Tamil separatism and its propaganda
Source: The Island - 28, 29, 30 May 1998
By by Kamalika Pieris
There is a thumping amount of propaganda included in the modus operandi of the Tamil separatist movement. Most of its published material is intended as propaganda. This propaganda operates at two distinct levels. There is a straight forward propaganda, which supports the Tamil separatist cause quite openly. Then there is indirect propaganda, intent on persuading readers into accepting the Tamil separatism as natural and inevitable.
Firstly let us look at the situation as regards the mass media, local and foreign. Let us take foreign news reporting first. There is considerable misinformation or disinformation in the foreign news reports. A classic example is the Melbourne (Australian) newspaper which reported that the Sri Lanka army was responsible for the Galadari bomb blast of October 1997. being paddled in the name of serious journalism' (Daily News 15.11.97 p 9).Neville de Silva wrote in condemning this report. He referred to 'propaganda
The best known piece of journalistic writing at present is of course the 50th anniversary special supplement on Sri Lanka in TIME of 9.2.98. This supplement talks mostly of the Tamil separatist issue. Two of its four articles are on this topic. A very poor image of Sri Lanka is presented in this supplement. It states that "Sri Lanka is poor, discouraged and makes just about any other country on the globe appear peaceful" (p 44). It omits any mention of Sri Lanka's considerable successes. Notably its recent achievement in reaching a per capita income of 740 US Dollars and thus leaving the ranks of the world's poorest countries. Sri Lanka is today ranked as having the highest per capita income in South Asia. There are other achievements, such as Sri Lanka's high rate of literacy, low maternal and infant mortality and generally high quality of life.
Here are quotations from its leading article on Sri Lanka. "Like many ancient civilisations, the country is heavy with tales and legends. The most significant are in the Mahavamsa, the Sri Lankan holy book, which contains the local creation myth" (p 44)
"But the myth ends and reality intrudes when the new race (sic) had to share the island and its spoils (with the Tamils), The Sinhalese can't live with the Tamils peacefully and therefore a separate state is needed" (p 44)
This article also stated that the purpose of 'Sinhala Only' was to exclude the Tamils from coveted government jobs, for which the British had favoured them. (p 45) And that the Sinhlese feared that the Tamils of Tamilnadu, together with their Sri Lankan counterpart would get together and wipe out 'the Buddha's beloved race'. (p 45)
The image given of Sri Lanka is of a backward country with uncivilised tribes, myths and legends. There is nothing about its early civilisation nor of its achievements as a modern state. It further says, in its third article which is on Sri Lanka's cricket achievements, that the only thing that unites the country is - cricket.
The main article which is on the Tamil issue is followed by another article which is devoted to the LTTE and Prabhakaran. One photograph is of a notice board announcing the"District Court of Tamil Eelam, Paddipalai" (p 49) and the other photo has a caption that soldiers in downtown Jaffna regularly frisk Tamils. (p 51) Research for this article has been provided by contributors from Jaffna, Toronto, Colombo and Madras. Most of this supplement is devoted to one issue only, the Tamil separatist effort, and the information is totally one sided, complete with howlers and biased towards the Tamil separatist cause. Rajpal Abeynayake commented on 'irresponsible theatrical journalism' and pointed out that after this we should not believe what we read in TIME. 'If they don't tell the truth about us, they would not do it for others'. (Sunday Times. 22.2.98. p 10)
In addition to TIME, the Tamil separatist movement also got coverage in the 'National Geographic' which ran an article on the LTTE about two years ago. Also it has managed to secure the attention of major television networks such as BBC and CNN. The BBC apparently has conducted a lot of interviews which are biased towards the Tamil cause. The CNN ran abrief item last August, about a Hindu festival held with much pomp in Colombo. The item stated that the Tamils felt much safer in Colombo, where the majority community was Sinhalese, than in Jaffna! The purpose of this presentation was probably to keep the image of the Tamils high in the international media. And to present the Tamil minority as a significant community in Sri Lanka.
