Cursory Comments No. 12

This is the first of two Essays that will analyse the papers given at the WAPS Conference of 21 August 04 held in Oslo, Norway.  This essay is mainly concerned with the Paper presented by H.L.D. Mahindapala as it seems to be principal Paper at that Conference. The second Essay will be published soon and will consider the other Papers as well as evaluate the Conference as a whole.

A North-South Conflict?


by Victor Gunasekara


The WAPS Conference was aimed at informing Western opinion of the nature of the conflict in Sri Lanka (SL).  Oslo was chosen as the venue because Norway is the country chosen by Sri Lanka and the LTTE to "monitor" the so-called Peace Process now going in SL.[1]  Norway in fact represents the "International Community" in their intervention in the SL conflict. The International Community (hereafter IC) is an euphemism for the predominantly Christian Western countries that now dominate the world.   The Conference sought to give a different perspective on the conflict from that now adopted by the IC.


The arguments presented at the WAPS conference are hardly new. Sri Lankan expatriate lobbies in Europe, North America and Australia have been presenting these very same arguments to Western countries and to International bodies at least from the mid-1980s. They had issued countless publications, interviewed political leaders, responded to media distortions, held public meetings and demonstrations, participated in seminars and conferences, exposed the agenda of NGOs in their intervention in the SL conflict, taken advertisements in major Newspapers, etc. Yet it cannot be said that they have been able to reverse the support of Western opinion and the IC for the demonstrable distortions of the Tamil Separatist lobby. Certainly small gains were made but no major shift. In the WAPS papers I could not find a single argument that had not already been advanced many times over. So the question is whether there will be some success this time.


The earlier efforts were at a time when the SL Government was engaged in a fight with the terrorists. Whether rehearsing these very same arguments in Oslo, when the struggle had been abandoned and the position of those who uphold the cause of SL greatly weakened, will be more successful  is extremely doubtful. It must be remembered that SL Governments for the last two years have simply capitulated to the terrorists and their capacity to renew the military struggle is weaker than ever. Yet the WAPS Conference is a sign that the issue is still alive, and so the papers presented at this Conference needs careful scrutiny.  The purpose of these Comments is not to denigrate the Conference but to consider whether the revival of a old and failed strategy will have more success this time. We have also to consider if the latest developments including the Peace Process, which had been in force since the MOU with the terrorists, have been correctly analyzed.  When the MOU was signed and the Peace Process commenced many Sri Lankan expatriate groups gave up in disgust. SPUR and WAPS seem to have a greater commitment to Peace (as the inclusion of this term in their names suggest) so they may be having more faith in the Peace Process.


This Essay deals with the Paper presented at the Conference by H.L.D. Mahindapala (hereafter abbreviated to 'HLD') entitled "Origins of the North-South Conflict".  This was the most important of the Papers presented at the Conference.  It is the longest paper (over 15,000 words), though somewhat unstructured for a Paper of that length.  HLD's facts are correct and the research meticulous. He has not only presented a theory of the origin of the conflict (as his title suggests) but also commented on the progress of the conflict right up to the current peace process. As such his Paper stood way above the other presentations which relied more on graphic pictures of terrorist atrocities (and LTTE propaganda pictures of their military might) than logical reasoning. My comments will not be so much concerned with the minute historical details that are rehearsed in the Paper but on its broad thrust.  Attention will be focused on several aspects.  These include (1) whether the nature of the conflict had been correctly presented, (2) whether the dispute about the origins is now relevant, (3) whether the causes of conflict have been identified, (4) whether clear strategies have been canvassed as to what should now be done , and several other issues.  It is not possible in an essay of this length to deal exhaustively with HLD's Paper (let alone the whole Conference) so our comments here will be addressed to the issues identified.


