Why Tamils are Hated?
June 30th, 2007
By: Kumar Punithavel
A friend of my son, who was a born in Canada, had an interesting question. He asked, ’Why the Singhalese majority do not wish to give the minimum amount of freedom to the Tamils though they had lived together more than two thousand years? In order to get a reasonable answer I would like to recollect an ancient fable I have had read.
Once upon a time there lived a farmer. He wanted to harness a horse. The horse was much stronger and faster. So he decided to use his wit to bring it under his control.
The farmer called the horse and said, ‘You are a wonderful beast, the most majestic of them all. You should be able to live in freedom and move freely with lots of leisure. If not for the deer who roam the forest you would be a happier animal. He has learnt the art of running faster and reaches the water holes before you. They live as a group and grace all your grass, and out runs to the water hole and empty them, before you and your foal reach them’.
He then went on with his cunning theory, “if you agree to stay with me, my wisdom and guidance shall deliver you and your kind from this dismal running after the mirage and humiliating state of life’.
The horse blinded by envy, slowly started developing hatred towards the deer, and finally agreed to be harnessed by the farmer. Once the farmer placed the saddle on the horse it lost its freedom and became a slave to the farmer for ever.
The horse in the fable refers to the Singhalese populous. Deer is the Tamils and of course the post independence Sri Lankan politicians to the farmer.
One may wander how true this allegory is to reality. After all the Singhalese is a smart compassionate race in their own way. It must be remembered that there will always be the struggles of every day life. It is not a difficult task to point finger to some one and say the cause of your suffering is that person and, advice if you can get rid of him, you could be happy. The average man who is caught up in daily struggle for survival in life is glad when some one offers to help eradicate the problem. We have some time or other had fallen pray to such an idea, or had suggested in some level such idea.
How was it possible for these politicians to ride in the psyche of the Singhalese masses? Members of a group existing in a nation who communicate in a particular language are bound to one another more than they are to the remaining population. Hence a nation will never be free of friction while such group is distinguishable. This chafing and rasping will further magnify when there are only two languages and both have predominantly different religions. This conflicting circumstance between the Tamils and Singhalese was consolidated by the politicians under the pretext of nationalism, making Singhalese the only state language in Sri Lanka and mother tongue as medium of education. This further aggravated the developing hostility by polarizing the two communities, at the same time consolidated the position of the politicians. Religious leaders advocate and do the propagating of the message of their religion, which means they otherwise live from the avails of the religion and has a personal interest to magnify the difference than the similarities. When there are more people following their faith they will be rewarded in this world better!
Under above situation the colonial rulers gave independence to Sri Lanka not because there was great agitation for it, but because it became an unprofitable entity to rule after giving independence to India. Ceylon, the name by which it was known then, was so far away from Briton and such a tiny Island it lost all luster to hold on as a colony. When the independence was gotten there wasn’t much patriotism to cement the difference between the two communities. In the beginning there was much cordiality between the two communities. The first two monuments in the parliament compound were that of two illustrious Tamils stand ample proof of this cordiality. The lack of patriotism made people put self before the state. The atmosphere was ripe for the politician to step in and concoct a vicious poison in the political cauldron they had set on fire.
It is true fact that there was a large number of Tamils serving in the public service of the colonial government. One has to find the real reason behind this anomaly. Before the British came, Sri Lanka was an agrarian society, and people lived scattered everywhere in the Island. In the early nineteenth century there was an epidemic of Malaria. This made the arid Vanni farmers to abandon their farmland, as these farms depending on small irrigation works called village tanks. These small reservoirs became breading ground for anopheles mosquitoes, which spread malaria. Fortunately the Singhalese populations which were in and around the capital of Ceylon and also mostly depended on rain fed cultivation were lucky. The benefit of malaria eradication program was best felt near the capital city Colombo.
The Christian clergy who came with the colonial masters to spread the message of Lord Jesus, with the help of the ruling government and the support of the people of their home land built churches. Together with the churches they were magnanimous to build schools. These schools helped to educate the natives and at the same time helped to spread the message of the son of God! These schools were built in the north, east, south and west.
