TAMIL PROBLEM : There is/was no ethnic problem – There was/is a caste problem

The international community has been gulping half-baked stories not because they are unaware of the true story, but because the true story does not fit into their scheme of things. Knowing this ground reality, the crafty Tamil leaders were happy to bat according to how the West was prepared to bowl. TNA comprises elite Jaffna-centric Vellala Tamils who do not represent the Tamils, neither are they bothered about uplifting low-caste Tamils. They simply want to be kings ruling Tamils. Devolution in fact is going to make matters worse for 90% of Tamils who are not Vellalas.

Politics and Politicians are happy to fish in any social issue & fine-tune it to their political advantage. In reality the cause of most problems are actually politicians. Now the public sector and private sector are also joining in for their own advantage too. Therefore, the people face problems from multiple fronts.

Tamil leaders do not want to solve the Tamil caste problem while Tamil leaders & others are making use of the Tamil caste problem. This is a greater problem than the falsely drummed “ethnic” problem.

The Tamil “ethnic” problem began by a Tamil

  1. Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam in 1911 changed Malabar Tamils to Ceylon Tamils for the census. He created an artificial new group called Ceylon Tamils
  2. Then 20 years later in 1931 G G Ponnambalam demanded 50-50 representation when Tamils were hardly 30% (including Tamils imported from South India)
  3. Then in 1949 (months after nominal independence) the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kachchi (Lanka Tamil Kingdom Party) was formed by Christian import Chelvanayagam. ITAK camouflages itself as Federal Party.

The Official Language Act was passed in 1956 making Sinhala the official language. Anyone taking offence must first respond with evidence to show if Tamil was an official language before 1505, was Tamil an official language under Portuguese, Dutch or even under the British after 1815 & till 1948? If not, what is the grievance that the Tamils claim? Did Tamils oppose English being used as official language instead of Tamil? Why oppose only Sinhala when they are well aware that Sinhala was the official language before 1505.

The other noteworthy point everyone is conveniently ignoring is that when the Official Language Act was passed there were no violent acts, no satyagrahas, no large demonstrations or protests – only a small protest without mass people’s participation.

What is also ignored is that even the Sinhalese who had been studying in English had to also learn Sinhala.

More importantly, hardly 1% of the population were fluent in English. It was impossible to govern a country when the majority did not know English. Therefore, a transition to the majority language required to take place. Even Tamils were more fluent in Sinhala than English.

However, it was a different situation when the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act 21 was passed in 1957.

This act enabled Tamil lower castes to attend school. This meant that Tamil lower castes were not allowed to attend schools. Why does no one question the Tamil high castes about why their own people were denied to attend schools?

This act also enabled Tamil lower castes to enter kovils alongside high castes. This meant that Tamil lower castes had not been allowed to enter kovils. Why does no one question Tamil high castes regarding this?

Tamil leaders even sailed the rough seas to travel to UK to appeal to repeal this Act. Why didn’t they set said against the Official Language Act?

This proves that the Tamil leaders considered the 1957 Prevention of Social Disabilities Act giving low castes to enter schools & kovils as a bigger threat to them than the Official Language Act making Sinhala the official language.

That the 1956 Official Language Act was not a big issue at that time for Tamil elite is further showcased when in 1965 the government introduced laws to use Sinhalese in government offices & no large scale protests were seen.

This is what present day commentators must realize.

Tamil elite/high castes could not openly oppose giving low castes better privileges. So what did they decide to do? They followed their colonial masters & turned to the most successful form of division – RACISM & RACIAL ISSUE.

They began racial slogans – drummed up racial hate campaigns that enabled foolish low castes to align with the crafty Tamil high castes.

While there were little protests against the Official language act and no public protest against the prevention of social disabilities act, massive demonstrations were organized by Tamil high caste leaders in 1957 (since they could not oppose the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act openly – the best alternative was to get ALL TAMILS TO HATE THE SINHALESE)

  • Ministers were mobbed
  • Sinhala letters were tarred on vehicle registrations)
  • Civil disobedience campaigns were launched by ITAK & Tamil Congress

All these incidents did not take place in 1956 but in 1957. This is important to note. It was the 1957 Act that triggered Tamil resistance & not the 1956 Act.

