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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > On Academic Politics and Religious Zealotry

Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha

On Academic Politics and Religious Zealotry

16 April  2006

On March 19th, the Sunday Observer (Colombo) carried an editorial which was rather interesting to read. The theme of the editorial, entitled �Wisdom and learning in Jaffna� was related to the controversial appointment of Prof.Ratnajeevan Hoole as the new Vice Chancellor to the University of Jaffna, by President Mahinda Rajapakse.

The mistaken identity of one Hoole to his sibling makes this editorial as a peculiar kind which blares something about the leaky process of facts-checking by Colombo journalists. Either the editorialist has been living in a cloud, or that the President Mahinda Rajapakse didn�t care a hoot about the name of his nominee. For the benefit of those who missed the editorial, I provide the verbatim text below.

�Sunday Observer� Editorial


�Rajan Hoole hails from an illustrious Jaffna family that churned out men of almost intimidating intellectual stature. His appointment as Vice Chancellor of the Jaffna University has been greeted with howls of protest, not entirely surprising since this chap Hoole, as the rest of his family, is a man belonging to that intimidating Hoole family tradition.


Hoole lives but his intellectual peers such as Rajini Thiranagama had their lives snuffed out. Hoole's appointment as VC is now being resisted in trouble-enveloped Jaffna which has been identified more than any other Sri Lankan city save perhaps for Peradeniya with intellectual and scholarly ferment. It would have been comic if it wasn't so tragic that its in this city that Hoole's appointment is subject to a rather boorish challenge by various elements who identify themselves as being pursuant of the Jaffna intellectual tradition.

They say that Hoole is a fool who turned his back on Jaffna's paramount concern of the age and everyone knows what that's supposed to be, correct? But it was second nature for Hoole to protest when Jaffna's intellectual life came under heavy cannon-fire from the various party sycophants hacks and soap box orators who were in their estimation upholding any Jaffna man's credo which was for independence from the bonds that tied them to the Sri Lankan Sinhala state.

Any other form of domination or intimidation has to be tolerated until the final emancipation from this bondage was accomplished, or so went the theory. It was the most egregious kind of linear thinking that those who grew up in Jaffna's intellectual tradition such as Hoole could not relate to or identify with. Rajini Thiranagama resisted this kind of apostasy with a spirited vehemence that transformed her into a bicycle riding irrepressible and irreverent sadhu-like legend in her own time.


Before she or her intellectual compatriots knew it, they were deemed to have crossed the line. Their intellectual life came under scrutiny of the crosshairs of Jaffna's moral police and anyone who would knows anything about Jaffna's conflict culture would know what that means. But, Hoole stubbornly persisted in his scrutiny of human rights violations in Jaffna, and in so doing he kept faith with the highest intellectual traditions that all of Jaffna has sworn by for generations.

It's this same Rajan Hoole who has now been appointed Vice Chancellor of the Jaffna University under the hand of the President. Ostensibly the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are not hysterical about this exercise of Presidential prerogative. What we hear is the regular fairy story that the �people of Jaffna� not to mention its student population are rankled by the fact that Hoole was appointed.

So here we are, hearing the same litany that Jaffna needs to be saved from its most illustrious products, which we are told is the opinion of Jaffna's scholarly student population which grew up adoring the same heady intellectual culture in which their mentor, the Vice Chancellor of the Jaffna university grew up and was nurtured.

We take it then that there is some anti-learning bug that has bitten the Jaffna student populace, which should be scary to the LTTE, which fiercely protects the Jaffna Tamil heritage of scholarly pursuit as an end in itself. We would have to believe that the LTTE is scared, going by what the organisation's theoreticians have written by way of defending the culture and ethos of the Tamil majority North and East and of Jaffna.

