Opinion: A reply to CV Wigneswaran’s attack on G. L. Peiris – Part 1
BY H.L.D. MAHINDAPALA
C.V. Wigneswaran, the former Supreme Court judge, is the odd man out in Tamil politics. The main characteristic that separates him from his rival Tamil politicians is his chronic tendency to belittle and/or demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists consistently in a desperate bid to elevate Tamil culture and history to a superior status – a corrosive and deceitful tactic which is detrimental to reconciliation, peace and communal harmony.
In the absence of a progressive, or constructive political agenda (as Chief Minister he failed to contribute anything substantial to change the conditions of the Northern Province), he pursues opportunistic politics based essentially on provocative racist attacks on the Sinhala-Buddhists. His notable contribution to Tamil politics as Chief Minister was to pass a resolution denigrating the Sinhala-Buddhist leaders.
Demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists has been his key tool to score points over his Tamil rivals. This is the card he plays to convince the Tamil electorate that he is superior to his Tamil rivals in combatting the Sinhala-Buddhists whom he portrays as the enemy of the Tamils. His relentless racist attacks are aimed primarily at proving that, after Velupillai Prabhakaran, he is the next best bet to confront the Sinhala-Buddhists, the enemy. So, he acts as Prabhakaran’s doppelganger bent on continuing the ethnic war against the South ceaselessly.
Pseudo historical claims
If Prabhakaran who led the most powerful militarised force of the Tamils mobilised within Sri Lanka ended up as a miserable failure in Nandikadal, what can the cheap racist rants of Wigneswaran deliver to the Tamil people? Nevertheless, he takes every opportunity that comes his way to devalue the historical and cultural achievements of the Sinhala-Buddhists mostly with pseudo historical claims and theoretical yarns.
His latest attack on Prof. G. L. Peiris’s speech delivered in Bologna, Italy, (Colombo Telegraph, 20/9/21) is the latest anti-Sinhala-Buddhist diatribe fired by him. Resorting to his habitual anti-Sinhala-Buddhist accusations, he asks, inter alia, whether the Sinhalese can face their past. Like all communities in Sri Lanka, the Sinhala-Buddhists have their share of guilt, no doubt, in exacerbating inter-ethnic relations. But before raising the calumnies against the Sinhala-Buddhists, he must first ask whether he can face his own past as a Tamil who had lived with the Sinhalese and benefited amply from it, without any discrimination.
His case stands out as a success story of Sinhala-Tamil relations. It indicates the possibilities available for the future when the Tamils join the Sinhalese for the good of each other. His personal history runs parallel with that of the Tamil community: both (Tamil community and Wigneswaran) have lived with the Sinhalese and benefited from that historical experience.
The histories of both prove that the best periods in their lives were never greater than the time they spent with the Sinhalese. For instance, what were his chances of being an independent judge in Prabhakaran’s one-man quasi-state, with freedom to uphold the basic principles of law that govern civilised societies? Could he have survived in Prabhakaran’s Eelam if he gave a dissenting judgment that went against the interests of the Tamil Pol Pot? The Tamils suffered mostly under the Tamil leadership. Historical evidence confirms this (more of this later) though the likes of Wigneswaran find it embarrassing to acknowledge it.
What he and his anti-Sinhala-Buddhist clones refuse to accept is that the crimes committed by the Tamils against the fellow-Tamils throughout their history far exceeds the crimes committed even by the Portuguese, the cruelest of foreign invaders, who went all out to destroy the Hindu culture in Jaffna in the 17th century. Neither the Sinhala nor the Muslim leaders had exercised their political power to oppress and inflict so much of pain and suffering on their respective communities as the Tamil leadership, right up to the time of Prabhakaran.
The culture of subhuman political violence began with Sankili marching down to Mannar on the Christmas eve of 1544 and massacring 600 Tamil Catholics. He chopped their heads off because they owed allegiance to the King of Portugal and not to him. The intolerant cult of Tamils oppressing and killing Tamils became the norm in Tamil politics after Sankili.
It was revived and continued with vigour by Velupillai Prabhakaran. He became the 20th century avatar of the Sankili cult. He slaughtered every Tamil leader who had contributed to the Tamil cause more than he ever did. For instance, Neelan Tiruchelvam raised the profile of the Tamils internationally to a respectable height. Prabhakaran dragged it down to the level of despicable terrorists banned by the civilised world.
