Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Futury instead of History

Ethnic Identity in Sri Lanka’s Pre-capitalist Past: Shanie, Darshanie and Roberts drew a comment (Go to comments in that site). This is in response

Futury instead of history! How progressive. But with this talk of banning and silencing aren’t we actually going backwards in time, to a less enlightened era, which saw knowledge as dangerous needing to be contained, restricted, and even suppressed? Aren’t we retracing our steps along a trail strewn with such dismal landmarks as the banning of the teaching of Evolutionary Biology in schools, only teaching it along with Intelligent Design, poisoning of Socrates, sentencing of Galileo, witch burnings and etc? Both the Vatican and the Church of England have gone forward now haven’t they, expressing regret about Galileo, apologizing to Darwin, decreeing that only human error created the impression of incompatibility.
Everyone has gone forward everywhere in the world. Do you think we have?

In 1919 Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes said
“The White Australia is yours. You may do with it what you please, but at any rate, the soldiers have achieved the victory and my colleagues and I have brought that great principle back to you from the conference, as safe as it was on the day when it was first adopted.”

He said this in a spirit of achievement after successfully blocking at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, a move which would have threatened the White Australia Policy.

In 1957 S J V Chelvanayakam said
“State-aided Sinhalese colonization of the Northern and Eastern Provinces will be effectively stopped forthwith.”

He too said this in a spirit of achievement and hope after negotiating and signing the Bandaranaike -Chelvanayakam pact.

Prof K. M de Silva in his ‘Separatist Ideology In Sri Lanka A Historical Appraisal’ says about this statement by Mr. Chelvanayakam;

‘This last was aimed at reassuring its adherents, and was at the same time an expression of hope at the possibility of achieving this objective through a pact which the then Prime Minister, S.W.R.D Bandaranaike, had negotiated with the Federal Party leader, S J V Chelvanayakam, and signed only two days earlier. There
“…It was agreed that in the matter of colonization schemes the powers of the regional councils shall include the power to select allotees to whom lands within their area of authority shall be alienated and also power to select personnel to be employed for work on such schemes. The position regarding the area at present administered by the Gal-Oya Board in this matter requires consideration.”

This pact was not implemented, but in compelling the then government to confront this issue, and to do so on terms satisfactory to the FP the latter had won a major victory. A theory of dubious historicity had been elevated to the level of a fundamentally important principle that should guide relations between the two disputants in the ethnic conflicts of post-independence Sri Lanka. In less than a decade of its first enunciation this theory, now refined as “the traditional homeland of the Tamils” had become an indispensable and integral part of the political ideology of the Tamil advocates of regional autonomy and separatism.’

Australia moved on from ‘White Australia’.

“The policy was dismantled in stages by successive governments after the conclusion of World War II, with the encouragement of first non-British and later non-white immigration. From 1973 on, the White Australia policy was for all practical purposes defunct, and in 1975 the Australian government passed the Racial Discrimination Act, which made racially-based selection criteria illegal.”
– Wikipedia/White Australia Policy

But have we moved on? No after the B/C pact came the D/C pact which contained the proviso that in distributing State land in the North and the East preference should be given first to people living inside the District, second to people living within the Province and third to people of the Tamil ethnicity living outside the Province.
An International Crisis Group report SRI LANKA’S EASTERN PROVINCE: LAND, DEVELOPMENT, CONFLICT Asia Report N°159 – 15 October 2008 (that can be found at makes the following recommendation to the SL Government;

“Ensure economic development in the East is equitable and inclusive and perceived as such by all communities by ….”
Wait for it Perin
“…making a public commitment not to allow development to alter significantly the existing ethnic balance of the province”

Now it’s next to impossible not to allow development to alter significantly the existing ethnic balance of anywhere. See what happened to Colombo, to London, France….unless one adopted measures as the International Crisis Group suggests. Just imagine this conversation Perin

GOSL – “Oh measures?”

International Crisis Group (says with decisive and grave finality) – “Yes measures”

And in an ideal world someone would be smart enough to say
“You mean measures like the USA Immigration Act of 1924, which introduced the National Origins Formula?
(The National Origins Formula was an American system of immigration quotas, between 1921 and 1965, which restricted immigration on the basis of existing proportions of the population. The goal was to maintain the existing ethnic composition of the United States – Wikipedia)
End of conversation. Because systems that sanctify the ethnic and religious status quo at a point of time most attractive to the proponents of the system and seek to preserve it are past their expiry date. That expiry date was officially reached on October 3, 1965 when USA President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation which eliminated National Origins as a consideration for immigration into law saying

“This [old] system violates the basic principle of American democracy, the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man. It has been un-American in the highest sense, because it has been untrue to the faith that brought thousands to these shores even before we were a country.”

Do you think we have reached that level of human progression yet? Have we managed to outgrow the tendency to look at a human being and only see a statistic in the demography chart?

History then Perin is not without its lessons. World history teaches us that sanctifying a demographic status quo at a point of time is ludicrous but it is to the HISTORY OF THIS COUNTRY we have to turn to learn exactly how monstrous such a concept would be when applied in our context.
What’s also monstrous is to think that you have to have a racial or cultural link to a history of a land in a particular period to empathize, appreciate and feel proud of it.

Even though you say that historians should be silenced I think our historians have done a good job in an atmosphere where reality has been hopelessly dislocated ever since the Goebbels’ big lie technique of propaganda was successfully introduced to Sri Lanka around 1949- 1951 by the Federal Party gentlemen.

Big Lie- A propaganda technique, the expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, for a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels Third Reich propaganda minister perfected the “Big Lie” technique of propaganda, which is based on the principle that a lie, if audacious enough and repeated enough times, will be believed by the masses.

