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

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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

Hypocrisy and Expatriate Tamils

1 February 1997 (from the Tamil Circle)

The question was asked in the Tamil Circle: "It is wrong is it not for expatriate Tamils, in comfortable middle class homes in US, UK, Canada, Australia and elsewhere, to support and thereby encourage a war at the cost of sacrificing the lives of young Tamil children and causing untold suffering to the Tamils in Tamil Eelam? ... How many of them are sincere about continuing the war to achieve Eelam at the cost of sacrificing the lives of young children? If so how many of them have sent their own children back to Jaffna to fight the holy war or are willing to send them for the noble cause? If they can't stand by their own preaching please do not advocate for the insanity of this war. Hypocrisy in politics is going to get us no where as a community."


The jibe is made from time to time that expatriate Tamils, in comfortable middle class homes in US, UK, Canada, Australia and elsewhere, support and thereby encourage a war at the cost of sacrificing the lives of young Tamil children and causing untold suffering to the Tamils in Tamil Eelam. It was a jibe that was often made by ex Oxford Union President and Sri Lanka National Security Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali. And it appears that others too have not been able to resist its seductive appeal.

But, what then should the Tamil expatriate do? Stay silent and let the Sinhala army occupy and rule the Tamil homeland? Stay silent and condemn the same young Tamil children to a life under alien Sinhala rule? Plead with the Sinhala government, as the Tamils did for thirty years from 1948, to 'rule' the Tamils fairly and justly? Petition the Sinhala rulers to be benevolent and generous?

Or take an even more transcendental stand and decry national divisions and espouse the concept of the 'one world'? And so remove himself to a rarefied 'stratosphere' but continue to live comfortably and safely in his middle class home - and, perhaps, encourage peaceful protest, so that Tamils may be attacked like in 1958 and 1961 (long before the birth of the armed resistance movement) ?

After all let us remember that it was some 38 years ago that a Sinhala journalist, Tarzie Vittachi wrote in Emergency 1958:

"On May 22nd (1958), five hundred thugs and hooligans invaded the Polonnaruwa station, and smashed up the windows of the Batticaloa train in their frantic search for Convention-bound Tamils."

The Observer reported this incident in more detail on May 24th: 'On Thursday night, passengers were intimidated into getting off at Welikande as news had reached them that a gang of men were on the way to prevent them from making the trip as they felt that passengers must be prevented from getting to Vavuniya for the Federal Party Convention. A gang of men, alleged to have numbered nearly 500, got on the train at this station, smashed-windows, went from carriage to carriage looking for passengers, damaging railway equipment as they did so.'

On the night of the 23rd at 9.15 pm the Batticaloa Colombo train was derailed at the '215th mile post on the Batticaloa -Eravur line... Hoodlums, on the watch for Vavuniya bound passengers, attacked the wrecked train.

At 6.00 pm on May 24 a crowd -nearly a thousand strong - again invaded the premises of the Polonnaruwa railway station... Labourers from the Land Development Department, the Irrigation Department and from the Government farms who made up the Sinhala Hamudawa (armed thugs) were constantly on the rampage, raping, looting and beating up Tamil labourers and public officers. The rumour that a Tamil army was marching to destroy Polonaruwa gave the roughnecks a heroic stature. More veerayas (heroes) joined in to share the glory of saving the ancient Sinhalese capital from the Tamil hordes as their ancestors had done a thousand years before them.

The vast majority of the Hamudawa were imported Government labourers and the rest were recently arrived squatters who had no roots yet in the area.

There was some evidence of method in all this madness -it was crudely but effectively planned. The rioters had arranged signals-one peal of a temple bell to signify police, two to signify army and so on. They also had a simple system of hand signals to give their associates in the distance such information as which way a police patrol went.

