BY H.L. D. MAHINDAPALA
Jaffna burst into history under violent and tragic circumstances. It began when Megaha of Kalinga, South India, invaded and occupied Jaffna in 1215. He opened his reign with ruthless terror. His violence knew no limits. The historical records reveal that he destroyed non-Saivite shrines, smashed Buddhist temples, and gouged the eyes out of heretics.
His lasting contribution, apart from setting up a new state, was to establish the culture of political violence in Jaffna. The violent culture he established never left Jaffna. This explains why he is known in the history of Jaffna as Megaha the Tyrant. Variants of his intolerant, fascist culture ruled Jaffna from 1215 to 2009 – the last year of Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Prabhakaran who ran the North with an iron-fist was also the last in the line of Megaha political culture. The successors of Megaha — Sankili, the Vellala casteist supremacists and Prabhakaran — took to the Megaha violence like duck to water. His successors in turn wrote the darkest chapters in the history of Jaffna. It was also tragic because the fascist violence of the Jaffna Tamil rulers denied dignity, justice, equality, and basic human rights to the Jaffnaites. Those who followed Megaha put the knee to the throat of the Jaffnaites and never let them breathe freely.
Jaffna was a multi-ethnic society, with a sizeable community of Sinhala-Buddhists. Sporadic pogroms expelled the Sinhala-Buddhist and the Muslims. It was the Tamils, in particular, who remained as the common victims of the violent Tamil regimes. Some low-caste Tamils were denied even the right to walk in day light. The Turumbas, for instance, were allowed to walk only in the night. The Sudra Vellalas, the ruling caste, imposed the daylight ban on the Turumbas to keep them away from their sight, they enforced this casteist rule to prevent even an accidental meeting of a Turumba.
The sighting of a Turumba was supposed to pollute the purity of the Vellala eyes. Denial of basic human rights was a part of Jaffna Tamil culture. Collectively, the casteist culture dehumanised Jaffna society. The Sudra Vellala casteism was designed to impose Vellala supremacy by controlling every aspect of Jaffna life. In the absence of political power during colonial times, Vellala supremacy was imposed through casteist laws that controlled the lives of the low-castes from the womb to the tomb. It was a typical Gramscian scenario of exerting power through culture/ideology.
On top of Thesawalamai which legalised fascist casteism, including slavery, Hinduism authorised the oppression of Tamils by the Tamils as the sacrosanct way of life. Vellala casteism was the governing cultural/ideological force of the ruling elite to maintain their power. The Sudra Vellalas reduced the low-caste to a subhuman outcast unfit for human society. The worst enemies of the Tamils were the Tamil rulers. The Vellala oppressors of Jaffna never gave the Tamils dignity, justice, equality or basic human rights.
Though there was deplorable inter-ethnic violence in the post-Independent era, the minorities had better living conditions when they were with the Sinhala-Buddhists than under Tamil rule. For instance, whenever the Muslims were persecuted by the Tamils they rushed for security in the South.
The Muslims migrants who settled down in the North and in the South found greater security under the Sinhala kings than in the North. Whenever there was any ethnic cleansing of the Muslims in the North they rushed to seek protection in the South. The last expulsion of Muslims from Jaffna was in October 1990. They were given only two hours to leave Jaffna. The Muslims found refuge in the South.
Overall, the Jaffna Tamils too had better opportunities and living conditions in the South than in Jaffna. Wellawattam and Cinnamon Gardens were affluent havens for the Tamils who left Jaffna. The Jaffna Tamils, who were suppressed, oppressed and enslaved by its traditional religio-cultural laws, were liberated for the first time only in the free and open society of the South in the post-Independent era. Excluding the “other” was an incurable malady buried deep in the Tamil psyche. The Megaha cult of hate politics, injected into the Tamil political culture, drove the two communities apart.
Jaffna was never inclined to co-exist peacefully with the “other”. Electoral politics in particular thrived on demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, Thanthai (the “Father of the Tamils”) refused to buy a house in Colombo arguing that the free and cosmopolitan life-style of the South would drag his children away from their Tamil roots in Jaffna. He preferred to buy two estates in the hills populated by the Indian Tamils. (p. 9 – S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, `1947 – 1977, A Political Biography, A. Jeyaratnam Wilson.)
A cadjan curtain was thrown round Jaffna to prevent the subversive forces of modernity undermining and dismantling the oppressive Vellala fascism. The main thrust of the Jaffna rulers and the Vellala supremacists throughout the feudal, colonial and modern times was to keep Jaffna as an exclusive ethnic and casteist enclave under Vellala hegemony. Humane politics seldom ruled Jaffna. The Muslims and Buddhists were persecuted by Tamil Saivite extremists at the drop of a fez.