The Tamil children with their resource of water for agriculture hard to come by, turned their attention to formal education in the eager hope of getting a job in the public service, which was the biggest employer of the time. It is a common dictum among the Tamils; ‘If you have to farm chicken it is best to farm it in the government’. There is another reason too, which is the cultural heritage.
The Tamils with their heritage of a rich literature, even before the dawn of the Common Era had great respect and veneration to education. They say the king is respected only in his country, but a learned is respected around the world. It is Thiruvalluvar in his tetise as four hundredth couplet says;
Learning is excellence of wealth that none destroy;
To man nought else affords reality of joy.
Another great female poet in her advice to children in aphoristic style verses says;
Evan begging it is good to learn.
This kind of attitude of veneration towards education played an important role in pursuit of knowledge among the Tamils. Intellectual accomplishment held lofty among the Tamils created an atmosphere particularly favorable to development on academic excellence of their children. Even when they moved out of their homeland because of persecution, in their chosen land too the second generation is doing extremely well in academic excellence because of this attitude towards academic excellence.
Another important factor for the Tamil parents to encourage the children to study is the dowry system among Tamils. This is a system, which has been flogged by many a reformist but it lingers on. A young boy knows that if he studies and gets a good job in the colonial administrative machinery is bound to get a good dowry, and the life will be happy ever after.
There is another parameter to consider before going further. When deprived of the opportunity to farm the Tamils moved into trades sector. There is no town in Sri Lanka where there is no retail shop owned by a Tamil. They bought the farm products and sold it with profit, there by the per capita wealth slowly rose. This too the politicians were able to exploit and saddle.
As opposed to the Tamils, the Singhalese who were in rain fed region and had plenty of communication with outer world and was more liberal in their attitude. The need for education was less, and youngsters chose their partners. They were content with their life. It is the discontent that is the prime force for a person to endeavor.
When the independence was achieved, rather foisted on the people, the few educated Singhalese got into politics. They could be classified into two groups. One, of course were those who were motivated by the class struggle against the ruling elit. They were able to get elected in the cities by the working class. The other group was those from the high cast society of the Singhalese. These politicians had a horse to flog in the Tamils.
They made a successful propaganda that the Tamils have unfair percentage of jobs in the Government machinery. They pointed to the Singhalese masses that the British had employed more Tamils to divide and rule. But the reality is there was more percentage of Tamils educated. The hatred of Tamils slowly crept into the mind of Singhalese. Before there was intermingling of the two races, but the politicians drove the peg deep down between the two races by enacting ‘Singhalese only law’ as the official language. Anyone praising the Singhalese language was considered a patriot, and to praising Tamil was considered treason. The jealousy of the academic achievement reached its zenith with the burning of the Jaffna Public Library which was the best in south best Asia at that time.
It is appropriate to say a few words about how this library was developed and burnt like in Nazi Germany. In the latter case it was the Jewish author’s book that was burnt, but in Sri Lanka the whole building was burnt down. V.S.Thurairajah an architect recounted in 1996 in the Ceylon Daily News;
In 1933, a well-wisher named K.M. Chellappah, out of his desire to share knowledge with others was conducting a free library in his house. Appreciating the idea of Mr. Chellappah, some lovers of learning got together, formed a committee and met on June 9th 1934 to establish a library. Isaac Thambiah, who was High Court judge of Jaffna at that time, was elected chairman and K.M. Chellappah was elected secretary.
Due to the effort of this committee, on August 1, 1934, a library was opened in a small room on Hospital Road, Jaffna, in front of the electrical station. At inception, this library had 844 books and about 30 news papers and magazines. Slowly by the effort of the Tamil public it grew into a great library housing more than 97,000 rare books and manuscripts in a magnificent building, built in Dravidian architecture.