The element of planning was even more evident in the agent provocateur system which was widely used. Many thugs-some of them well-known criminals-had shaved their heads and assumed the yellow robes of a bhikku. ..These phony priests went about whipping up race-hatred, spreading false stories and taking part in the lucrative side of this game-robbery and looting.

... Before very long the goondas turned their spite against the Tamil officials in the Government offices. .. The thugs displayed a temerity which was quite unprecedented. They had complete assurance that the police would never dare to open fire. The Apey Aanduwa (of Mr.S.W.R.D. Bandararanike) (The government is ours) bug had got deep into their veins.

The goondas had developed a slick technique of throwing dynamite. They carried it in the breast packet of their shirts, with the fuse hanging out. As the 'enemy' approached they struck a match, lit the fuse, pulled out the stick of dynamite and flung it at point-blank range.

"On May 24 and 25, murder stalked the streets in broad daylight. Fleeing Tamils, and Sinhalese who were suspected of having given them sanctuary had their brains strewn about. A deaf mute scavenging labourer was assaulted to death in the Hingurakgoda area -just to see what had made him tick. The goondas burnt two men alive, one at Hingurakgoda, and the other at Minneriya.

"On the night of May 25, one of the most heinous crimes in the history of Ceylon was carried out. Almost simultaneously, on the Government farms at Polonnaruwa and Hingurakgoda, the thugs struck remorselessly. The Tamil labourers In the Polonnaruwa sugar-cane plantation fled when they saw the enemy approaching and hid in the sugar-cane bushes. The goondas wasted no time. They set the sugar cane alight and flushed out the Tamils. As they came out screaming, men, women and children were cut down with home-made swards, grass cutting knives and katties, or pulped under heavy clubs."

"At the Government farm at Hingurakgoda, too, the Tamils were slaughtered that night. One woman in sheer terror embraced her two children and jumped into a well. The rioters were enjoying themselves thoroughly. They ripped open the belly of a woman eight months pregnant, and left her, to bleed to death. First estimates of the mass murders on that night were frightening: 150-200 was a quick guess on the basis of forty families on an average four each."

The hoodlums were now motorized. They roamed the district in trucks, smashing up kiosks and houses, killing any Tamils who got in their way. The Anti-Tamil violence soon spread almost throughout the country.

"If there had been any chance whatever at this stage of keeping Sinhalese tempers under control it vanished completely following the Prime Minister's (Mr.S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, and father of President Chandrika Kumaratunga) broadcast call to the nation of May 26...

By a strangely inexplicable perversion of logic, Mr Bandaranaike tried to explain away a situation by substituting the effect for the cause. The relevant portion of the speech was:

"An unfortunate situation has arisen resulting in communal tension. Certain incidents in, the. Batticaloa District where some people lost their lives, including Mr D.A. Seneviratne, a former Mayor of Nuwara Eliya, have resulted in various acts of violence and lawlessness in other areas-for example Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Galawela, Kuliyapitiya and even Colombo."

The killing of Seneviratne on May 25 was thus officially declared to be the cause of the uprising, although the communal riots had begun on May 22 with the attack on the Polonnaruwa Station and the wrecking of the Batticaloa -Colombo trail and several other minor incidents. No explanation was offered by the Prime Minister for singling out (the Sinhala sounding) Seneviratne's name for particular mention from the scores of people who had lost their lives during those critical days.

...Colombo was on fire. The goondas burnt fifteen shops in the Pettah and a row of kiosks in Mariakaday. Looting on a massive scale took place in Pettah, Maradana, Wellawatte Ratmalana, Kurunegala, Panadura, Kalutara, Badulla, Galle, Matara and Weligama.

The cry everywhere in the Sinhalese districts was 'avenge the murder of Seneviratne'. Even the many Sinhalese who had been appalled by the goonda attacks on Tamils and Tamil owned kiosks, now began to feel that the Tamils had put themselves beyond the pale. Across the country, this new mood of deep-seated racism surged. The Prime Minister's (Mr.Bandaranaike's) peace call to the nation had turned into a war cry.

