Monday, November 15, 2010

Why did Dr. Jehan Perera lie to Dr.Michael Roberts? A Sri Lankan horror story

Also published in Sri Lanka Guardian and Lanka Web

“When a highly educated Sinhalese scholar like Jehan Perera, one who is a genuine grassroots worker for multi-cultural accommodation, is unaware (personal comment in late Jan. 2000) that the eastern coast of Sri Lanka

was an integral part of the Kingdom of Kandy from the late sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, the gaps in information—and the success of Tamil propaganda—are starkly manifest.”


Narrating Tamil Nationalism: Subjectivities and

Issues Michael Roberts April 2004- (Footnote 57)

By 2000 however a number of books and papers were in print which could have bridged the gaps in Dr. Jehan Perera’s information. By 2000, Prof. K.M. De Silva’s Separatist Ideology in Sri Lanka: A historical Appraisal had been in existence for 13 years and gone through two editions and two reprints. Professor G.H. Pieris’ path breaking work; An Appraisal Of the Concept Of a Traditional Homeland’ had been around for 15 years, first as a mimeographed paper then as a published article in a 1991 volume of Ethnic Studies Report and finally as an easily- accessible-to-any-Tom-Dick-and-Harry serialized article in The Island of March 1999.

A number of channels then, were open to the highly educated Sinhalese scholar to replenish any gaps in his knowledge of matters that fell squarely within his professional expertise. Even a basic reading list of the Conflict would have sufficed to cover these gaps of information. Truth is a lack of awareness as late as the year 2000 would not be compatible with even the baseline level of competence and intellectual acuity required of the Research and Media Director of the National Peace Council.

So what was starkly manifest to me reading the above footnote in Narrating Tamil Nationalism: Subjectivities and Issues Michael Roberts was notthe gaps in information—and the success of Tamil propaganda’ but the incredible naivete and innocence of Dr. Michael Roberts.

When Dr. Jehan Perera confessed to Dr. Michael Roberts in late Jan 2000 that he was unaware, that he was historio intacta, Dr Jehan Perera was lying. This revelation came to me while going through an article which I first saw in the Tamil Canadian Website and later at The relevant part is

“ I would like to quote a paragraph here, from Dr. Jehan Perera's (Media Director, National Peace Council) article entitled, "Balanced compromise on the north-east unit" published in "The Island" Sunday issue in late 1990s.

"The fact is that in the census of 1920 only 4 percent of the population of the Eastern Province was Sinhalese. The Sinhalese settlements in the east were small and scattered, even though there is historical evidence that most of the east came under the umbrella of the Kandyan Kingdom. But while the ultimate rulers were in the Sinhalese Kingdom of Kandy, the people of the east were mostly Tamils and Muslims. It is only in the past fifty years that there has been a substantial influx of Sinhalese settlements through state intervention."

Mr. Wijayadasa, do you need anything more than this living testimony of Dr. Jehan Perera, to prove that what you have said is a blatant lie?”

Even reading the above living testimony of Dr. Jehan Perera given in The Island, Sunday issue in late 1990s, certain things become starkly manifest to me. The way Dr. Jehan Perera seems to believe that the demographic patterns of the area corresponding to the present Eastern province stayed static from the Kandyan times to 1920s and his easy assumption that the 1920 census data would give us a reasonably good idea about the demographic situation when the ultimate rulers were in the Sinhalese kingdom of Kandy.

This easy assumption, though a natural one for a Tom, Dick or Harry does not sit well with a highly educated Sinhalese scholar who is also the Research and Media Director of the National Peace Council, because even as far back as the 80's people like Gamini Iriyagolla had started to inundate the public domain with information from British administrators’ reports relating to Eastern demographic trends such as the following.

‘In 1833 the population under Gantale Tank had been Sinhala but this had disappeared by 1855. They had been replaced in the intervening period by some "Malabars". A report by three British engineers submitted in 1855 states that a Malabar population had superseded the Sinhalese under Gantale and the tradition relating to the Yoda Ela from Minneriya which was known to the Sinhalese, who were there in 1833 was totally unknown to the Malabars in 1855.’

‘What happened generally in the east has been recorded in the famous report on Forest Administration of Ceylon by F.D'A Vincent which is published as Sessional paper XL11 of 1882:

"the gradual spread of the Tamils down the coasts, especially the eastern, and the fact that no where except in the northern province and Tamankaduwa, do they form more that coast settlements, are both striking. Where ever the Tamil or the Mahommedan comes to settle, the Sinhalese is driven back to the forest, where he earns a precarious existence by chena cultivation and by hunting."

"Of this nature are matters concerning the group of Sinhalese villages in the north-west of the (Trincomalee) district lying in the western division of the Kaddukulam pattu.

