Ilankai Tamil Sangam
17th Year on the Web
Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA
Cultural Genocide Abetted by Decades of Western Funding
by TamilNet, December 30, 2009
Ever heard of ‘archaeology’ being the first priority in a conquered territory?
If you have not heard of such a practice, then you don’t know the Sri Lankan state.
If you are imagining of the excavation of mines, caches of arms and mass graves of the Tamil victims of war, then you are mistaken. The killing and dumping of bodies continues unabated.
What we are talking about here is real archaeology in the North and East of the island, led by officials of the Sri Lanka Archaeology Department, Buddhist monks, Sinhala university dons and retired archaeologists who consider themselves the guardians of the Sinhala-Buddhist identity on the island.
The aim of their feverish archaeology is to build Sinhala-Buddhist stupas in the heart of the Tamil homeland, paving the way for islands of Sinhala-Buddhist colonies protected by the military. Establishing these colonies will go hand in hand with ‘development’ projects aiming to open the conquered territory to the conquerors and eventually to change of demography so that Tamils can never fight for their national rights on the island.
Temporally and spiritually such actions are heritage genocide: to make Eezham Tamils feel that their homeland doesn’t belong to them, that they are historically inferior ‘intruders’, that they have no claims for their nationalism and that as long as they exist as Tamils they cannot be equals with the Sinhalese.
Sinhalese and Eezham Tamils are two siblings whose very ethnic formation and territorial identity took place on the island as a result of more than two millennia of history, which no one, not even hard-core Sinhala-Buddhist historians, could deny.
What is the point now in engaging in one-sided ‘archaeology’ rather than coming out with political formulas to resolve the national question, if the intention is not genocide?
If the intention is really the preservation of cultural heritage, the best way to do it is by recognising the territoriality of Eezham Tamils in their homeland. When there is no fear of subjugation, the heritage of the land will be spontaneously preserved by the people of that land.
On the contrary, what happened in a paranoid way immediately after the war was a sudden inrush of a number of Sinhala ‘archaeologists’ to the North and East, exploring ‘opportunities.’ A Sinhala Buddhist monk was appointed as the curator of the Jaffna museum. This monk, exploring the peninsula with the help of the army, announced the ‘discovery’ of potential sites within weeks of his manoeuvres.
Meanwhile, a veteran Sinhala archaeologist, who lately has been upholding Mahavamsa ideology, is said to be eying opportunities to excavate Kantharoadai in Jaffna and Maanthai in Mannaar as early as possible with the financial support of one or two Western countries.
The Netherlands government is said to have given financial assistance to renovate the Dutch fort in Jaffna under the aegis of the Sri Lanka government and Sinhala archaeologists, to make it a haven for visiting government dignitaries and Sinhala ‘pilgrims.’
The Colombo government using archaeology and heritage as tools for its genocide is nothing new to Eezham Tamils. Such use of archeaology for political and ideological ends has been a decades' long process.
But the new dimensions to which the Eezham Tamils are now exposed is not only the acceleration of that process, but the tragedy of facing an imposed ‘knowledge supremacy’ in which only the Sinhalese can explore, excavate, manage and teach what is our shared heritage.
For decades now, the Sri Lanka Archaeology Department has not had have any Tamil or Tamil-speaking Muslim officers on its staff, despite the fact that Eezham Tamils are inherent partners and the Tamil Muslims have at least a millennia of partnership in the heritage of the island.
The Cultural Triangle programme of the state, long led by a Western-trained Sinhala architect-turned-archaeologist, that produced hundreds of Sinhala archaeology officers, university teachers, students and Buddhist monks in archaeology and heritage for more than quarter a century, has never included any Tamils or Tamil Muslims in its programmes.
So far, in the last several decades, not even a single Tamil or Tamil Muslim has been sent abroad by the government for any education or training in archaeology, while scores of Sinhalese have been the exclusive recipients of the privilege.
The very few archaeologists among Tamils, numbering three or four, received their education in archaeology by spending their own money in India, shaming decades of operation of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) in the island. They never received any Sri Lankan state assistance, either in their education or in further practice of the discipline.
In 1974 the Sri Lanka Archaeology Department opposed the appointment of Dr. K. Indrapala as Professor of History and Archaeology to the newly started University of Jaffna, citing that he had no qualifications in archaeology. His appointment was truncated to History alone. Now the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka, introducing Culture Studies to Sinhala universities, deprives Jaffna and Batticaloa of this state-of-the-art discipline, but wants them to run courses in archaeology without qualified staff to teach.
A couple of years ago the writer found that the one and only Tamil working in the island’s prestigious Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology in Colombo was the janitor sitting at the entrance. No Tamil students study there. This institution was the dream child of an internationally known Sinhala archaeologist who is close to a political dynasty of the past.
