On the 27th of January 1985 The lsland newspaper presented a cartoon sketch of a lion being confronted by a cockroach possessing the same physical scale as the lion under the caption “Hoisting the Flag for Lansi Eelam.” The lion denoted the Sinhala people, that is, the Sinhala nation in all its deep history and majesty. The cockroach signified the Burgher people of Sri Lanka, namely the “lansi.” The cartoon was supported by a letter attributed to a “Sharm De Alwis.”
Voila! So, it has come, but sooner than I expected: the call for a unified Lansieelam.
When I anticipated such a move I did tell a friend that were I the President I’d give the Burghers the Bambalapitiya Flats with the sea frontage thrown in for good measure. They would then be free to harness their intrinsic but long-forgotten skills in reclaiming the sea and build derricks to Mozambique or even Rotterdam.
But what bugged me was when my friend took me at my word and produced the next day the visual of the Lansieelam map. Not that I would have any objections to the apt depiction of the cockroach but that the pest had assumed the same proportions of the Sinhala Lion.
My friend re-assures me that what she has in mind is not a separate state but an isolated plot fully integrated with the Sinhala state and the cockroach, large as it now is, gives ample muscle aid to the Lion to combat other opposing factors.
Sharm de Alwis, 82/1, Kandy Road,, Kiribathgoda
In Sri Lanka the designation lansi could be deployed in a neutral descriptive sense or, alternatively, in a denigrating and offensive manner – the meaning emanating from the tone of the voice and the context of interaction. However, the Burghers were also disparaged as karapoththas or karapothu lansi. That terminology, and the deployment of the cockroach as an embodiment of the vile, the dirty, and the despicable, has been a universal instrument in the circuit of world history where a dominant majority exercise their powers over a minority seen as outsiders or dirty (as indicated by instances from world history referred to in People Inbetween for instance).
Thus: for the Burghers to be linked with the idea of “Eelam” – standing for independent nationhood for the Tamils within Sri Lanka – was a revolutionary suggestion — indeed, an outlandish thought.
This, then, was the force of the jest cast by the anonymous author of the cartoon and its associated texts (including a letter from “Suzie Cockarochchi” (see its reproduction with related items at …………………………………………. https://thuppahis.com/2020/08/03/lanseelam-in-1985-cut-and-thrust/).
It appears that this cluster of representations was the work of Eustace Rulach, a well-educated Ceylonese Burgher who was born in Kandy in 1933 and educated at Trinity College before taking to journalism with the Lake House newspapers and rising to a senior position in the sports field of reporting. Rulach (who married Jeanne Reid at St. Mary’s Church, Bambalapitiya on May 1955) had migrated to Melbourne in Australia at some point in the late 1960s or early 1970s: so, this set off political jests from his mind was cast from afar.
It was a combination of jests which, as I shall affirm, contained a far-seeing political truth that has reared its head in the last two decades or so (see below).
In evaluating the implications of this teasing cartoon, particular attention must be attached to the date: viz., 27th January 1985. While this moment was well after the two pogroms that subjected the Tamils living in Colombo and the southern areas of the island to vicious and frightening attacks, it was at a stage in the Tamil nationalist upsurge where most of the leading Eelamist groups were working (uneasily) with each other.
Parenthetically, let me note that this was before (A) LTTE elements in the Jaffna Peninsula suddenly assaulted a TELO-camp and proceeded to eliminate TELO personnel in the Jaffna Peninsula in late April 1986; (B) before the LTTE assassinated the Tamil leaders of the Federal Party and pushed that old guard into the background in the course of the years 1986-89; and (C) before the LTTE killed several leaders in other Tamil paramilitary groups (for e. g. Uma Maheswaran in mid-July 1989). In short, it was before the demand for “Eelam” became indelibly linked with the Tamil Tigers under Pirapaharan.
Nevertheless, even then in early 1985, “EELAM” spelt an independent state.
For the Bambalapitiya Flats, or the seaside stretch from the Bambalapitiya suburb to Galle Face Green, to be carved out as a separate state was a colossal joke. Therein lay the force of Eustace Rulach’s laugh.
His jest was accentuated by the “Letter to the Editor” of The Island which accompanied the cartoon ‘missile’ … (a letter which is also presented in People Inbetween as Appendix I on page 208). That letter pretended that it was written from
1 Deebeuy Street,
Lan Sea Park.
