Colombo, Identity, Long Reads, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Trincomalee

Mixed Messages and Bland Oversimplification in President Rajapaksa’s Independence Day Speech

In a significant act of outreach the Independence Day ceremonies were held in Trincomalee, a provincial city with a pronounced ethnic mix; while President Rajapaksa presented one part of his message in Tamil, repeating what he had said earlier (in English?) and then reiterating the same points in Sinhala. In keeping with the occasion and location, he referred to the Dutch and British interests in Trincomalee during the imperialist past as a prelude to his argument that Sri Lankans “have had to face continued challenges to protect the freedom and independence of our motherland.” In line with this emphasis, he also reminded the UN and the West of the obligations within the UN Charter which enjoin member nations to refrain from “interven[ing] in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

It is the latter emphasis which has attracted local newspaper headlines. However, to my mind what was more significant and heart-warming was his criticism of religious extremism: “Friends, …… if anyone is trying to build religious rivalry in Sri Lanka again, they do not serve their religion, but serve the interests of separatism in the country.”

But it was within this very core, this critical motif, that President Rajapaksa revealed a simpleton perspective, one residing within a majoritarian mindset, a perspective that will deepen the existing sense of unhappiness and political bitterness reposing in the hearts of many Sri Lankan Tamils.

As conjecture, let me assert here that many SL Tamils within Sri Lanka are alienated from the Sri Lankan state and its society. I am not referring to the TNA and to the grievance politics and extremist nit-picking that they and their cohorts often indulge in. I am guided in part by conversations with a few educated middle-class Tamils during a visit to Kilinochchi and Jaffna in November 2012. Two or three outspoken friends informed me that the vote for the TNA was more an anti-government vote than a positive sentiment in favour of the so-called Tamil leaders. I have no means of assessing this contention; or indicating whether this political stance extends to the labouring poor in Tamil society. But other snippets suggest that a range of Tamils are alienated by Douglas Devananda’s party politics as an agent-lackey of the government; while a lower-echelon Tamil employee at a NGO in Colombo as well as his trainee daughter indicated firmly that Tamils were subject to discrimination in the crush for employment. Whether their evaluation is valid is not the point. It existed as deep conviction based on life-experience.

As pertinent was the sharp comment essayed by one of my pals in the north, a man who had survived the furnace of war in the Vanni Pocket from January-May 2009 and one who was scathing in his castigation of Velupillai Pirapaharan from the explicit stance of a Tamil nationalist. Mahinda Rajapaksa, he said, was a Sinhala version of Pirapaharan.

I do not wholly agree.[i] But I mark his conviction on this issue and refer, together with so many other commentators, to the high-degree to which power in Sri Lanka is concentrated in the Presidency – both by constitutional decree and by creeping/expanding acts of political process.

It is on such grounds that I highlight the sense of deep alienation that resides within articulate segments of Tamil society even though I cannot provide any statistical proof in support of this claim.

Placed within this backdrop, we must heed other themes in President Rajapaksa’s Independence Day Address. His disapproval of those who instigate religious rivalry was followed immediately by this message: “Today in Colombo and the South the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslim people live together. In the East the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim people live together. The best example of this is Trincomalee. …. When the people live together in unity there are no racial or religious differences. Therefore, it is not practical for this country to be divided based on ethnicity. The solution is to live together in this country with equal rights for all communities.”[ii]

It is this cluster of views that has led local reporters such as Krishan Francis to the leading conclusion: President Rajapaksa had “ruled out giving Tamils greater political autonomy, appearing to back away from his long-stalled promise to empower the ethnic minority as part of the country’s reconciliation process following a bloody quarter-century civil war.”[iii]

To me, even more disturbing than the black-lined quotation in President Rajapaksa’s address was the contention on which it was grounded, the preceding sentence marked in red: “when the people live together in unity there are no racial or religious differences.” This quotation was taken from the official translation.[iv] Since then I have been told that the phrase in Sinhala runs thus: “jatheen samidanayen ekata jeevathwena kota, jathi agam bedha äthi wenne nä;” and that a more precise translation would run thus : “when nations/racial groups/peoples live together in unity, racial and religious schisms/divisions will not arise.”[v] Taken within the totality of his speech, the second translation does not alter the thrust of the President’s argument.

