Encapsulating two and half millennia History, Culture and Politics: The Problem of “The Sri Lanka Reader”

DGB de Silva, in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Sri Lanka, New Series  No. LVII, 2012, pp. 135-172, reviewing John Holt, The Sri Lanka Reader : History, Culture Politics,

The present work on Sri Lanka under discussion here which is the ninth volume in the “Readers’  Series” published by the Duke University under the general editorship of Robin Kirk and Orin Starn is the second on an Asian country, (the first was on Indonesia). That points to the extent, both from the perspective of modern day tourism and a general perspective, the continuing interest placed on Sri Lanka as a destination as well as a land of particular interest.  Albeit its voluminous content of over 750 pages, the volume may look more than a handbook for the traveler. It might also serve the reader who wishes to get a deeper insight into the past and present of this country, to understand the different perceptions formed about the people, their former rulers, their customs and manners, history, culture, religion, way of governance, justice and communication of ideas as well as modern day writings on contemporary issues. The anthology framework may seem to leave the reader free to make up his/her mind on the wide spectrum of subjects covered without much prompting by the editor. But this need not be so. There lurk some problems about the book. First, it has to do with the choice of texts and their authorship. Second, in the process of trying to introduce a balance, some of the texts used from modern writers could be seen to present particular emphasis on controversial issues like questions over ethnic identity which the editor seemed constrained to avoid.  

The editor of the volume, John Clifford Holt needs no introduction to Sri Lankans who may be familiar with his several earlier writings on Sri Lankan subjects, the most notable of which was the much referenced work “Buddha in Crown” which is essentially a socio-anthropological study on Avalokitesvara worship in Sri Lanka. The editor may differ from many other contemporary Western writers who wrote after brief visits to the island as he has had a longer acquaintance with the island and acquired a fair knowledge of Theravada Buddhist scriptures reading them in English translations as well as in Pali original during his studies at the University of Chicago and for his later research. Presently, as William R.Kennan Jr. Professor of Humanities in Religion and Asian Studies at Bowdoin College he came out this year (2011) with this collection of essays for the “World Travel Series.”

The variety of issues presented covering a period of over two and a half millennia when the country passed from misty past to modernity it is no easy task to anthologize even selected representative texts as the editor has chosen as his way of approach. He himself speaks of the frustration he encountered in selecting texts. He  leaves the impression at the very outset that in selecting extracts of texts for the book he was concerned with the “sensitivity” of Sri Lanka’s political and cultural history. However, whether or not he has been able to maintain that detachment can be questioned when one scrutinizes his editorial remarks and the type of selection of texts.

The contents have been presented under five different sections: viz, 1 . From ancient to early modern; 2. The colonial encounter; 3. Emerging identities;  4. Independence, insurrections and social change; and 5. Political epilogue.

I. Ancient to Modern: Looking closely at section one, – From Ancient to Early Modern – the Editor has chosen to present the story of the major community, the Sinhalese, who today represent 75 per cent of the population, by directly citing original texts from a few classical writings rather than through analytical essays by modern writers. This could be viewed as reflecting a strategy to retain what he called ’sensitivity.’ .

The origin story of the Sinhalese or the “primordial past” as he calls it, was one subject to which his attention has been drawn. The editor starts with the elitist Pali chronicle of Sinhalese Buddhism for the text.  Perhaps, to balance this, he places the ‘Tamil version’ of the origin mythology found in the ‘Jaffna chronicle, ’Yalpana Vaipava Malai’ (YPM) compiled fourteen centuries later also in a parallel perspective calling it a ‘remarkable text’. He has not explained why the latter is so ‘remarkable.

There is a corpus of critical textual evaluation of these two different categories of texts, very extensive textual criticism in the case of Pali chronicles of the Sinhalese done by a galaxy of pre-modern and modern scholars some of whom have shown the least respect for the context in which the contents were presented. In contrast, the critique of the Tamil chronicle by Tamil scholarship has been short and dismissive while it has attracted no foreign interest. The way the editor has left out the reasons for his calling the Jaffna chronicle a ‘remarkable’ work, which serious scholarship reserved only to the Pali chronicles, could lead the unacquainted reader to form the idea that two parallel people were living side by side from very beginning of history had preserved their own origin stories and historical records. Therefore, this co-relation needs to be clarified in the first place.

No people other than the majority Sinhalese have preserved any origin stories going into pre-historic period in written and oral form. These origin stories might appear rather curious but as all origin myths go they need some attention. The most important point is at some point in their history the people had found themselves the inheritors of a tradition which was worth remembering. A consciousness as a people had been born whether it was linguistic or religious based. As later British colonial administrators observed the Sinhalese had even developed a distinct cooperative form of communal life and the institution of [village] Councils which were which distinguished them from the Tamils of the north. The memory that the Sinhalese had retained of this distinctive identity, true or concocted, is one which could be tested through archaeologically. In Dyke’s view the characteristics of the Sinhalese and their institutions helped  sustain their tank-based irrigation civilization.

In contrast to that of the Sinhalese, the Jaffna Tamils had not preserved such a historical memory of their arrival in the island which could be tested archaeologically. The Dutch administrator, Lieutenant Thomas Nagel wrote in his Memoir that the people of the Vanni [many of whom were Tamils] had “no memory whatsoever of that ancient society in either written or oral traditions. As the recent Dutch researcher Alicia Schrikker, commenting on Nagel’s Memorandum, wrote “In fact, [Nagel] attested that these people had no memory whatsoever……they did not even know what their origin was or they arrived at the Vanni.” 2.

Why did the editor of the present volume then say the Jaffna chronicle which Jaffna scholars of the nineteenth  century as well as contemporary writers like S.Pathmanathan and K.Indrapala thought to contain mixed accounts of floating legends so remarkable? Though the editor does not explain it, the Jaffna text could be considered “remarkable” for two reasons. Firstly, because its compiler has been bold enough to compile an origin story for Sri Lankan Tamils in the eighteenth century, when the memory could have faded by many centuries except in the case of those new  immigrants, slaves and others brought by the Dutch during the tobacco boom in the peninsula.  Secondly, because it reflects the confusion of mind of the composer, if not of a people whom he represented. That is again the result of not having preserved a clear memory of their now claimed presence in the peninsula, not to speak from pre-Christian times but even from much later times.

The problem faced by the compiler of YPM to weave an origin story is seen from the fact that he has had but to use the origin story possessed by the Sinhalese in their texts. That is, presenting the progenitor of the Tamils as the legendary Vijaya of the Sinhalese himself. Vijaya is made to land at Kathiramalai in the Jaffna Peninsula rather than at Tammanna as the Sinhalese version says, and is made to move to Tammana later as if not to transgress the sensitivities of the Sinhalese.  “Remarkable” construction indeed! But that is not the end. The Jaffna origin story is interspersed with many other layers whose real victim is chronology.

This way of giving parallel weight to the origin stories of the two communities, with the remarks about the Jaffna texts which were compiled  more than fourteen centuries after the Pali chronicles were composed, generates even more ‘sensitivity’ than the Editor was trying to avoid.

The other point that emerges from a close look at the work is the imbalance in the texts used in presenting the early history of the Sinhalese and that of the Tamils. In respect of the former, the story is presented by way of extracts from ancient texts, three by foreigners, (Fa- Hsien,  Buddhagosa, and Ibn Batuta) and Sinhalese classical writers. The only exception of the article by C.R.de Silva on Hydraulic Civilisation.

In contrast, the writings of two modern Tamil writers (K.Indrapala and Charles Hoole) have been selected to introduce the Tamil identity in ancient times and Tamil Nadu in Rajarata respectively. This difference in treatment could be explained as arising from the fact that nothing like the Sinhalese texts existed for the Tamil presence or identity in this early period by any contemporary writer comparable to those written by  Fa Hsien, Buddhagosa or Ibn Batuta? Indrapala wrote that even the Tamil work of South India had no notable allusion to the activities of the Tamils of Ceylon.  Why not? Ibn Batuta made an important observation that Ariyacakravarti, the ruler he met at Battala was a “vicious/ perverse pirate”. That should have been an eye-opener.