The Conference and its Basic Shortcoming

The title of the WAPS Conference is "Road Maps to Peace in Sri Lanka", a terminology burrowed from the US initiative to solve the Palestinian problem.  Such "Road Maps" invariably come to grief at the first road block they encounter. The US Roadmap for Palestine had got derailed several times and there is still no guarantee that it will lead anywhere. Indeed in the current stage of the "Road Map" for SL the first road block may already have been reached in the refusal of the LTTE to budge from their proposals for the "Interim Authority".  If so the Roadmap proposed by WAPS, indeed if we can find one in the papers presented, may turn out to have been aborted even before the finishing touches have been put on it!


I feel that what was lacking in the WAPS Conference was a theory or paradigm which would explain the events that have occurred and suggest a way out. HLD's paper does try to present a theory which I will consider in this essay.   HLD argues against what he calls a "mono-causal" explanation of the crisis. By this he refers to those who put the entire blame on the Sinhala-Buddhists. This is of course the explanation of the Tamils (supported by Jesuhelas and other Sinhala traitors of whom there has been no short supply). This is also the explanation that is broadly accepted by the IC. To the extent that this particular mono-causal theory is questioned the paper does make a positive contribution.  However the alternative explanation given is questionable, and other explanations are neglected. [2]


At this point it may be useful if I indicate very briefly my own view of the nature and causes of this conflict. In my comments on the anniversary of the '83 riots (see CC No. 9) I had identified two complementary processes which have led SL to the abyss. One is the spread of the Eelaamist mentality amongst the Tamils ('eelamization' as I termed it).  The other was the spread of the Hela mentality amongst the Sinhalas, a process I had called 'helanization'.  These two processes are mutually reinforcing and complementary. While other factors are also important I had identified these two as the most important. I see the problem as stemming from an ideological conflict between those who hold to these two ideologies. They cannot simply be equated to the ideologies of Tamils and Sinhalas in general. This is not the place to expand on this view of the conflict, but it sets itself apart from the popular ethnic view of the conflict as well as the position taken at the Conference. As explained later in this essay  I could not find any alternative "multi-causal" explanation in HLD's article or in the other papers at the WAPS conference.  This accounts for the lack of a credible course of action, other than pursuing with the current Peace Process.  The only clear statement that the Peace Process has been a failure is contained in the paper by Paul Harris but this Paper will not be considered here but in the subsequent essay which will deal with the other papers presented at this Conference.


As far as the strategy that should be adopted there is none given and the theory of the conflict given does not suggest any. The implication seems to be that the peace process should go forward. The Conference seems to hope that the IC will do an about-turn, abandon the Tamils whom they have supported so far, and come to aid the Sinhalas  I think this reflects the forlorn hope of the Sinhalas that some outside force will come and solve the problem for them. They seem to forget that this is something that they will have to do for themselves, and if they start doing it there may be external help forthcoming.  If the aim of the Conference was to appeal to the good sense or generosity of Norway and the IC it seems to overlook the fact that such sentimentality has no place in international politics. It is sad to see that Sri Lanka has still not weaned itself off the begging bowl mentality, even on a matter so vital to its future.

The Nature of the Conflict

The designation 'North-South Conflict' [3] might give the impression to uninitiated Westerners that we are dealing with a simple regional conflict. But 'North' clearly refers to (Jaffna) Tamils and 'South' to Sinhalas so we are dealing essentially with an 'ethnic problem'.  This is the way the IC categorizes this problem taking their cue from the Tamil separatists.  I would describe the problem that has plagued Sri Lanka for the last thirty years as a 'separatist insurgency' which had relied, especially in the early period on terrorism, and one which is based on a distinct ideology. There is an intimate connection between the separatist insurgency and the ethnic situation, which connection will be elucidated later in this essay. But the problem has essentially been a terrorist insurgency rooted in an ideological difference.. It was the Tamil separatists themselves, and the International Community that has been behind them, that has sought to characterize it as as an 'ethic conflict'.  So when the terminology of "North-South Conflict", which is really an euphemism for ethnic conflict, is used in a Conference held in a country which has been the delegate of the IC the Western misrepresentation of the SL problem is unfortunately confirmed and perpetuated.


