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Prabhakaran’s Liberation Struggle
compiled by Sachi Sri Kantha, May 21, 2011
Six items which make up this debate appeared first in the Lanka Guardian fortnightly, edited by Mervyn de Silva, in 1995 and 1996. It began as a book review. The book (Sri Lanka: The Travails of a Democracy, Unfinished War, Protracted Crisis, 1995, 174pp) was authored by Dayan Jayatilleka, a prominent Sinhalese polemicist. Now that the ‘Unfinished War’ has come to an end in May 2009, it may be of some relevance to review the issues which were highlighted during the course of this debate.
Was the liberation struggle initiated by LTTE a success? What was Prabhakaran’s chief achievement as a social reformer? There were four debaters. Bramaganani (the reviewer of Jayatilleka’s book), H.L.D. Mahindapala, myself and Manik Sandrasagra. As all know, the views of Dayan Jayatilleka and H.L.D. Mahindapala were pro-Sinhala. On the contrary, the views of Bramaganani (a pseudonym I guess; I don’t know the identity of this individual) and mine were pro-Tamil. The view of Manik Sandrasagra (an ethnic Tamil from Jaffna, with blurring identities) can be considered as somewhat neutral.
While some anti-LTTE polemicists among Tamils (the likes of Rajan Hoole and D.B.S. Jeyaraj) have written ad nauseam that the LTTE period (circa 1983 to 2009) was a ‘disaster’ for the Eelam Tamil community, even the most strident Sinhalese polemicist Mahindapala did concede that Prabhakaran’s liberation struggle had its merits. I quote his last word in this debate: “In fairness to Mr. Prabhakaran it must be stated that his liberation struggle was a movement of the Tamils, by the Tamils and for the Tamils who were, oddly enough, against the upper-caste Tamil exploiters of Jaffna.” Of the six items, Mahindapala contributed three! This is one of the problems with mediocre Sri Lankan journalists. They are notoriously verbose. Brevity is not their forte, probably because they get paid by the number of words contributed.
Even in his 1995 book, Dayan Jayatilleka conceded that Prabhakaran was a quality leader and such leadership was lacking among the Sinhalese in the mid 1990s! To quote,
In retrospect, Bramaganani’s review of Dayan Jayatilleka’s book fell short of many items that had been touched on by its author. This was one reason why his (her) review was clobbered by Mahindapala in two parts. Despite all his polemics against the LTTE, Dayan Jayatilleka had to be credited for introducing the phrase ‘Mahavamsa mindset’. I quote the relevant paragraph that is of interest.
It seems to me, not only Buddhist clergy, even journalists like Mahindapala also suffer from this Mahavamsa mindset. To be fair, at least in 1995, Jayatilleka could hit the nail hard on the Sinhalese journalists’ nuts. Excerpts are as follows:
Make no mistake. Mahindapala is one of the best Sinhalese polemicist against Eelam Tamils. He would not go to the trouble to distinguish those who agitated for Tamil rights nonviolently or violently. Thus, G.G.Ponnambalam or S.J.V. Chelvanayakam or A. Amirthalingam or V. Prabhakaran – are fair game for Mahindapala’s virulent pen. As a member of polemist tribe, he wouldn’t care about historical facts or context or meaning of what he cites to support his stance. Here is an example of Mahindapala’s naughty comparison. Irrespective of the historical fact that in the 1930s Ceylon, when the Sinhalese prided themselves as Aryans to align themselves with an ascending Hitler, Mahindapala boldly twisted history by stating, “In their eyes, the Sinhala-Buddhists are the equivalent of the Jews in Hitler’s fascist state. Hitler orchestrated this hatred on a Goebbelsian scale to justify his violence against his own people.” In Mahindapala’s logic, Sinhala-Buddhists were the Jews, and Tamils were the Hitler-supporting Aryans! As I have been informed his wife is a Tamil. One wonders whether he was badly ill-treated by his in-laws for whatever prejudiced reasons, which probably had blinded his facility for a fair view on Tamils.
Mahindapala’s pretense that while the Sinhala South is democratic, but that of Tamil North (under Tamil Tigers) was fascist was laughable! Does merely holding rigged general elections at regular intervals to elect tyrants (Mahindapala’s bête noir J.R.Jayewardene even skipped a general election in 1980s), under a pliable Commissioner of Elections, make a democracy? Has democracy been flourishing in Pakistan and China on whom the Sinhala Sri Lanka leaned too much for military supplies to defeat the Tamil Tigers?
The equality of status Mahindapala writes about for Tamils in post-independent Sri Lanka is arrant nonsense. He gloats about the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act of 1957, proposed by the S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike – “an Act which prohibited segregation”. It was during the tenure of Bandaranaike’s widow Sirimavo (1960-65 and 1970-77), that Tamils suffered segregation under the inglorious race-based standardization scheme for university entry, and race-based non-recruitment into the armed services. This was akin to the discrimination practiced by Hitler’s Aryan Nazis against the Jews.
As an end note, I provide my thoughts on why Prabhakaran’s liberation struggle for Eelam Tamils failed to click among arrogant American politicians and bureaucrats. My thought along these lines was stimulated, after I read the black American actor and icon, Sidney Poitier’s The Measure of a Man: a spiritual autobiography. Though I made a passing reference to Sidney Poitier’s 1968 movie classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, in my contribution to this debate in 1996, his autobiography appeared only in 2000.
The six items are presented in the chronological order as they appeared. As three items were by Mahindapala, Sandrasagra and mine were critiques of Mahindapala’s polemics. I note that, I don’t know Sandrasagra (died 2008) personally, though his name was familiar to me as a film director. The captions are retained, as they appeared in the Lanka Guardian.
6. Manik Sandrasagra: Enlightening Mahindapala. Lanka Guardian, June 1, 1996, pp.11-12.
Hidden racism in Political Theories
by Bramaganani [Lanka Guardian, Sept.1, 1995]
Dayan Jayatilleka, once an ardent supporter of the Tamil struggle for self-determination and a sympathizer of the armed resistance movement of the Tamil youth, has now transformed himself into a champion of Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism and a proponent of counter-insurgency theories. Having traversed a complicated political trajectory from revolutionary militancy to reactionary racism, Dayan has been expending his entire intellectual energy in the destructive criticism of the Tamil national struggle. The LTTE, which spearheads the Tamil freedom movement, is the central target of his critique. His particular brand of political theory does not offer any rational, objective analysis of the phenomenon of Tamil armed resistance but rather a blind, sweeping criticism of the LTTE. He advocates nothing other than the total destruction of the Tamil Tigers.
