Category Archives: caste issues

From Empiricist Conflation to Distortion: Caste in South Asia

Michael Roberts, responding in 1985 to a Review Essay by Susan Bayly of Cambridge University  on his book on Caste Conflcist and Elite Formation, CUP 1982

Susan Bayly** has done me the honour of reviewing the book on Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931 at considerable length.’ Her essay is appropriately entitled ‘The History of Caste in South Asia’. This title provides a clue to the interpretative pathways which have led her systematically to misunderstand the arguments within the book. No less problematical is her implicit belief in the possibility of constructing a composite picture of the caste system qua system on the basis of empirical data drawn from different regions, regions as widely different as Sri Lanka, southern India and western India. Let me elaborate this charge, and in doing so reiterate the arguments which I presented.

Susan Bayly

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Basil Fernando’s Searing Protest against Violence in All Its Forms

Basil Fernando: A Short Abstract re the book Body, Mind, Soul, Society: An Autobiographical Account

 This book (176 pages) is an attempt to contribute towards an understanding of the impact of violence on human persons and the society. It is based on the direct experience of living and working in Sri Lanka and Cambodia. However, references are also made to several more developing countries in Asia with which I have been engaged in working after the experiences in Sri Lanka and Cambodia. The book is written from the perspective of a victim who is also an observer.

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An Exploration: Discerning How a Sinhalayā in Kandyan Times BECAME Sinhala

Michael Roberts, reproducing here an old draft that is entitled “Becoming Sinhala” ***

Preamble

The scene is somewhere early in 1984 and the location is the building housing the Social Scientists’ Association on the road to Nawala off Narahenpitiya in Colombo. The late Charlie Abeysekera and the late Newton Gunasinghe are reflecting gloomily on the pogrom of July 1983 that had victimised Tamils living in the capital and elsewhere in the south. Charlie is one of the founder members of MERGE and both are among the few personnel in Colombo who had taken an active stand in public forums against the atrocities that had occurred.* Now, in the gathering dusk, Charlie looks at Newton and asks: “what makes you think that you are a Sinhalese?” Newton immediately grasps the serious import and analytical purpose behind this question. He considers the issue gravely before venturing upon an answer.

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About the Kāberi in Colonial Ceilao and the Fort of Galle

Michael Roberts

Writing in the Daily News in March 2019 and deploying the affirmation of a South African diplomat, Jeevan Thiagarajah has lamented the alleged fact that the VOC Black African used slave labour to build the imposing Fort of Galle – even asserting that “an estimated 15,000 Africans brought from Portuguese and Dutch colonies” worked on this project.[1] Thiagarajah is a political scientist and not a historian. His essay is clearly riding on the back of the movement “Black Lives Matter.” But in this populist move to earn kudos (as I speculate), he displays abysmal historical background and has failed to consult the many personnel next door to him in Colombo who would have served up solid data on the topic – notably Ashley De Vos (who has subsequently, albeit briefly, questioned Jeevan’s claim).

The Fort of Galle in the late 19th century

Storming of Galle fort in 1640

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Galle Fort built on the Backs of African Slave Labour

Jeevan Thiagarajah in Daily News, 25 March 2019with this title“Slaves built Galle Fort” … …. with highlighting emphasis imposed by The Editor, Thuppahi

The topic of the piece today was triggered by a conversation with the current High Commissioner in Colombo from South Africa, Ruby Marks, who has also posted on her Facebook page this passage, “Calvin Gilfillan, Head of Die Kasteel, affirmed what we suspected-the Dutch conceptualized and supervised, but it was the labour of an estimated 15,000 Africans brought from Portuguese and Dutch colonies, that did the back breaking work of actually building the Fort and the other ones scattered across Sri Lanka. I was shocked by how little was known in Sri Lanka about this. I visited the cramped quarters where the slaves were kept, the dungeons where they were imprisoned, and the cemetery-now a car park where they were buried. And my heart wept.

