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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2759

Sri Lanka – Is it reasonable to divide this small house?

By Sesha Samarajiwa

What do I do if my brother’s heart burns with an implacable hatred of me? What do I do if he does not want to share the same house with me? What do I do if he demands a separate part of the house exclusively for himself and his? What if the house is our joint birthright? What if I let him have the area he is asking even if it’s far more than the size of his family warrants? What if he later demands more? Will I and my family be safe or will we face what faced the goodhearted camel driver who let the cunning animal rest just his head in his tent, only to find himself eventually pushed right out of his dwelling? Can I force my brother to share this small house peacefully with me or do I evict him, kill him? What if he tries to evict or kill me first? What do I do if my brother’s smoldering hatred of me leaves no space for reconciliation? These are the hard questions that face Sri Lanka – a house bitterly divided.

The Tamil Tigers detest Sri Lanka with a vengeance. Their burning desire is to have a separate country – Tamil Eelam – to be set up on one-third of Sri Lankan soil. One of their illustrations sizzles with this rage; it show Sri Lanka knocked off its axis, it’s flag – a modified version of the world’s oldest, continuously used national banner – aflame. It’s no secret that the Tamil Tigers have no love for Sri Lanka or the Sinhala people or for Muslims, but the Sinhala are their most hated enemy.

For the Sri Lanka Tamils, their kindred are the 65 million Tamils of Tamil Nadu. That is why Tiger literature boasts about their 70-million-strong ethnic community. Likewise, for the people of Tamil Nadu, Sri Lankan Tamils are their kith. That’s why Tamil Nadu politicians have a soft spot for Sri Lanka Tamils, for they too consider Sri Lanka Tamils as their people. That’s why Tamil Nadu nurtured (and continues to support) the Tigers and many other Sri Lankan Tamil separatist groups, providing them sanctuary and support in all kinds of ways.

Divided-and-ruled split nation

The British favored the minority Tamils over the majority Sinhala. Following time-tested imperial strategy, they divided and ruled. (The British also imported hundreds and thousands of impoverished Tamils from Tamil Nadu to work their plantations as virtual slaves; they burgeoned to a million-strong community, thus forever altering the ethnic composition of the island. (The Kandyan Sinhala peasantry preferred to starve rather than slave on plantations set up on land the British stole from them. In fact, many did.) As the British were preparing to leave, anxious that their privileged days were numbered, Tamil leaders like Arunachalam Ponnambalam and SJV Chelvanayagam began a campaign of agitation demanding 50:50 parity for the minority with the majority and a separate state.

The British rejected it out of hand as absurd.

In 1956, SWRD Bandaranayake, in a major move to redress the centuries of injustice suffered by the common Sinhala people, elevated the language of the majority to the status of the national language, although Tamil was designated an official language. This meant that Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and Anglicized Sinhalese of the Ceylon Civil Service – for long dominated by Tamils – had to learn Sinhala if they wished to continue serving the largely Sinhala-speaking public. This perfectly reasonable imperative was seen as discrimination against the Tamils and, since then, has provided gist for the Tamil propaganda mill to disparage Sri Lanka as an apartheid state (ignoring the high positions held by Tamils in post-colonial Sri Lanka, including the first chief of the Armed Services, Major General Anton Muthukumaru.) Extremely and unreasonably unhappy about the elevation of the long-despised Sinhala as the official language, Tamils protested and intensified their unreasonable demands. That led to the first post-independence anti-Tamil riots and unleashed a sequence of events whose bitter fruits the nation is now tasting.

(Interestingly, although there are 65 million Tamils and a state called Tamil Nadu, neither Tamil nor any other Indian language apart from Hindi, is an official language in India. In contrast, every single official document in Sri Lanka is, by law, trilingual. Sri Lanka is the only country whose passports carry Sinhala, Tamil and English text. It is the only country whose stamps give the name of the country in Sinhala, Tamil and English.

Sri Lanka’s is the only flag which symbolically gives a place of honor to all communities – Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim.)

I speak of a nation in the singular, but according to the Tamil Tiger worldview, there are two nations: one Sinhala, the other Tamil. Enemy nations. Tiger literature constantly emphasizes this. They are now invoking as a precedent the establishment of East Timor as a separate nation from Indonesia to persuade the international community to support their goal.