Sri Lanka political discourse, in recent times, has produced an amazing variety of political theorists and analysts whose main vocation seems to be to produce denunciatory criticisms of the politico-military strategy of the LTTE and offer ideas and solutions as to how to end the so-called ‘terrorist menace’. Among these political theorists, Dayan Jayatilleka stands out as a unique character in his irrational and ruthless criticism of the LTTE. His pathological hatred and paranoia for the Tigers are so perverse that it makes one wonder whether he is tormented by schizophrenic delusions.
In his recent book entitled, Sri Lanka: The Travails of a Democracy, Unfinished War,Protracted Crisis’, he portrays the LTTE as the most dangerous force constituting a serious threat, not only to Sri Lanka but also to the entire South Asia. The LTTE has to be destroyed at any cost; otherwise, he warns, the Sinhala national would perish. Prophesying a philosophy of doom, he paints a very gloomy miserable future if Sri Lanka loses the war with the LTTE. To quote him in this context:
Surely this is not a balanced, rational, objective elucidation of the ethnic conflict. This is simply a manifestation of paranoic delusion. Maybe the war has already triggered off ‘terrible convulsions’ in the psyche of Dayan making him experience hallucinations of this kind.
First of all, Dayan should realise, if his senses are intact, that the phenomenon of armed resistance of the LTTE is the product of Sinhala state repression and violence. In other words the LTTE is the creation of Sinhala chauvinist oppression against the Tamils. Having taken birth from the conditions of state oppression, the LTTE is fighting against the state repressive apparatus to win the political rights of the Tamils. Self determination, the freedom of a nation of people to decide their own political destiny, is one of those rights. The LTTE is waging an armed struggle to realise this right. Since the Sinhala state has effectively repressed all forms of non-violent struggles undertaken within the confines of constitutional and democratic politics, the Tamils had no alternative other than to defend themselves with armed resistance. This is how the LTTE’s armed struggle arose and developed. Now the question is how to bring the armed conflict to an end? Ignoring the historical root of the ethnic conflict, and callously disregarding the political struggle of the Tamils, Dayan, as well as several other theorists of similar brand, call for the defeat and destruction of the LTTE. Conceiving that the armed struggle of the LTTE and the political struggle of the Tamils are two sets of different phenomena, they attempt to characterize the armed resistance of the Tigers as a phenomenon of ‘terrorism’ divorced from the political discourse of the Tamils. It is here, in the isolation and identification of the armed struggle of the LTTE from that of the national struggle of the Tamil people, that Dayan as well as other political theorists make a grave blunder. This separation is only imaginary, a pure fantasy that occurs in the minds of these writers. In concrete reality there is no such separation. The armed struggle of the LTTE has taken a concrete form as the authentic political struggle of the Tamils and therefore they are one and the same phenomenon. Since the armed struggle is the mode of the national struggle of the Tamils arising from the conditions of Sinhala state oppression, it is undeniably a political phenomenon which has to be resolved by political means. Unless the root causes of the armed struggle are resolved, i.e., the conditions of oppression are removed the conflict cannot be resolved by any other means. This is the hard reality. The advocates of military solution should realise this political truth.
But Dayan’s political text is far removed from reality. In his paranoid fantasy he views the Tamil national struggle as a simple phenomenon of ‘terrorism’ with dangerous potential to destablise the whole of South Asia. Therefore, he calls upon the South Asian nations to mobilize a formidable multilateral force to eliminate the Liberation Tigers. Since the Sri Lanka army is unable to carry out the task and the fourth largest army of the world has failed to do so, he thinks that it would be possible for the combined armies of South Asia to successfully crush the Tamil liberation struggle. This fantastic counter-insurgency theory, inviting foreign armies into Sri Lanka to resolve the ethnic problem can only be characterized as a perverted form of racism arising out of fanatical hatred.
Dayan’s fanatical hatred of the LTTE transcends all bounds of rational thinking. He writes: “So long as the LTTE is out there, there is no question of any real peace and prosperity, or any real development, over here. All the potential that Sri Lanka has, will come to nought. The Sri Lanka crisis will never end. The Southern front will also begin to boil and bubble again, because the war and its consequence can never be limited to North-East. These two power centres, these two ‘Kingdoms’ – Colombo and Eelam, the Lankan state and the LTTE, cannot coexist in one small island. Dual power and peaceful co-existence between the two is impossible. One will have to go; and one will.”
In Dayan’s political writings, one can find hidden streaks of racial hatred that portray the Tamils as the ‘historic enemy’ of the Sinhalese. Though the LTTE is treated as the arch enemy, a deeper analysis will show that the Tiger is dealt as a symbolic representation of the imagined power projection of the Tamil race. This is the dangerous element in Dayan’s distorted perception of the Tamil national question. His passionate dislike of the Tigers represents nothing other than a repressed hatred of the Tamils.
We find this element of racism cleverly rationalized in contemporary anti-LTTE writings of several journalists and commentators who masquerade as political theorists and analysts, whose biased and distorted vision will not in anyway contribute to solve the ethnic crisis, but rather would reinforce the hegemony of chauvinistic ideology that dominates the political world of the South.
The theorists of the final solution who advocate total destruction of the LTTE deliberately ignore or rather conveniently forget a crucial aspect in their grand strategies of war. That is the question of civilian casualties. The lack of concern about the catastrophic consequence that might befall the Tamil civilian population in the event of a total war, with the involvement of foreign armies as advocated by Dayan, shows very clearly that these theorists of war are essentially racists.
Tamil=LTTE=Prabhakaran – Reply to Bramaganani
by H.L.D. Mahindapala [Lanka Guardian, Oct.15, 1995]
There are several points raised by Bramaganani who criticized Dayan Jayatilleka’s book, Sri Lanka: The Travails of a Democracy, Unfinished War, Protracted Crisis (LG, September 1, 1995). I will confine myself only to a few of the many points that need to be corrected.
The first is that Dayan Jayatilleka, once the supporter of the Tamil armed struggle for self-determination, has abandoned it and become (1) a Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist, and (2) a proponent of counter insurgency theories. Had Bramaganani being less vituperative and more balanced he would not have mixed up (1) with (2). As far as I am aware, Dayan Jayatilleka interests in insurgency and counter insurgency movements stem not only from his being a committed left-winger (Marxist-Leninists) but also as a serious student of Sri Lankan politics which, from the seventies, were distorted and misdirected by insurgents of the South and the North. Anyone familiar with his writings will be aware that he has been a consistent and an unrelenting critic of these insurgency movements because he sees them as grotesque expressions of monstrous fascism. When he was a regular contributor to the Sunday Observer he flayed the JVP fascists mercilessly. They were the Sinhala-Buddhist ‘revolutionaries’ plugging an anti-Indian and anti-Tamil line. In fact, if my memory serves me right, it was precisely the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism of the JVP that he exposed in his analytical and authoritative style. Bramaganani who evinces a familiarity with Dayan Jayatilleka’s career obviously decided to skip this inconvenient and embarrassing fact, because if he did acknowledge it he could not have castigated him as a Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist.