... On the morning of May 27,.. in the (Panadura) bazaar there was sudden pandemonium. The goondas intensified their depredations. They ransacked Tamil-owned shops and beat up shopkeepers and passersby. A gang of goondas rushed into the Hindu temple, and attempted to set fire to it. In their frenzy they were clumsy and failed to get the fire going. But they had a more interesting idea. They pulled an officiating priest out of the Kovil and burnt him into a cinder.

As panic spread, doors were closed in Sinhalese as well as Tamil homes. The Tamils closed their doors to escape murder, rape and pillage. The Sinhalese closed their doors to prevent Tamils running into their houses for shelter...

Among the hundreds of acts of arson, rape, pillage, murder and plain barbarity some incidents may be recorded as examples of the kind of thuggery at work.

In the Colombo area the number of atrocities swiftly piled up. The atmosphere was thick with hate and fear. The thugs ran amok burning houses and shops, beating-up pedestrians, holding-up vehicles and terrorizing the entire city and the suburbs.

Another Tamil officer, working in the same Government department was unfortunate. The thugs stormed into his house and assaulted, his wife and grown-up daughter in the presence of his little child. His mind cracked under the shock. In the French liner Laos which took the family away to safety in Jaffna he insisted on reciting large chunks of the Bhagavad Gita to the captain of the ship. All his formal education - he is a Cambridge scholar - had proved useless to him in the face of disaster. His broken mind reached out for the only solace a man has when his own ingenuity and ability have proved futile.

At Wellawatte junction, near the plantain kiosk, a pregnant woman and her husband were set upon. They clubbed him and left him an the pavement, then they kicked, the woman repeatedly as she hurried along at a grotesque sprint, carrying her swollen belly.

While the Prime Minister was telling the citizens' delegation that it was an 'exaggeration to call the situation an emergency' in every village from Kalawewa to Nalanda, people's houses were in flames.

When an eye witness reached Dambulla it was still intact. In a few minutes a factory-new Ceylon Transport Board "Special' arrived, loaded with 'passengers'. They disembarked and swiftly set about their business: in ten minutes, six houses were blazing. And hell spread through the bazaar.

The rioters continued their battle in the streets. Fresh fires broke out in Wellawatte, Maradana and Pettah. Looting continued apace. "Gangs of hoodlums in the Ratmalana area appeared to be working according to a predetermined pattern. Thugs disguised as policemen went round Tamil houses warning the residents that the police could no longer guarantee their safety and advising them to take refuge in the police station. Nearly 10,000 people left their homes in terror.

Then the 'policemen' returned, some now in mufti, others still in uniform, to ransack the empty houses. When they had left the scene, hard on their heels came the 'firing squads'. They came in vehicles in twos and threes. A bottle of petrol was flung into the house. A stick of dynamite was dispatched after it and another house was burning. Others less efficiently equipped, zealously collected whatever furniture was, left behind and used it as firewood to get the flames going.

What are we left with (in 1958)? A nation in ruins, some grim lessons which we cannot afford to forget and a momentous question: Have the Sinhalese and Tamils reached the parting of ways?" (Tarzie Vittachi: Emergency 1958 - The Story of the Ceylon Race Riots, Andre Deutsch, London 1958 )

That genocidal attack on the Tamil people in 1958 was the Sinhala response to the annual convention of the parliamentary Tamil Federal Party scheduled in May 1958. It was a convention which had been called to decide whether or not to undertake a Satyagraha campaign now that the (Sinhala) Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike had torn up the Bandaranaike Chelvanayagam Pact which he had solemnly signed an year before.

In Tarzie Vittachi's words, in 1958, the Sinhala Prime Minister Mr.S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike's 'peace call to the nation had turned into a war cry'. Thirty eight years later, Mr. Bandaranaike's daughter, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga continued the family tradition with her own 'war for peace' and continues the genocidal attack on the Tamil people - and celebrates her victory to boot in a Sinhala Buddhist ceremony broadcast live on Sri Lanka TV.

