Tamil politics float on fake history
H.L. D. Mahindapala
Universities are expected to perform two primary functions:1. teach and 2. engage in research to generate new knowledge that would light the darkness for the lost contemporaries to find their way into the future. There are 17 universities funded by the tax-payers money to serve these two objectives. But how many of them have been functioning as beacons to the ship of state tossing in perilous seas? Of course, there has been a good deal of theoretical waffling, most of which is self-serving punditry to promote the partisan politics of mediocrities posing as local Einsteins.
The tragedy, however is that none of the 17 universities can boast of the intellectual heights attained by giants like E. R. Sarathchandra, E. F. C. Ludowyk, K. M. de Silva, G. H. Peiris, K. N. Jayatilleke, etc. These stellar gurus graced the bygone academic paradise at Peradeniya. They dominated the intellectual, cultural and political landscape of their time. Their collective contribution to academia raised the standards of tertiary education to the peak level of producing outstanding talent that fanned out to occupy chairs in some of the best universities in the world. Their academic brilliance that shine to this day have not been rivalled by their successors. Compared to them the contemporary academics are no taller than pygmies.
These mediocre “hack-a-demics” are noted for producing only the next generation of mediocrities, nothing else. The universities, corrupted by power-hungry careerists, or political stooges are, sadly, at the same level as undertakers stuffing brain-dead dodos. Regurgitating borrowed theories from Western sources is their forte. In one case, his parting contributions to academia, on the eve of his retirement, consisted of recycling threadbare ideologies of the West that can be readily picked up from the internet. All their “peer reviewed” tracts, aka “research”, lie in the university morgues unopened, unread and unused because they are irrelevant to the needs of the day or the future.
Take, for instance, the most critical issue faced by the nation in the post-independent era: the North-South crisis. How useful have they been in working out viable solutions to the worsening inter-ethnic relations? How did the voluminous anti-Sinhala-Buddhist theories help to narrow or eliminate the widening gap between the North and South? On the contrary, did not their partisan theories demonising the South add fuel to the raging fires of mono-ethnic Tamil extremism of the North? Did not the mono-causal theory of blaming only the Sinhala-Buddhists harden attitudes on both sides, obstructing the path to reconciliation and peace?
Of course, the academics flocked in droves to demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists because it was (1) the most marketable ideology where third-rate hacks could earn a fast buck and (2) advance their careers by falling in line with the official ideology approved by the intellectual mafia. Some egregious examples are Buddhism Betrayed? by Stanley Tambiah of Harvard and Work of Kings by H. L. Seneviratne. Lal Jayawardena, head of UNU-WIDER (The United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research) “set up with the aim of promoting peace and progress by bringing together leading scholars from around the world to tackle pressing global problems”, commissioned Tambiah to address the “pressing problems” of Sri Lanka. With the generous funds of WIDER in his pockets Tambiah produced Buddhism Betrayed? denigrating Sinhala-Buddhism — a partisan tract which worsened inter-ethnic relations contrary to the aims of UNU-WIDER.
Tambiah’s attack on Sinhala-Buddhism set the trend from Harvard. He paved the was the opening of the new American school of demonising Sinhala-Buddhism. After Tambiah came the deluge. The “social scientists” fell in line with the mono-causal theory of blaming only the Sinhala-Buddhists. The American school of “social scientists” in particular worked overtime to argue that in the complex universe of Sri Lankan politics only Sinhala-Buddhism has been the cause that worsened inter-ethnic relations. Seneviratne’s book that followed is a typical example that illustrates the herd instincts of the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist school of Tambiah. His book was written as a servile footnote to boost Tambiah’s attack on Sinhala-Buddhists. What made Tambiah’s book sensational were not the contents – it could have been written by even a juvenile sophomore — but the portrayal of Sinhala Buddhism as the demonic force that bedevils Sri Lankan society.
In plain language, it lacked the respectable balance expected of a professorial voice coming out of respected Harvard. The weight of the Harvardian authority overawed the rest of academia. Few dared to challenge Tambiah’s version of cause and effect : Buddhists caused it and the Tamil victims reacted to Sinhala-Buddhist violence. Soon it became the overwhelming ideological dogma that became the flavour of the time. The intellectual fashion of the day was for pundits to parrot theories that targeted Sinhala-Buddhism only. Digging into every nook and corner of Sinhala-Buddhists became the most profitable intellectual industry. The privatised research factories run by foreign-funded NGOs hired unemployable Ph.Ds to manufacture tracts that could popularise the mono-causal theory of blaming everything, including Prabhakaran’s constipation, on Sinhala-Buddhists.
