The Tamil problem

This document was presented by Gunadasa Amarasekera in his evidence before the Sinhala Commission last week

The English language established a socio-economic class hegemony centred in the commercial capital Colombo, that has remained largely unchanged from colonial times. On the other hand, the continuing transfer of surplus money, knowledge and skills from the rural periphery to the mercantile centre led to rural underdevelopment and exploitation, and its inevitable consequences: impoverishment, unemployment, and a marginalised angry, frustrated, militant youth, impatient for the fruits of the affluence being flaunted by the privileged minority in the mercantile centre, Colombo.

The rate of this transfer of surplus to Colombo was highest from the Tamil population in the North, for causes attributable, not to the Sinhalese, but the Tamils themselves. Asian cultures place high value on education. The conversion of material surplus into intellectual capital is an established tradition in these cultures. Governor Colebrook has made pointed reference to the extremely poor quality of both government and Dutch and British missionary education in the South, in the Sinhalese areas. On the other hand, he is full of praise for the endeavours of the American missionaries in the North, where he had noted creditable proficiency in mathematics, English and other branches of useful knowledge. Colebrook goes on to say: "As the northern districts of the island are chiefly indebted to these missionaries for the progress of education, the benefits of which are already experienced, it is but just to recommend that they should receive all the encouragement from the government, to which their exertions and exemplary conduct have entitled them".

These differentials in the quality of modern education offered to the Sinhalese and Tamil population continued from colonial times, so that immediately before independence, according to the survey of H. W. Howes who was appointed as Director of Education by the D. S. Senanayake government, the large majority of schools able to offer a good modern education served less than 7% of the population in the North. These Grade A schools are those which provided a good education and modern knowledge, with English as the medium of instruction.

In a market economy, surplus money, knowledge and skills relative to local needs will by and large, flow to wherever more money can be earned and made, and where there are more things to buy in the way of goods and services. Inevitably, over the past 100 years, the well educated offspring of the Tamil middle-class of the North migrated to the commercial centre Colombo, thus transferring, in the form of intellectual capital, a substantial part of the material surplus created by the Tamil peasantry, fisherfolk, merchant class etc. in northern Sri Lanka.

In Colombo, they joined their Sinhalese and Muslim counterparts from other regions of the country to make money, invest money, and become an influential and privileged constituency in the Anglophile sub-culture of Colombo. The official language was English which, from colonial times to the present, has remained the medium of instruction and the lingua franca of the ruling political, bureaucratic, professional nexus has remained the 'Open Sesame' to the wealth and privileges that could be acquired in the Ali Baba's cave of Colombo from the colonial to the contemporary period.

In a modernising trading economy, that cannot be changed by the mere adoption of Sinhalese, Tamil and Arabic as official languages. Even of the Grade A schools outside the North, the large majority were clustered round Tamil minority, although they constituted less than 8% of the population, had access to a total of over 90% of the Grade A schools, with English as the medium of instruction.

The fact that the chief beneficiaries amongst the Tamils belonged to the privileged Brahmin and Vellala castes was the source of significant long term socio-economic distortions for Tamil people of the North and East. On the other hand, the rural Sinhalese, the Muslims of the East, and the Indian Tamil plantation workers of Indian descent, who constitute over 80 percent of the population of the country, came to be almost totally deprived of the benefit of Grade A education and access to English.

It is this intellectual inheritance nurtured in educational privileges perpetuated from colonial times, that has been perverted into the racist myth that the northern Tamils perform better in the educational process because of a superior racial intellectual inheritance, compared to the Sinhalese and Muslims. It is this same myth that has been politically exploited by the linguistically privileged Tamil leaders living in Colombo, to foster the grievance amongst the Tamil intelligentsia, particlarly the youth, that the increase in the number of Sinhalese relative to the Tamils, who enter the higher education process and professions, is due to discrimination by the Sinhalese.

The myth of persecution of Tamils by the Sinhalese, because of Tamil racial superiority, propagated by the Anglophile Tamil leaders in Colombo, has been the basis for Pirubakaran's fascist ideological indoctrination of the Tamil youth of Jaffna. The consequences are not dissimilar to Adolf Hitler's Nazi indoctrination of German youth with the myth of Aryan superiority over the Jews and the rest of Europe. The Indian Tamil plantation workers, the Muslims of the East, and the vast majority of the Sinhalese and the Tamils have been manipulated into ethnic racist confrontation, through the machinations of these Anglophile Tamil leaders in collusion with their Sinhalese and Muslim counterparts.