Around 1984 Dr Gamini Iriyagolla said
“K. M. de Silva, a professor of history is the chairman of a limited liability company styled “International Centre for Ethnic Studies”. It is a recipient of foreign funds and promotes the idea of regional autonomy for minorities.”

Yet in ‘Separatist Ideology In Sri Lanka A Historical Appraisal’ first published in 1987 he was more effective than any ranting nationalist.

Also in his essay ‘Narrating Tamil Nationalism: Subjectivities and Issues’ ( ) you can see even Dr. Michael Roberts acting like a text book illustration of Professor Leonard Thompson’s dictum that

“‘Historians have a responsibility to discredit false and noxious myths and, with vigorous regard for the truth, to respond to the general public’s doubts about the utility of their specialized skills and knowledge”

Of course historians can and do have agendas and visions and ideologies. But objective truth is like ideals or stars isn’t it? You may never attain but you have to keep reaching and there’s enough evidence that our historians have conscientiously kept on reaching, consistently gone on trying to proclaim objective truth to a hostile, indifferent and unappreciative world.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dear Dr.Michael Roberts

Comment on

Dear Dr. Michael Roberts. I have been a great admirer of you ever since I read your essay
'Narrating Tamil Nationalism: Subjectivities and Issues'. The intellectual rigor displayed by you there was just awesome.

But isn’t Shani, (the writer of this article) actually displaying mediocre scholarship and a lamentable lack of intellectual rigor when she says ;

“Scholars like H L Seneviratne and Michael Roberts have in recent contributions to the Island pointed out that there is no evidence of any distinctiveness in our ethnic identities. H L Seneviratne pointed out that many of the Kandyan chieftains signed the 1915 Convention in Tamil.”

By placing the second sentence after the first hasn’t Shani made out the second assertion to be some kind proof of the first assertion? But signing the Convention in Tamil is not indicative of any lack of distinctiveness of ethnic identity no? it is actually more an elitist thing isn’t it? Tamil was made the current language of the ‘inner circle’ by the Royal family and their powerful contingent of Royal relations present at court no? It’s rather like the pre revolutionary Russian nobility speaking French isn’t it or the way people speak and write in English in Sri Lanka even when they are among their own with no need of a lingua franca?

Meegapulle Arachchi, that member of the Jaffna royal family, now that seems to me to be a very telling case of a lack of distinctiveness of ethnic identity or rather a sign of merging or assimilation into a certain national identity (which we may not now name for fear of excommunication by the high priesthood of the politically correct and fashionable strand in the Sri Lanka ideologisphere)

Actually there’s another episode smacking of a lack of distinctiveness in ethnic identity that I have noticed again in Jaffna. This is given in Jaffna under the Portuguese by Dr. Tikiri Abeyasinghe .

Lancarote de Seixas suggests in 1630 that Portuguese casados should be settled in Jaffna on a large scale and the lands there be distributed among them. Goa refers this proposal to Lisbon. Lisbon consults two old Asia hands on them, one of them with a decade of experience as a captain in many parts of the island.

Then Lisbon makes its decision and that decision "is also found on misintelligence”

To quote from Jaffna under the Portuguese;

“This is clear from a statement in their letter of 15th march 1634 “…se nāo deve fazer novidade….porque de outro modo escandalizar junta tanta gente e de animos tāo inquietos e pouco fieis…” (no innovation ought to be tried…because otherwise people of such restless sprit and little faith will be scandalized…) But in referring to people of restless spirit and little faith, the Lisbon authorities were thinking of the Sinhalese of the Kotte Lands and not of the Tamils of Jaffna, as the phrase “como sāo os chingalas” (as are the Sinhalese) which follows the extract quoted above makes clear. Three decades of rebellion in the Kotte lands had implanted among the Lisbon authorities a wholesome fear of attempting anything likely to cause unrest among the Sinhalese. To that fear and to the misintelligence among the Lisbon authorities that Jaffna was inhabited by the Sinhalese, the Jaffna mudaliyars owed their survival.”

And in a footnote Dr. Tikiri Abeyasinghe says

“Such misintelligence was not confined to Lisbon. The Count of Vidigueira, after serving as viceroy at Goa for 7 years (in two terms) and after a term as President of the India Council in Lisbon, still believed in 1626 that the inhabitants of Jaffna were Sinhalese. ANTT Doc. Rem. Livro 24 doc 18 (no folio numbers) Even Fernão de Queiros’ work was not free from this error. See pp. 357, 361, 366, 371 etc.”

Now as I have heard, amongst all the Western forces to have doings with Ceylon, the Portuguese missionaries were the first points of contact. Those who visited Jaffna also had contact with all other maritime areas of the island and inland as well. Their contact was at the very grassroots and they talked to the natives, how else can you preach the faith. They had to have known the languages spoken in the island and that some natives spoke Sinhalese and some Tamil. So I had always wondered how this mistake could have been possible even by Queiros, specially by Queiros. Now I have the answer! There was a lack of distinctiveness in ethnic identities! Maybe they thought Jaffna was inhabited by chingalas speaking Tamil? Or maybe it really was. Doesn’t add up or does it?

Any way I am sure you Dr. Michael Roberts shall tell me. Finally, (Not quite finally I may comment here again on this very page. I got things to say. But now I have to stop and go back to making a living), let me express my pleasure that you are in cyber space interacting with the proletariat (the intellectual sort that is, not the sort whose dictatorship Lenin envisioned) and not in some ivory tower as Scholar of your caliber aught to be.

Dr. Michael Roberts responded to this comment in

Ethnic Identity in Sri Lanka’s Pre-capitalist Past: Shanie, Darshanie and Roberts