SLAAS: Stoking fires of separatism
A few months ago, the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) with its total membership of approximately 50,000 professionals issued a unanimous statement rejecting the 13th Amendment (the 13th A). The 13th A, we should recall was imposed on Sri Lanka by Indian gunboats and the threat of an invasion.
It created a non-existent exclusive traditional Tamil Homeland in the Northern and Eastern provinces which were only demarcated for their own colonial purposes by the British in the 20th century.
There was massive resistance in the country against the 13th A, but the ruling government yielded to Indian military threats. Previously the OPA had done a study on the working of the 13th A and found it to be most inefficient and a waste of national resources. I have been involved with the OPA several times including as an invited speaker.
Another organisation I have been actively involved is the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS)which I led in 1986 as its youngest General President. Usually in an organisation, members especially those who have taken a leading role like myself should deal with its internal matters within the organisation itself. But not when the larger issues of the sovereignty of the country are at stake.
I am writing this article knowingly to bring to the notice of the country, the government (which funds the SLAAS) and the defence authorities of an amendment to the SLAAS Constitution which will help stoke again the fires of separatism which started in the early 1970s. This is an attempt to grant provincial autonomy to new proposed branches of the SLAAS which will also have the power to raise funds.
Now on surface, this would sound harmless as other organisations such as the SLMA Sri Lanka Medical Association have branches. But given the history of distortion and falsification of facts by pro-LTTE elements within the Jaffna academic community, huge questions relating to the country’s sovereignty is raised in having a branch of an academic organisation.
This has especially become central because the annual sessions of the SLAAS last December was to be held in Jaffna University, but was postponed due to separatist incidents there.
Jaffna University students had begun commemorating the death of LTTE supporters in the war and were arrested by defence authorities. There was even an uninformed academic who wrote to a newspaper saying that the students had a right to remember their LTTE fallen. Another academic, like me, a former General President of the SLAAS wrote blaming the defence authorities. But all these are uninformed opinions which go against well-known precautionary practice in the West in the case of the only Western parallel to the LTTE, namely the organisations of Hitler and Mussolini. We must learn from history and from examples of these other countries.
The Nazis had brainwashed the entire German population on its racist ideology, demanded special exclusive areas (Lebensraum) parallel to the invented Tamil traditional homelands and mastered their signature salute which the LTTE copied. After World War II, there was thus a period of denazification imposed by the winning allies covering the whole gamut of German society which had been tainted by the Nazi virus.
There was unanimous recognition that a military defeat alone would not be sufficient to get rid of the falsehoods and racist ideology which fed the Nazis. This meant no commemoration of any Nazi events and wholesale banning of all Nazi ideological elements and literature. Nearly 70 years after the end of World War II, some of these bans still remain.
The LTTE ideology was parallel to that of the Nazis and is not to be confused with other armed uprisings without a Nazi type orientation. The prevention of LTTE ideology re-emerging including through the arrest of potential sympathisers as in the University has thus strong international legitimacy.
This precaution increases when one remembers what was done in Jaffna University when the area was under the LTTE. Let me refer to the 1917 expedition by Paul Pieris and Rasanayagam of the Royal Asiatic Society RASSL (of which I am currently the President).
Their most extensive finds were Sinhalese Buddhist artefacts, some with Sinhalese inscriptions identical to similar findings elsewhere in the country. The sites they explored corresponded to descriptions in the Sinhalese text Nam Potha such as Kadurugoda, Hunugama. Weligama. These RASSL finds became the core of the Jaffna Museum. During LTTE rule, unknown to the Archaeology Department under whom the museum comes, the constituents of this collection was renamed by Jaffna academics as belonging to a spurious invented “Tamil Buddhism”, separate from the rest of Sri Lanka. This was a total fabrication similar to the fabrication of an exclusive Tamil traditional homeland.
After the final defeat of the LTTE, formal archaeology based on scientific principles was again begun in the Northern and Eastern Provinces by the Archaeology Department, some in association with Western academics. The reaction of Jaffna academics at this attempt on real archaeology is very revealing in that they were afraid of scientific archaeology exposing the artificial history that they had developed. The best source is the LTTE organ TamilNet.