The incongruence that such a scheme as the Editor has chosen introduces not only an imbalance in the choice of texts but tends to cast the shadow of the on-going ethnic debate on the present work. As the classical texts do not portray the present day view of the Sinhalese over the speculative writing of contemporary Tamil scholars such as K. Indrapala on state formation, it is just as well that this review should try to critically examine some of these articles by Tamil scholarship, especially, the one on Tamil identity by Indrapala.

Hydraulic Civilization: C.R de Silva’s article on Hydraulic Civilization included in this sectionis a fitting text meant for a travel reader or the beginner. The subject is not easy to be compressed into a two to three page essay. The editor’s selection of this writer who is more a historian on the colonial period when some masterly treatment of the subject by authorities like Henry Parker, R.L.Brohier, Panabokke and RAHL Gunawardana were available, was perhaps intentional in order to avoid an over-professional essay marring the general lighter tendency observed in respect of material incorporated. The reader, however, deserves to be introduced to the marvels of Sri Lankan hydraulic engineering with over a millennium of accumulated experience, its excellence and above all, the genius of the sluice gate idea which Joseph Needham thought deserving to be prioritized in his study of Chinese civilization.  Perhaps, in line with the general scheme followed, quotations from R.L. Brohier would have more appropriately taken care of this topic which brings out the major contribution of Sri Lankans to the world technology.  One should also note the attempts by recent Tamil scholar Indrapala to diffuse the significance of this contribution of the Sinhalese in the field of irrigation by incorporating this development in a broader South Asian perspective for which no strong evidence has been adduced.

Indrapala on Tamil Identity: It is not surprising that in the case of Tamil identity the editor could not keep to his idea of using quotes from ‘classical’ writings as he does in the case of the Sinhalese. On the contrary, he had to fall back on the writing of a modern writer on Tamil identity.  He has selected extracts from K. Indrapala’s recent work “The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity, The Tamils in Sri Lanka, 300BCE to1200CE.

This is obviously because as Indrapala himself wrote in the 1960s and repeated later, even “the Tamil works of South India have no notable allusion to the activities of the Tamil of Ceylon.”3. So, the problem with Sri Lankan Tamil identity throughout [, as observed earlier,] remains that there has been no historical memory of themselves, whether in the form of migration to the island or not and to the contribution to the improvement of the part of the island inhabited by them. The latter is not only for the period of 300 B.C. to 1200 A.C which Indrapala has chosen for his book but even for the period of Singai Aryan rule over the Jaffna peninsula and the later period about which Thomas Nagel, the Dutch official wrote in 1786.

Indrapala finds Collin Renfew’s definition of ethnicity useful in explaining the Sri Lankan Tamil identity except for a “shared origin story (or myth) describing the “origin and history of the group.” The absence of this significant element was commented upon earlier. Indrapala’s main burden in the article, as much as in his book, is to fill the vacuum created by that absence of an origin story. He does not stop at that. He proposes a continuum for the Tamil presence from the early Historical Phase to the thirteenth century through the Cola rule when the climax of Tamil ascendancy was reached.

To weave this illuminating picture of Tamil presence Indrapala had to dislodge the popularly accepted model by historians of a “North Indian –based periodisation “ of Sri Lankan history. That formidable model was based on the evidence of the chronicles, and the historical evidence on both sides of the Palk Straits, notably, taking into account, the strong presence of an Early Brahmi-Prakrit layer in the island showing equally strong Buddhist influence and linguistic evidence of influence from both North West and North East of India.

In this deconstruction, Indrapala resorts to a long discourse on pre-historic contacts between South India and Sri Lanka, especially, during Mesolithic and Megalithic phase, the object of which for the present purpose is only to introduce an alternate perspective to the established ‘North India-based’ model. The authors of the Mesolithic and Megalithic cultures have not been identified to enable any connection with either the Sinhalese or the Tamil ethnic groups, except that Siran Deraniyagala has made the tentative suggestion that the Megalithic people could have been the so called ‘Nagas’ figuring in Sri Lankan tradition.

The other alternative used by Indrapala is to use RALH Gunawardana’s ‘South India -Sri Lanka Common Cultural Region’ model. It has great attraction as nomenclatures go though it is not an original idea. It has been already there though not been argued sufficiently. Indrapala seems to offer it hesitantly. He has found a useful phraseology to place it in a scholarly vortex though the model is rather weak when compared to the traditional North -India based periodisation which has far more empirical support. Consequently, Indrapala uses the attractive explanations that the sea was not a ‘divider’ but a ‘unifier’!

The presence of the Sangam bardic poetry in South India around the time of the Early Brahmi phase in Sri Lanka has been stressed. The creators of that literature must have been a people worthy of mention but to argue that as influencing events across the Palk Straits there has to be some basis. Literary evidence-wise, what is present in the island are three separate references in the Chronicles to usurpations by Damila adventurers who obviously employed South Indian marauding tribes and pirates for pillage. There is also reference to five people identified as Dameda  occurring in the Brahmi-Prakrit inscriptions who seem to have been a mobile people like traders.(Vanija and Gapati ). The result is that despite the declared expectation on the part of Indrapala, the actual situation in the island is a non-event. The visits of adventurers were rare and sporadic to create an impact. What their presence points to is that the young state had to face a challenge soon after state formation from adventurers who were able to organise some sort of military power. On the second and third occasions, the state itself appeared ready to meet the military challenge in a more organized way. That is the Dutthagamani and Vattagamani chapters in history.

Now, an explanation had to be offered for the presence of the strong Brahmi –Prakrit phase, the evidence of which was too formidable to be overlooked. Indrapala offers another model to explain it. That is the “long distance trade” model. As nomenclatures go, it sounds profound. That is about all. Those who are familiar with the writings of Collin Renfew and others in the ‘ Trade as action at a distance” model discussed in Sabloff and C.C.Lamberg-Karlovsky ‘s Edition, University of New Mexico,(1976) which Indrapala has not quoted this time, would not be convinced that this idea of his is an original one either.  As Sociologist Michael Mann pointed out, “scholarly orthodoxy (the reference is to Sabloff school of thought and others) is now that “trade preceded the flag.4. That “long distance trade” model was offered by these international scholars to explain developments in the Near East during the fourth and fifth millennia B.C.E.. It seems to offer little relevance to the situation in Sri Lanka around the third century B.C.E. to the second century C.E.. period.

The role that the ‘distant trade’ model could offer as an explanation to the strong presence of Early Brahmi Prakrit in Sri Lanka which is scarcely found in Tamil Nadu is rather remote. Unlike in the Near East in the fourth and fifth millenniums B.C. when distant trade may have preceded state formation, that is that “well- developed networks of exchange preceded the formation of states in that area.5 in the Early Brahmi phase in Sri Lanka, state formation was already in the making as titles of kingship appearing in inscriptions point to. As for trade, Kalinga was the centre of strong trading activity in the Bay of Bengal extending to the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago in the Early Historical Phase (EHP) which preceded the Pallava and Cola phases in the latter part of the first millennium C.E. it is possible that the spread of Brahmi took place as a result of trade contacts through Kalinga and others in the North West of India but the spate of activity presented by early Brahmi in the island is far too sudden and momentous to have been the result of trade exchanges with the land alone which was still in a less developed state. The new archaeological evidence from Sri Lanka actually point to the presence of Brahmi in the island before the arrival of Buddhism.  The South Indian scholar, K.Rajan  observed that while the Sri Lankan Brahmi inscription show clear association with Buddhism, the Tamil Brahmi inscriptions in Tamil Nadu did not have any direct evidence of links with Jains or Jainism which was the predominant cult there.6.  These conflicting situations pose problems about applying denominators like ‘distance trade’ to explain the occurrence of early Brahmi in Sri Lanka in such preponderance. On the contrary, the strong Early Brahmi-Prakrit phase closely associated with Buddhism appears to be the result of a much greater impulse. Such a great impulse having taken place in the Gangetic region around the third century B.C.E. could have resulted from the great missionary activity conducted by Buddhist Sangha as described in Sri Lankan chronicles and Asoka’s own missionary activity as indicated by his Rock Edicts which have been corroborated independently point to an unprecedented spate of activity.

