Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

Home Whats New  Trans State Nation  One World Unfolding Consciousness Comments Search

Home > Tamilnation Library > Eelam Section > Sri Lanka : The Pen and the Gun - S.Sivanayagam


[see also One Hundred Tamils of 20th Century  - S.Sivanayagam]

Book Note by Sachi Sri Kantha - This book mainly consists of 80 editorials the author had penned between 1977 and 2000, for four journals; Saturday Review, Tamil Information Magazine, Tamil Nation  and Hot Spring. It also includes a few tracts and elegies. Of the tracts, Sivanayagam�s �Open Letter to the American Ambassador in Sri Lanka�, dated March 11, 2001, is a  memorable one. Though it was addressed to Mr.Ashley Wills, the then American  ambassador in Colombo, its text seems timeless in its appeal. Among the elegies, those describing the activities and services of educator Handy Perinbanayagam, Senator S.Nadesan, attorney K.Kanthasamy, journalist Rita Sebastian, Professor Alfred Jeyaratnam Wilson and Professor Christie Jeyaratnam Eliezer are meritorious. 

Foreword by Brian Senewiratne,  2001

It is an honour for me, a Sinhalese, to be invited to write a Foreword to a book on the problems facing the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. I hope that my doing so is not a kiss of death to the book! Siva appreciated this risk but wrote to me with characteristic defiance, "Damn those who refuse to go through the book because Brian's name appears on it. Posterity is on our side, Brian." I hope for posterity's sake that the Sinhalese will go through this book and not do what President Jayawardene did to the Saturday Review, i.e. to close it because he could not face the truth.

The Tamils have been systematically discriminated against by a succession of Sinhalese-dominated governments for more than fifty years. In the past two decades these oppressed people have been trying to establish (or rather, re-establish) a separate independent Tamil nation in the pursuit of the right of self-determination. There are those who think that the only way to reach this goal is through the barrel of a gun and have armed themselves with AK47s. There are others whose "gun" is their pen, which, if properly used, is probably more effective than the conventional gun. The old adage "the pen is mightier than the sword (gun) is, and has always been, true.

Siva is an expert with the pen and has used this God-given gift with courage, determination and at tremendous cost to himself and his family for nearly two decades. His reward has been persecution, illegal arrest and detention, and even being chained to a hospital bed in India where he sought refuge from the barbaric regime in Colombo. His life has been reduced to that of a gypsy. Amazingly, he goes on struggling and writing.

I first "met" Siva in 1982 when I read a remarkable journal coming out of Jaffna, the Saturday Review, which was edited by him. That was compulsory reading. With Jaffna brutalised by the armed forces behaving like an army of occupation, there were two publications coming out of Jaffna, the Saturday Review, an English weekly, and Suthanthiran , a Tamil bi-weekly, both of which published information about atrocities in the Tamil area. The Saturday Review, in English, was the only one through which the problems facing the Tamil people were transmitted to the Sinhalese people and the outside world. It had the largest circulation of any Sri Lankan paper outside the country. Those who have missed the literary gems � the editorials written by Siva - will find these reproduced in this book. President Jayawardene had no answer to Siva. His answer was to ban the Saturday Review and attempt to arrest Siva. Miraculously he escaped � a story in itself.

I followed Siva to the Tamil Nation, Tamil Voice International, which incidentally published several of my articles, and to Hot Spring. His outstanding editorials and articles from these journals are found in this book. He took on the Sinhalese leaders without fear or favour and continues to do so. He also took on the so-called Sri Lankan diplomats who have been, and still are "Sinhalese" diplomats. Siva's "assault" on the one-time Sri Lankan ambassador to the U.S.A is well worth reading. However, from my perspective. the most fascinating part of the book is the Introduction in which he deals with the origins of the Sinhala people. Perhaps I should thank the writers of the Mahavamsa for this arrant nonsense which has done so much damage to the country. Siva's hilarious, but perfectly correct, comments on this claptrap is well worth repeated reading.

Those of us who are addicted to writing will appreciate not only the contents of this book but also the style of presentation. It is ofcourse the difference between a journalist and a doctor of medicine! When I wrote a short piece for the flyer for this book, Siva responded by telling me that I could afford to he critical of any part of the contents. I low can I when I agree completely with what he has written? No one could have done a better job.

