All SLTB and private passenger bus drivers must possess a special driving certificate issued after a special training provided by the Department of Motor Traffic (DMT) with effect from June 1, Motor Traffic Department Commissioner General Jagath Chandrasiri said today.
This would be along with the driving licence, he said.
Addressing media at the DMT head office the Commissioner said the Gazette notification related to passenger transport had been issued on February 6, 2016.
Accordingly all the drivers, who transport passengers, should obtain the special certificate issued by DMT.
Three-wheeler drivers and school van drivers would be trained in the second stage.
The department had taken this decision to streamline the driver discipline and to reduce road accidents, he said.
“The special training had already been given to all Sri Lanka Transport Bus (SLTB) drivers. So far, 17,000 drivers of private buses had been given with the help of the Transport Board and the National Transport Commission (NTC).
“From June 1, bus drivers should have the new certificate to drive passenger buses,” he said.
“Newly issued driving licences will have ‘PT’ printed on them to indicate that the driver had obtained the special training. Others should possess their licence and certificate with them,” he said.
“Bus drivers who don’t have the certificate will not be allowed to take to the wheel. From last August 1 this process is in effect. It is an essential certificate for the traffic Police to check during an accident,” Mr. Chandrasiri said.
He said the bus drivers were trained in the first stage of the special passenger transport driver training programme while three-wheeler drivers and school van drivers would be trained in the second stage. (Chaturanga Pradeep)
The World Bank has officially distanced itself from the controversial Central Bank bond scam committed by ex-Governor Arjuna Mahendran citing that they are not aware of the international best practices to accurately calculate the potential loss in the case of the past bond auction.
In a letter addressed to M. S. B Ekanayake, Secretary to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on December 7, 2016, the World Bank Country Director to Sri Lanka Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough referring to the letter sent by Ekanayake dated November 18, 2016 said, “Regarding your request for comments in the above mentioned letter, we are not aware of international best practices to accurately calculate the potential loss in the case of the past bond auction. Accurately quantifying the loss would require knowledge of the actual cost of the bond placement under non-competitive allocations (a necessary counterfactual). In our view that counterfactual cannot be accurately calculated on an ex post basis as it depends on the marker conditions on the auction date.”
Despite the World Bank officially distancing itself from the controversial treasury bond scam which reportedly resulted in the country losing Rs. 1.6 billion, several State-owned publications including the Sunday Leader newspaper which is now run by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and Arjuna Mahendran’s Son-in-law Arjun Aloysius wrongfully reported the story saying that the World Bank had claimed the government had not suffered any losses as a result of the bond issue. “The World Bank was of the opinion that the government has not suffered any losses as a result of the bond issue. Wickremesinghe had submitted to the World Bank all details pertaining to Treasury bond transactions in Sri Lanka. The World Bank had praised the government on the actions taken to control debt and its tax reforms proposals,” the Sunday Leader story published today (January 29, 2017) said.
The two page letter by the World Bank country director also said that with the GOSL’s efforts and collaborative support from the World Bank, the IMF, will no doubt held enhance transparency and competition in the government and corporate bond markers, improve public debt management and bring Sri Lanka in line with international good practice.
Meanwhile, an economic expert said that the World Bank artfully got away from being a supporter of the scandalous bond transaction; under the conditions which it has laid down in the last sentence of paragraph 2 of the letter which says, one can easily calculate the potential loss; on the day of the first bond transaction, the market price of 30 year bonds was available which is a non-competitive bond price and except Perpetual Treasuries, all other dealers including NSB bid at that price.
“Even the Bank of Ceylon (BOC) bid at that price (that is, Rs 120 per Rs 100 bond) when it had submitted bids for Janashakthi Insurance (Rs 500 million) and Kalutara Bodhi Society (Rs 8 million). But the very same BOC after 10.57 am had bid at Rs 90 per Rs 100 bond on behalf of PTL in three bids: one Rs 3 billion, and the other two Rs 5 billion each. Harsha de Silva read this letter in Parliament and the government has shamelessly prostituted World Bank into this issue. If the government is interested, it can ask itself why it sold a bond that could have been sold at Rs 120 per Rs 100 bond for Rs 90 and incurred an opportunity loss of Rs 1500 million (that is: [(5000)/100]30 )in a single transaction. It is not World Bank at error but the government which has used an explanatory letter from World Bank for its own petty political gains,” he said.
Meanwhile a senior official at the finance ministry said that it was very unfortunate how the government has dragged the World Bank into this bond scam soup. “The government is so desperate that it will hand on to any straw in its attempt to float instead of drowning. This is a very sad situation,” the office told Colombo Telegraph.
Good Governance a key challenge Sri Lanka has faced and spectacularly failed to deliver for most of its modern history. This challenge is not only about individuals, but systemic, spread across all spheres: socio-economic, political, judicial, cultural, arts and science. Most countries across the world have also suffered the scourge of corruption, some have succeeded in partially alleviating its pernicious influence; most like Sri Lanka have failed.
In December 2014, the presidential candidate Mr Maithripala Sirisena signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with 49 political parties and civil society organisations. This MOU refers to four immediate tasks and additional measures that were to be initiated in the first hundred days since formation of the new government. The first measure to be initiated was:
“immediately prevent, through greater transparency and accountability, the present unprecedented large scale fraud, corruption, bribery and earning of commissions as well as the wastage of public funds; take action according to law to deal with abuses that have been committed.”
At an Anti-Corruption Summit held in London, President Sirisena assured the full commitment of the government of Sri Lanka in taking firm action against corruption. He also added that “corruption was a factor in promoting political and other forms of violence, as evidenced in Sri Lanka during the previous administration”, and that “it was the people, who acted democratically against corruption, by electing new leaders”.
Once in power, President Sirisena appointed a new Director General to the Commission on Bribery and Corruption. In the past, this commission hardly probed any bribery cases due to heavy political interference. Even under the new set up, institutional and political obstacles to effective legal action have been substantial. As evidenced by the President’s displeasure when the Commission brought ex-president’s sons, brothers, particularly the former defence secretary and top officials of the previous regime to court on corruption charges. The President declared that he will have to take action, if the Bribery Commission and the two Police divisions investigating corruption were “working according to a political agenda“, and implied that these agencies were favouring the United National Party. Following his allegations, the new Director General of the Commission on Bribery and Corruption tendered her resignation.
Given corruption is an international phenomenon it requires global solutions. Certain countries have financial institutions with systems designed to accept laundered black money. They are abetted by certain lawyers, accountants and their consulting companies that facilitate such corrupt transactions. It is well-known that firms of wealthy nations offer large bribes to institutions and powerful politicians in many developing countries. Information available on international financial flow indicates that “money is moving from poor to wealthy countries in ways that fundamentally undermine development”.
Corruption and bribery undermines the rule of law, impedes development, and promotes bad governance. Therefore, in any economy the greatest threat to development is endemic corruption. Corruption-free government is believed necessary for the development of a country. Corruption is considered a major challenge to ending extreme poverty by 2030 and achieving the sustainable development goals. According to the World Bank Group, annually about $1 trillion is paid in bribes around the world. The total economic loss is estimated to be many times this. In addition, empirical studies have consistently shown that the poor pay the highest percentage of their income in paying bribes. Every stolen rupee robs the poor of an equal opportunity in life (World Bank, 2016).
Corruption diverts resources towards the corrupt entities and individuals, both in the private and public sectors; and away from the critical services needed such as education, healthcare, drinking water etc. Notoriously crooked leaders continue to enjoy extravagance at the expense of those living in extreme poverty. Transparency International (TI) indicates that five of the ten most corrupt countries also rank among the ten most violent countries in the world. Even in countries where there is no open conflict, the levels of inequality and poverty are extreme. Countries in Northern Europe are found to be the least corrupt. However, it does not mean they have no links to corruption elsewhere in the globe. Half of all OECD countries are found to violate their international obligations to crack down on corrupt activities of their companies abroad.
For the purpose of our discussion here, the terms ‘bribery’ and ‘corruption’ are used interchangeably.
Corruption and Bribery
Corruption is generally defined as abuse of authority for personal and private gain. Corruption includes both offering and taking bribes, civil servants dishonestly using their authority to influence decisions; fraud, blackmail, election bribery and illegal gambling (OTSI, 2010, 4). A bribe is “a sum of money, services etc. given or offered to somebody in return for some, often dishonest help”. A framework based on Corporate Strategic Responsibility (CSR) provides an opportunity to not only curb corruption, but also benefit from managing the level of corruption. The degree of reporting on anti-corruption is a strong indicator of the quality and completeness of an entity’s efforts in addressing bribery and corruption.
According to TI, corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political, ‘depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs’. Corruption manifests itself in diverse forms, such as embezzlement through theft of public resources, extortion through threats and intimidations, promoting favouritism, and bribery in the form of kickbacks, gratuities, pay-offs, grease money etc. Bribery is defined as “the act of promising, giving, receiving, or agreeing to receive money or some other item of value with the corrupt aim of influencing a public official in the discharge of his official duties. When money has been offered or promised in exchange for a corrupt act, the official involved need not actually accomplish that act for the offense of bribery to be complete.”
The Anti-Corruption Summit held in London last May was intended to deal with major global corruption issues including secrecy in the movement of money around the financial system, fighting corruption in public contracting, health and sports. Recognising the role of civil society and journalists in anti-corruption work, a commitment was made to see that governments provide them with greater protection. Despite forty countries signing up to general principles and a global declaration, with some countries making specific country commitments, many major economies did not make serious commitments like Brazil and China.
Corruption in Sri Lanka
TI has rated Sri Lanka very high in its Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Successive Sri Lankan regimes including the current one, have demonstrated their disregard and/or purposeful sabotage of any effective established frameworks to fight corruption. The law enforcement mechanisms in Sri Lanka itself appear corrupt. Successive governments have come to power pledging during the elections to eradicate bribery and corruption; in spite of this, corruption has penetrated the public sector from top to bottom. Despite some media sources exposing corruption scandals at times, authorities have not even bothered to respond to the allegations. In Sri Lanka, for a citizen, resident or a visitor to get anything done, it is credibly alleged that some form of monetary inducement is essential. Nepotism and cronyism prevail in making appointments to government and state-owned institutions. Certain sources have also described the procedure for prosecution on corruption charges is mostly difficult.
Corruption is endemic. Such instances include getting a child admitted to a school, for a person being investigated to be treated leniently, for getting an application processed at a reasonable time, for winning contracts, for taking part in or securing a win in certain sports, for saving life during the times of enforced disappearances, etc., the need to pay a ransom has become the common experience. For six decades, major political parties have been engaged in corrupt practices and bribing voters during election times by distributing food parcels, dry rations and liquor, and more recently applications for jobs, housing and bank loans, cement bags, zinc and asbestos sheets, and sil redhi. These political parties have vastly contributed to making these corrupt practices reach the Olympian heights it has now reached.
In 2014 and 2015 the situation in Sri Lanka was quite similar to the above. In 2012 the CPI for Sri Lanka was 40 out of 100, in 2014 it was 38, and in 2015 it was 37. It ranked 91 among 177 in 2013, 85 among 175 in 2014, and 83 among 168 in 2015. Despite the marginal improvement shown during this period, the CPI of Sri Lanka for 2016 has worsened to 95 among 176 countries.
According to recent reports there are some 750,000 court cases pending in the lower courts of the Sri Lankan judiciary. The regime or its judicial bureaucracy do not appear to be interested in taking measures to expedite these cases. Legal redress is also expensive. There are many cases of land disputes running close to half a century and suspects are held with no charges for many years under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. One can say that this is a corrupt system designed to make more money at the expense of the poor. Judicial corruption has also placed the regime in an uncomfortable situation internationally. At the UNHRC, the regime conceded that the people have lost trust and confidence in the justice system. Thus the Sri Lankan regime had to agree to set up a judicial mechanism with international dimension to try serious crimes committed against humanity.
It is safe to say that corruption has become a way of life in Sri Lanka, not only at the level of politicians and bureaucrats, but also at the grassroots level. Therefore, the political will at the highest levels of government to rectify the issues has been almost non-existent. Whenever charges of corruption have been laid, more often than not the cases do not succeed. In this environment, blatant and grand scale corruption and financial crimes carried out with impunity under the previous regime, does not only continue, but has reached new heights under the new dispensation.
Management of Corruption in Sri Lanka
If we cannot eliminate corruption given its deep entrenchment in the last six decades or so; we need to at least try and stop its exponential growth. At an individual level, there are people who at a high personal cost to themselves, do not engage in corruption. If as individuals offering and accepting bribes can be refused, and in work situations authority is not used to dishonestly influence decisions through fraud and blackmail, ultimately one could hold onto a good conscience of being ‘free of corruption’. This is an extremely difficult task given that certain professional organisations and individuals in the capitalist set up, assist those corrupt entities and individuals to hide without trace, their nefarious activities.
Bribery had been made a punishable offence in Sri Lanka under the Penal Code since 1883. In 1954, the Bribery Act was enacted to contain bribery in Public Service. In 1958, the Act No.40 established the Bribery Commissioner’s Department under the Ministry of Justice, as the main body responsible for investigating corruption allegations brought to its attention and instituting proceedings. In 1994, the Act no.19 created the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC). It commenced its activities in December 1994, but it had no noticeable effect on the level of corruption. However, the CIABOC appears to have failed to conduct a credible and independent investigation into complaints made against it in the Supreme Court. The CIABOC was compelled to do so, when Supreme Court directed it to initiate an inquiry into one such complaint as expeditiously as possible.
Sri Lanka has ratified the UN Anti-Corruption Convention. It also signed the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, but did not ratify it. Sri Lanka is also a signatory to the OECD-ADB Anti-Corruption Regional Plan. In February 2015, the government established the Financial Investigation Division (FCID) for investigating major financial crimes, frauds, unsolicited mega projects, major financial crimes against public property, money laundering, terrorist financing, illegal financial transactions, unlawful enrichments and offences on financial crimes against national security.
Despite, being generally considered to have adequate laws and regulations to combat corruption, the Country Report of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor indicated that corruption exists in the executive and legislative branches of the government. When previous regimes used anti-terrorism legislation to gag debates on corruption, the governance system degenerated. Even those who were usually critical of such issues became extremely silent on the issue. Concerns were raised at the time about promoting police officers accused of bribery, corruption and fraud. Yet, when all police promotions were later revealed to had been carried out on the President’s advice everybody went silent. Overseas firms identified corruption as a constraint on foreign investment, though it was not considered a major threat to operating in the country, at least once a contract was won.
Social Bribes and Growth of Corruption
Effective anti-corruption measures such as right to information, whistle blower protection and witness protection are needed to be in place to control corruption. Recently enacted Right to Information Act remain to be tested in practice to ascertain whether it would ensure access to information to all stakeholders in a timely manner and in sufficient detail. Elimination of corruption in the public sector requires CIABOC to have adequate human and infrastructure resources, be more independent and empowered.