- A. 5071
1 January 1985
It was signed by “Suzie Cockarochchi” as “General Secy of the “Lanseelam Association of Australia Inc.”
Here, then, we see, via the address “Dee Beuy,” a ribbing of the august body of upper-class Burghers who made up the genteel establishment in the heart of Colombo known as the Dutch Burgher Union.”
However, in a political aside, let me indicate how the term could be deployed in Sri Lankan middle class chat in a manner that brought those facing denigration/attack into alliance as victims. Take one instance: this tale was conveyed to me by Bruce Kapferer of the Anthropology Department at Adelaide University as an ethnographic incident when he was on fieldwork in the island. He was having a drink with a Tamil at the Otters Club (a swimming, tennis and indoor games establishment) off Buller’s Road in Colombo in August 1985 when the Tamil gentleman X was hailed by a well-inebriated Burgher gentleman of Batticaloa origin (let me call him Y).
“Well, what do you make of these buggers?”– the latter being a reference to the Sinhalese in the light of current news headlines. X’s cautious response led Y to press his point: “You know I am just a cockroach. But I cry for you a lot. We ae getting beaten too. I have never been political. What to do?”.’ This self-derogatory comment and a subsequent reference to ‘we karapottas’ encouraged X to open up: when Y left, X even spoke affectionately of him.
As I affirmed in People Inbeween (page 8): “What had been communicated by Y [n his exchange] was their common membership in a field of discrimination outside the Sinhala order. Here, then, was an instance of what Gramsci would perceive as hegemonic practice, when those in a subordinate position adopt the symbols of their subordination.”
That noted, I contend that Rulach’s cartoon, and the text from Suzie Cockarochchi associated with it, conveyed a potential challenge to the Sinhala-dominated socio-political order. I stress the adjective “potential” here.
I go further. I contend that the cartoon and its accompanying texts constituted … and constitutes “today” … a challenge to the concept of “Eelam.” It does so by implying that there could be no end to the demands for Independence of the Eelam sort within the (limited) geo-political space of island Lanka.
That potential soon reared its head in the Eastern Province among the Muslim Moors in the late 20th century… and is lurking quite ominously NOW.
A few Muslims who lived in the Tamil-majority areas had joined one or the other Eelamist organisations in the late 1970s and the 1980s. However, the tensions between the LTTE forces commanding the Batticaloa District of the Eastern Province reached such a fever-pitch that the Tigers launched a merciless attack on Muslim worshippers at the mosque in Kattankudy on the 3rd of August 1990 – killing as many as 147.
Some of the enbalmed corpses …and the burial scene afterwords
This split in the East and the implications of the massacre for the LTTE in the north seem to have combined to induce the LTTE high command under Pirapaharan to ask all Muslims residing in the Mannar District and Jaffna Peninsula to pack their belongings and leave. This was in the course of October 1990.
Thus, in late 1990 the split between the Tamil Tigers and the Muslim Moors of Sri Lanka was now irrevocable. Unlike the situation within the Jaffna Peninsula, however, the Moor peoples in the Eastern Province were not only considerable in number, but also sustained a majority in some pockets and localities. As the map below indicates, these pockets included the Koralai Pattu North, Eravur, Manmunai North and Kattankudy … with the latter three being seaside arenas. Therein lay the political space for Moors to exercise their hostility to the rulers of Thamililam. …. And, thus, eventually and more recently, for them to hanker after and/or seek devolutionary space from the state of Sri Lanka once the LTTE were vanquished in 2009.
Early signs of this thrust towards greater autonomy were embodied in the politics of a charismatic leader named Mohammed HM Ashraff. Born within a political family in Sammanthurai in the Eastern Province in 1948, Ashraff passed through Law College in Colombo with honours and took to politics with the (Tamil) Federal Party in the year 1976, while also dabbling in literary fare (poems, articles of a Left-leaning sort). He was one of the founder members of the Muslim United Liberation Front when it was initiated in 1977. The MULF was in alliance with the TULF for a few years, but when the latter did not permit Muslim candidates under its ticket, Ashraff left.
In September 1981 Ashraff joined other Muslim politicians in setting up the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) with its HQ, significantly, at Kattankudy. This was at a point of time when some Muslim youth in the east were joining Tamil militant groups in search of Eelam – a trend that concerned Muslim political leaders in the west and centre of the island. These concerns seem to have been one factor that inspired Ashraff to join hands with another emerging Muslim notable named Rauff Hakeem in transforming the SLMC into a political party in November 1986. He then proceeded to contest the General Elections in 1989 and 1994 under the SLMC ticket as one of the MPs for Amparai – doing so successfully.