HLD argues that his North-South characterization really makes the conflict a non-ethnic one. Thus he says "the Sri Lankan crisis is not an ethnic issue, with all the Tamil-speaking ganging up against the majority Sinhalese, but a regional issue confined only to the north and the south".  He explains the matter further in a footnote.  There he claims that  the conflict "is best described in geographical terms because the ethnic dimensions are confined to only the northern regions and two ethnic communities in the eastern and central regions have not joined the north".  But even if the upcountry Tamils and the Tamil-speaking Muslims were not involved in the conflict it can still be an ethnic conflict if the Jaffna Tamils are pitted against the Sinhalas. We do not need to have all Tamils "ganging up" against the Sinhalese to make it an ethnic conflict.[4]   But the fact is that as far as the upcountry Tamils are concerned many of them sympathize with the Eelaam demand, and their lack of militancy is purely due to local causes. [5]  They had first of all to establish their citizenship before they could demand a territory of their own. The Tamil speaking Muslims are not ethnically Dravidians and so they cannot be counted as part of 'Tamil ethnicity' to refute the argument that an alleged ethnic conflict exists.[6]


The best way to refute the claim that the conflict is an ethnic conflict is not to postulate a non-existent regional conflict. In fact the Tamils of Colombo (which geographically belongs to the South) are probably the most ardent Eelaamists. So are most of the Tamils in the Tamil Diaspora. The conflict is in reality an ideological conflict whose advocates as well as opponents are found in all parts of the country (and indeed the world). In fact such things like the recent defection of Karuna from the 'Northern' LTTE and the increasing Tamil-on-Tamil violence refute the regional hypothesis advanced at the WAPS Conference. [7]

The Origin of the Conflict

The other aspect that deserves comment is why so much prominence is given to the origin of the conflict as indicated in the very title of HLD's paper.. People can trace the origin to any point in the long history of the country that they wish. Some of the dates that have been identified by various people as the "origin" of this conflict are: (1) the Dutugemunu-Elara war in the 3rd century BCE, (2) the Chola invasion in the 10th Century CE, (3) the advent of colonialism in 1505, (4) the British 'divide-and-rule' policy since 1815, (5) the first signs that the British will lay down the burden (1920s), (6) the last State Council (1940s) when it was clear that this would happen, (7) the grant of independence in 1948, (8) the Cultural Revolution of 1956, (9) the assassination of the Jaffna mayor and the start of the insurgency (10) The Vadukkodai Resolution of 1976 which set the agenda for the Tamils political groups.  A case can be made for any of these dates, from the most ancient to the most recent. But origins often have little relationship to the dynamics that develop later.


The fact is that most people in SL now have very short memories. Certainly the Tamil child-soldiers know nothing before the advent of Prabhakaran, and many Sinhalas are quite ignorant of what went on before independence, and some even of what went on before the Cultural Revolution. So arguing about origins is somewhat of a futile exercise best left to historians like G.C. Mendis and Kingsley Silva (both of who are quoted approvingly by HLD).[8]   What we are seeing are dynamic processes unlikely to be affected by a knowledge of the circumstances that are presumed to have been their origin.


If origins are important my view is that this has to be sought in the transformation of Classical Lankan values which started with the Portuguese invasion.  This introduced Christianity which had a world view totally at variance with classical Indian religion (Brahmanism, Buddhism, Jainism etc.)  This introduced the notions of racism and religionism generally unknown in the Indian tradition. Under these influences a new ideology, which I have called the neo-Sinhala ideology, arose. Later a complementary neo-Tamil ideology also emerged upturning classical Tamil values which culminated much later in Eelaamism. The progress of the neo-Sinhala ideology was limited during the Colonial period but it reared its head in the post-independence era. The 1956 Cultural Revolution saw its incorporation into the official policy of the country. It marks the formal triumph of 'Helaism' (as the ideology of the Helas may be termed) which is the latest phase of the neo-Sinhala development.


