‘WHAT HAPPENED IN THE HISTORY OF JAFFNA’ CONTINUED Blaming the Sinhalese for the “insane fury” of Jaffna
A closer look into what happened in the history of Jaffna will reveal that dark, demonic and destructive forces presided over its hidden past.Tragically, these dark forces have not evaporated. They still cloud the skies of Jaffna casting long shadows ominously across its future.
The ill-fated future of Jaffna was first identified by Mylvaganam Pulavar who wrote the first official history of Jaffna, Yalpana Vaipava Malai, at the request of the Dutch governor in 1736. The forecast of Jaffna’s doomed future is pronounced by Suppathidda muni who told King Pararajasegaram that “sovereignty will never again come back to your descendants.” However, this prediction in Mylvaganam’s history is less important — perhaps, even irrelevant in rational historiography — than his focus on the cruelty (he calls it the “insane fury”) that bloodied the pre-Dutch period, from Sangkili to the Portuguese. One strand of the dark forces that haunted Jaffna throughout its history is the unrestrained “insane fury” of the pre-colonial period (starting from Sangkili) that flowed right down, going through the phase of the Vellahlas, to Prabhakaran. The average Jaffna man, living under the oppressive regimes of each phase, was a victim of the “insane fury” that dehumanized him, making Jaffna a brutal enclave with no parallel in any other part of Sri Lanka.
Besides, an overview of the history of Jaffna that has unfolded so far signposts an intransigent movement led by extremist leaders unwinding its way to an end without hope. No other community in Sri Lanka has suffered as much as the people of Jaffna under their self-centred and myopic leaders. At no time in their history were the Jaffnaites free from oppression. In addition to this, the Tamil leaders who were in command of peninsular politics never failed to lead their people into recurring disasters in the 20th Century. The known events of the past records that the Tamil leadership went down the wrong path each time they arrived at the critical fork of the road. They seem to have the unerring knack of picking the wrong turn each time they decided to go their own way dismissing the other communities that have compromised seeking the path of non-violence for the common good. Their intransigence leading to “insane fury,” which, of course, leads to death and destruction, is a curse they have brought upon themselves. This makes them look as if they had walked out of Albert Camus’ ill-fated landscape. The fatalism that runs through his short story The Guest fits Jaffna like a glove. In it he wrote: “This is the way the region was, cruel to live in, even without men — who didn’t help matters either. But Drau (the school teacher living way up in a plateau, cut off from the rest) had been born here. Everywhere else he felt exiled.” (There is more to this story which will be related in due course.)
Locked inside a socio-political framework
In all three phases of the history of Jaffna — pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial periods — the average Jaffna man was locked inside a socio-political framework that denied him the space to breathe the air freely or walk the length and breadth of the peninsular with a sense of dignity. Jaffna was a rigidly structured socio-political order with the most privileged power elite of the nation sitting comfortably at the top while having no qualms in crushing their slaves and low-castes under their jackboots. The pain and the suffering inflicted on the Jaffna man by his leaders — most of whom claim to be “liberators” — amount to violations of the fundamental rights of the Jaffna man to be human.
The denial of the right to be just a humble human being — nothing more — is the most heinous crime committed by the Jaffna elite against their own people. In comparable terms it was more cruel than the apartheid regimes in S. Africa or the humiliating oppression experienced by the Afro-American in the Bible belt of the American states in the south. It was a warped society in which the ruling elite had acted as bestial oppressors with no pity for women, children, old, the sick and the prisoners, as seen in the case of Prabhakaran. The separation between the ruling elite at the top and their victims created constant tensions between the two, driving the low-caste victims to desperation. The nightmares in the Great Expectations of the Affiants — the Dickensian masterpiece by that title which inspired Kafka to write his masterpiece The Castle — need another Dickens or a Kafka to delineate the existential horrors of Jaffna society.12-1
The rigidly stratified society seemed to have reduced Jaffna into a straight jacket and the desperate Jaffnaites seemed to have had no way out of it. Social scientists noted that the highest suicide rate in Sri Lanka was inside the north and the east. Jonathan Spencer, anthropologist from Edinburgh University highlighted that “the lowest (suicide) rates are found in Colombo and the densely populated southwest littoral” and “(T)he most spectacular (suicide) rates are found in Tamil-dominated areas…” He also adds that “there may be distinctive social and cultural factors which account for a higher long-term predilection for suicide in Sri Lanka Tamil society..”.( p.8. Collective Violence and Everyday Practice in Sri Lanka, Jonathan Spencer, Studies in Society and Culture, Sri Lanka Past and Present, edited by Michael Roberts, 1993). Isn’t suicide the easy way out of a society that prevents citizens from being human? This suicidal tendency took away the heroism in the suicide cult put together by Prabhakaran. It was there, ready made, in the socio-political culture of Jaffna for Prabhakaran to exploit without much efforts on his part.