In that context, we dare say that this organisation, rebellious in the grain, would applaud the appointment of Hoole, as the man has been unwavering in his pursuit of his ideal in life, as much as the LTTE hierarchy has been steadfast in their pursuit of their own ideals which they swear by.�

My response to the editorial

It is revealing from the text that the editorialist is a pretentious exhibitionist of his vocabulary. He had thrown around phrases like, �anti-learning bug�, �linear thinking� and �moral police�. But the exhibitionist couldn�t get the name of President�s appointee correctly. I sent an e-mail to the editorial desk of Sunday Observer, mentioning the goof of the editorialist on April 4th, for which I have yet to receive an acknowledgment. The punchlines of my e-mail were as follows:

�I just read with a sigh, the editorial 'Wisdom and learning in Jaffna' [Mar.19], relating to the appointment of the new Vice Chancellor for the University of Jaffna. You should be a fool, to mis-identify the individuals. It was not Rajan Hoole-who was not appointed-, but his brother Ratnajeevan Hoole�The real appointee, is merely a political sycophant and a carpet-bagger [to use the American political phrase] who got himself nominated by his sin-eating techniques.�

Should the coolie hacks be faulted?


On after-thoughts I inferred that I shouldn�t have been too hard on the Sinhalese editorialist of Sunday Observer. Though the nominee for Jaffna University�s Vice-Chancellorship denies this for public consumption, since the identities of Hoole siblings � Rajan Hoole and Ratnajeevan Hoole � have blended and merged to form a composite, the editorialist couldn�t be faulted for his lapse. Also, it would be too much to expect from coolie hacks of Sinhalese State to comprehend why this particular selection to the top dog rank of the Jaffna University had raised such a resentment from Eelam Tamils. To put it in a nutshell, (1) The published paper trail of Ratnajeevan Hoole demonstrates that his popular writings border on anti-Hindu religious zealotry, which is rather unbecoming of an enlightened scholar. (2) The past professional record of this academic also shows, he is a carpet bagger and he has yet to pay his professional dues to the University of Jaffna, in comparison to his two competitors.

Grades of Tamil academics

Why is it that Ratnajeevan Hoole�s appointment has raised animated criticism from Eelam Tamils? Non-Tamils, like the editorialist of the Sunday Observer, deserve to know. Based on the criterion of contributions to community welfare, the the Tamil academics could be ranked in three grades; memorable, mediocre and menacing.


In the past, Eelam Tamils have produced excellent academics who were Christians. These include Fr.Xavier Thaninayagam, Prof.Christie Eliezer and Prof.Jeyaratnam Wilson. These academic icons served the then two primary universities of Ceylon. Apart from their exemplary credentials in their chosen disciplines, their contributions to the community welfare have also been memorable. In 1960s and early 1970s, these intellectual giants left the universities when they faced covert political intimidation from sin-eating sycophants. A few Tamil Christians like Prof.K.D.Arudpragasam had formidable credentials in their chosen disciplines, but their contributions to the community welfare have been somewhat mediocre.


 I knew Prof.Arudpragasam personally since I was one of his students at the Dept.of Zoology, University of Colombo between 1972 and 1976, when the media-wise standardisation was implemented by the then ruling coalition consisting of Sinhala-chauvinist SLFP, Trotskyist LSSP and the emaciated Communist Party. Ratnajeevan Hoole represents a third category, who while possessing bragging credentials about their academic expertise, have myopic vision burdened by religious zealotry. The paper trail of this third category of academics have been rather menacing to the Tamil community welfare. It is not a coincidence that Ratnajeevan Hoole replaced Prof.Arudpragasam in the University Grants Commission (UGC) panel, for the �token Tamil� member, following Prof.Arudpragasam�s death on Aug. 7, 2003. Hoole was anointed into the UGC panel on Oct.14, 2003.

A Peep into the Past


Lets have a peep into history; even the very first top administrator appointment to the then University of Sri Lanka (Jaffna Campus) in Aug.1974 was preferentially based on local politics than on seniority or other merits. This was in the aftermath of the 4th International Tamil Conference Seminar held in Jaffna in January 1974, which was timidly �boycotted� by the coterie of Tamil Marxist-Communist Progressives�.


