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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2858

Sri Lankan Tamils, the ‘Cats Paw’ of the Church

By Palitha Senanayake

The Christian denominations were first introduced to Ceylon by the Portuguese who invaded the country in 1505. Their reign was confined mainly to the coastal areas of the country and they vandalized the property in those areas raping women and brutally enforcing their will on the people. Their vagrancy was such that even today when the Sri Lankan landscape is dotted with the ancient ruins of a bygone civilization, the areas occupied by Portuguese are conspicuous by the absence of such evidence. The Sinhalese Kings sought the help of the Dutch, who were somewhat more reasonable, to get rid of the Portuguese. Then the British, who appeared most gentlemanly, came along and took over the country on an agreement entered in to with the Sri Lankan chieftains to protect Sri Lankan values and its religion. British with their ostensible gentlemanliness was the only power to conquer the whole of Sri Lanka in 1815.

All these external invaders brought the Bible along with them. The Catholics, the Reformist and the Anglicans in that order, advised the locals to ‘hold the Bible in their hands and pray with closed eyes’. When they opened their eyes, they still had the Bible in their hands, but alas all the land was in the hands of the invaders. The colonialists were not prepared to accept the idyllic lifestyle of the Islanders influenced by eastern philosophy and values that were different from theirs.

They advised the locals that ‘It is uncivilized to not believe in God’ and thereby arrogated the power to civilize the Islanders. They preached ‘love’ when the islanders already knew of ‘maithree’, ‘karuna’, ‘muditha’ and ‘uppekha’, more advanced stages of human kindness. Love in the eastern thinking was just ‘selfish infatuation’. But finally those who possessed more fire power proved to be the better ‘civilized’ and hence prevailed over the locals. Yet when the Catholics, with a Portuguese legacy, were eventually persecuted by the Anglicans, the Catholics had to seek refuge in the King of Kandy (uncivilized) to obtain Wahakotte as their undisturbed habitation.

The Anglican Church wielded enormous power over the Island nation during the British reign of more than 150 years. After having marginalized the indigenous education system they invited American missionaries to commence schools in Jaffna to create a blue collar work force for their plantations and administration in the1820’s. They preferred the manageable minority Tamils to the rebelling Sinhalese who had staged three rebellions up to then resisting the colonial power. As a result St Patricks and St Micheals and Vembeddy girls school were all started in the Jaffna district as the first schools in the Island of Ceylon.

The British colonialist expropriated the land of the locals and converted the Island in to a garden of plantations. They found the marginalized Indian labor more manageable to the savage looking slave labor that was used in other parts of the western world. Hence they ‘consigned’ contingents of labor from India to Ceylon to work in the plantation. From the Thalaimannar pier the indentured labor with their families were made to walk a distance of more than 200 miles through the jungle terrain. Some dropped dead on the way and the dead bodies were left for the jackals in the jungles. Once in the plantation, the lined rooms which were the permanent abode of the Indian Tamils, were no better than cattle sheds. A family of 6 or 7 lived in a room of 10’ by 6’.

The three Singhalese rebellions staged, were crushed with brute force exterminating not only the people but even the trees, paddy fields and other wherewithal that helped the locals in their dwelling. Entire areas and provinces were made barren, dislocating populations. As a testimony to this inhuman devastation, even to day the most fertile areas of the Island in the South East known as the ‘Wellassa’ (one hundred thousand paddy fields) is only parsley populated. The Anglican Church did not remain a passive spectator of all this ‘ungodly’ acts. They started conscripting the local population dangling the carrots of education and employment.

After more than 150 years of rule, when the British were compelled to leave the Island on the new world order brought about by the realization of the unceasing nature of the domination by arms, a privileged elite class of Anglo Saxon thinking, lead by the Church, had emerged in Sri Lanka from among locals. Unlike in India, in Sri Lanka there was no national struggle to win independence and as a result the patriotic indigenous leadership did not synchronize. The British handed over the power to the new local elites expecting them to preserve that status quo.

