Tamil Hindu reflections on Tamil separatism
by Arundhati Rajasingham on 17 Jul 2009 8 Comments

Tamil Hinduism versus Christianity
The Tamil Tigers under Prabhakaran repeatedly thrust war upon the Sri Lankan Tamils. It would be worthwhile to review our recent history, learn its lessons and endeavour to achieve a brighter future. The defeat of the LTTE offers us the space to change direction, revive our cultural traditions and our economic fortunes.

I shall recount the Hindu foundation of Sri Lankan Tamil identity, the real nature of the Tiger ideology and salient points in the LTTE insurrection. I argue that a return to Hindu fundamentals alone would secure Tamil cultural and economic interests in Sri Lanka on a sustainable basis.

The Tamil history in Sri Lanka is a Hindu one. Those Tamils in Sri Lanka who adopted Buddhism in the early first millennium assimilated into the Sinhalese mainstream in a generation or two. Tamils in the Western and North Western Provinces who adopted the Roman Catholic faith in the 17th century likewise became Sinhalese. The Colombo Chetties are another example. The Sri Lankan Muslims view themselves a separate ethnic group despite speaking the Tamil language. It was Saivite Hinduism alone that preserved the Tamil ethnic identity as we know it today in Sri Lanka.

The Tamils featured in Sri Lankan history since at least the second century BC. The Hindu tradition defined and inspired the Tamil identity in Sri Lanka. Pallava era influence in the 7th century and the Chola interlude in the 11th century illustrates that in Ceylon.

The Jaffna kingdom existed between the 13th and 17th centuries AD. We are a people defined by Hindu tradition. Jaffna, often independent, intermittently paying tribute to the Vijayanagara empire and once loyal to Kotte under Parakrama Bahu VI, was a maritime and agrarian political entity that upheld Saivite Hinduism. The flag of the Kingdom of Jaffna was the Nandi kodi, not the Tiger banner. The Portuguese destroyed the Jaffna Kingdom in 1619 AD. The consequent devastation to our cultural heritage was immense.

Much later, Pandara Vanian resisted the Dutch and the British in the late 1700s. A devout Hindu, he built a Sivan temple in Kat-chilai-madu before he fell resisting a three pronged British assault on his forces in 1803 in Mullaitivu. Arumuga Navalar was born in Jaffna in 1822. He was known as the father of Tamil prose and popularized the Tamil printing press. He played a key role in the Hindu revival, printed several Hindu texts and started Hindu denominational schools.

C.W. Thamotherampillai born in Jaffna in 1832 was one of the first Tamils on either side of the Palk Straits to get a university degree. A devout Hindu and high court judge, he followed Navalar’s footsteps to disseminate Saivite Hindu tradition and publish rare Tamil classics. Ananda Coomaraswamy, another Sri Lankan Tamil, was born in 1877 and was the first Hindu to interpret Hindu art to an international audience. His contributions to the Hindu aesthetic preceded Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan and Rukmini Devi’s Kalakshetra. Are we true to this vibrant Sri Lankan Tamil Hindu inheritance of ours?

The LTTE sought a separate Tamil state. But at what cost? The Sri Lankan Tamils are defined by two factors i.e. the Hindu religion and the Tamil language. The Tamil Tigers sought to defend the Tamil cause but intentionally weakened the Hindu identity. This explained their failure. The Christian influence on the top LTTE leadership was immense. This was despite the fact that Christians only constituted 14% of the Tamil population.

An internationally-financed Christian evangelism was initiated in LTTE-held areas in the 1990s. The Ceylon American Mission embarked upon a ‘church planting campaign.’ They opened new orphanages and new churches. The Methodist Church did likewise. The Roman Catholic church under its social service arm, HUDEC was not far behind. The pro-LTTE ‘TamilNet’ website was unabashedly anti-Hindu, anti-Buddhist, anti-Indian and pro-Christian. ‘Tamil Canadian’ republished articles from Christian journals but failed to reproduce Hindu media clips. The ‘Tamil Nation’ in London even urged Tamils to jettison celebrating the traditional Hindu new year in mid-April.