As I have said I "met" Siva when I got addicted to reading the Saturday Review in the early eighties. Amazingly, I had not actually met him physically until June 2001 when I was invited to London to address a luncheon meeting of the International Foundation of Tamils on "The Abuse of Democracy in Sri Lanka". One reason for not being able to meet him in all those years that I have been running round the world campaigning for the cause of the Tamil people could be either that he was in hiding or in some terrible jail in India without charge or trial or chained to a hospital bed in Madras where he sought refuge from oppression in his own homeland. In July 200 I while waiting to deliver an address on "Democratization. Time for radical change" at the "Sivan Kovil" hall in London, I thought I might spend the afternoon with Siva. I visited him in his one-room-shared-kitchen-toilet accommodation in London. It was perhaps my finest hour. I marvelled at the sacrifice that he had so ungrudgingly made to the cause of the Tamil people.

I am delighted that he has dedicated this book to one of the finest people I have met, a dear friend who is no more, Kandiah Kanthasamy. My only regret is that this book is in English. It should be translated into Sinhala and made compulsory reading in Sri Lanka. I hope that someone with a sense of true patriotism will do this.

From the Introduction -

Sri Lanka's post-independence history could be said to be divided, symbolically, into two phases � the supremacy of the sword and the ascendancy of the gun! The dividing line between the two falls roughly around the mid-eighties. The sword is the one you see in Sri Lanka's national flag and in the official emblem: a figurative but yet ferocious-looking lion holding a threatening sword in its right paw, with its tail raised in the air � altogether a picture of aggression.

In life, we take many things for granted, and not many people, certainly not the non-Sri Lankans, are likely to pause and wonder how the lion came to be in Sri Lanka's national flag, nor why some patriotic Sinhalese like to call themselves members of the Lion Race.

To understand this mindset, one has to go back to a pseudo-historical work called the Mahavamsa ("The Great Chronicle') written by Buddhist bhikkhus, which as a leading Sinhalese historian K.M.de Silva says, was "permeated by a strong religious bias, and encrusted with miracle and invention".' Compiled at the beginning of the sixth century after Christ, but containing as it does the island's recorded history from 500 B.C. it is also embellished with tales of mythical beings and miracles.

While it is possible to separate the grain from the chaff and use it as an invaluable source of the rich historical tradition of the island, the myths and legends that adorn the Mahavamsa unfortunately took a permanent grip on the popular Sinhalese imagination; with disastrous results to the country and its peoples.

The inventive narration of the founding of Sri Lanka with the arrival of the Sinhalese is a case in point. The story surrounding Vijaya, the supposed founder of the Sinhalese race, as is given in the Mahavamsa is not only fanciful but sordid as well. The Sinhalese people, it is said, are descendants of an "amorous" princess in the country of the Vangas (Bengal in India) who mated with a lion! The soothsayers had "prophesied her union with the king of beasts", says the chronicle, "and for shame the king and queen could not suffer her:" So she left her home, seeking an independent life and joined a caravan. What follows is an intriguing account that has all the drama that would make a good Hollywood blockbuster!

The caravan was travelling to the "Magadha country" and on the way a lion attacked it in the forest. While "the other folk fled this way and that" the princess fled along the way by which the lion had come. "When the lion had taken his prey and was leaving the spot he beheld her from afar, love (for her) laid hold on him, and he came towards her with waving tail and ears laid back. Seeing him she bethought her of that prophecy of the soothsayer which she had heard, and without fear she caressed him stroking his limbs. The lion, roused to fiercest passion by her touch, took her upon his back and bore her with all speed to his cave, and there he united with her, and from this union with him the princess in time bore twin-children, a son and a daughter " The son's hands and feet were formed like a lion's and the mother named him Si(n)habahu. The daughter was named Si(n)hasivali. Thus they lived in the lion's cave for sixteen years.

Now, it was the lion's habit to close the cave entrance with a rock before setting forth in search of prey. When Sihabahu was sixteen, he asked his mother: "Wherefore are you and our father so different, dear mother?" So she told him. The next thing that happened was of course what could he called in contemporary terms, a case of malicious desertion! When the lion had gone out in search of prey, young Sihabahu dislodged the rock that covered the cave, carried his mother and sister on his two shoulders, clothed themselves with branches of trees and escaped to the border village. When the lion returned and found the wife and children gone, "he was sorrowful, and grieving after this on, he neither ate nor drank", says the Mahavamsa. l le set in search of them in neighbouring villages, and wherever he went, the people fled in fear. They then went to the king and told him: " The lion ravages the country. ward (this danger) O' King."