The causes and effects of corruption and the strategies to prevent it have been in the agenda of government policy makers for a very long time (Hoi and Lin, 2012). Historically governments have t been more powerful than business corporations, and could regulate the limits to the exploitation by corporations. However, it is a changed world now, where globalisation and corporatisation are predominant. Currently the neo-liberal urge for lower production costs to maximise profits drives the globalisation trend. So lower costs of labour, raw materials, logistics have become the prime driver. Consumerism heightened by artificially created demand underpins this neo-liberal trend. This process has swallowed up entire societies including most politicians. Those who could inject capital investments have become to govern all aspects of politics. Bribery and corruption have become one of the central tools in manipulating governments, its systems and politicians.
To elicit investment, national governments have to offer inducements to large transnational corporations such as guaranteed rates of return, viability gap financing, tax exemptions, free land for projects, publicly developed infrastructure and opportunities for capital gains and immunity from labour laws in Free Trade Zones (FTZ), or Special Economic Zones (SEZ). Abolition of long-term capital gains tax exempts them from paying taxes on gains they make from stock-market speculation. These demands from large transnational corporations are becoming increasingly aggressive, for instance, the demands for zero taxation in FTZs and SEZs and exemptions from paying corporate income tax for manufacturing as a whole.
Simultaneously, offering tax concessions and other perks make national governments lose their revenue. Thus, funds available for spending on public education, public health, healthcare including sanitation and rural infrastructure become less. The marginalised are increasingly compelled to seek private sources to fulfil their educational and healthcare needs. So, people start paying high prices for such services. National governments are compelled to turn to financial agencies, who are in turn funded by large transnational corporations. Those agencies start offering assistance packages conditional to carrying out structural reforms. Hence, national governments impose measures to further reduce welfare provisions and introduce a user pays system, which penalises the poor.
At the same time, business corporations and local regimes have become experts not only at manufacturing consent, but also in manipulating dissent. So, corrupt cronies donate generously to programs led by major political parties, and in turn the campaigns of such political parties receive huge ICT backing. Thus, civil society needs to become aware of this fact, and then they will be able to pre-empt efforts to derail the anti-corruption movement from within.
From the above discussion, it is clear that corruption is not simply a moral question – it is also political. It requires concerted attention of governments and business firms, particularly in the developed world. Successful anti-corruption efforts need to be led by the joint efforts of both private and public sectors and the public – including politicians, senior public officials, citizens, communities, and civil society organisations. For this to succeed, capable, transparent, and accountable institutions need to be developed at the national, regional and global level to build, design and implement anticorruption programs.
Corruption thrives because those who are corrupt intimidate and or deceive the general public by manipulating information. Both business corporations and governments extensively spin or frame information to manage perceptions. On many occasions, they have managed to convince the public not to question their bribery, corruption and unethical practices. Hence, educating ourselves to be vigilant is essential. When police officers ask for bribes to perform routine services, when tender boards unfairly and unethically determine the winners of government contracts, when public officials make awards favouring their friends or relatives, or when employees who are simply paid for signing on a register and hanging around idly, they must be exposed. It is an essential task for civic society.
This also requires a paradigm change in the orientation and mechanisms used for both growth and governance. This struggle needs to be directed not only against mega financial swindles like the Central Bank scam and other macro issues, but also against micro-level corruption that is all-pervasive in everyday life. This is an uphill task given the insidious way corruption has infected every layer of society and institutions both in the public and private sectors in Sri Lanka.
The working people of Sri Lanka, and civil society organisations need to undertake this responsibility. Given the circumstances, only they can gather the courage, commitment, strength and momentum to fight the aggressive policies of large business corporations. Working people have to counter corruption starting at micro level against specific corrupt and fraudulent practices at their own work places. Fighting corrupt onslaughts of capital needs to establish participative democracy at work places. Yet, this could happen only with a major qualitative social transformation. If processes are transparent and open, corrupt practices become exposed, which makes it easier to manage, control and finally eliminate it. Hence the broad people’s movement must become the backbone against corruption. The working people needs to become the most organised contingent to fight against the corrupt onslaught.
So, it becomes our responsibility to demand the confiscating of properties politicians and bureaucrats have corruptly acquired, and banning corporate lobbying. The working people needs to demand the establishment of effective anti-corruption legislation and a credible institutional mechanism to prosecute and punish the guilty. The people also needs to demand maintaining an open register of the entities that utilises black money in their business transactions using initiatives such as Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements with other states. The black money already stashed in foreign tax havens need to brought back for public investments. The black money hidden locally should be found and confiscated, and those involved in such scams including those in the bureaucracy and professional entities need to brought to justice.
To quote “Unmask the Corrupt”:
Grand corruption is the abuse of high-level power that benefits the few at the expense of the many, and causes serious and widespread harm to individuals and society. It often goes unpunished. It concerns millions of victims around the world. It’s time the corrupt face the consequences for their crimes. Together we can make that happen!
 In addition, when the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police probed the allegations against military intelligence, several military intelligence officers were remanded regarding certain cases of disappearances and killings (including the 2010 abduction of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda and the suspicious 2012 death of rugby player Wasim Thajudeen) that occurred during and after the final stages of the war. The Rajapaksa’s were critical of the regime for these arrests. The current President also weighed in and most of the suspects, Rajapaksas and army intelligence officials who had been in remand custody, were released from custody.
 For example, 70 percent of the Angolan population lives on USD 2 a day or less. One in six children dies before the age of five. More than 150,000 children die each year. However, Forbes consider that Angola’s President’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos is the richest woman not only in Angola, but also the whole of Africa.
 For example, Sweden is the third in the index; however, the Swedish-Finnish firm TeliaSonera is alleged to have paid millions of dollars in bribes to secure business in Uzbekistan, which comes in at 153rd in the index. At the same time, half of all OECD countries are found to violate their international obligations to crack down on bribery by their companies abroad.
 Acts ‘committed at a high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state, enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good’.
 ‘Everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- and mid-level public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies.’
 Manipulation of ‘policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth’.
 Such as state officials stealing from the public institutions where they are employed, or regime leaders stealing from the treasury. In Indonesia, when Suharto was in power, he allegedly embezzled up to $US35 billion from the country (Hodess, Robin, Tania Inowlocki, Diana Rodriguez, and Toby Wolfe, eds. 2004. Global corruption report. London: Pluto Press).
 When the rule of law is weak, this may be carried out by mafia groups blackmailing state officials, or certain state officials threatening to take sort of punitive action.
 Disposition to favour and promote the interest of one person or persons to the disregard of others having equal claims. Privatisation, exploitation of natural resources, regulations provide ample opportunities to play favourites and extract personal gains. Nepotism is another form of favouritism, for example, hiring and promotion of individuals based on family or other personal relations rather than merit. In the public sector, this may take the form of authority to hire or promote someone, thus the person abusing authority benefitting from it, although not necessarily in monetary terms (Admundsen, Inge. 2000. Corruption: Definitions and concepts. Chr. Michelsen Institute Working Paper).
 Individuals or organisations offering bribes to authorities who can make contracts on behalf of the state or make decisions on using public funds to influence their decisions regarding particular issues.
 On September 20, the government indicted former Deputy Defence Minister on charges of bribery. Allegations have been levelled against the current Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. At the time, there was no law that provides for public access and retrieval of relevant government information. However, in June 2016, the Parliament enacted the Right to Information (RTI) bill.
 The intent of the Act was “to provide for the establishment of a permanent commission to investigate allegations of bribery or corruption and to direct the institution of prosecutions for offences under the Bribery Act and the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law No.1 of 1975…“.
“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.” ~Bertrand Russell
In pursuit of a solution to Sri Lanka’s nagging problem, the Tamil Question, most of our leaders chose to ignore the obvious and dug deep into the respective distorted histories of the two ethnic communities; they inhabited a comfort zone of historical superiorities, cultural dominances and vituperative politics of the times. They lacked empathy; they lacked understanding and they sadly lacked spine to tell their own supporters that there is another way but a difficult one, a more realistic one and a more honest one. When leadership fails, the whole campaign fails; when leadership slips, the supporting crews go astray and when leadership deliberately misleads, the followers swallow the sweeter pill and disregard the more unpalatable truth. On both sides, Sinhalese and Tamil are plastered with this ugly signature of chauvinism which is mistaken for patriotism.
In a haze of inscrutably vicious landscape, Kadiresan in the North and Hearth in the arid, dry zone in the North Central province, till their land and harvest their crop, bathe in the fresh waters of the Mahaweli or off the Aandi well (AandiLinda), clothe their young children before they set off to school with the same intense, selfless love and hope. They have immense faith in their religion, whether, Hinduism or Buddhism. They, with all their superstitions and unbending loyalty to their clergy, hold human values as dear and all-enriching; their moral compass has been set at their childhood by their parents and elders, all-unifying and all-encompassing. When they have an issue with the deed of their land and property, they trek to the closest government office, Kachcheri or a divisional secretariat, they hope to transact their problems in their own language and if it had to be referred to a court of law, they need to understand the language in which the court is transacting their business. Among the fundamental demands of the Tamil population has been the language in which our courts conducted their cases. If the language is not understood by the litigants or the accused, as in the case of Silindu in Leonard Wolfe’s ‘Village in the Jungle’, an obvious denial of fundamental rights has taken place and the majority Sinhalese, the ethnic group from which our Herath and our successive political leadership hail, are, if not guilty of deliberate suppression of those rights of the Tamils, are guilty of gross negligence in applying the rule of law due to ignorance.
The crux of the Tamil Question is language and land. These two elements remain the center of gravity for each and every ethnic group, every race and every nation. ‘The Land the Race and the Faith’ (Rata, Deya, Samaya), according to Professor Jeyaratnam Wilson, the then lecturer at the University of Ceylon and later University of New Brunswick, who also happened to be the son-in-law of S J V Chelvanayakam, the leader of Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) commonly known as the Federal Party, was the proud badge of the majority Sinhalese Buddhists. It was so then and it is certainly so now. But where has it taken the majority? A majority living with a ‘minority’ mindset because every argument for and against a true reconciliation with a minority that is tormented by its own history, a minority that is cooped up in a world of celluloid heroes and fairytale-cocoons, a minority who has been more sinned against than sinning, yet has committed more killings in the name of a criminal leader such as Prabhakaran than in the name of their proud Tamil heritage are all what the current impasse this troublesome issue is confronted with.
From the early part of the Twentieth Century, the harassing questions the Tamil community had to face thrown at them by the Sinhala-dominated national leadership, despite the undeniable support they received from the leaders of the Tamil community in the likes of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, still remain unchanged and unresolved. After hundreds of their militant cadres were sacrificed at the altar of Elam, the ‘Tamil Question’ is now being addressed in a totally different context. The context has shifted from one of Tamil militancy to ‘Tamil support’ for the election of a friendly Executive President and an empathetic Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.
In politics it’s context that matters. When the context changes, the resultant setting of circumstances begin to dictate the path each party to the issue takes. If and when the parties start seeing the changed circumstances and shifted paradigm, there might be a ray of hope. If, on the contrary, the parties revert back to the old failed formula of bickering one-upmanship, the wound only will get more grave and its stench more insufferable. Yet politics is all timing. The Tamil leaders must realize one major reality. Never in their wildest dreams would they have got a friendlier regime to deal with than the one they have got at present. Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe owe them a load of gratitude for their being in power. The overwhelming Tamil vote was one of the three blocs of votes that helped Maithripala Sirisena’s election- the other two being the Muslim and 100% of the UNP vote. President Sirisena simply cannot look the other way when the legitimate issues and legitimate solutions are staring him in the face.
Then we have to face the other context- the ‘Rajapaksa phenomenon’. The lengths and breadths the Rajapaksas have attempted to drive the majority Sinhala-Buddhist community with the vocal as well as material support of the various Bala Kayas and Sènas- led by the notorious Galagoda Atte Gnanasara etc.- cannot be disregarded as ‘good-for-nothing’. Nor would an overwhelming majority of Sinhalese Buddhists forget the ‘war-victory’ against the brutal massacres of Sinhalese Buddhists by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LLTE) and its leader Prabhakaran. The wages of war are very high and sometimes come back to hurt you at the most unexpected times. History has shown us that those who disregard the past events, their development through a tough and unfriendly terrain and the unambiguous triumphs those events have led to, have suffered irreversible defeat at the political front. Within that context of ‘war-victory’, the Rajapaksas still hold a great advantage and it is that advantage that they are using now to galvanize a people who have been taught and nurtured and nourished from their school days. We all have learned our national history; it abounds with stories of bravery, uniqueness and patriotism. The awe-inspiring saga of King Dutu Gamunu, subliminal tales of the advent of Buddhism during King Devanampiyatissa, monumental edifices of Kashyapa’s Sigiri, King Parakrama Bahu’s stupendous construction of massive tanks, King Dathusena’s Kala Wewa and Aukana Buddha Statue and Samadhi Buddha Statue, the magnificent rock statues of Gal Vihare, Isurumuniya lovers and other numerous accomplishments are not only used by power-hungry politicians of the level of the Rajapaksas, they have endured to inspire a nation for more than two thousand five hundred years.
When the Tamil leadership sits at the table opposite to their Sinhalese equivalents, that shimmering glorious history is also at the table as an invisible counterpart. The Rajapaksas are aware of it. Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremasinghe should be aware of it. Now can you see the context? It has changed and it will continue to haunt many generations of Tamils to come.
Pondering on the reality of a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka, Professor A J Wilson in the preface to ‘The Break-up of Sri Lanka’ writes thus: “At present this is a state of mind; for it to become a territorial reality is a question of time. Patchwork compromises, even if underwritten by New Delhi, are passing phenomena. The fact of the matter is that under various guises the Sinhalese elites have refused to share power with the principal ethnic minority, the Tamils. The transfer of power by Britain to the Sinhalese ethnic majority in 1948 brought in its wake an unfortunate train of events which can best be described as a loss of perspective on the part of the Sinhalese political elites. Their anxiety for power led to the abandonment of principle”. When Wilson wrote this, the context of the ‘Tamil Question’ was quite different. The militancy of a rising Tamil movement was getting stronger by the day; open alliance with the Tamilnadu government led by M G Ramachandran and covert assistance of the Indian Center led by Indira Gandhi contributed to an fictional reality of a separate state. The year 2009 changed all that and more.
Today when they sit opposite to each other, the two communities are not equal anymore; one is a defeated enemy, the other a representative of a triumphant community. Yet the Sri Lankan Constitution guarantees equality to all people, irrespective of caste, creed, color and religion, among others. The Sinhalese are facing equal men and women at a roundtable forum, but in an unequal context. The solution needs to be one of unmitigated fairness and justice. There are no heroes; there are no traitors; only men and women trying to live with each other.
This paper celebrates the 85 years of universal suffrage in Sri Lanka that came with the Donoughmore Constitution in 1931 with its inherent idea of equality of all persons. This constitution in turn led to the Soulbury Constitution of 1946 which entrenched equality of all citizens and through Article 29 prohibited Parliament from enacting laws that did not treat citizens equally.
