Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Leo Tolstoy and his great epic War and Peace
Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge - MD

At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal force in the heart of man: one very reasonably tells the man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of avoiding it; the other even more reasonable says that it is too painful and harassing to think of the danger, since it is not a man’s power to provide for everything and escape from the general march of events; and that it is therefore better to turn aside from the painful subject till it has come, and to think of what is pleasant. In solitude a man generally yields to the first voice; in society to the second.

Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace) According to E.M Forster, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace” (Voyna I Mir) has been the greatest novel ever written. It’s a novel that runs through time and space.

Over four hundred fictional and historical characters are illustrated in this unique novel. War and Peace narrates Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the post war period. In War and Peace

Tolstoy argued his own idiosyncratic theory of life. He was struggling between with his Christian ideals and his conflicts with lust and the hypocrisies.

War and Peace is a question paper submitted to the reader.

Tolstoy puts a question how to lead a perfect life in an imperfect world. His struggles with his passions and his spiritual conflicts made him to write the greatest book in the history of literature.

Character analysis is exceptional in this great novel. There are several central characters that keep the narrative live and distinctive. Pierre Bezukhov and Prince Andrey Bolkonsky two fictional characters appear throughout the novel are remarkable for their static nature. They often regarded as being reflections of Tolstoy himself.

Leo Tolstoy’s life was full of contradictions. He wanted to renounce wealth but until his old age he could not make a precise decision. He preached that the money was evil yet he enjoyed luxuries, he said people should detach from their wealth and look after the poor.

However in real life he had to arrest three poor peasants who illegally cut timber in his state and later to prosecute them. He was trapped in an unhappy marriage for a long time. At a time he was an egoless lover and the next time he was jealous of his wife. Leo Tolstoy’s shifting emotions are well documented in his novels and many are reflected in his masterpiece War and Peace.

Tolstoy lost both of his parents at the small age. But their warmth and spiritual touch lived with him. He immortalised their memory by creating two fictional characters in War and Peace.

Nikolai Rostov (young brave Army officer who is a passionate lover fond of gambling and leads a reckless life later turns in to a responsible man) and Maria Bolkonskaya (who is a loving and a religious woman) were based on Tolstoy’s own memories of his father and mother. Pierre and Prince Andrei bear much resemblance to Tolstoy himself.

Tolstoy was struggling with his passions and his spiritual conflicts were expressed via Pierre Bezukhov’s character. According to the novel Pierre Bezukhov is an illegitimate son of Count Kirill Bezukhov. Pierre is described as an ill-mannered non attractive socially awkward man who is fond of women, wine and gambling. This portrait is much similar to young Tolstoy.

Young Tolstoy had a passion for gambling and had exhausted the family wealth. Like Pierre Bezukhov he found it difficult to integrate into the Petersburg high society. Tolstoy admitted himself as a non attractive ugly man.

Likewise Pierre Bezukhov is narrated as a huge bear like person. Pierre was ignored and rejected by the high society until he inherits his father’s fortune. Once he becomes rich and famous Pierre was forced to get married to a woman named Helen. Consequently he was trapped in an unhappy marriage and searching for meaning in his life. One time debauch now becomes a philosopher. Pierre Bezuhov represents much of Tolstoy’s philosophy.

The character of Platòn Karataev is relatively small but very inspiring. As the book describes Platòn Karataev is a peasant with simple and true qualities which Tolstoy admired most. The author becomes a prophet and a moral reformer who speaks to the reader directly.

Platòn Karatheave becomes his mouthpiece. One time Leo Tolstoy was an ambitious young officer who served in the Crimean War. There he witnessed horror and despair and as a result of battle stress he gradually experienced a personality change.

The climax of this personality change occurred many years after the war when he was travelling to buy an estate. He had to stay in a motel and in the middle of the night he walked up with a mortal fear.

This could have been a sever anxiety attack and this incident made distinct changes in him.

He experienced persistent sorrow and emptiness which he described in his autobiographical book Confession.

I cannot recall those years without horror, loathing, and heart-rending pain.

I killed people in war, challenged men to duels with the purpose of killing them, and lost at cards; I squandered the fruits of the peasants’ toil and then had them executed; I was a fornicator and a cheat.

Lying, stealing, promiscuity of every kind, drunkenness, violence, murder - there was not a crime I did not commit...Thus I lived for ten years.”

Prince Andrei Bolkonsky mostly represent Tolstoy’s military period. Prince Andrei was a cynical man tired of his wealth and family glory goes in search of a new life adventure. He wants to make history and to be a large part of it. He was looking forward to find his

greatness in the Battle of Austerlitz. When Andrei was wounded in the battle he sees the blue sky which implies the emptiness. Andrei’s NDE (Near Death Experience) makes him more matured and finally he realizes military glory, encounter with his former hero Napoleon, making history etc all were insignificant empty attempts. He realized the true meaning of human suffering. But he becomes more syndical and alienated.

Later in life Count Tolstoy formulated a stereotype unique philosophy. Although he was criticised by the clergy and even excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church Tolstoy believed that philosophic principles can only be understood in their concrete expression in history.

Tolstoy discussed the free will in War and Peace. War and Peace reflects Tolstoy’s view that all is predestined.. He writes no one controls events not even Napoleon or Kutuzov Commander-in-chief of the Russian forces or the Tsar Alexander I.

In his own words Leo Tolstoy states

“In historical events great men - so-called - are but labels serving to give a name to the event, and like labels they have the least possible connection with the event itself.

Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own free will, is in an historical sense not free at all, but in bondage to the whole course of previous history, and predestined from all eternity.”

This philosophy was later grasped by many novelists and film directors. For instance in the movie Wind and the Lion (Starring Sean Connery) the nomad leader of the desert Raisuli compares his place in the universe as a pawn in the chess board which he has no control .

Tolstoy once said man lives consciously for himself, but is an unconscious instrument in the attainment of the historic, universal, aims of humanity.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


‘Learning to Fly’


When young, it is not uncommon to see a young girl/boy of school-going age scribbling on the back page of their notebook. In fact, it seems to make a satisfying and enriching little exercise that makes the ticking of the wall clock seem more endurable. But when Shehani Gomes, author of the recently launched book ‘Learning to Fly’ began the story behind her novel and her life, mere doodling on exercise books took on another meaning and form. Little did anyone know, inclusive of Shehani herself, that the same hands that scribbled bits of poetry on pages of a book (that was supposed to hold homework notes instead!), would pen pages of creativity and imagination, at such a young age, soon to be launched as her very own novel.

The last strands of the month of November 2008 held that great day and recalling the event which was held at the Barefoot Gallery, Shehani displayed an excited grin. Working as Management Consultant at Carbon Asia, a pioneering firm in the climate change industry, she admitted that ‘Learning to Fly’ is her first attempt at penning a novel, as opposed to the countless number of poetry that spans her life, and her first attempt at launching one. The leap seemed to have followed another grand occurrence in her life, when the novel was short listed for the Gratiaen of 2006. “I was very pleasantly stunned and happy…” reminisced she adding that she had genuinely caring people around her who encouraged her to pursue writing, “because they took my writing seriously, they deserve the most thanks.”

A vivified account

‘Tell me about your family...’ was the invitation rendered to the young lady to which she cocked her head to one side and said, “There’s my sister who is older than me and my niece who is very very pretty. My dad used to be an accountant and my mom is completely obsessed with her garden!” Shehani’s sister is abroad but she recounted that it almost feels like she’s home most of the time owing to the facility of web chat. Born in Kandana and having been housed there as a child, Shehani was educated at St. Bridget’s Convent Colombo; thus she feels that although she grew up “technically” in Kandana, most of her childhood and thereafter was spent in Colombo where she occupied late hours in school almost every day of the week. Having a very close knit bunch of friends in school, Shehani remembers a happy journey through her educational domains. “Schooling years are the best; they are the moulding years. We had a lot of interschool activities and got to know a lot of talented kids. It was like we built our own community.”

Chess and debating were the two main arenas of interest for her in school and she feels that the exposure in the latter gave her the benefit of gaining knowledge of various issues in the world that she would otherwise have been ignorant of until she reached a certain age. “I was into chess and I still love it; I play when I want to.” Choosing a combination of Commerce and Arts (Economic, Business Studies and English) for her Advanced Level’s, Shehani passed out of school and completed her CIMA. She began but gave up her degree in law after a short spell as a journalist.


Her personal thought processes depicted in the shape of poems, began when she was an early teenager. Not really coming from a family of ‘writers’, she admits however that her dad always encouraged her by gifting her books to read. “It’s not something I consciously do,” she explained referring to her poetry, which evolved as a talent, a pastime, which she gradually grew into.

While voyaging through her short spell as a journalist, she recalls having to learn how to type news at express speed which in a way led her to experiment with Microsoft Word on her first computer. “Then I started writing a story and showed it to my Literature teacher who suggested that I enter it to the Gratiaen,” which she did; thus was the origin of ‘Learning to Fly’.

Learning to Fly

‘Do you remember when you first fell in love? Do you remember the unrestrained joys and plummeting sorrows of adolescence?....’ reads the back cover of Shehani’s book ‘Learning to Fly’, which is a title that arises from the fact that the book is one about adolescence.

“Flying is a huge step and the book is a reflection of adolescents’ transition from adolescence to youth; and the way they go about the bends and bumps on the way,” explained the young author. Described as a very short novel, ‘Learning to Fly’ holds essential stories of love and life, which are very unique to such times in life; the characters in the book are eccentric and constantly in search of happiness; the book depicts Sri Lankan youth in a fresh way.

“What’s different about the book is that there are lots of episodes and lots of conversations,” sketched Shehani adding that the three main characters in the novel, Kala, Dylan and Nadia, are very dramatic individuals. However, although at times, their dramatic nature reaches a climax of unusualness, the author feels that most adolescents would at least have such extreme adolescent thoughts running through their minds occasionally.

“The book is a cross section of a dark adolescence. Certain friendships introduced in the book are universal like the way two girl friends would talk and the secrets they share…” offered Shehani who feels that although the characters in her novel are most certainly fictitious, they complement real life people. Having started writing the story when she began experimenting with the computer, she never intended for it to be a novel back then.

