Muslims. Creating ethnically cleansed Northen and Eastern provinces may be a dream of Prabhakaran. But "pure-race" politics, "homelands politics" etc., died with the second world war. We have to emphasize the very real common grounds that exist between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, instead of continually driving a wedge between the communities.

All sensble Tamils should support the heroic effort of people like Mr. Ananada-Sangaree and Mr. Douglas Devananda. We need to save the Vanni Tamils, especially the younger generation, from becoming cannon fodder for another prolonged period. If Prabakaran continues to run his diabolical show, the Muslims, already 8% of the population, will become the second largest minority of Sri Lanka. They are also following the very business policy (akin to those of US Jewish groups) that we Tamils failed to adopt.