However, with a view to reinforcing that highpoint in our achievements, this paper then focuses on how electoral politics has the weakness of candidates having to appeal to differences in identity to outbid others for votes and win. Thus our high achievements were rolled back in the 1972 republican constitution which did away with Article 29 and favoured Buddhism, making lesser citizens of those who are not Buddhists. This regressive change was not corrected in the 1978 constitution that followed and demeaned our democracy further with authoritarian elements. The best part of our colonial heritage was annulled by our own indigenous mismanagement.
As a new constitution is being drafted, these are matters to be thought about and learnt from to ensure that we return to our highpoint as a democratic nation.
The Legacy of Equality and Human Rights
The world is getting to be a better place. As Time put it, Human rights is the legacy of the twentieth century. Our stronger democratic institutions and our human rights legacy strengthen each other.
This march towards an increasingly better democracy came to us in Sri Lanka with the Donoughmore constitution which for the first time gave us Sri Lankans “one-man, one vote.” Whether man or woman, whether Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim, whether Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim or something else, whether high caste or not, whether we liked a member of a group or not, one was entitled to one (and only one) vote. Intrinsic to this was the revolutionary idea in our feudal society that we are all equal. We had universal adult franchise to choose our representatives and take us into a modern egalitarian society.
The Commissioners were Lord Donoughmore an Irish Peer (Chairman), and Dr. Drummond-Shiels and Frances Butler, both MPs. Donoughmore is said to have been a champion for women’s right to university education. Sir Matthew Nathan served during 1927-1928.
Roll-back on Equality
Universal suffrage and one-man one vote put Sri Lanka on the threshold of the new equality between persons making us very proud. Naturally the 1946 Soulbury Constitution that readied us for independence reinforced the idea of equality of all person through Article 29 which limited the legislative powers of Parliament. Article 29 is reproduced here drawing particular attention to 29(2):
(1) Subject to the provisions of this Order, Parliament shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Island.
(2) No such law shall –
(a) prohibit or restrict the free exercise of any religion; or
(b) make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions are not made liable; or
(c) confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions, or
(d) alter the constitution of any religious body except with the consent of the governing authority of that body, so, however, that in any case where a religious body is incorporated by law, no such alteration shall be made except at the request of the governing authority of that body:
That is, no law could confer an advantage or impose a disadvantage unless it was done to all communities. In addition to this guarantee was the right to appeal to the Privy Council.
This faith in appeal to the Privy Council in London was reinforced when the Privy Council ruled in “Bribery Commissioner Versus Ranasinghe that Article 29(2) cannot be amended even with a two-thirds majority” and that Section 29(2) represents “the solemn balance of rights between the citizens of Ceylon, the fundamental condition on which inter se they accepted the constitution and these are therefore unalterable…” (http://swarb.co.uk/the-bribery-commissioner-v-ranasinghe-pc-5-may-1964/).
However, in 1962, when S. Kodeswaran, a government employee adversely affected by the Official Language Act of 1956, challenged the government claiming that in passing that Act, it had violated Section 29 of the constitution, Judge (later Justice) O.L. de Krester agreed. The Government took up the matter at the Supreme Court which, without considering the substantive constitutional issue, ruled that the Government could not be sued. Kodeswaran appealed to the Privy Council which found with him and directed the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutional question (72 New Law Reports, p.337). That never happened because the Supreme Court was hesitant to rule on the constitutionality of the Official Language Act and Mrs. Bandaranaike, immediately upon coming to power in 1970, passed Act No. 44 of 1971 which abolished appeals to the Privy Council.
Minorities have always viewed foreign judges at the Privy Council as relatively fair and neutral arbiters while the Sinhalese majority saw them as a colonial intrusion into their sovereignty. That same argument is being played out again today in the War Crimes issue.
It must however be kept in mind that the right to appeal to a tribunal outside the jurisdiction of the state, enhances the rights of an individual and is a salutary check on judicial processes at home. But all human institutions are fallible and no limitation need be placed on the right to appeal. It is well to remember that the 1953 Privy Council ruling which supported the Government, and the Supreme Court’s ruling, on the denial of the franchise to labour of Indian origin, remains a matter of deep controversy. The Citizenship Act marked the dethroning of the Donoughmore ethos. Apparently, administrative actions could not be questioned under Article 29. Nonetheless, the meager protection that the article afforded to minorities was removed.
In 1972, the new Republican Constitution drafted by Colvin R. de Silva, failed to incorporate even this weak Section 29. Worse, Article 9 of the new Constitution (which required removing the old constitution’s Article 29) stated:
The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).
No longer is everyone equal. If one is Buddhist, ones religion will be protected and fostered by the state, but not if one is not a Buddhist. The equality between people conferred by the Donoughmore constitution’s concept of one-man, one-vote and explicit in Article 29 of the Soulbury Constitution, had been rolled back.
As a new Constitution is being discussed in 2016, the ruling coalition at the Seventieth Anniversary UNP Rally on 10 Sept. 2016 announced that this pernicious clause will be retained. These are sad times for all of us wanting a secular Sri Lanka.
Identity Politics and Caste: Spoilers in the Egalitarian Order
How did we mess up our system of governance? It was through identity politics that emphasizes differences among people. Doing away with Article 29 and making Buddhism effectively the state religion were means by which politicians tried to outbid each other for votes by offering advantages to one community over others.
Even as we celebrate 85 years of the new Donoughmore era and the egalitarian ethos that it ushered in through the publication of this volume, we have just noted a flaw in our system of constitutional governance without the protection of Article 29 of the Soulbury Constitution and in the special status and protection afforded to Buddhism in the two republican constitutions that followed in 1972 and 1978. In our enthusiasm to celebrate our democratic heritage, in our pride in our making history as one of the first nations to have universal adult franchise, we have a reluctance to recognize the problems that came with the Donoughmore Constitution. We are blind to our weaknesses while outside observers will quickly see through the fictional self-serving arguments about sovereignty to keep out the Privy Council and foster Buddhism.
Democracy and its corollary of universal adult suffrage exacerbated what A.R. Mohammed Imtiyaz and Hoole (2011) call identity politics and the use of ethnic symbols in politics to prey on the candidates’ and voters’ identity to reap exploitative advantages from their communal identity. Giving Buddhism foremost position and protection is a result of this identity politics. Few (other than Sri Lankan Buddhists) would buy the argument that the foremost position given to Buddhism does not create two classes of citizens. This is why having outside points of reference (such as the Privy Council – too late for that now – and the UNHRC, the International Criminal Court under the Rome Statute, the International Court of Justice in the Hague, etc.) will always be salubrious to us as a nation and make for true nation-building.
What then is this identity politics? According to North, Shaw, Grossmann and Lipsitz (2015), five factors influence how voters vote:
1) Social identity. Social identity – the class background, ethnicity, and/or religion of the voter – affects who voters tend to choose in an election. Parties tend to cater to social groups in order to garner loyalty, and during a campaign are likely to “remind” any aligned social groups that they are the best choice through ads and their basic messages.
2) Voters’party identification. Party identification or voters’ psychological attachment to a political party – not just affiliation with a particular political ideology or opinion. Usually, citizens tend to learn party affiliation early in life, from family or social ties, as well as the political context during which a citizen grows up.
3) The national economy. The state of the national economy is seen as a reflection of incumbent performance, and voters respond accordingly—rewarding incumbents when the country prospers, and punishing either the incumbents or their political party when it is not.
4) Policy issues. Although these are one of the five factors, policy issues are not as important as the aforementioned three factors, but certain voters will also make choices based on specific policy choices. Candidates accordingly try and adjust their positions on these issues to ones which they believe will gain them the most votes. In most cases, however, issue voters still tend to vote on party lines if they are also affiliated with a party, so policy issues are still of secondary importance.
5) Candidate Traits: There is conflicting evidence as to whether candidate traits affect voter choice in elections. In general, most campaigns function with the assumption that voters tend to take both physical attributes and personality into consideration when making their decision on whom they vote for in an election. Appearance and personality, however, will only typically matter significantly when party affiliation has already been accounted for, and in smaller elections when other information is not as readily available and distributed.
Thus we see that a focus on policy during an election campaign is not as rewarding in winning as would drawing attention to the social background of a candidate be. While party loyalty is the second-most important factor, voter choice based on party is usually already predetermined in a campaign and there is nothing much to be gained by appealing to party loyalty.
Therefore election campaigns tend to draw attention to a candidate’s social background. An example would be the debate over who should be the next Prime Minister of Sri Lanka when the United People’s Freedom Alliance won a majority at the elections on 2 April 2004. Lakshman Kadirgamar, the very successful Foreign Minister in an earlier government, was widely talked about, but, going by newspaper debates of the time, his ethnicity worked against him and Mahinda Rajapakse was appointed. Where it is not acceptable to attack a person on his ethnicity directly, it is done by proxies. An example is Mark Burns, who has been described by CNN (1 Sept. 2016) as Donald Trump’s most prominent black surrogate. Burns had tweeted a message depicting Trump’s rival Hilary Clinton in a black face and speaking in dialect. The message seemed to be that her appeal came from Blacks and therefore White voters should think carefully before voting for her.
As a result of policy issues being much lower than identity in importance when it comes to voter choice, Sri Lankan Tamil politics has tended to focus on identity issues – Tamil Versus Sinhalese issues – like the government blanketing the North-East with the army, detention of Tamils without charge under the PTA, refugee resettlement and lands occupied by the army. Taking these up is indeed very right. However, what is wrong is the neglect of bread and butter issues like the Northern Province having the lowest performance in examinations and the highest consumption of liquor; and the Districts of Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Mannar being denuded of people and having the lowest population density. President Sirisena has noted that “There are three districts which pay very high amounts of taxes on liquor. Jaffna is the first. Nuwara Elya comes second while Batticaloa ranks the third.” He added that the people of Nuwara Eliya spend Rs. 16 Billion per year on liquor and tobacco (The Island, 26 June, 2016). It should be of high interest and concern to Tamil representatives but no one seems to care. Ignoring this, however, makes good electoral sense!
In trying to outbid each other for votes, the TNA and its opponents in the TMP (Thamil Makkal Peravai) spend so much energy that they do not have time for the less rewarding exercise of talking of these bread and butter issues. They talk mainly about identity issues which make a real difference in voter choice. To cite two examples, in the examination for the intake of nurses, Mullaitivu, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya performed abysmally with under 10 persons qualifying from some of these districts while many Sinhalese districts had hundreds qualifying from each. Secondly, when the Election Commission conducted a test to select staff, Tamils performed very badly, especially from Mullaitivu. Interestingly in the two-part test on IQ and language skills, the IQ part had Tamil students getting 80, 90 and so on, but in the Tamil language part the same students obtained 15, 20 and so on. This surely is not a plot by the Sinhalese to put down Tamils. When Tamils are the examiners, it may be safely said that there is something seriously wrong in the way we teach the Tamil language.
But who cares, under identity politics? Not the TNA which has been overwhelmingly chosen by the Tamil voters as their representatives; extrapolating from the second most important of the five reasons why voters vote for a candidate as given by North et al. (2015), presumably out of blind loyalty to the House symbol. Not the TMP which wants to replace the TNA as the representatives of the Tamils. Neither is interested because speaking on identity issues is more effective in getting support.
Thus, the Donoughmore constitution brought to us not only equality and the right to representative government, but our mismanagement of our beautiful heritage has also brought to us the many communal ills that have plagued us since, through bidding for votes by raising and playing up identity issues.
The most profitable and effective campaign message for a candidate, therefore, will draw attention to the fact that that the candidate has the same background as the voter. Similarly, the most effective campaign message against a candidate would draw attention to that candidate’s social background being contrary to that of the voter. This is the identity politics spawned by the Donoughmore era.
As elections and election campaigns came to centre stage in our lives determining the direction of our nation, we see many Christian politicians converting to Buddhism to identify with the majority of Sri Lankan voters. This brought to us Sri Lankans the phrase Donoughmore Buddhists to designate Christians who became Buddhists to play identity politics and thereby attract votes.
Accordingly, we see J.R. Jayewardene, the Anglican choirboy at St. Michael’s Church, Polwatte (in Colpetty), being among the earliest to play the Buddhist card openly (Rajan Hoole, 2001). Campaigning in the 1940s against his opponent E.W. Perera for the Kelaniya seat, Jayewardene asked,
As much as I hold E.W. Perera in great esteem, how can this hallowed city of Kelaniya be represented by a Christian?
Both Jayawardene and Perera were Anglican Govigamas but Jayawardene had switched to Buddhism and this scored points over Perera.
Caste and Caste as Practised in Sri Lanka
Caste is as old as Hinduism’s most ancient texts. Although Buddhists also practise caste, we will draw from Hindu-Tamil sources because Hinduism gives us the real ideological and theological basis and justification for caste. In the Purusha story (Rig Veda, Book 10, Hymn XC) the origin of the four caste groups from Purusha, the Cosmic Man (Maha-atman and Brahman) from Proto-Indo-European religion, is mentioned:
From His face (or the mouth) came the Brahmanas (Priests). From His two arms came the Kshatriyas (Warriors). From His two thighs came the Vaishyas (Traders). From His two feet came the Sudras (Labourers).
The much venerated and oft-quoted text, the Gita, has god Krishna telling us that he created these four caste groups according to our qualities and activities (van Buitenan, 1981). So persons of the lower castes are also created with unclean habits and bad morals. The lower caste are therefore ritually polluting and are invariably associated with human and animal bodily excretions including hair and dirty clothes.
However, caste is peculiar in Sri Lanka. The four-fold Varna Caste System is the foundation of caste everywhere but we in Sri Lanka have only the bottom stratum of Sudras. We are all by definition, really low caste Sudras but in denial. When some of us call ourselves high caste, we really mean we are at the top-end of the many subcastes that make up the low caste Sudra group.
Under Hindu law Sri Lanka is an island where the lowest caste Sudras dominate because so called good caste people were prohibited from crossing the ocean (Rawlinson, 1975) and therefore from coming to Sri Lanka. As a result early last century it was found that not many Indians sympathised with the struggles of fellow Indians in South Africa because “many Hindus have no sympathy with the man who sacrifices his caste by crossing the kala pani (black water) and settling in the land of the Mlechchas” (Archer, 1918).
Since those above Sudras could not come to Sri Lanka while maintaining their purity, the Vellalas in Sri Lanka will argue that the four-fold Varna system does not apply to us. This is the means of arguing that we are not low. So Sri Lanka, except for about 2000 Brahmins who are here to service temples, besides outcastes and statistically insignificant members of the other two top three castes, has only Sudras – the lowest group of whom the agricultural castes (Govigama among the Sinhalese and Vellalas among Tamils) are at the peak. To date no major Sri Lankan party has willingly nominated a non-farmer as its prime ministerial or presidential candidate. (The exception is the early 1990s when death threats and rigging were widespread in a time of insurrection and an outcaste became President). This is because everyone knows (but will not admit) that it is difficult for a non-Govigama to contest and win.