The LTTE discouraged people from following the time-honored Tamil Hindu custom of cremation. It supported the burial of the dead. It attempted to jettison the traditional Tamil wedding ceremony introducing a civil ceremony instead. It encouraged beef-eating. It promoted the use of so-called Dravidian names that had no basis in our history. While Hindu temples flourished in Government-held areas, they were neglected in LTTE-held territory. The LTTE strategy entailed a de-Hinduization of Tamil identity. Was this not Christian evangelization under the guise of a Tamil revolt?

The continuation of the war was only intended to facilitate a gradual Christianization of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. The LTTE claimed that it was secular and neutral between the overwhelming Tamil Hindu majority and the better financed Tamil Christian minority. Religious dualism – the overt tolerance of two religions with the intent to undermine one while allowing the other to expand – was the ugly face of Tamil Tiger secularism. Its real intent was to weaken the Tamil Hindu identity under the guise of fighting the Sinhalese.

Ceaseless War

Sri Lanka had experienced a Tamil insurrection since 1981. India facilitated the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord in 1987 to help address Sri Lankan Tamil grievances. This entailed the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution. The Sri Lankan Tamils were to enjoy far reaching autonomy through newly established provincial councils. This was a power sharing between the center and the provinces.

The LTTE undermined that peace accord and initiated hostilities in October 1987 by attacking Sinhalese villages in the Trincomalee district. Many Tamils perished with the resumption of the conflict, others fled the country and our livelihood took a beating.

The opportunity for a peace settlement presented itself once again. President Chandrika Kumaratunge mooted a ‘Union of Regions’ for Sri Lanka in 1995. This implied a radical restructuring of the Sri Lankan state. It proposed a confederal constitution. Prabhakaran however abrogated the ceasefire in April that year. President Kumaratunge responded by the recapture of the LTTE-held Jaffna district. She proposed a draft new constitution once again in 1999 that offered extensive devolution to the Sri Lankan Tamil population of the North and East. The LTTE rejected both the initial peace proposal and the subsequent one. It was unsuccessful in its attempt to assassinate President Kumaratunge.

The LTTE regrouped and won several battles thereafter. However, it failed to serve Tamil interests. Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe was voted into power in 2001 and entered into yet another ceasefire with the LTTE. Life for us in the forgotten Sri Lankan North suddenly improved. We were free to cultivate the land, trade, travel and educate our children. The Hindu New Year in April resumed its festive air. People flocked to Hindu temples each April in joyous anticipation of a better future. The LTTE undermined that ceasefire through repeated violations and assassinations.

It prevented Ranil Wickramasinghe from winning the presidential elections in 2005. It enforced the elections boycott in Sri Lankan Tamil areas. Mahinda Rajapakse won the polls. The LTTE used that window to initiate hostilities with a succession of high profile land mine attacks that killed more than one hundred military personnel. The intention was to provoke. I need not recount the rest.

Is it not time for us Tamils to reflect on where things went wrong? What have we achieved in the political realm since 1987? Shouldn't we change track by repudiating the battles of ethnicity and instead emphasize that which safeguards the cultural traditions that define us and the economic livelihood that sustains us?

Unless we rethink our politics, we would be obliterated as a civilizational unit. It is our Hindu identity that alone safeguarded our existence through the centuries. It is Hinduism that explained our vibrancy. Minus that, we stand prone to obliteration.

The defeat of the LTTE offers us the space to change direction, revive our cultural traditions and our economic fortunes. The LTTE did not achieve what it sought to accomplish. Its time to change. The Hindu religious texts celebrate ‘Sarvodaya’ - the awakening of all. May that soon be a reality. 

[Courtesy Sri Lanka Guardian

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