“Novels take more effort than poetry,” smiled she adding that having to organize her thoughts and penning in sequential links was the biggest challenge she faced while putting together her maiden novel, “my publisher/editor Ameena Hussein, really helped me out.”

Building the characters within a novel, is an exercise that Shehani enjoys a lot as she feels that one can experiment with the characters, mould them, bend and even destroy them if one likes! “You don’t have to feel upset or guilty about it because they are fictitious!” she laughed.

Novel writing came naturally for Shehani and she does not count it a big shift from writing poetry. Penning the novel, she said, allowed the mind to wander more; while building fictional characters for her story had been immensely interesting, poetry to her, is far more personal in nature.

“I love writing and it makes me really happy.” Bubbly and chatty in nature, Shehani seemed to have a personality vibrant with innovative thought and talent.

The interview which spanned more than an hour, was more on the lines of a friendly conversation as she animatedly and humorously detailed the many stories in her life which she found amusing! She enjoys listening to music and does a lot of that and laughed when saying that she talks a lot too! Reading too is a frequent exercise in her life both for professional reasons and otherwise. “I like South Asian writers mostly. I love writers like Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahir, Rohinton Mistry and Nihal de Silva. I think their books have an amazing local quality; but my favourite book is by the author Douglas Kennedy.”

Carbon Asia

Carbon Asia Pacific (Pvt) Ltd is a member of the Asia Capital Group. Shehani, having worked in the apparel sector before, has been with Carbon Asia for a period of four months now and she’s enjoying her work. “It’s an exciting field to be in.

It brings sense to all those things you read about in your childhood stories…” Owing to the fact that carbon trading is a relatively new subject in our country, Shehani finds fulfillment in knowing that she has a direct part she’s playing in helping to safeguard the planet through her profession. Also, having been trained as a financial analyst, the work she does at Carbon Asia is complementary to her training.

When asked about her future, she smiled coyly admitting that she is indeed a little ‘hazy’ on that but she does want to concentrate on her career. Has the pen stop moving? No, not exactly, Shehani is currently in the process of penning another work but is not sure how far it’ll go.

“It’s sometimes okay to share what you doodle in secret. It turns out that it’s not a crime. And some might think it’s a good thing – this whole writing thing…” she advices other budding writers.

Friday, December 5, 2008


Novel as discovery. For Canadian-born Padma Viswanathan, writing her debut novel led her back to a culture and milieu that went back over a 100 years. Excerpts from an interview…

Remember the days when grandma used to start her tales of yore, "in my day…" Nine out of 10 people would have rolled their eyes and gently slipped out before grandma realised that no one was listening to her. But the one who stayed back to listen may have actually cottoned on to something that led somewhere.

Meet Padma Viswanathan, a Canadian-born Indian origin playwright and author, who transformed her grandmother’s stories into an extraordinary first novel, The Toss of a Lemon. Set in the heart of a traditional Tamil Brahmin household at the turn of the 19th century, the book documents the effects of the momentous changes of that time on one family.

Viswanthan has quite a few short stories and plays to her credit. Now add a 600+ pages novel to that list. Asked what she felt like writing the first scene of her first play, Viswanathan says, "It’s hard to describe, but it felt as though this was something I firmly, intuitively, knew how to do. As soon as I wrote it, I knew there was nothing else, in theatre or otherwise, that I would be able to do as well." Given that books "had always been paramount in my life", she sees writing as a way of giving back, of communicating her learning experiences from books.

Though this one took her 10 years, she didn’t anticipate such a big book. "I don’t think I would have had the courage to begin if I had known it would be so long," she says. Beginning with writing episodes or chapters as they occurred, "and trying to figure out what the narrative arc might be given what was emerging," she even considered a trilogy. Then took it to the chopping board; when it first reached the publisher it was around 900 pages. Back to the chopping board for the final product. "In the process of writing The Toss of a Lemon, I learned, in a way, how to write."

Asked about which writers were looking over her shoulder while she worked, she mentions Salman Rushdie and Ann Marie MacDonald. "It was Rushdie’s novels that I thought about most as I was writing, though Canadian writer Ann Marie MacDonald’s Fall On Your Knees also hovered. My prose doesn’t sound anything like Rushdie’s, but I was inspired by the particularity of his voice to find my own. "

For someone who grew up abroad, Viswanathan has managed to recreate an almost-extinct Tamil Brahmin household that has nothing to do with today’s NRI Tam-Bram software culture. "Thirty years ago many of our relatives still lived in households in villages much like the ones I describe in my book. Increasingly, they have moved to the cities and even overseas, but I continued to visit them and, when I was doing research for the book, I stayed with the few relatives who still live in a way that resembles the Brahmin way of life of a 100 years ago."

Without being a diatribe, the focus on the daily minutiae of Brahmin rituals does drive home the injustice of the caste system without the author’s voice intruding or telling the reader so. "My intention was to implicate the reader, to make them feel how seductive the caste system is… and so give a sense of why it persists, even today, if in mutated forms. The book is the product of a lifetime of observing and thinking about this culture and of my stumbling efforts to show respect by conforming to the rules while staying with relatives, even while loudly voicing my objections!"

Some others obviously don’t think so. One Netizen says, "One expects The Toss of a Lemon to seize the issue of caste relations in its teeth, because there is simply so much to say about the recognition of caste injustice in Tamil Nadu… However, Viswanathan… glides over the larger issues of the day, quite a feat in 600 odd pages." Put this one to her and the author asks if she should "have made some declaration: ‘In case you don’t know, the caste system is unfair and cruel and we must all work to dismantle it’. It’s a novel; not a political speech." Negative reactions don’t faze her. "There will be those who don’t find it to their taste; literature is an idiosyncratic enterprise. I have written the book I needed and wanted to write and I’m very grateful it has found its readers," she seems satisfied.

Considering that the book is based on stories told by Viswanathan’s grandmother about her own grandmother, one does wonder about reactions within the family. Her grandmother was "deeply, emotionally affected because she so closely identified with the story. At one point in my book, the children who are being raised by their grandmother, Sivakami, are taken back by their father who, after a week, sends them right back again. Although this incident never happened in "real life", it brought back to my grandmother the feelings of rejection and neglect she had suffered as a child. She is very proud of the book (and its writer), and is now revelling in its success."

Speaking of family, how was her intention to be a writer received by her parents? At first, "they thought it was the most recent in a series of declared professional ambitions that had changed every year since I was 10! They started taking it a little more seriously when my play was produced and I started getting some awards and prizes, but they were still, understandably, troubled by the long, lean years of financial uncertainty. Now, they feel my gamble was worthwhile." The process of publication itself, she says, was "bizarrely easy". The book went to Toronto-based agent Bruce Westwood courtesy another Canadian writer Shyam Selvadurai. From Canada to the U.S. and it has moved on since: to Spain, Italy, Holland, Brazil and Australia.

And what of inputs from her writer husband? Apart from reading the manuscript and giving suggestions, his role was a generally supportive one. Echoing other working couples, Viswanathan says, "The concerns of artists are often practical ones: income, childcare, a place to work." Unless these are taken care off, she says, one won’t have the "peace of mind" to "enter the realms of imagination". "So we work hard to take care of these things for one another. Our parents have also helped a lot… "

With the first novel flying high, she’s working on her next project for Random House Canada. Losing Farther, Losing Faster focuses on the dilemma of a devotee whose guru (both being Indian) has been accused of a sexual misdeed. The novel centres on how Seth comes to terms with his faith given these accusations. From the end of the 19th century to the 21st century is a fast move indeed.

(The Hindu)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Theroux takes Ghost Train to Eastern Star

To state that Paul Theroux wrote "The Book" on travel writing, showing us how it should be done, is no mean exaggeration.

The year was 1973. Nearly penniless at 32, he bargained an advance from a publisher, essentially abandoned a young family in London, and embarked on a 28,000-mile journey of many months from Europe through Asia and back, mostly by train.

In one sense the journey was a big mistake. Theroux's extended absence and lack of responsibility led to his wife abandoning him for a lover and a new life.

But his resulting work, The Great Railway Bazaar, brought him a guaranteed life income and made his bones as a travel writer, something his critics contend he never has achieved as a fiction writer despite nearly 30 attempts. (Personally, I really enjoyed The Mosquito Coast, among others.)

In any event, Bazaar amply delineated the gulf between tourism and travel: Tourists follow the beaten paths, herded like cattle by bus and plane from gourmet meals and historic art to architecture and amusements on the usual if-this-is-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium schedule. Travellers, on the other hand, immerse themselves quietly, ghostlike, into a culture they already have studied; they observe, they think, they experience, and they reflect.

They take months, not days or weeks.

Theroux did all that and more in Bazaar, and readers responded by snapping up 1.5 million copies in 20 languages. It became a classic, and other fine traveller/writers followed suit with books of the same genre. Theroux had set the standard and he never worried again about being penniless.

Now comes the author at age 65, bent on retracing his steps, following the rails east for a look-see through eyes matured by three decades more of living. Thus he presents us with Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.

This one is not going to be another Bazaar. The author's critics (Theroux can be crusty and combative, especially with other writers of his stature) already have seen to that. They complain of too much posturing in Eastern Star, and of too many tired and tiring passages amid flashes of literary brilliance. (The man can write.)

So keep the foregoing in mind as prologue when you delve into Eastern Star.

Follow Theroux's rails to the end of the line before making your own judgment. Meantime, along the way you will receive an education from a canny, critical, educated observer on great chunks of the globe that most Americans know little about, save for superficial snippets and sound bites.

Equipped only with a briefcase and a small bag, Theroux leaves London ruminating on his ruined marital past as the train clatters through the city. Arriving in Paris via the English Channel tunnel, he sets the stage for what he plans for his readers while he waits to change trains and begins retracing the route of the now-defunct Orient Express.

He describes coming upon a round of French labour demonstrations against the government and is immediately drawn to the protest scene, which has brought the city to a halt. "Perhaps something to see - certainly a rowdy mob was more of a draw than anything I might look at in the Louvre."

Theroux tells you he doesn't like cities, preferring the hinterlands. People are where he sees life. You will find him among the poor and downtrodden, watching them slurp soup and gobble chunks of bread. You will find him riding the cheap-seat, grim local trains, not the neat-and-clean tourist expresses.