Now let us turn to the local scene. It is not possible to condemn all writings which support Tamil separatism as propaganda. People are entitled to their views on the matter and also to express their opinions freely. However, there clearly is Tamil separatist propaganda directed at the Sri Lankan reading public. "Foxwatch" has commented caustically on this. He wanted to know whether any new Constitution anywhere in the world had been marketed in the manner in which the "Package" is marketed. He pointed out that much of the writing on the "Package" is manipulative and intended to mislead the public. He lists a host of propaganda devices such as: the power of suggestion, by repeating the same thing over and over again, the use of emotional labels, diversionary tactics, slogans, euphemisms, and false analogies such as the example of USA and Canada. He refers to the variable meanings given to words such as 'devolution'. "Devolution" is used for anything from local government to partition. (Island 2.11.97 p 11)
The Tamil separatist view surfaces in the writings of newspaper columnists. Some of the ideas presented could be termed persuasive and as such, it is possible to comment on their implications. A. M. Macan Marker ignores the fact that Jaffna is part of Sri Lanka.
He announces that the unitary state in Sri Lanka can only be maintained by force, and that we should begin to see Jaffna for what it is. "An occupied town, a city in chains, under jackboot of the army". All the other towns in north and east where Tamils dominate are also suffering the same fate. (Sunday Leader 5.10.97 p 5)
Geoff Wijesinghe wrote a piece on the ethnic issue in the Sunday Observer of 2.11.97 p 7. Wijesinghe refers to the ethnic riots of 1983. He says that in Colombo about 4000 Tamils were killed in a 'foul dastardly plan of ethnic cleansing'. He describes an incident witnessed by him, by the railtrack at the bottom of Melbourne and Milagiriya Avenues. A man clad in the robes of a monk, with shaven head, carrying a file containing a list, summoned a mob and ordered them to set ablaze a Tamil house.
Wijesinghe takes the view that "July 83 was the launching pad for LTTE terrorism. It has taken 14 years of blood-letting and billions and billions of rupees. The country is bleeding to death and the only solution lies in the devolution proposals of the government". His view of the Tamil minority is flattering. He says "The Tamils, largely through their industry, were placed in highly responsible and key positions in the prestigious civil service by the British". This could be queried. The Tamils did not hold a particularly privileged position during the British period. They were represented in a proportion in excess of theirpopulation. That was all.
His view of a 'unitary state' has humorous implications. He says "Union is the state of being united, while unitary means a unit or units, marked by unity and uniformity. It all boils down to the same thing. It is unnecessary for people to insist on the word unitary just for the sake of opposing the government proposals. A mere playing with words, a futile attempt to fool the masses".
The weekly column by Lucian Rajakarunanayake, titled "Light Refractions" regularly dishes out disparaging comments on the 'Sinhala Buddhists'. Some of these observations verge on the offensive. Here are extracts:
From Sunday Leader 28.9.97 p 9: Sampath Singhagosha, commenting on the interim report of the Sinhala Commission, remarks that there must immediately be a campaign by the Sinhalese, for the Sinhalese, and against all those who pose a threat to the Sinhalese. The campaign should prevent any alteration of our sacred provincial boundaries that have come down from history' and should be directed against all those who even suggest equal rights to any minority, specially the Tamils".
Sunday Leader of 5.10.97 p 9; the Interim report of the Sinhala Commission is described as a sort of dirt, which was ideal for compost and should have gone straight on to the garbage pit, by passing the dustbin. It was a combination of racism and religious bigotry".
From Sunday Leader of 27.7.97 p 6; Rajakarunanayake suggested that the centre of prostitution in the country, in terms of numbers had shifted from the Maradana area of Colombo to the historic city of Anuradhapura. In the same article he commented on the Sinhalese who call for the continuance of the war, not just to defeat the Tigers, but to satisfy their desire to restore a 'history they know is wrong, but which is great to bask in'.
One common quality in the writings of Wijesinghe and Rajakarunanayake, judging by the quotations given above, is their apparent ignorance of political concepts and the history of Sri Lanka. We do not have 'historical boundaries'. We have administrative boundaries.
In her column titled "People and Events" columnist "yYan" has dealt at great length with an incident which has a bearing on the issue of Tamil separatism. Describing with first-person familiarity an incident which happened to a third party, "Nan" tells us of the travails of a Colombo based lady who travelled down south to a Sanghamitta Vidyalaya, to conduct a workshop with A Level students, to give them an 'insight into coping with life as it is now'. (Island 15.3.98 p 6 and 22.3.98 p 6)
This lady apparently arranges her visits informally but usually receives a rousing welcome wherever she goes. On this particular occasion, however, the parents pounced on her, refused her entry to the school and sent her Tamil driver of to the police station. Nan says that these parents' went crazy, seeing a Tiger in the innocent Tamil driver of the woman's vehicle and a Tiger accomplice in the elderly obviously anti-terrorist and nationalist woman herself'. The parents were further described as 'over-zealous, vigilantes' and as a 'group of ultra-nationalist, extra foolish, deplorably rude parents doing guard duty at the gates' The words 'racial phobia' and 'stupidity' also occur in the article.