This is the hoary old stance voiced by Mahinda Rajapaksa in May 2009 as well. It is a bland and oversimplified position which contains within it a Sinhala mindset and which seeds majoritarian dominance in the sheep’s clothing of oneness. This is a viewpoint which enables the Sinhala PART to equate itself with the Lankan WHOLE.[vi]

During the course of an amiable chat at the Surf Club in Mount Lavinia one Sunday in October 2012, a Sinhalese lawyer told me that President Rajapaksa had missed a golden opportunity of appeasing the Tamils in mid-2009. He did not provide detailed elaboration because I immediately voiced my agreement. I knew what he was getting at and, unbeknown to him, had already expressed my criticisms of the victory speech presented on 19th May 2009 (Roberts, “Pillars,” 2009a).

On that occasion, too, President Rajapaksa had majestically dismissed ethnic identity as irrelevant (earning several plaudits in some liberal circles). This assertion was associated with an emphasis on the overwhelming importance of two categories of being in Sri Lanka: those patriotic (rata adhara karana aya) and those unpatriotic (rata adhara nokarana aya). Even a benign reading of this type of differentiation,[vii] I stressed then, was a world view riddled with pitfalls.

It is sociologically and politically unsound reasoning to dismiss the depth and vitality of communal/ethnic sentiment. My point has always been that many people BECOME Sri Lankan through being Sinhala or Burgher or Tamil or Malay or Muslim (Moor) or Colombo Chetty, et cetera; and also, conjointly, through being a Mahindian, Peterite, Anandian, et cetera; and a Baddegama woman, a Nikawaratiya man, a Kalmunai shopkeeper, et cetera. One’s sentiments are built over time by nourishment in place, school, occupation, and, as often as not, within some local ethnicized community and/or religious grouping. Political sentiments can be built as a pyramid. Being-ness can be pyramid-based.[viii]

On that occasion, moreover, President Rajapaksa’s emphasis on the overarching oneness of those patriotic – rata adhara karana aya — was immediately undermined on 22nd May 2009 when his speech at the celebration of war heroes referred to the jatika kodiya, sinha kodiya (national flag, Sinha flag) in the same breath. In this critical conceptualisation, a part of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese people, was equated with the whole of Lanka. This ideological act of merger was presented in a taken-for-granted manner, thus, insidiously and powerfully.[ix]

This line of thinking sets up a situation where the seemingly ecumenical stress on oneness and the refusal to recognise ethnic differentiation consolidates both the conventional and manipulative benefits of majoritarian dominance. Thus, seeming GOODNESS authorises demographic weightage and ignores persisting dissatisfaction among those disadvantaged.

Seeing the Independence Day Address this month, there is no reason for us to think that the ideological currents in the Rajapaksa circle have changed between 2009 and now. They are in the same utopian heights, apparently unable to recognise the manner in which the Sinhalese command of the WHOLE causes disquiet and blocks reconciliation. Thus, I suggest, the Rajapaksas continue to be blind to the cancer within their good intentions.

Appeasement without “traditional homelands”

The emphasis on the unity of the island and its people is a badge worn by the Rajapaksas and their supporters in explicit counter to “separatism” – whether on ethnic or religious grounds. It is hostile to provincial autonomy and devolution. That is why Krishan Francis draws the legitimate conclusion that President Rajapaksa “has stepped back from his long-stalled promise to empower the ethnic minority as part of the country’s reconciliation process.”

To avoid confusion let me make my position clear. I am not saying that the Government of Sri Lanka should cater to the idea of “traditional homelands” or merge the Eastern and Northern Provinces in some semi-autonomous provincial state. The defeat of the LTTE negates that project. What is more, we must strip away the convenient obfuscations that have accompanied the presentation of the idea of “traditional homelands” by Tamil spokesmen from its very inception. This requires some detailed history.