He also apparently has discovered that sex workers are great to interview to learn about the street scene in any given locale, from Istanbul to Vladivostok, because his meanderings often gravitate to them.

He cannot this time ride across Iran, his visa denied. But he detours through the Caucasus, crosses threatening borders between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and flies over Afghanistan to India.

He elbows his way south through the abysmally overcrowded subcontinent to Sri Lanka, one of his favourites, where among other things he is able to visit the great Sir Arthur C. Clarke (who died earlier this year).

Sir Arthur is one of a handful of internationally acclaimed authors Theroux is sure to rub elbows with in his railway re-run. And he delights in letting you know it.

His commentary through Southeast Asia is engrossing and educating, if bittersweet. Time and again Theroux is helped by kind and generous little people - the ones who do not have enough for themselves.

He gives us an uncommonly perceptive view of Japan, all the way to the northernmost sub-arctic tip of Hokkaido at Wakkanai, where you can see Siberia. It takes 459 of his 496 pages to get us this far; then Theroux gulps down all of Russia and goes home, galloping on the Trans-Siberian Express, in a mere 37 pages. Perhaps it is an accurate sign of travel fatigue, reflected in his waning enthusiasm for attending to details as he had done so well in earlier pages.

His last long paragraph is not a bad summary of life on earth, though it tends to pessimism.

The most upbeat lines are these: "Most people I'd met, in chance encounters, were strangers who helped me on my way. And we lucky ghosts can travel wherever we want."

At that point Theroux should have used the last word in his preceding paragraph: "Done."

Monday, October 20, 2008


இணுவில் கிழக்கு, இணுவிலைப் பிறப்பிடமாகவும் கொழும்பை வசிப்பிடமாகவும் கொண்ட, தமிழவேள் இ.க. கந்தசுவாமி அவர்கள் 19-10-2008 ஞாயிற்றுக்கிழமை அன்று காலமானார்.

அன்னார், காலஞ்சென்றவர்களான கந்தையா சிவக்கொழுந்து தம்பதியினரின் கனிஸ்ட புத்திரனும், காலஞ்சென்ற செல்லத்துரை, கண்ணகிப்பிள்ளை, அன்னபூரணம், காலஞ்சென்ற இராஜேஸ்வரி ஆகியோரின் அன்புச்சகோதரரும், சரஸ்வதி, காலஞ்சென்றவர்களான திருநாவுக்கரசு(பண்டிதர்), மார்க்கண்டு(ஆசிரியர்), பொன்னுத்துரை(கணக்காளர்) ஆகியோரின் மைத்துனரும் ஆவார்.

அன்னாரின் பூதவுடல் 22-10-2008 புதன்கிழமை அன்று காலை 09:00 மணிக்கு மக்கள் அஞ்சலிக்காகக் கொழும்புத் தமிழ்ச் சங்கத்தில் வைக்கப்பட்டு, இறுதிக்கிரியையின் பின், மாலை 04:00 மணிக்கு தகனக்கிரியைக்காக கல்கிசை மயானத்திற்கு எடுத்துச் செல்லப்படும்.

இவ் அறிவித்தலை உற்றார், உறவினர், நண்பர்கள் அனைவரும் ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளுமாறு கேட்டுக்கொள்கின்றோம்.

தகவல் - க.செ.மனோகரன்(செந்தில் -பெறாமகன்)
14, சிறில்மல் மாவத்தை,


மேலதிக தொடர்புகளுக்கு

இலங்கை 0094 112733952

Saturday, October 18, 2008


A young Indian first timer wins the Man Booker....People and Events - Nan

Great! The Man Booker Prize (40th) has been won by an Indian author – Aravind Adiga, 33, for his novel The White Tiger. And mark you, it is Adiga’s debut novel. He is the fourth Indian to win the Booker Prize, if one counts Salman Rushdie who is Bombay born but British now. The other Indians are Arundathi Roy and Kiran Desai. Roy won her Booker for her first novel The God of Small Things and Desai hers for her second novel which prize eluded her mother, Anita Desai. Kiran too does not live in India; she lives in the States and most probably is a citizen of that country. Roy lives in India and continues agitating for this and that right of deprived Indians. Adiga too is born, bred and domiciled in India – Mumbai to be exact. He lived in New Delhi when he wrote the novel and dedicated it to that city.

The award

The Man Booker Prize, as I am sure you know, is Britain’s best-known and most generous literary award, given annually to a novel written by an author from Britain, Ireland or a Commonwealth nation. It is considered above the American Pulitzer in prestige. It was just Booker some time ago when Booker McConnel awarded it in 1968. In 2002 it was taken over by the Booker Prize Foundation and now the word Man is added since the prize is sponsored by the British investment firm, the Man Group. The award carries with the honour conferred, a cheque for pounds sterling 50,000. Added benefits are the winner gets known worldwide, his/her books are much bought and for very many, like first novel writers two of whom have won, they get shot from insignificance to popular recognition. It has already happened to Adiga as reports on recent sales.

Salman Rushdie won the Booker of Bookers named Best of Booker for the 40 years of the prize with his novel Midnight’s Children which won him the annual prize in 1981. He is now Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emory College, Atlanta, in the southern state of Georgia. He started a five year term at Emory in 2007. In May 2008 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Perhaps a greater honour was conferred on him by the Queen when he was made a Knight Bachelor for service to literature in June 2007. The Iranian fatwa has evaporated or gone up in smoke, we suppose.

India and the Booker

India seems to be the country most featured in Booker winners. To cite three recent winning books: Roy’s controversial novel is backgrounded in Kerala and Kiran Desai set her 2006 winner, The Loss of Inheritance, in the foothills of the Himalayas, in Darjeeling; while Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is about people in Bombay. Yann Martel, who won the Man Booker in 2002 with his Life of Pi had its first setting in India where the writer fictitiously meets a man who tells him Pi’s story. Pi is of Indian descent. The ship in which he and his family are migrating to North America sinks and Pi, the boy, finds himself in a lifeboat with a 450 pound Bengal Tiger. The book was fascinating reading. I could not put it down once started.

I was sent an article written by Victoria Young and titled Novel About India Wins the Man Booker Prize and found it very interesting since the Booker, like our own Gratiean Award and Wimbledon (tennis of course) are time markers and landmarks in one’s year of living.

The 2008 winner

The awards were announced on Tuesday 13 October in London. Michael Portillo, a former cabinet minister and the chairman of this year’s panel of judges, praised Mr. Adiga’s novel, saying that the short list had contained a series of "extraordinarily readable page-turners." but this young Indian’s had been the best, with a vivid exploration of India’s class struggle told through the story of a village boy who becomes the chauffeur to a rich man. The chauffer promoted the themes of class and race, inequalities and angst probably, through the crudely cynical narration of his -Balram Halwai’s - criminal past. Mr. Adiga’s book had prevailed against initial odds of one to five. Portillo said, "I think what set this book apart was its originality; for many of us this is entirely new territory –India the dark side. It was in many ways perfect. The judges felt that it shocked and entertained in equal measure."

On Oct. 15, Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, sent Adiga a glowing congratulatory message.

Mr. Adiga, who lives in Mumbai, was born in India and brought up partly in Australia. He studied at Columbia and Oxford universities and is a former correspondent for Time magazine in India. He is the second youngest writer to win the award; Ben Okri was 32 when he won for "The Famished Road" in 1991.

Mr. Adiga said his book was an "attempt to catch the voice of the men you meet as you travel through India — the voice of the colossal underclass. This voice was not captured, and I wanted to do so without sentimentality or portraying them as mirthless humorless weaklings as they are usually."

When he accepted the award, Mr. Adiga dedicated it to "the people of New Delhi where I lived and where I wrote this book." When asked what he would do with the money, Mr. Adiga joked, "The first thing I am going to do is to find a bank that I can actually put it in."

This year’s list of finalists, as reported, was one of the least star-studded in recent years. It included two first-time novelists, and several of the favorites were snubbed by judges. Joseph O’Neill’s critically acclaimed "Netherland" was omitted from the short list, as was "The Enchantress of Florence" by Salman Rushdie.

An aside is imperative here. Past winners are permitted to submit their books and try to win another Man Booker. Personally to me, this seems unfair to struggling newcomers, though it actually need not be. See what happened this year. The almighty Rushdie was eliminated; that means not even short listed. I remember reading a review of the Enchantress of Florence as being a masterly piece of fiction writing, with a good story which would catch a reader and keep him caught. It is even said Rushdie is the best story teller in print. I have to whisper that I just could not complete reading Midnight’s Children. Maybe large books put me off!

This question of prize winners re-submitting entries came up at the first Galle Literary Festival in 2007, when Carl Muller, a panelist at one of the sessions, groused that his second submission to the Gratiaen was ignored and not short listed. I applauded the fact, silently to myself, though.

Bookmakers in England were divided over the likely winner, oscillating later between Mr. Adiga and the Irish writer Sebastian Barry, 53, whose book "The Secret Scripture" is the story of an Irish patient in a mental hospital sharing her shocking family history with her psychiatrist.

The other books on the shortlist were "Sea of Poppies" by Amitav Ghosh; "The Clothes on Their Backs" by Linda Grant; "The Northern Clemency" by Philip Hensher; and "A Fraction of the Whole" by Steve Toltz.