Recovering from the experience, the lady thereafter proceeded to her next destination, a 'former missionary school' where she was warmly received by the principal. There she was informed of a rumour that a koti van had tried to break into a school. The impression conveyed is of high-mindedness on the part of the former missionary school and low-mindedness on the part of the Sanghamitta parents. There is also a hint of ridicule in the reference to the koti rumour.
However, parents do not usually obstruct educational activity which would benefit their children. Any outsider coming in to provide extra-curricular instruction to their children could be sure of a welcome and considerable gratitude. Also it is not usual for parents to pounce on a lady visitor to a girls school. Lastly it is not possible to distinguish a Tamil driver from a Sinhalese one. We are not told exactly what it is that this lady was going to teach and exactly why the parents opposed it.
Secondly we turn to another group of writers who present the Tamil separatist ideology in fairly direct terms, so as to educate the reader. A very clear description of the modus operandi of the Tamil separatist movement is given by G. Uswatte-Arachchi in The Island of 7.12.97 p 11:
"The Tamil people want to be ruled by themselves. (sic) The Tamil people of Sri Lanka are a nation state in all but name. They possess an army and a navy though they yet lack an airforce. They have representation abroad in all the principal capitals and conduct diplomatic business abroad with much less ceremony and cost but more effectively than the Sri Lanka government.
"They have an excellent propaganda machine which is also supported by academics in high places. It is the right of the Tamil people to establish their own state if they so desire. One ought to expect that within a year or two of declaring independence Eelam would be admitted to the United Nations. The LTTE is (not) a fringe group. It is simply impossible for an enterprise of that magnitude to go on without the support of the vast majority of the Tamil people". (I have combined sentences from several paragraphs.)
Then there is the contribution of Adrian Wijemanne. Wijemanne is aformer Sri Lankan Civil Servant, who thereafter worked in various organisations in the Netherlands and Switzerland, including the World Council of Churches. Wijemanne is anxious to show us that the Tamil separatist movement is going to win in the end, and therefore that itis useless to oppose it. The Germans had a similar sort of propaganda going during the Second World War. Wijemanne uses a shrill, exaggerated style of writing.
He says: "Tamil people are in possession of their homeland, they live there already, having done so for centuries, and all they want is to establish for themselves a state of their own in that homeland. In order to do so, they are waging war to expel the Sinhala army from their state". He takes the position that the Sinhala people have no say in the matter. The Tamils are already in their homeland and they will not budge. (Wijemanne. "War and peace in post-colonial Ceylon 1949-1991" P 73)
He develops this further in "Pravada' Vol 5(3) 1997. There he points out that wars like the one presently going on in Sri Lanka, always end in victory to the guerillas and never with victory to the state. Further that they end with the emergence of a new state. The LTTE war, he declares, is a war of attrition. These wars, "always end with the challenger intact, in possession of his arms and territory". The Eelam war, he states, is 'now only in its earliest stage and is set to last for many more decades into the next century" (p 19-21) This announcement that the LTTE can go on forever immediately makes one wonder whether they are, in fact, on their last legs. No separatist movement which is starting on a long campaign is likely to shout out the fact.
Neville Ladduwahetty provides propaganda of a more subtle sort. He was the only writer to be published in the Daily News writing articles seemingly critical of the "Package". Thereafter, he switched over to the Island, which carries a good concentration of articles on the Tamil separatist issue. His tone is academic, neutral. He appears to outline the arguments against devolution, but a careful reading of the material leads to the conclusion that his writing is supportive of Tamil separatism.
In his article title "The Thimpu Principles' he declares: "Since the Sri Lankan Tamils resolved to create a separate state and therefore a separate constituency, the commitment for the creation of a single unified political community covering the entirety of Sri Lanka does not exist" (Island, 1.2.98 p 15). In another article titled "Sri Lanka, one country, one nation", he states that "Sri Lanka is identified as Sinhala and Buddhist. Other communities have cause to consider themselves excluded from the national identity". Further down he suggests "The importance of a common language in bringing about political integration cannot be over-emphasized. But this is a luxury that is not possible in Sri Lanka" (Island 14.12.97 p 16.)
