Category Archives: caste issues

Caste in Jaffna

Prashanth Kuganathan** whose title runs thus: “Social Stratification in Jaffna: A Survey of Recent Research on Caste”

A SYNOPSIS: Since 1983, war has dominated the perception of Sri Lanka. This has affected scholarship on the country, such that the subjects of an overwhelming number of research proposals and publications have been on the war and the prospects and prescriptions for peace. This survey paper is an attempt to locate the system of caste in transition in the Jaffna Peninsula by reviewing recent literature written after the commencement of the war. While detailed ethnographies of caste in Jaffna may have temporarily come to a halt, caste practices have not and remain a salient part of everyday life among the Tamils in Sri Lanka. As the war ended in 2009, it is therefore important that social scientists on Sri Lanka revisit the topic of caste, that is an integral part of not just Tamil culture or society, but being Tamil itself. As the study of caste is dominated by research in India, a microanalysis of Jaffna and Sri Lanka, particularly the nuances of this system in transition due to war and militancy, could contribute to the macro-study of caste at a sub-continental perspective.

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The Suriya Mal Campaign of the 1930s and Doreen Wickremasinghe nee Young

An Item at Roar.lk, where the title reads “We must remember Suriya Mal, even in this era of Manel Mal”

Doreen Wickremasinghe was a British leftist who became a prominent Communist politician in Sri Lanka and a Member of Parliament (MP). She was one of the handful of European Radicals in Sri Lanka.

Doreen & the Rodi lass she ‘rescued’

Doreen Wickremasinghe was the daughter of two British ‘ethical Socialists’. While a student in London in the 1920s, she became involved in the India League and carried out other anti-imperialist work. Here she met Dr S.A. Wickremasinghe, then a radical Sri Lankan moving in Communist and radical circles while a post-graduate student in London.

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The Machinations of Vellala Lawyer Leaders that Deepened Tamil-Sinhala Divisions from the 1920s-to-the-1960s

Sebastian Rasalingam, reproducing an article presented in 2008 in The Sri Lanka Guardian in October 2008 with this title “An Excellent and Timely Feature on the Tamils” **

 Please permit me to make some comments on the recent article on the “Sri Lankan Identity” by R. M. B. Senanayake, continuing a discussion in a previous article by Anne Abeysekera. Both these articles, written by authors who are familiar with the English-educated Sinhalese point of view, deal very inadequately with the issues of Tamil Nationalism in Sri Lanka and in erstwhile Ceylon. In fact, the modern generation, even the Tamils, are on the whole unaware of the true nature of the present conflict and the role of Tamil nationalism. They are misled and mesmerized by simplistic histories concocted by the great political agenda set in motion by the Tamil leaders of the pre-1956 era. In fact, I will outline below how the battlelines were drawn in the Donoughmore days, by G. G. Ponnambalam (GGP) and others who followed.

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Religion within Tamil Militancy and the LTTE

  Iselin Frydenlund, presenting her article in Oxford Encyclopedia of Religion, May 2018, …. one entitledTamil Militancy in Sri Lanka and the Role of Religion” …. https://sangam.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Tamil-Militancy-in-Sri-Lanka-and-the-Role-of-Religion.pdf  … OR … https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Tamil-Militancy-in-Sri-Lanka-and-the-Role-of-Frydenlund/4cbf5235611dd3407dfa3a2962e6ea635ac50674 … with highlights and pictures being impositions by the Editor, Thuppahi

Induction of Tiger recruits into fighter ranks with receipt of the kuppi containing cyanide

Tiger soldiers relaxing in camp with cyanide kuppi around their necks Pix by Shyam Tekwani

 