Sunday, October 5, 2008


Ethno-Political Conflict in Sri Lanka
A.R.M. Imtiyaz1 and Ben Stavis2
[The article has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Third World
Studies (JTWS), issue of fall 2008.]
Key Words: democracy, violence, ethnic outbidding, and consociational solutions.
Address all correspondence to Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz, Department of Political Science
Gladfelter Hall, Room No 414 ,Temple University, 1115 West Berks St. Philadelphia
PA 19122-6089,USA.Email address:
1 Visiting scholar, Department of Political Science, Temple University, USA.
2 Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Temple University, USA.
Abstract: This study examines ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. The major thesis is that
politicization of ethnic distinctions by major political parties has fuelled an ethnic
violence and conflict in Sri Lanka. The study employs an interactive approach to
understand violence of both parties. Each party’s violence against the other increases the
sense of distrust between them. Political elites then use ethnic emotions in their quest for
power, reinforcing ethnic tensions. This paper also discusses some fundamental
historical factors that play a role in understanding Sri Lanka’s ethnic violence. It finally
suggests solutions to the protracted ethno-political conflict -- partition or power-sharing.
“Why?” That was the key question shared by many Western observers when they
were astonished by the wave of Tamil Tiger suicide bombing in the 1980’s and 1990’s
that ripped through Sri Lanka, a state of approximately 20 million people that previously
considered a model of democracy in Asia. Why have young Tamils, a minority group
comprising roughly 18 percent of Sri Lankans in a majority Sinhala society, lost trust in
the state and its institutions? What has made young Tamils, both men and women,
willingly turn themselves into suicide bombers? A simple answer blames the ethnic
conflict or civil war which has killed over 70,000 people, mostly minority Tamils,
displaced hundreds of thousands more internally, and forced nearly a million Tamils to
flee the country.
As Ted Robert Gurr has observed, there is no comprehensive and widely accepted
theory of the causes and consequences of ethno-political conflict.1 Instead, there are
many factors that can lead to tensions between groups of people. This paper will first
review many of these factors, and then focus on how the politicization of ethnic tensions
has triggered violence and tragedy in Sri Lanka.
Analytical Frameworks
The primordialist approach offers one simple yet powerful explanation about ethnopolitical
conflict. For primordialists, ethnic identity is inborn and therefore immutable,2
as both culturally acquired aspects (language, culture, and religion) and genetically
determined characteristics (pigmentation and physiognomy) in shaping ethnic identity.3
Primordialism’s socio-biological strand claims that ethnicity, tied to kinship, promotes a
convergence of interests between individuals and their kin group’s collective goals.
Consequently, even racism and ethnocentrism can be viewed as extreme forms of
nepotistic behavior driven by feelings of propinquity and consanguinity. Primordialists
thus note nationalism as a natural phenomenon.
In contrast, the constructivist theory views ethnic identities as a product of
human actions and choices, arguing that they are constructed and transmitted, not
genetically inherited, from the past.4 Max Weber was one theorist who stressed the social
origin of ethnic identity. Weber viewed each ethnic group as a “human group” whose
belief in a common ancestry (whether or not based in genetic reality) leads to the
formation of a community,5 concluding that ethnic identity is not primarily a genetic
phenomenon, but rather a result of circumstances and political environment.6
Constructivists believe that nationalism is an eighteenth-century European
phenomenon and an ideological creation. Various constructivists have suggested that the
desire to build armies and improve military capabilities, the failure of industrialization to
create a homogeneous cultural structure and market, and the development of a
standardized communication systems all made it possible to imagine and invent
communities. 7 The imagined, arrogated and ascribed national character facilitating the
nation-building process consequently promoted nationalism in Europe.
While nationalism led to stronger, more integrated states in Europe, the process
involved multiple wars over several generations as well as forced displacement and
several genocides of millions of people. Will the construction of nationalism in today’s
developing nations inevitably lead to the same tragic fate? Is Sri Lanka’s violence a
reflection of European history and a harbinger of the future for the third world?
Other scholars emphasize the pre-colonial roots of the ethno-political conflict in
Sri Lanka, Formerly known as Ceylon. Tamil and Sinhalese kingdoms existed long
before the Portuguese captured the island in 1505, and the Sinhalese and Tamil kingdoms
fought to extend their boundaries in ancient Sri Lanka.8 The present stage of the conflict
thus echoes an historic pattern. Conflicts between the Mende and Temne in Sierra Leone
similarly predated colonialism. The Maronities and Druze in what is now Lebanon
fought long before the arrival of the Ottomans, and the Acholi and Langi clashed
intermittently in pre-colonial Uganda.9 The old hostilities still play significant roles in
influencing the current stage of these ethno-political conflicts, thus hindering the process
of nation building.
The Colonial History theorists contend that the contemporary pattern of ethnic
relations in Sri Lanka have been largely shaped by its colonial history. The colonial
process created borders, which included or divided ethnic groups and defined the
demographic mixture of the colonies that eventually became countries. Colonialism’s
divide-and-rule policies, census taking, and promotion of ethnic identities all enhanced
(and sometimes even created) cultural and ethnic distinctions in colonial societies,
although these processes by themselves can hardly account for the nationalistic conflict
unleashed in the post-colonial areas.10
Problems arose when colonial rulers favored and allied with a particular group,
often a minority, to help in colonial administration. A minority, after all, could be more
trusted to ally with an outside power. The minority might preferentially receive
education and then share in political and economic power. When independence came,
such a group found itself in a precarious position, as the majority group sought to gain
political and economic power. When the majority groups seize power from the former
administrators and marginalize the minority group politically and economically, then the
minority might either struggle for power or for secession.11
This perspective helps to explain Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict. Since independence,
the majority Sinhalese confronted minorities, particularly the Tamils, who had previously
occupied administrative positions during the British rule of the country. Sinhalese
politicians in the postcolonial period exploited imbalance and relied on ethnic emotions
to win Sinhalese political support to capture and hold political power.12 S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike laid the first foundation for such an ethnicization of politics by introducing
the Sinhala-Only language policy in the 1950’s. Repeatedly over the next four decades,
Sinhala politicians employed the same ethnic tricks to capture a large share of the
Sinhalese votes. Sinhalese politicization of ethnic emotions in the Southern parties of Sri
Lanka brought parallel processes in which Tamil moderate nationalists effectively
utilized Tamil ethnic solidarity to win the elections. The ethnicization of the Sinhala
polity subsequently produced Tamil militants, notably the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE), a secessionist Tamil guerrilla movement. The LTTE became dominant
after 1975 by killing opponents, including some moderate Tamil leaders who believe in
the principle of non-violence. De Votta recognizes that the ethnicization of Sri Lanka’s
political system by the Sinhalese leaders eventually radicalized the Tamils and produced
the LTTE.13 In fact, such Tamil radicalization gained greater support among the Tamil
polity after the Sinhalese leaders refused political compromise with the Tamil leaders.
Within his research on ethnic conflict, Professor De Silva, a noted Sinhala historian,
thoroughly examines the process whereby Tamil radicalization occurred on the island of
Sri Lanka.14
The modernization theory maintains that when colonies became independent
countries, modern values would spread and indigenous inhabitants would be less
influenced by traditional ethnic or religious loyalties. In this theory, greater political and
economic interaction among people, coupled with widespread education and mass
communication networks, would breakdown parochial identities of ethnic and religious
groups and replace them with loyalty to larger communities such as Nigeria, Indonesia,
or emerging pan-African or a future Asian Community.
However, political developments of the 1980’s and 1990’s in both the postcolonial
and the Western worlds have clashed with this prediction. In Sri Lanka, ethnic
loyalty was strengthened, not weakened, by nation building efforts and the modernization
of society. As Ted Robert Gurr pointed out, ethnic leadership provided strong networks
that form the basis for political mobilization.15 Rising competition among Sri Lankans to
dominate economic and political resources, particularly between the Tamils and the
Sinhalese, essentially diminished the chance for a common national identity to develop,
especially as Sinhalese leaders established laws that grossly favored the majority
Sinhalese. Prominent Sri Lankan scholars such as such as K. N. O. Dharmadasa, Kumari
Jayawardena, Jayadeva Uyangoda, and Ananda Wickeremeratne, explore how
modernization processes led by the Sinhalese leaders effectively marginalized the Tamil
minority.16 These authors argue that intensification of social mobilization in Sri Lanka
generated ethnic conflict. Their works on Sri Lanka ethnic conflict and modernity support
the prediction of Karl. W. Deutsch who believed that social mobilization could generate
ethnic conflict between different groups that compete for limited economic and political
More recent scholars have elaborated on this theme. John R. Bowen notes that
people began to see themselves as members of vast ethnic groups, only during the
modern period of colonization and state-building.18 Rogers Brubaker also suggestes that
conflict between different ethnic groups arises because of the increase in competition for
the domination of the modern politics.19 The expanded role and power of the state
intensifies elite competition and contributes to conflict between ethnic groups.
Given the numerous cleavages and tensions in post-colonial societies, the factor
that influences whether and how communal violence breaks out is the way that the
political system deals with the tensions. Do political leaders aggravate the tensions until
they explode in violence? Do they recruit people to instigate acts of violence and then
condone and protect them? Or do they seek non-violent resolution of problems and
ensure that proponents and initiators of violence are punished?
In many cases, elite political leaders believe they can win support and strengthen
their positions by mobilizing along ethnic cleavages. They anticipate that appeals to
ethnicity are particularly effective in expanding their power. Leaders sometimes
encourage followers to use crude violence – pogroms or ethnic cleansing, or exploit
ethnic tensions in electoral politics. Outbidding opponents along ethnic lines is one of
the strategies to win votes in (fragmented) societies that hold elections. This process
frequently results in a polarization of the political system into ethnic divisions and a
possible breakdown into violence. Marginalized minorities may suffer, emigrate, or fight
back with the weapons of the weak – terrorism and/or guerrilla activities. Elites
manipulate ethnic identities in their quest for power,20 and these processes can either
deliberately or unexpectedly trigger ethnic conflict.21 This paper will emphasize the
manner in which elite political strategies have politicized ethnic relations and aggravated
tensions, leading to serious violence in Sri Lanka.
Historical processes often give rise to tensions and conflicts between difficult
ethnic groups, but politicians provide the sparks that ignite the violence. They often do so
deliberately, because they believe they can strengthen their personal political positions.
They work with two tools, raw violence and votes. These dynamics are clear from a
review of Sri Lanka’s ethnic violence.
The politicization of ethnic differences began in the 1950s. Successive Sinhalese
political parties formulated policies such as the Sinhala Only Language Act in 1956,
which made Sinhala the only official language in state and public affairs and sharply
discriminated against Tamil speakers. Then an educational standardization policy in
1972 allowed Sinhalese students to enter Science and Medicine schools with lower scores
than the Tamil students. The Constitution of 1972 conferred a special status on Buddhism
in both the state and public sectors. The reason for all of these policies was, in Downs’s
language, “to win elections.”22 In Sri Lanka, of course, this meant to satisfy the
Sinhalese voters. This naturally created an environment of distrust between the Sinhalese
and Tamils,23 while eroding Tamil faith in the democracy of Sri Lanka.24 Violence
accompanied these culturally biased policies. Scholarly works on the Sri Lanka ethnic
conflict suggest that communal riots in 1958, 1961, 1974, 1977 and 1983 in which
Tamils were killed, maimed, robbed and rendered homeless were carefully designed by
the Sinhala elites.25 This persistent pattern of violence set the stage for violent Tamil
retaliation and efforts to secede.
The incident in 1983, known as Black July, is particularly well documented.
Approximately two thousand Tamils were killed in July/August 1983 by Sinhalese mobs
in an attempt to begin genocide (or at least ethnic cleansing) of the Tamils. Human Right
Watch documented the cruelty of the 1983 “state sponsored” Sinhalese riots. “Many
neighborhoods were destroyed and nearly 100,000 Tamils in Colombo were displaced.
Evidence suggested government collusion in the riots.”26 Further, an eye witness who
rescued a Tamil employee of the state media company-Lake House described the cruelty
of the day:
Well organized gangs that had the blessings of powerful Government politicians
mainly from the city of Colombo began their orgy of murder, looting and arson
in broad daylight while the Police and the Armed Forces appeared to be
helpless. I remember taking a vehicle out of Lake House to Wattala, with my
colleagues also taking a Tamil accountant at Lake House, Mr. Edward, who also
lived in Wattala. Five colleagues and the driver were all Sinhalese and we kept
Mr. Edward between us in the middle of the vehicle and at each 100 meters or
