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Educating Jeremy Page

Dr. Sudharshan Seneviratne’s article expressing his outrage of Jeremy Pages’s piece in the Times is an important contribution towards building a new Sri Lanka. Many with a similar mind set to Seneviratne have been silent for too long, because of the belligerence of fascists on both sides of Sri Lanka’s ethnic divide.

Many have left the country in disgust, as nationalists on both sides have taken over the interpretation of history to enhance their particular tribe and their "ownership" of the island or parts of it.

Since independence, intellectual historical argument and evolution of the interpretation of history itself has been increasingly subverted by tribal politics.

Seneviratne states, "In his most valued book (The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity. 2005) Professor K. Indrapala inscribed the following moving dedication "To the innocents who lost their lives as a direct consequence of misinterpretation of history" which is a must read line by all blood-thirsty social fascists in any community."

When Indrapala’s valued book was published it was the tribalists from the South who attacked it in this very newspaper, as it did not fit in with their agenda.

Perception is the key in the case of Jeremy Page vs. Sudharshan Seneviratne and it exposes Sri Lanka’s ethnic divide, which the Sinhalese in particular are insensitive to, because of their conditioning.

The Tamil voice in Sri Lanka is muted. If their fears, suspicions and perceptions were to be expressed in Sri Lanka, they would be shouted down as being "traitors" or LTTE supporters. Many Sinhalese liberals and intellectuals also face similar hostility.

Jeremy Page articulates the suspicions and the perceptions of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and the Tamil Diaspora in particular.

Tamils view what Jeremy Page has published as being their point of view and an article supporting their side of the ethnic divide. Sinhalese perceive it as being hostile to them and misleading.

The Sinhalese perceive what Sudharshan Seneviratne has published as supporting their side of the ethnic divide, defending their position. Tamils will reject it as being Sinhalese bias.

In reality, Seneviratne’s piece is fair and attacks fascists on both sides of the ethnic divide, but only a very few will recognize it as such as he is very subtle in his delivery.

If the Sinhalese radicals fully understand the gravitas in it, they would not hesitate to brand him also a "traitor". But what matters is not fact or reality, but perception and Seneviratne is perceived as being a supporter of the southern tribe.

What made me write this article is a paragraph in Seneviratne’s piece in which he states "I personally experienced the warm reception accorded to us by the teaching staff and students of University of Jaffna recently, which was an emotional experience to all of us. There was the warmth of human beings reaching out to each other devoid of any inhibitions or reservations and above all an expression of mutual respect and cordiality."

I do not doubt the sincerity of what Seneviratne has experienced, but wish to illustrate the politics of this emotional meeting.

The Sinhalese team of Sudharshan Seneviratne would have perceived the meeting as described by him. But, I would suggest that the Tamils would have perceived it as a "power" relationship, and the emotions and views expressed by the Tamils to the Sinhalese would be in line with that perception.

I too met the teaching staff and students of Jaffna University, during the height of the conflict.

I accompanied a delegation of South African MP’s who were of South Indian/Tamil origin. It was an initiative by Foreign Minister Kadirgamar after his visit to South Africa to neutralize growing LTTE influence in South Africa.

I had flown in from London, and the South Africans were of the opinion that I was an Indian. The teaching staff and students of Jaffna University thought that I was a South African, as the MP’s I accompanied were of Asian ethnicity.

During a closed door meeting with the senior academic staff, the South Africans inquired from the senior Tamil academics if they were happier under Sri Lankan Government administered Jaffna or a LTTE administered Jaffna.

The Tamil academics were silent and did not respond. The question was repeated and there was a deafening silence.

At this point, the Foreign Ministry officials realized that the Tamil academics were feeling uncomfortable and voluntarily withdrew from the room, together with the military officials. I raised my hand and inquired from the South Africans if they wished, that I should leave the room as well. They stated that since I was an Indian, I could stay.

After the Room was empty of the all the "Sinhalese" the question was repeated and the Tamil Academics responded by stating that they were happier in the LTTE administered Jaffna.

The views expressed by Tamils to the Sinhalese are somewhat different to the views they express to foreigners, as Tamils are naturally wary of the Sinhalese. This is why Westerners and India have a different perception of the ethnic divide than the Sinhalese.

Until this ethnic divide is bridged, Jeremy Page and those like him will be writing many more articles voicing Tamil fears and perceptions, and Sudharshan Seneviratne and the Sinhalese will be trying to educate Jeremy Page and others like him, some even denying visa’s, recording telephone calls and deporting them.

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