Broadly speaking, writing from the Tamil-Hindu situation which underpins all caste structures in Sri Lanka, among these low-caste Vellala Sudras are Upper Stratum Vellalas (Uyarthara Vellalas) who are farmers and Second Class Vellalas (Irandaamthara Vellalas) like Kovias (household servants) and Nattuvar (musicians). Among the lowest stratum of Sudras are the polluting Panchamar – Paraiyar (sanitation workers), Pallar (agricultural labourers), Nalavar (toddy-tappers), Ambatter (barbers) and Vannaar (washermen). The fishing caste Karaiyas (sea-shore dwellers) are in an odd position. The Vellalas do not accept them because they trade in the killing of fish; but as fishermen they have a livelihood independent of Vellalas and stand next to Vellalas at public functions. The Sinhalese do not accept them (called Karawas in Sinhalese) as Govigama, as judged by candidatures at elections denied to them.
The Vellalas dominate intellectual life. They control what is taught in school texts. That dominance is complete. For example, Avvaiyaar the poetess has taught that only those who till the ground and live are those who truly live. This is taken to refer to farmers but the reality is that it is the Pallar who really till the ground and live. The Vellalas simply hire the Pallar and sit back. Because Vellalas teach and write books in Sri Lanka, their version is swallowed whole by everyone without a second thought and even Panchamar children repeat Avvaiyaar in classrooms in the rote system of teaching practised. The Vellala dominance of Tamil society is complete. To show that the Vellala establishment can make black into white and have everyone believe it, we will take up some examples to show what those not in that establishment face.
The grade Six Tamil language text says that Rao Bahadur C.W. Thamotharampillai, an ancestor of this writer’s, was born a Hindu and pretended to be a Christian for benefits whereas the reality is that according to America Ceylon Mission records (ACM, 1839) he was born on 30 Aug. 1832 to a Tamil Assistant Priest Cyrus Kingsbury and his wife Mary Dayton (Vayiravi and Periyai before their own baptism) and baptized as an infant on 24 Feb. 1833. Since the Vellala Hindu establishment has usurped Thamotharampillai their own, they want to elevate him further. Today short names like Thamotharampillai’s parents’ prior to their baptism, indicate low caste status but not in the old days. So the Isurupaya textbooks have changed these names to Wairavanathar and Perunthevi! This is what school children are taught. The dates and names cited are from books in this author’s possession (ACM, 1839) and this information has been published but that has not stopped the Vellala writers at Isurupaya from cooking up these stories for our school children.
Other school texts say that the unlettered Arumuga Navalar (who knew neither Hebrew nor Greek) translated the Bible into Tamil whereas the Bible had already been translated into Tamil in India and The Rev. Peter Percival and a team of missionaries working with several native assistants merely revised that translation to come up with the Jaffna Version of the Tamil Bible which on the cover page says it was translated from the original languages (JABS, 1868). To boot, Navalar who was Percival’s Man-Friday, quarreled bitterly and split with Percival taking away over half the students at Jaffna Central College when Percival admitted Gabriel Jerony, a 15 year old boy of the Nalavar caste (The Morning Star, 25.11.1847) and was sacked according to Zvelebil (1997). In his hatred for Sudras below him, he derided those who took coffee at the missionary’s house (because the cook there was a Paraiya) – Navalar’s taunt was for “drinking the Kusinip Paraiyan’s Koepi.” Yet he is foisted on us as a national hero without whom there would be no Tamil Bible. This is how Vellalas control Tamil intellectual life.
Similarly Ponnambalam Ramanathan is sustained as another national hero despite fighting hard for the denial of schooling and the franchise for lower castes; indeed his sympathetic biographer Vythilingam (1971) states that Ramanathan and his brother Coomaraswamy were “removed” [read sacked] from Presidency College because of “youthful excesses” and spending time on body-building rather than studies. This writer’s family sources tell of Rao Bahadur C.W. Thamotharampillai’s embarrassment as their guardian in Madras over dismissal for examinations offences. His is education thereafter was as an apprentice to become a lawyer. There is also evidence that the governor favored appointing Ramanathan to Britto despite the great public support that Britto had, because the Ponnambalam family had bought its way into power improperly lending money to British Governors and Colonial Secretaries (for which they were sent back to the UK in punishment (Jayawardena, 2002, p. 219). While his Tamil wife was alive, he had begun going by train in private compartments with his White companion whom he married after his wife mysteriously fell in their well and perished.
On the other hand, while a fraudster and examination cheat who held back the education of the lower-castes is made a national hero, Joel Paul, a real hero, no one has heard of because of Vellala power in making history. Paul was a depressed caste school teacher who did not get to practice his profession, according to his daughter Dr. Daisy Paul Dharmaraj. He took to work as a building contractor (winning the Jaffna Town Hall contract among his many successes), became very wealthy and worked for universal suffrage encompassing the low caste. He founded the organization, Sangam for Workers Suffering Social Disabilities (Nalinthore Ooliar Sangam) in 1917. Having no confidence in the Jaffna Tamil establishment, they appealed not to Tamils but to the British and Lord Donoughmore, and the Sinhalese. This was a fatal mistake that identified him, together with Mr. M.C. Subramaniam (nominated MP in the 1970- parliament) as traitors in the dominant Tamil Vellala mindset. This label of traitor (thurohi) is freely stated in many conversations and newspaper articles (Jeyaraj, 2015)
Seeniar Gunasingam (formally Gunanayaham), President of the All Ceylon Tamil Minorities Sabai in an interview for this article says the Farmer-Vellala control of institutions and histories is complete. He says he arranged with the current President Maithripala Sirisena when he was Minister of Health in 2010 to have a Jaffna hospital administrative committee with many Panchamar including a Nalavar-caste Vice Chairman; and as soon as the Minister looked the other way, they were replaced in a short while by Vellalas. He points to 200 cemeteries in Jaffna where his people have encroached and live in unhygienic conditions and are facing eviction issues from Vellala officials; whereas the Punnalaikattuwan Villoondi Maayaanam (Cemetery) which till recently had 40 lachams of land, has been encroached upon by Vellalas and reduced to 8 lachams with the collaboration of Vellala government officials.
Gunasingam is viewed as a traitor by the Tamil establishment because, like Joel Paul, he works with southern officials and political parties rather than Tamil leaders in whom he has no faith. People like Gunasingam have much to offer society. For example, the Vellala girl Velayuthapiilai Rajini was raped and murdered on 30.09.1996. The suspects were 4 soldiers and 2 policemen at a checkpoint near Gunasingam’s home in Urumpirai. Gunasingam was the only eyewitness. But at the trial in the Colombo High Court, he was threatened with death if he testified. He went into hiding. It was during the ceasefire in 2003 that he testified, having been brought to Colombo under detention. Convictions with sentences of life imprisonment were obtained for three soldiers with Gunasingam as principal witness and corroborated by the two policemen and the fourth soldier who turned state witnesses (Thinakkural, 8 and 10 May 2007).
Seeniar described for this article the lot of a Pallar Jaffna hospital doctor who skipped his convocation. His biochemistry professor, having discovered his caste, asked him what his parents did for a living. He had truthfully answered “growing grapes.” The professor in turn responded in pretended innocence, “But I thought you were in the arrack brewing business.” The doctor did not want to be at that convocation with that professor playing a key role.
The lower castes, despite having much to offer, live in the shadows of Tamil society.
Caste: The Basis of Identity
As Rajan Hoole (2001) points out, In South Asia in general the principal mark of identity is caste. Right before our eyes, Tamils become Sinhalese (especially along the Sinhalese area coastlines) and Sinhalese became Tamils some years ago, although there is no incentive now for anyone to do so. Christians become Hindus and Buddhists. But Caste stays immutable. Language and religion are transmutable. Thus, in the words of Rajan Hoole (2001),
when the Kandyan kingdom in the 18th century was in need of a Kshatriya prince to fill the throne, a Hindu Tamil-speaking Nayakkar from South India was made king and the protector of Buddhism.
He was fully accepted; his line’s later unpopularity was due not to their being Tamil but to their cruelty as Kings. Their royal (Kshatriya) caste is what made them meet requirements. It did not matter that they were both Hindu and Tamil. Their religion and language were matters of little consequence. What mattered was their royal-caste pedigree that entitled them to rule.
We thus have the birth of identity politics in Sri Lanka. Rajan Hoole (2001) writes further,
The introduction of universal adult franchise with the Donoughmore reforms of 1931 found several members of the Sinhalese ruling class changing their religious allegiance from Christianity to Buddhism.
The derisive term, “Donoughmore Buddhist” shows the effect of the Donoughmore Constitution in bringing us to the era of identity politics, identity being based not on religion or language, but on caste. Among the Donoughmore Buddhists were Bandaranaike and Jayewardene who had been Anglicans as already noted. Their religion had transmuted, but their caste remained immutable – in their case, Govigama.
Among Tamils too, many changed their western surnames. But that change cannot be so easily tied up to democratic politics or the Donoughmore Constitution. The main reversion to Hinduism came with the freedom of religion that the British ushered into our lives through the East India Company Act 1813, also known as the Charter Act of 1813. This opened the door to Christian missionary activity which had been prohibited by the East India Company thinking that conversions are inimical to their trade. The large scale conversion to Christianity under the Dutch had been because of rules that precluded employment under the Dutch unless one was Christian and recognition only of those marriages solemnized in the Dutch Reformed Church. This meant that the right of inheritance of parental property could be exercised only when the marriage of ones parents was in Church. With the arrival of the British and especially the Act of 1813 those who had converted for privileges and were not sincere in their Christian faith, reverted to their ancestral religions.
The most notable pre-Donoughmore reversions to Hinduism were by those of the Ramanathan family and Arumuga Navalar. It is recorded in the biography of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan (Vythilingam, Vol. 1, 1971) that Ramanathan’s mother’s, mother’s, father, Vairavanatha Mudaliyar, was the Governor of the Vanni District under the Dutch. Combine this with the fact that the Dutch made, “assent to the Helvetic confession of faith necessary to the holding of any office of profit or trust under the government” (Howland, 1865; p. 7). To have held such high office, besides baptism into the Christian faith by this Vanni Governor Vairavanatha Mudaliyar, a European bloodstream in his and his descendants’ veins is most likely although caste consciousness would lead to a stout denial of that possibility by family members. Similarly, Arumuga Navalar’s father served as an Aratchi under the Dutch as noted by Sivathamby (1979).
As for post-Donoughmore conversions to Hinduism by Christian politicians, there were few unlike among the Sinhalese to Buddhism, although dropping western names has been common without changing religion. The most notable of the latter was that of Mr. Naganathan Hensman, the Secretary of the Federal Party who, dropping the illustrious surname Hensman, became E.M.V. Naganathan of royal descent from Changili-thoppu. He was the direct descendant of The Rev. John Hensman who was the first Tamil from Jaffna to be ordained an Anglican Minister in 1865 at St. James’ Church Nallur which in its early form, according to Rev. Fr. Jeyaceelan of the Jaffna Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, was built as a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary by the newly converted Queen of King Changili on the site of the royal temple of Jaffna which had been razed by the Portuguese.
The late Kumar Ponnabalam and his son Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam are rare Hindu politicians from the Christian line of Cloughs who may be called Donoughmore Hindus. Many western names carried by Tamils, besides Clough, such as Porter, Volk, Stetson, Adams, Champlain etc. have disappeared; some like Hemphil and Kingsbury because of the end of the male line rather than to reversion to Hinduism. However, unlike among the Sinhalese, rarely have Donoughmore Hindus retained their western-Christian names. There are some rare exceptions, however, such as the Brodies and Joshuas who reverted to Hinduism without giving up their baptismal western surnames. Among Sinhalese, the practice of retaining their baptismal western names adopted at conversion to Christianity (like Silva, de Silva, De Silva, Zilva, Fernando, Fonseka, Soysa, Mendis, Pedris, Perera, Pereira, Peiris, etc.) even after reversion to Buddhism is probably because these names had merged with their immutable caste identity and changing would separate them from their family and that identity.
Living a Lie
All of us Sri Lankans live a lie as far as caste is concerned. Thriving in our democratic environment, we dare not let on that we really are casteists. Thus while we practise caste to different degrees, the fact is that we are all very inveterately rooted in caste. Even the most liberal of us will not like his child marrying lower down in the caste structure because it is to invite social disabilities for the grandchildren and even the entire family. So it is rarely that we see glimpses of caste observation in the public sphere because by admitting to our caste prejudices and practices we take off our mask of modernity to let others see our real primitive make-up. Accordingly, we construct a pretended, lily-white, caste-free world where we vigorously deny that we observe caste even as we observe all tenets of the pernicious system – often saying as part of this pretence, “my best friend is low-caste.”
On the Tamil side, many of us pretending not to have caste prejudices would put down the EPRLF (Eelam People’s Liberation Front) saying EPRLF stands for Eelaththu Pallar Liberation Front. It was a broad put-down by Federal Party supporters claiming that all EPRLF supporters are of the Pallar (farm worker) caste.
On the Sinhalese side we see the publicly cosmopolitan, sophisticated Trinitian with a Cambridge degree and Kandyan pedigree, Gamini Dissanayake – the son of, note the first name, Andrew Dissanayake, a new MP and Deputy Minister under S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1956 – admitting to his prejudices in a private conversation to a visitor from England in 1983:
Earlier, in dealing with the Left, one could have talked to a good Govigama like Dr. N.M. Perera or to a good Dutch Burgher like Pieter Keuneman. But now, the leadership of the Left has gone to the scum! (Rajan Hoole, 2001)
By then, the remaining left leaders of prominence were Colvin R. de Silva and Bernard Soysa. Similarly when this writer was appointed Vice Chancellor of University of Jaffna the appointment of a Christian was anathema to many Hindus and even the modern training of the editors of a western, UK/Canada-based English-language newspaper called Oru Paper and strictly enforced hate crime laws in the UK, could not help them suppress their darker side when they wrote in their editorial:
“[T]here are a few Christians who are unable to reconcile their minds to the fact that they haddeserted the religion of their forefathers. This grievance they carry against the whole community. The Hoole brothers, Lakshman Kadirgamar [Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister murdered by the LTTE] and D.B.S. Jeyaraj of Canada [a well-respected journalist] belong to this category. As for Ratnajeevan Hoole as Vice-Chancellor of Jaffna University, this much has to be said. He should not be allowed to roam free in Jaffna’s Tamil Hindu society, particularly in the university campus where there is even a Saiva temple.” [Emphasis as in the original] (Oru Paper, Issue 44, April 7, 2006, London]
Although the ostensible objection against this writer and E.W. Perera is explicitly to their religion, the real reason is caste based on their religious ideas of pollution because it is widely taught and believed that the bodies of those who are Christians and Mohammadans, by their very composition release “bad smelling particles” that are polluting (Griffith, Griffith and Tice, 1892). It is not clear however whether Jayawardene’s reversion to Buddhism would have stopped his body from releasing bad smelling particles. In this writer’s case too, since all Tamils in Jaffna were Christian in the Dutch period – see figures by K.M. de Silva (1981) – the objection, it would seem, was to someone who remained Christian and whose body presumably emitted bad polluting particles and would pollute University of Jaffna and its temple. Concern for pollution by the presence of Christians on the university campus is explicitly admitted in the Oru Paper editorial quoted above.