so gangs armed with clubs, swords and knives stopped each vehicle and
inspected them to see whether any passenger or driver was a Tamil. Smoke
filled the streets of Colombo and while we were leaving Lake House a
flourishing textile shop, Sarathas was being looted while the armed forces and
police were turning a blind eye to the crime.
With respect to the state’s role behind the violence, the witness reported:
…most notable matter that was observed was that the gangs carried official
Householders Lists and stopped their vehicles in front of the homes or offices of
the Tamil people. If the UNP Government of J. R. Jayewardene had not
provided them with those official documents, how could the gangs have had
access to them? It meant two things. The Government deliberately delayed the
burial of the corpses of the soldiers on July 24 to plan an attack on the Tamil
people in Colombo and the suburbs to provide their own goons with documents
to make sure that only Tamils were attacked. Any other political party or group
could not have managed both these things without State power.27
Neither the Sinhala ruling elite nor state institutions openly condemned or took
any meaningful immediate measures to prevent the violence against the Tamil civilians
from spreading to the other parts of the island from Colombo.28 Instead J.R. Jayewardene,
then President of Sri Lanka, referred to the mobs as a "mass movement by the generality
of the Sinhalese people” and praised the mobs as heroes of the Sinhalese people.29
Jayewardene’s complicity was reflected in the interview he gave to Ian Ward, a British
journalist, prior to the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983:
I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna (Tamil) people now. Now we
cannot think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us. The more
you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here… really,
if I starve the Tamils, Sinhala people will be happy...30
The Sinhalese atrocities against the Tamils continued unabated even
after the notorious ethnic violence in 1983. According to Human Rights Watch, after
1983, tens of thousands of people ended their life in prison cell.31 Several studies accuse
Sinhala politicians of institutionalized anti-Tamil violence and atrocities.32 S.J. Tambiah
reported that the Sinhalese ruling elites hired some Sinhalese to butcher the Tamils.33
The evidence suggests that the Sinhalese who were hired by local Sinhala politicians to
kill the Tamils are deprived and they did it for some economic benefits.34
It is evident that the violence and ethnocentric policies of the Sinhala ruling elites
contributed to the growth of Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka. Tamil moderate parties,
such as the Federal Party (FP) led by skillful politicians such as S.J.V. Selvanayakam,
articulated frustration among common Tamil people into a ‘defensive nationalism’ with
peaceful protests. However, Sinhalese collective, competitive chauvinism responded
violently to the Tamil moderates. A former Premier of Sri Lanka noted during his visit to
the United States, that “the Tamils tried peaceful protests which soon degenerated into
violence. With the underlying grievances being unattended the stage was set for terrorists
groups to emerge.”35 This background helps us to understand the birth of violent Tamil
movements, particularly the LTTE, toward the end of the 1970s.
The LTTE eventually resorted to violence to secure a separate state, called Eelam.
The LTTE claim that they are a product of the Sinhala violence and chauvinism, and hold
the belief that Tamils will not win any justice from the Sinhala polity.36 Many ordinary
Tamils began to share similar sentiments after they became targets of Sri Lanka police
and military retaliation against the LTTE’s attacks on the state and its institutions.37 The
state justified violence against the Tamils in the name of protecting territorial integrity of
the island. Yet, the violent actions of Sri Lanka forces against the Tamils further
radicalized the average Tamils, thus providing a fertile opportunity for the ethnic Tamil
recruitment to fight against the state. Therefore, the Tamil separatist movement is, in Neil
de Votta’s words, “Sinhalese-inspired.”38 The systematic growth of the LTTE shows that
when a particular community feels is being continuously terrorized by the dominant
ethnic/religious or political group, many will join a politico-military movement to resist
the oppression and violence of the persecutors.39
Politicization of the ethnic distinctions increased when the LTTE indiscriminately
used violence against Sinhalese villagers and bombed Buddhist shrines. These tactics
have been used particularly since 1985. Although the LTTE did not target ordinary
Sinhalese before 1977, as the ethnic conflict escalated, there were several incidents in the
late 1980’s involving Sinhalese civilians. In 1985, for example, a major attack was
launched in Anuradhapura, in which many Sinhalese civilians were killed.40 The
increased intensity of the government-LTTE war since 1995 has resulted in more
bombings in the south and renewed anxieties among southern Sinhalese. On January 25,
1998, these anxieties were intensified when an LTTE suicide bomber targeted the sacred
Temple of the Tooth (Dalada Maligawa) in Kandy, causing considerable damage to the
building, killing at least 13 people and injuring 20 more. Sinhalese were appalled by this
desecration. Further, the LTTE also violently expelled thousands of Northern Muslims,
and were responsible for the massacre of over 300 Muslims. More than 120 died in one
ghastly incident at prayer time inside the Katankudy mosque in Batticaloa district in
1991.41 The LTTE considers it, as Bruce Matthews explains, “mutual terrorism.”42
The LTTE violence against the Sinhalese gave justifications for the ruling and
opposition Sinhalese politicians to continue perpetrating state military actions against the
Tamils. In April 1995, soon after the collapse of the peace talks between the LTTE and
the state, the Sri Lanka security forces launched a huge military campaign in the North.
Such state military attacks, which include air force bombing, are on going.43
At the same time, the Tamils condemned the state military actions and backed the
LTTE resistance to state violence. In Prof. K. Sivathamby words,
In the name of fighting the LTTE, nearly every Tamil home and village in the
northeast was bombed and shelled, and civilians massacred by the security forces
indiscriminately. The number of refugees and displaced increased by the
thousands. The war was becoming a combat between two armies involved in
positional warfare and the people were out of it. The Tamil people of Batticaloa,
Trincomalee, Mannar, the Wanni and Jaffna had to therefore seek the assistance
of the LTTE to safeguard life and limb from the excesses of the armed forces.
Under these circumstances, the LTTE developed its own system of administration
to look after the needs of the Tamil civilian population of the northeast.44
However, on the political front, the Sinhalese elites fundamentally exploited the
Sinhalese sufferings at the hands of the LTTE to politicize the ethnic identities by
appealing to the Sinhalese emotions. The LTTE’s brutality enabled the southern Sinhala
politicians to construct fears about Tamil domination and aggression, which were the
central elements in the historical teachings of the mythical 5th century Mahavamsa.45
Also, the LTTE violence largely created an atmosphere of Sinhala hostility toward the
Norwegian facilitated peace talks, and strengthened the grip of the Sinhala nationalist
parties such as the SLFP, Jathike Hele Urumaya (JHU), and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna
(JVP). The JVP has exercised increasing influence among the Southern Sinhalese,
particularly, the economically disadvantaged segments of the population.
Political movements generally manipulate ethnic or religious emotions to gain the
sympathies of the masses. Such movements can likely generate reasonable amount of
sympathy among ordinary people when they appeal to emotional symbols such as blood,
flag, national anthem, history of group, or myth of motherland and fatherland. The rise of
the JVP in democratic politics can be understood within this framework. The JVP
retaliated with two failed rebellions against the Sri Lanka state in 1971 and 1987-89,
throughout which an estimated 50,000 people were killed. When it tried to transform
itself into a political party, it found difficulty in winning the Sinhalese votes. The UNP
and SLFP were already in fierce competition to win Sinhalese support. However, the
JVP thoughtfully decided to take advantage of Sinhalese fears in order to outbid the UNP
and SLFP, which are, according to the Tamil nationalists, fundamentally pro-Sinhalese
but still slightly favor political moderation. When the JVP employed the famous anti-
Tamil/federal policies, which have roots in former premier S.W.R.D. Bandaranayke’s
Sinhala-Only rhetoric in 1956, it was surprisingly successful, winning 10 parliamentary
seats in the 2000 elections, 16 seats in 2001, and 38 in the last general elections held in
2004.46 The key factor is that the parliamentary seats won by the JVP all represent the
deep Southern and urban West, where poor Sinhalese are largely concentrated.
Further, as part of its regular strategy to outbid its opponents on anti-Tamil or
anti-LTTE programs, the JVP systematically politicized the ethnic emotions. It opposed
the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA), which was signed in February 200247 and halted more
than two decades of ethnic civil war. The JVP also opposed the Post Tsunami Operation
Management (P-TOMS), commonly known as Joint Mechanism (JM), signed in June
2005, in which the LTTE acted as a chief partner to distribute international aid equally to
the North East.48 Both agreements were signed by the Sri Lankan government of the time,
however, the JVP demanded that the government make both the CFA and P-TOMS null
and void, because it believed that the democratically elected government should not
engage in any political dealings with the “terrorists” who targeted the lives of ordinary
Sinhalese as well as members of the Sinhalese-dominated security forces.49 On July 15,
2005, the Supreme Court invalidated the government-signed P-TOMS pact with the
LTTE. 50 The LTTE, co-author of the aid pact, voiced frustration over the ruling of the
Supreme Court and said the ruling was “neither surprising nor is this the first time the Sri
Lankan courts have denied justice to Tamils.”51
The JVP also opposes the Norwegian-brokered peace process, aimed at building a
power-sharing democracy based on a federal formula.52 It believes that Norwegian
mediation compromises the island’s unitary structure, a kind of political symbol of the
Sinhalese. Many Sinhalese, as Mahavamsa advocates, believe that the entire island is the
sacred home of the Sinhalese and Buddhism.53 Thus, the Sinhalese believe that powersharing
with the Tamils beyond the unitary formula, in other words, under the federal
structure, as nothing less than the thin end of the wedge of a separatist state. To
consolidate its position among the Sinhalese, the JVP, prior to the local council elections
on March 30, 2006, reaffirmed its anti-Norway position, and it categorically stated that
“if Norway is not sacked immediately from the peace process, we will amass more than
two hundred thousand people in a protest demonstration in front of the Norwegian
Embassy."54 The basic premise here is that the JVP took advantage of the LTTE’s
violence against the Sinhalese. Using this approach, it made rapid gains in the Sri Lanka
parliament and became the third most powerful political force in Sri Lanka.
The political development in southern Sri Lanka proves that in a democratic
society, when a group claiming to represent the marginalized violently targets the masses
of the dominant polity, it is highly likely that ethnic politicians of the dominant polity
will exploit such violence to politicize the system with ethnic emotions. This therefore
marginalizes the moderate politicians who seek a compromise to end the violent
disputes.55 The election campaigns in Sri Lanka since 1987 support this theory56and the
November 2005 presidential elections followed by the Supreme Court ruling on P-TOMS
is a case in point.
Sri Lanka held its fifth Presidential elections on November 17, 2005. The United
People Freedom Alliance (UPFA) nominated Mahinda Rajapakshe commonly considered
a Sinhala nationalist, as a Presidential candidate, while the UNP picked liberal-leaning
Ranil Wickramasinghe. Rajapakshe emotionalized his campaign with his anti-Tamil and
anti-devolution campaign and portrayed himself as a hero of the Sinhalese:57 He extolled
Sinhalese history, promised to abrogate Tsunami pact with the LTTE, and to radically
amend the Norwegian sponsored no-war treaty of 2002. He blamed Western countries,
particularly Norway, for his country’s current peace crisis, waved lion flags, and kissed
babies and school students.58 Most importantly, Premier Rajapakse sealed an electoral
deal with the JVP59 and JHU, the parties that opposed political relationship with the
LTTE. On the other hand, Wickramasinghe promised an honorable political solution
based on a federal political formula in accordance with the Oslo communiqués of 2002,60
a political document brokered by Norway.
The parties representing the minorities opposed Rajapakse’s political position and
his affiliations with the Sinhala extremists.61 As a result, they (except the TNA) endorsed
the UNP candidate. The LTTE and the TNA boycotted the elections. They maintained
that “the experience the Tamils have had over five decades, has taught them neither to
trust the leading Sinhala political parties nor to have faith in their leadership.”62
The elections provided a slight victory to Premier Mahinda Rajapakshe. He
secured a little over 50% of the popular vote against the main opposition rival Ranil
Wickramasinghe, who gained 48.43% of the votes.63 The vote statistics evidenced the fact
that Rajapakse secured most votes of the majority Sinhalese who predominantly live in
Southern, Western and Northwestern provinces, while Wickramasinghe won most votes
by the minorities who concentrate in the North East, Central and part of the Western
provinces of Sri Lanka.
Soon after the elections, Rajapakshe took early steps to politicize the state
institutions; he appointed Ratnasiri Wickramanayke as Premier of the island.
Wickramanayake is well known for his pro-war and Sinhala nationalistic stand. He also
appointed H.M.B.G. Kotakadeniya, the high ranking officer of the Sinhala nationalist
JHU, as a Defense Ministry's public safety adviser. In addition, he filled the state media
institutions with anti-peace journalists. Politicization of the state institution by the
Sinhalese leaders further encouraged the Tamil ethnic leaders to adhere strictly to Tamil
nationalist ideologies. Also, such politicization in the south popularizes the violent
ideologies embraced by the LTTE among fellow Tamils, as Tamils increasingly lose trust
in the Sinhala polity.
In electoral politics, parties need to compete for the votes.64 When a particular
party in ethnically divided societies attempts to politicize ethnic identities for electoral