The Sinhala settlers in Jaffna rebelled against tyrannical Tamil kings. In the South the minority Tamils, Muslims and Christians coexisted peacefully. The first communal clash in the South occurred in 1939 when G. G. Ponnambalam made his provocative speech denigrating Sri Lankan history and the Mahavamasa. Unlike in the South, Tamil-Sinhala clashes occurred in Jaffna from 1215 – i.e., from the birth of Jaffna.
Jaffna is noted for regular pogroms against the Buddhists and Muslims. Expelling of Sinhala-Buddhists and ethnic clashes in Jaffna occurred from time to time under intolerant Jaffna rulers from the 13th century. The violent Mega cult did not hesitate to expel the Sinhala-Buddhists and Muslims from Jaffna. The Sinhalese in turn joined hands with the Vanniyar chieftains and fought the rulers of Jaffna. The Tamils too revolted against Tamil rulers who oppressed and suppressed them. Mono-ethnic extremism, casteist oppression and Saivite religious fury made Jaffna a hot bed of political violence.
The most revered religious guru of Jaffna, Arumuka Navalar, told his Saivite followers to kill blasphemers and if they can’t, hire someone else to do it. Chelvanayakam who was hailed as the “Gandhi” of Jaffna, steered the declaration of war in the Vadukoddai Resolution from A to Z. He went along with the violence exploding in Jaffna in the 70s.
He garlanded the statue of Sivakumaran – the Tamil militant who attempted to assassinate a Police Superintendent. In the Sinhala-Buddhist South the power struggle was confined mainly to elitist rivals, leaving aside the JVP uprisings. In the North the people at the grassroot level rebelled against their tyrannical rulers at the top from feudal times. Jaffna was not the peaceful haven that it is painted to be. Violence in the peninsula did not receive much attention because its history was hidden.
Not much attention has been paid either to the fact that the North and the South were ruled by two different political cultures. Sociologist agree that the caste system in the South, influenced by Buddhism, was milder and humane unlike the Northern caste system which was cruel and inhuman. The hegemonic role of the Vellala supremacists too have been swept under the carpet. The one-man regime of Prabhakaran that ruled the North during 33 years of the Vadukoddai terrorist battle gives a taste of the violent political culture that ruled Jaffna throughout its history. Prabhakaran’s quasi-state is the highest achievement of Tamil politics. Is Prabhakaran’s fascism rule the alternative to the Parliamentary democracy of the South?
The liberalism of the South amply demonstrates, with all its infirmities, the two different political cultures. The South was an open, democratic, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, tolerant and liberal society. The North was a closed, authoritarian, mono-ethnic, mono-cultural, intolerant, ill-liberal society.
Besides, a political feature generally ignored by the analysts is that there were two states that ruled the nation in the post-Independent era. In the South there was a parliamentary democracy, with, of course, the usual infirmities that haunt democracies. In the North it was a one-man fascist regime bent on hunting its political opponents, most of whom were the Tamils. The LTTE regime had all the trappings of a state which was, in reality, nothing but a ruthless killing machine.
For instance, it had law courts that dispensed laws made to sustain the one-man regime in power. No professional or respectable Tamil lawyer, including those Tamil lawyers like R. Sampanthan and M. Sumanthiram, who complain bitterly about Tamils not having dignity, equality and justice in “the Sinhala state”, practised law in the Tamil courts of Prabhakaran’s quasi-state.
Isn’t it because they found dignity, equality and justice only in the courts of “the Sinhala state” and not in Prabhakaran’s Tamil courts? Would the Tamil leaders send their children to study law in Prabhakaran’s Law College or would they enroll them in the Law College in Colombo? What respect would C. V. Wigneswaran have earned if he served as a judge in Prabhakaran’s courts? What justice did Tamil parents get from Prabhakaran’s courts when they went to court seeking the release of their children abducted by Thamil Chelvam? Did the Tamils find justice in “the Sinhala courts” or in the Tamil courts?
From the beginning (i.e, 1215) the Tamil rulers never led the Tamils down the path of liberalism. They showed no capacity to run a democratic Government. They had a penchant for running only fascist states riddled with violence. From Megaha to Prabhakaran the pattern never changed.
In the Jaffna political culture, the individual was denied his/her right to be human. Under the Pol Potist Tamil rulers, or under the facist casteism of the Vellalas, the oppressed Tamils hardly had the opportunity to experience even a modicum of human dignity, equality and justice. Even in colonial times the dominant Vellalas invoked the Thesawalamai law to impose their casteist hegemony. It gave them the right to exploit their fellow-Tamils as slaves.