What is even more questionable is Indrapala’s assertion that the post Sangam period which he calls a “dark period” in South India, is according to him the “most significant in the evolution of the separate Tamil ethnic group in Sri Lanka.” How does he explain this? It is simply through the use of rhetoric. He says it is during this phase that “various early historic communities in the northern third of the island came under dominant influence of Tamil speakers and the Saiva religion.” The two unifying factors, according to him, were the Tamil language and the Saiva religion which are seen as distinctive features of Sri Lankan Tamils at the beginning of the tenth century. There is a sudden quantum jump here from the post-Sangam (around third century CE) to the tenth century when Cola power came to be felt in the island. In other words, he judges what happened during the long centuries from the third century CE. to the tenth century by the events of the tenth century. This is what Tambiah called “retrospective gaze cast upon the past.”7 . One had to wait till the end of the tenth century C.E. to see the first Tamil inscription in the island.8.

The extracts culled out of Indrapala’s writings point to a desperate attempt to create a Sri Lankan Tamil identity from dust for the period 300 BCE to end of 900 CE. When the Cola intervention changed the picture for well over a half century but soon the country revived and threw back the Cola yoke and reestablished a vitalized Sinhalese Buddhist state. To draw an implication from R.L.Brohier’s  observation about the abandonment of the Tannimuruppu Tank (Kurundi –gama) around the thirteenth and fourteenth century, the cause which led to the abandonment of the region affected the settler and invader alike and the invader would have been the first to leave.

II. Colonial Encounter: The texts and essays incorporated in the section “The Colonial Encounter” are mostly from more contemporary ‘classical’ writing with the exception of essays by several reputed contemporary academics. These are included along with excerpts from original sources like the writings of Dom Alfonso de Noronha, Jao Rebeiro, and Fernao de Queiroz, Sebald de Weert, Philip Baldaeus, Rycloff Van Goens, James Cordiner, John Davy, Jonathan Forbes, Governor Torrington, Robert Knox and Lenard Woolf. The texts heavily concentrate on the Sinhalese areas and miss the north and the east where demographic changes were being effected through the settlement of South Indian labour  in the peninsula (for tobacco cultivation, textile weaving and other trades), in the Vanni as the Dutch did; and in the Vanni, east and north central province as the British did.

K.M.de Silva’s article on National Identity and the Impact of Colonialism carries the imprimatur of the empirical historian he is. He approaches the subject from economic development, particularly the rise of plantation economy which led to the rise of Sinhalese interaction with the plantation economy, first by way of providing labour in road construction, (he misses out their contribution in clearing the jungle and in laying the coffee gardens and planting), as transporters of coffee to warehouses in Colombo; and a small section later graduating as coffee planters. Kandyan peasantry itself began to participate in the plantation economy by producing one third of the coffee produced in their small home plots. How the Sinhalese entrepreneur class in the plantation agriculture sector later came to play a dynamic role in national politics is next given attention. The writer observes that European imperialism was as much a religious and as a political and ideological problem. Its impact lasted not decades but centuries into the present day. They significantly impacted literature as well as arts and architecture. The counter-effects which gave rise to conflict and resistance have had the historical consequences that have survived the expulsion of the Portuguese and the Dutch and the departure of the British.

He draws attention to the fact that the Roman Catholics and Protestants were, however, no more than ten per cent of the population during the British rule but that ten per cent formed the significant percentage of the island’s elite and the wealthy and continued to exercise enormous political clout. According to him, it was some of these ramifications that have brought Bhikkus into Parliament in recent times and given rise to nationalism.

Though the general discussion on the religious aspect could equally apply to both the Sinhalese and the Tamils, the article misses the effects of the impact of colonialism on the minority groups. That is the concentration of British/American missionaries in the Jaffna peninsula and how through education it brought about a new elite class there which provided the lower administrators for the British administration and how the Tamil elite came to play a leading role in the national movement. It has also missed the effect of Dutch and British economic policy on the demography of the island which created exclusive Tamil enclaves in the north and the East and under the British, and  how the demography of the hill districts came to be changed.

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Unusual Dialogue of two Portuguese Soldiers: Just to take an example of original texts included, the Article: “Kandy in the 1630s-Through the eyes of a Soldier Poet and a Soldier –Ethnographer,“ the Volume reproduces the text of a dialogue composed by an anonymous author who is said to have served under Captain Constantine de Sa de Noronha who was killed in battle in Uva. Written in the form of a dialogue between two Portuguese soldiers named Fabrico and Cardenio the discussion centres round the Queen of Kandy,  Antanadassin, the daughter of Dom Joao [Wimaladharmasuriya] and Dona Catarina, then taken as spouse by her step-father – uncle Senerat after Dona Catarina’s death. After discussing what features the Queen has, Cardenio gives reasons why the Queen was not wearing ornaments. The suggestion is made that she disliked the marriage to the man who was her mother’s husband; and that she greatly regretted the death of Constantine de Sa as there had been some dealings between them and she had resolved to leave the Court. The more important point relates to the Queen’s literary abilities.

It should be a feather in the cap of the Portuguese soldiery if any of them could rise to the state of composing literary works. That reminds one of how the troops in the British garrison in Trincomalee around 1803 surrendered their Arrack quotas to two of their colleagues on the days the mail came from London because these two were the only ones who could read and write .9 The anonymous writer is most likely to be Father Francisco Negrao himself. That is what the reference to Negrao’s role in tutoring the princess and the moral of the story points to.

III. Emerging Identities: The section on “Emerging Identities” is built up with contributions quoted from a wide range of personalities and writers.

Buddhist Identities: The subsection is built up with quotes from the writings of Henry Steel Olcott; Anagarika Dharmapala; Martin Wickramasinghe, Walpola Rahula and from A.T.Ariyaratne and John Clifford Holt. Buddhism is the key to understanding the personality of the majority of Sinhalese who are Buddhists but none of these quotes or writings properly project the main theme of the section but work round the latter day concepts about Buddhism. Wickramasinghe’s “Apegama” is certainly a misfit here.

The editor’s emphasis is on anti-Christian rhetoric of Olcott and Anagarika. The latter is presented as advocating not just rehabilitation of the Buddhist community to its former state of righteousness but also to achieve a political autonomy for the Sinhalese. The editor sees the religio-political stance that Anagarika took in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the harbinger of the hard-line Sinhala Buddhist politics that emerged after 1956. The quotation cited from many of Anagarika’s lectures fits the editor’s thesis. (See also comments on A.J. Wilson’s comparison of Anagarika with Arumuka Navalar). The subject of Anagarika’s role in the formation of Sinhala consciousness in the nineteenth and early twentieth century is a highly debatable one.

Sarvodaya: A book on Sri Lanka compiled by any Westerner these days must necessarily take note of the presence of NGOs even if it misses the yellow robed Bhikkus because this has become one of the top NGO countries in the world.

The  Sarvodaya movement commenced by A.T.Ariyaratne in the 1950s has attracted much attention of Western interest for the reason that it is avowedly non-Christian in making and uses certain Buddhist tenets for guidance. The inclusion of an article  Sarvodaya appears to be more symbolic of the NGO personality which is haunting Sri Lanka but that could be misleading.

The resolution by Vidyalankara Privena Bhikkus at the beginning of the twentieth century cited under the name of Walpola Rahula provides a new dimension to anyone wanting to learn about the change of thinking that brought about new ideas about the role of the present day Bhikku in the society. Ven.Rahula’s book “Bhiksuvage Urumaya” further elaborated the point in the Vidyalankara Resolution and its English translation has been much quoted by Western scholarship. The views expressed by Ven.Rahula do not represent the entirety of the Buddhist outlook but their influence on modern day thinking on the Sangha has been phenomenal. The next essay on “Politics of the Jatika Hela Urumaya” takes the discussion further.