The Causes of the Conflict

HLD states in many places in his Paper that the "monocausal" view of the conflict is wrong. But it is difficult to identify a multi-causal or even a bi-causal theory of the Conflict in his Paper. By 'monocausal' HLD means the view that the blame for the conflict could be assigned solely to Sinhala Buddhists. To refute such a theory one has to postulate one or more other causes whether or not one exonerates the Sonhala-Buddhists completely.. HLD seems to suggest that the cause is the intransigence and communal thinking of the Tamils (and the arrogance of their leaders)  of which he gives several examples. If this is so then this is also another  mono-causal theory, but one which shifts the blame to the other side of the communal spectrum. It is therefore necessary to consider what in HLD's views are the real causes of the conflict.


If we accept the communalism of the Tamils as at least one cause then for a multi-causal theory one or more other causes too have to be identified. HLD is at pains to absolve the Sinhalas and in particular the Buddhist Sinhalas from being a significant cause. If the Sinhalas are not the 'cause' in the South end of this North-South theory what other candidates are there?  There is a reference to the "aberrations and, more so, [to] the violence initiated by the lower-level leadership" of the Sinhalas. But this is also attributed to cunning of the Tamil leaders:

"the Tamil leadership exploited this weakness and deliberately provoked the lower-level Sinhala leadership to go on the rampage against the Tamils. In plain words, the Tamil leadership was strategizing to gain political mileage by provoking the Sinhala mobs to attack the Tamils. It is a grim story of a blood-thirsty Tamil leadership planning to thrive on the carnage of their own Tamil people."

I do not think that this kind of explanation gains much in credibility. Others have simply attributed the riots to "thugs and hooligans" without asserting that Tamil leaders were actually behind them. Still others attribute it to political leaders, some even accusing President Jayawardene who was then in power. (See CC9 on the 'Remembrance of '83").  The Paper does not go into any details of this "lower-level Sinhala leadership" and why the Tamil leaders were able to manipulate this "weakness" to their advantage and the "higher-level" Sinhala leadership could not!. Some theorists have suggested that it was in fact this "higher-level" leadership (especially President Jayawardene himself) who manipulated the "lower-level" leadership. I feel that this distinction between two leaderships, higher and lower, is not based on reality and sounds very much like an apologia. This is also reinforced by the language used - the Sinhalas had a "weakness" while the Tamils had something which was more.


So despite the attempt to refute a mono-causal explanation we seem to be left with another mono-causal explanation.

The Ethnic Connection

The WAPS Conference has thus perpetuated the myth that the SL conflict is an ethnic conflict between the Jaffna Tamils of the North and the Sinhalas of the South. As against this the paradigm I had advanced makes it a conflict between the Eelaamist ideology and those who do not share this ideology. It must not be thought that the Eelaamist ideology is only held by Jaffna Tamils. Not only other Tamils and some Muslims but many Sinhalas also share this ideology.  We already know that it is supported by many Jesuhelas, especially those holding high ecclesiastical positions. Indeed there are many (neo-)Sinhalas also who share this view, and some Buddhist monks have even been seen sharing platforms with Eelaamists. Thus all Eelaamists are not Tamils.


Similarly the non-Eelaamist ideology cannot all be identified exclusively with Helas or even Boduhelas. There are many Tamils who support Classical Tamil values and are non-Eelaamist. Many other minority groups share this position. Also there are many Sinhalas who still uphold classical Sinhala values and are vehemently anti-Eelaamist (and also anti-Hela). Thus the non-Eelaamist camp can be divided between those who share the Hela ideology and those who share some form of the classical Lankan ideology.


In fact there is a similarity between the Hela ideology and the Eelaamist ideology.  Both are territorially minded, one calling its 'homeland' Eeelam and the other 'Helabima'.  In fact it is the Eelaam-Helabima view that will ultimately lead to the bifurcation of Lanka, which under the classical views shared by both the classical Sinhalas and the classical Tamils was one homeland for all its people.