Prof.K.Kailasapathy then received the nod from the then prime minister Srimavo Bandaranaike, since he sported the political label of �Marxist -Progressive Academic�. Then the Communist Party and the Trotskyist LSSP cohabited with the Sinhala-chauvinist SLFP. The by-election to the Kankesanthurai constituency was long overdue, and the Communist Party cabal who were influential in the selection process preferred Prof.Kailasapathy over Prof.S.Vithiananthan whose stock had risen high among the Tamils because of his defiance to the then ruling Government and near-successful handling of the International Tamil Conference in Jaffna.

As historian K.M.de Silva had noted in his overview of the Sri Lankan university system,

�The [Jaffna] campus was established for political as much as for �academic� reasons. Perhaps the former � a desire to show a concern for the welfare for the Tamil minority � was the prime factor. The financial resources for the establishment of the new university were obtained by the simple device of using for this new venture funds allocated to the Colombo campus.� [source: Minerva, 1978 summer; vol.16, no.2, pp.251-272]

When Prof.Kailasapathy�s first three-year stint came to an end in July 1977, following the General Election held in that month, the Communists had been thrown out by the people and his chances of receiving a re-appointment turned out to be nil. Then only, Prof.Vithiananthan was nominated as the Second President of the Jaffna Campus from Aug. 1977. Nevertheless, Kailasapathy was able to save his name and retain his stature as a respectable academic until his premature death in 1982, despite his allegiance to the �Marxist-Progressive� label, because he did not offend the religious sentiments of Tamil populace.


 In this sense, Ratnajeevan Hoole is at a disadvantage. His past as an anti-Hindu driveler, combined with his sin-eating credentials to the ruling Sinhalese politicians, serve as impediments for the Tamil populace to look up to him as an independent-minded academic leader, who places community welfare ahead of his selfish and convoluted motives. This indeed is a pity.

American revolutionary history teaches a little about the pathetic plight of collaborators, even among the academics. Count Rumford (aka Benjamin Thompson, 1753-1814) was a scientist of merit in colonial America. But he was chased out from the newly independent United States of America because of his (1) insidious role as a collaborator with the British forces, and (2) abrasive personality. Parallels between the careers and plights of Count Rumford and Ratnajeevan Hoole are glaring.

Why the Hoole Hypothesis was not tested?


For the past 15 years or so, Hoole siblings [Rajan and Ratnajeevan] had spent much of their energy foul mouthing Eelam Tamil nationalism. In their projected vision, the Sinhalese Sri Lankan state has been more reasonable and more rational than the LTTE. Here is an excerpt from a paper co-authored by Ratnajeevan Hoole with his wife, which propagates this jaundiced hypothesis:

��in Sri Lanka, there is new hope. A new generation of academics admitted since the late 1980s without communal preferences, are moving into important positions and they appear to be more impartial. A new government elected in December 2001 has embarked on a peace initiative with the Tamil militants, and many of the hurdles faced by Tamils from the government side have been removed from early 2002�� [source: Current Science (Bangalore), 25 December 2003, vol.85, no.12, pp.1680-1684]

The validity and truth in this sun-shine version of Hoole hypothesis could have been tested, if Ratnajeevan Hoole had come forward to contest the vice chancellorship of either the University of Peradeniya (where he had worked for the past decade) or the University of Moratuwa (which was his alma-mater). These are two Sri Lankan universities where he has reasonable claims for aspiring for the top administrator rank, if one assumes (as per Hoole hypothesis) that elections/selections are not based on partiality and anti-Tamil racism is nothing but a fallacy in Sri Lanka. Rather than achieving this objective, Ratnajeevan Hoole�s carpet bagging run for the vice chancellorship of the University of Jaffna was nothing but a demonstration on the fallacy of his own hypothesis.




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