S.C. Chandrahasan, son of the father of Tamil separatism, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, and V. Anandasanagaree, the veteran leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front, are both on record saying that Velupillai Prabhakaran killed more Tamils than all the others put together. Anandasangareee argued that under Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, they had the democratic right to protest in Jaffna when she went to open the Jaffna University. But under Prabhakaran, he could not even step into Jaffna.
Prabhakaran was the natural off-shoot of the Sankili cult that darkened the history of Jaffna. Hate politics became the norm in the peninsula in the wake of Sankili. The Tamil historian, Mylvakanam, writing at the request of the Dutch Governor, Jan Maccra (1736) delineated the Sankili cult of violence in detail. He wrote: “By the force of their (Catholic priests) preaching, a number of families embraced the Saththiya vetham at Mannar. As soon as Sangkili (sic) heard of this conversion, he put six hundred persons to the sword without distinction of age or sex. His insane fury longed for more victims and he fell upon the Buddhists.
The followers of Buddhism were all Singhalese, and of them, there were many in this kingdom. By an order which he issued he expelled them beyond his limits and destroyed all their numerous places of worship. They betook themselves to the Vannis and the Kandiyan (sic) territories, and not one Singhalese remained behind nor ever returned hither.” ( p. 33 – Yalpana Vaipava Malai, (YVM) edited by C. Britto).
The Sankili cult that swamped Jaffna contains “the insane fury” of Tamil hate politics that excludes the “other” on notions of racist or caste superiority. Jaffna history is stained with the blood of the “insane fury” of the Sankili cult. First came the massacre of the Catholics. It was followed by the ethnic cleansing of the Sinhala-Buddhists. Then came the expulsion of the Muslims. In contrast, the Catholics and the Muslims who were persecuted by the Dutch were given protection by the Sinhala kings in the South. In his account, Mylvakanam records these events faithfully.
The details of the Muslim expulsion is graphic: “After a time they (the Muslims) abandoned Usan and founded a new settlement in Nallur, on and around the site of Kantha-Suvami-Kovil. The Tamils viewed their presence with displeasure, as they thought that it might be detrimental to the cause of their religion when the time should come for the restoration of the temple. They tempted the Sonakar (Muslims) to leave the place, with money and entreaties, which when they found unavailing, they had recourse to a plan that proved effectual.
They put a quantity of pig’s flesh into the wells of the enemy by night. When the defilement was discovered, the Sonakar were in great distress of mind. They could neither drink the water nor cook their meals with it, and they saw themselves driven to the necessity of choosing between starvation on one hand and emigration on the other. They chose the latter and sold their place for whatever money they could get from the Tamils and retired to the east of Navanthurai.” (p.55 – YVM).
Prabhakaran, the born-again heir to the Sankili cult, repeated this crime against the Muslims in 1990. On the morning of October 30, 1990, the Muslims were given two hours’ notice to quit Jaffna, leaving behind their possessions or face death. The ethnically cleansed Muslims found refuge, as usual, in the Sinhala South. The Tamil political culture never produced a humane, democratic, liberal, pluralistic and tolerant culture in which the dignity of all the Tamils – let alone the non-Tamils – was given its due place.
As a feudatory, as a colony of the imperial masters and finally as a proxy state of the Vellalas in the post-Vadukoddai Resolution (1976) period, the Tamils were content to live under fascist rule as long as the rulers were Vellalas or their proxies. The quasi one-man state of Prabhakaran was the proxy state of the Vellalas. He made the Vellala dream of a separate state come true – at least as a quasi-state for a brief period.
The Vellala leaders like Sampanthan, and Ponnambalam had no qualms about paying pooja, on bended knees, to him because they knew in their heart of hearts that it was the Vellala state which they could not achieve under Vellala leadership. Realising that they had come to the end of their political tether in the democratic stream, the ageing Vellala leadership urged the Tamil youth, in the Vadukoddai Resolution, (1976) – the prime political manifesto of the Tamil Vellala leadership — to take up arms and never cease until they achieve Eelam.
The Vellala elite pinned their hopes on the Tamil youth to wage the war against the Sinhalese. Prabhakaran came out of that Resolution. The Vellalas backed him to the hilt to achieve what they could not achieve with all their resources and political energy in the democratic mainstream.