Holt’s own essay “Buddha Now and Then” is more a personal Odyssey experienced during his visits to the island. He uses his anecdotal comments about the difference between the situation around the Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy which he experienced to lay bare some revealing facts about the Cultural Triangle project. He discusses with an obvious sense of nostalgia the effects tourism has had on the “sanctity of village pilgrimage”. He also shows how the “Royal Buddha” he met at Dalaga Maligawa on his previous visits had changed beyond recognition when he revisited in the 1980s.

His personal observations need not be discussed here. They are food for thought.

His remarks about the Cultural Triangle project having some lose affiliation with UNESCO and having gained some of the premises of Kandy sacred area and the ambience of Kandy having changed inexorably, is revealing. As the person who initiated the UNESCO project of an international Campaign for Safeguarding and Presentation of Cultural Monuments in Sri Lanka, I could say that things did not move the way it was anticipated. The UNESCO link was maintained. The Cultural Triangle people used it more for prestige. UNESCO itself used it for its own publicity advantage for the organization. Director General Mayor wrote that it was the “best managed project.”

Muslim Identities:  The sub-section on Muslim identities  is supported by writings of P. Ramanathan, Denis  McGilvray and Mirak Rahim, I.L.M. Abdul Azeez, S.L.Mohamed, R.L.Spittel, M.L.M.Mansoor and M.M. M.Maharoof.

The essay by McGilvray and Rahim is informative. It lays to rest the controversy about the origin of the Muslims of Sri Lanka, a controversy which caught on after P.Ramanathan’s view which tried to assert that Sri Lankan Muslims were of Tamil origin from South India. It also surfaces information about different groups which constitute the Muslims in society and how efforts are being made to advance the idea of uniform identity based on religion rather than on ethnicity. It also discusses the situation of Muslims in Sri Lanka vis – a- vis the Muslims in other parts of the world and that they have avoided some of the extreme forms. However, they see a female Muslim identity rising in respect of the use of the dress, the Hijab and Chador in place of the traditional Sari worn the Muslim way.

Tamil Identities: The sub-section on “Tamil Identities” is supported by A. J. Wilson, Jane Russell, Robert N.Kearny; Joke Schrijvers, (Womanhood and the Tamil Refugee), Jean Arasanayagam (Poems).

Jane Russel’s article “The Dance of the Turkey Cock” takes the reader back to politics in Jaffna around the time of the introduction of the Donoughmore Constitution. She discusses the rise of the Jaffna Youth Congress as against the conservative All Ceylon Tamil League (ACTL) which was organized and led mainly by Colombo Tamils and was loosely associated with the Jaffna Association. Universal adult franchise was unacceptable to the conservatives. In the Vellala caste dominated Jaffna society, it was feared that the extension of the franchise would threaten their hierarchical privileges in all spheres, just as much as it was feared that the reforms would lead to a Sinhalese domination. The Jaffna Youth Congress drawn from the body of middle class young men, held almost opposite views. It was also influenced by the Indian independence movement. It was the popular vehicle for the Jaffna youth as well as the peasants. The Jaffna Youth Congress, though seen as a protest against conservative elitism of the all Ceylon Tamil League, was not seen favourably by the majority Sinhalese conservative leadership which was working towards responsible government. The boycott of elections by the Youth Congress led to physical violence and finally fizzled out after the Jaffnese realized they were being left behind in emerging politics. Some of the contradictions in Jaffna politics which brought about more recent youth response can be seen through the problems of 1930s.

A.J. Wilson on “Language, Poetry, Culture and Tamil Nationalism” is not one of his best contributions by this political scientist. He analyses the issue more by empathetically looking at what others had expressed.

His comparison of Arumuka Navalar, the religious and social reformer among Sri Lankan Tamils (Jaffna Tamils) with Angarika Dharmapala and his suggestion that Navalar was of lesser consequence than Anagarika among the Sinhalese, needs to be treated with caution. There was no contribution by Anagarika to the revival of Buddhist Philosophical thought and the impact of it at the time comparable to the revival of Saiva Siddhanta by Navalar. Anagarika could not influence the Sinhala elite both Buddhist and Christian whereas Navalar’s influence was more on Tamil elite (Vellala) and a number of Tamil Christians were among his followers. Secondly, Anagarika did not raise issues like Vellala supremacy and support caste prohibitions on temple entry and the use of wells by Harijans as Navalar did, a point which receives only casual mention in Wilson’s article. Thirdly, Anagarika’s appeal was more popular among the lower classes in the Sinhalese society but Navalar’s could not have received such support from the non-Vellala classes in the Jaffna society who were not the dominant majority. Fourthly, Anagarika is not seen at the head of a literary or language revival among the Sinhalese as Navalar was.

Wilson’s assumption that Anagarika was the “progenitor of a nationalist –oriented Sinhalese literary revival,” therefore, needs closer scrutiny. Wilson has tried to class Piyadasa Sirisena with Anagarika but this a point that has not received attention of Sinhalese or other scholarship. One does not find among the Sinhalese anything comparable to what followed in the wake of Navalar’s religious and social reform initiatives in awakening Jaffna Tamil in linguistic consciousness (bashabimanam) and of classical dance (natabimanam) which continued, though somewhat changed in character with the incorporation of Christian missionary scholars. The work of Caldwell, Percival, Bower, Pope, and Ellis, (according to Kailasapathy) was followed by those of Tamotharam Pillai (Grammar and history of Tamil literature), Sivasubramainam Ayyar (scholar and literary work), Sunderam Pillai,(Philosophy and Playwright), (Rev). Gnanaprakasar (historical works) and others. The work was carried to the present day through the work of Kailaspathy and Sivathamby, with different emphasis coming from their left orientation. That Tamotharam Pillai, the leading Christian follower of Navalar included the ‘love of country’ (thesahbimanam) in the ‘abimanam’ concept is to be noted. This stands out against the perception of the world as an exclusively Tamil consciousness found in the Navalar and generated all round in the post- Navalar period.

One reason why Navalar had a greater appeal in the Jaffna society was because the Vellalas were  the dominant majority. Was his advocacy of Vellala supremacy then only a strategy? How could it reconcile with religious tenets in the Saiva system. Is the intolerance which lies beneath the caste factor then to be seen as the dominant guiding principle pervading all issues relating to the Tamils? Are the Vellala Hindu Tamils then following reconciliation of the caste position as part of Brahamanic origin of the Varna system?

It is ironic that Navalar though curiously opposed Christian missionary activities and tried to bring back the converts to Hinduism, worked closely with Christians. His assisting Rev. Percival, his Guru, in translating the Bible into Tamil is legion, but that some of his followers in the literary movement came from among Christians, is noteworthy. His influence then could be seen as employing his anti -missionary zeal to create an over all  Jaffna Tamil consciousness. This is something to be contrasted with in the movement created by Anagarika among the Sinhalese. There was no supporting role by Sinhalese Christians in the literary and language revival comparable to what happened in Jaffna. James  d’Alwis, a Christian scholar preceded Anagarika. Munidasa Kumaratunga and later Martin Wickremasinghe were individual products. John de Silva playwright had no link with Anagarika.

The article is generally informative on what took place under Navalar’s influence and the development of the Jaffna Tamil consciousness which later developed into Sri Lankan Tamil consciousness. Commenced partly as an anti-missionary, Nalavar’s reform movement and the effect it brought about can partly be seen as giving a new dimension to Vellala Tamil rise from a hierarchical caste group which commenced its favoured circumstances under the Dutch and continued in British times to political ascendancy. Even the territorial expansion of Jaffna Tamils can be found here as in the formation of the Batticaloa -Jaffna Association for land acquisition in the Trincomalee district under benevolent conditions offered by the British administration through its preferential policy towards the Tamils both of the Jaffna peninsula and from south India. The altruistic motives proved to be a camouflage. Some of the members of the Batticaloa-Jaffna Association, and the Chettiyars were more interested in timber than in improving the land.