Jaffna is also a society living in denial. This state denial is a defence mechanism needed to keep their sanity in times of peace and, more importantly, in times of violence when they run amok with their “insane fury.” They are adepts in hiding their brutal society under the carpet and parading in world fora as dedicated champions of human rights. They never had the nerve at any time to correct the systemic oppression that condemned their people to subhuman misery. The lower rungs in their hierarchical order were kicked around as pariahs. And if you ask a moral poseur like Prof. Kumar David, a leading left-wing proponent of Tamil tribalism equating it with Marxism, why he did not thunder against the Vellahla oppressors the way he protests against the Sinhala elite he would throw abuse at you and retreat whining, with his tails between his legs, to hide ignominiously under the proverbial carpet. This is typical of the Jaffna Tamils who have a passion to wallow in their myths to make-believe that they are the purest of the pure — so pure that not even a low-caste Tamil could clap their eyes on him in case it pollutes their purity which would force them to take another bath!
But to grasp the “insane fury” of peninsular politics that led the Tamil leadership into a dead-end from which it could not get out it is necessary to go back to G.G. Ponnambalam (Snr). The political climate was comparatively benign and calm when Ponnambalam shot into prominence among the Tamils in the ’30s. The British were still the ruling masters of Ceylon, as they called it then. The Sinhala-Buddhists, though they were in a majority, did not have the full powers of the state to impose their will. There was no Sinhala-Buddhist Army, Navy, Air Force or Police. For all his cries of “discrimination” against the Tamils by the Sinhalese the Tamils were in a commanding positions of the British administration. The Tamil professionals were on par with the majority having even an edge over the Sinhalese in some fields. Nor was the Sinhala Only Act in force. The inter-ethnic relations were relatively calm except for the Nawalapitiya incident which, of course, was like a dark shadow that casts the coming events. It was also the golden period when the idealistic Jaffna Youth Congress was agitating for national unity, opposing the anti-democratic communal representation and demanding territorial representation as a universal principle. At the grasroot level the Tamil and Tamil-speaking Muslim traders, who had infiltrated every nook and corner of the cities and villages of the south, were co-existing in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural harmony.
Unparalleled in any known democracy
Above all, it was also the time when the much-maligned Sinhala Board of Ministers offered Ponnambalam 43% of the 50% he demanded in his divisive “50 – 50” cry. Offering 43% to a minority of Jaffna Tamils 12%, (25% collectively if the Muslims and the Indian Tamils were added), is unparalleled in any known democracy. By any standards, the generosity of the majority Sinhalese (75%) is overwhelming. It indicates their willingness to rise above “Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism” — a common accusation hurled against them — and to co-exist in a peaceful multi-ethnic society. Historian S. Arasaratnam, commenting on this extraordinary offer wrote: “Without being able to concede the extravagant demand for minorities, as put forward by G.G. Ponnambalam, they (the Sinhala Board of Ministers) conceded a relationship of 57% to 43% as between Sinhalese and others in the legislature. It was, as it appears now, a tactical error that the Tamil leaders did not grasp this offer at that time, but stuck to their extreme demands.” (pp. 505 -506, S. Arasaratnam, Nationalism in Sri Lanka and the Tamils, Collective Identities, Nationalisms and Protest in Modern Sri Lanka, edited by Michael Roberts, Marga, 1979.)
Considering the political conditions of the ’30s, considering the halcyon days under the British raj, considering the readiness and the willingness of the Sinhala majority to concede a disproportionate and undue share of power, far exceeding the demographics of the minorities, why did Ponnambalam reject it and what was the necessity for Ponnambalam to go ballistics against the Sinhalese in Nawalapitiya? Perhaps, only the ingrained “insane fury” of the peninsular political culture, mixed with arrogance and intransigence, could account for this irrational behaviour of Ponnambalam.
This historical evidence recorded in the Sessional Paper of 1944 (See footnote 13, in Arasaratnam) debunks the concoction of all the political pundits — from Harvard to Colombo University — that the root cause of the north-south conflict is due to “Buddhism Betrayed,” or Dharmapala, or “Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism,” or the paintings of hell in Buddhist temples (Jayadeva (Marthelis) Uyangoda, the lumpen Marxist theoretician), or the web of myths spun by Kumari Jayawardena to feed her insatiable gluttony for anti-Sinhala-Buddhist hatred. This also explodes the theory of the Tamil propagandists and their hired agents in academia and NGOs who argued that the Tamils could not get anything except through the violence encoded in the Vadukoddai Resolution.
The historical record proves unarguably that the Sinhala majority had acted with utmost generosity and consideration to their Tamil neighbours — perhaps, the best the Tamils had ever found in their history. If further proof is necessary, consider the other offers made to the Jaffna Tamils. First, “the Sinhala-Buddhist state” granted, though under Indian pressure, regional autonomy to the merged north and east for the Tamils. What did the Jaffna Tamil leadership do? Prabhakaran killed 1700 IPKF soldiers in the north and sent a hand-picked suicide bomber to S. India to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi, the architect who was bent on giving the Tamils the best through his Indo-Sri Lankan Agreement.