The first sustained exposition of the argument that the Tamils of Sri Lanka constituted a “nation” (or “nationality”) was by the Ceylon Communist Party in October 1944. Guided by Stalin’s famous pamphlet Marxism and the National and Colonial Question, they contended that Ceylon could not set up its impending future state as “a one nation unitary state.” They affirmed that the Sinhalese and Tamils were “two distinct nations.” In elaboration they asserted that the Tamils were a historically evolved nationality “with their own contiguous territory as their homeland, their own language, economic life culture and psychological make-up.”[x]

At present the link between this formulation and the eventual adoption of the vocabulary of traditional homelands by the Sri Lanka Tamil bourgeoisie of the 1940s and 1950s is an unchartered chapter in our history. All we know is that the concept of “traditional homelands” became a pillar of Tamil politics when SJV Chelvanayakam and others split from the Tamil Congress and it alliance with the UNP in 1949 in protest against the UNP’s disenfranchisement of the Indian Tamil peoples. As we know, Chelvanayakam and others established the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (the Tamil Rule Party[xi]) in 1949/51 – a force that was usually described as the “Federal Party” in English-speak.

The Federal Party claimed that it represented all the Tamil-speaking peoples in the island, thereby embracing those known as “Muslims” (i.e. the Moors) as well as the Indian Tamils. The Muslim leadership quickly challenged that gratuitous act of maximisation; while the relationship between the FP and the various political associations representing the Indian Tamils has been a variable and contentious domain which cannot be addressed here.

What concerns me is the concept of “traditional homelands” and its amplification. As often as not, in Tamil politics it has referred to areas where the SL Tamils have lived contiguously for centuries past and thence to the Northern and Eastern Provinces as they were finalised by the British administration in the late 19th century.[xii] This claim has been expressed with considerable dissimulation and obfuscation from the 1950s onwards. The obfuscation has worked a treat and we are now bedevilled by this impact.

Take the argument presented by Chelvanayakam’s son-in-law, the reputed scholar AJ Wilson in Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism (London, Hurst and Co., 2000). In line with the historical justification embodied in the term “traditional,” Wilson uses the work of Pathmanathan to assert that the “Tamils have lived in Sri Lanka from pre-Christian times” (2000: 14).[xiii]

While it is probable that Tamil speakers (whether Buddhist or Saivite) from southern India were the principal migrants in the middle centuries of the last millennium BC, there is no reason to think that they remained Tamil through the centuries that followed. The conjecture here is that they were becoming Sinhala and Buddhist from the third century BC. This surmise on my part develops from the following facets of history unearthed by specialists:

(a) There are a considerable number of inscriptions in a Brahmi script, usually on the drip-ledges of caves, presenting donations to the Sangha during the last three centuries BC;

(b) This script is ascribed by Geiger, Hettiaratchi and Gair to be the product of an ethno-linguistic grouping described as using “Sinhala Prakrit” or “Old Sinhala,” because it has a “mixed character [with] certain features peculiar to it” (Hettiaratchi 1959: 35) – that is, it had features that distinguish it from the Prakrits of the Middle Indo-Aryan type;[xiv]

(c) The geographical spread of these Brahmi inscriptions of the last three centuries BC over the settled parts of the island led Paranavitana to the conclusion that “the ancient Sinhalese had occupied practically the whole island” (1959: 83 & map fac. page 17).[xv]

(d) We know, too, that a strong chieftaincy centred on Anuradhapura existed from at least the second century BC.

Subsequently, we can conjecture that it was in Sinhala Prakrit that these peoples recorded their oral tales (including legends) in the Sihala-Aththa-Kata-Mahavamsa (date unknown), which thereafter seeded the famous Pali chronicles known as the Dipavamsa (4th century AD) and Mahavamsa (5th/6th century AD). Professor Hettiaratchi therefore speaks of a “Proto-Sinhalese period, lasting from about the fourth or fifth century A.C. to about the eighth century” – a “stage of transition when Sinhalese emerged from being a Prakrit” (1959: 35).

Located against this backdrop, Wilson’s previous assertion is compounded into a set of absurdities by a further claim: “From their heartland in the Jaffna Peninsula, where there was a dense concentration of population, the Sri Lanka Tamils fanned out from the earliest times to other parts of the island, penetrating the Northern Province and, from there, the Eastern Province” (2000: 14, emphasis added by me). This is a sweeping historical interpretation extending from around the 3rd century BC to the 17th and 19th centuries AD. There is little or no evidence to support such catholic claims.

