COLONISATION‑ISSUES & NON‑ISSUES
8.1 Early motivations
8.2 Tamil Reactions
8.3 The Flaw
8.4 The Current War
8.5 The LTTE and Tamil interests
The colonisation issue with its accumulated destructive inertia has become a major bugbear of SriLankan politics. The blind vigour with which the rival claims of Sinhalese and Tamil nationalisms were pursued have set in motion other phenomena which have further distorted the stated aims of the conflicting parties. The claim of Sinhalese nationalism in its extreme form held that the whole country is sacred to Buddhism and belonged to its vanguard, the Sinhalese. All other inhabitants of Ceylon were aliens who had to be subjugated, lest they exceed their rights as guests living at the sufferance of the Sinhalese. Whatever the original intentions of the colonisation programme, from its early times the aim that there should be no territory that could be called Tamil, became a part of its conscious agenda. The following excerpt from a speech attributed to Ceylons first Prime Minister, D.S.Senanayake, addressed to colonists in Padaviya, is self‑explanatory: Today you are brought here and given a plot of land. You have been uprooted from your village. You are like a piece of driftwood in the ocean; but remember that one day the whole country will look up to you. The final battle for the Sinhala people will be fought on the plains of Padaviya. You are men and women who will carry this islands destiny on your shoulders. Those who are attempting to divide this country will have to reckon with you. The country may forget you for a few years, but one day very soon they will look up to you as the last bastion of the Sinhala.
The excerpt quoted by M.H. Gunaratna was related to him by Davinda Senanayake, D.Ss grandson. The exactness of the quotation may be in question, as D.S. appears to be addressing modern sensibilities rather than ones current in his time. However, what his grandson understood of his motivations is significant. (The quotation is from p.201 of For a Sovereign State, by M.H.Gunaratna, Sarvodaya Publications).
Hidden below the violent rhetoric of this ideology was also a defensive aspect, talked about by apologists for the ideology. The Sinhalese Buddhist elite saw in neighbouring India, the vision of which was dominated by the large southern state of Tamil Nadu, a potential menace. they saw in Indian merchants in Colombo, Tamil government servants and other professionals in Sinhalese areas, and even in the hapless plantation labour of Indian origin, an alien conspiracy to disinherit the Sinhalese. As Sinhalese scholars have themselves written, the ideology appealed to different sections of Sinhalese at different levels. The Sinhalese elite who came from the merchant class felt threatened by competition from indian rivals who established themselves under the mobility provided by British Empire. The ire of Kandyan peasants who often lived in poverty at the edges of British owned estates, was directed against the ill treated labour from India. The lack of economic development, and a large number of young chasing limited government jobs, further exacerbated the growing communalism. If in a Sinhalese village, the station master, the medical practitioner and the post master happened to be Tamils, they would have appeared very powerful in the village context, while being of little importance overall. All these ingredients helped fuel myths that motivated the ideology. In the train of this massive emotional force, the land owning class in the South, the owners of large estates and those whose positions depended on these, found in colonisation of Tamil areas a ready means of obviating the natural demand for restructuring the agricultural economy of the South.
With developing trends in the world economy, the maintenance of large estates producing cash crops using necessarily poorly paid labour, was becoming outmoded, particularly when a large quantity of foreign exchange was spent on importing food. There was thus a need for a long term national policy to dismantle all except the adequately profitable estates, and transfer lands to food production by individual farmers. To the vested interests in the plantation economy, colonisation appeared a neat way out, which also tied up with the thrust of Sinhalese nationalism. It is no co‑incidence that many of the early Sinhalese colonists in Amparai were drawn from areas such as Welimada, Nuwara Eliya and Kegalle, where the plantation economy was dominant.
The former Mossad officer, Ostrovsky says on p.68 of his controversial book,By Way of Deception: The Sri Lankan government was worried about unrest among farmers.......so it wanted to split them up somewhat by moving them from one side of the island to the other. This is not something that Ostrovsky would have easily imagined. The theme was familiar to Israelis who were establishing para military colonies of Shepardim Jews on the Palestinian West Bank. We are not saying as alleged by Ostrovsky, that the Mahaveli project was a fraud designed to obtain large international loans for other than agricultural and developmental purposes. But the author of For a Sovereign State gives a detailed account of the Mahaveli Ministrys covert involvement in the Maduru Oya settlement, the extent of Israeli influence remains an open question.