Jaffnaites had their first taste of human dignity, officially, under the law, only after S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike enacted the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act of 1958. It dismantled the powers of the oppressive Vellalas to rule over a slave-owning system. No other ruler – colonial or native — dared to challenge the casteist supremacy of the entrenched Vellalas. The Dutch legalised the Theswalamai Laws in 1707. It empowered the Vellalas to impose their casteist customs and laws and rule with ruthless force. Even after the British banned slavery in 1844 the Vellala supremacists continued to impose the Thesawalamai Laws through devious means.
The Vellalas fought to retain their power in the legislature and in the courts. For instance, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan went on a special mission to London to convince the British of the importance of preserving the caste system for internal stability.
Jaffna became humane only in the post-Independent years and that too was interrupted by the reign of Prabhakaran. He revived and re-imposed the Megaha cult of violence which turned Jaffna into a Pol Potist regime. In the end, it was left to the Security Forces to restore democracy in the North. Nandikadal brought not only peace but also liberation and dignity to the Tamils of Jaffna. Tamil leaders like R. Sampanthan and M. Sumanthiram are able to walk, with their heads held high, and pursue their politics with dignity because the Security Forces liberated the North. Today the Tamils are entitled to criticise the President without fear of any reprisals.
Under their Tamil Thaliavar, (Leader), whom they anointed as “the sole representative of the Tamils”, they did not have a chance to utter a word against him. They lost their dignity when they consented to accept his authority knowing that they will not get justice, respect or equality. They regained their dignity to act as independent human beings only under the “Sinhala state” which they denigrate and blame wherever they go.
The denial of dignity, justice, equality and human rights by the Tamil overlords of Jaffna to their fellow-Tamils makes a mockery of their bogus complaint that they have lost their dignity, equality and justice under the “Sinhala state”. The topsy-turvy caste system of Jaffna which elevated the lowest Sudra Vellala to the highest in the caste hierarchy created a political culture that warped Jaffna society. From 1215 to 2009 – except for the brief spell from 1948 to 1976 when Jaffna was a part of the democratically elected multi-ethnic, multi-cultural state — the indigenous settlers of Jaffna lived either under the “insane fury” (Yalpana Vaipava Malai) of Tamil tyrants or the hegemony of the Vellala supremacists who imposed fascist casteism to enslave a segment of Jaffna.
With all its infirmities the democratic state of Sri Lanka gave its citizen optimum freedom even when it was fighting two wars – one in the South against the fascist JVP and the other in the North against the fascist LTTE. The Tamils accepted, with the connivance of the NGOs and INGOs, all the humiliating indignities under their Pol Potist leader. They narrowly escaped the fate that befell Alfred Duraiyappah and Appapillai Amirthalingam. Right now, they owe everything to the rescue mission of the Security Forces that saved them from living in permanent state of fear and humiliation in the Tamil state of Eelam.
The moral choice before them was clear: were they willing to live with the kind of dignity, justice and equality dished out by Prabhakaran, their Divine Leader, or do they prefer the dignity, justice and equality in the “Sinhala State”? What were the rights of the Tamils guaranteed by the Prabhakaran? For instance, was the right of the Tamil children to go to school and return home to their parents guaranteed by the Tamil State or by the “Sinhala State?” Was R. Sampanthan’s right to go to
Parliament and speak without fear or favour guaranteed by the Tamil State or by the “Sinhala State”? Why did Sumanthiram practise law in Prabhakaran’s Tamil courts instead of practising law in the “Sinhala courts” which, according to him, does not deliver justice? Was C.V. Wigneswaran’s right to deliver judgment based on the finest legal principles guaranteed by the “Sinhala State” or by Prabhakaran’s courts?
The list is unending. Underlying all these issues is the question of making a moral choice between the state that would guarantee the highest degree of dignity, justice and equality and the state that is politically incapable of delivering these basic essentials. After all, the Tamils were fighting for their dignity, justice, equality and security. When a state has to forcibly recruit under-aged children to fight its futile battle how much of dignity, justice, equality and security prevailed for the glory of Tamils in their Tamil State?
In other words, the moral choice was crystal clear: should the Tamils opt to live in a multi-cultural democracy with human rights, however imperfect it may be, or live in a mono-ethnic Tamil fascist state without even a minimum of human rights? To go for Tamil rights in a fascist State – and there was no other option under Prabhakaran – was to live as mono-ethnic slaves deprived of basic human rights. What is equalling galling, is that over the centuries the Tamils have proved that they were totally incapable of running a liberal State, guaranteeing human dignity with the right to walk in daylight.