This is how they frame it:

Expectations of the Tamil people from the international community

We urge the international community:

1. To recognize the concept of the sovereignty of the Tamil people, and support the peace process in accordance with this principle.

2. To provide appropriate opportunities to the Tamil people to express their aspirations, as have been given to the people of East Timor and Kosovo.

However, the parallel they are trying to draw between the Sri Lanka situation and the Indonesia/East Timor situation is contrived. (The word-ceiling prevents me from undertaking a comparison with Kosovo in the European theater, except to say that the Sri Lanka situation is quite different.)

East Timor was a Portuguese colony for centuries, until granted independence in 1975. Indonesia, on the other hand, was a Dutch colony. But Indonesia just walked over and claimed East Timor as part of their country. In 1999, following the UN-sponsored act of self-determination, Indonesia relinquished control of the territory and East Timor became an independent nation in 2002.

Tamil propagandists try to show that at the time of the arrival of the Portuguese in Lanka in 1505, there was an independent Tamil Kingdom in the North of Sri Lanka. There was a kingdom, to be sure, but it was not independent. It was a vassal kingdom. What they omit from the account is that the sub-kingdom of Jaffna existed under the suzerainty of the Sinhala king of Kotte. In fact, when the Portuguese attacked the Jaffna chieftain, 5,000 Sinhala forces went to Jaffna to save him. What’s more, when that sub-kingdom rebelled, Sinhala forces under the command of Prince Sapumal put it down, and thereafter Sapumal served as the governor of Yapa Patuna (Jaffna). In the 12th Century, King Parakramabahu ruled the entire island. Many of this king’s Tamil edicts for the benefit of his Tamil subjects were found in Jaffna and Mannar.

Long before that, King Devanmpiyatissa waded into the sea at Jambukola Patuna in Nagadipa, an island off the Jaffna Peninsula to receive a sapling of the Bo Tree (Ficus Religiosa) in Gaya under which the Buddha attained enlightenments. Historical records tell us that the road from Jambukola Patuna to Anuradhapura was decorated to honor the procession carrying the sacred object to the ancient capital of Sri Lanka. If the Sinhala monarch had no sway over the north or if it was the territory belonging to a Hindu Tamil kingdom, this would have been impossible. In fact, we have no record of a Hindu Tamil kingdom there at that time.

Eka Sesath Rajya – Unitary Kingdom

The fact is that even during the interregnums when Tamils ruled the North or sat on the Lion Throne at Anuradhapura, Sinhala kings who ruled over vassal kingdoms in the South never entirely gave up the concept of, or their ancient investment in, a unitary kingdom or Eka Sesath Rajya under anEkiya Dhajaya (One Flag). Therefore, Tamil Tiger propaganda that Tamils have always run a separate Tamil kingdom in the north is a canard: it is an important canard to buttress their claim to a separate state on the lines of, say, East Timor, a place whose history – such as it exists – cannot be compared with Sri Lanka as a well-established country with a distinct culture, and very long experience in the highly sophisticated and ancient art of South Asian statecraft.

The LTTE does not accept a unitary Sri Lanka. Since the onset of hostilities in 1984, the Sri Lanka state, under various leaders, has offered the LTTE olive branc h after olive branch. In 2003, the then prime minister Ranil Wickramasingha engineered a truce of sorts with the LTTE. The Tigers made use of that interval to prepare for war, by stockpiling weaponry and strengthening their fortifications. They also engaged in unilateral acts of hostility more than 3,500 times. Peace talks for them were but a way to wage war by other means. As many observers, including most recently the French terrorism expert Gerard Chailand, underscore, the Tigers always use negotiations as a ploy; despite their claims to the contrary, he believes, they have never had a genuine desire for a negotiated settlement. Tamil Net, the LTTE propaganda site, clearly spells out their policy: whatever Sri Lanka offers, they will not settle for anything less than Eelam. And they will strive with single-minded purpose towards that goal, because as they state: “Tamil sovereignty is the basis of peace talks.”

If the various ethnic groups on the sub-continent were to demand what the Sri Lankan separatists do, India will fragment into a vast patchwork of language-based countries. In fact, India will cease to exist.