The WAPS Conference had a golden opportunity to change the language of discourse relating to the SL conflict transforming it from a racial-ethnic-territorial problem into an ideological conflict.  It blew away this opportunity, mainly because it was based on an incorrect paradigm. It remained stuck in the language of ethnic conflict albeit with a few cosmetic linguistic changes.  This would have been music to the ears of the Norwegians because that is the way they like to see this conflict.


Treatment of the Cultural-Revolution

There is a marked reticence in the Paper to ascribe an important place in the chain of events that has characterized this conflict to the 'Cultural Revolution' initiated in 1956 by Solomon Bandaranike.  The distinguishing aspects of this reform was the enactment of the "Sinhala Only" Act and the introduction of a new educational policy under which Sinhalas would be educated in the Sinhala medium and Tamils in Tamil. The Paper claims that the aim of the language legislation was not anti-Tamil but anti-English.  Thus it is said:  "Only a few had grasped the significance of this aspect of the Sinhala Only Act of 1956. It is against all common sense to view it as an act against the Tamils because it was a piece of legislation designed specifically to replace English – the language that was imposed as the official language in 1833."  But while the legislation sought to replace English the replacement language was to be Sinhala Only not Swabhasha (i.e. Sinhala and Tamil). In the lead-up to the legislation there was no real debate between English vs. Sinhala or English vs. Swabhasha.  Instead much of the acrimony was generated by the agitation of those who advocated "Sinhala only" and those who advocated "parity of status" (i.e. Swabhasha). . Thus the legislation cannot be seen as a simple measure to displace English, and it is unlikely Norwegians or the IC will see it as such.


In that agitation "parity of status" would have been the logical answer that would have spared the country much of the travail it has gone through. But the Cultural Revolution was to be a triumph for the Helas and this is what Solomon had promised. So the cause of "parity" was lost. The damage had been done and not even the Reasonable Use of Tamil Act was able to repair it. Today much of the reforms of the Hela revolution has been quietly buried without much fanfare, and those who agitated most loudly for Sinhala Only have become silent, a transformation which has been described by one commentator as a transition from "bullies to sniveling cowards" (Tissaranee Gunasekara). [9]

Role of Caste and Religion

The Paper devotes considerable space to the influence of the caste factor amongst the Tamils. Ever since Paffenberger raised this issue the caste factor behind the Tamil insurrection has come to be appreciated by many commentators. In the Tamil caste system the vellahla is said to occupy the highest position just as the goigama is said to occupy the corresponding position amongst the Sinhalas. It is well-known that caste differences are much more emphasised in Tamil culture than amongst the Sinhalas and the Paper gives many examples of the repression of the lower castes by the vellahlas.[10]  It sees the Vadukkodai Resolution of 1976 as a vellahla attempt to perpetuate their power through separatism as they felt that the democratic practices of a united Sri Lanka will undermine the vellahla power. This appears to be a far-fetched explanation. In numerical terms the vellahlas were the majority (just as the goigamas are a majority amongst the Sinhalas).  So they have little to fear from a democratic process which relies on the number of votes, and they would dominate the Tamil electorates. Both the vellahla and goigama castes were originally farmers and agriculture was historically the mainstay amongst both Sinhalas and Tamils.  Hence their preponderance in both ethnic groups. There is no evidence that the low castes amongst the Tamils opposed the 1976 resolution. In actual fact separatism rather than consolidating the position of the vellahla actually undermined it. This is recognised by HLD when he says that the vellahla "dug their own grave".  He does not seem to credit the vellahla the ability to have foreseen that eventual result. But I think the fallacy here is to ascribe separatism to vellahla attempt to preserve their pre-eminance. As Paffenberger identified some years back the LTTE separatists, the most ardent supporters of racial segregation, came from the lower castes, not the higher ones.