Time Magazine commented on the victory ceremony held on 6 December 1995 in Colombo:

"... In a function room in the Presidential Secretariat, (broadcast live on Sri Lanka television), Sri Lanka's leader (President Chandrika Kumaratunga) stood gravely before a line of tough-looking military officers. Deputy Defence Minister Anurudha Ratwatte, fresh from hoisting the flag in Jaffna town, presented her with a scroll rolled up inside a red velvet container. The scroll was dated "full moon day of the month of Uduwap in the year 2939 in the Buddhist Era."

"It read, "Your Excellency's rule and authority has been firmly re-established" in the historic city. The territory was not referred to as Jaffna, its official name, but "Yapa Patuna" the term used by conquerors in medieval times... Kumaratunga's use of Sinhalese-Buddhist iconography carried a message: she had conquered Tamil lands and defeated her enemies, in much the same manner as Sinhalese kings of centuries gone by..."

The armed resistance of the Tamil people to alien Sinhala rule did not just happen. It arose in response to decades of oppressive rule by a permanent Sinhala majority within the confines of an unitary Sri Lanka state.

But even today, President Kumaratunga neither admits to the oppressive rule nor the legitimacy of the armed resistance - on the contrary, she categorises that resistance as 'terrorism' and engages in a vicious genocidal attack on the Tamil people. She appears bent on pursuing her father's 'strangely inexplicable perversion of logic' by trying to explain away the situation by substituting the effect for the cause.

What then should Tamil expatriates from 'comfortable middle class homes' do?

In 1992, I was in Lucerne in Switzerland. I was taken around some excavations of pre ice age rocks by a young Eelam Tamil activist .As we came out, at the exit there was a geological clock which illustrated the reality that on a 24 hour time scale, man's own existence may be counted in seconds. I remarked aloud that it was in our existence in a speck of time, and that too, in a speck of space, that conflict and confrontation seem to assume such great importance.

The young Eelam Tamil activist was quick to respond. He said: ''Annai, what you say is true. But how many of us truly live our lives on the basis of that perception. In the case of Pirabaharan, he has committed his life to what he believes must be done, here and now''. This young Eelam Tamil activist, who if not for standardisation, may have made his own contribution to further intellectual thought in some university, was making a succinct point: ''No Vethantham please.''

And ofcourse, not all expatriate Tamils come from comfortable middle class homes. There are over hundred thousand Tamil asylum seekers in many countries in the world. In Germany, they speak German and Tamil, in Switzerland Deutch and Tamil, in Norway, Norwegian and Tamil and many only know a smattering of English. And, perhaps they relate even more closely to the struggle back at home than the more well established English speaking Tamil middle class.

Be that as it may, it appears to me that the central question is whether the Tamil struggle against alien Sinhala rule is just or not? David Selbourne of Ruskin College, Oxford was right when he said in July 1984:

"Everyone who possesses an elementary sense of justice has no moral choice but to acquaint himself fully with the plight of the Tamil people...Their cause represents the very essence of the cause of human rights and justice; and to deny it, debases and reduces us all."

To deny the justice of the Tamil cause debases and reduces us and in addition condemns the people of Tamil Eelam, both young and old to a life under alien Sinhala rule.

But the point has been made:

"How many of you are sincere about continuing the war to achieve Eelam at the cost of sacrificing the lives of young children? If so how many of you have sent your own children back to Jaffna to fight the holy war or are willing to send them for the noble cause? If you can't stand by your own preachings please do not advocate for the insanity of this war. Hypocrisy in politics is going to get us no where as a community."

It is true that hypocrisy in politics will not get us anywhere as a community. It is also true that there must be a coincidence of word and deed.

But, is it hypocrisy to support a struggle for freedom from alien rule, because you yourself have not taken up arms or because your children have not taken up arms?

