Save history from political evils
By H. L. D. Mahindapala
One of the imperatives that drives the Tamil separatist lobby is the yearning to be on the side of history that makes them look and sound great. They need this appearance of greatness most of all to sustain their claim for a separate state — their modern political agenda. Without this feeling of greatness they feel inadequate because they are overwhelmed by the monumental history of the Sinhala-Buddhists who were the makers of history as revealed in Sinhala art, (see Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy’s classic on Medieval Sinhala Art), architecture, language, hydraulic engineering, culture and civilisation. In the absence of comparable historical achievements the Tamil ideologues labour indefatigably to fill the vacuum with either scraps picked up from here and there, or imaginative creations of their own.
Challenging or denigrating the present and the past of the Sinhalese has been a part of the Tamil separatist/federalist strategy. Citing questionable historical records they claim a greatness superior to that of the Sinhalese and the other communities, including the Tamils of Batticoloa and the Indian Tamils in the estates whom they deride as coolies, to prove that they are entitled to an equal share of power with the Sinhalese and two thirds of the littoral strip and its hinterland. Underlying their demand for a separate/federal state is their belief that they are a cut above the rest of the nation. This is a noted characteristic of the Saivite Jaffna Vellalas (SJVs) who despise their own peninsular Tamils categorised as the pariahs, the outcasts.
Ever since the Dutch officially enthroned the SJVs on the top of the caste hierarchy, by legalising the higher status of the SJVs in the Thesawalamai (1707), they had taken the upper hand to pursue arrogant and intransigent politics in the peninsula. Their demand for a separate state too is based on the political arrogance of the English-speaking.SJVs who were anointed in the 19th century as God’s chosen people by their revered Saivite guru, Arumuka Navalar, a caste fanatic. The SJVs are also aware that they cannot claim greatness in the present to claim a separate/federal state without an impressive greatness attained in the past. So creating a past that makes them look great, at least in their own eyes, is an indispensible necessity. Consequently, one of the biggest industries of the Tamil ideologues has been to rush into the past to dig up any skeleton on which they can put some lipstick to make it look attractive and great. In other words, their mission has been to politicise history to serve their present agenda. of separatism/federalism. But they can’t go far into the past because history belongs to those who make it and not to those who claim it noisily with spurious and distorted versions of history.
Besides, history does not come out of thin air. History consists of the material conditions created by the labour of the pioneers who transformed the virgin land for habitation. Clearly, anyone claiming a superior right to own territory must prove that they were the pioneers who created the material conditions for the making of history in Sri Lanka. So what does the available evidence reveal about the original makers of history – the founding fathers who sowed the seeds for a brand new civilisation that was comparable to any other great civilisation of ancient or medieval times? What is relevant to this discourse is the unbroken flow of mainstream history that informed, influenced and determined the identity and the destiny of the nation as it evolved from the dim distant past to this day. As far as it is known, there is only one mainstream that maintained an unbroken continuity determining the overall shape and form of the nation and that is the history of the Sinhala-Buddhists. Others were minor tributaries that flowed into the mainstream.
The Indo-Aryan settlers of the pre-Christian era (Mahavamsa says they were the ”Sihalas” – VII:42)) were the only known pioneers who tamed the virgin land and prepared the ground for the rise and growth of one of the unique civilisations of the ancient and medieval worlds. With their advanced technology and their creative political skills they gave the world a new language, new culture and a new civilisation. This achievement reduces the other competing cultures of minorities, however great they may believe theirs to be, to a lower tier in the grand scales of history. The legacy they left behind makes them the founding fathers of a new nation with a distinct identity. All other migrants were mere imitators who were quite content to live in the comfort zones of the cultures they brought with them. They were basking in the glories of feathers borrowed from S. India. Their imitative contributions were no match to the creative genius of the Indo-Aryans who came to be known as the Sinhalese.
From the time the Indo-Aryans stepped ashore they established an affinity, a lasting bond, with the land. They were drawn to the land instinctively as the land in which they would write their destiny. They knew that that the boats they came will be tied permanently to the shores of new land and never be used to take them back — not even for a brief visit. They had no yearnings, nor ambitions of going back to the womb from which they came. They were permanent settlers determined to make their stay memorable and worthwhile by making their brand of history that would add to their glory in the annals of time. And as they made history in their ingenious and creative ways, history in turn would make them the supreme custodians of the land.
No one had a better right to ownership of the land as the creative custodians of the land who made history. Their commitment to the land as protective custodians is written in blood by defending the land against those who came to destroy their history. They embraced those who came to join hands with them in their endeavours to make history collectively. They were equally ruthless with those who came to destroy the history they were making. The over-determining forces of creative history, intertwining with the pioneers who were minting a new history, came together and worked jointly as inseparable and symbiotic twins, feeding each other.
Nobody has a better claim to the land than those who made history in it. After all the greatest achievement of man is in making history and though history belongs to all mankind – the Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays etc — those who made history in Sri Lanka as the founders, namely, the Sinhala-Buddhists, have a special right to claim what they made, protected and preserved as their heritage. No other community has the unique record of protecting the national values and its history as the Sinhala-Buddhists. They remained as the prime guardians/custodians of the nation by protecting it against the destructive forces of external and internal enemies.