Of course, in the political vocabulary of the Bramagananis ‘Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism’ is the most overused phrase which expresses everything that they love to hate in the South. It is also a label readily pasted on two categories (1) those who attack their holy trinity residing in Jaffna, i.e., Tamil=LTTE=Prabhakaran, and (2) those who oppose the extremist demands of the Tamils. Clearly, Dayan Jayatilleka is targeted because he falls into both categories. It does not enter their heads that the Southerners can oppose the LTTE and the extremist Tamil demands for reasons other than Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism. For instance, there is a vast community of Sinhala Christians who oppose both the LTTE and the extremist demands. Sinhala and non-Sinhala intellectuals too have mounted well-researched analyses and rational arguments to oppose both the LTTE and their extremist demands. The pro-LTTE lobby, however, has a pathological tendency not to see the other side of the arguments which is not in any way motivated by Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism. To these lobbyist, any writer who does not subscribe to their propagandist line that the ‘armed struggle of the LTTE has taken a concrete form as the authentic political struggle of the Tamils and therefore they are one and the same phenomenon’ is either ‘paranoid’ or ‘lost his senses’.
To the Bramagananis the only acceptable political reality is the one borrowed from fascist Germany: Ein volk, ein Reich; ein Fuehrer! The Tamil adaptation of this formula has been elevated by LTTE lobbyists like Bramagananis to the status of a holy doctrine. Mr. Prabhakaran’s claim to be ‘the sole representatives of the Tamils’ is only another variation of this political equation: Tamil=LTTE=Prabhakaran. Dayan Jayatilleka, quite correctly, has rejected this equation because it is a perverse political ploy to jutify Mr. Prabhakaran’s one-man regime in Jaffna. It does surprise me in any way that Dayan Jayatilleka, adhering to his principles, should sever all connections with Tamil Fuehrers. Now that Bramaganani has pointed this out, I must congratulate Dayan Jayatilleka for returning to his revolutionary principles rather than embracing any fascist group in Jaffna. Incidentally, he is not the only one who abandoned the ‘the armed struggle’ of the fascists. Practically, all the other Tamil revolutionaries who, like Dayan Jayatilleka, joined the armed struggle in the early stages, have abandoned it. Is it because they are Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists or is it because these Tamil militants too have realized that the primary task is to liberate Jaffna from the ‘latest and the cruelest Pol Pot in Asia’, as stated by the prestigious New York Times? (More of this later).
The call to delegitimize the fascist regime in Jaffna has come also from Tamil intellectuals like Prof. Rajan Hoole who, in publications of the University Teachers Human Rights, Jaffna, and in a forthright article in the Sunday Times (November 6, 1994), has documented the atrocities of the Jaffna gulag. Is he also a Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist? Or is he a concerned and sensitive Tamil intellectual who has courageously resisted compromising with the LTTE crimes perpetrated in the name of ‘liberating’ the Tamil-speaking people? Dayan Jayatilleka is not doing anything different to this. The humane world, shocked by the monster bred in the womb of Jaffna, agree that the one-man rule in Jaffna must be delegitimized. Dayan Jayatilleka’s crime seems to be that he has expressed it with analytical skill and a degree of honesty that cuts deep into the clichés and the rhetoric of a ruthless regime and its propagandists like Bramaganani.
Besides, it is quite clear that Bramaganani, is arguing, under cover of self-determination, for the establishment of a racist state in the North of Sri Lanka. All this flapdoodle about the so-called liberation struggle is nothing but a naked attempt to legitimize a racist state. In fact, by labeling the movement to set up a racist state as a ‘liberation movement’ Bramaganani has revealed his hidden racist agenda. So hoe can Bramaganani who roots for a racist state accuse others of being racist? If he is also prepared to take an honest look, he will realise that racism flows more copiously in his text than sambhar on thosai. (In case he comes back saying that this reveals my racist bias let me confess that any day I will swap Dom Perignon and Beluga malasol for sambhar and thosai). He is only deceiving himself if he thinks that he can hoodwink those who have witnessed the unfolding horror in Jaffna by repeating, like a caged parrot, the political jargon of LTTE apologists screeching about ‘self determination’, ‘the liberation struggle’ and ‘the oppression and the repression of the Tamil people by the Sinhala state’.
The Bramagananis must cling on to these clichés to justify their mindless violence which they shamelessly glorify as a ‘liberation struggle’. Bramaganani sheds crocodile tears for the civilians caught in the crossfire in the event of any army assault on Jaffna. If he is genuinely concerned about violations of human rights why isn’t this anonymous person raising his/her angry voice against the atrocities of the most abominable type in any Asian country since Pol Pot. Before Bramaganani brands me as another Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist, let me quote an unimpeachable source. In the respected New York Times of May 28, 1995, John Burns reported under the headings of A Sri Lankan evokes Pol Pot, Asia’s Latest Master of Terror’: “It is a safe bet that not too many people outside Sri Lanka and its neighbor India, know much about the Tigers; fewer still would recognize their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. Ut they should. He has shown a bloodthirstiness in dealing with opponents that has been compared with some of the cruelest figures in recent Asian history, including Pol Pot…Meanwhile, Mr. Prabhakaran has established a rule of terror in the city of Jaffna. According to scores of accounts from defectors and others who have escaped the Tiger tyranny, many of his own lieutenants have been murdered; Tamils who have criticized him, even mildly in jest, have been picked up, tortured and executed; others have been held for years in dungeons, half-starved, hauled out periodically for a battering by their guards…” Do the Bramagananis dismiss this also as the analysis and interpretation of Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists? Or are the Bramagananis mortally afraid of the reality threatening to destroy the invented illusions about their ‘liberation’ movement? Against the mounting evidence, against the grim realities of tyranny and oppression in Jaffna the Bramagananis keep repeating their clichés partly to reassure themselves that they are doing the politically correct thing, and partly to prevent the reality from dislodging the illusions controlling their febrile minds. To accept the hard reality is to drop the scales blinding their vision, to drop the clichés and the jargon, to drop the illusions of a racist state and face the horrors of their history and their Jaffna society which bred the LTTE monster.