Peasant colonization idea too was a failure because the Tamils were not prepared to labour under harsh conditions.(Ievers). S.Fowler wrote that the Sinhalese always select the best tanks. Tamils preferring small tanks, presumably, as requiring less labour. He wrote: “It is amusing to read in the local papers of the energy of the Tamils of the Northern Province as compared with the listlessness of the Sinhalese. In the Vanni, their positions are reversed, and the Vanni Tamil trades on the reputation of cultivation of the cultivators of the peninsula”. Lewis confirmed it saying “the want of energy distinguishes the Tamils of the Vanni from those of the peninsula and from the Sinhalese neighbours, so that they prefer cultivating under small tanks. This is a theme that runs through the official writings of British administrators in the Vanni and the Eastern Province.10. New settlers for Gantalava and Tampalgama had to come from South India or the peninsula as they conceived to make the district green again. Only twelve were selected from Nuwarakalaviya.11

Language and Tamil Separatism: Robert Kearney’s long article on Language and the Rise of Tamil separatism has been compressed in this volume to give an impression of the role the Tamil language played in the rise of separatism in Sri Lanka. Keareny opens his article with the faulty presumption not unusual in the writings of the foreign writer who visits the island once or a few times or not at all, that the distinction between the Kandyan and low country Sinhalese is one “originating” in the different impact of modernization and westernization.  He has ignored or has not been oblivious to the historical circumstances in which the distinctions were perpetrated by the British colonial administration by colonial feat as distinct policy. Social differences were present just as much as they are found among castes in the low country, and among the Tamils.

The writer also displays inadequate knowledge about the situation of Indian Tamils by not taking into account the changes that took place since the signing of the Sirima-Sastri Agreement of 1964.  (Did he write before these changes took place under Dudley Senanayake and JR.Jayewardene administrations?)

The writer makes a distinction between ethnographer’s identification of ethnicity as cultural rather than physical, and the popular belief of a totally separate ancestry and genetic make up. He also observes that ethnic considerations were seldom noted in the Kandyan court of the pre- nineteenth century, and that the disruption of the ethnic symmetry came from the introduction of the Christian religion and the adoption of the English language by both communities. Adoption of Christianity or English language did not necessitate abandoning of Sinhala or Tamil identity.

From there on the account is a narration of events which, in his opinion, led to the rise of the call for separation in May 1976 with the formation of the Tamil Liberation Front. Among the causes he has highlighted the official language conflict which arose as a Sinhalese reaction to the use of English which provided those educated in that language with a tremendous occupational advantage and high social status; adoption of the new constitution in 1972 which confirmed Sinhala as the official language also conferred status to Buddhism which was to be protected by the State; movement of people from densely populated areas to less densely populated areas which the Tamils considered their ancestral land; the Tamil literary and cultural revival which took place as a parallel event and culminated with the Tamil Studies Conference which though commence as an academic forum led to clashes and Police intervention; standardization of University entrance marks which affected Tamil students adversely; and over-all frustration over the inability to achieve a political solution under existing circumstances.

Missing, however, among these causes which led to militarisation of the Tamil youth is the external factor which is now well documented, especially the encouragement given by India, first by providing safe haven to militants after they had committed criminal acts; and later by providing funds, arms training including sabotage and demolition work, and arms including claymore mines.

The writer has not endeavoured to analyze the reasons critically though he has made a few random observations like introducing the Sinhalese perception regarding advantages enjoyed by Tamils, e.g., there being only a handful which was proficient in English In 1953, (only 9.4%) but that modernization and social mobilization had kindled aspirations for non-traditional employment, political participation, and improved mobility opportunities for those who did not have access to English-education among the Sinhalese; but that disproportionate numbers of Tamils having had entered government service in the professional and administrative grades.

The conferment of status to Buddhism which he has cited as one intended to convert untouchables in the Tamil fold to Buddhism seems to be of doubtful validity. Buddhism and Hinduism have co-existed in the island and there has been no missionary zeal on the part of Hindus in Sri Lanka to convert Buddhists so as to create a reaction against Hinduism. Any preference by Buddhists for Hinduism was a voluntary process because of the complimentary nature of the religions. If Buddhists became Hindus, for example, in the Vanni, it was because Buddhist places of worship had disappeared and there were no Bhikkus. Early British administrators like Fowler and Lewis and Engineer Henry Parker observed the Vanni Sinhalese as worshippers of ‘Pulliyar’, the popular Hindu deity among the jungle folk. In the 19th century the Rate Mahattaya of Padaviya was seen leading Sinhalese worshippers to Kanakai temple in Mullaitivu.

The article endeavours to show that two decades after the adaptation of the Sinhala only legislation, relations between the two communities entered an ominous phase.

Militarisitation of Tamil Youth: A. J. Wilson fares better in his article “The Militarisation of the Tamil Youth” though it has not reached the standard of his other writing on ethnic politics as a political scientist. He shows that Tamil electors have tended to close ranks behind a single party in the face of common danger and the LTTE was the only other group besides the TULF to call themselves the heirs to Tamil nationalist legacy.

One cannot disagree with his assessment of the failure of President J.R.Jayewardene to judiciously handle the July 1983 mob riots situation and its fallout but to make that the starting point of the militarization of the Tamil youth is to over simplify matters. Ostensibly, the July 83 situation erupted because of Tamil militancy – the blowing up of a truck carrying 13 Sinhalese soldiers by India –trained Tamil youth. The writer surfaces the idea that attacks on Tamils was pre-planned before the LTTE attack on the truck in Jaffna. To balance, he has not thought of discussing the prevalent parallel theory referred to earlier, that RAW had a hand in creating the July 1983 situation as a pre-planned strategy to bring in Indian intervention and secure India’s strategic interests in the island. That is how the Indian intervention ended finally as seen both by the Tamils and the Sinhalese.  This aspect has not been investigated even academically, but the events that followed, especially India using the opportunity to advance her strategic interests and gaining control of Trincomalee stand as evidence of a far deeper strategic reason and planning behind Indian intervention. The circumstances do not preclude a role for the Indian Intelligence Agency which was personally responsible to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the pre-1983 politics of Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups were already receiving weapons training including training in sabotage and demolition. The militant movement as well as the pursuit of Indian interests needed momentum and this was supplied by the riots which followed the Jaffna attack on the 13 soldiers. The manner in which the influx of refugees to India claimed then to be around 80,000 were assembled overnight in estates which were not affected by violence should be an eye-opener. (See also comments under Juke Schrijvers’ article “Womanhood among Tamil Refugees” where she comments that the majority in rehabilitation camps in Vavuniya were “Indian Tamils”).

The writer points out that the withdrawal of TULF members from Parliament refusing to take the oath of allegiance and its following programme made Tamil civilian parties irrelevant and resulted in the leadership of the Tamils going to Velupillai Prabhakaran and his Tamil Liberation Tigers. Alternatives were not pursued by the government. Even the District Development Councils project was not pursued vigorously.

Wilson here offers his pet theory that it was the Sinhalese aggrandizement that transformed Tamil social and national awareness into a defensive nationalism. However, he concedes that the Tamil consciousness idea of the Tamil Congress, TUF and the TULF had a substance of defensive nationalism which could manifest itself if Sinhalese-Tamil relations were to go awry. This idea, however, ignores why the Sinhalese did not become aggressive when the Tamils easily moved into the Sinhalese space under the colonial powers and later. After the Tamils fled to the Western countries the Tamil question became internationalized.

The Tamil Homelands project of Chelvanayakam’s Federal Party /TULF was not without its separatist component which became prominent after Chelvanayakam’s death. Wilson also sees the policies of successive governments becoming ant-Tamil in the 1960s and 70s.

