An appeal and a memo by two groups of Tamil speaking civilians


A salutary letter was published in The Island newspaper on Jan. 06, entitled ‘An appeal to the Tamil Community and its civil and political representatives’. It has been signed by sixty eight authors, starting with Ms. Jovita Arulanantham and ending with Mr. Ronnie Yogarajaha. This is the first time that a responsible group of at least nominally Tamil-speaking intellectuals stood up for the rights of Muslims evicted to satisfy the ‘exclusive Tamil-homelands dream’ originally enunciated in the Tamil-language handouts of the 1949 Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi resolution. Participants of that meeting called for ‘driving out the invaders (Muslims and Sinhalese) from the traditional homelands of the Tamils’. I salute these sixty eight individuals as they have taken a step that some of us, dissident Tamils who have been oppressed and marginalized by the land-owning elite-class Tamils, have always asked for.

They end with "and we shall unreservedly pledge our support to promote the pluralist character of society at all levels in our midst, and embrace a politics of inclusivity in the interests of democracy, justice and equality". This is precisely what we have been calling for, writing articles in English and Tamil, and pointing out that the ‘national question’ is not a simple matter of language politics. After all, the evicted Muslims are Tamil speakers as well. The Tamil nationalist struggle was spawned in its malevolent form by the Landed-caste Tamils to retain their ruler status. I say ‘Bravo’ to these writers.

On the other hand, I hang my head in shame and sadness after reading the ‘public memo to the TNA’ published in the Sri Lanka Guardian on the 4th of January, signed by seventy two individuals, led by Bishop Rayappu Joseph.  The Bishop is well-remembered for transferring the sacred statue of the Virgin Mary from the Madhu shrine into the hands of the LTTE, and for urging the people of the Vanni to ‘go with the Eelam forces’. Now that the Eelam war is over, Rev. Joseph and his collaborators are calling the TNA to re-assert that the Tamils are a nation, and that they are fighting for nothing less than self determination. A key demand of this ‘public memo’ is the re-merger of the North and the East. However, even in 1977 the TULF did not get a majority in the Eastern province, as pointed out by Rev. Joseph’s clerical colleague Fr. Tissa Balasuriya. Furthermore, today the Colombo area and the hill country have a higher percentage of Tamil-speaking people than the Eastern province. So, is Rev. Rayappu Joseph and his cabal claiming that the Tamils in the south (e.g., in Colombo, and in the hill country) are not part of the ‘Tamil nation’?  Don’t they have the right to self-determination? The public memo should have asked for a merger of the North, the East, the Hill country and the Colombo district. If not, the ‘public memo’ is claiming a distinct species of Tamils in the North and the East, while the ones in the south have lesser rights. In fact, even in the North, only the ‘pillai-class’ Tamils are admitted to the high office of the church, and perhaps the Tamil Nation envisaged by the Bishop is completely consistent with the Manu Dharma in the kurals?

I want to very humbly appeal to all Tamil speaking people to warn about this second group of individuals, typified by Rev. Rayappu Joseph as well as his associates, still frozen in the 1949 Maradana Doctrine of the ITAK, and the 1976 Vaddukkodai Doctrine that destroyed the Tamil society and reduced their numbers to a mere 8%, eliminating the next generation as cannon fodder.

The French separatists declared themselves ‘a nation’ and struggled mightily, and set up the terrorist organization ‘Front de Liberation de Quebec’. The French were 40% of the population. Today, the French separatists have virtually no place in Canada’s politics. In Spain the Basque separatists called themselves a ‘Basque Nation’ and launched an armed struggle for several decades. Today, those separatist movements have gone belly up as people move away from narrow ethnic mentalities. The 17% Hispanics of America have never attempted to ask for a place for Spanish, let alone nationhood. Need I give more examples? In Sri Lanka, the Tamils have never had the sort of numbers that Quebecois in Canada have.

I hope the first group of intellectuals would proceed to also denounce the hate crimes glorified in the LTTE poetry of Kasi Anathan and the journalism of other LLTEers, where murders of Dureiappa, Kadirgamar and many others have been hailed as the elimination of ‘traitors’. The Tamil leaders have to also denounce the exploitation, subjugation and brutalization of the lower castes, that I have seen and lived through, and seem to still continue in Sri Lankan Tamil societies. The Prabhakaran phenomenon was possible only in a society used to such subjugation. Tamils cannot talk of ‘Sinhala chauvinist discrimination’ as long as far more horrendous discrimination exists among our own people.

The tapestry of multi-lingual, multi-cultural society that is Colombo today should be the model for all of Sri Lanka, avoiding exclusive ethnic enclaves or special devolved rights of any sort.

Sebastian Rasalingam

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