This part of the district is inhabited by Sinhalese villagers of Kandyan descent forming an outlying community which is, I fear, rapidly dying out or becoming effaced. The district is most interesting, being dotted over by numerous village tanks, some of which are restored and others abandoned. The villagers retain many of the primitive customs of the Kandyans , but they are rapidly becoming Tamilized, which is a great pity. They intermarry with Tamils, and many of them speak Tamil as well as they speak Sinhalese. Even the Government schoolmaster is Tamil, and only that language is taught in the only school, and unfortunately in some cases the Sinhalese villagers have been bought out by Tamils, who now own all the paddy lands of some villages. The Sinhalese have even given up their patronymics and have adopted the Tamil custom of prefixing the father's name instead of the usual patronymic, and even the names of the villagers are assuming a Tamil dress. This is perhaps not to be wondered at when the interpreters of the court and the Kachcheri, the petition-drawers, and all through whom the villagers have access to government officials can speak nothing but Tamil. I must say I regard this as a great misfortune. I should like to see a strong Sinhalese headman acquainted with English appointed as Chief Headman of the district, and I should like to see the Tamil school abolished. However, the most important assistance which can, and ought to, be rendered to these villagers would be the restoration of their village tanks. This would render them independent of the Tamils, and make them less likely to abandon their villages or to sell their lands to Tamils” (Administration Report on Trincomalee District for 1898 p. F18).

‘Most of the Muslims in these coastal areas in the east were (and still are ) descendants of refugees who had been settled there in 1626 by the Sinhalese King Senerat of Kandy, when they were expelled by the Portuguese from the south west littoral. "The Candiot …… received many of them into his ports….. and in Batecalou alone the Idolatrous King placed a garrison of 4000 of them…." ( de Queroz, Vol II, p.745 ).

‘British policy as well as administrative action throughout the nineteenth century was to colonise Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts with immigrants from Jaffnapatnam and south India. The administration Report for 1867 of the AGA Trincomalee District states that " I should like to form a large Jaffna colony and if liberal terms are offered, might succeed." In the report for 1868 he confessed that '' The Government Agent Jaffna was not successful in his attempt to send people to Gantalawa tank to colonize it ….I have every reason to believe that we may set up a coast settlement there, and I shall have hopes of seeing the cultivation extend under this splendid tank." In the parlance of the time "coast" meant the Coromandel Coast of South India

‘Tampalakamam Pattuwa (Tambalagamuwa Tamilised) had density of slightly less than 2 persons per square mile in its 450 square miles. Gantale (incorrectly called Kantalay) Tank was in this division but the village of that name had only 20 persons, all presumably Sinhalese according to Captain Aitcheson's report of 1833.’

The CliffsNotes then on the Eastern Province that any reasonably competent secretary or assistant could have given Dr. Jehan Perera were;

From Professor G.H. Peiris’ ‘An appraisal of the concept of a traditional Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka’ The Island- 27th March 1999 installment

‘For the issues with which the present study is concerned, the feature of crucial relevance borne out by our maps is that, in the Eastern Province as a whole, in 1921, almost all Tamil settlements were confined to a coastal strip barely extending even 10 miles to the interior. The Sinhalese settlements, on the other hand, though comparatively few in number, were scattered over extensive areas of the interior, covering the entirety of the administrative Divisions of Bintenna Pattu; Uda Palatha, Yati Palatha and Meda Palatha of Wevagam Pattu (these were partly in the Divisions of Akkarai Pattu and Sammanturai Pattu of that time); and almost the whole of Panawa Pattu. In the northern parts of the then Batticaloa District and in the Trincomalee District, extensive tracts of territory in the interior were either uninhabited or were the venues of scattered Sinhalese settlements. This must be taken in the context of the fact that the Sinhalese names of numerous abandoned village tanks marked on our source maps in the uninhabited tracts bear testimony to earlier processes of de-population. Our maps show, further, that the only non-Sinhalese population clusters that were located (in 1921) even a few miles to the interior of the seaboard were those associated with the irrigation works restored in the preceding decades…’

‘This pattern of settlement distribution assumes significance from several points of view. In the first pace, considered in the light of our earlier observations on the trends of demographic change in the preceding centuries, the pattern as it prevailed in 1921 represents what may be regarded as the culmination of a long drawn out historical process featured, on the one hand, by territorial advances of the Tamil population and, on the other, retreat and recession of the Sinhalese population. This in turn implies that the process of ‘Tamilization’ in the eastern lowlads of Sri Lanka had not penetrated significantly into the interior even at its most extensive territorial spread.’