The national revival movement initiated by Anagarika Dharmapala and C. W. W. Kannangara's education reforms, fostered a realization of the extent of their cultural and economic deprivation amongst the Sinhala swabasha intelligentsia. The cause of that deprivation was cultural and economic exploitation, which were the two faces of one coin, namely English linguistic hegemony. It was this Sinhala swabasha intelligentsia that generated the political force that carried S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike to power in 1956.

The Sinhalese political leadership exploited the justifiable grievances arising from the exclusion of the vernacular educated masses from upward social mobility, by the retention of English as the state language even after independence. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and Phillip Gunewardene roused the exploited and the deprived Sinhala vernacular constituency, with the promise to replace English with Sinhala as the official language, in order to emancipate the vernacular constituency from their economic and cultural enslavement in the chains of English linguistic hegemony.

On the other hand, the Tamil swabasha intelligentsia in the North and East never received the kind of leadership that the Sinhala swabasha intelligentsia had received. Upto 1956, the Tamil leadership in the South had agitated for equality in power sharing, the fifty-fifty demand of the Tamil Congress, within the Sinhalese-Tamil-Muslim Anglophile oligarchy of the South. The leaders of the Tamil migrants to the South and several generations of their descendants, aggravated the socio-economic deprivation in the North consequent to their migration by giving priority to consolidating Tamil political and economic power and the prosperity of their kith and kin in the South, leaving the vernacular Tamil population of the North and East to their own devices.

Prime Minister, Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike's claim that the Tamils are one of the most privileged minorities in the world, (Mr. Gunaseela Vitanage, The Island, 22 August) needs no qualification where these Tamils of Colombo are concerned. These Tamil migrants who prospered in the South not only deprived the vernacular Tamils of the North and East of the surplus product of their labour, but also usurped the political power of the latter to further the privileges and interests of the English educated Tamils of the South. On the other hand, the vernacular Tamils and Muslims, like the vernacular Sinhalese, have become amongst the most under-privileged people in the world, exploited and controlled economically, culturally and politically by a leadership led by the privileged Anglophile class consisting of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.

The success of SWRD Bandaranaike's SLFP in overthrowing the UNP which had become the creature of the Anglophile elite of Colombo, made SJV Chelvanayakam realize the potential for linguistic exploitation of the Tamil vernacular constituency to bolster the waning power of the Tamil Anglophile elite of Colombo. The Tamil leaders, all of whom were rooted in the South, resorted to chauvinistic politics in order to prevent English being replaced by Sinhalese. In this endeavour, they were helped by the Anglophile Sinhalese constituency.

To their credit, the intellectual and political leadership of the vernacular Sinhalese intelligentsia, democratically endorsed by the latter, have never resorted to anti-Tamil racist ideology to elevate the status of the under-privileged Sinhalese. It is the elitist Anglophile leaders, both capitalist and socialist, who have tried to camouflage their ulterior intention to retain English as the State language by identifying the demand to replace English with Sinhala as chauvinistic and racist. They ignore and deride the real achievements that accrued from the adoption of Sinhala as the State language.

In the MEP government of 1956, Phillip Gunewardene and TB Illangaratne were two politicians who did try to restructure the rural economy and increase rural capital accumulation and investment by the introduction of rural banking, rural communication, and rural commerce and rural land reform. But this would not have been possible without the adoption of Sinhala as a state language.

An objective review of the changes that have occurred in the Sri Lankan economy will reveal that the catalyst for the entrepeneurism that Gunewardene and Illangaratne were instrumental in generating in the South, was the use of Sinhala as an official language. It led to a huge growth in the informal economy. It was this growth in the informal economy that provided the surplus and the incentives for the exponential growth in competent professional, technical and skilled human resources within the rural mass. These human resources were under-utilized until the market economy of the 1980's was introduced.