The writer plays down the Sinhalese grievance that Tamils had been favoured by the British and attributes to it to better education provided by superior secondary schools in Jaffna. It could lead to a non-ending debate like the ‘chicken and the egg.’ In the discussion of this point, the colonial administration’s favoured treatment of settling Jaffna Tamils and south Indian settlements in the former Sinhalese lands in the Tank Country and the East, well documented in Governor McCullum’s Durbar records with Tamil chieftains (as late as 1911) is ignored.

Deviating from the main theme, Wilson asks the question if two ‘nationalisms’  could co-exist within a state and expresses the view that within a single state the only the majority community nationalism can find space; and the nationalism of the other has to be tolerated but he has since abandoned it. Now he says there cannot be sub-nationalism. There can be only ‘nationalism,’ ‘quasi-nationalism’ or ‘national awareness’ or ‘national consciousness’. The writer asserted that the Vadukkodai Resolution of 1971 had one serious implication for Tamil politics in that parliamentarism would be replaced by the gun in the freedom struggle which meant that constitutionalists would be replaced by a militant movement of youth who had no faith in parliament. The writer thinks that the TULF should have refashioned itself as a political wing of the militarized youth but it had no such wish.

He then goes into the negotiations that the TULF held with the government and the emergence of the District Development Councils (DDCs) and traces the emergence of militant groups starting with the Tamil Students’ Federation and provides details of the five main groups and how the LTTE eliminated the other groups. One thing that comes out of the essay is that the LTTE had the support of majority Tamils including those of professionals, those in business classes in Colombo included. The claim of the LTTE that it was the sole representative of the Tamil people was not its singular idea. It was shared by the majority in the Tamil community.

President Jayewardene’s government seeking to crush the youth militarism through the Prevention of Terrorism Act of July 1979 is seen as having the opposite effects of stiffening the Tamil resistance. In 1976 the TULF declared the decision to opt for a separate sovereign state.

Like in the earlier article by Kearney, missing in Wilson’s present account also, among these causes which led to militarsation of the Tamil youth is the well documented external factor, especially the encouragement given by India, first by providing safe haven to militants after they committed criminal acts; and later by providing funds, arms training including sabotage and demolition work and arms.

The editor’s note updates the account from the Norwegian sponsored ceasefire of 2001 to the final fall of the LTTE. The statement that the Rajapaksa government rescinded the ceasefire agreement without discussing the causes for it seems intended to place the blame entirely on the government.

Womanhood and Tamil Refugees: Joke Schrijvers’s article “Womanhood and Tamil Refugees” using a socio-anthropological model is constructed largely through individual interviews of Tamil women identified from around 15 camps in Colombo, Vavuniya and Batticaloa areas including the Manik Farm camp. The research results, as the writer seems to agree, are not perfect. She says so far [in] the different discourses she referred to Tamil refugee women have remained in the dark. These discourses the researcher admits are mainly springing from urban middle class circles and have not been informed by the experiences and views of internal refugees.

The writer makes the revelation that internal refugees in Sri Lanka whom she calls an “under-class” of people, both in camps in Colombo and in Vavuniya, the majority of …..[whom] most probably came from the plantation sector- being the so called “Plantation” or “Indian Tamils” who had been affected by the anti-Tamil riots in 1977 and 1983 and thereafter…… They were not even the Tamils for whom the LTTE was at war with the government. They were a group severely discriminated against in Sri Lanka already before the riots against Tamils increased during the 1970s and 80s and also looked down upon the Sri Lankan Tamils. Now they had become the most down –trodden outcast Tamils of all. So she stresses the need to keep in mind the fact that the majority of internal refugees are not from an (upper middle class/caste background)…..” This significant observation has been lost in the debate on IDP camps in the island.

The reference to “Indian Tamils” in Vavuniya as “people affected by riots of 1970s and 80s is an eye-opener. How were they present in Vavuniya camps which she seems to speak are the recent IDP camps? It was also noted during the visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao that she expressed concern about the Indian Tamils in the northern refugee camps. That too was lost sight of in the debate. The fact then is that Indian government is aware of the situation and its repeated emphasis on the welfare of the people in the camps and their resettlement can be understood with the special emphasis on “Indian Tamils.” Could this arise from the fact that estate Tamils were settled in the Vanni bordering Sinhalese areas with Red Barna and the Church assistance which has been documented, and more Indian Tamils were placed in refugee sites after the 1983 riots? My own observations was that estate Tamils were collected the night after the 83 riots and taken away to unknown destinations. This happened in our own family estates which were not affected by ethnic riots any time.

The writer has picked up several symbolic features of Tamil consciousness, among Tamil women. One that figures prominently and gone into detail is the discussion on the significance of the “Pottu” as a symbolism of ethnic community (Tamilness) and Tamil womanhood. “Pottu” became the ethnic makers.

The writer has arranged the results of research by way of reactions on each of them by different groups, namely, the “Traditional Tamil discourse,” “Militant Tamil discourse”; “Feminist critique” and “leftist Tamil critique”.

How the LTTE came to consider the traditional views including the “Pottu” in their most extreme form is seen from the observation on the extent to which the LTTE stressed the importance of using the womanhood for counteracting population decline by producing Tamil children without restriction. The researcher cites the LTTE’s opposition to family planning initiatives by the Health Department in advancing this view….. Unmarried mothers who were stigma of the Tamil society were encouraged to have babies and hand them over to the LTTE to be brought up as “heroes” (cannon-fodder) for the ‘nation’. (Maunaguru,1995, 164 is quoted but the researcher herself does not explain how that was done).

The study shows how women were first employed for LTTE propaganda, medical care and fund raising but when males significantly decreased how they were trained in combat and as suicide-killing volunteers –  the “brave mothers” and “warrior women.”

The phenomenon of armed women is seen by the feminists as “against the current of mainstream thinking about women (Radhika Coomaraswamy) but as a “welcome step in the liberation of women” in the opinion of Adele Balasingham who was seen training armed cadres of young Tamil female combatants. The writer cites Kumari Jayawardene’s analysis that space in nationalist movements was limited for women in the case of the LTTE as well.

The writer also presents the leftist critique which encouraged inter-caste marriages ….. and viewed women whether they wear the “Pottu” had to be emancipated as co-revolutionaries.

The feminist view point that women should be less dependent on men and inequality is seen as a negative situation. That women’s liberation should be for military purposes was rejected by them.

In sum, the LTTE, [whose doctrine was the one that prevailed at grass-root level], was seen as emphasizing the ideals of ‘self-sacrifice, austerity, androgyny (which celebrated the ‘masculine’ qualities negating the construction of ‘femininity’), and death, not life….In the LTTE position there was no notion of woman as an independent person, empowered by her own agency. The writer quotes Coomaraswamy (1996,10) who wrote “ [woman’s]… liberation is only accepted in so far as it fits the contours of the nationalist project” and the writer added that these contours were defined by male leaders in the movement. In other words, there were no feminine leaders at the decision making level in the LTTE. Its ideal of the woman was the image of purity and virginity, chastity and sacrifice providing them strength. The researches takes it further [to the Hindu philosophic position] of “ultimate release from the body”. This was achieved by becoming martyrs, (traditionally as widows [did] through ‘Sati’) and today as ‘suicide bombers’ by dying for the ‘nation’.

The researcher found that women in refugee camps in Sri Lanka were very different from the image presented by the government and NGOs, in that though in need of most basic things in life, they were neither extremely vulnerable nor predominantly miserable. On the contrary, many women impressed the researcher precisely by their activity and their pragmatic approach to copying with all difficulties. ….these were very miserable but very tough refugees”. Those in camps came from the poorer, lower class and lower caste sectors.

This analysis, though may not be the last word, is illuminating for its observations, and should go to educate those who think that the upper strata of the Tamil population was in refugee or rehabilitation camps. The subject calls for in depth study.