Operation Ellaa'lan

The Tigers codenamed their devastatingly audacious mission against the Sri Lanka Air Force base in Anuradhapura last week Operation Ellaa'lan (Elara for the Sinhala). That code name is pregnant with ominous significance. Elara was the only Tamil invader to have held sway over Lanka as whole. During that period, three Sinhala sub-kingdoms and their rulers accepted Elara’s supremacy; the might of the Chola Empire was at its height, and it was a sensible policy. Circa 205 BCE, Elara, a youthful Tamil adventurer of royal descent invaded Sri Lanka and killed the incumbent Sinhala king, Asela. He ruled from Anuradhapura for 40 years, until defeated by a Sinhala prince from the small kingdom of Rohana in Southern Sri Lanka, after a 15-year campaign against the Chola.

For the Tamil Tigers, Ellaa'lan is obviously an iconic Tamil hero who was capable of holding sway over the entire island, with the strong support of the powerful Chola Empire in South India to which he belonged. Do the Tigers wish to emulate Elara? In other words, do they have visions of controlling the entire island with the support of powerful Tamil patrons across the Palk Straits in Tamil Nadu, who have openly declared that the North, East and Northwest of Sri Lanka is part of Tamil Nadu? Could be.

Irrefutable proof of large-scale Sinhala habitation in the North and East of Sri Lanka

A number of respected Tamil, Sinhala and European historians have shown that the etymologies of many Tamil-sounding place names in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka are of Sinhala language origin. Scholars such as Paul E. Pieris (Sinhala), Tambimuttu (Tamil) and Horsburgh (European) argue that the region of Sri Lanka claimed as the primordial Tamil homeland was populated by people who were largely Buddhists till about the 12th century A.C.E.

B. Horsburgh, in an article titled, “Sinhalese place names in the Jaffna Peninsula”, in the Ceylon Antiquary [VOL. II, Part 1] July, 1916, made this observation:

“The current account of the founding of Jaffna is purely mythical, whether we regard the tale of the blind lutist, or the still more legendary story of Siva, Susangita and the lute of Ravana.
“Beyond the broad fact that Tamil invaders from the South India gradually forced the Sinhalese southwards, and occupied the northern and north-eastern parts of the Island, we know very little of these early days. The process undoubtedly took a very long time, and of the first contact between the two races in the extreme north we have no historical record.

“That the Sinhalese occupied the northern portion of the mainland, which is not Tamil country, there is ample evidence carved in stone wall over the Mannar and Mullaittivu Districts, but the fact that they were settled also in the Jaffna Peninsula before the Tamil came, depends for its power mainly on the evidence furnished by the place names they have left behind them …”

Horsburg did not witness the discovery of Buddhist sites in Jaffna, including significant Buddha statues which were unearthed there after his time.

As the maps below show, the ancient place names in the Northern Province, especially in Jaffna, are of Sinhala origin. Clearly, the original Sinhala names in the North and East have been, over a period of time, Dravidianized.

It is an ongoing project. For example, Tamil Net runs a regularly updates box giving and explaining the meanings of Tamil place names. When referring to places in the East, they use Tamil names. For them, even Anuradhapura – the ancient name of a significant place – is Anuradhapuram. Puram is the Dravida equivalent of the Sinhala Pura which means city. Sinhala, the language of the Sinhala people, in fact, belongs to the Indo-Aryan group of languages.

Indeed, the original name of Killinochchi, the Tiger headquarters, was Giraanikke. The Sinhala word Nikke refers to a grove of Nikka trees (Vitex negundo), while Giraa in Sinhala means parrot/s – hence the Nikka Grove of Parrots. The Tamil word for parrot is Kili. Thus Kilinocchi. In fact, Kilinocchi/Giraanikke had many pre-Christian Buddhist ruins, chief on record being Lumbini Vihara, a Buddhist temple, mimicking the Lumbini Park in North India where Siddharta Gautama was born.

Indisputably, many places in the North and East were home to Buddhist sacred sites. Unfortunately, the Eelamists have destroyed almost all of them, to erase any evidence that unsettles their claim – that these areas were never inhabited by Sinhala-speaking people and had always been exclusively Tamil habitat.