Second, in the midst of peaceful negotiations, Prabhakaran not only slaughtered 600 policemen who were ordered to surrender by President Premadasa in the hope of keeping the peace talks going but went to the extreme of assassinating President Premadasa. Is this rational behaviour or “insane fury?”
Third, when President Chandrika Kumaratunga, along with the assistance of Jayantha Dhanapala, had drafted P-TOMS, a politico-administrative mechanism to hand over power to Prabhakaran for 10 years without holding elections in the north and the east (TIME), Prabhakaran ruthlessly targeted her. She narrowly escaped death but lost one eye. Is this rational behaviour or “insane fury?”
Finally, with international guarantees, Prabhakaran was handed on a platter an autonomous state in the north and east, signed by Ranil Wickremesinghe and Erik Solheim, the representative of the international community. Solheim later revealed that India was involved with the Ceasefire Agreement every step of the way, which means that the international community and the regional super power guaranteed it. But Prabhakaran, according to the Scandinavian Peace Monitors, violated 95% of the terms and conditions of the Ceasefire Agreement of February 22, 2002 and finally killed Wickremesinghe politically — never to rise again — by ordering a ban on voting for him in the presidential election of 1995.
So who is to be blamed? The historical record underscores without a shadow of doubt one incontrovertible fact: it is not that “the Sinhala state” did not give a substantial — if not unwarranted — measure of autonomy to the Tamils at the expense of the other communities. It is simply that the Tamil leadership rejected them all. In fact, the more you gave them the more they turned and hit back at “the Sinhala state” — the goose that laid the golden eggs for them. If the Tamil leadership accepted any one of the political solution offered by “the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists” they would be dancing rings round the majority today. They would have had the “Sinhala state” in a corner from which they could not get out.
Any one of the solutions mentioned above would have tied down and imprisoned “the Sinhala state” with constitutional, legal and political constraints forcing it to concede more and more, particularly under increased international and Indian pressures later. In fact, they could have avoided Nandikadal and survived as victors. Prabhakaran would not only be living today but he would also be dictating terms to “the Sinhala state” and the international community with the manipulative pressures of his agents in the Tamil diaspora. On this historical record, the Sinhala-Buddhists can stand on any platform and proclaim proudly that they gave more than what the Tamils of Jaffna could have got from any other majority community and the Tamil leadership rejected them all. Purely on their record, the Sinhala-Buddhists have the right to say: Please don’t blame us for the crass stupidity of your insane Tamil leaders.
Responded with outright rejections
The Jaffna Tamils were given the best deals that any minority could hope for except separatism which was non-negotiable. Had they some common sense they could have pressured and bargained and even resorted to military action, as stated in the Vadukoddai Resolution, if they had pragmatically accepted, established and consolidated a regional autonomy granted in the various offers made by “the Sinhala state.” Accepting the offers could have established some borders, at least nominally with international and regional guarantees, for them to use as a stepping stone to the next level of Eelam. But the Tamil leadership responded with outright rejections or total violence which saved the Sinhalese. The Sinhalese have to thank Prabhakaran and the Vellahlas who backed him, with offers of flowers, for rejecting all that was offered to him. It was his stupidity that saved the Sinhalese. It is hard to find another minority who got so much from so many and lost everything, gaining nothing, because of Tamil arrogance, intransigence, stupidity and over-ambitious obsession with mono-ethnic extremism.
Leaders at every critical moment in their careers are faced with multiple choices and the choice they pick eventually determines their future and that of their people too. The choices they make can either take their people to the depths of despair or to the havens of their aspirations. The choices made by the extremist leaders of Jaffna invariably took them and their people to the nadir of despair. Even when they are offered the opportunities to liberate themselves from their oppressive past they intransigently choose the very path that took them back to their self-destructing past. They are like the ill-fated characters who came out of the pages of Camus’ story, The Guest. It presents a parallel that explains the tragic trek of the Tamils from Vadukoddai to Nandikadal — a path which they took out of their own free will.
Daru, the teacher in Algeria, is handed an Arab murderer, with instructions to deliver him to the Police station, in Tinguit. With great reluctance, Daru takes his prisoner down the plateau to a “level height” where the road forks. One goes south to freedom. The other goes east to Tinguit and prison. Instead of taking the prisoner to Tinguit Daru pauses and gives his prisoner 1000 francs and food and sets him free. To make sure that the prisoner takes the right road to freedom Daru “roughly” turned his prisoner in the direction of the south and goes up heading towards his school. On the way up Daru looks back only to find the prisoner walking slowly down the road to Tinguit.
Daru ‘s biggest shock was when he got back to school. The words chalked on board told him: “You handed over our brother. You will pay for this.”
The “Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist” of the south gave four chances to the Jaffna Tamils to get as close as possible to their separate state. But the Tamils rejected every offer and, on their own free will, took the road to Nandikadal. And now they threaten the south yelling: “You will pay for this.”
By H. L. D. Mahindapala