Of course, they can’t and they won’t because since the fifties the Tamil propagandists, particularly among the English-educated diaspora, have been inventing a racist ‘nation’ for the Tamils -0 an elusive concept which, instead of liberating them, has imprisoned them. In pursuit of this elusive state the Bramagananis banded together and unleashed violence in 1976 with the passing of the Vaddukoddai resolution. This led directly to the arming of the Tamil youth and the subsequent rise of the LTTE. Having given birth to the LTTE the Bramagananis now blame the ‘Sinhala state oppression’ for the brutal violence of the Tamils masterminded by the LTTE. Whether the ‘Sinhala state oppression’ is the sole cause or not is an issue which I reserve for another day. But please note how the political language is distorted deliberately to justify Tamil violence. The Tamil grievances, which certainly deserved attention, are magnified and orchestrated as ‘oppression’.
Incidentally, the fascists of the North and the South both used the same language to justify their violence. If they defined their problems as ‘grievances’ there would have been no justification for violence. So they use the emotive term ‘oppression’ which, in the Marxian sense, justifies revolutionary violence. Marxism has been used to justify both pre-revolutionary violence against the state and post-revolutionary violence was conceptualized as a weapon against an oppressive ruling class which ends up producing fascist dictators. In this context it is legitimate to ask: who are the oppressors of Tamils and who are the oppressed Tamils of Jaffna today? It is the Tamils fleeing the horrors of Jaffna who are increasingly questioning the legitimacy of the self-proclaimed ‘liberator’ in Jaffna. Nor do all Tamils see this ‘liberator’s’ desperate attempts to retain his one-man rule in Jaffna as a ‘liberation struggle’. Bramaganani will, I hope accept this, and concede that those who oppose the ‘armed liberation struggle’ (e.g. Dayan Jayatillake) need not be even remotely connected to Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists.
Tamil Oppression of Tamils – Reply to Bramaganani (2)
by H.L.D. Mahindapala [Lanka Guardian, Nov. 1, 1995]
It is quite fashionable in intellectual circles to find a ready-made scapegoat in Sinhala-Buddhists. They are blamed for everything, including the horrors committed by Mr. Prabhakaran. Bramaganani, for instance, attributes the birth of the LTTE to the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists who are portrayed as ‘oppressors of the Tamils’. This implies that the brutal violence of the LTTE is a mere tit-for-tat strategy adopted to get even with the ‘Sinhala state oppression’. It is also used to justify violence as the only political weapon available to the Tamils to beat the ‘Sinhala state’ and extract the maximum political gains. Above all, this accusation serves as a moral counter for the Bramagananis who are hopelessly locked into the megalomaniacal violence of Mr. Prabhakaran. The corroding factor that is eating away the humane values of the Jaffnaite, disturbing his/her conscience, and postponing the dawn of elusive peace, is not Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism or ‘Sinhala state oppression’ but the violence perpetrated in their name. Unable to find an alternative to this dilemma – not to mention an alternative leadership – the Bramagananis take the easy way out by chanting ‘Sinhala state oppression’, which has gained a certain amount of political currency. Unfortunately, due attention has not been paid to consider the veracity of this accusation implied in the terminology.
Perhaps, a comparative assessment of the recorded oppression of the Tamils by the Tamils and the ‘oppression’ of the Tamils by the Sinhalese should throw some light on this neglected aspect. As the accusation clouds the issues arising from the terminology, it is of vital importance to step back into history and evaluate the real source of oppression that humiliated and crushed the human spirit in the Tamils for centuries. Even at this late stage the vital quation must be asked: who really oppressed whom? Was it the Sinhalese who oppressed the Tamils or was it the Tamils who oppressed and persecuted the Tamils? In the following skleletal outline, I wish to answer this vital question which, for some odd reason, never entered the debate of scholars in any significant way. In doing so, I hope, the difference between oppression and grievances will also be amply clarified.
I begin by accusing the Tamils of being the most inhuman oppressors of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Their oppression of nearly 25 percent of the lower castes in Jaffna is a heart-rending and a tragic story of a sizeable community of Jaffna Tamils who were denied the elementary dignity of holding their head up and walking as a human being under the cruel and exploitative society ruled by the upper caste. The criminal record of the upper caste in Jaffna can only be matched by the brutality of the oppressive regime run by the lower castes in Jaffna today. For three centuries, beginning from the Dutch period, the Jaffna upper caste reduced the non-vellala castes to the abject level of slaves. This slavery enabled the upper caste to exploit the low castes as cheap labour to increase profits of their tobacco, paddy and other farms.
Let me quote Jane Russell in her excellent study of Communal Politics under Donoughmore Constitution, 1931-1947. “The social status of the non-vellala castes in Jaffna was extremely low, compared to the position of non-goigama Buddhist Ceylon. This stemmed from the fact that some of the largest non-vellala castes, the koviyars, chandras, pallas and nalavars had been slaves of the vellala up to the abolition of slavery by the colonial government in 1844. There had been slavery among the Kandyan Sinhalese but it was of the mildest form, slaves being personal bondsmen to the owners. Of the four slave castes, the koviyars were the most privileged, as they had been household servants to the vellalas, the nallavas or toddy-tappers, and the pallas, landless labourers, were however treated much like helots or serfs by the vellala who formed the powerful landowning class. Their position after the abolition of slavery was not much improved. As (H.W.) Tambiah observed, ‘Although slavery was abolished legally, many of the depressed classes remained as de facto slaves of their masters for economical reasons.’
Since Bramaganani talks glibly of ‘Sinhala state oppression’ can this person point out to a more pernicious system than this which subjected the Tamils to the most humiliating conditions of oppression? When and where did any other Sri Lankan community – Muslims, Burghers, Indian Tamils or Sinhalese – institutionalize and persecute their own people the way the Tamils did to their own kind in Jaffna? The Tamil oppression of the Tamils is the most obscene chapter in Sri Lankan history. The Bramagananis did not lift a finger to eliminate this cruel form of oppression which went on till the late seventies? Where were the Chelvanayakams and the Ponnambalams when the battle lines between the oppressors and the oppressed were drawn right in the front of the Maviddipuram Temple in 1968? The cry of ‘Sinhala state oppression’ by the political heirs and descendants of Ponnambalams, and Chelvanayakams smack of sheer hypocrisy when, through their fathers’ exploitation of caste/slaves, they became the sole beneficiaries of their ancestors oppression.
Besides the Tamils have gone round the world crying ‘Sinhala state oppression’ which, according to them, began after 1956 when S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike was swept into power, predominantly on a Sinhala-Buddhist wave. From 1956 to 1976 when the Vaddukoddai resolution was passed it was exactly twenty years. Is it because the Bramagananis cannot face their crimes against their own people for three centuries that they seek to divert attention to twenty years (or make it 40 now that we are at the end of 1995) of so-called Sinhala oppression? To come anywhere near the magnitude, the enormity and the extent of the barbaric crimes committed by the Tamils against their own people the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists will have to go through several cycles in samsara. And yet, for obvious political reasons, the Bramagananis single out only 20-40 years of the so-called Sinhala oppression, trying desperately to dismiss from their guilty consciences the unbearable weight of the sins of their fathers and their forefathers before. If they are genuine about reconciliation they should follow the example so the Japanese lreaders and beg forgiveness from their own people for what they have done to them in the past right up to the time of the Vaddukoddai resolution. Reconciliation, like charity, begins at home.
