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Thesavalamai Law explained

A retired SLAS officer and a Bachelor of Law who is also a researcher and literary critic in Thamil, K. Shanmugalingam, has written in that language a brief but concise and explanatory article in a Thamil literary magazine called ‘Gnanam’  (August 2008). In reviewing this issue, I want to spotlight the article referred to because it clears some doubts that a few extremists have on the Thesavalamai Law.

Here are some salient features mentioned in the article:

* Before the then Ceylon was seized by the foreigners there existed in the northern peninsula a law called Thesavalamai.

The history of this law can be classified under the following categories:

* The first stage was during the settling of Keralites up to the 13th century. At that time the matriarchal nephews system was formed as Thesavalamai. This law was not an admixture of the Hindu Law system.

* From the reign of Aariya Chakravarthi in the 13th century until 1619 when the Portuguese captured Yaalpanam, is the second phase of the Law. During that period people from the south of India which was Thamil-speaking came over to this country. And they added the Hindu law practices with the existing law. However, the Thesavalamai Law of the Yaalpaanam remained matriarchal in substance.

* The third phase covers from 1619 to 1806 when the Portuguese reigned in Yaalpaanam. This period can be divided into two: 1619 to 1707 and 1707 to 1806. Due to the influence of the Roman Dutch Law prevalent in Europe then, the Thesavalamai Law underwent changes. The Dutch Governor Simons codified the Thesavalamai Law into Dutch. Klas Issack was also involved in this compilation. A translation of this in Thamil was given to the indigenous administrators-the Mudlaiyars. Amendments suggested by the latter were approved by Simons. This was the Law of Yaalpanam. So, there was an admixture of Thesavalamai, Hindu Law and Roman Dutch law.

* During the 200 years from 1806 to date the Thesavalamai Law underwent changes incorporating the English Law. The Statue Law in fact changed the Thesavalamai Law.

* The British rulers proclaimed a regulation on December 09, 1806 stating that the codified law given by the Dutch Governor would be continued. The Thesavalamai or the Customs of the Malabar Inhabitants of the Province of Jaffna (Yaalpaanam) was detailed in the 1806 proclamation.

*Today the Thesavalamai Law remains the Personal Law of the Thamilians in Yaalpaanam. These also to some extent show the Territorial Law regarding the sale of lands in Yaalpaanam.

* The above are described in L.J. M. Cooray in his book, An Introduction to the legal Systems of Sri Lanka (Fourth Edition -2006)

* Thesavalamai Law primarily deals with the right to ownership of property.

* At one time the Yaalpaanam Society was Matriarchal.

* In recent times there are three valuable books that should be read to understand clearly what this Thesavalamai is. The books are: The Laws and Customs of the Tamils of Jaffna by H. W. Thambiah, the book in Thamil by S. Pathmanathan regarding Lankan Thamilians National Practices or Norms and their Social Practices and Matrimonial Property and Gender Inequality- A study of Thesavalamai by Kamala Nagendra.

Apart from the above article ‘Gnanam’ carries other usual features ,such as, poems, articles, short stories. Contemporary events, columns, what the magazine calls ‘Vimarsanam" ( Some use this term indiscriminately with the purpose of condemnation whereas it should be termed ‘Thiranaivu’ if it means ‘Literary Criticism), book reviews, and readers’ letters.

A leading woman writer and senior journalist in Thamil, Annaladchumy Rasadurai, has profiled yet another senior journalist and writer, Yoga Balachandran, now living in Canada. It is gladdening to note that the magazine has featured Yoga Balachandran, who is almost forgotten in this country, especially by the younger readers.

The contributors include a number of leading Lankan Thamil writers. If you want to know their names, here is the list: Annaledchumy Rasathurai, Sitpi Siva Saravanabhavan, G. Balachandran, N. Selvarajah, Mullaimani, P.Nishanthi, K.Shanmugalingam, Pulolyoor A. Ratnavelone, S.Arulanandam, S. Murugananthan, Shanthini Puvanenthirarajah, Rajeswary Balasubraamaniam, Vasanthi Thayaparan, A. Gunanathan, K.Vijayan, Y.Saarangan, Vaharai Vaanan, Thambuluvil Jega, Arulmani, K.Armainayagam, S. Wasim Akram, Shanmugam Sivakumar, Rani Sritharan and Kurunchi Nadan.

Readers who could read Thamil can obtain this journal from 3B, 46th Lane, Wellawatta.

sivakumaranks@yahoo.com

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