Ladduwahetty's writing calls for a more detailed critique in view of the fact that his work has now been brought together in a collection.
Some of the social science literature dealing with Tamil separatist issues, also lean towards propaganda. Robert N. Kearney wrote a substantial monograph titled "The politics of Ceylon" (Cornell University Press, 1973). Kearney, in his preface acknowledges the assistance of the following Sri Lankans: E. F. Dias Abeysinghe, Hector Abhayavardhana, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, J. A. L. Cooray, Doric de Souza, Leslie Gunawardene, Godfrey Gunatilleke, Kumari Jayawardene, J. R. Jayewardene, Pieter Keuneman, S. Rajaratnam, T. B. Subasinghe, Bala Tampoe, M. J. Tissanayagam, H. S. Wanasinghe, Sydney Wanasinghe and D. G. William. (Preface p xi)
This is a fairly useful work, in that it contains data which is not readily available in other more analytical works. However, it supports the notion of a deeply divided nation. He stresses over and over again, that the island is divided into 'separate ethnic groups differentiated by a distinctive language, religion, social organisation, territorial concentration, and sense of shared history and ancestry". (p 136)
Kearney sees the political parties as reflecting ethnic cleavages. He says 'A profound sense of separate identity dividing ethnic communities is reflected in a tendency for majority and minority communities to gravitate towards separate organisations' The major parties have attempted to be multi-communal in membership but havefound themselves essentially dependent on the Sinhalese community'. The fact that the UNP at least has always been a jumble of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, in short anyone with a capitalist orientation, is not mentioned. (p 157)
His view of the ethnic distribution of the country is somewhat unique. He recognises the Sinhalese as the majority community. Thereafter he refers to two sizeable minority communities, 'confronting' the Sinhalese. these are the Ceylon Tamils and the Indian Tamils. The 'Muslims' asa category are not mentioned. They are broken into Ceylon Moors, Indian Moors, Malays. (p 156-157) from a propaganda point of view, this is excellent for the Tamil separatists. The only minorities worth talking about apparently are the Tamils, Sri Lankan and Indian.
In 1990, G. R. Tressie Leithan's monograph" political integration through decentralization and devolution of power: the Sri Lankan experience" appeared. (published by the Department of History and Political Science, University of Colombo). In this work she says that "Sri Lanka's party system also tended to reflect, in large degree, the ethnic demarcations in society". The Tamils had the Tamil Congress, Federal Party and later the TULF. The UNP and the SLFP and the Marxists parties derived their support 'almost exclusively' from the Sinhalese community. The rest of this paragraph is about the Tamil minority and the Sinhala-Buddhist dominated polity. (p 15) The critical ommission here is the Muslim factor. There is no mention of the Muslims. Giving rise to the impression that the only two political contenders in Sri Lanka are the Tamils and Sinhalese. A similar omission could be found in the work of another political scientist, Robert Oberst.
In 1994 came "The Sri Lankan Tamils: ethnicity and identity" edited by C. Manogaran and B. Praffenberger. (Westview Press).
This monograph contains a useful collection of essays for researchers wishing to examine Sri Lankan Tamil identity, provided that the researcher knows how to use the information. The work is however, clearly intended for the Western reader, and as such could also be classed as propaganda. In one chapter C. Manogaran "documents the process by which the Sinhalese appropriated peasant colonisation as part of a broader, covert ploy to make the Tamils a minority in their own homelands". (p 23) Also that in the 18th Century the Tamils and Sinhalese were so utterly separated in space that early British observers spoke readily of the 'two races of Ceylon'. (p 23) It further says that unknown tothe western donor nations, the government was using the Mahaweli accelerated programme to plant Sinhalese in Tamil territory. (p 23)
A. J. Wilson has written on the Jaffna Man, the Colombo Man, and the Batticaloa Man and announces that the Sri Lankan Tamils have "mobilised as a single entity to confront the manifestations of contemporary Sinhalese hegemony" (p 23) This is news to the local readers, who know for a fact that the Batticaloa Tamils heartily dislike the Jaffna Tamils for their uppishness, and wish to have as little to do with them as possible.