That caste and pollution are the dominant themes in our lives is also clear when evidence was recorded before the Hindu Temporalities Commission in 1951. As the low-caste elder (Mupanar) stated before the Commission:
The [Karaiyahs] are very brave, but as fishers they are still ‘killers’ and are not entitled to high status! (Perinbanayagam, 1982)
Even the untouchables claimed that since they are ‘clean’, and mainly ‘vegetarian’ they should be allowed inside the temples, whereas the Vannar (washermen) and Karayar (fishermen) should not be because they respectively, wash unclean clothes and kill. Posed the spokesman for the untouchables poignantly to the Commission:
Where is the logic of the Agamas in allowing Dhobies [washermen] and fishermen to enter temples and keeping us out?
That religion is far less relevant by the side of the ethnic identity is also seen in the 1983 riots where Stirrat (1984) records that the Sinhalese identity was so strong as to overpower the religious identity of Sinhalese Roman Catholics when they attacked Tamil Roman Catholics.
Caste is Real and Ancient
A part of this living lie in denying our regular caste observations is to claim that Tamils never had caste and had a very pure egalitarian society until the Brahmins came along and polluted us. Thus, we have Dr. V.S. Rajam (The Hindu 30 May, 2015; Rajam, 2015) telling us
I could not find casteism and untouchability in Sangam literature [the oldest known literature in Tamil], but found them only in the commentaries on Silapathikaram [from the post-Sangam Epic Period of Tamil literature, 3rd to fifth century AD].
Rajam is mistaken. Indeed her claims are old and not newsworthy for The Hindu to carry her claim. For example T.R. Sesha Iyengar (2004) also says “there is no reference to the term ‘Sudra’ in the whole of the Tolkappiyam.” He adds rather audaciously that the idea that
“mankind is divided into four varnas or groups of caste, such as Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra, was wholly foreign to the Southern Dravidians. Caste was non-existent.”
It is fashionable to do social engineering and historical re-engineering by making nonhistorical claims as a means of fostering ideals – in this case the ideal that caste was unknown to Tamils until introduced by Brahmins and Europeans. Worse there is a hint that caste was created by missionaries when Rajam’s publisher Ravikumar claims that those who argue otherwise are driven by the politics of deep-seated hatred, and that they cite research work of foreigners, particularly George L. Hart’s (The Hindu, 30 May, 2015).
However, George Hart is an eminent, widely respected Tamil scholar and Emeritus Professor of South and Southeast Asian studies at University of California Berkeley. He is known well to this writer. His services to the Tamil language are immense in that he was instrumental in initiating and leading the successful campaign to endow a permanent Chair in Tamil at Berkeley following his retirement. If not for him, the study of Tamil would have disappeared from Berkeley.
Dr. Rajam argues further that Fr. Henrique Henriquez, SJ, the 16th century Jesuit missionary to South India and North Ceylon, was the first to use the word casta, which later became caste in English. However, inventing a word to describe caste in a foreign language, indeed is not to invent caste itself as implied.
What then is the truth? The answer lies in the Tolkappiyam, the oldest work of Tamil literature available to us that Rao Bahadur C.W. Thamotharampillai (Hoole, 1997) is credited with ferreting out in pieces from here and there and publishing with a commentary:
The author of Tolkappiyam, Trinadhumagni (a.k.a. Tolkappiyar, a name adopted for the Tamil country), was the son of the Brahmin sage, Jamadagni, according to the Tolkappiyam’s prefatory verse. The Indologist, the late Kamil Zvelebil (1973), tells us in his masterpiece, The Smile of Murugan, that Jamadagni was a Rsi mentioned in the Rgveda, in the Ramayanam and the Mahabharatam. Zvelebil aso gives reasons why Tolkappiyar was a Jain; which makes him doubly Sankritized. When caste is evident in the Tolkappiyan how can we say there was no caste in the Sangam age?
The Tolkappiyam depicts the four-fold varna order. However, instead of the North Indian Brahmin-Kshatriya-Vaisya-Sudra division, it gives a Tamilized version of these four broad castes: Andanar (priests), Arasar (kings), Vaisyar (traders) and Vellalar. This also contradicts Dr. Rajam’s claim that there was no caste in Sangam times. That is because Vellalar have taken the place of the Sudras in Tamil usage. It explains why Sesha Iyengar ( cit.) could not find the word Sudra in the Tolkappiyam. In fact, the term Vellalar often takes the broader meaning of Sudra as in the Tolkappiyam in South India where even those like Muththuvel Karunanithy, although not agriculturists, are known as Vellalar. Modern scholarship reaffirms the Andanar, Arasar, Vaisyar-Vellalar adaptation of Varna by Tolkappiyar’s time (Tulajappa, 2014).
Tolkappiyam shows caste stratification when it speaks of the high born (uyarnthor) and the low born (ili-pirappalar) (Agnihotri, 2010)
In Porulathikaaram Sutra 75, Tolkappiyar lays down the customary occupations of the Brahmins which are exactly “the same ones to which Brahmins of later ages have devoted themselves,” keeping the Dharma, learning, teaching, sacrificing and conducting sacrifices, receiving and making gifts. Confirming these very same occupations of Brahmins, in one of the earliest Sangam works, Padirruppattu (Poem 24, II, 6 to 8), the Brahmin author Gautama tells us of a king “as following the path of the Andanar (Brahmans),” keeping the Dharma, learning, teaching, sacrificing and conducting sacrifices, receiving and making gifts. Gautama himself celebrated ten Vedic sacrifices and at the end of the tenth a Brahmin and his wife became invisible and went to heaven. Another Brahmin author in the same anthology, Kapilar, refers to a monarch “not knowing obedience except to Brahmanas.”
There is little doubt that caste among Tamils is as old as the earliest written records of Tamils. Among Sinhalese, the growth of Buddhism was as a result of the Buddha rejecting caste, and yet the Sinhalese hold on to caste as fastidiously as do Tamils when their publicly announced religion is firmly opposed to caste. Delimitation Committee members tell us that most of the numerous complaints they have received have to do with gerrymandering based on caste. It is reliably known that one of the major parties, when interviewing persons who have requested party nomination to stand as a candidate, asks what their caste is. We must therefore conclude that the Sinhalese are still adherents of their ancient pre-Buddhist religion, Hinduism, whether as descendants of indigenous Nagas or Kuveni or Ravana, or South Indian immigrants or the obviously Saiva King Mootha Siva (the father of the first Buddhist king in Ceylon) or of Vijaya the Hindu Prince from India.
Tackling the Detraction from the Donoughmore-Soulbury Heritage
We see that the firm adherence to caste and its dictates in identity politics takes away from our democratic heritage, while caste itself is not only a fiction but abhorrent to modern values and Buddhism’s tenets.
However much we may dissemble otherwise, caste is a fact of life. It is not going to go away and we must learn to deal with it in line with our laws, doing whatever we can. The Mission Statement developed by the Election Commission for its Participatory Strategic Plan, is to:
Raise critical consciousness among all stakeholders, ensuring the protection of people’s rights and conduct free, fair and credible elections efficiently and effectively that safeguards the people’s sovereignty and universal franchise based on democratic principles.
Going by feelings in Jaffna (which may be expected to apply to other parts of Sri Lanka as well), the part about credible elections is still not applicable to the lower castes as they do not believe the results. They simply have no confidence in results from elections conducted by Vellalas.
For example, it is estimated at seminars on caste that 90% of the Diaspora Tamils are Vellalas and 50% in Sri Lanka. Indeed with the exception of foremost schools like St. John’s, Hartley, Hindu, Chundikuli, Hindu Ladies and Vembadi in Jaffna, most rural schools are almost entirely servicing the low castes as rural Vellalas travel far from their villages to be in these big schools. The Panchamar therefore feel there is intrigue against them.
Indeed there often is intrigue against the Panchamar as their schools are shut as the Vellalas move to the big schools. N. Thamilalahan (All Ceylon People’s Maha Sabai), says Chaiva virulence is unshakeable. The 38-member Northern Provincial Council has only 2 Panchamar, both Pallar, and perhaps a third closet Panchamar. All Tamil MPs are high-caste. Additional GA Mullaitivu (an Ilavalai Pallan) has been denied a Government Agent (GA) post while 5 of his same seniority are already GAs. Of the 15 AGA divisions, only Changanai got a low-caste AGA (and that too only recently). Two new female Paraiya teachers posted to Chunnakam Nageswary Vidyalayam were rejected by the principal and reposted. An Ambattan-caste (Barber girl) in Nelliady who was elected by her fellow students as head prefect had the teachers objecting, and obtained justice only by going to the Human Rights Commission. Nearly all IDPs in camps for 25 years are Panchamar while the others have been looked after. (It is noteworthy that almost all those executed at lamposts, according to Gunasingam, were Panchamar used for shooting practice while many Vellalas justified the executions as those of criminal elements. In the last days of the war in 2009, Gunasingam worked with international agencies to appeal to V. Pirapaharan to let the refugees go, but none of the Diaspora or major party leaders except of the EPDP, were willing to lend their voices to this appeal.)
In these circumstances, there is no confidence among the Panchamar in the operative system of governance. In their minds, election results are not credible. Seeniar Gunasingam who was an LSSP-UPFA candidate in the last parliamentary elections in 2015 lost and his results were never posted. Election officials state that they informed the three winning parties (TNA, UNP and EPDP) of how they fared and if Gunasingam had asked, he too would have been informed. Similarly, in counting, he said instead of counting ballots box by box, three boxes were emptied as three piles of ballot papers and counting went on by three different groups. He says he was able to observe only one of the three counting efforts and anything could have happened in the other two. Election officials when queried say that if they had counted box by box, the release of results would have taken two more days and if Gunasingam had objected they would have counted box by box even if it took forever. Nadarajah Thamilalahan referred to earlier, was a Pallar-caste LSSP-er and UPFA candidate in the last NP Provincial Council Elections. It is alleged he had his losing votes displayed under the unknown name Tharmakulasingam. He does not know why but thinks there was some hanky-panky. These show absolute lack of communication leading to loss of trust.
When asked why the Panchamar never contest under Tamil parties in the TNA where they will not be seen as agents of the Sinhalese, they say they meet with hostility and are never given nominations. They even blame the much venerated S.J.V. Chelvanayagam saying he was silent on the 1968 Temple Entry crisis at the Maviddapuram Temple (despite the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act (No. 21 of 1957)) as well as on the Changanai Funeral at that time when those in the procession and outsiders fired on each other over a caste dispute, leading to killings (When Sinhalese leaders queried Mr. A. Amirthalingam in parliament, he deflected the issue, joking that it is a minor Vietnam). They add that when they take shelter even in a left party, they are cheated because, even leftists, so long as they are Vellalas, have a Vellala mindset. As examples they cite two instances. First, in a recent Jaffna mayoral election, it was agreed within a party that the one with the highest preference vote would be the Mayor. When that turned out to be a Panchamar, a Vellala woman who did not do so well was made mayor citing the alleged fact that the person who came No. 1 was not quite literate. And, secondly, in the Northern Provincial Council elections, the Panchamar worked hard and got Kandasamy Kamalendran of the Nalava caste elected with the large Panchamar vote bank. He became the Leader of the Opposition in the NP Provincial Assembly, but then got arrested for involvement with a Vellala mistress named Anita and the murder of her Panchamar husband. The community expected another Panchamar to be Kamalendran’s replacement because of the efforts they had put into the election, but it turned out to be a Vellala when most votes (if not nearly all votes) for their party were from Panchamar. The phrase used by Vellalas on the Panchamar, “He has shown his low-caste thinking,” was now been turned on the Vellala leader. Telling him that he had shown his Vellala thinking, some Panchamar like Gunasingam moved away to the SLFP/UPFA.
This writer’s inquiries reveal no irregularity in the conduct of elections by officials. But the lack of good will and the resulting lack of full communication between castes is leading to suspicions and the erosion of the ideal of “trusted”, “credible” election results. That is a great pity.
We therefore see that despite the many advantages we have reaped from the Donoughmore Constitution and the Soulbury Constitution that followed, identity politics and our faith in the caste system which is a form of racism, have taken away from our proud heritage. The foremost place being given to any religion makes us citizens unequal. The caste system will never go away so long it is a means for us to say we are better than others are. At best, we can weaken caste’s hold on us by pointing out that it is an intellectual hoax.
These limitations mean doing the best we can and working with the system. We need to infuse confidence in the electoral system among the dispossessed oppressed castes. This means communicating with them rather than treating them as traitors just because they do not jump on to the high caste bandwagon of nationalism. The major political parties must deliberately focus on policy issues rather than identity issues and make the effort to include Panchamar in their candidate lists and then be fair to them. Indeed, the big parties must use the ongoing constitution-making exercise to render our state truly secular. It is that kind of commitment to equality that can at the same time make the oppressed castes buy into the idea of nation-building.
The Election Commission has begun discussions with political parties to move away from identity politics. In drafting a code of ethics for parties, the idea of leaving out terms of ethnic appeal from the names of political parties has been mooted. Such example words would be Tamil, Muslim, Eelam, Hela, Sihala etc.
It is not clear to this writer, however, that such a course of action is progressive. Minority parties are often formed to protect minority rights and these words indicate why they exist and what they stand for. Can we then fairly ban these words from party titles? Especially when major parties without these ethnic appellations are essentially advancing communally charged one-sided policy positions like fostering one religion and giving it foremost place as when, at the Seventieth Convention of the UNP, both the President and Prime Minister jointly espoused and endorsed that communalist position of elevating all Buddhists as favoured citizens above all others? How does it make sense to prevent minorities from rallying people to fight for their threatened status using party names indicating what they stand for? Forcing minority parties to give up nomenclature identifying their raison d’être becomes a way of silencing minorities while the major parties claiming to be national in character systematically assert their majoritarianism.
Our new human rights based Donoughmore culture is taking hold, albeit weakly and slowly (with Sri Lanka going through accession and ratification of key international UNHRC Conventions with fanfare but not incorporation into domestic law). In franchise matters, disfranchised estate Tamils have been given citizenship and many obstacles to equality are crumbling as efforts are taken for women’s representation, against discrimination, and for the disabled in terms of wheel chair access to polling stations and ballots in Braille.
However, few are yet speaking of equality for the oppressed castes and between adherents of different religions. These remain some of the last, ethnically charged frontiers as we advance against these obstacles to a New World bringing home the equality of all citizens implied and held out as a promise in the Donoughmore Constitution.
In closing, the author thanks Marshal Fernando (Editor, Gleanings, by the Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue, for permission to adapt this article).
ACM, Fifth Triennial Report of the American Ceylon Mission, Press of the American Mission, Jaffna, 1839.
V.K. Agnihotri, IAS (Ed.), Civil Services Examination: Indian History, 26th Edition, Allied Publishers, New Delhi, 2010, p. A-355
William Archer, India and the Future, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1918; p. 108.