Kingdoms and their boundaries used to change. Often, Sinhala kings reconquered the places taken over by South Indians and renamed them. Sometimes, they also demolished Hindu shrines, but more often they incorporated them into Buddhist temples. When Tamils retook such places, they repeated the pattern, with one exception: there is no evidence of their incorporating sacred Buddhist shrines into Hindu temples. In 1965, Dr. Karthigesu Inthirapala, an ethnic Tami, published a comprehensive paper on the subject.

Another fact: with increasing Tamil colonization from South India, the Sinhala emigrated further and further south, leaving their former habitat to the Tamils. After about the 12th century, these areas were populated largely by South Indian forces and immigrants who understandably Dravidianized the names of the old towns, water reservoirs, rivers, and villages. They also destroyed many Buddhist temples and replaced them with Hindu shrines. Over a period of time, Sri Lanka’s Aboriginal tribes (the Veddahs) also assimilated into both Tamil and Sinhala communities, depending on which community they were adjacent to.

Another salient observation: the Sinhala place names in the North and East were modified (Tamilized), but they were not completely erased. It could well mean that the people generally co-existed, even when the rulers fought; obviously, they also cohabitated. These facts make the Eelamist’s racist, mono-ethnic supremacist worldwiew not only very flawed but their war totally absurd.

What do the people in Tigerland really want?

The Tigers claim to speak on behalf of all Tamils. Tamil opponents of the LTTE deny that. Most of them avowedly support Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity. That leaves the Tamils in the Vanni out of the equation. The only way to find out what they want is to hold a referendum in the North, East and Northwest of Sri Lanka, ideally under UN observers, to ensure that the LTTE does not interfere or exert influence, that is to say, they don’t terrorize people to toe the party line.

If this referendum clearly shows that the Tamils there would still prefer a unitary state, the Tiger claims will be nullified, and the LTTE would become irrelevant. But if they say they really want a separate state, we will face the dilemma I raised in my opening questions. What do we do if they do not want to live among other Sri Lankans in a united Sri Lanka? Can we force them to live with us or do we let them have their Tamil Eelam? But 54 percent of Tamils live outside the territory claimed as Eelam. What do we do with these Tamils who live among other Sri Lankans in the South? What do we do with Tamils who have married Sinhala, and their children? Do we pack them all off to the mono-ethnic Eelam much desired by the Eelamists? Or do we create a separate state for inter-married people and their offspring?

More importantly, can we afford to divide a small house and give it to the Eelamists? What portion do we give them – the Vanni to which they have been beaten back or the one-third of the island they have been claiming as their birthright all along? Do we, like King Vessantara of the Buddhist Jataka story, who gladly gave away his kingdom, his power and all his possessions to those who lusted after them, and retreated to a forest where, finally, he also donated his humble hut, his queen wife and, eventually, his two young children –Saliya and Krishnajina – to the avaricious Hindu Brahmin called Jujhaka who kept asking for more, say “OK, brother, take it” or do we say “No way, Thamby?” (Thamby, younger brother in Tamil, is Prabhakaran’s pet name.) Will their ethnic cousins in Tamil Nadu consider giving a piece of their fairly large chunk of real estate (130,058 sq km), which is more than double the size of Sri Lanka (65,610 sq km), to Thamby’s people, so that we can finally, gladly, bid them goodbye?

I have no answers. Maybe you do or maybe no one really does. But one thing I know: we cannot and will not give Thamby and his minions their Eelam.

1 In 1931, Ponnamblam told the British in the State Council: “Let them only get 50% even though Sinhalese have a 69% of the population.”

1 On November 26, 1947, Mr. S. J. Chelvanayagam said: “Why can't we, the Tamils, have a right to secede from the rest.” The demand for a separate state was made not after the Sinhala Only Act in 1956, but before Independence in 1948.

1 The Indian constitution declares Hindi in Devanagari script to be the official language of the union. The Indian Union government is required by law to progressively increase the use of Hindi in its official work, which it has sought to do through "persuasion, incentive and goodwill."

The Official Languages Act provides that the Union government shall use both Hindi and English in most administrative documents that are intended for the public.[23] The Official Languages Rules, in contrast, provide for a higher degree of use of Hindi in communications between offices of the central government. Interestingly, these rules do not apply to one state – Tamil Nadu.

The Indian constitution draws a distinction between the language to be used in Parliamentary proceedings, and the language in which laws are to be made. Parliamentary business, according to the Constitution, may be conducted in either Hindi or English.