Ashraff was now a Muslim leader with all-island clout and special interests in Batticaloa District. However, the SLAF helicopter which he had hired in order to travel from Colombo to his home base crashed in the Mawanella locality in the hill-country on the 16th September 2000, killing all on board. This unexpected event undermined the political clout of Muslim Moors of the east of Sri Lanka. In Ashraff, these Muslims had a talented spokesman who had the potential to push their cause. This cause had/has the potential to include the demand for greater autonomy for a district or sub-district possessing a majority of Muslim voters: that locality being centred in and around Kattankudy ….. with the presence of the South-Eastern University in the Oluvil area south of Kattankudy generating personnel and fodder for such fruits to mature.
In exploring the potential possibility of a Muslim enclave being carved out within Batticaloa District about one month back I came across a map sent to me by a retired military officer. Professor Gerald Peiris (a close friend who was formerly Head of the Geography Department at Peradeniya University) indicated to me that this MAP was/is “from a Report published by the Dept of Census & Stats on the foundation of an enumeration done in 2007 – i.e., “soon after the eviction of the LTTE from the district.” He also stressed that there is no reason to suspect its authenticity.
This revealing mapwork and data underline the complexity of ethnic distribution in the coastal arena of Batticaloa District. I asked Gerald Peiris if there was any possibility of “reworking this map …. schematically to convey the prospect of an Enclave District within Batticaloa district that could be Muslim Moor space embracing strongholds in Kattankudi + the Oluvil area and the University nearby + Sammanturai, the home base of the late Mohamed Ashraf.”
His answer runs thus: “the reality relating to what appears to be the focus of your interest is that Batticaloa District, especially parts of its urban and suburban maritime fringe, is featured by an intricate network of ethnically distinctive localities (“neighbourhoods” like those in parts of Wellawatte) so that it is not possible to map that network unless the cartographer has access to maps showing Grama Niladhari administrative boundaries (to which Divisional Secretary areas are divided), and the ethnically disaggregated statistical data at that level (not available at all in published form).”
END ****************************** END
Bopage Lionel 2022 “The July 1983 Pogrom ….,” https://groundviews.org/2022/07/24/the-july-1983-pogrom-the-black-week-that-devastatingly-impacted-sri-lanka-forever/
Expulsion of Muslims 22: https://www.ft.lk/Columnists/LTTE-s-mass-expulsion-of-Muslims-from-the-north-30-years-ago/4-707788
Jeyaraj, DBS 2009 “Wretched of the Earth break Free of Bondage,” Daily Mirror, 25 April 2009, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/380
Jeyaraj, DBS 2011 “KP’ Speaks Out. An Interview with Former Tiger Chief, Vavuniya: NERDO
Jeyaraj, DBS 2020 “LTTE’s mass expulsion of Muslims from the north 30 years ago,” https://www.ft.lk/Columnists/LTTE-s-mass-expulsion-of-Muslims-from-the-north-30-years-ago/4-707788
Parameswaran, Sivaramakrishnan 2010 “Pain of 1990 Muslim ‘massacre’ lingers in Sri Lanka,” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-10950740
Roberts, Michael with Percy Colin-Thome & Ismeth Raheem 1989 People Inbetween, Ratmalana, Sarvodaya Book Publishers.
Roberts Michael 2011 “Amnesty International reveals its Flawed Tunnel-Vision in Sri Lanka in 2009,” 10 Aug. 2011, http://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/amnesty international-reveals-its-flawed-tunnel-visionon sri-lanka-in-2009/
Roberts Michael 2011 “From Tsunami Medical Logistics to IDP Camp Medical Aid, 2004-09; Q and A with Dr Herath,” 14 Sept 2011, ………………….…………………. https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/from-tsunami medical-logistics-to-idp-camp-medical-aid-2004-09-q-and-a-with-dr-herath
Sheriffdeen, Alavi Seyed Mohamed 2021 “Bloodshed within Sacred Walls…. ,” 21 August 2021, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/bloodshed-within-sacred-walls-in-memory-of-that-bleak-day-august-3rd-1990/
Tambiah, SJ 1986 Ethnic Fratricide and the Dismantling of Democracy, University of Chicago Press
Thornton, E.M. & R. Niththyananthan 1984 Sri Lanka, Island of Terror –An Indictment, Eelam Research Organisation.