Once we move beyond the ancient period (500 BC – 1232 AD) into medieval times what we do know is that a Tamil-kingdom known as Yalppanam was established in the Jaffna Peninsula from the 13th century, that the Sinhala-speakers in that locality became Tamil over time and that the power of this little state waxed and waned over the next 300 years till it was subdued by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. There was one moment in the late 13th century when its tributary link with a South Indian kingdom enabled it to invade the Kingdom of Kotte and yet another occasion in the 15th century when it was subdued by Kotte and rendered into a satellite tributary state for a short time.[xvi]

The Kingdom of Yalppanam did not reach that far into the Vanni, while the coastal littoral from north of Trincomalee to Panama was never, ever, under its overlordship. That stretch of eastern coast was part of the kingdoms of Kotte, Sitawaka and Kandy from the 14th to 19th centuries. Nowhere is the status of tributary subordination more evident than the descriptions of the relationships between the Tamil rajas of the Batticaloa region and their superior sovereign, the King of Kandy, in the Dutch accounts of the 17th century.[xvii] The political relationship of allegiance can be conceptualized as “tributary overlordship.”[xviii] It was a form of politics altogether different from the state systems that have been established in the world since 1789. As such, it provides no foundation for contemporary constitutional schemes or any Sinhala claims of a hegemonic character today.

The fact that the people of the eastern littoral owed allegiance to the King of Kandy in the 17th and 18th centuries does not mean that they were Sinhala-speakers. Mostly migrants from the Malabar and Coromandel of southern India, these Tamil, Mukkuvar and Muslim people intermingled with the Vadda and previous inhabitants to establish a Tamil-speaking matrilineal conglomeration of societies by the 18th century if not earlier, with little local chieftains paying homage to the King of Kandy and/or the Dutch.[xix]

In summary, then, there is little doubt that Tamil speakers occupied the eastern littoral – but only the littoral and not the jungle-clad hinterland – for several centuries before the British established their hold over Ceylon and proceeded to consolidate its unification during the 19th century through a modern communication system as well as the engines of market economy. This capsule history will indicate that contemporary protagonists can cut up the past in different ways and choose a convenient date to legitimise their claims in maximal terms, especially when they are addressing an ignorant audience.

For our purposes in contemporary times, however, we can set up a suitable background by fixing upon the first decades of the 20th century as our benchmark because that was when constitutional devolution began. At this point, say in 1911-21, we can mark five regions where there were Tamils in substantial numbers;

  1. The Jaffna Peninsula and the ‘adjunct’ localities of Mannar, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu to its south in what is the northern Vanni;
  2. The eastern coast stretching from Nilaveli to Panama in the south;
  3. The coastal strip from Mutwal to Puttalam which contained a polyglot population from the 13th/14th centuries, a region which was an entry-point for Parava, Mukkuva, Muslim and Tamil migrants from southern India who intermingled with the local Sinhalese. Eventually this coastal strip ended up with a substantial body of Catholics as well as bilingual Sinhala-Tamil speakers (an area where the powerful trend in the last 80 years has been towards Sinhalacization of the residents through weight of political process and number).[xx]
  4. The polyglot city of Colombo and its immediate environs which housed a considerable population of SL Tamils and Indian Tamils, besides Muslims and Burghers.
  5. The considerable body of recent migrants from southern India identified as “Indian Tamils” who had migrated in British times to work on the plantations, railways and public works and made up as much as 13.4 per cent of the island population and 16.2 per cent of Colombo city in 1921.

Without such a background one cannot usefully assess the force of political claims grounded on the concept “traditional.” By taking advantage of ignorance, sometimes among leading Sinhalese politicians, the Tamil spokesmen, including Wilson, have been able to capture the high ground with dubious claims. Let me illustrate.

We can begin with the most extreme Tamil claim presented by the LTTE, one that is derived from the principles guiding the notion of “traditional homelands.” Every LTTE map of Thamilalam includes not only the Northern and Eastern Provinces, but also the north western littoral down to Chilaw or thereabouts. This is a typical maximization of the type one associated with greedy nationalism the world over.




However, the seemingly sober political claims of the Federal Party from 1949/51 are those that are the most tendentious because they are insidiously maximal. The sustained historical span of time in which the eastern littoral was inhabited by Tamil-speakers enabled the Federal Party, the TULF and Tamil activists to slide from “contiguous occupation of the eastern lands” to the whole Eastern Province. That is, they utilised the long-standing residence along the coastal littoral to claim commanding semi-sovereign and exclusive rights to the whole of the Eastern Province.