Opposing this scientific archaeology, TamilNet wrote “Ancient remains of Buddhism in Tamil land are not a cultural property of today’s genocidal Sinhala-Buddhism… The signboards in the archaeological site give a Sinhala name Kadurugoda for the site. … The Archaeology Department has also translated the name Chunnaakam of the nearby town, from Tamil into Sinhala Hunugama, even though the latter was never in usage”.
Kadurugoda and Hunugama incidentally were the Sinhalese names found in the Nam Potha and written about by Rasanayagam (the author of Ancient Jaffna) in 1917. When describing the RASSL 1917 Buddhist finds, TamilNet mischievously states “It was a significantly different form of Buddhism that was practiced in the North of Sri Lanka than was practiced elsewhere throughout the island.”
Quoting named and unnamed Jaffna University academics, the LTTE site TamilNet makes it obvious that like the Nazis earlier, they are not interested in facts or science. Let me quote from these LTTE sources.
“N/E archaeology should be less ‘a priority than restoring sovereignty of Eezham (Eelam)Tamils.” “Unless Tamils … are vested with sovereignty heritage studies .., are meaningless and dangerous to the people concerned, a Jaffna academic said”. “Why should Archaeology Department conduct excavation, it is [not] the utmost priority now, asked a senior academic in Jaffna.”
“Sri Lanka conceives archaeology as a weapon of structural genocide in the island”. There is “much resentment in Jaffna over priority given to archaeology…academic circles in Jaffna commented”. That “the North and East of the island of Sri Lanka should first be subjected to ‘archaeological’ investigation … before its ‘resettlement’, is a demand for the cultural genocide of Eezham Tamils … Eezham Tamil nationalism is a necessary reality”.
“Ever heard of ‘archaeology’ being first priority in a conquered territory… writes an academic from Jaffna on Colombo’s heritage genocide. Colombo’s use of archaeology against Tamils is not new….” “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?” “This is a heritage genocide.”
Separatism is very much on the agenda still among some academics in Jaffna as in TamilNet reports. Most revealing are the remarks of Prof. Sitrampalam once UGC member and once Senior Professor of Archaeology of Jaffna University.
He states bluntly “What was refused to Pirapaharan cannot be given to others is the position of Mahinda Rajapaksa. But the demand of Pirapaharan, was also the demand of Chelvanayakam and others even before”. This same gentleman Dr. S.K. Sitrampalam, who is also the Vice President of Ilankai Thamizh Arasuk Katchi (ITAK), the main constituent of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) further states that “the Mullivaaykkaal (LTTE) war was like Kurukshetra (the war of the Mahabharata epic) and Tamils should never forget it”.
If there was any doubt that Sitrampalam and some other Jaffna academics are LTTE mouthpieces such statements confirm it.
Let me give one more example. At the time of LTTE control in the Eastern Province, the Kanniyaa Hot Wells were run by the LTTE who issued tickets with their snarling Tiger emblem to those who wanted to bathe there. But after the LTTE was defeated, the LTTE ideology still remained in some quarters. TamilNet complained “The Government Agent (GA)of Trincomalee … stopped the Trincomalee Pradeshiya Sabha from maintaining the Kanniyaa Hot Wells stating that it belongs to the Department of Archaeology.”
The LTTE had put up a huge billboard claiming that the site was built by the mythical Tamil king Ravana, and TamilNet complained “The GA also directed his men to remove the name board put up by the Pradeshiya Sabha stating that the ancient King Raavanan(Ravana) founded the hot wells”. TamilNet complained further that “The GA told that the name board put by the PS had given ‘wrong historical information’ … and directed the Trincomalee PS to stop collecting money from the public for maintaining the hot wells … as the PS has no legal status except the Department of Archaeology….. (and that) “some Buddhist priests, claimed that the bricks found at the site belonged to Anuradhapura period”. But eventually, during the last couple of years, the Archaeology Department did begin excavating the site and found it to be that of a Buddhist Stupa.