Of special interest is the essay on the "Sri Lanka's Tamils under colonial rule", by the respected historian S. Arasaratnam. This is one of the few sensibly written, informative essays on the topic. It could be recommended for anybody who wishes to learn something about the ethnology of Jaffna. (p 28-53) However he says that the kingdom of Jaffna extended over the eastern parts of the island. (p 29)
The trilogy by S. J. Tambiah ranks as propaganda. Tambiah's first book on the ethnic issue is ''Sri Lanka: ethic fratricide and the dismantling of democracy'' (OUP, 1986) This is described by the author as an 'engaged political tract' rather than a 'distanced academic treatise'. Tambiah takes pains to present himself as an impartial commentator on Buddhist societies. He describes himself as a 'scholar who has contributed as much as any indigenous South east Asian scholar to the positive understanding of the interrelationship between Buddhism and politics." He gives the titles of his monographs on Buddhism in Thailand, though this is quite irrelevant to the subject of his book. (Pix, 138, 139)
The blurb on the cover describes this work as an 'incisive examination' of the subject of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It is not incisive or analytical. It provides a well rounded presentation of the 'ethnic issue' as seen by the Tamil separatist perspective. It refers to ''the Buddhist time barrier'' and says that the 'heartland' of the Sri Lankan Tamils is in the North and Eastern provinces. (p 88, 102) It refers to the enclaves or 'ghettos'' of Sri Lanka Tamils in Wellawatte, Ratmalana and parts of Dehiwela. (p 106) There is no mention of the Tamil separatist activities from 1920 onwards. There is just one index reference to the Federal Party, a print reference to S. J. V. Chelvanayagam, and no reference at all to the Tamil Congress. It presents the familiar Tamil case for supremacy, including the fact that Sinhala literature was influenced by Tamil, and that the Kandyan Kingdom was ruled by the Nayakkar kings from Tamil Nadu.
Appendix 3 titled 'Sri Lanka's ethnic problem, myths and realities'' report of the Committee for Rational Development, November 1983 is given in full. It dismisses the arguments against the Tamils , such as favouritism by Tamil examiners, Jaffna as a favoured district for government funds, and the predominance of Tamil entrepreneurs in the business sector. (p 156, 160).
Appendix 4 is a report by the United Religions Organisation, led by Father Tissa Balasuriya. This delegation toured Jaffna, Trincomalee and 'other parts of the Tamil North-east'' and found fear raging in this area. They recommended regional autonomy for the North-east. (p 167).
Much of the text is devoted to emphasising the violence shown to the Tamils. There is a detailed description of the Sinhala-Tamil riots of 1958, culled from Wriggins book or Ceylon. (p. 145-146). Another heading is ''tears of mob law'' (p 143) The purpose of these appendixes probably is to indicate that these anti-Sinhala, pro-Tamil observations are not the author's but of persons of non-Tamils origin, and therefore unbiased. Howard Wriggins was at one time US Ambassador in Sri Lanka.
The second book by S. J. Tambiah is ''Buddhism Betrayed: Religion, politics and violence in Sri Lanka.'' (University of Chicago Press, 1992), This monograph is intended for the general reader, not the specialist. For those who have a standard conception of Buddhism. (p 3). He poses the tendentious question, ''If Buddhism preaches non-violence why is there so much political violence in Sri Lanka today'' (p 1). There is no mention of the role of the Tamil Christians in precipitating the ethnic violence in Sri Lanka. Tambiahs' objective in this book is to ''to probe the manner and extent to which Buddhism as a religion expressed by the Sri Lankans has contributed to the current ethnic conflict and collective violence'' (p 2). He covers a period of about 100 years, for which he locates the primary Buddhist actors their causes and their activities. His reviews the scope and limits of 'current Buddhist political thought'' and the issue of 'Sinhala historical consciousness'' (p 4).
Actually this book is a sort of subtle polemic. It is mainly about Buddhist monks. One chapter is titled ''Monks and violence face to face'' (Chapter 11). There is a detailed account of the 'Mavubeema Surakeeme Vyaparaya'' and the politicisation of Buddhist monks. The photographs are mainly of gesticulating monks, specially Ven. Sobitha.
The book has an introduction by Dr. Lal.Jayawardene. This introduction contains sentences such as ''the capacity of the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism to grant equal democratic rights to those outside its fold'' (p xii). ''Sinhala Buddhist nationalism is a gospel for excluding Tamils from competition. (p xiii) ''Whether there exists a political solution that falls short of the creation of two separate states'' (p xv).