The ultimate beneficiary of Vellala separatism was Prabhakaran. He went as far as he did essentially because he was sustained by the Vellalas all the way. They financed him. They weaponised him. They internationalised him. They white-washed him to the world as their liberator – the most heinous killer of Tamils. They theorised and justified his obscene barbarism. In turn, he lorded over them like the way the Vellalas lorded over the dehumanised low-castes Tamils since the Dutch period. Ironically, the more he eliminated the Vellala leadership the more they went on their knees and worshipped him as their “Surya Devan”. The demonic terrorist leader, condemned and banned by the civilised world, was elevated to the level of a demi-god by the Vellala Tamils because he was the last remaining hope of the Vellalas.
Making a hero out of an internationally condemned terrorist who violated every conceivable human right, including recruiting under-aged children into his futile war, reflects the innate characteristic of the Tamil political culture which wallows in the cult of Sankili violence. Prabhakaranism is the ultimate manifestation of the violent Tamil political culture: it is fascist, tyrannical, vindictive and subhuman. Historical and ideological factors make Prahakaranism a natural part of the Tamil political culture.
First, the violence unleashed in the “Eelam War” was not alien to the Jaffna political culture: it was accepted as a continuation of the traditional Sankili cult that was directed at eliminating the “other”. The killing machine honed by Prabhakaran was seen as a divine instrument to establish the first Tamil state. The leader in command of that killing machine attained the divine status of a “Surya Devan”.
The Vellala-directed Tamil diaspora, exhilarated and buoyed by the lethal power of Vellupillai Prabhakaran, rushed to fill up the depleted war chest each time the LTTE killing machine piled up corpses. The flow of foreign cash increased exponentially with the number of killings which was read by the Tamil diaspora as a positive sign of an invincible force marching forward decisively to establish their elusive Eelam.
Second, the vapid and colourless Jaffna history lacks a towering hero who had glorified its past on an overwhelming scale. Trite and pedestrian histories do not produce epic heroes. However, in his early military successes, the Tamil diaspora saw Prabhakaran as the hero they never had in their history. What is more, they viewed him as the first Tamil with a potential to establish a state for the stateless 70 million Tamils in the world. They lionised the Tiger because the big cat was pulling their political chestnuts out of the Vellala fire. Or so they thought until Nandikadal.
Third, ideologically, the Hindu culture sanctified militant violence as a sacred duty. The violence debated in the Bhagavad Gita is interpreted as an endorsement of militant violence. Fourth, the cult of violence was sanctioned by the supreme guru of the Jaffna Tamil Vellalas, Arumuka Navalar (1822 -1879). He recast Jaffna Hinduism and moulded the Jaffna Saivite culture to elevate the Vellalas to the level of the Brahmins. The low-grade Jaffna religious culture, unlike the classical Hindu culture of India, had Hinduism without the Brahmins. Navalar filled the vacuum by elevating the Vellalas to the level of the Brahmins. His ideological impact on the peninsular Hindu culture is far greater than his counterpart Angarika Dharmapala in the South.
He wrote that it is the duty of Hindus to kill blasphemers and if they can’t then it is their duty to hire someone else who can do it. (See p. 80 – The Bible Trembled, R.F. Young and Bishop S. Jebanesan). Fifth, the Vellala ruling class/caste of Jaffna survived and thrived, particularly in the post-Dutch period, on cultural (Thesawalamai) and physical violence. Thesawalamai which legalised caste slavery empowered the Vellala ruling caste to dehumanise and oppress the low-caste Tamils. Besides, as the majority community owning the commanding heights of the economy – land, temples, schools, government jobs – they possessed the political clout to impose their political will on the disempowered low-castes who were reduced to subhuman species.
For instance, the thurumbars, the lowest of the low-caste, were denied even the right to walk in sunlight. Violence, including killings, became the norm in the Vellala culture that ruled Jaffna with a fascist iron-fist. Prof. Bryan Pfaffenberger of the Syracuse University, USA, in his authoritative studies of the Jaffna caste system, documented the misery of low-castes.
In his essay on Political Construction of Defensive Nationalism: The 1968 Temple Entry Crisis in Sri Lanka, he wrote: “In Jaffna in the 1940s and 1950s, for instance, minority Tamils were forbidden to enter or live near temples: to draw water from the wells of high-caste families; to enter laundries, barber shops, or taxis; to keep women in seclusion and protect them by enacting domestic rituals; to wear shoes; to sit in bus seats; to attend school; to cover the upper part of the body; to wear gold earrings; if male, to cut one’s hair; to use umbrellas; to own a bicycle or car; to cremate the dead; or to convert to Christianity or Buddhism.”