It is not only the Tamil political class that is guilty, the Tamil political scientists, historians, sociologists too ignored (deliberately) the hideous and dark side of Jaffna which was as great a contributory factor to the current crisis as the mishandling of the communal issue by the Sinhala south. If the Tamil intellectuals had turned their heads, just a wee bit away from the South, and peeped into their own backyard they could have enlightened the Tamils about the difference between ‘oppression’ and ‘grievances’. But they never dared to look into darker side of their Jaffna moon. It is by wearing blinkers that the Tamil intellectuals succeeded in feeding myth of ‘Sinhala state suppression’. Their writings targeted oly the Sinhala-Buddhists. Their writings vilified and demonized the Sinhala- Buddhists. These intellectuals never balanced it with the other side of the story. To them, there was no other side. There was only one side and that was the Sinhala-Buddhist demon in the South. Emboldened by the vilification and the demonizing of the South by the intellectuals, the Tamil politicians ultimately unleashed violence against the Sinhala-Buddhists by endorsing the Vaddukoddai resolution. It was, in reality, a declaration of war against the Sinhala South by the Tamils of the North. Vaddukoddai resolution declared that violence is the only way and they let loose the Tamil youth. I think Bramaganani is stretching the truth beyond the limits of credibility when he blames the Sinhalese for giving birth to the LTTE. Officially, it is on record in the Vaddukoddai resolution that it is the Tamil political class which created this monster in the constitutency of Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, the leader of the Federal Party. In peddling thsese distortions, the Bramagananis and their fellow travelers are as responsible as the opportunistic politicians (of both sides) for the overflowing blood bath.
One way of getting out of this ideological fixation is to have more Dayan Jayatillekas presenting the unpalatable truth which may, someday, hopefully, shock the Bramagananis into reality. Dayan Jayatilleka has homed in on a sensitive but a realistic assessment when he said: ‘Dual power and peaceful co-existence between the two (i.e. Colombo and Jaffna) is impossible. One will have to go; and one will.’ This is inevitable because, from another point of view, a democracy in the South and a dictatorship in the North are incompatible. Besides, the two cannot co-exist because the intrinsic nature of dictatorship demands a mythical enemy. The overblown personality cult of Prabhakaran represents the mythical protector who guards the Tamils against the evils of Sinhala-Buddhism. Mr. Prabhakaran cannot, and will not, exist without the demonized Sinhala-Buddhists. He exists even today only on the bitter hatred up by him and his Bramagananis demonise their mythical enemy.
In their eyes, the Sinhala-Buddhists are the equivalent of the Jews in Hitler’s fascist state. Hitler orchestrated this hatred on a Goebbelsian scale to justify his violence against his own people. What is more, fascism can sustain its momentum only on aggression. Mr. Prabhakaran cannot justify the denial of fundamental rights to the Jaffna Tamils in a state of peace. Violence is the only means of proving his political usefulness. He has never shown any skills in the democratic process. So any attempt to mollycoddle or pacify fascists with negotiations are bound to end in disaster. Neville Chamberlain and the rest of the world learned it the hard way. No amount of appeasement will win the day for democracies fighting fascist regimes. In short, democracy and fascism cannot co-exist. One will have to go. And history records that is it is the fascists who went into oblivion.
Caste, Buddhism and Japan
by Sachi Sri Kantha [Lanka Guardian, Feb. 1, 1996]
Due to some delay in delivery, I received the Nov.1, 1995 issue of LG only on Jan.5th of this year. Permit me to comment briefly on H.L.D. Mahindapala’s diatribe on the Tamils, which appeared in this particular issue.
I’m in agreement with Mahindapala that there existed a caste called turumbas among the Tamils, who were placed at the lowest rank of the caste hierarchy. But I’m surprised that he has not provided proper perspective by stating that this type of discrimination was not exclusive to Tamils. The caste group known as rodiyas among the Sinhalese shared the same hierarchical order similar to turumbas of Tamils. The Area Handbook for Ceylon (1971) published by the U.S. State Department states:
About the depressing social status o the rodiyas in the traditional Sinhalese society, the same reference book mentions further:
Also, I wonder if caste system is not strictly adhered among the Sinhalese, similar to Tamils, why there are three major nikayas (sects) among the bhikkus? Why the Siam Nikaya is limited to Goiyama caste only? Why the Amapura Nikaya, consisting approximately 20 percent of the sangha was established by a monk of the Salagama caste in the 19th century? Isn’t it an anachronism that such a caste hierarchy should exist among the priests who follow the precepts of the Enlightened One?
Mahindapala can take relief to hear that caste system is not restricted to Sri Lankan Buddhists. Here in Japan, traditionally a Buddhist country, there exist a caste named eta (labeled as ‘Japanese pariahs’ by Basil Hall Chamberlain) whose rank is no less different to that of turumbas of Tamils and rodiyas of Sinhalese. Chie Nakane, one of the leading anthropologists of Japan, also stated in her book, Japanese Society (1970):
Let us not forget the cradle of contemporary democracy, the United States of America. Few decades ago, the social status of the Blacks (derisively called ‘niggers’ in the not-so distant past, even by the liberal US Presidents like Harry Truman) were no less different to that of turumbas of Tamils or rodiyas of Sinhalese. Autobiographies of liberal minded movie stars like Katharine Hepburn and Shirley Maclaine describe poignantly about the humiliation faced by the Blacks as untouchables in the so-called democratic America. Shirley Maclaine had written that her educated father even did not grant permission for her to invite her co-star Sidney Poitier who portrayed a similar situation in the classic movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which he co-starred with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Every founding father of American democracy owned black slaves. Also, almost all democratic countries, do have an Intelligence Agency like the CIA, MI 5, MI 6, Mossad and RAW. The functions of these Intelligence agencies work against the basic principles of democracy. Thus, Mahindapala’s hypothesis that ‘democracy and fascism cannot co-exist.’ is also not true.
Meaning of the Tamil ‘Liberation Struggle’
by H.L.D. Mahindapala [Lanka Guardian, Mar. 15, 1996]
Mr. Sachi Sri Kantha (Lanka Guardian, February 1, 1996) deserves a reply not because his comments need refuting (in fact, I ignored his earlier comment where he was tilting at the solid windmills of The New York Times) but because he, like most other Tamils in the diaspora, refuse to face their brutal history which records the inhuman oppression of Tamils by Tamils from the time of Sankili (1519).