It is also noteworthy that the 1957 Prevention of Social Disabilities Act was amended in 1971 to enable low caste Tamils to make complaint to police regarding caste discrimination & for police to take necessary action. This further infuriated the high caste Tamils & was the reason for renewed protests and campaigns against the Government.

One of the biggest mistakes made by Sinhalese who foolishly fell for the antics of Tamil elite leaders was when SWRD Bandaranaike agreed to sign a pact with Chelvanayagam (who was instrumental in starting the protests) It did not have legal binding as it was kept from Parliament & the Cabinet. It was only a political gimmick.

The BC Pact did not mention anything about language & only about devolving powers – the reason behind this demand was to enable Tamil elite to retain control over their people & deny them the provisions that SWRD proposed to give under the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act.

So in reality, the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact demanding devolution was aimed at REVERSING the provision given in 1957 to allow low caste Tamils to enter schools & kovils. Tamil low castes must wake up to this reality.

The caste issue is well documented by Dr. Sebastian Rasalingam

  • 1847 – Arumuga Navalar left teaching at Jaffna Central College because a low caste Tamil (Nalavar Caste) was admitted to the school
  • 1877 – During a famine in Jaffna peninsula – Arumuga Navalar provided food & medicine ONLY to the Jaffna Vellalas.
  • 1871 – caste clashes between Vellala, dhoby & barber castes in Maviththapuram because the dhoby caste people refused to wash clothes of the barber caste people – Vellalas were blamed for inciting the violence (1st caste riot)
  • 1923 – Sutumalai village – Vellalas attack Paramba caste because they hired drummers for a funeral. Vellalas claimed Paramba’s had no right to employ drummers for funerals as they were low caste (2ndcaste riot) – only high castes can hire drummers & ‘professional mourners’ for funerals.
  • 1929 – riots due to govt ‘equal seating directive’ in grant-aided schools where low-caste students could sit on benches. Before 1929, low-caste children had to sit on the floor or outside the classroom. This riot resulted in large number of houses belonging to low castes getting burnt & children were stopped from attending schools. Vellala’s made repeated petitions to cancel the directive.
  • Late 1920s Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan led 2 delegations to the Colonial Office in London to encode Caste into legislative enactments of Ceylon (Communal politics under the Donoughmore Constitution 1931-1947 by Jane Russell)
  • 1931 – Canganai village – Pallar caste attacked by Vellalas for hiring drummers for a funeral. (3rd caste riot)
  • Vellalas are kovil patrols & maintain Brahmin priests who manage the kovils.

What is interesting is that the Vellala’s discriminated their own low caste Tamils but did not treat the Sinhalese differently. This shows that the Vellala’s hated low caste Tamils more than the Sinhalese!

Having understood this background, the ties to colonial Britain ended in 1972 after the island became a republic. By this time the low castes who were given admission to schools were ready to enter university.

While elite Tamils protested against allowing low caste Tamils to enter schools, their next protest came in 1973 when the government introduced university standardization for equitable distribution. To understand the true scenario for these protests it is important to understand that during colonial rule and years after only an elite group of Sinhalese, Tamils & Muslims were enjoying the best of education, employment & social privileges. 99% of the population were in virtual enslavement.

What university standardization did was to allow students from all districts to enter university, a privilege enjoyed previously only by the high castes/class among Sinhalese, Tamils & Muslims. It was natural that they would oppose sharing their privileges & dividing their admission quotas amongst lesser privileged students.

What readers need to understand is that the percentage of Tamils gaining admission to universities didn’t change – but the number of high caste/class Tamils gaining admission reduced as the quota included low caste Tamils too. This natural angered high caste Tamils. It was the same scenario for Sinhalese high castes.

The secret BC Pact in 1958 with devolution was meant to reverse the 1957 Social Disabilities Act & disallow low castes the privilege given to study & enter kovils, when devolution would mean high caste Tamils will once again rule over low castes.

The 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution which came 3 years after the 1974 Standardization was another means to rope in low castes to a bogus war & steer them away from educating themselves. This crafty plan too succeeded as 99% of all LTTE cadres were low caste & poor Tamils. The elite high castes artfully covered their caste bias under schemes that fooled the low castes & not only deprived them the right to grow but also put them to their graves.

The majority of Tamils who are low castes need to realize the true enemy – not the Sinhalese but the high caste Vellala’s from India.


Shenali D Waduge

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