The facts are otherwise. The Eastern Province carved out arbitrarily in British times has a considerable hinterland running north-south. The Eastern Province of 1832 was an enormous area, but it was reduced in size once the Central Province was boundaries were adjusted and the North Central and Uva Provinces were carved out in 1873 and 1886 respectively. In the mid-late 19th century – and thus obviously well before that date — this area was populated mostly by elephants and other jungle life, but contained a few purana (old and traditional) villages that were predominantly composed of Sinhala-speaking or Vadda Sinhala peoples or mixed lineages. In terms of land area this north-south segment of the Eastern Province accounts for perhaps 80% of its square mileage. Therefore, the simple equation mounted by numerous Tamil spokespersons – which rendered occupation of the coastal littoral as equivalent to the occupation of the totality of the Eastern Province — has been a large land grab. It was rendered feasible by the ignorance of Dudley Senanayake and other politicians till Gerald Peiris undertook a careful survey of the decennial census statistics from 1881-1921 and demonstrated in mid-1985 what anyone delving into nineteenth century history, say, by reading the accounts of his inland travels by Governor Henry Ward in his Volume of Minutes and Speeches,[xxi] would have told the world.

Gerald Peiris’s work (1985) was then embodied in a booklet published by Professor KM de Silva (1987). However, by that stage, the ignorance of the leading politicians and the External Affairs Ministry administrators had been further exploited by the political tsunami created by India’s forcible intervention in Lanka’s civil war. The negotiations leading to the Indo-Lanka Accord were conducted without this vital base of knowledge. In consequence one of its major provisions, the 13th Amendment, provided a statutory base for the idea of an “exclusive traditional Tamil homeland” that includes the entire Eastern Province.

The Peiris thesis, however, was known to some intellectuals. The Tamil heads of ICES (both of them scholars) commissioned a senior teacher in the Tamil stream of the Department of Geography at the University of Colombo to examine the basis of this argument. No publication followed. This means that there were no empirical holes which could be deployed to challenge the Peiris thesis (1985)[xxii] – a thesis that works explicitly within the limits of the census data and its classifications then in 1881 to 1921.[xxiii]

The Peiris thesis remains tucked away on dusty shelves. Tamil spokespersons continue to slide from claims to the “areas occupied by the Tamil-speakers” to the whole Eastern Province. They now deploy the 13th Amendment as one forceful justification and have support from some intellectuals who are far removed from the island’s historical complexities. Therefore, the Eastern Province tout court is treated as Tamil space (and is deemed implicitly to have always been a Tamil-majority space). A land-grab had been set in stone on the basis of spurious historical claims.

Where to NOW with the homelands and devolution

That the traditional homelands argument in Tamil hands has been a clever sleight of hand aimed at maximizing its land space in any scheme of devolution does not mean that we should discard the principle of devolution as a means of reconciliation. My contention is that there is no historical basis for uniting the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Given (1) demographic changes in recent times,[xxiv] (2) the mixed population of the Eastern Province today and (3) the demographic distribution indicated by the most recent census of 2011, pragmatic considerations heighten this argument. In my view, therefore, some special via media of devolution catering to the ethnic mix in the Eastern Province must be devised by some political-constitutional genius. The Eastern Province is a knotty issue requiring special treatment.

However, the thrust of this essay seeks to press the idea that some meaningful devolution for the Northern Province is a requisite for the appeasement of an embittered body of people (SL Tamils residing all over the island) who have been through tempestuous times since 1972. Some symbolic recognition of the horrors they have been through, some doubtless self-inflicted courtesy of the LTTE, must be advanced. Framed within this viewpoint, therefore, the government’s failure to hold the provincial elections for the Northern Province in 2011/12 was disquieting. Granted that the Provincial Councils are weak instruments, the reluctance to embrace even this symbolic measure speaks volumes. These doubts are now magnified by the President’s Independence Day Message. Taken together the two events highlight a serious political misjudgement.

It is a misjudgement that is all the greater because of the grounds on which devolution is pushed aside: “we are all one, there is no ethnic difference.” Such a seemingly benign viewpoint is not only socio-political nonsense; it is bereft of common sense. It also enables the Sinhala PART to act for the WHOLE of Lanka and ignores the sense of alienation reposing in the hearts of a considerable body of locally-resident Tamils. In other words, a lesson has NOT been learnt and the paths prescribed by the LLRC are made all that more difficult.