These hired researchers readily jumped into the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist bandwagon because it was one way of being a part of the elitist theoretical cabal, diagnosing and writing prescriptions on the North-South conflict, while sipping whiskey in the cocktail circuit of the Western embassies. The one-eyed Jacks and quacks in academia and NGOs were advancing a mono-causal theory knowing that they were manufacturing sounds of a clap with one hand. The most favoured theory claimed that if you take Sinhala-Buddhism out of the political equation the national problem would be solved without delay. The counter argument which says that the inter-ethnic problem could be solved faster if the Tamils dropped their mono-ethnic extremism and disproportionate demands was never factored in. Such a solution was considered heretical. In a multi-ethnic society only the mono-ethnic extremism of one community was considered valid. Giving into the political demands of one community was promoted as the politically correct formula. The role of other communities was simply to give into the ever escalating demands of one community at the expense of all other communities.
Legitimising this pro-Tamil ideology was a prime necessity for the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist lobby to win international and national sympathy. The Tambiah-Vadukoddai ideology became the main means of manipulating national and international public opinion. A two-pronged attack was launched to manipulate the pro-Tamil ideology: 1) demonise the Sinhalese and 2) simultaneously paint the Tamils as the victims of an oppressive majority. The national story was simplified into the goodies and baddies. In the popularised story the Sinhalese were the baddies and the Tamils were the goodies. History was re-written to blacken the image of the Sinhala-Buddhists and simultaneously leave the other side of the story as a white blank page. Explorers of Sri Lankan history moaned consistently about the missing chapters of the history of Jaffna but no one did anything about it. The situation has not changed to this day. No one has ever produced a comprehensive and authoritative history of Jaffna, though they have had no qualms in raking the history of Sinhala-Buddhists to pick up whatever dirt they can find in the South. The logical consequence is simple: you can’t blame things kept in the dark.
Faced with the overwhelming historical lacuna the Tamil historians lament about the absence of a Tamil history that could validate their politics of superiority and claims for self-determination. Writing in the 21st century historian Dr. Murugar Gunasingham confessed that the “ ……the most important single shortcoming at this time is that no historian, or archaeologist or even a social scientists, whether Sinhalese, Tamil or Western scholar has written a complete or comprehensive account of the history of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. On the other hand, Sinhalese scholars are actively engaged in researching and writing a full and comprehensive account of the Sinhalese history of Sri Lanka.” He also said: “Tamils did not actively pursue a systematic study of their past which would have contributed to the current and future health of Tamil studies. As a consequence, no comprehensive history of the Tamils in Sri Lanka has been written whereas the Sinhalese have successfully preserved and maintained their history from the beginning. Unquestionably, the Sinhalese people have quite valid grounds for claiming their own authentic rights within the country.”(p.13 – Primary Sources For History of the Sri Lanka Tamils, A World-Wide Search, South Asian Studies Centre, Sydney, 2005)
It is incredible that the Tamils who depend desperately on their version of history for the establishment of their separate state have never produced a comprehensive and authoritative study of their history. Of course, there is an advantage in keeping Jaffna in the dark. This enables the Tamils to fill the vacuum with illusions of grandeur. The Tamil political activists have taken advantage of the blank spaces in Tamil history to fill it with myths, fabrications and rewrites of history that would fit into their separatist political agenda.
Their version of manufactured history is encapsulated in the Vadukoddai Resolution of 1976 – the ultimate political manifesto of mono-ethnic extremism of Tamil separatists seeking to justify their disproportionate political claims of the 20th century with a glorious past that exists only in their imagination. Whatever “histories” that poured out of pro-Tamil factories stuck solidly to “history” laid down in the Vadukoddai Resolution, boosted later by Tambiah’s anti-Sinhala-Buddhist tract. In the main,their histories were not to study the past but to justify the Tamil politics of the present. In the post- independent era they laboured breathlessly to create a history to match that of the Sinhala-Buddhists. But to date they have failed to produce a single volume that has been accepted as an authoritative and objective study of the history of Jaffna.