Wikipedia …… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expulsion_of_Muslims_from_the_Northern_Province_of_Sri_Lanka
ALSO NOTE, albeit not read by the author … a NEW FIND = Shreen Abdul Saroor (ed). Muslims in Postwar Sri Lanka: Repression, Resistance &, Reform, n.d., pubn details unclear ……………………………………………………………………………… https://www.minormatters.org/storage/app/uploads/public/615/69b/d3b/61569bd3b3d59076872669.pdf
1 See Roberts et al, 1989 7-8, 209 and, for the term karapotta, pp. 7-13, 18, 41, 132, 171, 251, 252.
2 Bio data on Rulach has been kindly provided by Manik De Silva, Hugh Karunanayake and Buddy Reid. Eustace and his wife Jean were keen followers of Dave Bulbeck and Eustace himself was a talented musician.
3 For the POGROM of 1983 = See DBS Jeyaraj 2010; SJ Tambiah 1986; Rajan Hoole 2013; Michael Roberts 2011; E.M. Thornton & R. Niththyananthan, 1984 … amidst a host of sources.
5 “In February 1986, the LTTE pulled out of the ENLF. On 29 April that year, they launched an all-out assault on the TELO. TELO bases across Jaffna were shelled with mortars. TELO cadres, whether armed or unarmed, came under rifle attack and were shot dead. No quarter was given, according to eyewitnesses. Those who surrendered were shot dead as they laid down their weapons, and those who attempted to flee were shot as they ran. Civilians were warned not to shelter fugitives ……… (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamil_Eelam_Liberation_Organization#:~:text=In%20February%201986%2C%20the%20LTTE,attack%20and%20were%20shot%20dead).
6 The DBU was set up in the first decade of the 20th century as an institution that provided indoor recreational facilities (billiards card games, darts, and booze) for Burgher gentlemen of upper-class status, while also functioning as a lobby group in the political movement directed against the British. Entry was policed and Burghers of lower status kept out. In the result I know of Burgher friends in the mid-20th century who detested the DBU.
7 At this stage I can reveal that X was the late Mahen Vaithianathan who lived in Colpetty and whose hospitality was unbounded – so much so that a spare bedroom was always on offer to me.
8 The reference here is to Antonio Gramsci and his theories on “Hegemony.” Gramsci broke away from the dogmatic economic determinism in orthodox Marxism and indicated that the bourgeoisie developed its hegemony through ideological processes rather than violence, coercion and economic force. See Wikipedia = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Gramsci
9 I use the term to distinguish the Moors from the Malays in Sri Lanka. The Malays were and are usually Muslims in their faith but were a distinct community found in small … indeed often minute numbers in several parts of the island –including identifiable local pockets of concentration in British times in Slave Island in Colombo and in the Kirinde seaside locality in Hambantota district.
10 The “Kattankudy Mosque Massacre” refers to the killing of over 147 Muslim men and boys on 3 August, 1990. Around 30 armed Tamil militants raided two mosques in Kattankudy (Meer Jummah Mosque, Kattankudy-01 & Hussainiyya Mosque, Manchanthoduwai) where over 300 people were prostrating in Isha prayers. “… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kattankudy_mosque_massacre#:~ The factors that gereated this rupture between the Muslim Moors and Tamils in the East and within the LTTE demand a new study.
11 A hasty search has provided some of the references noted below; but I think this momentous illustration of the LTTE’’s maniac Nazi-type policies demands a book study. It is my hope that non-Muslims such as Jane Russell and Jeremy Liyanage will join Muslim Moor and Tamil researchers in producing a book on the topic.
12 For Hakeem see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rauff_Hakeem
13 The military personnel I have consulted have not suggested foul play; so, the cause may have been mechanical.
14 The “Southeastern University” emerged as a “College” in 1995 and was upgraded to university status in 1996. One impetus for this measure was the impact of the LTTE’s expulsion of Muslim personnel from the north. The Muslim university students displaced by this act were left in limbo. It does not take much imagination to conjecture that the widespread presence of Muslim voters in most regions of the island provided the ruling party (SLFP then) with the incentive to please this voting bloc.
15 Email dated 20 July 2023.
A THANK YOU: Johnny de Silva in Melbourne, KK De Silva in Colombo and Gerald Peiris in Kandy have assisted me in no small measure in presenting some of the ‘tools’ embodied within this article.