Historical Background

Understanding the role of religion in the Tamil insurgency requires an understanding of Sri Lanka’s cultural mosaic and of the development of modern nationalism before and after independence from British colonial power. Sri Lanka is a geographically small yet culturally rich and complex island, with numerous ethnic, linguistic, religious, and caste subgroups. The majority of the population identify as ethnically Sinhala, and they speak Sinhala, an Indo-European language. The great majority of the Sinhalese are Theravada Buddhists who live mostly in the south and central regions of the island. A small minority of Sinhalese are Catholics, and some also belong to evangelical Christian churches. The largest minority group in Sri Lanka is the Tamils, who speak Tamil (a South Indian Dravidian language) and comprise several subgroups. The largest of these are the so-called Sri Lankan Tamils, who traditionally have lived in the north and east. The so-called Indian Tamils are labor immigrants from India who were brought in by the British to work in the plantation sector in the highlands. The majority of Tamils are Hindus of the Śaiva Siddhanta tradition, but there are also a significant number who are Catholics and a few to smaller Evangelical denominations. The Tamil Muslims identify based on religious belonging, not on a common ethnic identity, and they speak Tamil. Historically, the Muslim communities are scattered throughout the island; they form a stronghold in urban trading centers in the south but are also farmers in the Tamil-majority Eastern Province. Social stratification based on caste and regional identities was strong in precolonial Lanka, and then the colonial classifications of the island’s inhabitants produced new identities with intensified religious and racial signifiers. These were reproduced in the emerging Tamil and Sinhala nationalisms of the late 19th century.

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Marriage Prejudices in Ceylon in Decades Past

A Well-travelled Sinhala Octogenarian**

Hi Michael, I am not sure whether people despised persons of mixed race. I really don’t think so by my own experience. However, when it came to marriage, it was an entirely different matter.

In my growing years I have heard the term Thuppahi, but I thought it
referred to low caste people, not to persons of mixed race. But what was apparent to me is that they, the people in the 1940’s and 50s’and even 60’s, did not permit mixed marriages. This was taboo.

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Nationalisms in Ceylon: Origins, Stimulants and Ingredients

Michael Roberts, … reproducing Chapter III in Volume I of Documents of the Ceylon National Congress and Nationalist Politics in Ceylon, 1929-1950, Vol I, 1977, Department of National Archives, 1977 , pp. lxviii–lxxviii **

While the political activists of the first half of the twentieth century were drawn from both the national and the local elites, the political leadership (at significant island-wide levels) was largely composed of individuals who could be ranked among the national elite. As indicated earlier, the national elite was a small segment of the Ceylonese population. Its levels of wealth, power and status, its lifestyle, and its value-system marked it off from the rest of the population.

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Michael Roberts: A Partial Bibliography, 1965-1999

Michael Roberts

Pressed by a friend in Australia, I revisited my academic journey as recorded in my old CV listings and feel that it may possibly be beneficial to the numerous personnel venturing into Sri Lankan history and politics via the stimulation of social media to have these items marked as targts for criticism and, even possibly, inspiration. I commence by listing Articles — but not books – presented in the period 1965 to 1999.

 

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Sarojini Jayawickrama’s Book on Robert Knox

Nira Wickramasinghe: reviewing Sarojini Jayawickrama’s Writing that conquers. Re-reading Knox’s Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, (Social Scientists Association, Colombo 2004)

 

Among academic historians in many parts of the world there exists an almost pathological fear of contamination by literary studies via the linguistic turn which manifests itself in the display of fierce criticism of authors of postmodern or cultural studies especially those interested in ‘discourse’ or textual analysis. This is an indication of how centred professional historians still are in the historicist and implicitly empiricist models which are responsible for their material and political hegemony in academia as well as in the public sphere.

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The JVP Movement Revisited

Mick Moore, reproducing an article he has sent — one placed in POLITY on the 20th September 2021…. http://ssalanka.org/insurrectionary-jvp-sri-lankan-state-mick-moore/. His prefered title is “The Insurrectionary JVP and the Sri Lankan State” …. The highlighting in the essay below are the impositions of the Editor, Thuppahi

Much has been written about the insurrectionary Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP—Peoples Liberation Front). The main focus has been on the character of the organisation itself, why it emerged, and how it was defeated in 1971, and again in 1989. This paper deals with a different set of issues: the ways in which the Sri Lankan state and the insurrectionary JVP interacted and shaped one another. This reflects a broader interest in the question of why the quality of national governance in Sri Lanka has deteriorated so much in the 50 years since the first JVP insurrection of 1971. I suggest that JVP-state interactions can help explain that deterioration. But only so far. There is much more to that story – which is far too big and complex to explore further here.

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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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