The king offered a reward of a thousand gold pieces to anyone who would bring the lion's head. Since there were no takers, he increased the reward in turn to two thousand and then three thousand gold pieces. Sihabahu accepted the promise of reward and despite his mother restraining him went to his lather's cave. As soon as the lion saw his son, he came forward with love towards him. Sihabahu's arrow struck the lion's forehead, but because of his tenderness towards his son, the arrow rebounded and fell on the earth at the youth's feet. And so it fell three times, but "then did the king of beasts grow wrathful and the arrow sent at him struck him and pierced his body."

Sihabahu took the head of the lion with the mane and returned to the city to receive a hero's welcome. In course of time, he founded the new "kingdom of Lala", made Sihasivali (his sister) the queen, and by her had "twin sons sixteen times", thirty two sons in all. The eldest of them was named Vijaya whom the king consecrated as prince-regent. Vijaya, according to the Mahavamsa, turned out to be ''of evil conduct". He, and his followers, seven hundred of them, perpetrated "many intolerable deeds of violence" that angered the people. The father Sihabahu lost his patience, half-shaved the heads of the lot of them and put them on a ship banishing them from his kingdom. It was this Vijaya who eventually landed in Lanka and founded the Sinhala race, according to the chronicle!

Not a pleasant way to trace the origin of the Sinhalese people � a story of animal descent, an over-sexed princess, a parricide father, an incestuous marriage and a wicked son banished by his people! One would have expected the Sinhalese people to have dismissed this story of a shameful genealogy from their minds, and laughed it off � given their habitual sense of humour � (unlike the Tamils, they have a greater capacity to laugh at themselves) as arrant nonsense. But alas, their politicians were of a different mould. When the leaders of predominantly Hindu India opted for the Asoka Chakra, with its Buddhist connotation of Peace as the national emblem at the time of independence, the Buddhist leaders of Sri Lanka who claim that the island is the first and final repository of Buddhism, Ahimsa and Maithreyedecided to make a ferocious-looking lion holding a sword on its paw as their flag and emblem!

This represented an unfortunate state of mind, which was bound to have a deleterious effect on the future history and governance of the country. Should it surprise anyone that the country has been experiencing one form of violence or another and shedding of blood for 45 years of its 53-year post-colonial history?.

The history of violence in the country wears several faces: Sinhala mob violence against Tamils (1956 1958); Sinhala dissentient violence against the State (1971); Sinhala State violence against Sinhala dissent (1971); Sinhala State violence against Tamil civilians (1977, 1981, 1983. Tamil militant violence against the State (1983 ...); Tamil militant violence against Tamil dissent...Tamil militant violence against Sinhalese civilians.... and suddenly in mid - 1987 Sinhala violence turned inwards with floating corpses in rivers and streams in the south, while in the North and East, an "Indian Peace-Keeping Force" went to war with the Tamil Tigers.

By now the violence had peaked into a frontal war between two nationalisms that has shown no signs of abating after seventeen years of bloodshed and loss of seventy thousand human lives. Bad enough for the Sinhala State to carry a historical baggage going back to 2500 years, complete with lion and sword, but worse for the Sinhalese people to burden themselves with myths and legends that reflect badly on their own past. Historically speaking, one could say the tiger- an equally ferocious predator in the jungle as the lion -was at least a late starter in the jungle politics of Sri Lanka! The calculation must have been that against the Sinhala Lion and the Sword of State, the effective counterpoise would be a Tamil Tiger and an AK 47 gun!

America, when it started out, was a blank page of history waiting to be written upon", wrote Tocqueville, the French political scientist. The problem about Sri Lanka is that it is a country heaving with a heavy cargo of the past that even to identify a national hero, the Sinhalese go back two thousand years, before Christ, to remember a Dutugemunu! (The Tamils at least can claim a living one!) What they choose to remember and what they recall with pride are matters for Sinhalese politicians and the Sinhalese people, but by foisting what they believed was a symbol of Sinhala pride (and four Bo-leaves in the flag to denote Buddhist hegemony) in a country that was multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious, they had legitimised Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism at the very beginning of life as an independent nation. Two stripes of red and green placed alongside the Lion flag  - like the two stripes on a squirrel, - as Tamil Senator S.R.Kanaganayagam quipped at that time, were added later as a patronizing gesture towards the presence of two "minorities" in the country , the Tamils and the Muslims. As for the fair-skinned Burghers, they were not even given a thought. They were expected to leave the country, which they did, in large numbers � for Australia. The Tamil exodus out of the country was to start 35 years later, with the State-inspired pogrom of 1983. That year remains as a major watershed.