gains, it is likely that other parties will follow a similar strategy to win votes. As a result,
the political leaders of the minorities/weaker sections may adopt similar electoral
strategies, which may lead to an increase in violence among the people, particularly the
marginalized. This explains some key reasons for the rise of Sinhala extremism and
Tamil violence in Sri Lanka, particularly during election time.
Sri Lanka’s ethnic strife highlights the violence that can result from the
politicization of ethnic differences, particularly when one party systematically reacts to
another’s violence through retaliation. The LTTE believe that Tamil youths are
compelled to employ violence because the successive Sri Lanka governments since
independence have reacted violently to the demands of Tamil moderate parties, and even
terrorized the community with genocide.65 Equally, the Sri Lanka government,
controlled by the majority Sinhalese, justifies its violence against the Tamils and the
LTTE as a means of safeguarding territorial integrity of the Sinhalese-dominated Island.
The net result is the polarization of Sri Lankan society, with Sinhalese deeply distrustful
of Tamils and vice versa.
Ethnicity exists, and there are numerous reasons why historical processes and
modernization can increase tensions between groups. It is all too easy (and tragic) for
political elites to politicize ethnic identities in a way that converts tension into violence.
This study argues that the conflict in Sri Lanka is a result of the politicization of ethnic
differences by the Sinhala elites in their quest for power. Tamils eventually feel so
powerless that they resort to a campaign of violence coupled with suicide bombing,
resulting in the deaths of thousands.
The future offers three alternatives. One possibility is that sporadic ethnic war
will snowball into pogroms, ethnic cleansing, emigration, and genocide. Violence leads
to retaliation and counter-retaliation, as society rides a downward spiral of destruction.
As Chaim Kaufmann points out, “war itself destroys the possibilities for ethnic
cooperation.”66 The second alternative is to seek a solution that provides guarantees for
security, stability and ethnic peace, which can materialize in ethnically divided societies
through restructuring the state system with power sharing (consociational democracy).
Such a peaceful resolution can not be won by force.
Conflict resolution literature highly recommends power-sharing as a feasible
solution to guarantee the security and stability of ethnic groups. Arend Lijphart’s powersharing
package could help to assure security and stability of the ethnic Tamils and the
redistribution of power away from the Sinhala elite’s political agenda. His model of
consociational democracy consists of two major elements: power sharing and group
autonomy. Consociational democracy, according to Lijphart, “denotes the participation of
representatives of all significant communal groups in political decision making,
especially at the executive level; group autonomy means that these groups have authority
to run their own internal affairs…”67
Lijphart’s recommendations in one way or another have been demanded by the
moderate Tamil political leaders since independence. The Sinhalese ruling elites offered
political concessions (including the tsunami Pact in June 2005) to discourage the Tamil
resistance. Unfortunately, all the consociation arrangements since independence have
succumbed to violent opposition from the Sinhalese voters, motivated by the nationalists’
outbidding tactics and extremist Sinhala-Buddhist monks.68 Thus, many Tamils are
completely convinced that Sinhala political elites would not offer any meaningful powersharing
democracy or federal system. Therefore, the Tamils want the world to recognize
their quest for ethnic separation.69 In November 2006, the LTTE leader Velupillai
Prabhakaran warned that the Sinhala nation “has left the Tamils with only one option,
political independence and statehood for the people of Tamil Eelam.”70
If there is a resistance to power sharing, the third option is partition. The demand
for separation becomes strong when a power-sharing arrangement is not possible. Some
fear that partition will further strengthen the ethnic hostilities between two nations, but
even if it provokes a period of violence, it would offer the separated ethnic groups muchneeded
stability and security in the future. In other words, partition can reduce the ethnic
fear and offers social and political security, as well as stability, to the different ethnic
groups. The separation of Pakistan from India, Eritrea from Ethiopia, Bangladesh from
West Pakistan, and Greeks from Turks on Cyprus all demonstrate that partition can be
helpful, even if it is not completely successful in terminating violence. The world
recognizes that if the people of one nation do not want to co-habit in the same polity, then
partition should not be automatically neglected as a solution. This might be one way to
manage the Tamils’ demands for political space since 1977.
Sri Lanka desperately needs ethnic peace because there has already been too
much blood shedding. The road is still wide open for a political solution: either
separation or consociation. Both options would be preferable to continued violence.
Given the history of not reaching a peaceful solution, perhaps assistance from the
international community chiefly led by the United Nations is needed in order to find a
sensible resolution.
1 Ted Robert Gurr and Harff Barbara, Ethnic Conflict in World Politics (Oxford: Westview Press, 1994),
pp. 77-78.
2 Ray Taras and Rajat Ganguly, Understanding Ethnic Conflict: The International Dimension (New York:
Priscilla McGeehon, 2002), p. 4.
3 Clifford Geertz, “The Integrative Revolution: Primordial Sentiments and Civil Politics in the New States,”
in Old Societies and New States: the Quest for Modernity in Asia and Africa, ed. Clifford Geertz (New
York: Free Press, 1963), pp. 107-113.
4 Ray Taras and Rajat Ganguly, Op. Cit, p. 5.
5 John Stone, “Race, Ethnicity, and Weberian Legacy,” American Behavioral Scientists, Vol. 38, No 3
(January 1995): pp. 391-407.
6 Ibid.
7 Barry R Posen, “Nationalism, the Mass Army, and Military Powers,” International Security, Vol. 18, No.
2 (Fall 1993), pp. 80-124.
8 S. Arasaratnam, Ceylon (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964), p. 10.
9 Nelson M. Kasfir, “Cultural Sub-Nationalism in Uganda,” in the Politics of Cultural Sub-Nationalism in
Africa, ed. Victor A. Olorunsola (Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1972), p. 10.
10 Anthony D Smith, “Towards a Theory of Ethnic Separatism,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 2, No 1
(January 1979): pp. 21-37.
11 Melson Robert and Howard Wolpe, “Modernization and the Politics of Communalism: A Theoretical
Perspective,” American Political Science Review, Vol 64, No 4 (1970):pp. 1112-30.
12 Jayantha Perera, “Political Development and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka,” Journal of Refugee Studies,
Vol 5, No 2 (1992): pp. 136-148.
13 Neil De Votta, Blowback: Linguistic Nationalism, Institutional Decay, and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), p.15.
14 See, K.M.De. Silva, Reaping the Whirlwind: Ethnic Conflict, Ethnic Politics in Sri Lanka (New Delhi:
Penguin Books, 1998).
15 Ted Robert Gurr, Minorities at Risk: A Global View of Ethnopolitical Conflicts (Washington, DC.:
United States Institute of Peace Press, 1993), p. 90.
16 For details accounts of the history and the origin of the conflict, see K.N.O. Dharmadasa, Language,
religion, and ethnic assertiveness: the growth of Sinhalese nationalism in Sri Lanka (Ann Arbor:
University of Michigan Press, 1992); Kumari Jayawardena, Feminism and nationalism in the Third World
(London : Zed, 1986); Kumari Jayawardena and Jayadeva Uyangoda “Special issue on the national
question in Sri Lanka,” South Asia Bulletin, No. 6, (1986): pp. 1-47; D.H. Rajanayagam, “Tamil “Tigers”
in Northern Sri Lanka: Origins, Factions and Programmes,” International Asian Forum, Vol. 7. No 1 and 2
(1986): 63-85; and Ananda Wickeremeratne, Buddhism and Ethnicity in Sri Lanka: A Historical Analysis
(Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 1995).
17 See Karl A Deutsch, Nationalism and Social Communication (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1953).
18 John R Bowen, “The Myth of Global Ethnic Conflict,” Journal of Democracy, Vol. 7, No 4 (October
1996): pp. 3-14.
19 See Rogers Brubaker, Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the national Question in the New Europe
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Brubaker categorically states that nationalism should be
interpreted as an outcome of social and political ideology, and not a pre-ideological matter.
20 See Paul R. Brass, Ethnicity and Nationalism: Theory and Comparison (Newbury Park, CA: Sage
Publications, 1985); and Nelson M. Kasfir, “Explaining Ethnic Political Participation,” World Politics, Vol.
31, No 3 (1979): pp. 365-88.
21 See Paul R. Brass, Language, Religion and Politics in North India (New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1974).
22Anthony Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy Economic Theory of Democracy (New York:
Harper, 1957), p. 28.
23 K.N.O Dharmadasa, Op. Cit, pp.20-45.
24 Telephone Interviews from some Tamil undergraduate students of Eastern University, Sri Lanka. These
students think that the state institutions such as Sri Lanka constitution discriminated them in favor of the
Sinhalese. Interviews were held on November 23, 2004.
25 S.J. Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka (Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 1992); A. Jeyaratnam Wilson, The Break-up of Sri Lanka: The Sinhalese-
Tamil Conflict (London: Hurst, 1988); Jagath P. Senaratne, Political Violence in Sri Lanka, 1977-1990:
Riots Insurrections, Counter Insurgencies, Foreign Intervention, (Amsterdam: VU University, 1997); A.
Jeyaratnam Wilson, Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism : Its Origins and Development in the Nineteenth and
Twentieth Centuries (Vancouver : UBC Press, 2000); and V. Kanapathipillai, “July 1983: The Survivor’s
Experience” in Mirrors of violence: communities, riots and survivors in South Asia, ed. V. Das (Delhi:
Oxford University Press, 1990), pp, 321-44.
26 Jo Becker, 2006. “Funding the “Final War” LTTE Intimidation and Extortion in the Tamil Diaspora,”
Human Rights Watch, Vol 18, No 1 (March 2006): p. 6,
27 Anti Tamil pogrom of ‘83,
28 Bruce Matthews, “Radical Conflict and the Rationalization of Violence in Sri Lanka,” Pacific Affairs,
Vol. 59. No 1 (Spring 1986): 28-44.
29 The July 1983 Violence Against Tamils,
30 Daily Telegraph, London, 11 July 1983.
31Jo Becker, Human Rights Watch, Op. Cit, p. 7.
32 S.J. Tambiah, Op. Cit., Michael Roberts, Op. Cit.
33 S.J. Tambiah, Ibid.
34 An interview with three Sinhalese who declined to disclose their name. They acknowledged their role in
violence against the Tamils in Colombo on July 24, 1983. According to them, they were asked by the local
Sinhala politician who offered some bottles of local alcohol and 500/=SLR each to loot and burn the Tamils
shops as much as they can with others, who were on the same mission on the same day. An interview was
held on July 25, 2004
35 Our Approach for a Better Tomorrow Free from Terrorism, http://,Daily News, July 25, 2002.
36 Liberation Tigers and Tamils Eelam Freedom Struggle, book publication no. 4, 1983, pp. 16-35.
37 Phone and email Interviews with some final year undergraduate Jaffna and Eastern University students in
Sri Lanka. August 15-27, 2005.
38 Neil De Votta, Op.Cit.
39 Ted Robert Gurr and Harff Barbara, Op. Cit.
40 Elizabeth Nissan and R.L Stirrat, “The generation of communal identities,” in Sri Lanka: History and the
roots of Conflict, ed. Jonathan Spencer (London: Routledge, 1990), P.38.
41 The political leaders representing the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka traditionally enjoyed good relations
with the Sinhalese political leaders, and they oppose the Tamil violence struggle against the state. Some
Tamil nationalists say such a Muslim stand irritated the LTTE, and thus it led to the Tamil violence against
the North East Muslims of the island. For detail discussion about the formation of the Sri Lanka Muslim
elite see, Qadir Ismail, “ Unmooring Identity: The Antinomies of Elite Muslim Self-Representation in
Modern Sri Lanka,” in Unmaking the Nation: The Politics of Identity and History in Modern Sri Lanka, ed.
Pradeep Jeganathan and Qadir Ismail (Colombo: Social Scientists’ Association, 1995), pp, 55-105.
42 Bruce Matthews, Op. Cit.
43 Sri Lankan military says air force bombed Tamil Tiger weapons stockpile,
Accessed on December 20, 2006.
44 Karthigesu Sivathamby, Geneva Talks-Talking to the Tigers: How the State Presents It and The other
Side of the Picture,
45 Mahavamsa says that the Sinhalese are the preservers of Buddhism and maintains that the Tamil rulers
who ruled the Northern Sri Lanka as invaders and thus, their sole aims were to subjugate the Sinhalese and
the island of Sri Lanka,
46 Department of Elections, Sri Lanka,
47 Sri Lanka's Court of Appeal fixed March 6, 2007 for the inquiry into the petitions by the JVP and JHU to
declare that the Ceasefire Agreement, signed on 22 February 2002, is null and void on the basis that it
contravened the constitution of the country.
48. JM taken to courts,
49. Ibid.
50. Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court Blocks P-TOMS deal, http://www.
51.LTTE scoffs at the P-TOMS dram in South,
52.No!' for federalism - JVP
53 Interview with five Sinhalese undergraduates from the Ruhunu University, Matara, Sri Lanka. January
05, 2002.
54. Expel Norway, demands JVP,
55. Interview with Dr. Nihal Abeysinghe, retired senior academia from the Department of Religion,
Keleniya University, Sri Lanka. An interview was held on November 17, 2004.
56. Laksiri Jayasuriya, The Changing Face of Electoral Politics in Sri Lanka: 1994-2004 (Singapore: Marshall
Cavendish International, 2005).
57. Prime Minister launches his Presidential manifesto,
58. Mahinda Rajapakse: A man of the masses,
59. JVP- PM policy agreement,
60. SLFP: No support from Tamil parties,
61. Frontline, Vol. 22, No.22, October.22-Nov.04, 2005.
62. LTTE-TNA conference concludes: Tamil people have no interest in SL Presidential elections,
63. Presidential Election 2005 - Final Result, Vote
statistics also suggested that Mr. Wickramasinghe could have won the elections had there was no LTTE
imposed boycott, which had deprived the voting rights of thousands of North East Tamils.
64. Larry Diamond and Leonardo Morlino, “The Quality of democracy: An over view,” Journal of
Democracy, Vol. 15, No 1 (October 2004): p.24.
65. Liberation Tigers and Tamils Eelam Freedom Struggle, Op. Cit.
66.Chaim Kaufmann, “Possible and Impossible Solutions to ethnic Civil wars” in Nationalism and Ethnic
Conflict, ed. Michael E. Brown, Cote R. Owen, Jr and others (Cambridge: MIT Press. 1997), p. 266.
67. Arend Lijphart, Democracy in Plural Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), p. 1.
68. Tessa J Bartholomeusz and C.R.De Silva. Op. Cit. pp. 1-27.
69. Tens of Thousands attend Tamil resurgence event in Killinochchi,
70. LTTE peace secretariat,