From Professor K.M. De Silva’s A Separatist Ideology in Sri Lanka: A Historical Appraisal-Second Edition

‘Indeed not only was the eastern seaboard part of the Kandyan Kingdom, but also for much of the 19th and the early 20th century, the Tamil population there was concentrated in and around Tricomalee and the Batticaloa lagoon. These littoral settlements were –as in the 18th century-in the nature of a thin strip of habitation confronting two powerful forces of nature, the sea on the one side, and the forbidding wilderness of the almost impenetrable forests of the dry zone on the other. The overwhelming difficulties of access by land intensified the isolation of this region; land communications improved only in the late 19th century, and the early 20th century. More important, it also had a large Muslim population.

The interior was sparsely populated and contained Sinhalese settlements in purana (i.e., traditional) villages with its people eking out a hard existence in this forested region. These Sinhalese settlements, although smaller in terms of population than either the Tamil or Muslim ones, and few and far between, were distributed throughout the Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts. (The present Amparai district of the Eastern Province was created only in 1960). Writing in 1921 Canagaratnam observes that:

“One of the saddest features in the history of the [Batticaloa] District is the decay of the Sinhalese population in the West and South. At one time there were flourishing and populous Sinhalese villages here, as is evidenced by the ruins and remains dotted about this part of the country.”

It is precisely in this part of the present Eastern Province that the massive multi-purpose Gal-Oya project-which the Federal Party pointedly refers to in its political resolutions of the 1950’s as a prime example of state sponsored settlement of Tamil homelands-was established. This was the first new major scheme since the days of the Polonnaruva kings. C.W Nicholas’s path-breaking monograph on the Historical Topography of Ancient and Medieval Ceylon makes specific reference to the Gal-Oya scheme, and shows it as occupying for the greater part the ancient and important territorial division called Digavapi-Mandala or Dighavapi-rata. Professor Gerald Peiris whose researches on land settlement policies and their impact on the demography of the Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts are the first to critically examine these policies in the light of the theory of the “traditional homelands” of the Tamils as propounded by the FP and the TULF, points out that Gal-Oya and most of the other major colonization schemes of the Eastern Province are located in areas which in 1921- and at the time of the census of that year-were either the sites of remnant Sinhalese villages or were under the jungle tide. Indeed these settlements had survived several centuries of war and invasion, of pestilence and privation, and the ravages of nature in the forms of droughts, floods and cyclones, till they were revitalized in the years after independence as peasant “colonies”, that is to say village settlements of Gal-Oya scheme. The second point he makes is just as important as this: that contrary to claims made by the TULF, colonization schemes such as the Gal-Oya have had little effect on the then existing Tamil settlements of the Eastern Provinces-or the areas in which such settlements are located. Nor are the Sinhalese the sole beneficiaries of this scheme. Despite the large number of Sinhalese peasants who were settled in the ‘colonies’ established under the Gal-Oya project, the then existing Muslim and Tamil village settlements of the Eastern Provinces more than held their own in regard to population growth and agricultural productivity. Indeed, thirty years after the Gal-Oya project was initiated, the Sinhalese are very much a minority of the population there, as the official census of 1981 would show.

…The present Eastern Province is the home of over a third of Sri Lanka’s Muslims. Some of them are descended from immigrants from the coasts of South India, but a substantial number, perhaps the large majority, are descended from Muslim refugees from Sri Lanka’s own west coast fleeing the persecution of the Portuguese and afforded a safe haven on the east coast-and elsewhere- by Sinhalese kings of the period.’

One of the saddest features characterizing Sri Lanka's Peace process was the widespread infestation of blight and decay afflicting its front guard. The key symptoms were downright lying, shoddy, almost illiterate nature of the construct building and the inability to display enough intellectual vigor and research ability to support a B gradable school project report, let alone communications worthy of National change agents and opinion leaders.


  1. recent genetic studies prove that sinhalese are genetically more closer to northern indians rather than the southern tamils and surprise surprise lankan tamils are genetically closer to sinhalese than the indian tamils. so the lankan tamils are nothing but the sinhalese who later start speaking tamil due to indian influence.

  2. Thanks for the comment Kaushalya. But I think one should be careful of making blanket assumptions based on genetic studies. The findings of a study may be interpreted differently by scientists. If you search Wikipedia for Anglo-Saxon migration to Britain you might find inklings of how the results of genetic studies have been interpreted differently. (I say might because Wikipedia changes frequently when I last looked it was there and unlike anything to do with Sri Lanka, Wikipedia is fairly reliable when it comes to matters relating to Britain. It is not really Wikipedia's fault but to do with the POLITICS OF KNOWLEDGE )

    However I feel deeply skeptical of 'lankan tamils are nothing but the sinhalese who later start speaking tamil due to indian influence'.There have been migrations, assimilation, acculturisation all sorts of processes. It is not a subject that grabs my interest that much. Genetic affinity plays such a small role in race relations. The English after all did not lie back and let the Germans take their country even though the accepted wisdom at that time was that the English were almost 100% anglo saxon and from Germany.