The Institute of Fundamental Studies started by J R Jeyawardene in Kandy engaged only Sinhalese for archaeological assignments and some of them were given further training in the Indus sites of India, ultimately to become ‘counter-insurgency’ experts!
Another important heritage institution on the island, the National Archives, has not had a Tamil or Tamil Muslim staff member ever since the retirement of Dr. Navasothy, a quarter a century ago. Like in archaeology, no Tamils have received training in archival studies, while only the Sinhalesehave had this privilege. The National Archives Director, Dr. Saroja Wettesinghe recently appealed for more funds to preserve the ‘national legacy,’ one that does not have a national representation.
Sri Lankan state is not the only culprit of this cultural genocide.
All those Western countries, (especially the UK, US, Germany, France and Holland as well as India, Japan and Australia, the main countries that have been giving funds, training and scholarships to Sri Lanka), and the UN agencies have to be equally indicted for following only State protocols and vested interests, without any consideration for the long-term genocidal impact their assistance has been causing on the island.
At the least at this juncture, after seeing what is taking place, these aid-giving countries and the UN agencies should refrain from aiding the cultural genocide of Colombo, by stopping all funding to Sinhala-only departments and cultural institutions in the island.
Until the national question of Eezham Tamils in the North and East is politically resolved, no funding should be given to Colombo’s cultural agenda in the Tamil homeland, whatever pretexts such as development or tourism with which Colombo may approach them for assistance.
Instead, the countries should opt for direct funding to institutions of Tamils in the North and East.
Urgent attentions need to be paid to human resource training and removing the imbalance in knowledge and skills. Donor countries have to make arrangements for direct recruitment of Tamil and Muslim students and academics for training.
It is heartening to note that some British institutions like the SOAS refrain from encouraging ethnically-charged research projects on the island and, instead, concentrate on universal topics such as prehistoric archaeology, environmental archaeology, etc. But this alone will not do enough justice unless Tamils are trained to do the job. Otherwise, it will lead to knowledge dependency of the Tamils to the Sinhalese, who now pose themselves as the colonial masters.
Western academic and cultural institutions have a responsible role to play in influencing their governments against abetting cultural genocide. The Diaspora should act with vigilance in this respect. What the Netherlands is doing in Jaffna has so far not attracted the attention of the Tamil diaspora in the EU countries.
While Tamil temples and historical sites are systematically destroyed and occupied by the Sinhalese and when cultural genocide takes place on the model of Portuguese colonialism, some ‘intelligence’ writers of the Indian Establishment, ridiculing the Tamil diaspora’s nationalist efforts, say that an unperturbed Colombo is engaged in its own model of ‘reconciliation’ with the Tamils of the island.
It is said the Indians are now wrestling with China in grabbing the ‘archaeology’ of the neighbouring Maldives. China is building a National Museum for the Maldives. Their old boss Sri Lanka is kept out of the fray. Everybody knows that, if allowed, in their present spirit of ‘archaeology,’ the Sinhalese would not hesitate to claim that the Maldives was a Sinhala Buddhist country and all those Maldivians today are invaders and intruders from Arabia!
Observers say it is the fanaticism of Sri Lanka and the arrogance of India in mishandling small national formations that paves way for the insinuation of outsiders in the region. It will not take a long time for the intelligence-led rule of the Indian Establishment to collapse under its own weight from such gross errors.
Many political analysts are of the opinion that the Tamil question on the island of Sri Lanka has long become a guinea pig to powers that be for all sort of vile experiments - military, economic, social, cultural and ideological. This is why when an obvious genocide took place and is taking place they all in chorus deny it.
The Eezham Tamil diaspora has every justification in responding to the situation by mandating their independence and forming its own country councils and transnational government to look after a multiplicity of vital affairs, including our heritage. The Diaspora needs to be only vigilant that the experiment gets into the right hands.
Meanwhile, efforts are now under way to organise a museum and an archive in London by some diaspora institutions and individuals keen in preserving and presenting Eezham Tamil heritage. These efforts need the support of everyone and such heritage foundations have to be established in every major country. The foundations can eventually educate and train personnel coming from the home country.
Supporting the creation of such foundations and training academic personnel to run them are in fact atonement in a small way for the Western donors for what they have done or what they have not done all these decades to the heritage of Eezham Tamils by funding Colombo’s cultural monster.
For examples of the mindset that propels the erasure of Tamil identity and territory on the island, see JaffnaHistory.com, Prof. Renwella's article and this 1998 article about Kantarodai outside Jaffna City. See efforts to find Sinhala Buddhist place names in Jaffna & Vanni.
Contrast with an Eelavar version.