The political culture was so perverse that they denied to human beings the right given to cattle and dogs. They have no political experience either of running a Democratic State. They have specialised in fascism but not in liberalism. There has been no redeeming feature in Tamils politics except wallowing in mono-ethnic rhetoric and Tamil fascism. The moral option in Tamil politics has been to find an alternative to Megaha-Prabhakaran cult of fascist violence.
Though the initial ideology on which the Vadukoddai War was launched focused on choosing between Sinhala-Buddhist State and a Tamil-Hindu State it was becoming increasingly clear, as the violence intensified and dragged on, that the choice was between Democracy and fascism. The mindless violence of Prabhakaran killing Tamils took the shine away from the ideals of “Tamil nationalism”. Besides, towards the end when Prabhakaran knew he was losing he was forced to fight for his own survival than that of the “Tamil nation”. He chose to fight until the last Tamil left for Canada, not to negotiate a settlement to save the lives of the Tamils trapped in a futile battle. He dug his own grave with his intransigence and arrogance.
It was also clear that saving Prabhakaran was not going to save the Tamils, or the security of the Tamils, or their thirst for peace after 33 years of battle that was going nowhere. All attempts to negotiate a settlement, even with international guarantees, failed. Prabhakaran refused to abide by negotiated settlements. The only option open to achieve peace and security was to remove him from the political equation.
The Vadukoddai War had gone long enough and the time had come to end it. The only way to achieve peace was to neutralise the killing machine of Prabhakaran. Morality was in ending the battle and restoring peace. Anything short of that was moral hypocrisy.
It at this critical moral juncture that the Centre for Policy Alternative (CPA) stepped in to save Prabhakaran. It was obvious even in the last stages of the battle that Prabhakaran was committed to Chelvanayakam’s doctrine of “fight to the end.” In a speech delivered in Batticoloa on May 11, 1975 Chelvanayakam said: ”There is no other alternative for the Tamils to live with self-respect other than fight to the end for a Tamil Nad ( i.e. a Tamil State)”. ( p.127 – Ibid).
The only difference between Chelvanayakam and Prabhakaran was that the latter was more honest in his politics than the former. Chelvanayakam posed as a saintly Gandhian in Parliament in Colombo and stoked the fires of war in Jaffna. Chelvanayakam’s actions, particularly in the 70s, confirm that he was a committed war-monger who tried to cover up his belligerence with Gandhian poses and utterances.
When in the 70s the violence of the Tamil youth was escalating, his thinking was shifting to a “fight to the end”. Amirthalingam, his deputy, and M. Sivasithamparam were hand in glove with the militant youth gearing up to “fight to the end”. By 1975 Prabhakaran had killed his first Tamil victim – Alfred Duraiyappah. Chelvanayakam, the Gandhian, had prepared Jaffna ideologically, to wage the Vadukoddai War which was officially declared under his chairmanship in Vadukoddai on May 14, 1976.
It didn’t take long for Prabhakaran to decimate most of the 37 rival militant groups and take over Jaffna. With his early military successes, he attained a divine status. He was anointed as Surya Devan. At the political level he was hailed as “the sole representatives of the Tamils”. No Tamil had reached such giddy heights of power in Jaffna. His arrogance and intransigence grew proportionately. Drunk with power he was determined to “fight to the end”. He refused to read the signs of the time. And then, almost overnight he came down from hero to zero at Nandikadal. He had come to a dead end. He had outlived his usefulness. The inevitable was moving inexorably to happen: he had to be removed for the Tamils to move forward.
It is at this decisive point that Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, head of the CPA, staged his best tragi-comic act. He was leap-frogging from one Western capital to another to stop the battle. He knew that Prabhakaran was trapped and only international intervention could save him. So, he went jumping from one Western city to another to prevent the impending carnage, he said. Pah! He could not reveal, of course, that his farcical exercise was to save Prabhakaran and not the lives of Tamils sandwiched between two warring forces.
Like all the moral hypocrites running NGOs, he took cover under the noble principles of human rights. If he was genuinely concerned about stopping the battle to save lives why didn’t he feel the urgency for 32 years and seven months when Prabhakaran was killing more Tamils than all the others put together? Why did he start jumping up and down only in the last five months of the battle, from January 2009 to May 2009, when Prabhakaran was facing certain defeat? He was quite smug and content with the progress of the battle when Prabhakaran was scoring military successes. He felt no urgency to stop the battle when Prabhakaran was winning ground. His heart began to bleed only when Prabhakaran was losing territory!
The moral hypocrisy of intellectuals such as Saravanamuttu is appalling. It is easy to see through his holier-than-thou postures: he was attempting to use moral principles to save an immoral political criminal. After that, can he be trusted to do anything honest?