The mental disposition of female Tamil refugees can be compared to that of Japanese in the U.S., many of whom were Japanese citizens, who were assembled during WW II from all states into parks in Washington, and not finding many receptive state Governors ready to receive them, were placed in ten relocation centres in remote areas in deserts and swamps on land that no one else wanted. There the Japanese-American families deprived of liberty and property, were thrust into miserable, crowded quarter, in which lack of privacy made the continuation of normal life impossible –particularly when parents were enemy aliens and their children American citizens! After evacuation, some families lived in “horse stables reeking of urine and manure, their linoleum floors covered with dust and wood shavings, their walls white-washed over insects, and they ate their meals in mess halls with wet cement floors”. In the early days the internees were cold, they had to eat bad food, and they suffered from lack of water for washing.12.

How the Japanese, especially, the women organized themselves and turned the place into a self-supporting community producing enough vegetables, chicken to feed the entire community with barber- shops, dental offices, newspapers, adult education courses, schools, movie theatres, and their own government amazed the First Lady, Elena Roosevelt, who visited the  Gila River camp in 1943.

The Japanese-Americans survived, as Kate Hobbie, a teacher at Tule Lake relocation centre, the last to be demolished after the War ended observed,  because of the belief in the Buddhist tradition ‘Shikata ga nai (it cannot be helped or Karma (‘Karume’ in the Sinhalese village parlour which has a negative meaning). (Schneider & Schneider, 2003). Perhaps, a similar situation applied to these Tamil refugees too.

Contributors to the Section on “Christians/ Burghers” include Paul Casperz; Michael Roberts, Collin Thome` and others, (Parangi).

The sub-section on  “Modern Art: The 43 Group” is supported by Larry Luchmansingh (Avant Grade).

IV. “Independence, Insurrections, Change”: This section of the volume the post-independent political culture is explored by eminent academics K. M. de Silva, James Manor, Howard Higgins, S.J. Tambiah (Colombo Riots of 1983), and also by essays of Sree Padma (Neither Sinhala nor Tamil), along with poems from Arasanayagam and Ramya Jirasinghe. There is also an essay on the youth insurrections of 1971 and of 1988-89 and ethnic riots of 1983 followed by essays on the new social experience of Middle East workers and the garment factory workers, the ‘Juki Girls’.

K.M.de Silva on “Sri Lanka  in 1948” is at one of his best pieces of writing  offering a very “insightful” resume of conditions in the island on the transition to independence and progress under its first Prime Minister. Contrasting with Indian experience, he shows transition to independence lacked that emotional experience of the neighbouring country and this led to suspicions about the quality of independence achieved but these were disprove by subsequent events. The Soulbury Constitution was essentially drafted by himself and the Board of Ministers in 1944 while the Commissioners made changes to suit developments since then.

He points out that a profound suspicion of India was the dominant strand in D.S.Senanayake’s external policy, a suspicion which was to prove itself three to four decades later. It was in internal policy, the scholar points out, that he left the impress of his dominant personality. He tried to remove the increasing influential current opinion which viewed the Sri Lankan polity being essentially Sinhalese and Buddhist. He was sensitive to minority anxieties, not just as political; realism but something springing from a deep conviction of the need to make general concessions. The equilibrium of political forces he was expecting was achieved with the cross over of the Tamil Congress, the Muslims and the Sinhala Maha Sabha to his government.

The economic legacy left behind by the British began to weaken in 1947 itself with fall in national income while imports were expanding.

One could recognize his understanding the significance of his realization that D.S.Senanayake just like his leftist opponents did not show much understanding of the sense of outrage and indignation of the Buddhists at what they regarded as historic injustice suffered by their religion under western rule. The affront to culture was seen in the resentment of the Ayurvedic practitioner, the Sinhala School teacher which surfaced when the circumstances were more propitiate around 1956.

“After Forty Years”: In the essay “After Forty Years” Howard Wriggins, former U.S. Ambassador reviews developments in a “wide ranging memoir,” his personal impressions of the first four decades little anecdotes like S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike then Opposition Parliamentarian trying to capture power saying: “You know Professor, I have never found an issue as good as the language issue for exciting people.” The local politician thought the excitement could be managed, while Wriggins seems to have been not so optimistic. Language continues to cause excitement in Tamil Nadu to an extent not known here that Tamil has now been accepted as one of the classical languages of India. Not so here where it did not transcend the political side. Not since the days of James d’Alwis who brought Sinhala to the attention of English readers in the latter half of the nineteenth  century and the latter day work of Munidasa Kumaratunga. These individual efforts still did not create for Sinhala what was done by Tamil scholarship in Tamil Nadu for the Tamil language. To the Sinhalese their language remained only an emotional issue sans its cultural content only serving to undo injustice perpetrated on them under colonial rule. That had its fallout. As Wriggins thought, the excitement could not be controlled. So, he contrast pre-Bandaranaike situation by calling it “Multi- ethnic Polity”. That is the view of a foreign observer. The Sinhalese may have their own arguments.

Wriggins’ second encounter in the island as U. S. Ambassador was soon after ethnic riots of 1983. He observes the bitterness of the Sinhalese over Tamil independent state project claiming nearly one third of the land area (he does not mention two thirds of the sea coast).

Wriggins’ observation of ‘more imaginative observers thinking that the riots were organized by Sinhalese zealots precisely to warn Jayewardene not to try any compromise with the ‘obstreperous’ [Tamil] minority. There could be some truth in this observation because I know that President Jayawardene told the Indian Peace Envoy, Parthasarathy of the opposition he had to contend with. When he asked Parthasrathy to meet the Buddhist leaders and sent word to Buddhist leaders to meet the Indian envoy, the latter consulted me about dealing with Parthasarathy because one of them knew that I had an acquaintance with Parthasarthi going back to the days when he was Indian Ambassador to Beijing in the mid 1950s and renewed half a century later when he was Indian Executive Board member at UNESCO and as a frequent visitor there two or three decades later. The 1983 situation, though proved to be counterproductive and to be deplored, its ramifications have stood as a continuing reminder to Sri Lankan leadership of the ambers lying underneath waiting to be ignited if any politically injudicious decisions were made by them. The present leadership is aware of this situation and it is something that India should appreciate as she knows what volatile situations ethnic tension could bring about.

Since the essay is a more a personal account than an analysis, one could understand why like in other writings on related issues, there is no reference to the external dimensions of the Sri Lankan conflict, i.e. of Indian inputs and the suspected Indian hand in creating the tension that caused the 1983 riots.

Wriggins’ assessment that President Jayewardene could have been readier to run the obvious political risks of at least opening negotiations with the Tamil leadership earlier, had Amirthalingam been more restrained in his public utterances, or publicly appreciative of the improvements already undertaken, less intimidated by radical youth, or been more like Chelvanayakam or Tiruchelvam, is a remark that deserves attention. But like the Sinhala language hysteria could not be managed as Bandaranaike thought it could (his untimely death also intervened), the hysteria caused by provocative Tamil position adopted by the new TLUF leadership which was tending towards militancy (Sansoni Report) went beyond manageable proportions when Tamil militants began to replace the old leadership still adhering to Chelvanayakam doctrine.14.

“Ceylon Insurrection of 1971”: The essay by Robert Kearny and Janice Jiggings on the “Ceylon Insurrection of 1971” is essentially a recounting of events offers very little by way of analysis going beyond the familiar material. Striking points are that it was a homegrown movement and had no external armed support or arms training. Even the suspected North Korean involvement was confined to the publication of revolutionary material despite the warnings by the government. The suspicion over Chinese and CIA involvement are more or less ignored. So does the visit of a High powered Chinese delegation following the events and the offer of substantial economic aid to the government. No writer has contrasted the Indian intervention with the Tamil militant movement.

Colombo Riots of 1983: S.J. Tambiah runs through the Colombo Riots of 1983 in a very short essay. The editor prepares the reader to believe it in the light of a ‘pogrom’ using the unusual ferocity it rose to this time, and seems to cast the die in favour of the writer’s belief of that the Jayewardene government had a hand in organising the attacks on Tamils. We have on the other hand noted Wilson’s comments on President Jayewardene’s incompetence in handling the situation.