The third book by S. J. Tambiah, titled ''Levelling crowds: ethnonationalist conflicts and collective violence in South Asia'' is the emptiest of all. (University of California Press, 1996). The author makes it clear in the Preface that this book develops from the other two. This book does not contain a clear cut argument. He says ''I did not begin this book because I already knew what I wanted to say,I only knew what I wanted to find out.'' (p x) This book is totally devoid of any original observations on the subject of collective violence relating to ethnic conflict. It adds nothing to the knowledge already available in the fields of social psychology and sociology on aggression in general and collective aggression in particular. For his chapter on the political psychology of crowds talks about riots, assailants, victims, rumour example but says nothing new.
The main impact of this book is in its detailed description of the ethic riots in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. A content analysis of the work, taken page by page, shows that the number of pages given to the ethnic riots in Sinhala ranks next to that for India. Roughly 104 pages on India, 86 on Sri Lanka and 51 on Pakistan, omitting the pages where all three countries are mentioned. The references for Sri Lanka include the riots of 1956, 1958, and 1983. He refers in passing to the ethnic riots of 1971 and 1977. He gives a first hand account of the 1956 Gal Oya riots, in a continuous detailed description of 13 pages. (82-94) Every chapter which contains academic discussions on violence has examples from Sri Lanka.
The illustration for a rioting mob is the bout of rioting in Colombo on the eve of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987. The rioting in Colombo, we are informed was 'done by the Sinhalese majority'. (p 271) It is described in minute detail (p 271-275) The psychology of crowd aggression is discussed using a detailed account of 1983. ''The mob assembled at Fort Railway Station, met the train arriving from Kandy, beat a number of Tamil passengers, and burnt them to death,'' (p 283)
An analysis of crowd psychology and their justification for violence is presented through two essays by Elizabeth Nissan and Jonathan Spencer. The two essays are: Nissan's essay titled ''Some thoughts on Sinhalese justifications for the violence'' (1984) and Spencer's ''Collective violence and everyday practice in Sri Lanka'' 1990) (p 369).
There is also a section on the Sinhala-Muslim riots of 1915. This comes under the section supposedly devoted to the study of rumour. There are references to the riots in Kandy, Gampola, Kotte, Kotahena, Mutwal, Nawagamuwa, Wattegama, Hanguranketa, Panadura, Malabe. Quotations include ''Some crowds travelled several miles to meet the advancing Moors" ''the trustee of Gadaladeniya devale, collected a crowd on the premises and went out at their head, sword in hand.'' (p 289, 290) The social psychology of crowd behaviour, violence and aggression is not analyse adequately in this work. It says nothing at all about the political run up to the ethnic riots of Sri Lanka, and is quite silent as to the separatist cry of the Tamils and their activities from 1920. The overall impression given in the book is that the Sinhalese are a senselessly and frightfully violent people. ''Ever since the late 1970s when Tamil youth in desperation became militant insurgents, thereafter successfully withstood and even got the better of the Sinhala army of occupation on, Sinhalese chauvinists had been frustrated and flustered over the puncturing of their virile right of domination established by Dutugemunu'' (Tambiah cites Spencer. p 286)
The theme of violence is continued in E. Valentine Daniel's work titled ''Charred Lullabies: chapter in an anthropography of violence''.
He states that he is writing about the violence in Sri Lanka between the two major groups, Sinhalese and Tamils. He points out that Sri Lanka is not above such brutalities and that the Sinhala-Tamil violence should never be forgotten. ''One may never understand but one never forgets' (p 7) He has engaged in 'horror story collecting' and provides us with detailed accounts of the torture of Tamils during the riots of 1983. (p 139) . There is a description of an attack on a ''north eastern'' village by a gang of Sinhala youth. cp 203-206, 209) However, we must accept that there was violence against the Tamils and Daniel is perfectly entitled to document it.
There is also the work of Bruce Kapferer. His imaginative thesis, is that the Sinhala Buddhist notions of destructive violence is due to their notions of the 'demonic''. They see the Tamil movement for a separate state as an instance of demonic behaviour, and react through violence. Tambiah sees Kapferer's thesis as implying a' deep seated powerful cosmology at work'' (Buddhism Betrayed. p 2) Kapferer started off as an anthropologist studying our healing rituals, where the various illnesses and psychiatric disorders are depicted through demons. He has extended that to the ethnic issue as well.
These assorted writings reinforce the notion of the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka as a peculiarly volatile, violent people, with a distinct hatred for the Tamils. It is necessary to keep the notion of violence alive in the minds of the western audience because they have totally forgotten the ethnic riots of 1983. The west scarcely knows where Sri Lanka is, let alone who the Tamils are. Nobody is interested in the Tamil separatist movement over there. The westerners are interested in their own lives and in foreign events which relate to their own countries. It has therefore become necessary to keep emphasising anti-Tamil violence.
