Hypocrisy and Expatriate
1 February 1997 (from the Tamil
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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 )
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
Chelvanayagam Pact which he had solemnly signed an
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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