The British courts and administrative reports confirm the caste violence that was delineated graphically in Kanal (Mirage) – a rare novel that depicted the grim plight of the powerless, helpless low-castes. It was written by K. Daniel, a thurumbar, in the eighties when the Vellala leadership was chivvying the Tamil youth to take up arms, as stated in their Vadukoddai Resolution, accusing the Sinhala community of discriminating against the Tamils. These major factors explain why Jaffna failed to produce a humane, democratic, liberal, pluralistic and tolerant culture. It is this violent Tamil culture that denied justice, dignity and equality to the Tamils by the Tamils throughout their history.
Obsessed by notions of the caste purity and racist superiority, the Tamil propagandists refuse to face this dark side of the Vellala-driven Jaffna culture. Their answer to this has been to divert attention away from their cruel culture by accusing the Sinhala-Buddhists of discriminating against the Tamils. It began with G. G. Ponnambalam when he launched his anti-Sinhala-Buddhist campaign in the thirties, and ignited the first ethnic riots in Navalapitiya.
The standard ploy of the Tamils was to pull the heart strings of the international community by posing as a minority victimised by the majority. Playing this sympathy card worked to gain political mileage. It was a clever move because it enabled them to cover the fact that they were the most privileged community in Sri Lanka, having inherited the benefits of the patronage of the British colonial masters.
Wigneswaran is a shining example of the privileges enjoyed by the “the Tamils suffering under the yoke of Sinhala hegemony” (Quote from his article on Prof. Peiris). He knows, only too well, that without any discrimination or victimisation, he got a free education from the most elitist state school and went through the usual loops until he ended up in the Supreme Court of the “Sinhala hegemonic state”. But it is their narrative of victimology that has gained currency. It has become the orthodox explanation for the North-South imbroglio.
A narrative of victimology is easy to market because the tear-jerker delivers a simple message packed with emotion, Of course, the sporadic ethnic riots of the lunatic fringe of the provoked Sinhala-Buddhist community, restoring the language 75 percent of the people replacing English, the language of the colonial masters, the Indian Citizenship Act, relocating the Sinhalese in their traditional lands in the dry zone, which the Tamils called “colonisation”, allegations of discrimination in providing government jobs are some of the key issues raised by the Tamil lobby to label the Sinhala-Buddhists as “hegemonists”.
It is this version of victimology that has gone down as the orthodox political narrative. In common political folklore, the Sinhala majority is blamed for discriminating against the Tamil minority. It is on this narrative of victimology that the Tamil lobby goes round the world crying for dignity, equality and justice – the fundamental rights that were denied by the Tamil rulers to the oppressed Tamils throughout their history.
In summary, the Tamil lobby claims that the Tamils had not been given a fair deal by the Sinhala majority. But do the facts substantiate their claim? If the Tamils are ready to face their past, fairly and objectively, they will agree that Wigneswaran, for instance, could not have got anywhere near the outermost steps of the Supreme Court in Hulftsdorp if the Tamil accusation was true. Yet, knowing that it is untrue, Wigneswaran pretends to be a victim of “the Sinhala state”. He rails against what he calls “the yoke of Sinhala hegemony”.
Commenting on Professor G. L. Peiris’s statement he wrote: “He said in Bologna that ethnic or religious political parties in a Country do great damage. He referred to Muslims and Tamils in Sri Lanka saying they reached the pinnacle of political power and authority as members of (so called) National Political Parties. He said, “So there is no need for them to detach themselves from the national polity, to segregate, to compartmentalise the national polity by the formation and the emergence of political groupings that seem sectarian.”
Then he asks: “Firstly to deal with Tamils in socalled National Political Parties. Have they been able to obtain reliefs to the Tamils suffering under the yoke of Sinhala hegemony?” He has only to look in the mirror to find the answer: a Tamil judge wearing a wig of the “Sinhala hegemonic state” staring back at him. But can he answer the Tamils who are asking a similar question from him: How much relief did those in the Northern Province get when he was Chief Minister? Each time he points a finger at the “Sinhala hegemonic state”, he will discover that there are four pointing at him.
When he was on the bench was he not tied to “the yoke of the Sinhala state”? When he was yoked to “Sinhala hegemonic state” as a judge of the Supreme Court did he not pull the cart like a dumb bull without a moo? Also, when he was sitting on the bench did he deliver “Sinhala hegemonic” law or justice?
His debasing hypocrisy does not elevate him in the eyes of the cognoscenti. He must come clean and accept the truth of his past (more of it next week) before he decides to ask the Sinhalese whether they can face their past.
As the old saying goes, those who seek justice must come with clean hands. How clean are Wigneswaran’s hands?