The new Government of the Independent Sri Lanka was initially towing the British line but eventually with the masses taking over the reigns of power the much awaited, progressive legislations were introduced. For instance, at the time of independence (1948), only 6% of the country’s population was conversant in English, the official language of the time. As a result 94 % of the country’s population was in the dark, being governed by the English speaking elite. Swabasha was introduced in 1956 to overcome this anomaly. With that move the foundation of the English speaking elite started to crack. The vested interests of the Church reacted to this in all possible ways. Even though there was provision for reasonable use of Tamil in the new legislation the Church propagated to the world about the unreasonableness of the legislation. The fact that there was a disproportionate amount of Tamils in the state service due to a one sided education policy for centuries gave credence to the ‘Tamil grievance’ as a corollary of the swabasha Bill. The church baptized the bill ‘Singhala only’

They found a very willing ally in Chelvanayagam, son of a clergyman, who was more Anglican than Tamil. He was obsessed with the thought that ‘How come these uneducated Sinhalese, being only a few million in population, could have a country of their own when the Tamils numbering 50 million could not have theirs’. According to him the ‘Singhalese were not big enough to govern us the Tamils’. The elite Tamil community who themselves had lost their privileges after the exit of the British was a good breeding ground for ‘alleged discrimination’. Chelvanayagam was not interested in implementing the reasonable use of Tamil because he would rather keep the ‘grievance’. He instead used this as an opportunity to introduce the first steps of the bifurcation plan in the form of Bandaranaike Chelvanayagam Pact where he demanded the land rights to North and the East. His strategy for total separation eventually was ‘little now and more later’. The B-C pact was rejected by the discerning public giving more propaganda matter to the Church and the Tamil elite.

It is not that the Tamils in general had no issue to demand more from the state but it is just that with a Sinhala dominated Government in power, the separatist minded Tamil elite like Chelvanayagam were able to project the Sri Lanka Government of the time as the source of all short comings. The popularity of the separatist politics of Chelvanayagam made even Ponnambalam resign from the Government, placing the Tamil community in a confrontational course with the Government of the day just two years after independence.

The legacy of the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka was that of colonial crusades, forced conscriptions, discriminatory treatment and economic exploitation. Hence it could not have picked any of those as a grievance against the now liberated Sinhala Buddhist population. But by taking the side of the Tamils it is saving itself and the status quo of the English speaking elite while projecting an image of a ‘fighter of the underdog’. Therefore with Sri Lanka gaining independence the Church changed its role from ‘blessing the aggressor’ to ‘fighting for the underdog’. That probably was the best way to check the progressive measures of the new Sri Lanka Government thereby preventing the transformation of Christian religion from the ‘patronized religion’ to the ‘religion of an insignificant minority’.

With the advent of Swabasha education the new liberated schools like Ananda and Nalanda broke the Christian monopoly on education and even the Maha Vidyalayas came to the fore with academic achievements surpassing the Christian schools. The Christian education suffered another body blow when they were taken over by the Government with progressive legislation in the 1960.s. Up to that time these Christian schools with their suave and ‘international’ standards were catering to the exclusive sections of the society producing even the leaders of the post independent Sri Lanka. Even today the English language media and the corporate sector in the country is made up of ‘old boys’ of these Christian schools. That way, what the Church could not accomplish in the form religious conversions had been compensated for in the form of conversions in culture and in thinking. In 1962 the senior police and security forces staged a coup de’tat against the elected Government of the day. All those officers who were involved were Christians and had that being successful; it was very likely that there would have been religious riots in Colombo as a corollary.

The Church had been consistently ‘sympathetic’ to the needs of the Tamils and helped them in innumerable ways to built up a Diaspora from the 1960’s. It was the Vatican through its communication network disseminated to the world the events of July 83 painting the Sinhalese Buddhist as ‘uncivilized barbarians’. From that point onwards the western funded and the Church guided National Peace Council unleashed its propaganda machine to justify all the heinous crimes committed by the LTTE as ‘retaliatory activities’ prompted by the July 83 incidents. In actual fact, by July 83 the Tamil guerillas had broken in to 15 banks and 18 police stations making it impossible for the civil administration to maintain law and order and in the North. Hence July 83 was the effect of those activities. But the NPC propaganda made July 83 a ‘cause’ to justify the killings and maiming of thousands of innocent civilians, in their homes, in their sleep, in places of worship, places of work or just on the road. Ironically even though the LTTE has now come to be known as the ‘world’s most ruthless terror organization’ none of its activities received the same publicity that July 83 received in the Vatican.

It should also be borne in mind that it was the World Council of Churches that sponsored the LTTE office in London which commenced its operation from 1984 denigrating the SL Government in general and the Sinhalese Buddhist in particular. The heads of the different Christian denominations in SL issue press statements from time to time, on the ongoing conflict, blaming mostly both parties to the Sri Lankan conflict, quite oblivious to the fact that on the one hand you have the legitimate Government of the country bending over backwards for peace and on the other the intransigent, ruthless and a totalitarian terrorist organization. They also make pilgrimages to Kilinochchi and eulogize the most ruthless terror leader and his activities. These are mostly done for the consumption of the Tamil Diaspora and the LTTE sympathizing Governments in the west.