Also when the Tamil separatist go lobbying in London, Boston, Paris and Ottawa, they need some seemingly impartial literature to support their arguments. Monographs like the ones discussed here, by western based anthropologists, published by prestigious academic publishers, may do the trick.
The last group of items to be considered in terms of their propaganda value is the fiction based on Tamil separatists issues.
Literature is a useful conduit for the subtle presentation of ideas. Creative English writing from Sri Lanka tends on occasion to take sides against the majority community. Sita Kulatunga's work, titled ''Diptych'' carries the following lines:
'The root of the house was blown apart. There were tiles, brick bats (sic) and dust burying the books on Meera's table, but not as bad as Selvam's house had been earlier when Sinhalese strafers had done it.''
''Only yesterday that I heard Amalan relate how he was eye witness to an Indian Gurkha soldier raping a teenage girl. Once earlier he had said that he had seen a Sinhalese soldier doing it.'' (Channels. Vol 7 (1) 1997 p 14.) (I have committed sentences).
There is one positive aspect regarding this literature. It is very good writing, excellently crafted. For tone and feeling, there is nothing to beat Shyam Selvadurai's 'Funny Boy' - The last story in the collection, titled 'Riot journal: an epilogue' is a first person account of the 1983 riots. It gives one a good idea of how the Tamils felt as regards the 'holocaust' and the 'diaspora'. It expresses the tension, fear, distress and includes all the relevant elements, including assistance from Sinhala neighbours. 'Something was different from the last time I was there. The house looked even more bare, even more desolate than before. Then I realised what had happened and I stared at our house in shock. Everything that was not burned had been stolen. I felt hot angry tears well up in me as I saw this final violation. Then for the first time, I began to cry for our house. I sat on the verandah steps and wept for the loss of my home, for the loss of everything that I held to be precious.' (p310-311)
Selvadurai writes from experience. Non-Tamils far away from the events they depict have also written on the ethnic riots and the ethnic war. 'Kunapipi' is an Australian literary journal which features third world writing in English. In one issue it featured three contributions from Sri Lanka. They all dealt with the ethnic conflict, focusing specifically on the war in the north. This gives the impression that there is no other life in Sri Lanka apart from the terrorist issue. The three writers themselves are far away from the 'civil war' they depict. Thus giving some support to the nonsensical argument often invoked in literary assessments, that the Sri Lankan writer in English writes well only when he is commenting on some local calamity. Otherwise he has nothing to say.
However, writes are entitled to choose their themes and their presentation. The three contributions are: Jean Arasanayagam's short story' I am an innocent man', Chandani Lokuge's 'A pair of birds' and a poem by Ashley Halpe, 'A threnody' (Kunapipi. Vol 15 (2) 1993) All three are excellent pieces and deserve to be included. Ashley Halpe speaks of 'new widows' 'new orphans' and of the 'maathrubhoomi'. Lokuge writes on the devastations caused to Tamil homes in Colombo during the 1983 riots. Jean Arasanayagam's story deals with the war in Jaffna. It is beautifully crafted. It uses a very difficult writings style, where highly cerebral description and highly emotive expressions are placed side by side. She weaves in a wide variety of elements not usually found together. Her story includes foreigners, terrorists, army, civilians, a teacher and a multitude of prawns. It refers to the massacre of civilians by the army, and also refers to foreign mercenaries working for the Sri Lanka army. (p5,12).
The most substantial piece of writing is probably A. Sivanandan's 'When memory dies'. This is not available at present in our bookshops but there is a sizeable review of it in the newspapers. It is a longish, three part, three generational novel. The first generation is depicted by Saha a sub-post master, who moves from Jaffna to Colombo. His son Rajan, born in Badulla marries a Sinhalese from Anuradhapura. In the horrendous communal riots of 1958, his wife is brutally killed. Rajan has a foster son, Vijaya who joins the JVP. This Vjiaya is shot dead by Ravi, his half brother, who became a militant Tamil.
The reviewer goes on to say 'With Vijaya we emerge into the full blaze of the political and communal scenario, its conflicts, roots and origins patterned into an intricate web as the story proceeds.' One notes, even from the review, the inclusion of events and items which have a bearing on the Tamil separatist cause. The setting includes Jaffna, Colombo, Badulla, and Anuradhapura. One character is called Vijaya.