Economic developments during the British colonial period saw the integration of Ceylon into an economic whole with a network of roads and railways. Consequently, people from all communities left their places of origin in search of economic opportunities. Many Tamils became established in the South. Likewise Sinhalese became established in the North‑East. In Jaffna itself, Sinhalese became renowned as carpenters and bakers. The Tamils had tended to look upon the whole country as places in which to live and work. The Tamil voters rejected the newly formed Federal Party in the 1952 elections. It was to be another two decades before its leader Chelvanayakam would be acclaimed a prophet. The incipient colonisation schemes were not taken seriously at that time. In contrast with 5 years later, there was an increasing demand in Jaffna schools for the teaching of Sinhalese as well as Sinhalese teachers.
It was the 1956 election campaign based on the Sinhala Only that gave the Federal Party its predicted legitimacy. The 1958 communal riots saw the first wave of mass exodus of Tamils from the South. With this, the concept of a Tamil Homeland which had not existed in 1952 had come of age. In its train came the concept of a Tamil Nation held together chiefly by the experience of common oppression.
This fruit of their own actions further incensed the Sinhalese ruling class. Government policy was now consciously directed towards breaking the concept of a Tamil nation through colonisation. In the course of reorganising the administration in the 1960s, the Eastern province became divided into three administrative districts ‑ Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Amparai. It is significant that although Tamils were in the majority in Trincomalee at that time, it has never had a Tamil Government Agent.
The adoption of separation as a slogan by Tamil nationalists and increasing involvement of the state in anti‑Tamil violence marked the spiralling escalation of the ideological conflict.
On the one hand while Tamils were in fact becoming weaker, those wielding state power started seeing Tamil conspiracies everywhere. M.H. Gunaratna, a planter who held an important position in the Mahaveli Ministry, describes in his For a Sovereign State, how Tamils holding government positions were viewed. State power was thus channelled into what were viewed as counter conspiracies against Tamils.
The Tamils on the other hand experienced the oppressive reality of state power from discrimination against Tamils in university admissions in 1972, subsequently heightened by the 1983 violence and its aftermath. By its clumsy handling, the state not only destroyed the economic and emotional foundations of one nation, but gave the notion of the Tamil Nation with a National Homeland a new moral legitimacy. What was worse, the notions adoption as a tool by India, gave it an invincibility.
The Tamil nationalists felt a powerful emotional drive to root the concept of the Tamil homeland in historical antiquity. They thus simplified the complex history of comings and goings of waves of diverse migrants over the centuries, the shifting boundaries of ancient kingdoms, and posited instead a Tamil kingdom which it was claimed had existed from ancient times. One of the main planks of the argument was that the early British colonial administration and several other colonial writers had regarded Ceylon to have been made of 3 distinct regions, two Sinhalese and one Tamil, the latter covering more or less the present North‑ East. Between Sinhalese and Tamil academics, there arose a partisan argument on this point, which had little relevance to a modern problem.
On the other hand the Tamil Left largely wanted the colonisation issue addressed from the perspective of the needs of the people concerned, than from that of historical abstraction. By the early 80s most of them were swallowed up by the rising nationalist tide ‑ many becoming ideologues for the nationalist cause.
The emotional needs of nationalism and its insistence on simple dogmatic historical assertion, resulted in a fatal trend. These needs also led to the destructive concepts of alien, intruder, purity etc. It placed the Muslims, although Tamil speaking, in an insecure position. There was also a new ambivalence towards Sinhalese, even when they had lived in the North‑East for generations and were integrated into local life.
Had the manner of colonisation by the state been challenged from a human rights standpoint, it would have united the Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese in the East. But the contradictions in the nationalist approach left it open to attack. By 1984, the state with its resources and manipulative ability, was in the business of fomenting Tamil‑Muslim enmity.
The current spate of barbarity against civilians is the logical outcome of the two contending nationalisms, where extremists with a similar mental outlook have gained ascendency on both sides.