Jesus Christ died as he had no cause even against those who plotted his murder. But the Church appears to justify the barbarism of Prabhakaran in the name of some illusive and unspecified ‘Tamil grievances’. These grievances are so holy to the Church that the Church even justifies mayhem and murder perpetrated on innocent lives in the name of these causes.

Although Buddhism is a philosophy that differs from Hinduism as a religion, practically in religious observances there is very little to choose between Buddhist and Hindu practices. They patronize the same temples and worship the same Gods. But the LTTE ‘s hatred for Buddhism is much larger than its hatred for the Sinhalese as this has been made plain by their many attacks on the Buddhist places of worship, killing of Buddhist monks and carrying out international propaganda against Buddhism in particular. When Taliban rulers decided to destroy the priceless Buddha statues in Afghanistan the whole world spoke against the act irrespective of religion, and LTTE was the only organization that issued a statement justifying the act.

The propaganda of the Church is very subtle. In spite of the ‘peace follies’ committed by successive SL Governments that bestowed a semblance of legitimacy on the LTTE, even today the Church will advocate ‘negotiations’. They wish that the legitimate Government keep talking till Prabhakaran muster enough military muscle and international diplomacy to attack and over through the Sri Lankan regime. They will express concern about ‘Human rights’ violations oblivious to the fact that the reason for these violations is the presence of a brutal terror outfit in our midst. They will loud the army excesses and provide a subtle platform for the LTTE in the international media. If a journalist wishes to expose national defense, for the benefit of the LTTE, he could always seek refuge in the Church under the guise of ‘freedom of expression’. This way the Church has been marshaling international opinion against the SL Government thereby making Sri Lanka, a pariah state in the eyes of the ‘International community’. On the face of it, there appears nothing wrong with the activities of the Church, because their modus operandi is ‘peace’, ‘human rights’ and ‘press freedom’. However, if the Government tries to muscle the Church for their subtle strategies, it will invariably stand accused of another basic violation to this list and that will be the ‘violation of the rights of the religious minorities’.

Recently the Bishop of Colombo issued a press statement on the aftermath of the visit by Ms Luise Arbour , the Directress of Human rights in the UN. This appeared to be a timely release to add pressure on Ms Arbour who in turn would add pressure on the SL Government to accommodate a UN human rights mandate in the country. Such a mandate was originally requested by the Bishop of Jaffna. The intensions of the Church are to cause foreign intervention in the country by some ruse. Because if the Sinhala Buddhist regime consolidates its power, the Church would be destined as the pontiff of an insignificant religious minority.

The son of the Bishop of Colombo Vijith de Chickera runs the Lanka Monthly Digest LMD which is very influential with the Sri Lankan business community. That too propagates ‘putative peace’, very subtly over business ethics, to the Sri Lankan corporate sector. The English media in Sri Lanka is exclusively dominated by the Christians and those with ‘western international’ mindset. Not only that they churn out putative peace propaganda day in and day out, but also acts as a filter for the international news agencies making sure that only ‘anti Sinhala Buddhist news’ gets highlighted in the international media.

The previous regime of President Chandrika Kumaranatunge came to power on a platform of ‘peace’ and survived her term on ‘peace’. But her activities caused the deaths of more than 40,000 Sinhala and Tamil lives of, the armed forces, the LTTE and the civilians. That was an unprecedented damage compared to the previous regimes. The LTTE became more nationally and internationally powerful during her time causing the most damage to the Sri Lankan economy. The Church had no compunction however, and in fact she was the darling of the Church because she shared the western concept of putative peace in Sri Lanka.

The present position of the Tamils in Sri Lanka is a far cry from what it was at the turn of independence. From the position of an ‘educated and privileged minority’ it has come down to a position of a ‘terrorist community in direct violent confrontation with the Government’. There numbers two have dwindled and the recent statistics have shown that they have been overtaken by the moor community in numbers. If the conflict prolongs in to the next decade the Sri Lankan Tamil community would be the first casualty of this conflict. Prabhakaran has long given up fighting for anything of the Tamils. He was a young bandit romantically attracted to the separatists propaganda of the Tamil elite in the 60’s and walked with all the patronage in to that platform. At 54 he is more matured now and knows only too well that his 30 year adventure has put the Tamil community 100 years behind. The enthusiasm of the Diaspora and local Tamil community has dwindled. Now he fights for his own survival with the support of the Church but at the cost of his own community.

The Church has used the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, first to build up its economy through the plantation, then to run the colonial administration and now to do the bidding for Prabhakaran to preserve its status quo.

- Asian Tribune -

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