The title of this book needs a word of explanation. The contents here correspond almost nearly (beginning 1982) with the period when the gun had come into play in the political life of the country (Sri Lanka). Previously, I had spent thirty years in Colombo, involved with the written word - in newspaper journalism, advertising, tourist promotion, magazine publishing but the kind of writing devoid of political content. The events in Jaffna in May-June 1981 were to rouse the political animal in me. If any State could virtually declare war against its own citizens, and in a part of its own territory (Jaffna) and do it unashamedly....  that happened in 1981 . Nancy Murray, a member of the Campaign against Racism and Fascism, and of the Council of the Institute of Race Relations said in a subsequent report:

"By 1981, the Liberation Tigers had killed perhaps twenty policemen, many of them notorious torturers. In April and May  of 1981, following the Neervely bank robbery, twenty seven men were arrested,  and at least twenty two of them, according to an Amnestv International report, tortured in a number of ways and then chained to walls at the Elephant Pass army camp and elsewhere for six months at a time. Against the background of' relentless State repression, Jayawardene's effort to defuse the situation by calling elections for District Development Councils was probably doomed, from the start, even if he had not aroused Tamil suspicions by sending up a contingent of 300 specially trained Sinhalese policemen to oversee the election proceedings in Jaffna.

"The run-up to the elections was predictably violent. Tamil Youth groups denounced the TULF, for going along with the elections - they viewed the DDCs as toothless and TULF cooperation as a sell-out. On 24 May, a UNP candidate was assassinated and the army went on a rampage of looting and torture. And then, on 31 May, an unidentified gunman fired some shots at an election meeting, and the tense atmosphere exploded into State-sponsored mayhem. With several high-ranking Sinhalese security officers and two Cabinet Ministers, Cyril Mathew and Gamini Dissanayake (both self confessed Sinhala supremacists), both present in the town, uniformed security men and plainclothes thugs carried out .some well- organised acts of destruction. They burned to the ground certain chosen targets - including the Jaffna Public Library, with its 95,000 volumes and priceless manuscripts, a Hindu temple, the office and machinery of the independent Tamil newspaper Eelanadu, the house of the MP for Jaffna, the Headquarters of the TULF, and more than 100 shops and markets. Four people were killed outright. No mention of this appeared in the national newspapers, not even the burning of the Library, the symbol of the Tamils' cultural identity....'

As a Tamil, as a book-lover, what happened was saddening and shocking enough. But as a newspaperman by training, the way the Colombo newspapers blacked out - what should have been banner headlines on Page 1 - outraged my sensibility as a journalist. As a believer in the notion that an unseen hand shapes our lives, confirmation of it came when I received an urgent message from K.Kanthasamy (to whom this book is dedicated) asking whether I could meet with  few Tamil activists at a meeting he would be arranging. It was out of this meeting came the action plan for an English-language newspaper for the Tamils, to be brought out from Tamil soil, and with me to accept both the responsibility (and the risk) of editing such a paper. Used to quick decisions, foolish or otherwise, I did not  hesitate. In September, I gave the required three months' notice of resignation at the Colombo Plan Bureau, shifted myself and my family to Jaffna and in January 1982, launched the Saturday Review. And with that my own future was sealed.

Having lived a life with neither glory nor ignominy for the first fifty years of my life, the next twenty was to become a roller-coaster ride! Hounded  by the Sri Lankan government, escape to India by a midnight country boat, separation from  the family, jailed by the Indian government without charge for one year,  incarceration in two jails, Vellore and Madras, chained to the bed in the Madras General Hospital, a further detention under police guard for six months, litigation after litigation paid for by friends of the Tamil Forum Ltd., in the UK, a nomadic life for one and a half years through six to seven countries and finally hard earned safety in the West. There are no regrets however. Journalism is no journalism if it lacks passion. But it goes with a price. Having paid that price, I believe this book is its own reward."

Two tales of a city named Jaffna & Sivanayagam's Pen and the Gun
by Ajith Samaranayake, Sri Lanka Sunday Observer, 17 March 2002

The Norwegians are coming, the Prime Minister goes to Jaffna and hopes rise again about the end to our communal blood-letting. The peace forces are on the march, the doves take to the skies and the hawks uncertainly scan the horizon.

In the corridors of the mass media the men and women come and go not talking like T.S. Eliot's women about Michael Angelo, but about Anton Balasingham who in an earlier incarnation as A.B. Stanislaus had been such a quiet young man when he was at the 'Virakesari' and the British High Commission.

Veteran observers, seasoned cynics and men about town, however, can be pardoned for feeling a sense of deja vu. Haven't we seen all this before stretching from Thimpu to Jaffna via Madras and New Delhi? What is the assurance that this time round the truce will hold and things will not come apart as it has happened so many times in the past?