Without a solid backing of historical evidence the claims to a mono-ethnic enclave would lack gravitas. To produce historical justifications there should have been a comprehensive, objective and authoritative study of the North. There are, of course, patchy pieces throwing paper-thin slivers of light into one or two dark corners of Jaffna. But historiographers are concerned seriously about the failure of Tamil historians and allied social scientists to light up the past of Jaffna with a comprehensive and objective history.
Their most treasured historical document is Yal Pana Vaipava Malai written by poet Mylvaganam at the request of the Dutch Governor, Jan Maccra (1736). This is virtually the equivalent of the Tamil Mahavamsa – the highly valued historical document of the Tamils delineating their past. It runs into about 50 pages that are no bigger than the size of a notepad. Of course, this corresponds to the size of the Jaffna Tamils’ contribution to their history and, more importantly, to the nation’s history. In historiography size matters not for the sake of being voluminous but as an indicator of their commitment to the land in which .they created history, with their blood, sweat and tears. A passionate and comprehensive history signposts the power of the people moving history to fulfil an evolving destiny. This is written unmistakeably in the Mahavamsa. It affirms that the destiny of the Sinhalese was tied, from day one, to this land. The Tamils, on the other hand, had one foot in Sri Lanka and the other in Tamil Nadu. Their heart was deeply rooted in their motherland across the Palk Strait. This mental make up is understandable. For instance, the tyranny of distance made it easy for the English migrants who settled down in America, Canada and Australia to sever connections with their motherland. But the proximity to Tamil Nadu made it difficult for the Tamil migrants to create an identity of their own in Sri Lanka. Of all the migrants only the Sinhalese who committed themselves totally to this land. The indelible and monumental legacy they left behind has proved their everlasting commitment to the land by creating a unique identity of their own.
It should also be noted that poet Mylvaganam wrote his 50-page history not for the love of Tamil people or their history, unlike Maha Thera Mahanama who wrote the Mahavamsa with a missionary zeal for those who made history and covered themselves with glory all the way. He wrote it as a tribute to the pioneering makers of history who can claim to be the legitimate owners of the land because they alone made a unique history without vegetating as simian descendants imitating a borrowed culture from overseas. He was also unerringly conscious of his mission as a historian. He says that he wrote for “the serene joy and emotion of the pious.”
Mylvaganam, on the other hand, wrote it to please the Dutch Governor. Why should the Tamils write a history of their Lilliputian escapades in Sri Lanka when their monumental history was in their only homeland which was across the Palk Strait? The next serious attempt to write a Tamil history was undertaken by Mudliyar C. Rasanayagam whose Ancient Jaffna was printed in 1928. Not surprisingly, he too dedicates his book to the British Governor. This makes it possible to argue that the Jaffna Tamils were not committed passionately to a sense of history like the Sinhalese. They wrote history to please their colonial masters.
It was only in the post-independent era that there was a rush among the Tamils to manufacture history, with a desperate sense of urgency. The Tamils suddenly discovered that they had to find political justifications for their increasing demands from a solid historical base. Political legitimacy derived from an irrefutable history for the creation of a new state has a greater force than the contestable modern theories of minority rights, or the principles that go to define a nation. The Sinhalese had no need to justify or substantiate their claim to territory or power because history was on their side. From the lips of caves to the highest points in the architectural monuments of ancient and medieval times the ownership of history was written, with unquestionable clarity and certainty. The Tamils, on the contrary, discovered that they had no history to match that of the Sinhalese. Besides, they also discovered that they had to rely heavily on their manufactured version of history to escalate their demands heading towards mono-ethnic extremities of power and territory.
This battle for history began in the thirties. The first shot attacking Sinhala-Buddhist history was fired by the acknowledged leader of the time, G. G. Ponnambalam. It was his attack on the Mahavamsa and the genealogy of the Sinhalese while glorifying the Tamil past that caused the first Sinhala-Tamil riots in Navalapitiya and the neighbouring towns in 1939. He set the foundations for the ideological battle. The ideological battle to be on the legitimate side of history has never ceased since then.
The moral in this tale is simple: he who wins the battle in the field of history wins the battle in the field of politics.