Does that mean that the thousands, in many parts of the world, who supported Vietnam's struggle against foreign occupation, were hypocrites? Or does that mean that they should have stayed silent whilst the Vietnam war and the carpet bombing by the US killed thousands of young Vietnamese and devastated acres of agricultural land - because their support may have prolonged Vietnamese resistance?

Or was it the fact that their support, strengthened Viet Nam resistance, and in this way brought the war to quicker end - and saved lives and secured freedom?

Or to take a more recent example, does it mean that the millions who supported the struggle of Nelson Mandela against a racist regime in South Africa should have stayed silent unless they were willing to send their children to fight in South Africa?

Does it mean that those who supported Mandela's struggle by calling, for instance, sanctions against South Africa were hypocrites because at the same time they did not send their children to join the struggle in South Africa?

Or was it the fact that that the successful call for sanctions helped to bring a quicker end to apartheid and in this way secure the lives and well being of millions of blacks in South Africa?

I believe that there are thousands upon thousands of Tamils who have suffered in many ways for the stand that they have taken to openly support the struggle for Tamil Eelam - some have become asylum seekers and refugees to escape the wrath of the Sinhala government, others have had their families split and they live in many lands as wandering nomads.

Some years ago I asked a Tamil activist in the US as to what it was that made him spend so much of time and energy supporting the Tamil cause. He paused for a while and said reflectively:

"You know, when I first came here, I came largely to secure a good education for my children in the face of standardisation and Sinhala only in Sri Lanka. At that time, I thought I would retire back in Jaffna. But I now face the prospect of retiring and dying in this country. And that is a prospect that I do not welcome. Again, as for my children, it may well be that they may not return to Jaffna - because we have not been able to return there even for a holiday. But at least I would like them have the choice of returning to a free Tamil Eelam or staying here."

Suffering is a great teacher and distress binds a people together.

One is reminded of the suffering of that well respected journalist Mr.S.Sivanayagam who had to leave Jaffna in a boat to Tamil Nadu to escape the wrath of the Sri Lanka government, for the honest and courageous views that he had expressed in the Saturday Review. He was later incarcerated by New Delhi for the views that he continued to express in support of the Tamil struggle. But he has continued to write fearlessly and he now edits Hot Springs.

Knowing him, I know that he will dislike these public references to him. But we as a people should recognise the contributions made to the struggle by persons such as him, who have stood up, unafraid, (and, often, at tremendous personal cost) to give their voice in support of that which they believe to be right and just. And they may have not have taken up arms to fight in the Vanni.

Each expatriate Tamil is an ambassador of the struggle for Tamil Eelam. Each one has something to contribute to that struggle, however small that contribution may appear to him to be. Support for the struggle will not prolong it - it will bring it to a quicker end and secure the freedom of a people.

Velupillai Pirabaharan has won the trust and respect of millions of Tamils, not only in Tamil Eelam, but in Tamil Nadu and many other lands. He has won their trust because of his unswerving commitment to the Tamil struggle for self determination. He has won their respect because of the political and military skills that he and the LTTE have displayed during the past several years - skills that are necessary to secure the goal of the struggle.

And, support, does not mean blind support. By all means let us raise the issues that confront the struggle. To the extent that we openly do so, we purify the struggle - and thereby strengthen it. The struggle will not benefit from mindless support. But, let us not consort with the enemy, whether consciously or otherwise. Again we are not desiccated calculating machines - nor simply clever writers. We also have heart. Here, Gramsci's words are helpful:

'The error of the intellectual consists in believing that it is possible to know without understanding and especially without feeling and passion.. that the intellectual can be an intellectual if he is distinct and detached from the people-nation, without feeling the elemental passions of the people, understanding them and thus explaining them in a particular historical situation ... in the absence of such a bond the.. intellectuals become a caste or a priesthood...'

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