It became a focal point of envy of the Singhalese fuelled by the politicians. On the night of 1st June 1981, the splendid Jaffna public library, housing more than 97,000 rare books and manuscripts, was burned to the ground. It was not only the books, but also the building which was a classic Dravidian architecture. On hearing of the arson the scholar Rev. Fr. David who had been a key player on the project living in Australia on retirement died on the spot by heart attack.
This act of arson was carried out, not by a bunch of nameless hooligans, but by a posse of two hundred officers of the Sri Lankan police force, taken to Jaffna by two senior Sri Lankan Cabinet ministers (Cryl Mathew and Gamini Dissanayake, both self-professed Singhalese racist supremacists), ostensibly to over see an election.
These two Singhalese Cabinet ministers, who watched the library burn from the verandah of the nearby Jaffna Rest House subsequently claimed that it was an ‘unfortunate incident’, where a few policemen ‘got drunk’ and went on a ‘looting spree’, all on their own. Imagine two federal Government ministers going to Quebec and burning the central Library and giving such an explanation. The English speaking Canadians would be the first to voice the loudest outcry; but not in Sri Lanka. The justification had been echoed and re echoed by many Singhalese political leaders and the Singhalese Media.
Nadesan Satyendra, writing on the eleventh anniversary of the library burning (1992) recorded:
‘And when the Tamil leader of the opposition sought to bring a motion of no confidence against the Singhalese Ministers who had been present in Jaffna on those fateful days, the ruling Singhalese political party pre emptied the move by bringing a motion of no confidence on the Leader of the Opposition! It was reportedly the first and only time that a motion of no confidence had been moved by a ruling party, on the leader of opposition in any parliament, anywhere in the world. A point of order raised against the no confidence motion was overruled by the speaker’.
The politician on the saddle will do any thing to protect his position not heading to the future of the nation he is governing. The politician is Sri Lanka did it in the name of subduing of the deer.
One cannot fail to observe that cultural destruction is an integral part of genocide, and the literary-works of the intellect is the prime target. The practice of book burning is not something new. As a prelude to the holocaust, in Nazi Germany, books of great Jewish writers like Albert Einstein, and Sigmund Freud, were thrown on the road side and was burnt. On the fateful day in 1933, under the orders from Doctor Goebbels (Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda and popular Enlightenment!), Nazi gangs raided the Berlin library and burnt great number of books. Unlike the Sri Lankan counterparts, they didn’t burn the building!
The dowry system has another positive parameter. Any parent who has a daughter had a tendency to conserve wealth hoping to get their daughter married to an educated young man. The community as a whole was closely knit and love marriages was not encouraged, for fear of cross cast couples. The wealth saved by the Tamils in Sri Lanka was another point of grouse that was raised by the politicians. As observed earlier the dowry system and cast system made the Tamils to be frugal and conserve wealth. It was an easy target to point finger by the politician to the prodigal horse and say; ‘see how the deer is doing well when you are suffering’. The anti Tamil pogroms promoted by the politicians in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1977, 1979, 1981, and 1983 are sad historical fact. The 1983 violence is a replica of the Kristallnacht of November 1938 in Germany against Jews, where Goebbels blamed the assassination of the third Secretary of the German embassy in Paris. On the pogrom of 1983 especially, the politicians blamed the killing of 13 Singhalese soldiers by LTTE on the Tamils, and the masses and the world believed it. All these pogroms were initiated by politicians, making the Singhalese believe and justify that the Tamils are unfairly rich.
The spreading of hate has developed by the politicians to such a fine art, unknowingly the Singhalese have developed the hate to the Tamils in Sri Lanka, that a reasonable solution of unity in diversity is not possible by a federal form of Government, unless an external pressure is applied on the populous. To day the Singhalese under the saddle of the politicians are oblivious to their own sad fate. Sri Lanka is the only country they have as mother land and unknowingly they are destroying it. A compassionate race has lost its righteousness by the saddler the politician. By the politicians selfishness all three races, Singhalese, Tamils and Muslims have suffered. And this is the reason for hate of Tamils.