This argument does not pretend that setting up the PC for the Northern Province and some increase in the degree of devolution to the NP would be a panacea for ethnic relations; far from it. We all know that the existing PC system is an expensive failure. It is a failure because the financial powers available to the PCs are limited and because the whole system is piss-weak. The PC system has become an expensive engine of patronage and a means for the ruling parties to buy support via their patronage of local big-men (usually male).

The alternative proposal of a suite of District Councils, an idea which seems to be in favour in government circles, will be a puerile exercise if the DCs are vested with similar piss-weak powers as those available to the PC. An empowered and dynamic cluster of DCs would certainly be worth exploring, but that does not seem to be in mind: the purpose seems directed towards dispersing regional power in ways that would shackle the regional forces and increase layers of clients. It is a fob-off that will be seen as such by articulate Tamils with a stake in Sri Lanka – precisely the personnel whom Sri Lanka needs onside.

So the first requirement is a thorough going overhaul of the PC structure. The second concomitant measure would be to seriously address the possibility of asymmetric devolution that gives the NP somewhat greater rights than those available to the other provinces. These powers need not amount to autonomy; while one inalienable clause within the whole scheme should stipulate that secession is both unconstitutional and treasonable.

Such lines of political-constitutional reform are not the be-all and end-all of ethnic reconciliation. The Rajapaksa regime has embarked on a momentous expansion of the road, bridge and rail infrastructure in a manner that is producing many benefits. The country is being integrated physically in a manner that promotes market forces and sustains development. The market as a potential engine of integration is not to be laughed at.

Likewise, the continuation of the Chandrika government’s steps towards teaching Tamil in most schools is a symbolic step of some value. But such a paper-measure must be given teeth by a scheme of government employment that favours those Sinhalese, Malays, Burghers and others who are proficient in Tamil.

As vitally, innovative measures must be introduced to ensure that in every town of some consequence there is an official translation service that can be reached by mobile phone by either a civilian or a public servant whenever a civilian encounters difficulties in communication at a public office in the locality/district. Rohan Samarajiva has been advocating such a system for some time. It seems that petty jealousy from key personnel and/or bureaucratic inertia and/or a lack of political will has hindered the acceptance and implementation of such a scheme.

Political will, YES! We are back to the kernel of Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem. Constitutional and administrative measures will not ease ethnic relations until those with the advantage of demographic clout, namely, the Sinhalese people, learn to think of themselves as Sinhala and Lankan or Sinhala-Lanka. Where they consciously or unthinkingly equate the two categories of BEING, then, they undermine the “unity” that President Rajapaksa advocates. Where President Rajapaksa himself unthinkingly slides into the equation of the two categories of being, he himself undercuts his own project of Sri Lankan unity. One can be a good Sri Lankan, while yet being Sinhalese; or Tamil; or Muslim; or Malay; et cetera. True, one can be a good, humanist Sri Lankan without buying into any ethnic sub-category. But that high-flown humanist sentiment is only for the few, those cosmopolitan and well-read. In pragmatic terms it is far wiser to encourage good Sri Lankan-ness through responsiveness to ethnic being-ness. Among the Sinhala-speakers this must perforce contain a critical awareness: namely, that they are one part of Sri Lanka and not the equivalent of the whole (note Ockersz 2013).

The argument cuts the other way too. There must be a political will among the SL Tamil leaders and peoples as well. A total devotion to complaints and demands can alienate the Sinhala majority and, for that matter, Burghers, Malays, Muslims and Thuppahii (mixed parentage)[xxv] watching from the sidelines. “Demand, Demand,” Take, Take” and “Complain this, Complain that,” seems to be the tenor favoured by their spokespersons.[xxvi]

The SL Tamils must learn, or, one could say for some, “re-learn” the feelings of being “Lankan” and not just “Tamil.” Such sportsmen as Sathi Cooomaraswamy, Mano Ponniah and Gajan Pathmanathan in the past were indelibly Tamil and Lankan when they represented their country at cricket. Muralitharan has been passionately Tamil and Lankan in the recent past. The opportunity is there NOW for the Tamil people to embrace the development activities in the north-east. In stepping forth thus they may hopefully re-educate and reform those Sinhalayo who still inhabit the mentalities of the “1956 ideology.”