Since the Indo-Aryans have been the makers of history for others to come and share, co-existing peacefully in the historical/political space of their unique civilisation, they have the right, like all the other makers of history in other nations, to call it their exclusive and foremost homeland. They own the foremost right because they were the first to pave the path for others to follow. The “others” grew in the shadow of the pioneers. As the creative custodians who laid the foundations for the birth, rise and growth of the nation they have the right to be the owners of the territory because others have not been in the forefront consistently to protect or guarantee the legacy/history they have inherited from their founding fathers. The legatees have the right of the first call because the others cannot match their contributions with that of the pioneering makers of history.
This, however, does not confer an exclusive right to exclude the “other”. In owning the foremost right the makers of history must necessarily give the “other”, who came later into history, their due rights as minorities. It should be noted that one of the hallmarks of the Sinhala-Buddhist civilisation throughout known history has been the protection and space given to the minorities to live and breathe freely with dignity. The Catholics persecuted by the Protestant Dutch were given protection in Wahakotte in Matale by the Kandyan kings. The Muslims persecuted by the Dutch and Prabhakaran were also given safe havens by the Sinhala-Buddhists. Despite the sporadic infirmities and insanities that threatened the minorities, it is not possible to deny that the Tamils ever experienced, in their entire history, including the 33- year-rule of the North under Velupillai Prabhakaran, equality and liberty and dignity as known to them in the 70 years of Independence, which they describe as the reign of “Sinhala governments”.
In the absence of a credible history to back their claims for a separate state the Tamil ideologues have laboured tirelessly to (1) demonise and denigrate the recorded Sinhala-Buddhists history, and, simultaneously (2) engage in elevating the Tamil history by inventing a new reality that never existed in the known past, as seen in the Vadukoddai Resolution – the Bible of the Tamil separatists. The separatist lobby was desperately in need of a past that glorified Tamil history. Their political agenda was, primarily,, to acquire power and territory and they needed a history that confirmed their claim of being equal with the Sinhala-Buddhists from “the dawn of time”. They were desperately seeking to convince themselves and the others that they had shared power with the Sinhalese from “the dawn of time” – a line they threw into the Vadukoddai Resolution to justify their claim for a separate state. This claim is not confirmed by the Tamil historians who agree that the Tamils settled down as permanent settlers in the Northern strip only in the 12th-13th centuries. But the separatist ideologues did not want to spoil their fiction with the historical truths. Consequently, their political strategy has been to denigrate the monumental records of Sinhala-Buddhist history and glorify a Tamil past that exists only in their imagination.
This aspect needs to be explored at length in another chapter. However, looking back, it is clear that the Tamils of Jaffna have nothing comparable to that of the unique Sinhala-Buddhist civilisation and culture. Their claim to a statehood in an island that was tamed, cultured and developed by the Indo-Aryan settlers (“Sihalas”) lacks the substance and the essence of a valid history to be equal with the pioneers who made history. The Indo-Aryans dominated the classical period exclusively when they defeated and drove out the Tamil invaders. Their supremacy was imprinted indelibly in stone, sand and sea. Chinese records state that the Sinhala kings built the tallest ships of the time to export elephants. For all intents and purposes, the history, the legacy, the legitimacy derived from the history and the glory belongs to those who made history – i.e,, the Sinhala-Buddhists.
There are many teams that play in the fields of history. Problems arise mainly when the B team and C team decide to challenge the A team and dethrone them from their primary role of being the original source which nurtured historical growth to be shared as a common good for all.
The overall pattern is clear : Nandikadal confirmed that new Dutugemunus will rise to repeat Vijithapura all over again. Nandikadal is also the latest instance that proves history has always been on the side of the Sinhalese at critical times. History has posed serious challenges to the makers of history from time to time but in the end it has always come round to rescue those who made history, i.e., the Sinhalese. The tragedy of contemporary politics has been in the futile attempt to reverse this history. After Nandikadal the next deceitful attempt to rewrite and reverse history is visible clearly in the draft of the new Constitution-makers. Among other things, it is an insidious attempt to deny the legatees of the pioneering makers of history their legacy, their territory and sometimes even their memory. “The ill-conceived educational policies of the UF government (1970 -1977),” wrote Prof. S. Pathmanathan, “eliminated, almost entirely, the study of history at schools.” (p. xi – Facets of Sri Lankan History and Culture, Kumaran Book House, 2015).
Every age is confronted with old ghosts of history surfacing like Hamlet’s father to haunt the living. Dangers lurk in every nook and corner. The latest is the so-called Constitution-makers hoping to draw up a new social contract to appease the mytho-maniacs who are bent on writing their version of history belittling and denigrating the legatees of the “Sihalas”. Their aim is to dismantle the entire historical edifice, built over millennia, and replace it with narrow compartments, dividing the territory with powers to separate the goats from the sheep. The current danger is in the hidden characteristics of the enemy : these wolves have successfully disguised themselves as benevolent sheep. They first sell our family silver. Then they move on to sell our legacy. Then our dignity. Then our history. This enemy is within us.
Beware of the enemy sitting next to you!