But while the caste factor is given great prominence in the Paper there is a complete neglect of the religious factor. This is the influence of Christianity. Of all the peoples of the Subcontinent the Christians had the greatest success with the Dravidians, especially the Tamils.  In Sri Lanka about 20 percent of Tamils were converted to Christianity at the time of independence while the corresponding proportion amongst the Sinhalas would have been about 5 percent. Most of the Tamil converts belonged to the lower castes. If we exclude the "rice Christians" who were converted purely for mercenary reasons most of the others were converted because of some perceived "deficiency" in their original religion. Thus Hinduism discriminated against the lower castes and they became the most likely targets for conversion. In Buddhism the occupation of fishing was considered  a "wrong livelihood" so the fisher-folk became easy targets for conversion. Thus the typical Tamil convert to Christianity was a low caste man, while the typical 'Jesuhela' was a fisherman usually of the karawa caste. It is to this class of low-caste Tamil converts to Christianity that the the LTTE leader came. Many LTTE "soldiers" proudly wear the cross next to the suicide pill around their necks!


The LTTE insurgency is largely a Christian insurgency.  This is why the Christian West has been so keen to back the Tamils.  In the current campaign of Christian evangelists to convert Asia into Christianity they would be seeing the LTTE as an allied force.  It also explains the intra-Tamil conflict as they is always a latent Hindu-Christian conflict though much less acute than the Buddhist-Christian confrontation.. It is true that Hinduism in its modern manifestation is not as opposed to Christianity as Buddhism is, but the bulk of the traditional Hindus would be uncomfortable with a Christian Tamil presence.  How to broach this matter in a Christian country like Norway would have been a tough task for the organizers of the the WAPS conference and that is why the conference seems to have steered clear of the issue. But nothing is gained by not exposing this side of the Conflict, and this remains a great failing of the Conference..

The Discrimination Issue

The charge of discrimination against Tamils has also been addressed in this Paper.  This is one of the issues raised in the early stages of this conflict, but now does not figure prominently partly because the charge has been effectively refuted. The Paper reproduces as an Appendix the Soulbury refutations on this charge. But that refers largely  to the alleged discrimination during British times, and Soulbury would have been at pains to deny it. The discrimination in British times was in favour of Tamils, not against them. But Soulbury does not deal with the pro-Tamil discrimination and to that extent this section is not relevant today. Hence I so not see why such prominence is given to the views of Soulbury, unless because it is due to the fixation on origins.


The claim of discrimination against Tzmils was raised by the International Tamil Separatist Lobby when they were trying to harness international opinion to support them after the riots of 83..  This was refuted at the time by many expatriate groups. The present writer's refutation of this claim can still be seen on the ACSLU  webpage under the title "The Myth of Discrimination against Tamils in Sri Lanka". These attempts were not very successful. It is doubtful whether the reiteration at the present time, when the discrimination cry is not heard too frequently, will be any more successful.


Now the Tamil separatists have progressed far beyond a simple demand for the elimination of any presumed discrimination.  Now they want a piece of the territory of Lanka to establish their racist state, and they have the guns and the bombs to back their claim.. In fact they hold a lot of the territory they claim.  The arguments against separatism today are quite different from arguments against a presumed discrimination. It is a pity that more attention was not given to these arguments in the Conference, and the papers seem to be fixated on the discrimination claim.


Other Issues

A few comments may be made on a few subsidiary issues raised in HLD's Paper.


The Paper seems to imply that while the South favoured the democratic process the North did not. I do not want to contest this view, but the question is whether Democracy in the way it has operated Sri Lanka has served the country well. Democracy has become something of a farce both in Western countries and others to which it has been implanted. In the West election outcomes are determined by propaganda, advertising, spin doctoring, media bias etc. all of which is only available to those with large sums of money. Many people in those country simply do not turn up at the polls as the choice is between substantially identical parties each with a great deal of money. As the last US Presidential election showed a person with a minority of votes can be elected if appropriate manipulation of votes can be arranged. In SL the electoral anomalies are greater which "election observers" have not been able to dispel.