C. A. Chandraprema, “BASL’s attempt to undermine the Supreme Court and Parliament,” The Island, 14 Sept. 2016.
K.M. de Silva, A History of Sri Lanka, Oxford, 1981
R.T.H. Griffith, T.B. Griffith and P. Tice, The Vedas: with Illustrative Extracts, Christian Literature Society, Madras, 1892.
Rajan Hoole, The Arrogance of Power: Myths, Decadence and Murder, University Teachers for Human Rights, Colombo 2001.
S.R.H. Hoole, C. W. Thamotharampillai, Tamil Revivalist: The Man Behind the Legend of Tamil Nationalism, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, 1997.
Rev. William W. Howland, Historical Sketch of the Ceylon Mission, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions1, 865.
A.R.M. Imtiyaz and S.R.H. Hoole, “Some Critical Notes on the Muslims of Sri Lanka’s Non-Tamil Identity and Tamil-Muslim Relations”, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. 34:2, 208-231, July 2011.
ISPCK, The Constitution, Canons and Rules of the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon, 1960. Reprinted by the Diocese of Colombo, Colombo, 1997.
T.R. Sesha Iyengar (1887-1939), Dravidian India (reprinted by Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, 2004.
JABS, A Brief Narrative of the Operations of the Jaffna Auxiliary Bible Society – 1835 to 1870 in the Preparation of the Tamil Scriptures, Strong & Asbury Printers, Jaffna, 1868.
Kumari Jayawardena, Nobodies to Somebodies: The Rise of the Colonial Bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka, Zed Books, London, 2002, p. 219.
D.B.S. Jeyaraj, “Recurring Phenomenon of ‘Traitorization’ in Tamil Nationalist Politics,” Daily Mirror, 13 March 2015.
W.W. North, Daron Shaw, Matt Grossmann and Keena Lipsitz, Campaigns and Elections, 2nd edn, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, NY, 2015.
R.S. Perinbanayagam, The Karmic Theater: Self, Society, and Astrology in Jaffna, The University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1982.
G. .Rawlinson, “Early Contacts between India and Europe,” Chapter XXX, p. 435 in Basham, A. L., (Ed.), A Cultural History of India, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1975.
Jagadevappa Tulajappa, [The] Caste System in Ancient South India, Chapter 4, Doctoral Thesis, Gulbarga University, India, 2014.
Rig Veda, Book 10, Hymn XC. Purusha. Hymn of the Cosmic Man (Trans. by Ralph T.H. Griffith, 1896), sacred-texts.com.
Sivathamby, “Hindu Reaction to Christian Proselytization and Westernization in 19th Century Sri Lanka,” Social Science Review (Colombo), Vol. I(1), pp.41-75, 1979, p. 61.
L. Stirrat, “The Riots and the Roman Catholic Church in Perspective,” in James Manor (Ed.), Sri Lanka in Change and Crisis, Chapter 11, pp. 196-212, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1984.
J.A.B. van Buitenen (Translator and Editor), The Bhagavadgita in the Mahabharata, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1981.
Vythilingam, The Life of Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Ramanathan Commemoration Society, Colombo, 1971.
Kamil Zvelebil, The Smile of Murugan, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1973
Kamil Zvelebil, Companion studies to the history of Tamil literature, E.J. Brill, Leiden 1997, p. 155
 As nationalism dominates narratives in Sri Lanka, some Sinhalese Buddhists now say that Jayawardene was a Buddhist by virtue of his mother having been a Buddhist and that it is not correct to speak of his conversion to Buddhism. Party loyalties give some support to this twist of history because his rival Bandaranaike’s undeniable roots in Anglicanism prior to his conversion to Buddhism are firmly established. This view of Jayawardene’s Buddhism is misleading. First, older Anglicans from St. Michael’s Polwatte recall Jayawardene having been a regular choirboy there. Further, even if his mother had been a Buddhist, the rules of the Church were so strict at the time that his father’s marriage to his mother would never have been solemnized without her being baptized first and would have invited excommunication even if he had contracted a civil marriage. See ISPCK (1960), Chapter 26 on Marriage Canons 2-8 for the discipline to be imposed by the Church for marrying outside the faith.
 This writer’s great-great-great grand parents
 Kamil Zvelebil, Companion studies to the history of Tamil literature, (Leiden: E.J. Brill 1997): p. 155.
 Two responsible, western trained Tamil Hindu scholars, K. Sivathamby, PhD Birmingham and P. Poolohasingham, D.Phil. Oxon, are very skeptical of the official narrative denying that Navalar was ever a Christian. Prof. Sivathamby (1979) tells us that, “Navalar came from a family which can safely be described as having responded successfully to the changing employment patterns of the higher caste” and goes on to say that Navalar’s father was an Aratchy at the Kachcheri under the Dutch, who had picked up Portuguese, Dutch and English, and his brothers included two Notaries, an Udayar and an Aratchy, all serving loyally in the colonial service. Poolohasingam (1993) explicitly states that Navalar was indeed a Christian before breaking with Percival over caste. He quotes Veerasamy Mudaliyar as stating that Navalar lived as a Christian and gives Navalar’s pre-Savite Christian name as Pairaat and tells us how Navalar, while living as a Christian, was sent from Jaffna by Christian missionaries to Chennai to observe and learn how the Christian missions there converted Hindus to Christianity. The fact that Navalar went to The Wesleyan Methodist Seminary, a centralized establishment where the best were being trained to be Christian ministers, is also suggestive of his Christian roots.
 The Missionary Intelligencer records that, “the Dutch, when they possessed the island, forced the inhabitants to forsake idolatry, built churches in every district, and compelled them to attend and receive the rite of baptism, without which no native possessed a title to land or could obtain Government employment (p. 373, Section: Jaffna Mission, 1869).
 In a talk delivered at St. James’ Church Nallur in July 2011 and based on historical documents in his Roman Church archives.
 At the risk of being called sexist, the observation is made that women are more likely to let on to their caste observations. When this writer asked for the use of a neighbour’s gardener for a day, the explicit instruction from the woman of the house was this: “You have to pay him Rs. 1000 for the day, no lunch, but tea at 11:00 and 3:00 for which you must buy a disposable day cup at the supermarket and not use your cups.”
 The party had a broader appeal and included Dayan Jayatilleka as a Minister in the North-East Provincial Government.
 Although many reports such as that by D.B.S. Jeyaraj accused Kamalendran also of sexually harassing Anita’s young daughter, Gunasingam says it is untrue and typifies what their community faces. Their Vellala leaders, says he, lack camaraderie (tholamai) with them although they are addressed as Comrades (Tholar), and these Vellala leaders of predominantly low-caste Left parties fear their fellow Vellalas, so whenever the Panchamar do well like Kamalendran, just one error is used to add to their woes. He says that Shanmugathasan of the Communist Party (Peking Wing) was the only Vellala Left leader with true sense and practice of Tholamai. That assessment is chilling in that if correct, there is really little hope of getting Vellalas, especially non-Leftists, to help in righting this historic wrong to the Panchamar
 Incorporation into domestic law is required for a dualist state like ours. See the sad case of Nallaratnam Singarasa who was convicted solely on the basis of a confession he says he signed under torture, the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal, he went to the Human Rights Committee in Geneva which asked the Supreme Court to examine his case and the Supreme Court ruled that the convention under which he appealed had no standing because it had not been incorporated into our domestic law by Parliament whose law-making powers had been arrogated by the President in signing the treaty, the matter is now being re-canvassed by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (Chandraprema, 2016)
An Auditor General under fire by political authorities
The Auditor General of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, a position created by its Constitution, has been of late at the receiving end from political authorities. It is reported that his performance has been subject to severe criticism by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, followed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in Parliament recently.
Alarmed by these ominous developments, the Editor of Daily FT had written a very strong editorial urging the civil society to protect the Auditor General and warning the public of the possibility of being treated to a toothless National Audit Commission.
Auditor General’s crime
What is the crime committed by the Auditor General? He had submitted a report on the bond transactions conducted by the Central Bank during 2008 to 2016 on the request of the Finance Minister and furnished a copy of the report to the Acting Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises or COPE simultaneously. However, the Auditor General has gone even beyond that as it is revealed now.
Acting in the interest of the full public disclosure which is what the present Government had promised to the electorate at the general elections by promising to deliver economic democracy, he has posted his 190-page-long report to the website of the Auditor General’s Department so that it is now a document available in public domain. The beauty of such publicly available documents is that no politician can misquote it to hurl unfounded accusations against their political enemies.
Finance Minister’s request is not according to law
Minister Ravi Karunanayake has requested for the report in question in terms of the powers vested with him by Section 43(2) of the Monetary Law Act or MLA. This section relates to reports which the Minister might request the Auditor General to complete on the accounts of the Central Bank.
However, the report sought by the Minister relates to the bond transactions and therefore, the Auditor General is not under obligation to furnish it to the Minister. Yet, in view of the national interest which the subject in question has evoked, the Auditor General has chosen to oblige the Minister.
A wealth of information previously not in public domain
The report has furnished a wealth of data on the direct placements made by the Central Bank during the period under reference when issuing Treasury bonds on behalf of the Government. Though the Auditor General has not done any conclusive research analysis on the direct placements, because he has looked at them from the point of view of an auditor, such data can now be used by other researchers to do the same.
Further, these data can be used to examine the validity of the charge made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in a statement delivered in Parliament immediately after the first bond scam of 27 February 2015 that the previous Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal had been guilty of using direct placements which PM had misquoted as private placements to favour his friends and a handful of cronies.
Direct placements as a method of issuing Government bonds
What are direct placements? It is simply a mechanism of issuing Treasury bonds or bills directly to primary dealers at a predetermined interest rate (or equivalently at a predetermined price) instead of issuing them on the basis of competitive bids received from them through an auction. A government which is concerned about the interest cost of its public debt may use either of these methods alternatively or in combination to derive the maximum benefit for itself. It can happen in relation to domestic borrowings as well as to foreign borrowings equally.
Even present Government uses direct placements when making foreign borrowings
For instance, in the case of foreign borrowings, a Government may choose to issue sovereign bonds by calling competitive bids from prospective investors. Such investors are allowed to submit bids within a specified period allowing the Government to build the borrowing book and the Government may choose the appropriate cut-off interest rate at which it would issue bonds at the margin. The competitive atmosphere prevailing in the book building process is expected to give the best rate structure to the Government.
If the prevailing interest rate structure is not favourable to the government, it may, instead, directly place the order with some selected banks or selected investors and ask them to lend money to the government. The Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s much-publicised claim of borrowing $ 2 billion from an unknown Belgian lender was such a direct placement.
The recent decision of the Government to raise a syndicated loan from some selected banks is another such instance. No one can blame the Government for going for such direct placements because the Government as the borrower has the right to choose the best available market or the best available rate structure or the both.
Direct placements in the domestic debt market
This is equally valid for domestic loans too. The Central Bank in this case as the fiscal agent of the government will see to that the government gets the best bargain from the market. If it feels that the auction method is the best, it would go for auctions; at the same time, if it feels that the direct placement is the best method, it would choose that option. Similarly, if it feels that the best is a combination of both, it will go for that too.
The 2001 World Bank-IMF Handbook on Developing Government Securities Market has observed that most countries have preferred to use a combination of these methods as the most practical approach but has warned that it should be practised consistently without shocking the markets (p 165). The consistent policy is the adoption of a preannounced method of placing Government bonds directly with prospective investors with regard to the rate at which they have to invest their moneys in bonds.
Direct placements are not a demon but a servant
As this writer had argued in a previous article in this series, direct sales which were started by the Central Bank in 1997 when it introduced the primary dealer system is not a demon but a servant, well serving the Government to raise money at the lowest costs and maintain interest rates at a stable level. Hence, any finance minister or a government should have welcomed it.
Despite this, apparently being misinformed by some interested parties within the Central Bank, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe had castigated the direct placement system which he misnamed as ‘private placements’ in the statement he made in Parliament referred to above.
Said the Prime Minister: “Records confirm that private placements had become a norm rather than an exception. In just one instance in 2013, Rs. 16 billion worth of five-year bonds were sold through auction at a yield of 10.9% and thereafter Rs. 76 billion of the same bond were sold through private placements at a HIGHER yield of 11.42%. Who stood to benefit from such acts? The answer is obvious.”
Prime Minister misinformed?
It appears that the Prime Minister has been informed by an interested officer in the Central Bank that it was a crime to issue five-year bonds in 2013 at 11.42% through direct sales. What the Prime minister had not been informed is that the prevailing market rate for an 8.0% – five-year bond was much higher at 11.63% in January 2013 and 11.45% in March 2013.
Hence, if the bonds had been sold at 11.42% under direct sales, it would have been at a beneficial rate for the Government since the bonds in question had been sold above the prevailing market prices. Those who had bought the bonds at those prices could not have made a profit immediately as alleged by the Prime Minister since the bond prices had remained at around the same low level almost throughout the year.
Dealers can make money if bonds have been issued at low prices
Any party subscribing to direct placements could make money only if such direct placements have been made at interest rates pretty much higher than the prevailing market rates or equivalently at pretty much lower prices than the market prices. Thus, if they buy these bonds at bargain prices, they could immediately profit by selling them at higher prices to other parties who are interested in acquiring such bonds. But if the bonds have been issued at around the prevailing market prices, there is no prospect for them to make big money through sales.
Thus, it is the responsibility of the Central Bank, when making such direct placements, to choose interest rates or prices close to the prevailing market rates. But, if they have failed to do so, then, the allegation made by Prime Minister in Parliament is substantiated. However, for lack of detailed information on such bond deals, there was no way to verify the claim made by the Prime Minister that such placements have been shoddy and corrupt.
Findings of the Auditor General: Bonds placed at higher prices
The report submitted by the Auditor General has for the first time brought to public domain the detailed information relating to the direct placements made by the Central Bank during the nine-year period from 2008 to 2016. In conclusion, the Auditor General has remarked that 57% of the direct placements made during this period had been done at yield rates below or around the prevailing market rates and such yield rates had been desired from the objective of bringing the minimal cost to the Government (p6).
What does this mean? It means that a large volume of such bonds have been issued at prices above the prevailing market prices thereby bringing a good debt yield to the Government, on one hand, and preventing the initial buyers from reselling them at higher prices and making huge profits, on the other. Also, according to the Auditor General, the cost to the Government has been lower in the case of the direct placements than under the auction system.
What does this mean? It means that primary dealers have been trying to push the interest rates up under the auction system as foreseen by the former Governor A.S. Jayawardena when he introduced the direct placement system with EPF in 1997 as a check on such activity. The Auditor General has also observed that evidence to suggest that such direct placements have been made without the approval of the Monetary Board had not caught his attention (p 4).
Two matters for the attention of both PM and FM
There are two other observations made by the Auditor General which should receive the attention of the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister. One is that the former Governor Arjuna Mahendran had scrapped the direct placement system in February 2015 on his own without getting the approval of the Monetary Board. In hindsight, it can, therefore, be concluded that his arbitrary decision against the wise counsel of the officials of the Public Debt Department has helped one of the primary dealers, Perpetual Treasuries, to make huge profits by buying Treasury bonds at ridiculously low prices.