Abayasekara, Ann 2008 “Am I A Sinhalese first and A Sri Lankan after wards: An honest attempt to answer the question,” Island, 30 June 2008,

De Silva, C. R. 1987 Sri Lanka. A history, Delhi: Vikas Publishing.

De Silva, K. M. 1981 A history of Sri Lanka, Delhi: Oxford University Press.

De Silva, K. M. 1987 The “traditional homelands’ of the Tamils, Kandy: ICES. (revd edn. in 1995)

Federal Party 1951 The Case for a Federal Constitution for Ceylon: Resolutions passed at the First National Assembly of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi, Colombo.

Ferguson, Donald 1998 The earliest Dutch visits to Ceylon, Delhi: Educational Services.

Francis, Krishan 2013 “Sri Lanka ruler rules out autonomy for the Tamils,” Huffington Post, 5 February 2013,

Gair, James W. 1987 Sinhala and other South Asian languages, Ithaca, NY: OUP.

Hettiaratchi, D. E. 1959 “Languages of Ceylon: Sinhalese,” in History of Ceylon, Volume I: Part I, Colombo: Ceylon University Press, pp. 33- 41.

McGilvray, Dennis B. 2001 Tamil and muslim identities in the east, Colombo: Marga Monograph Series on A History of Ethnic Conflict,, No.. 24

Narayan Swamy, M. R. 2003 Inside an Elusive Mind. Prabhakaran, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Ockersz, Lynn 2013 “Nation-building: yet no takers,” Island, 12 February 2013,

Paranavitana, S. 1956 Sigiri graffiti being Sinhalese verses of the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956).

Paranavitana, S. 1959 [various chapters] in History of Ceylon, Volume I: Part I, Colombo: Ceylon University Press.

Pathmanathan, S. 1987 The Kingdom of Jaffna, Colombo: A.M. Rajendran, 1978.

Peiris, G. H. 1985 “An appraisal of the concept of a traditional homeland,” mimeo paper presented at the National Workshop on the Economic Dimensions of the ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka, ICES.

Peiris, G. H. 1991 “An appraisal of the concept of a traditional homeland,” Ethnic Studies Report 9: 13-39.

Peiris, G. H. 1994 “Irrigation, land distribution and ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka: an evaluation of criticisms, with special reference to the Mahaveli programme,” Ethnic Studies Report 12: 43-88.

Pipes. Richard 1957 The Formation of the Soviet Union. Communism and Nationalism, Harvard University Press.

Rajapaksa, Mahinda 2013 “Respect UN Charter provisions against threats to political independence of member states – President,” 4 February 2013,

Roberts, Michael 1978 “Ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and Sinhalese perspectives: barriers to accommodation,” Modern Asia Studies 12: 353-76.

Roberts, Michael 2004 Sinhala consciousness in the Kandyan period, 1590s to 1815, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Roberts, Michael 2009a “Some pillars for Lanka’s future,’ Frontline, 19 June 2009, 26: 24-27.

Roberts, Michael 2009b “Sinhala mindset,” 9 Dec. 2009,

Roberts, Michael 2010 “How does one BECOME Sinhalese or Tamil in Sentiment?” 24 March 2010,

Roberts, Michael 2012a “Mahinda Rajapaksa: Cakravarti Imagery and Populist Processes,” 28 January 2012,

Roberts, Michael 2012b “Inspirations: Hero Figures and Hitler in Young Pirapaharan’s Thinking,” 13 February 2012,

Stalin, J. V. 1942 Marxism and the national and colonial question, New York: International Publishers.

Wilson, A. J. 1994 S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism, London: Hurst and Company.

Wilson, A. J. 2000 Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism. Its origins and development in the 19th and 20th centuries, London: Hurst and Company.

[i] See Roberts, “Mahinda Rajapaksa,” 2012a; Roberts, “Young Pirapaharan’s thinking,” 2012c; and Narayan Swamy 2003.

[ii] See

[iii] Francis 2013.

[iv] Rajapaksa 2013 (the official translation). Note the complaints about translations and about-faces in –

[v] The word jati in Sinhala can be translated as ”kind,” “caste,” ‘race,” “ethnic group” or “nation.” In this particular context the last three meanings apply in overlapping ways. “ethnic” is not commonly deployed in Sri Lanka; but It is not insignificant that the official translation chose “racial” rather than “nation’ (or its equivalent, “nationality”).