What we have seen in SL is typical of the "democratic process". We have tw o near-identical political coalitions being alternatively returned to power. This is simply because people get disgusted with the ruling coalition but fail to realise that the replacement is not any better. If at all there is only a difference of degree.  Thus we see that with respect to the conflict both the UNP-led and SLFP-led coalitions keep on trying to implement the same failed policy with minor changes. So praising the Sinhalas for their particular version of "democracy" may be questionable when it is precisely this electoral system that must share the blame for the country's plight. In fact in the present Constitution the distortion of democracy has been carried to the ultimate limit.


There is also much play in the Paper on ethnically defined majorities and minorities. At the moment Sinhala-Buddhists are the majority. The longer term balance is determined by the rate of population growth. This rate is low among Sinhala Buddhists but greater amongst Muslims and Catholics. Thus ultimately the Sinhala Buddhists may lose their majority. Their numbers are also depleted by the conversions now going on. These conversions are the direct result of the abandonment of classical Lankan values. While Sinhalas are now in a majority the divisions amongst them does not given any particular group or party a plurality of votes and the minorities continue to rule the roost.  There is also the rising ascendancy of the Jesuhelas over the Boduhelas. In the light of these developments would "democracy" then not work against the Sinhala-Buddhists just as now it is claimed that now it works for them?  What is needed is to inculcate the right ideology not which ethnic group has the majority or the minority.

Concluding Remarks

A final evaluation of the WAPS Conference will have to await our consideration of the other Papers presented at this Conference. I hope to do this in a future CC. The comments here can only relate to the principal paper presented by HLD.


HLD has made many significant contributions to the cause of Sri Lanka both as a journalist working in Sri Lanka and as an expatriate observer from a distance. His courage in speaking now when many Sri Lankan intellectuals are holding their tongues has to be commended. The critique in this Essay is not so much at what HLD has said but at an approach to this conflict which has a much wider resonance amongst Sri Lankans both at in the home country and abroad. We cannot say that the conflict has now reached a stage when we can see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. So efforts of Sri Lankans who have been interested in this question is even more needed one when the nation may well be having only one last chance.. HLD must be commended for not faltering in his efforts to see that this conflict is brought to a satisfactory conclusion. One can only hope that the peace he seeks for the country is achieved in this generation.




[1] WAPS stands for World Alliance for Peace in Sri Lanka. It seems to be an offspring of SPUR the Australian organization dealing with the SL problem. The 'P' in both SPUR and WAPS stands for Peace.  But peace in Sri Lanka has come to mean appeasement of the LTTE.  It is an inappropriate objective for these bodies as what is needed in SL is a just solution to the conflict by whatever means it is achieved, peace or war.  Norway has been the most consistent supporter of the LTTE. The present writer has questioned if holding such a Conference there will only increase the importance of Norway and strengthen its interference in SL affairs. After it must be extremely naive that such a conference will change the stance of Norway, especially when it is supported by the misguided politicians of SL.


[2] The Paper refers somewhat contemptuously to "a plethora of interpreters, theorists, paradigmists [sic]" etc. to the conflict and adds: "By and large, these diverse opinions converged and narrowed down to only one single cause: Sinhala-Buddhism." This is only true of the extreme Tamil propagandists. Most commentators have identified a multiplicity of causes. In my case I identify two opposing ideological positions are providing the main dynamic for the conflict, while there are others that complicate the picture. It must also be remembered that the North-South theory is also another theory or paradigm to add to the others! In fact it is not even a new hypothesis but a verbal camouflage for the good old ethnic conflict myth. 


[3]  Most Westerners understand by the North-South problem the division of the world into rich (North) countries and poor (South) countries. So using this terminology in relation to SL is misleading. Most 'Jaffna Tamils' to whom the designation applies actually have lived in the South and now constitute a large part of the Tamil Diaspora living neither in the North nor the South but abroad.