But before I go further let me hasten to add that my two articles (Lanka Guardian, October 15, 1995 and November 1, 1995) which, undoubtedly, have pricked Mr. Sri Kantha’s guilty conscience, were definitely meant to be attacks on the Tamils who treated their fellow Tamils as sub-human slaves. I was focusing on the 75 percent of the upper caste Tamils in Jaffna who never lifted a finger to liberate the oppressed Tamils for over five centuries. I even pin-pointed that the loud-mouthed champions of Tamils today despised and segregated the low caste Tails like the turumbas who were never allowed to walk in daylight. One of the points stressed by me was that no other community in Sri Lanka – Muslims, Indian Tamils, Burghers or Sinhalese – ever treated the members of their own community in this degrading manner. Even a writer like H.W. Tambiah, who is generally inclined to argue that the Sun that shines over Sri Lanka comes out of the Tamils’ ears, (see, Laws and Customs of the Sinhalese) has stated categorically that the Tamil low castes were treated as ‘abject slaves’ by the upper castes. On this evidene I wrote that this must be the darkest chapter in Sri Lankan history.
Unable to answer this point Mr. Sri Kantha says that “the caste group know as rodiyas among the Sinhalese shared the same hierarchical order similar to turumbas of the Tamils.” So what? Weren’t all Asian societies, whethere Buddhist or Hindu, hierarchical? For that matter, aren’t all societies and institutions hierarchical? The issue is not about the hierarchical social structure but how the hierarchy at the top treated the subcastes at the base of the social pyramid. On this score, the upper caste Tamils of Jaffna have set a unique record of being the most heartless and cruel oppressors of their own people. It is an oppression which will remain as an indelible stigma on their social conscience. As an excuse, Mr. Sri Kantha attempts to equate the rodiyas with the turumbas. If Mr. Sri Kantha knows anything about Sri Lanka he should know that the rodiyas, being nomadic outcastes, were never slaves of any caste. Nor were they forbidden to walk in daytime. They were the Sri Lankan gypsies who roamed freely all over the country, day and night.
Besides, I went further than the hierarchical structure and quoted Jane Russell who said: “There had been slavery among the Kandyan Sinhalese but it was of the mildest form, slaves personal bondsmen to the owners.” (Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution, 1931-1947). In other words, I was saying that there not only a hierarchical society but even slaves among the Sinhalese. The difference, however, is in the treatment of these slaves by the two communities. Let me quote Robert Knox who had known the Sinhalese society like the back of his hand after having lived with them for 20 years. Writing about the Sinhalese disposition he says: “They are not very malicious towards one another, and their anger doth not last long; seldom or never blood shed among them in their quarrels. It is not customary to strike; and it is very rare that they give a blow as much as to their slaves.” (Knox, Historical Relations, p. 102, Tissara Publications).
Compare this to the Tamil slaves of Jaffna who were no better off than the Negro slaves in America. Like the Negro slaves they were murdered, lynched by mobs and even burnt alive for daring to cross the caste barriers. Besides, the upper caste Tamils not only aided the importing of Tamils from South India by the Dutch but abetted their imperial masters in transforming the caste system to legitimize and enforce the status of the imported Indian Tamils as slaves. This was a bonanza to the Jaffna Tamils who had no hesitation in reducing their own low castes into untouchable slaves. They were denied the basic human rights. They were even denied the right of worshiping in Hindu temples. The Churches too faithfully adopted the vicious caste system. They segregated the low castes by erecting separate pews. Apartheid became the official doctrine insider the tabernacles of Christ in Jaffna long before it emerged as a fascist instrument of the elitist whites in South Africa. The Church leaders woke up to Christian charity – not to mention liberation theology – only after the Christian domination, enforced through their imperial masters, waned in the post-colonial period. Then the Churches joined hands with the Tamil communalists to denigrate the Sinhala-Buddhists, ironically enough on human rights.
However, no low caste man among the Sinhalese was debarred from entering any Buddhist temple, or to be a Buddhist monk like the Hindus. Nor were there separate places of worship for them as in the Churches. The upper caste Sinhalese have never refused to prostrate before a low caste monk and worship him. Despite the inherent evils of the hierarchical caste system, the Sinhalese used it essentially as a division of labour to make the hydraulic/feudal society functional. With the active assistance of the Tamil Brahmins, Churches and the colonial masters, the Tamil upper caste transformed the caste system into an inhuman instrument of oppression and suppression of their own people. Through that system they exploited their own people, initially to increase their profits from the tobacco, paddy and other farming enterprises and, later, in the post-Donoughmore period, to protect and consolidate their political power.
There is a discernible pattern in the reactions of the Sinhalese and the Tamils to slavery. When, for instance, the Britishers were pushing the Kandyan peasants into slavery in their plantations the Sinhalese never gave in. Faced with their stubborn and silent protest the British imperialists had to import indentured labour from South India. For trying to protect their dignity the Sinhalese had to pay the incalculable price of their traditional homelands being confiscated and ejected from their homes. The Tamil society, on the other hand, was quite comfortable with slavery and happily went along with it. They encouraged their colonial masters to import slaves from South India and, under colonial protection, exploited their low castes as cheap slaves. They rejected from their society the Indians brought as slaves to the tea plantations with the same kind of contempt they rejected Indian slaves brought by the Dutch to Jaffna. Today the Jaffna Tamil leaders show a patronizing interests in the Indian Tamils, after allying themselves with the British imperialists who exploited the slave labour of the estate workers for nearly a century, purely to add numbers to their communal politics.
Consider this with the record of the Sinhalese. Their record reveals that it is they who took the first step to liberate the Tamils, long before Mr. Velupillai Prabhakaran came on the scene. The Prevention of Social Disabilities Act 1957 of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike – an Act which prohibited segregation in buses, schools, churches and, in general, the oppression of the low castes – stands as a monumental landmark not only to the liberal spirit of the Sinhalese but also to the enlightened and pioneering efforts of reforming the dismal and the discriminatory legacy left behind by five centuries of colonial rulers. However, the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act ran into serious obstacles laid by the all powerful upper caste in Jaffna to block its implementation. Undeniably, the greatest achievement of Mr. Prabhakaran is in the dismantling of the obscene and the oppressive caste system in Jaffna that dehumaised Jaffna society since the coming of the Dutch.