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Insights into Victorian Ceylon’s Westernized Bourgeoisie via the Jeronis Pieris Letters

Yomal Senerath-Yapa,“Family sagas and a peek at Victorian Ceylon’s westernised bourgeoisie” in  www.elanka.com.au/tag/yomal-senerath/ AND https://www.pressreader.com/sri-lanka/sunday-times-sri-lanka/20201108/282222308278502 …. 12 November 2020 = a REVIEW of the second edition of Facets of Modern Ceylon History -Through the Letters of Jeronis Pieris by Michael Roberts

Few voices of the early 19th Century bourgeois Ceylonese have survived straight from the horse’s mouth to-date. Who were this new elite? What were those first English-educated generations like? How did Macaulay’s “class of people who can act as intermediaries between us and the millions we govern — English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and intellect” fit in?

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Jeronis Pieris Letters in Coffee Table Book: Insights into 19th Century Ceylon


F
acets of Modern Ceylon History through the Letters of Jeronis Pieris … originally published in 1976 by Hansa  [on Bandaranaike era paper] and now presented as a coffee table book with  a host of striking photographs that recapture the mid-nineteenth century era of capitalist expansion with all its pluses and minuses.

Cost is Rs 6400 via the website www.pererahussein.com using VISA or MASTERCARD. The Registered Airmail postage rate to different countries in the world is calculated automatically by the website and added to the cost of the book. Foreign currency rates will thus be equivalent to the Rupee price but will vary slightly depending on the daily Forex rate. Foreign currency rates will thus be equivalent to the Rupee price but will vary slightly depending on the daily Forex rate.

ISBN = 978-955-1723-49-1 .…………….The book is available at : Barefoot, Cargills book city, Sarasavi, Vijitha Yapa, JamFruitTree, Kalaya, Pendi and Urban Island.
 
Jeronis in mid life … & Alfred House in its Prime in mid-19th century

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The Plantation Economy in British Ceylon: The Downtrodden Indian Tamil Labour and the Dispossessed Kandyan Peasantry

Uditha Devapriya, in SAT MAG” of The Island on September 19 and September 26, 2020.

PREFACE: This essay does not present a complete history of plantation slavery, which anyway has been covered many times before by scholars of repute, including Professor Asoka Bandarage, whose Colonialism in Sri Lanka went through a second edition recently. Rather, it counters Sinhala nationalists and those opposed to Sinhala nationalists who equate the position of African-Americans with that of Tamils and Muslims, indicating a failure to distinguish between minority communities which thrived under conditions of colonialism (and neocolonialism) and those which suffered under those conditions. It also counters certain “Marxist” and rightwing academics who see the plantation system as capitalist, and who, while either sympathising with the plight of Estate Tamils or ignoring them outright, single out Kandyan Sinhalese peasants for what they allege to have been their innate laziness under British colonialism, a myth demolished by S. B. D. de Silva in his underrated and unread magnum opusThe Political Economy of Underdevelopment.

Tea Plantation labour in Ceylon – circa 1890s

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The Eastern Regions of Sri Lanka in British Times

Michael Roberts

My D. Phil dissertation at Oxford in the early 1960s centred on British agrarian policy in the mid-nineteenth century and therefore included the British efforts to revive the tank irrigation systems of the Sinhala past. Several British colonial personnel as well as visiting dignitaries were captivated by the ruins of the Anuradhapura/Polonnaruwa periods which they observed during adventure trips. A few saw it as a challenge for their imperial capacity. Some British governors, notably Ward, Gregory and Gordon, took up the prospect.

 Sir Henry Ward and SJV Chelvanyakam

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The Ahikuntika …. Roaming Gypsies of Sri Lanka

Pujitha Wijetunge, in http://www.lankalibrary.com/cul/gypsy.htm ….where the title is “Ahikuntika: Roaming Gypsy Clan”………. alas, no date given

Clad  in a sari and with a red mouth that showed signs that she was chewing beetle, Lili didn’t look any different from those fortune-tellers or palm readers who were a common sight in the streets few years back. But the next generation, Lucki, looked very much like those village boys, wearing a sarong and a gold painted wristwatch.

Lakshman with his dancing cobra.

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