The other is that the Perpetual Treasuries which had been a giant in the Treasury bond market since the first bond scam in February 2015 had in fact been one of the small dealers in the market prior to that. In the period from April to October 2014, it has participated in the Treasury bond issues with small amounts ranging between Rs. 100 million and Rs. 200 million. But since February 2015, its participation in the market has been in billions allowing it to make profits amounting to Rs. 13 billion within a matter of just 18 months. This is not a fact that the Prime Minister as a politician dedicated to establishing a clean government and the Minister of Finance as the keeper of the public purse could ignore.
Evidence does not show that bonds have been sold to cronies
The evidence presented by the Auditor General does not substantiate the allegation made by Prime Minister in Parliament that direct placements made prior to February 2015 have been made to help an exclusive group of cronies. The list provided by the Auditor General for each of the years since 2008 as recipients of bonds under direct placements include all primary dealers without exception.
Further, direct placements have been made at or around the prevailing market interest rates thereby preventing any particular primary dealer from making profits at the expense of other primary dealers. Hence, it appears that the Prime Minister has been misinformed by an interested official of the Central Bank and it is in the interest of the good governance Government to initiate an investigation into such misreporting, leading to an erosion of the reputation of the government.
Government should not blind its third eye
The Auditor General is the third eye of the Government as this writer has argued in a previous article in this series. If the Government deliberately blinds that eye, it would do so to its own peril.
Establishing equality in society, even within a broad spectrum, has always been a theoretical enigma since Plato’s time or even before. Eric Fromm called this effort ‘standardization of man.’ For this purpose, More in the early 16th century invoked a kind of a utilitarian theory based on pleasure in his Utopia, but ‘pleasure in moderation.’ He derived his equality principle also from natural justice and argued ‘no man should seek his own pleasure to prejudice others.’
More’s ideas have a contemporary relevance, whatever the intermittent weaknesses, as Oxfam has revealed that eight billionaires in the world today have more wealth than half of the world’s population. The effort to build reasonable social equality in Sri Lanka in contemporary times came with the philosophy of Sama Samaja (equal society) which is now almost abandoned for political expediency.
With the above few introductory words, we turn to know what More exactly said on this matter by publishing Chapter 5 of ‘Thomas More’s Socialist Utopia and Ceylon (Sri Lanka)’ by Laksiri Fernando. This is part of a series to celebrate the five hundred years of Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ (December 1516) courtesy of Colombo Telegraph and Sri Lanka Guardian. The publication link to the original is https://www.createspace.com/4688110
A COMMUNIST SOCIETY
“Just as modern mass production requires the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man, and this standardization is call equality.” ~ Erich Fromm
Utopian society is based on a certain philosophy; justice and equality being the main corner stones. Nonetheless it is not dogmatic but pragmatic. According to More, there are various arguments on moral issues among the Utopians that are freely discoursed. The society however is based on a general agreement on what they have achieved (or could achieve) concerning ‘on what the happiness of man consists of.’ According to More, “They inquire into the nature of virtue and pleasure; but their chief dispute is concerning the happiness of a man, and wherein it consists? Whether in some one thing, or in a great many? They seem, indeed, more inclinable to that opinion that places, if not the whole, yet the chief part of a man’s happiness in pleasure.”
“Yet they do not place happiness in all sorts of pleasures, but only in those that in themselves are good and honest.”
Pleasure in moderation is the concept. There is no clear social contract theory pronounced in More’s social philosophy like what advocated by Thomas Hobbes or John Locke later in England. But society is seen as a natural evolution of man’s effort to pursue happiness which leads to different forms of societies. Utopia is the ideal form of society which is based on a moral and an ethical foundation which is just and equal to every member of society. For this purpose “they make use of arguments even from religion, notwithstanding its severity and roughness” but their main disposition is to be based on “natural reason, since without that they reckon that all our inquiries after happiness must be bit conjectural and defective.” “They also observe that in order to our supporting the pleasure of life, nature inclines us to enter into society,” More argues.
Utopians derive their equality principle (or Sama Samaja) from natural justice “for there is no man so much raised above the rest of mankind.” No one can be the favourite of the nature, More argued. The nature places all on a common level. “Upon this they infer that no man ought to seek his own conveniences so eagerly as to prejudice others.”
More apparently found it difficult to give a rational or more sophisticated explanation to equality. What is most symbolic about Utopian equality is their dress or housing. Compared with many other sophisticated propositions by More, this appears to be quite immature and stereotypical. Utopians wear similar garments without attention to fashion or beauty. What is wrong with ‘fashion or beauty’ is difficult to understand in More’s socialism. It looks like that he advocated an unnecessary ‘uniformity’ in socialism. This is what it says.
“Throughout the Island they wear the same sort of clothes without any other distinction, except what is necessary to distinguish the two sexes and the married and unmarried. The fashion never alters; and as it is neither disagreeable nor uneasy, so it is suited to the climate, and calculated both for their summers and winters. Every family makes their own clothes.”
In preparation of their clothes very little work is spent on them and they wear causally, and they last several years. They wear one type for work but when attending public events, “they put an upper garment, which hides the other” and these are all of one color. They wear the same for the summers and the winters and their concern is only for cleanliness. Then More criticizes the practice in other places and says, “while in other places, four or five upper garments of woollen cloth, of different colors, and as many vests of silk, will scarce serve one man; and while those that are nicer think ten are too few.” But in the case of Utopia it is different “every man there is content with one, which very often serves him two years. Nor is there anything that can tempt a man to desire more; for if he had them, he would neither be the warmer nor would he make one jot the better appearance for it.”
The above may appear completely ‘out of fashion’ today. People may like, especially the younger generations, different fashions and different clothing. Garment industry is one of the largest in the world employing millions and millions of workers especially from the Third World. In a system of capitalism, the abandonment of the garment industry might spell disaster for those workers and the countries that they live in.
But there is also an economic plus and a social logic in what More says. If people are satisfied with the basic needs and if unnecessary industries are abandoned or scaled down, then the work time that people need to spend in society is less which could be utilized for more and more intellectual development. There are people even in our present day society who prefers simple and sometimes uniform garments. They only change the fashion occasionally.
Another symbol of equality in the Utopian society is housing. All houses are the same with equal facilities. More was describing a situation in the city. “Their buildings are good, and are so uniform that a whole side of a street looks like one house.” They were adjoining the streets of ‘twenty feet broad,’ for a carriage to drive. “There lie gardens behind all their houses and these are large but enclosed with buildings that on all hands face the streets.” “Every house has both a door to the street and a back door to the garden.” This is very much similar to the townhouse system in many Western countries today and the “backyard gardens are of particular importance to leisure, pleasure and day to day crops of fruit and flower.” As More said,
“They cultivate their gardens with great care, so that they have vines, fruits, herbs, and flowers in them; and all is so well ordered, and so finely kept, that I never saw gardens anywhere that were both so fruitful and so beautiful as theirs.”
There is also an element of emulation and competition between the inhabitants to keep their gardens well in order and useful. “And this humour of ordering their gardens so well is not only kept up by the pleasure they find in it.” It is also “by emulation between the inhabitants of the several streets, who vie with each other.” Moreover, “there is indeed nothing belonging to the whole town that is both more useful and more pleasant.”
But in respect of the architecture of the houses, they were rather monotonous like the dress. There is an argument in Utopia that houses should be built for generations. “The building or the repairing of houses among us employs many hands, because often a thriftless heir suffers a house that his father built to fall into decay,” More argues. “It frequently happens that the same house which one person built at a vast expense is neglected by another, who thinks he has a more delicate sense of the beauties of architecture; and he suffering it to fall to ruin, builds another at no less charge.”
At the same time there are instances where More acknowledges that there should be improvements and even aesthetic considerations in respect of housing. He says that “they were at first low and mean, like cottages, made of any sort of timber, and were built with mud walls and thatched with straw. But now their houses are three stories high.” According to this latter description, the fronts of them are faced with stone or plastering. They also use great quantities of glass for decoration of windows. They glaze their windows and decorate with thin linen cloth oiled or gummed to both prevent wind and to allow free admission of the light. There are some innovative aspects too. “Their roofs are flat, and on them they lay a sort of plaster, which costs very little, and yet is so tempered that it is not apt to take fire, and yet resists the weather more than lead.” Most interestingly, between the walls of lined houses they use the space to throw in their rubbish, perhaps for the time being for the community collection later.
Utopia is mostly a communist society. They lived together, worked together and most of the time ate together. “Every city is divided into four equal parts,” as we have discussed before, sometimes called a town and “in the middle of each there is a marketplace.” That is where they supplied their produced to the public consumption, and that is where they obtained their goods for the private or family consumption. First, the community halls are served for their necessary provisions. Then “no man is hindered to carry provisions home from the market-place; for they know that none does that but for some good reason.” A town is divided into several sections or quarters and the houses are situated along the wide streets. In the middle are their common dining halls.
“In every street there are great halls that lie at an equal distance from each other, distinguished by particular names. The [Magistrates] dwell in those that are set over thirty families, fifteen lying on one side of it, and as many on the other. In these halls they all meet and have their repasts.”
They have community dining at these places, but anyone can choose to have their own meals at home if they so desire. “Both dinner and supper are begun with some lecture of morality that is read to them; but it is so short, that it is not tedious nor uneasy to them to hear it.” In addition, “It is ordinary to have public lectures every morning before daybreak; at which none are obliged to appear but those who are marked out for literature; yet a great many, both men and women of all ranks, go to hear lectures of one sort or other, according to their inclinations.”
At the hours of diner and supper, the whole community being called together by the sound of trumpet. Then they meet and eat together, except those who are in the hospitals or lie sick at home. What is important is the rationality that More attributes to this common eating. “It is both ridiculous and foolish for any to give themselves the trouble to make ready an ill dinner at home, when there is a much more plentiful one made ready for him so near at hand.” These halls are run by every family taking tasks in turns. “All the uneasy and sordid services about these halls are performed by their slaves; but the dressing and cooking their meat, and the ordering their tables, belong only to the women.” Here comes again the use of slaves, though convicts, for ‘uneasy and sordid’ tasks and women for cooking!
More however explains quite in detail the meticulous way that everything is organized in these common dining halls. “They sit at three or more tables, according to their number; the men sit toward the wall, and the women sit on the other side, that if any of them should be taken suddenly ill, which is no uncommon case among women with child, she may, without disturbing the rest, rise and go to the nurses’ room, who are there with the sucking children, where there is always clean water at hand, and cradles in which they may lay the young children, if there is occasion for it, and a fire that they may shift and dress them before it.” They are all extremely health conscious. All facilities are supplied to care for the sick, children and the ailing.
Order and Care
Every child is nursed by its own mother under normal circumstances. However, if serious sickness does intervene then in that case the Philarchs’ wives come into the picture. They find a nurse quickly, which is no hard matter. There are competent ones in nursing that offers to do so cheerfully. They do it as charity and “so the child considers the nurse as its mother.” He further explains the arrangements and it is an interesting scene that he pictures.
“All the children under five years old sit among the nurses, the rest of the younger sort of both sexes, till they are fit for marriage, either serve those that sit at table or, if they are not strong enough for that, stand by them in great silence, and eat what is given them; nor have they any other formality of dining.”
The description goes on. The arrangements at the diner hall are well orderly and systematic. “In the middle of the first table, which stands across the upper end of the hall, sit the Philarch and his wife; for that is the chief and most conspicuous place.” Then “next to him sit two of the most ancient” to mean the most elderly. “If there is a temple within that community, the Priest and his wife sit with the Philarch above all the rest.” Then in rest of the tables “there is a mixture of old and young, who are so placed, that as the young are set near others, so they are mixed with the more ancient.” The purpose is clear as “they say was appointed on this account, that the gravity of the old people, and the reverence that is due to them, might restrain the younger from all indecent words and gestures.”
“Dishes are not served up to the whole table at first, but the best are first set before the old, whose seats are distinguished from the young, and after them all the rest are served alike. The old men distribute to the young any curious meats that happen to be set before them, if there is not such an abundance of them that the whole company may be served alike.”
Thus, old men are honored with a particular respect and it is not clear whether this derives from ‘feudal’ values or socialist. As explained before, both dinner and supper are begun with some lecture of morality. But thereafter “old men take occasion to entertain those about them with some useful and pleasant enlargements. But they do not engross the whole discourse so to themselves, during their meals that the younger may not put in for a share. On the contrary, they engage them to talk, that so they may in that free way of conversation find out the force of everyone’s spirit and observe his temper.”
“They dispatch their dinners quickly, but sit long at supper; because they go to work after the one, and are to sleep after the other, during which they think the stomach carries on the concoction more vigorously.”
There are aesthetic values cultivated among the people, and “they never sup without music.” There is always fruit served up after meat. While they are at table, some burn perfumes and sprinkle about fragrant ointments and sweet waters. This is very much similar to Hindu or Asian practices. In short, they want nothing that may cheer up their spirits. They give themselves a large allowance that way, and indulge themselves in all such pleasures as are attended with no inconvenience. That is the way of life of people who mainly live in towns as described by More. But in the country, where they live at great distance, everyone eats at home.
The most important characteristic of the Utopian society is peoples’ social and moral satisfaction; and all were content with whatever they had. They all were employed and engaged in some useful labor. “They content themselves with fewer things.” And as a result, “there was great abundance of all things among them” as it was explained in the previous chapter. The Magistrates never engaged people in unnecessary labor, “since the chief end of the constitution is to regulate labor by the necessities of the public.” The most important was the system that allowed “all people as much time as is necessary for the improvement of their minds, in which they think the happiness of life consists.”
More argues for equality very strongly saying that by nature there are no differences and all are place on the same level playing field. There are no favourites of nature and in fact rejects the theory of survival of the fittest. In other words, he supports a system where ‘all those that belong to the same human species’ are ‘placed on the same level of work, comforts, pleasure and happiness.’ But that level can be a reasonable social band and not a uniform line or a point as More advocated. There can be reasonable differences.
But he argued differently. “Upon this” he infers “that no man ought to seek his own conveniences so eagerly as to prejudice others.” Therefore, More thinks that laws ought to be kept which people have consented without oppression or tyranny “for distributing those conveniences of life which afford us all our pleasures.”
Marriage and Family
Utopian social practice is not to have free love/sex or women as common property. This is largely a misconception about communism or what More advocated. The society is based on family and marriage and what More seemed to advocate is rather conservative practice compared to many societies today. A prominent place is also preserved for the males than the females.
“As their cities are composed of families, so their families are made up of those that are nearly related to one another. Their women, when they grow up, are married out. But all the males, both children and grandchildren, live still in the same house, in great obedience to their common parent, unless age has weakened his understanding and in that case, he that is next to him in age comes in his room.”
In Utopia, the family is more or less a self-contained entity. Every family attends to its necessities unless given by the community. “Every family makes their own clothes” without depending on dress makers. The families are regimented as do the cities. Utopians are very concerned about the population balance. “Any district should become either too great, or by any accident be depopulated, provision is made that none of their district may contain above 6,000 families.” The concept of family is also different, not completely dependent on the same parenthood. The children could be exchanged. “No family may have less than ten and more than sixteen persons in it. But there can be no determined number for the children under age. This rule is easily observed, by removing some of the children of a more fruitful couple to any other family that does not abound so much in them.” If that were possible one could speculate whether new forms of family or marriage were possible as advocated by the gay and lesbian movement today. Most probably More would have approved it, if he were living today.