The reviewer quotes the following extract from the book:
'A stirring religious fundamentalism which is frightening, precisely because Buddhism was not a religion, had no God and because... of that had made... the nation its surrogate for God... it was from such closed circuits of passion that fascism drew its power. The Tamils were the first to be caught up in its force field...' The quotations given in this review, do not indicate an arresting style of writing. However the reviewer describes it as 'limpid poetic prose' with touches of cynicism and gentle humour. The book has won the prize for the best first book, in the Commonwealth.
Writers Prize, (Eurasia region) for 1998. (Book review by Hussian Packir Saibo in Sunday Times. 8.3.98 p 6)
In conclusion it is necessary to mention S. R. H. Hoole's 'The exile returned'. (1997) This is propaganda in reverse. It is a fictionalised but nevertheless highly critical account of the Jaffna Tamil Christian, of some aspects of the expatriate situation and also of the separatist effort abroad. This work will not please the Tamil community. But it has its value as ethnography and as comic writing.
Hoole gives an interesting account of life in Jaffna, and the Tamil Christian community in the peninsula in particular. Some observations are educative, such as the use of water in Jaffna. 'In Jaffna no one wasted anything, not even dirty bath water'. It was dirested to the vegetable or fruit garden. (p 87) There are homely details. 'His mother had sent through him for his aunt, two bottles of gingelly oil, twenty drum sticks and a box of dark green Jaffna mangoes. These were the foods that every Jaffna man loved.' (p86)
There are observations as to the Jaffna Tamil perspective on marriage and its prospects. Her makes very perceptive obsevations as to the manner in which these Jaffna Tamils make the transition to luxurious living in America. He also provides us with an irreverent account of the separatist activity in America. The racketeering and profiteering that such activities will fall prey to. Rajan Hoole is no maverick. He is deeply concerned about the rights of Tamils but he is also able to laugh at their weaknesses.
'The Exile Returned' is also a fine piece of comic writing. Far superior to the anaemic, narcissistic writing which often passes as good creative writing in English from Sri Lanka. It is utterly bawdy, rivalling the work of Carl Muller. It is more sophisticated, however. The ethnographic information is highlighted by regular references to the laws of Manu, using quotations of substantial length. These quotations are used to point out that several seemingly modern, emancipated practices of the Tamil Christians are in effect to Hindu practices. The observations are made without malice and the effect is hugely comic. Critical opinions as to the weaknesses of the 'Jaffna Tamil Christians' are presented in uninhibited forthright style. Paragraphs begin on a serious note and finish with a comic flourish. Here are four quotations which will appeal to any reader:
'This was Jaffna. There was mother's cooking. Relatives were there to help. There were no friends competing for status. This was truly home. But unfortunately for Tharmaratnam, he was at that stage of his life where he had to be in Colombo.' (p131)
'Mrs. Krishnanathan wanted a 'fair' daughter-in-law. ' Like many Tamil women she imagined herself to be lighter skinned than she actually was. She was in the habit of applying sandalwood cream to her face and lying in bed the whole afternoon with slices of cucumber on her face, in the belief that she would get lighter in complexion. With the same end in mind, a part of there make-up kit consisted of the creams Snow White, Hazeline Snow and Fair and Lovely' (p244)
Here is Hoole on the topic of the konde. 'The normal bun that everyone wore was worn at the back of the neck. This is how Mrs. Amirthalingam wore it, choosing the anonymity that comes with being one more bun in a vast crowd of buns.' (p 259)
Tharmaratnam, the hero of the story, was obliged to get married in a hurry as he had to return to England to continue his studies. The marriage licence got delayed. 'There was no grown up in the house to go and pick up the licence. Thus Thramaratnam found himself rushing on his bicycle to the Kachcheri. The licence collected, Tharmaratnam found himself cycling down the mahogany lined Kachcheri-Nallur Road, the walk path of the ancient Dutch Governors of Jaffna, to his wedding. As he bicycled, some in cars drove by to the wedding. One such car screeched to a halt and a puzzled friend asked him, 'The wedding is today isn't it'. Assuring him so without slowing down, Tharmaratnam got home cycling by the church as the puzzled guests who head arrived early looked on through the windows of the church.' (p225)
This book is suitable for three sets of readers. Those who would like to learn something of the Jaffna culture and style. Those who would like to take a jab at the Tamil separatists. And those who simply wish to have a good read. The book is greatly weakened by an unsatisfactory ending.