The growth rates of the 1980's would never have been achieved but for the huge expansion in the rural infra-structure and its informal economy generated in the 1950's and early 1960's. The informal economy could have developed and grown to become the basis of a Jathika Arthikaya, inspired by a Jathika Chinthanaya, in interaction with the modernising formal economy.

However, the ideological straitjacket of the socialist economy of the 1970's, and the moral idiocy of the neo-colonialist market economy of the 1980's have subverted the development of such a Jathika Arthikaya. Another reason for the subversion is the failure of the ruling Anglophile establishment to impart a knowledge of English to the Swabasha educated intelligentsia. Swabasha education and Sinhala as the official language have been made the excuse for the failure. But can it be seriously argued that an education in the English medium could have been made available to even a substantial fraction of the population leave alone the majority, with the resources that were available, at anytime?

The democratically endorsed political and intellectual leadership of the Tamils have adopted an openly linguist-racist ideological position. They have used linguist racist political ideology openly to indoctrinate the poverty stricken mass of the Tamil people of the North and the East with an ethnic racist political ideology of Eelam, which they then used to blackmail Sinhalese political leaders, in an attempt to establish Tamil minority hegemony in the democratic political system of the Sri Lankan state. It is the Tamil political leadership, not the Sinhalese, who must bear the responsibility for making their youth the easy prey of Tamil fascist indoctrination from South India.

The inevitable cycle of ethnic violence between the Sinhalese and Tamils set in motion by a Tamil leadership with primary loyalties to the Tamil people of the South, further the latter's power struggle for political and material privileges in the South, whilst bringing death, destruction and misery to the people of the North and East. The guilt for this should be apportioned equally to the greed of the ruling Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim Anglophile oligarchy, of which the SLFP and the UNP are two sides of the same coin. Their objective is the well-being of the oligarchy of the English educated political, bureaucratic, professional nexus of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. Pirubakaran and his 'Boys' are, like

Wijeweera and the JVP, the creations and the victims of the machinations of this oligarchy.

The Sinhala Buddhist people have been made the scape-goat for the crimes of this Anglophile oligarchy of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. The counterfeit coin with which the Tamil leaders of the South try to pay for their shameful exploitation of the Tamils in the North and the East to increase their power and wealth in the South is Sinhalese chauvinism.

Pirubakaran and the 'Boys' were indoctrinated with racist Tamil ideology by the TULF to serve the interests of the Tamils in the South. But the Boys soon came to realize that they were mere pawns in the power moves of the Tamils of the South. That is why Pirubakaran has not shown chauvinistic bias where the murder of politicians is concerned: he has eliminated many more Tamil politicians than Sinhalese politicians.

Prabhakaran and the LTTE, like the JVP leadership has seen through the power game of the Tamil political leaders of the South and their collusion with the Sinhalese and Muslim political leaders. He is ruthlessly sacrificing the under-privileged Tamils of the North to destroy this power base in the South. The racist indoctrination initiated by the Tamil leaders of the South has turned the LTTE into a fascist killing machine, just as Marxist indoctrination turned the JVP into a fascist killing machine, not unlike that of Pol Pot and the Khemer Rouge.

The LTTE has to be seen to be the creature not of Sinhalese chauvinism, but of cynical betrayal by the privileged Tamils who have become part of the Southern ruling Anglophile oligarchy. Pirubakaran is making the Tamils of the North and East aware of the role played by the Tamil politicians of the South, just as Wijeweera exposed the hollowness of the UNP and the SLFP.

That may be why the TULF of Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, expatriate Tamils and the intellectual hirelings of the Ethnic Study Centre and other NGO's have to use Chandrika Kumaratunga as their cats-paw, to continue to consolidate the political power and wealth of the Tamil elite domiciled in the South.

The mass of the Tamils in the South should shed the blinkers of racist Tamil politics and take a hard look at the road to isolation from both the Sinhala and the Tamil masses into which the moral idiocy of their political leaders is taking them. They can take a lesson from the estate Tamils, and the Muslims, who have begun to realize that without the good-will of the poor Sinhala masses, horse-deals with the discredited rootless Anglophile political - professional - bureaucratic nexus, UNP or SLFP, can only lead to endless killing fields for Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims alike. Gunadasa Amarasekera


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