The act of Tamil youths taking up arms was a double-edged weapon – (1) against the Sinhalese, and (2) against the upper-caste Tamils of Jaffna who have been their oppressors for generations. Consistent indoctrination by the Chelvanayakam-Ponnambalam leadership made them perceive the Sinhala-Buddhists as their enemies. But Tamil youths also had a clear grasp of the social inherent in their caste-ridden society. They had first hand experience of their leaders as incorrigible oppressors and political failures. In their sober moments they would realise that whenever the Sinhalese erred there were democratic, institutional and structural remedies for each and every one of those mistakes. For example, those political mistakes that the Tamil elite have raised were remedied within the turbulent four decades beginning from 1956. The self-correcting mechanism, thought it worked tardily at times, was inherent in the Sinhala-Buddhist society. But for three centuries, ending as late as the 1980s, there were no remedies for the entrenched institutions of oppressive casteism maintained ruthlessly, and if necessary through extralegal violence in Jaffna. Even those Tamils who returned from Oxford and Cambridge found casteism more rewarding and comfortable than Western liberalism. The rigidly conservative ambience of Jaffna, withdrawn into a time warp of its own, did not leave the space of a hair’s breadth for any kind of passage into the twentieth century. The dominant forces were so steeped in feudal casteism that they lost touch with reality. Consequently, after the failure of the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act, a violent overthrow of the inhuman ancien regime of Jaffna was inevitable.
As in the case of the JVP youth in the South, the unrest in Northern society could not have been appeased even if the linguistic, religious and other cultural demands of the Tamil elite were granted by the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist governments’. Like the JVPers, there was in them a determination to overthrow the entire Jaffna establishment which they felt had betrayed them in the past. The Tamil elite ruling Jaffna had, over the years, confirmed the belief of the ‘boys’ – particularly in the temple entry crisis at Maviddapuram in 1968 when the upper caste closed ranks against the low castes – that there was no escape from the oppressive Tamil past into a liberated future through the entrenched caste base. Most of all, it was the loss of human dignity, by being treated as social outcastes, that hurt them most. Equally insufferable was the inborn and internalized caste prejudices that made the low castes the pariahs (a demeaning and an opprobrious epithet derived from the Tamil word paraiyar, according to the OED) of Jaffna society. Deluded by their smug superiority, the upper-caste did not realise tat the subterranean forces were running far deeper than the hate campaign whipped up by them against the Sinhala-Buddhists. Explosive tectonic forces were rising from under their feet to blast the crusted surface of three centuries of the caste/slave system. The politically bankrupt Tamil elite had no other non-communal programme or policy to rescue themselves and Jaffna from the ever-widening cracks of feudal casteism.
The Tamil elite planned to escape their impending doom by ‘putting forward more and more rapacious demands’ (S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, Hansard 1939, quoted by Jane Russell, on page 240). Increasing demands at each critical stage was a deliberate tactic adopted to appease the unrest growing from the oppressed sub-castes below. The Tamil elite refused to heed the lesson of King Canute that there was no way of rolling back the caste forces rising against them. Their predictable reaction was to hastily prop up their declining feudal power through anti-Sinhala-Buddhist slogans. They resented any interference that would topple this power structure. Their paralleled objectives were (1) to accumulate as much money as they could from the Sinhala-Buddhist South, and (2) preserve their privileged personal and political position in the Tamil North. Both – the money from the south and the privileges of the north – worked in tandem to consolidate their dominance over Jaffna society. They never wanted to part with either. The issue of discrimination they orchestrated so successfully was not about their abominable discrimination against their own people but the perceived threats to their privileged positions both in the South and in the North. Only Tamil chauvinism could give them the slogans to promote their acquisitive instincts in the South, especially through the language issue, and exploit the North by keeping their own people in submission.
By turning the anger of Tamils against the Sinhalese the Tamil elite successfully deflected the rising political tide against themselves from their own rank and file. In raising the communal cry they were able to sweep under the carpet their failure to stand up for the basic rights of their own people by obstructing social reforms. Furthermore, the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist cry was the opium fed to the Tamil masses to legitimize and prevent the dismantling of the oppressive feudal society of Jaffna. The Jaffna upper caste was determined to preserve Jaffna as their traditional feudal haven, particularly for their retirement. The loss of privileges derived from feudal casteism would have been as great as the loss of pensions derived from serving, in their parlance, ‘the Sinhala-Buddhist governments’. The two pronged machinations of the Jaffna upper-caste to retain their traditional supremacy were directed simultaneously against (1) the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist governments’, and (2) their own sub castes. They held on to their precarious positions by pitting (2) against (1). Naturally, they resented any outside interference that would threaten their prestige, position and power in Jaffna. This point is illustrated amply in the obstructionist tactics of the Chelvanayakams and Ponnambalams to the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act. It was also the only time when both parties – All Ceylon Tamil Congress and the Federal Party – buried their political rivalry of the Jaffna upper caste and ganged up to protect their privileged position against the low castes. It was a concerted and a contemptible attempt to deny the fundamental rights due to the low caste Tamil slaves of Jaffna.
But after three centuries the outdated caste system was crumbling. And the inevitable storming of the Jaffna Bastille occurred when Mr. Prabhakaran’s low caste ‘boys’ raided the upper caste homes in Jaffna, and cocked their legs up on their caste-ridden tables, and ordered those high caste ladies hiding behind the cadjan curtains to cook ‘chicken poriel’ for them. It was meant to be a kind of ‘revolutionary justice’ dished out by the former slaves who reversed roles with great delight by sitting on top of their cruel masters and making them experience, for the first time, what it was to be an oppressed caste/slave for centuries. The accumulated bitterness of centuries was expressed not by the simple act of forcing them to cook but in making the Tamil elite obey, in the most humiliating manner – no, not the diktats of the new regime which were inescapable but the individual whims and fancies of the low caste pariahs who had nothing to fear from their powerless masters.
It was also poetic justice for the arrogant elite, who even in their hour of distress, refused to share the toilets with the low castes in refugee camps. Mr. Prabhakaran’s ‘liberation struggle’, at last, dethroned forever the feudalistic fiefdom of Ponnambalam and the Chelvanayakams in the neck of Jaffna. His ‘liberation struggle’ finally brought to the low caste Tamils the kind of equality which the Tamils enjoyed among the Sinhalese in the South and the kind of equality the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist governments’ hoped to introduce in the North through the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act. The essential meaning of Prabhakaran’s ‘liberation struggle’ is that he freed the low caste Tamils from their upper caste oppressors. And the essential meaning of the pre-Prabhakaran protests and demonstrations of the Tamil elite led by the Federal Party and the Tamil Congress lies in their desperate struggle to retain their privileges, both in the South and the North. The Chelvanayakam-Ponnambalam elite merely led a rearuard action to protect and preserve the privileges inherited from a declining, fascist caste system. In fairness to Mr. Prabhakaran it must be stated that his liberation struggle was a movement of the Tamils, by the Tamils and for the Tamils who were, oddly enough, against the upper-caste Tamil exploiters of Jaffna. It is indeed a remarkable coincidence that Mr. Prabhakaran named his organization the LTTE – Liberation of Tamils from Tamil Exploiters!
by Manik Sandrasagra [Lanka Guardian, June 1, 1996]
Since trees have to be cut to make the paper to print the drivel that he writes, H.L.D. Mahindapala in his exile will be doing this country a favour if he shuts up for a while. Having filled the columns of the Sunday Observer with his periodical rants under Premadasa, he now pollutes the Lanka Guardian with his ignorance.