Tambiah does not go to details in this essay but confines it to a summary of locations where arson and violence took place and points to the concentrated targeting of Tamil economic interests. That could reflect the riots more in the light of a targeted situation rather than a spontaneous outburst arising from the killing of 13 Sinhalese soldiers and the mutilation of their bodies. Killing of soldiers by Tamil militant groups had been taking place for some time though not in such a large number at once and it was the gruesome manner it was done and the mutilation of bodies pointing to it as a deliberate act of provocation, besides the use of claymore mines supplied by India in the attack, which exacerbated the situation. But looking closer, it was the presence of a young officer, a Lieutenant among the dead, a former student of Ananda College that created a more emotional situation among students and parents. As Tambiah narrates, the delay in the bodies being brought to the cemetery that allowed time for more people to join and create all the emotions. What is not stated is that the neighbourhood of the cemetery is full of lower-class dwellings – the so called shanties which

Comprised mixed populations, more of minorities than the Sinhalese – and they were seen joining in the mayhem.

The writer’s summing up that the riots were a “kind of pogrom, motivated, purposive, systematic, and organized” is too harsh a judgment. While all these elements can be identified to some degree in the way the riots proceeded as momentum was gained, these cannot be put into a single formula as the cause and motivation of the riots. A judicious assessment needs evaluation of each of the factors individually, not excluding the belief of the involvement of the Indian Intelligence Agency, RAW. (See earlier remarks).

Such situations as that erupted in Sri Lanka when 13 soldiers were ambushed and killed in Jaffna in July 1983 were not strange events. As the quotation from Daniel Shipler’s review of Diane Mc Whortex’s “Carry me home,New York Times Magazine, will show, deep character flaws in nations, as in individuals, do not always disappear. They can be dormant, mutate and emerging in crisis.”15.The truth of that observation was manifest in post September 11 responses from the U.S.

V. Epilogue:  “The Political Epilogue” contains the editorial “And They Came for Me” attributed to Lasantha Wickrematunge published posthumously, The Island Editorial “Checkmate”, The Tamil Guardian editorial “The Holocaust;” Lilan Jayatilaka’s “Moderation the only way” and Doug Saunders’ “Kingship in the Making”. These are controversial positions which need judicious comments.

Doug Saunders’ essay “Kingship in the Making” in my view is soap-opera and its inclusion as the last piece in the volume shows that as the selections to the volume progressed the editor lost track of the need for constraint which he pointed out, was needed over selections, pernickety getting better of him.

It is not that Sri Lankans are without their own ways of expressing joy after having lived with the end of a crisis which affected daily civilian life for three decades just like the Americans expressing joy after the killing of Bin Laden because of a single attack on the World Trade Centre. The Sinhalese are also not without their sense of humour that they made fun of their ancient rulers and it is seldom one finds one without a skeleton in a cupboard. Even the hero King Dutugemunu was not spared. Queen Anula, the nymphomaniac, it is recorded in the main chronicle, took at least 32 men as husbands and placed them on the throne in succession, not sparing even a wood-career who brought firewood to the palace, getting rid of each of them in succession! D.H. Lawrence need not have looked anywhere else for a better source of inspiration for another book like “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” Anula’s standing in the eyes of the people was so low that her successor did not even think of occupying the palace she lived in and set fire to it with the Queen alive inside it and built a new palace for himself.

It is true that some people discuss things like this in coffee parlours and some in gossip columns but its inclusion in a serious volume is open to question.

The effect of this essay would be like one reading Chomsky or Bacevich in the “America Empire” series to gain a true picture of America. One recalls that series present George W Bush culminating as America’s first “warrior-president”? Bacevich wrote:  “…..George Bush’s staging of victory lap shortly after the conquest of Baghdad in the spring of 2003 –the dramatic landing of the career USS Abraham Lincoln, with the president decked out in the full regalia of a naval aviator emerging from the cockpit to bask in the adulation of the crew – was lifted directly from the triumphal scene of the movie “Top Gun” , with the boyish George Bush standing in for the boyish Tom Cruise……For this nationally televised moment, Bush was not simply mingling with the troops; he had merged his identity with their own and made himself one of them – the president as warlord”. …Bacevich also observes that the market place ratified this effort with a Bush look-alike military action figure advertised as ‘Elite Force Aviator : George W.Bush –U.S. President and Naval Aviator’!

What is the difference? In Japan people still move away from the road, go down on their knees and bow even when the Emperor’s limousine is spotted. As quoted earlier, Shipler’s review in the New York Times Magazine of March 8, 2001 is worth repeating: “….deep character flaws in nations, as in individuals, do not always disappear. They can be dormant, mutate and emerging in crisis.”

The three editorials cited in the Political epilogue do not fare any better. It is not so much their content but what the editor prefaced that matters. The Island newspaper is presented as representing mainstream Sinhala opinion in support of successive governments dominated by the SLFP. So its editorial supporting the government’s action in trying to eliminate the LTTE safeguarding the civilians is tainted. But not so with the Tamil Guardian/Tamil Net which is only referred to as the Tamil Diaspora organs.

The volume is complete with a substantial list of further readings and a good index.  The enthusiasm with which I began reading waned like the editor’s own perspicuity began to diminish, as I reached the end of the volume.

End Notes:

1..Northern Province Government Agent, Percival Ackland  Dyke’s communications with Colonial Secretary quoted in Bertram Bastainpillai, 2006.

2. Schrikker  2007,p 105.

3. Quoted in K.M.de Silva: History of Sri Lanka, p.130).

4.(Mann: The Sources of Social Power, from the beginning to 1760, p.79.

5. Sabaloff and Lamberg –Karlovsky, 1976,

6. Rajan, 2009, p.61.

7. Tambiah, S.J.!982, p.1300.

8. Epigrahica Tamilica, Vol.I, Pt.I, P.166, quoted in Sirima Kiribamuna, 2004,

9. Alexander, 1803. Alexander was a gunner in the British garrison in Trincomalee.

10.(J.P.Lewis: Manual of the Vanni; R.W. Ievers: Manual of North Central Province and his Diaries.

11.Trincomalee Kachcheri administration reports

12.Schneider & Schneider, 2003, p.252.

13. Schneider & Schneider, 2003, p.252.

14. Wilson, see earlier under Militarisation of Tamil Youth.

15. Shipler.D: New York Times Magazine, March 8, 2001.


Alexander A.: ‘The Life of Alexander Alexander’, Balackwood, Edinburgh. 1803,

Bacevich, A. W.J. 2008, ‘The Limits of Power’, New York; 2005, ‘The New American Militarism’, Oxford University Press.

Deraniyagala, S. U.1992: ‘The Prehistory of Sri Lanka’, Vols. I & II. Colombo.

Holt, J.H.,’ Buddha in Crown: Avalokitesvara in the Buddhist Traditions of Sri Lanka’, New York, 1991.

Ievers, R.W. Manual of the North Central Province, Ceylon’, Colombo

Kiribamuna, Sirima: in Ancient and Medieval Sri Lanka’, Ethnic Studies, Vol. XXI, No I, 2004.

Lewis, J.P. Manual of the Vanni’,1895. Reprint, 1993. New Delhi.

Mann: Michael: 1986,’ The Sources of Social Power, from the beginning to 1760’, 1986, (.1994 Reprint).

Rajan K. ‘Damili Graffiti and cave Records: The Brahmi Script in Tamil Nadu’ in Indrapala Ed. ‘Early Historic Tamil Nadu c.300 B.C.E – 300 CE. Colombo.2009.

Renfew, C.  ‘Trade as action in distance’ in Sabaloff and Lamberg –Karlovsky, University of Mexico Press.,1976.

Carl Schneider & Dorothy Schneider: Eyewitness History of the Second World War’Checkmark Books Inc.N.Y.2003.,

Schrikker, A., ‘Dutch and British colonial intervention in Sri Lanka, 180-1815’, Leiden.2007.

Tambiah, S.J ’ Buddhism Betrayed’, Chicago.,1992.

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