To understand this dilemma and predicament S. Sivanayagam's 'The Pen and the Gun' offers us an invaluable key. Sivanayagam, who edited the 'Saturday Review' in Jaffna from January 1982 to July 1983 when it was banned, has since been the editor of various publications in India and Britain and has led a nomadic life in exile in India, Singapore, Honk Kong and several African countries before obtaining political asylum in France and later Britain not to mention one and a half years he spent in a jail and under Police guard in a hospital in Madras at Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's pleasure when the latter was desperately trying to keep the Indo-Lanka agreement in place.

Sub-titled 'Selected Writings 1977-2001' this anthology offers what is surely a unique insight into the evolution of the one intractable issue which has plagued Sri Lanka from Independence but which for several decades after was swept under the carpet as a dirty little secret which nobody dared to utter in polite company.

This book is more than an anthology of collected writings. Although not an autobiography it offers insights into the writer who on his own admission had led a fairly tranquil life in journalism, advertising, the Ceylon Tourist Board and finally the Colombo Plan until he was propelled by a sense of mission following the mounting attacks on the Tamil community and its sense of collective helplessness to assume an interventionist role.

The Saturday Review which Sivanayagam edited from Jaffna was unusual in the sense that it was a newspaper sprung from the soil of the Tamil heartland but edited with aplomb in a language which has remained the language of the ruling class in Sri Lanka and the lingua franca of the elite irrespective of the homage which is ritually paid to the official language which appears increasingly to be only for the hoi polloi.

In another sense 'The Pen and the Gun' is the biography of a whole people. There is a sense of elegy in Sivanayagam's description of the Jaffna of days gone by when in the famous words of the late Maoist leader N. Sanmugathasan the North was regulated by a 'postal order economy'.

The boys were studious, the people law-abiding and their ultimate trophy was a good Government job. Sivanayagam says that the used to joke in Jaffna that even if you looked after hens it should be for a Government department for there was a respectable salary and pension attached to it! Another joke had it that if you tripped and fell in Jaffna the chances were that you would fall on a school teacher or a pundit!

How then did such a tranquil people take to arms, how did the haven of peace erupt in flames. How did Jaffna spawn one of the most violent movements of terror and how was it able to bring about the near prostration of a country?

It is the familiar tale but Sivanayagam tells it in a way which is all his own. He has a superb command of the English language and when necessary he can slip into the vernacular as well. In that sense he is the English parallel to B.A. Siriwardena, the unbeatable editor of the 'Aththa' whose loss is widely felt.

Sivanayagam recalls S. Nadesan who appeared for the 'Saturday Review' in the Supreme Court telling him that some of the politically-appointed judges of the time were squirming when he quoted from the editorials 'Because your language can sometimes be very biting'.

So much for the singer but what of the song? As we have already observed it is the familiar one but one which we will be ignoring at our peril if we are to remain as one nation and one people. The Tamils implicitly trusted the Sinhala leadership at Independence to the extent that two of them, C. Suntharalingam and G.G. Ponnambalam, became Ministers of the first Cabinet.

But soon the marginalisation of the Tamil community started under all Governments, both UNP and SLFP, and when the Federal Party took to the Gandhian path they were rebuffed with violence. 1958 could have been dismissed as an aberration if it was not followed regularly until the Tamil people felt estranged to the point of demanding separation.

The book consists basically of the editorials Sivanayagam had written but a solid ideological underpinning is provided by a series of articles tracing Sinhala-Tamil relations, both historically and otherwise, under the title of the 'Inevitability of Tamil Eelam'. Sivanayagam has often been demonised as the supreme Eelam propagandist but that is to make him a cheap demagogue. He is a greater man and a man of wide humanistic sympathies.

Yet I have one lingering doubt. Sivanayagam comes close to idolising Velupillai Prabhakaran and after the tortures the Tamil community has been subject to who can quarrel with him? But given the fact that Prabhakaran is the supremo of the LTTE will he be amenable to a solution which while being honourable by the Tamil people can still be offered to the large Sinhala constituency as an acceptable proposition? After all it was Sivanayagam himself who has described Tamil Eelam as a 'state of mind' something like Pirandello's 'Six Characters in Search of an Author'.

Whether Eelam will be transformed from a state of mind to a nation state or whether Sri Lanka as we know it will hold surely depends on the historic sense and sagacity of all our leadership transcending both communal and political boundaries.


Mail Us Copyright 1998/2009 All Rights Reserved Home