[vi] See Roberts, “Pillars,” 2009a and 1978.

[vii] I grant that it is credible to place a harsher reading: rata adhara nokarana aya can be interpreted in the sense “un-American” and thus seen as a disparaging term that is equivalent to the image of a “traitor.”

[viii] See Ann Abayasekara, “Am I A Sinhalese first …” 2008 and Roberts, “How does one BECOME Sinhalese or Tamil in Sentiment?” 24 March 2010,

[ix] Just as it was in Anagarika Dharmapala’s thinking (Roberts 1978).

[x] See “CCP’s Resolutions and Memoranda and the CNC, Oct–November 1944,” Item 124 in Roberts (ed.), Documents of the Ceylon National Congress, Vol. III, Colombo, 1977, pp.2574–91 (emphasis added). The words here are virtually verbatim from Josef Stalin’s famous pamphlet Marxism and the national and colonial question (1942). Also see Pipes 1957.

[xi] The Tamil translation was provided by R. S. Perinpanayagam who added that “Arasan/rajan is the Tamil version of Raj which leads to Raja, Maharaja, Raj, etc.” significantly Wilson translates it as “Tamil Federal Freedom Party” in his biography of Chelvanayakam (1994: 8).

[xii] Note that the boundaries of the Northern and Eastern Provinces set out in 1832 were altered radically between then and 1886.

[xiii] Unlike me, Pathmanathan is a historian of ancient times, but his dissertation work concentrates on the medieval period so his authority for this ear is of a weak nature unless amplified by facts.

[xiv] Hettiaratchi (1959; 35) is guided in part by Geiger’s book, A dictionary of the Sinhalese; while James Gair says that the Prakrit Sinhala “appears to have retained the OIA (Old Indo Aryan) distinction between retro-flex and nonretroflex nasals longer than any other IA[Indo-Aryan] language” (1987).

[xv] I stress here that in 1959 Paranavitana had not moved yet to the lunatic phase of his interpretations. Also see Paranavitana, Sigiri graffiti, 1956.

[xvi] CR de Silva 1987: 91-101.

[xvii] See Ferguson 1998 and Roberts 2004: 70-84, espec. 75, 81.

[xviii] Roberts 2004: 57, 59-63 & 75-87.

[xix] Note Dennis McGilvray’s brief description of “Batticaloa as a cultural region” in his pamphlet (2001). Among other things, he notes that the “population was largely Tamil-speaking except for some Sinhalese and Veddah villages to the west and south” (2001: 2).

[xx] Bishop Edmund Peiris’s decision to change the language of instruction in the catholic schools from Tamil to Sinhala is said to have been one factor assisting this process.

[xxi] It is hardly surprising that few have done so because this large document which includes accounts of Ward’s travels in the eastern regions in the mid-19th century is a rare collection (Peradeniya University library being one location). I read it as part of my dissertation work in the 1960s. BH Farmer is another rare bird who read it. My knowledge of this dry zone hinterland was subsequently expanded by the researches that went into the making of Sinhala consciousness (2004).

[xxii] Also see Peiris 1991 and 1994 and KM de Silva 1987.

[xxiii] Gerald Peiris has stressed this caveat in conversations with me over the years.

[xxiv] If the writings and claims of such administrators as Adrian Wijemanne and Devanesan Nesiah have justification (and they seem to in my impressions), then, admittedly there was some gerrymandering in demographic weightage through state-sponsored colonisation schemes during the third quarter of the 20th century (but note, Peiris 1994). They cannot be undone just as much as the demographic shifts generated by the LTTE and/or the civil war cannot be wholly undone. One must address the present situation on the ground.

[xxv] I wager that the proportion of individuals of mixed parentage (one generation) would be as significant as, say, those identified as “SL Tamil” or “Muslim.” Alas, the patrilineal principle has been enshrined in the census from ancient’ British times. No one ahs cut the Gordian knot and allowed for “Mixed” –with suitable sub-categories of mix, in the census criteria.

[xxvi] Suresh Premachandran is a classic example. See also “a statement: Commission for Justice and Peace of the Diocese of Jaffna, Sri Lanka,” 10 January 2013, /a-statement-commission-for-justice-and-peace-of-the-catholic-diocese-of-jaffna/.


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