The academic position among certain Jaffna academics is indicated by these following final remarks:”If the intention is the preservation of cultural heritage, the best way to do it is recognising the territoriality of Eezham Tamils in their homeland”. And “Why should monuments built by Tamils … remembering their struggle be destroyed, asks an academic in Jaffna, responding to the destruction of the memorial for Thileepan [LTTE] who fasted unto death”. There is no doubt that if left to themselves, some academics in Jaffna would convert academia into a pro-LTTE effort.
In opposing scientific archaeology, Jaffna academics quoted by the TamilNet includes also Western governments as accomplices.
“Sri Lankan state is not the only culprit to this cultural genocide… All countries that have been giving funds, training and scholarships to Sri Lanka and the UN agencies have to be equally indicted….Western donors are funding Colombo’s cultural monster … 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 Tamil homeland, …Western academic and cultural institutions have a responsible role to play in influencing their governments against abetting cultural genocide.”
Clearly, there is among certain sections of Jaffna academics remnants of a strong LTTE ideology and opposition to scientific work in the field of history and archaeology. The Archaeology Department however did revive their work after the LTTE’s defeat and found large-scale remnants of Sinhala Buddhist remains all over the Northern and Eastern Provinces. These were publicly shown a few months ago by the Archaeology Department at the Royal Asiatic Society.
LTTE propaganda and false information is found in publications all over the world. When over 10 years ago, I had won a prize for a paper at the World Futures Federation sessions in Finland, I was asked later at dinner why Sinhalese Buddhists ate Tamil meat. I traced this to a book published by the TULF on whose politbureau was that alleged “moderate” Neelan Thiruchelvam which book mentioned that Colombo butchers were selling Tamil meat. Alarmed, I thought we should have in Sri Lanka a conference to discuss all published material from all ethnicities on the ethnic issue.
I rejoined the Section F committee of the SLAAS dealing with social sciences and helped them organise a three day conference on the ethnic issue. We did not ask for new papers but having surveyed all the already published literature, we asked the authors to present them in an open milieu for discussion. During this meeting, most of those who had written falsities were exposed while those who had written the vilest did not attend. But unfortunately, institutional memory in some organisations is rather limited.
In the SLAAS itself, the majority who do good work are those from the natural and allied sciences who would not be aware of the false propaganda that had been done on Sri Lanka and especially through some current academics still serving in Jaffna.
If it was a well-informed community like those that banned Nazi propaganda, the present resolution to give provincial autonomy to the SLAAS including ability to raise funds would not have been presented. I’m sure it was done in good faith, but without knowledge of the implications.
If scientific work was limited to say study of the geology or the natural fauna of Jaffna, then such a provincial resolution would not be a danger. But not in the case of social sciences, where we have ample proof of Jaffna academics falsifying facts in their search for a racist LTTE homeland.
The SLAAS annual sessions last December could not be held in Jaffna but were held in Colombo. When this particular resolution came up at the Annual General Meeting, I objected but I do not believe that the enormity of the step been proposed did sink in.
As few others objected the Annual Meeting postponed a decision to be taken later which comes in a few days’ time on January 24. I do hope that our SLAAS colleagues would not fall into a future trap of sponsoring separatism through the LTTE propagandists not interested in scientific facts still existing among some members of the Jaffna, academic community.
When I was General President in 1986 the President of Section C (the one covering engineering subjects) was Prof. Thurairajah. Years later in discussions with him and others, the University Teachers for Human Rights UTHR was formed, some of the discussions taking place at my house and my wife a University academic becoming a founding secretary of UTHR. Later to my great disappointment I found that Prof Thurairajahwas a key consultant to the LTTE on engineering and construction matters. Over two decades ago I fielded at the SLAAS a lecture by one Peter Schalk who later turned out to be the major ideologue for the LTTE in the Western world.
Prof Peter Schalk had also falsely claimed to his Swedish authorities that he was affiliated to the SLAAS which he was not and his own Uppsala academic authorities wrote to us as they inquired into some misdeed by this Schalk.
That query and the SLAAS reply did not deter Peter Schalk. He set up a separate link with Jaffna University and created a nexus.