It has been widely commented upon that the current war is also characterised far less by military ingenuity than by a series of massacres and counter massacres. The LTTEs provacative actions were meant as we have observed, not to protect Tamils, but rather to enhance its destructive capacity using the states barbarity. The manner in which the government forces have been used points to the same ideology at work with its accumulated inertia which needed no explicit planning.
During the week following the outbreak of hostilities on 11th June 1990, Tamils were attacked and expelled from Amparai town and the interior villages about the Gal Oya Scheme. Once the forces were in control, the next stage of expulsions took place in August. Muslim home guards were set up to attack the Tamil refugee camps at Veeramunai and Sorikalmumai. The Tamils were thus expelled from the next line of Tamil villages in Central Camp, to the eastern seaboard.
In the Trincomalee district, there is once again a situation where a draconian regime prevails. People are scared to talk about the disappeared. No one has dared to keep records. No young Tamils are living outside town. Those outside have fled as refugees to the North and to India. Any young person coming back is very likely to disappear.
Significantly, the army brigadier who was in charge of Trincomalee at the outbreak of war and enjoyed public confidence, was immediately replaced by Lucky Wijeratne. The latter was killed in a landmine explosion. The brigadier currently in charge of Trincomalee was previously in Mannar where about 9 persons arrested by the army in Talaimannar disappeared. This became a major issue as India and the UNHCR were preparing to use Mannar to receive refugees who had fled to Inda. The brigadiers talents were then considered better suited for Trincomalee.
The emerging pattern is broadly consistent with the agenda sketched out in For a Sovereign State. These people are so blind that they do not see recent history repeating itself. They are once more making a case for an Indian role.
The LTTE is now waging its war with recruits who are the product of tragic circumstances and deceit. They have no creative outlook or any perspective of the long term interests of Tamils. Their anti‑Sinhalese, anti‑Muslim or anti‑state gut feelings are simply used in a destructive orgy. Under such circumstances massacres come naturally. It is also the LTTEs experience that it is such conduct that the government will be responsive to. For it frustrates the government by exposing its inability to protect Sinhalese civilians. This brings about legitimacy for such actions, as many Tamils begin to argue that only such massacres press the government to think about a political solution.
But the resulting process cannot be so simple. It also sets in motion so many other corrosive trends. It certainly enhances the Sinhalese chauvinist position. The chauvinists would argue that they were always right about the Tamils being calculating, deceitful and evil intentioned, and that the only way to deal with them is to crush them. Unless a political party is very mature and farsighted, and able to rise above such a destructive tide, it will also be sucked in. We can see this in the SLFP. Last August it showed some signs of understanding the plight of ordinary Tamils. In its recent statements it is not thinking of the Tamils at all. It is rather playing the accustomed chauvinist card, calling for more support for the armed forces. The LTTEs actions thus cannot lead to a healthy political process. In the meantime its very destructiveness is eliminating the socio‑economic base for the Tamil struggle.
Very often Tamil intellectuals are harsh with Sinhalese human rights activists charging them of ineffectiveness, indifference and even communalism. Whatever the justification, in several concrete instances, groups that sincerely try to put forward the Tamil case to Sinhalese villagers are frustrated by actions inspired by Tamil chauvinism. The brother of a woman activist in Niedella was one of the victims of the LTTE massacre reported in Chapter 7. She, in her distress, exclaimed that she was not going to talk about understanding Tamils again. By destroying the possibility of human communication, it is Sinhalese chauvinism that is reinforced.
The LTTEs actions thus actually serve to distort the wishes of Tamils. From our extensive conversations with Easterners, they are not saying that they do not want Sinhalese living there. Nor are they saying that the agricultural potential of the East should not be developed. They have lived happily with Sinhalese and would welcome Sinhalese coming there and contributing to the economy under healthy conditions, in the normal course of events. What they are opposed to is ideologically motivated colonisation by the state backed by explicit and implicit violence.
The Tigers brutal massacres give the opposite impression that Sinhalese have no right to live in the East. This drives Sinhalese in turn to ignore Tamil fears and see the problem in terms of the simple question, If Tamils can live in the South, why should we be killed for living in the North‑East? The perceived unreasonableness of the Tamils once again enhances Sinhalese chauvinist ideology.
Whichever way one looks at it, we see that the only way to unfold this developing tragedy is to break the hold of politics based on Sinhalese and Tamil chauvinism, which are locked into each other.
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