“But to return to their manner of living in society, the oldest man of every family, as has been already said, is its governor. Wives serve their husbands and children their parents, and always the younger serves the elder.”
The family is Asiatic in nature. “The whole Island is, as it were, one family,” More has already said.
Care for Health
Utopia gives priority for health. “They take more care of their sick than of any others,” More says. The sick are “lodged and provided for in public hospitals they have belonging to every town four hospitals.” The hospitals “are built without their walls, and are so large that they may pass for little towns.” “By this means, if they had ever such a number of sick persons, they could lodge them conveniently, and at such a distance, that such of them as are sick of infectious diseases may be kept so far from the rest that there can be no danger of contagion.”
“The hospitals are furnished and stored with all things that are convenient for the ease and recovery of the sick,” More assures. At the same time the services are superb. “Those that are put in them are looked after with such tender and watchful care, and are so constantly attended by their skillful physicians.” And also “that as none is sent to them against their will, so there is scarce one in a whole town that, if he should fall ill, would not choose rather to go thither than lie sick at home.”
According to More, the system takes special care of “those who are taken with fixed and incurable diseases, they use all possible ways to cherish them, and to make their lives as comfortable as possible. They visit them often, and take great pains to make their time pass off easily.”
More also takes up the issue of euthanasia. When someone “is taken with a torturing and lingering pain, so that there is no hope, either of recovery or ease” and after taking all other measures they can contemplate the ending of their life at will, “if they themselves want to end their lives.” That is also only after if the Magistrates and Priests are convinced that “they are now unable to go on with the business of life, are become a burden to themselves and to all about them, and they have really outlived themselves.”
Utopia, however, did not approve people committing suicide. “So if any man takes away his own life without the approbation of the priests and the Senate, they give him none of the honours of a decent funeral, but throw his body into a ditch.”
Education and Intellectuals
Education took an equal prominence in More’s scheme of a new society. It is not only education, but knowledge with practice. Children are instructed in agriculture “partly by what they learn at school and partly by practice.” In schools “they being led out often into the fields, about the town, where they not only see others at work, but are likewise exercised in it themselves.” What is available in Utopia is more than mere formal education; it is a system of complete intellectual life.
More has been talking about an intellectual class in Utopia, sort of elite, although it is not that elaborate. This appears to be an influence of Plato who talked about ‘philosopher kings’ and a special role for the intellectuals in his Republic. According to More, this class however is not privileged but serving the society on equal terms as others. In Utopia, even the Philarchs, and that means the bureaucrats, ‘though excused by the law, yet do not excuse themselves, but work,’ because by their example they may excite the industry of the rest of the people.
But there is an exception. An “exemption is allowed to those who, being recommended to the people by the Priests [and selected] by the secret suffrages of the Philarchs.” They are the intellectuals or the trainee intellectuals. They are exempted from labor, for a period, that they may apply themselves wholly to study. They are selected very carefully. There are two ways of selecting them. Some are selected from those who have “an extraordinary capacity and disposition for letters.” Others are selected, from proven interest in intellectual pursuits even later in life on the basis of their willingness and capacity. However, “if any of these falls short of those hopes that they seemed at first to give, they are obliged to return to work.”
They are not selected from any particular family or class. “And sometimes a mechanic, that so employs his leisure hours, as to make a considerable advancement in learning, is eased from being a tradesman, and ranked among their learned men.” It is out of these groups of people that they choose their ambassadors, their priests, their Archphilarchs, and the Prince himself. This is supposed to be different to what was in practice in England during the 16th century.
But the learning and studies of others are not neglected. Strangely, More has forgotten to mention about their schooling system in any detail except few references. However it is mentioned that “they have all their learning in their own tongue.” More says “which is both a copious and pleasant language, and in which a man can fully express his mind.” It is lingua franca in that part of the world as “it runs over a great tract of many countries, but it is not equally pure in all places.” It is possible that his imagination was Sanskrit or Pali. As we have already mentioned, it is ordinary to have public lectures every morning before daybreak in their community halls at which none are obliged to appear. It is perfectly voluntary. Yet it indicates the importance given to the intellectual life in Utopia.
There is another merit, for them to be a knowledge society. “They do not in all things agree among themselves,” both mundane and philosophical. Not only on “the causes of the saltiness of the sea, of its ebbing and flowing” but also on “the origin and nature both of the heavens and the earth; they dispute of them, partly as our ancient philosophers have done, and partly upon some new hypothesis, in which, as they differ from them.”
 Erich Fromm, The Art of Living.
 Dress is another example for the argument that More was talking about a tropical Island, Ceylon at that time. He said the ‘same sorts of cloth’ could be ‘calculated to suit both for their summers and winters.’
 One may argue that More’s Utopia came closer to what Pol Pot tried to practice in Cambodia or the other way round. In the enforced community living in Cambodia, a person was given one pair of trouser and a tunic which could be collected from the dormitory.
 More placed great attention to ‘mixing young with the old’ believing that otherwise the young might go astray without the gravity of the seniors. This description also appears when he talks about attending temples.
 However there is contradictory evidence. Erasmus refers to a lost dialogue where More was in support of ‘community of wives’ as advocated in Plato’s Republic. Tommaso Campanella also advocated a ‘community of wives’ in his The City of the Sun (1602).
Buddhist monk Galagoda Atte Gnanasara who thretened police officers and used ‘Sudda Sinhala filth’ in June 2012 at Pinnaduwa was charged for forcible entry to the Southern Expressway,obstructing police duties and damaging State properties.
The Homagama Police on Monday has filed a charge sheet against Ganasara and two other monks namely Witharandeniye Nanda and Ambilipitiye Vijitha at the Homagama Magistrate’s courts.
The video below shows the monks were also making racist remarks against Muslims and Tamils in the scene of the incident.
Recently I was asked to suggest a good tagline for Independence Day. The selling point was the main theme engendered by February 4, freedom. Such taglines, however, are notoriously difficult to come up with, so after days of thinking and scribbling, I was given an idea to pursue: instead of freedom, we’d opt for a different theme. That theme would be the perennial problem we encounter every February: the fact that we take our own Independence Day (and what it stands for) for granted. Put simply, our collective indifference. Needless to say, I loved it.
In the United States of America, schoolchildren are taught about Constitutional Law and the Founding Fathers through illustrated and easy to read guides. There are simplified versions of the Declaration of Freedom, annotated for the common reader, which are never out of print. Classrooms are littered (for the lack of a better term) with posters designed by students centring on what they think about Independence. Broadway directors turn the lives of the Founding Fathers into veritable musicals and Hollywood, time and time again, feature them as heroes. The last time I checked, Abraham Lincoln had become a vampire hunter.
What does independence mean for us, given that a few days from today we’ll be celebrating 69 years of it? Is it freedom or nidahasa, or is it what it literally means, svadinathvaya? If the latter is true, we have no reason for pride. We are not completely independent in the sense that we are part of this accursed reality (which we must acknowledge) called globalisation, but despite that a country can still claim self-sufficiency by realising its potential and making its leaders work for its people. In other words, independence is not just about nationalism and rhetoric, it’s also about working for the broader citizenry, eschewing ethnicity and faith. Unfortunately, we have not even achieved that.
Politically we have allowed our rulers to tinker with the democratic process. If 1956 signified a congruence of liberalism and ethno-nationalism (a paradox, certainly), it didn’t continue because of the structural flaws of a system that, to this day, entrenches the power of the privileged. Economically we have progressed from having Singapore use us as a model to having Singapore as a model. Culturally we are yet to claim an identity of our own, in part because our nationalists are tragically a hybridised lot, disdainful of Westernisation in public and enamoured of it in private.
All of this naturally begs the question: what SHOULD svadinathvaya entail? Do we take it literally and repudiate globalisation, or do we enjoy the latter while hypocritically celebrating self-sufficiency? The West, with the recent intrusion of rightwing political parties, is seeing a return to mercantilism and the form of capitalism that subsisted during the Industrial Revolution (indefensibly and manifestly privileging the pursuit of money over everything else). Does this mean that the East should follow suit?
The answer, I feel, will not be found by resorting to politics. It will be found by resorting to literature. I am thinking here of Rabindranath Tagore’s Ghare Baire (“The Home and the World”), which explores the rift between cosmetic nationalism and sobriety. The former, personified by Sandip (the nationalist), results in the destruction, while the latter, personified by Nikhil (the rationalist), results in progress. If we obtain an analogy here, we can surmise that the history of this country, after independence that is, has more or less been driven by the rift between the Sandips and the Nikhils in our Parliament and government.
To be sure, a country’s destiny can’t be reducible to what goes on in those two institutions, but given the structure of privilege we’ve let our representatives wallow in, there’s no point in claiming that power exists in the periphery. We can’t have the cake and eat it too, after all. If we elect idiots, we shall be ruled by idiots. That’s democracy for you today.
To this end, it’s pertinent to remember that a great many people of this country believe that independence was given to, and not won by, us. A rather crass generalisation to make, particularly since it trivialises those who actually fought for our freedom, but spot on if we relate it to the moment of independence, i.e. February 4, 1948. It doesn’t take one much time, after all, to read the likes of Kumari Jayawardena and conclude (rather depressingly) that most of those touted as heroes today were less concerned about achieving complete independence than about ensuring that the White Man handed over his mantle to the pukka sahib.
There’s no point dwelling on the past if we don’t anchor it for the future, no less a person than Martin Wickramasinghe informed us. But there’s no point thinking of the future without thinking of the past, a point that Wickramasinghe emphasised as well. If we decry English as a privileged tongue while secretly indulging in that same privilege, if we teach OTHER children to cherish the game pasale while ensuring by hook or crook that OUR children are admitted to elite institutions, where’s the freedom we should be embracing? Where’s the past we should be celebrating and the future we should be bracing ourselves for?
Forget that. Take another issue. How many of us are bothered to think about our history? How many of us are rooted enough to appreciate our methods of irrigation and our ancient civilisation without either degrading them as inferior or ballooning them as the greatest in the world? The former sentiment is echoed by the cosmopolitan, the latter by the cosmetic nationalist. If we are to claim independence, neither individual will do. And yet, we can concede that both of them have called the shots here, often clinching power and more often than not retaining power.
Should we stop hoping, then? I don’t think so. 1956 was a failed experiment, in that it won us neither the nationalism nor the liberalism its leader(s) espoused, but it happened nevertheless. Much of the foundation for a deshiya samajaya, let’s not forget, was laid with the revolution it wrought, so much so that not even the paradigm shift brought about after 1977 was enough to erode it. As Gunadasa Amarasekara aptly pointed out, our political structure, flawed as it is, was and is capable of throwing out a firm-footed and rooted nationalist leader. If we wait long enough, and if bad times worsen even more, that leader will not (I believe) be hard to enough. Not easy, yes. But not impossible either.
When Mahagama Sekara penned “Me Sinhala Apage Ratayi”, he was not writing about the Sinhala Buddhist identity per se. He was writing of the Siv Hela, the races that originally inhabited this island, whose heritage precedes even that of those who rant and rave over ethnic supremacy today. And yet, we are wont to trashing it as a chauvinist work of art. When Sunil Ariyaratne penned the Janaraja Geethaya, better known of course as “Api Okkoma Rajawaru” for our true independence day (May 22, 1972), we became the deciders of our own destiny, collectively and individually. The “we” was symbolic and telling: all of us, not just the majority. We should be forgiven for erring over Sekara’s immortal song, but we should not be forgiven for thinking that claiming independence (svadinathvaya) culturally has always been coterminous with claiming ethnic supremacy.
One final point. We were a matriarchal society before the British invaded us. We didn’t institutionalise patriarchy. The British did. Much of what can be considered as puritanical today, in our society, can be traced to laws drafted by the Victorians. To confuse the one for the other, to either conflate our identity with outdated Puritanism OR reject our puritanical strains on the (perceived) shortcomings of our country, is therefore wrong. To become free and independent, I believe we should do away or at least reform these laws. Otherwise, we will continue seeking shelter in artificial legal constructs to defend what is misconceived as our identity.
On this week of independence, therefore, let us resolve. Let us come with a proper tagline. Let us therefore wish, “Don’t just celebrate freedom, enjoy it!” Or to put it in a better way, “Love freedom.” If there is an advertisement for February 4, that’s the copy and tagline we should put out. For all to see
The following is a commentary on an article written by DBS Jeyaraj in which he exposes the overseas LTTE network’s plot to assassinate TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran in two instances: December 12th of 2016 and January 13th of 2017. The plot to assassinate Sumanthiran, however, did not succeed or materialize due to certain unforeseeable circumstances.
Never forget, the LTTE overseas network is still alive and well. Had the LTTE succeeded in killing Sumanthiran, it would have unleashed a full restoration and strengthening of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The assassination would have resulted in greater military presence in the North. The assassination would have weakened the Tamil moderates and strengthened the Sinhala hardliners. Owing to the political climate in the aftermath of the assassination, it would have allowed the government to quickly sweep through constitutional reforms, almost without any opposition. All these outcomes are precisely what the LTTE overseas network wants! The LTTE network wants to reignite harsh government oppressive policies against Tamils, and Sumanthiran’s assassination may have resulted in the Sri Lankan government imposing such policies. The LTTE network can then turn to the Tamil diaspora and say, “look at the terror the GOSL is causing.” The LTTE diaspora network has the rationale that even the smallest sense of normalcy and peace in Sri Lanka between Tamils and Sinhalese is counterproductive to the goal of gaining a separate state!
The LTTE overseas network, time and time again, is willing to reach their goal of a separate state even if it means carrying out actions which would result in the brutal oppression of Tamils, who are the same people the LTTE network claims to protect! The LTTE overseas network is nothing but a bunch of sadistic idiots!
This assassination plot, however, was partially foiled by an ex-LTTE member in the North who refused to carry out such an assassination, citing that if the assassination plot is carried out it would be detrimental to the wellbeing of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Subsequently, the ex-LTTE member reported the assassination plot to the Sri Lankan authorities. This is a reminder that an overwhelming majority of the ex-LTTE members are good and decent people who only want to live in peace.
January 31st is Neelan Tiruchelvam’s birthday. We must remember the virtues championed by Neelan Tiruchelvam, a man of integrity and peace. In Parliament, on June 15th 1999, Neelan Tiruchelvam said that we must “celebrate life”, we must be “fiercely committed to protecting and securing the sanctity of life, which is the most fundamental value without which all other rights and freedoms become meaningless…despite all the difficulties, there needs to be a concerted effort to develop a negotiating framework that can command the widest possible support. Such a negotiating framework must include at least minimal acceptance, by both sides, of the norms and standards relating to international human rights and a determination to restore peace, normalcy, civil society and democratic governance.” One month later, on July 29th 1999, Neelan Tiruchelvam would be assassinated.