The current position is thus that the Union government may continue to use English in addition to Hindi for its official purposes as a "subsidiary official language,” but is also required to prepare and execute a programme to progressively increase its use of Hindi.

1 Mudaliyar C Rasanayagam [A Tamil], Ancient Jaffna, First Edition, 1926, p.62.

" Jambukola ( now Sambu turai in Jaffna) was the port of disembarkation of the Buddhist emigrants from Magadha during the time of Devanampiya Tissa. A great trunk road seem to have been in existence, leading from Jambukola and passing through Kantarodai and running parallel to the present central road to the northern gate of Anuradhapura. The remains of two stone bridges, one over the Malvatu oya......... The Ambassadors sent by Devanampiya Tissa to king Asoka of Magadha embarked at Jumbukola and reached Pataliputra in 14 days; and Asoka's ambassadors, sent to Ceylon landed at Jambukola and reached Anuradhapura in 12 days ( Mahavamsa).......Sangamitta and the Bo tree landed at Jambukola...of the first eight plants (Bo) raised out of the seed of the tree planted at Anuradhapura, one was planted at Jambukola Patuna on the spot where the Bo tree was deposited at disembarkation. The very old Bo tree standing by the side of the Paralay Kandaswamy temple at Chulipuram, about half a mile from the Port was perhaps the plant here referred to..... Devanampiya Tissa erected a vihare at the port of Jambukola in Nagadipa; likewise the Tissa maha vihare and the Pacina Vihare. The ruins of a dagoba and a vihare can still be seen close to the port; and the place called Tissa maluva about a hundred yards opposite to the Kandaswamy temple above mentioned, perhaps marks the site of Tissa maha vihare. The ancient broad road from Jambukola to Tissa maha vihare still exists but serves no useful purpose."

1 TamilNet

* Interactive map of Buddhist sites in Jambukola Patuna (Jaffna) area.

* Interactive map of ancient Sinhala place names in the Vanni.

* Map with Sinhala names, North of Gokanna (Trincomalee) and South of Alimankada (Elephant Pass) Aliya (Sinhala) = Elephant; Mankada (Sinhala) = Pass)

* Map along the A15 highway from Madakalapuwa (Batticaloa) to the ancient port of Gokanna (Trincomalee) with original Sinhala place names.

1 Mudaliyar C Rasanayagam [A Tamil], Ancient Jaffna, First Edition, 1926, p. 382.

" After the massacre of the Christians, Sankili's ( king of Jaffna) insane fury longed for more victims and he fell upon the Buddhists of Jaffna who were all Sinhalese. He expelled them beyond the limits of the country and destroyed their numerous places of worship. Most of them betook themselves to the Vanni's and the Kandyan territories (as per Yalpana Vaipava Malai by Mailvagana Pulavar translated by C Brito.), and those who were unable to do so became the slaves of the Tamil chieftains and are now known as 'Kovia', a corruption of the Sinhalese word ' Goviya' or 'Goiya' and that their original status was equal to that of the Vellalas can be inferred from customs which are still in Vogue in Jaffna. The 'Tanakaras' and the 'Nalavas' of Jaffna should also be considered Sinhalese remnants in spite of the fanciful derivation of the word 'Nalava' given by the author of the Vaipava Malai. The Nalavas were perhaps originally the Sinhalese climbers and received the Tamil name on account of their peculiar way of climbing trees. They too became the slaves of the Tamil chieftains. The Tanakaras were the ancient elephant keepers and those who supplied the necessary fodder to the stables of the king. ( Sinhalese: Tana=grass). They perhaps on account of the service rendered by them were not expelled from the country and later became inseparably mixed with the Tamils among whom they had to remain.........the fact that the Kovias, Tanakaras and Nalavas were originally Sinhalese can be seen from the peculiar dress of their women who wear the inner end of their cloth over the shoulders in a manner quite strange to the genuine Tamils."

Sesha Samarajiwa is as expert in separatist movements. In this essay, he unpacks how the Tamil Tigers use propaganda as a critical weapon and internationalize a local conflict, in the process raising urgent questions pertinent not only for the protagonists and their respective supporters, but also the international community.

- Asian Tribune -

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