His recent article ‘Meaning of the Tamil Liberation Struggle’ illustrates his ignorance on several matters:
Any writer worth his salt must try to express the truth. Individual opinions are inconsequential. When the Jaffna elite of yesteryear were in power, the likes of Prabhakaran did not exist. The system did not produce murderers and gangsters. The current conflict is the product of a process that started with democracy and the gaining of our so-called independence. When hierarchical principles ruled, the Prabhakarans knew their place and accepted it as ‘karma’. Trying to make everybody equal has resulted in today’s upside down world. As the Sinhalese say, ‘Suddata rata diya, Padda uda giya’.
Even Gauttama the Buddha chose to be born as kshatriya in his last incarnation. Why not an outcast? This may enlighten Mahindapala and show him the secrets of caste and guna dharma. Why, may I ask, there was a census during the time of Jesus Christ? Why did Pol Pot also ask for a census?
It is time we took a good and close look at Lanka again. Many who claim to be Sinhalese are not Sinhalese, and many who claim to be Tamil are not Tamils. A language is a product of a culture and without culture it is useless. Through absorption and integration there is today a new class that is neither Sinhalese or Tamil but they are the thinkers, educators and leaders of the masses. In such a state, conflict is a natural outcome.
All culture is begged, borrowed, or stolen. Nobody is unique. All must eat, drink and go to the toilet by themselves. Definitions come much later. Food comes first. It is for this reason that the Goyigama or Vellala was the first and foremost. They provided the fuel for the likes of Mahindapala to generate their energy.
I must thank Mahindapala for opening the real issue, CASTE. This has been swept under the carpet for too long. It is caste alone that will explain the modern cry for Eelam. Why my own ancestors sat in power in parts of Jaffna and the Wanni, there was one Lanka. We had no parliaments, presidents, prime ministers, ministers and bodyguards. We had tribes living in villages. These tribes were ruled by elders. The glue that knew no boundaries was caste. The language spoken was based on location, but habits and customs were identical within castes. There is more in common between a Sinhala speaking Goyigama and a Tamil speaking Vellala than there is between a Sinhala Goviya and say, a Sinhala speaking Karawa.
The new Sinhala-Tamil identity based on modern census criteria is irrelevant and is as new as cricket and will have to be preserved through extraneous means. For Mahindapala or Premadasa to have understood this they would have had to shed their ‘Galle Road culture’ and live the tradition which alone makes it relevant. This, they never can do. It has to do with birth.
Why did Prabhakaran’s liberation struggle for Eelam Tamils failed to click among arrogant American politicians and bureaucrats? As support for my hypothesis, first I quote four chapters from Sidney Poitier’s autobiography, where he describes how he was ‘sized up’ by his elderly white co-stars (Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy) in Hollywood who appeared with him in the movie ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’.
Sidney Poitier wrote as follows: “Here’s the story of how I was taken to Miss Hepburn’s house so she could check me out. When I arrived at her door and that door opened, she looked at me and didn’t say a word and didn’t crack a smile. But that was her M.O. After the longest while she said, ‘Hello, Mr. Poitier’, and I said, ‘Hello, Miss Hepburn’, and the conversation began. I could tell that I was being sized up every time I spoke, every response I made. I could imagine a plus and a minus column, notations in her mind. That’s how big a step this was for her, at least to my mind.
After that first meeting, Stanley [Kramer; the director of the movie] took me to Tracy’s house on Doheny Drive for a little dinner party with the two of them and some other guests. This time Miss Hepburn was much more natural and at ease, but it was still obvious that I was under close observation by both of them.
The truth of the matter is that the formation of this business relationship was almost a literal ‘pre-enactment’ of the situation in the film we were about to make. The black man was coming for dinner, and we didn’t usually do that. Now mind you, these were good, enlightened, liberal people. These were major Hollywood stars putting their ideals to the test – but even for them, the fact still remained that ‘we don’t usually do that’. They were going to enter into an intense creative partnership with a black man – a partnership in which they would take on one of the primal taboos of our culture, interracial marriage – and ‘we don’t usually do that’, either.
Should I have felt condescended to by all the scrutiny from Tracy and Hepburn? Should I have been angry and confrontational? After all, they’d had ample opportunity to know my work. At that time I’d made over thirty films and had won the Oscar for best actor a few years earlier. If it had been Paul Newman they were going to do a movie with, would they have checked him out so thoroughly? But the fact of the matter is I’m not Paul Newman. If Paul had played the part of the young doctor coming to marry their daughter, there would have been no drama.” (pp.121-122)
What Sidney Poitier mentioned ‘the primal taboo’ of mixing white with black was broken by the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1950s and 1960s. Thus, showing overt racism to the blacks living within the boundaries of America became a taboo. Did the overt racism vanish from the arrogant White politicians and bureaucrats? Not so easily! It was re-directed towards the blacks living beyond the boundaries of America (the Asians and Africans), especially those who showed military courage. Unfortunately, Prabhakaran’s liberation struggle was a victim of this cryptoracist ideology of Anglo Saxon politicians, bureaucrats and journalists in 1990s and 2000s. A distinction should be made here that, despite the Colombo media munchkins’ idiotic comparison between Osama bin Laden and Prabhakaran as terrorists, the latter did not (I repeat, did not) antagonize Americans, hurt American citizens, and propagate hate against Americans, though being victimized by the US State Department’s terrorists list in 1997. In this 1997 list, even Al Queda was excluded!
Sidney Poitier also wrote: “all I can say is that there’s a place for people who are angry and defiant, and sometimes they serve a purpose, but that’s never been my role. And I have to say, too, that I have great respect for the kinds of people who are able to recycle their anger and put it to different uses.
On the other hand, even Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, who certainly didn’t appear angry when they burst upon the world, would never have burst upon the world in the first place if they hadn’t, at one time in their lives, gone through much, much anger and much, much resentment and much, much anguish.” (p. 124)
Though Prabhakaran’s critics may disagree with me, I’d infer that his anger against the discrimination faced by the Tamils, had a beneficial role.