The Spirit of Pluralistic Learning in Jaffna.......By C.S. Poolokasingham
Deputy Secretary General,
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
24 September 2008

Jaffna Hindu College was established in 1890 when the Hindu revival movement was being led by Srila Shri Arumuga Navalar in the North and East. The Hindu Colleges all over the North and East as well as in the Hill Country were coordinated by Hindu Boards of Management with the financial assistance of well wishers from the community such as Pasupathy Chettiyar, Sitharampillai, Nagalingam, Chellappapillai, Casipillai, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and the like.

Jaffna Hindu College had hostel facilities for students from various parts of Sri Lanka including the North with a view to accommodating also the needy students. Even though it was a Hindu managed school, it had Muslim students as well such as Zakf, Rahumatulla, Lathif and M. S. Alif. They attended the day school and some of them resided in the hostel alongside students from Jaffna, Mannar, Akurana, Kandy, and Vavuniya.

I believe that this may be the only school in Sri Lanka which has a school anthem placing an emphasis on the importance of learning all the national languages, namely Tamil, Sinhala and English.


Title: The wisdom of what you learn, learn well and lead your

life with what you learnt

Long Live the Jaffna Hindu College

Earning forever the praise of the world

Throughout this great Sri Lankan nation

Living in the hearts of the Hindus

As the great portal of learning

Making the hearts of youths happy

It is the place for learning the arts

And a repository of many arts

Making Tamils walk with pride

Wherever we are whatever the suffering

We will not forget the goodness

Of thee our alma mater

May God favour thee to live forever and ever

English sweet Tamil and Aryan Sinhala

It is the centre to learn them

This is the great cradle of learning

Guarded with affection by those of learning

This is the centre of light

This is the centre of elevation

And the centre of life.