[4] If we require all people of a given ethnicity to join in  a given ethnic claim then there would be no ethnic conflict. What is needed is that there should be preponderance of people of a given ethnicity as a party to the conflict. It must be remembered that "pure" ethnic conflicts which pits one whole ethnic group against another are rare. This is another reason why the ethnic designation is inappropriate for the SL conflict, whether identified as a pure ethnic conflict or using euphemisms like the North-South conflcit.


[5]  In fact parts of the upcountry has been tacitly conceded to the 'Indian' Tamils and Sinhala shopkeepers have been driven out. If the LTTE insurgency is 'solved' by giving them the land they demand, not only de facto as at present but also de jure one can assume that there will be other claimants for territory of their own, and the upcountry Tamils and Muslims will be the first in line. Thus to isolate the Jaffna Tamils as the North-South theory has it is an extremely short-sided view of the Conflict. Militant Muslims demand the establishment of a Sharia state on SL territory, and this will be greatly enhanced if the Tamils are given their own homeland.


[6] Here HLD seems to be perpetuating the LTTE myth of a "Tamil speaking people".  The LTTE does this not out of love for Tamil speaking Muslims but to include the Eastern province in their Eelaam. There is a big difference both in religion and ethnicity between Dravidian Tamils and the Tamil-speaking Muslims (who are really Malays). Most Malays do not want to be included in the Tamil Eelaam. But if the Tamils get away with Eelaam they might agitate their own Muslim state rather than throw their lot with Sinhalas.  


[7] Recently the LTTE executed a Tamil political leader, not favourable to their cause, in the very heart of Colombo in broad daylight in full public view. Not only did this demonstrate that the writ of the LTTE leader runs even in the very capital of 'Helabima', but it once again has demonstrated that what we are dealing with is not an ethnic problem.  It does not matter if the opponent of the separatist is a Tamil or a Sinhala, they are marked for the same fate if they pose a real challenge to the LTTE supremo.  That is why most of the Hela parties in the "South" are now dancing to the tune of the LTTE supremo who is setting the agenda. Even at the very inception of the problem I had argued that the term ethnic conflict should not be used to describe it.  The rising tide of Tamil-on-Tamil violence has only served to confirm it.


[8] HLD considers historians GC Mendis and Kingsley Silva as being "neutral". I think Mendis is a Jesuhela and his efforts may seen as connected with the attempt of Jesuhelas to seize the Hela leadership.  Silva is a supporter of the ethnic interpretation of the conflict. His praise of  President Jayawardena places a question mark on HLD description of him as the greatest contemporary historian.  Mendis traces the conflict to 1943 and Silva to the 1920s.  However these are arbitrary dates that pricked the fancy of these historians. There are no neutral historians.  All historical studies reflect the viewpoint of the historian. What they lack is a dynamic view that a particular point cannot be endowed with the consequences that have come subsequently. HLD himself seems to date the conflict from the Vaddukoddai Resolution (1976) of the Tamil political parties. But this was the result of the Conflict, not its cause.


[9]  The irony of all this was that English was not really displaced and continued to rule the roost in key areas like the law, medicine, business, science and technology. Now the process is being reversed and English is  fully reinstated to its original position. The Hela victory was a hollow triumph and all it produced was a generation of Helas who were kept in fundamental ignorance. Meanwhile the Hela politicians who introduced these measures sent their children abroad to receive an education in Western languages!


[10]  Some of these tend to be exaggerated. Thus it is said that the low castes were not allowed to "bury their dead according to Hindu rituals reserved only for the high-caste."  But Hindus do not believe in burial but in cremation.  The LTTE on the other hand maintain a cemetery where their fighters are buried. This is due to their Christian influence.






Because of its length the Paper of HLD is not reproduced here. It could be seen at  Please also note that revised versions of the more important of these Cursory Comments will be posted on the ACSLU webpage. This Page was closed after Sri Lanka capitulated to the LTTE. I am considering reviving it if only to sound another warning against the peace process. We may well be witnessing the final chapter of the Sri Lankan tragedy.