Long live the unique cradle of learning

That shines in our Tamil lives

Long live long live long live

Long live without a parallel

In this world forever

These lyrics of the school anthem were written by Viduvan K. Karthigesan, B.A.(London) and the melody composed by Viduvan C. Arumugam.

It is important to recall the far-sightedness of the scholars who established this school and served on the Boards of Management such as Pasupathi Chettiyar, Nagalingam, Casipillai, Nevins Selvadurai, Dr. R. Rasah. Some of them were from Christian families but they nevertheless assisted in promoting Hindu culture and traditions through Hindu schools.

Teaching of the Sinhala Language

We had a Sinhalese teacher named Amarasinghe from Matara who taught us the Sinhala language in Grade 6 and conducted two periods a week with the Grade 1 book ‘Kumararodaya’ where he commenced his lessons with the fundamentals of the Sinhala Alphabet i.e. ’ ‘Mala’. Even though he was a language teacher, he was accepted as a staff member and attended all staff meetings. His name was placed on par in the pay sheet alongside other members of the staff. This is an indication of how a Sinhala language teacher was accommodated in the interest of the progress of the school and nursing of its image as the staff members had a voice and were given due hearing in respect to all the developmental activities of the school. Any part time or an additional teacher of languages is generally not included in the staff list.

The teaching of the Sinhala language was associated with the idea of improving the four language skills, reading, writing, speaking and listening. Mr. Amarasinghe discharged his duties with utmost dedication and commitment. I still remember the time i.e. 1956, when the Language Bill was introduced resulting in a commotion that made the few Sinhalese living in Jaffna to leave Jaffna. When Mr. Amarasinghe also left Jaffna, it caused so much concern to all of us but we never thought that he will not come back. We thought that he was leaving us due to the disturbances and that he will come back once the situation had subsided. But he never returned and we lost a golden opportunity of learning Sinhalese while in school.

The school anthem that places an emphasis on the importance of learning the Sinhala language constitutes part of the fundamental pluralistic view of the Jaffna people and it also reflects the wisdom and far sightedness of the founding scholars. This outlook helped the students who studied in the pre-conflict era to think and live as people of one country.

Regular contact with Schools in the South

Secondly, the Jaffna Hindu College had regular contact with the South by arranging for students to visit all historical and tourist sites in the island twice a year and the students were well looked after and accommodated by other schools in Anuradhapura, Hatton, Matale, Galle and Kandy. The school had an annual cricket match with Maliyadeva Vidyalaya, Kurunegala and taking turns each school had the opportunity of visiting Jaffna or Kurunegala in alternate years and this arrangement was continued until the early 1980s.

Thirdly, the pluralistic outlook was also reflected in the activities of its Cadet Corps and the Scout movement. Only three schools from the North i.e. St. Patrick, St. Johns and Jaffna Hindu College were represented by their Cadet platoons in the annual inter school cadet competition held at the Diyatalawa Military camp. The participation in this event provided an opportunity for our School cadets to meet and interact with cadets from other schools in the South as well as with Officers of the military establishment. Our college had two Cadet platoons – Senior Cadet platoon and Junior Cadet platoon and both these platoons took part in the annual programme at Diyatalawa.

Muslim students at School

Prominent Muslim families were happy to send their children to Jaffna Hindu College as it was well reputed for its high educational standards as well as non discrimination on matters relating to religion and culture. For example, Dr. Carsim who is practising in UK at present obtained a distinction in Hinduism at the O/L. For several years the Junior and later the Senior Cadet Corp was commanded by a senior student Mr. Ashroff who hailed from Nuwara Eliya. Originally the command and the instructions for the military drill of the Cadets were in English but later the medium of command was switched to Sinhala. No one looked at these developments with a different thinking. The school Cadets had their regular training every day in the playground and in the roads and lanes adjoining the College. The children of M M Sultan, Mayor of Jaffna, Deputy Mayor M M Abusally, and Mr. Nisthsar a prominent businessmen from Akurana, were some of these students. Allapitchachi who later served for a long period as Deputy Principal, Zahira College, Colombo, hailed from Mannar.

Fourthly, moulding the students with the broader aspect of a pluralistic outlook made us to support and subscribe to the divergent political ideologies prevalent at that time. For example, when I was the Secretary of the History and Civic Association of our College the first person to visit Moscow from the Communist Party of Sri Lanka was the late Mr. V. Ponnambalam. I invited him to address our Society despite the opposition of our patron and a relation of mine who became in later years our Principal. He objected to a Communist Party member addressing the students as he was overtly partial to the political views of the Tamil Congress Party. But even though he objected, he nevertheless allowed Mr. V. Ponnambalam, the Communist party member to share with us his impressions of his visit to Russia, rather than on the doctrinaire aspects of Communism.

Fifthly, even though the younger generation took up arms for a cause, in the middle of the temporary peace in 2002 when I was invited to be the Chief Guest at the annual School Prize Giving, the School Principal in his introductory speech when referring to me and my wife, made some insightful remarks which I would like to set out below, as they provide an idea even at this late hour of the stance of the school and its management in respect to adopting a pluralistic approach towards nation building.

The Principal said, "You have the honour of informing the characteristics of the lives of Tamils in beautiful Tamil language to the entire nation. You have achieved humility and depth with proficiency in Sinhalese, Tamil and English which are the languages of our country. I am delighted that you have come to the alma mater which moulded your husband giving dignity and stature to him. Born in the Neduntivu island (Delft Island) which produced several eminent persons, you have traveled up to the United States engaging in service to Tamils and the religion. You have rendered much service both here and abroad through the Seva Vanitha making use of the knowledge and experience gained in the Government Service for more than 15 years".

Still I remember the packed hall of over 2000 students, teachers and many parents of the students as well as old boys including at the time the political campaigner of the LTTE, Mr. Yogi, and some of his colleagues. I was thinking of talking to them after the Prize Giving and the lunch but they were not available immediately after my speech and Prize Giving. I would like to point out that one of the salient points I made in my Prize Giving day’s speech was that my success in life was due largely to the solid foundation I had in Jaffna Hindu College. My success cannot be attributed purely to studies and my abilities but also in learning the other two languages, all the more the Sinhala language, the language that every Jaffna man needs to know for his progress, understanding and peaceful co-existence beyond the Elephant Pass. My emphasis on the importance of studying Sinhala was even at this juncture not sidelined by the gathering assembled on that occasion.

Distinguished Alumni

The wisdom and insights enshrined in the school anthem constituted the inspiration and wellspring of future progress for several youth who were educated in this School. In later life they became eminent educationists, Economists, Scientists, Doctors, Engineers, Diplomats and leading politicians. I would like to mention the names of some of them from the recent past. They are:

Prof Balasundarampillay (Educationist), T. Kamalanathan (Educationist), Kunarasa (Writer), Pasupathipillay Nagalingam (Educationist), Kasipillay, Mr. Sabapathy, Sirinivasan, Mahadeva, Cooramaswamy, Justice Sharvananda (Law), Siva Pasupathy (Law), Justice Sri Bhawan, Kailasapillay, Dr. Ambalavanar, Dr. Indra Kumar, Dr. Jothilingem, Kathiravetpillay, Sabanayagam (Educationist), Arunachelam (Law), Thillainadarajah (Educationist), Jayaratnarajah, Jayakumar, Narayanaswamy, Sri Vishakarajah, Shanmuganathan, Navarathnam, Raja Viswanathan, T. S. Thurairajah (Politics), K. C. Thangarajah, V. Anandasangaree and some of the foreign service senior colleagues such as Ambassador Balasubramaniyam, Yogendra Duraiswamy, Kathiramalainathan who brought fame and glory to Sri Lanka in the international arena are the proud products of Jaffna Hindu College.

Name Board in three languages in Jaffna

As a final remark I would like to pin point and bring to the attention of the readers of this article an incident relating to the name board of ‘Kalajothi Community Centre’ which was established in 1949. It is situated at a stone’s throw distance from Jaffna Hindu College. The name board had the institutional name written only in Tamil since 1949. When I was an Assistant Treasurer of this Centre in 1963, when we wanted to change the name to ‘Kalajothi Youth Organisation’ and effect an extension to the building, this name was inscribed in cement in all three languages and the name board placed on the top of the building.

The inscription of the name in Sinhala was opposed by a powerful local resident who was supportive of the then Federal Party. He declined to give his regular assistance to us at the time when we were organizing ‘Dan Sal’ for the devotees of the ‘Nallur Festival’ who pass through this centre after coming from all over Jaffna. He went to the extent of requesting the late Mr. Amiththalingam not to participate in the festivities on the 25th day at the end of the ‘Nallur Festival’ where we conduct a Religious competition and thereafter hold a Prize Giving, the first prize being a gold medal for the young competitors. When we heard the news that Mr. Amiththalingam may decline our invitation to be the Chief Guest at the function, four of us youths proceeded on push bicycles all the way to his home nine miles away from Jaffna town. When we met him we were very much surprised by the reply given by the late Mr. Amiththalingam.

Mr. Amiththalingam said, "You are doing the right thing. My supporter is wrong. You have every right to put the name of the organisation in all three languages and I will come as the chief guest" and he attended the function, made a speech and gave away the prizes. Though at times the late Mr. Amiththalingam may have propagated a Federal state solution or advocated autonomy for the North and East in eloquent Tamil touching the feelings of the Tamil masses, he was against all forms of racial discrimination.

I also heard that when Jaffna was retaken by the Government Security forces and the military was moving on the main roads, one of the Army Officers on seeing this board which was in all three languages had declared, "There seems to be some sensible people living in this area, so we will have our Military post here."

It is also interesting to note that even during the period Jaffna was under LTTE control, the LTTE had not taken any steps to erase the Sinhala wording and it would seem that this organization has a policy entirely different when it comes to languages. I may be wrong.

We are proud to be the students of Jaffna Hindu College which stood and still stands for an integrated and pluralistic Sri Lanka with all the attendant difficulties, and continues to produce able and well trained youths to man high office in institutions and to be outstanding professionals not only in Sri Lanka but in many other parts of the world as well.

Courtesy: Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP)