Tamil Ethnonationalism and Terrorism

By Dr. Shantha Hennayake, Department of Geography, University of Peradeniya

Myths and Realities

Tamil politics in Sri Lanka has always been based on myths. The propaganda machines of the extremist Tamil political parties and the LTTE, both here and abroad, blatantly falsifying facts and propagate myths. The so-called Tamil intellectuals living comfortably in Western Capitals was responsible for not only for inventing some of these myths but also giving a false notion of factuality to them.

Some of these myths simply through constant repetition have gained currency as facts. The expediency of the two dominant political parties - UNP and SLFP in their bitter struggle to come to power and maintain it have bought and even given into some of these myths. In the end, not only the Tamil political parties and the LTTE, but also the two main political parties, UNP and SLFP with its coalitions and some of the Sinhalese liberal intellectuals who toe the lines of the politicians of these two parties are responsible for propagating these myths.

Unfortunately it is the Sinhala people who have been victimized in this saga of myth making. Thus it is very important for us to know what these myths are and to counter them with facts. The myths range from the characterization of the problem to its various facets.

Myth: There is an ethnic problem in Sri Lanka
Myth: Tamils are a nation in Sri Lanka
Myth: There was an independent Tamil Kingdom in Sri Lanka
Myth: Tamils were the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka
Myth: Tamils have a longer historical continuity than the Sinhalese
Myth: Northern and Eastern Provinces are the Traditional Tamil Homeland
Myth: Sinhala Buddhist civilization did not extend to Northern and Eastern Provinces where a Tamil civilization existed.
Myth: All Tamils supports Eelam
Myth: All Tamil speaking people supports Eelam
Myth: Tamils are one of the two majority communities in Sri Lanka.
Myth: Tamils do not have freedom of movement in the country.
Myth: Tamil do not have political freedom
Myth: Tamils do not have freedom of expression
Myth: Tamils have been displaced by colonization schemes
Myth: Sri Lankan governments have been Sinhalese governments
Myth: UNP and SLFP are Sinhalese parities
Myth: Tamils are discriminated against by the Sinhalese
Myth: Sinhalese areas are unsafe for the Tamils
Myth: Sinhalese are extremists and intolerant of minorities
Myth: Tamils want a just and fair solution.
Myth: Tamil political parties are moderate
Myth: LTTE is the sole representative of Tamils

The Problem in Sri Lanka

Myth: There is an ethnic problem in Sri Lanka

The problem is the brutal Terrorism directed by the LTTE, popularly known as Tamil Tigers against the people especially the Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan state. An ethnic problem is fundamentally a social problem.

An ethnic problem exists when a majority ethnic group discriminates the minorities in the social and cultural sphere on the assumption that the majority is superior and the minorities are inferior in social and cultural terms. In Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese do not perceive them to be superior to the Tamils and Muslims but that they are culturally different. In the everyday life and in social cultural and economic interactions, there is no evidence of Sinhalese discriminating Tamils and Muslims.

We only need to go to any city, town or village in Sri Lanka to find proof that there is no ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. Tamils and Muslims live amidst Sinhalese. Every city and town is dotted with Kovils, Mosques and Churches along with temple. On the other hand, the Sri Lankan state and its people, specially the Sinhalese are under terrorist attacks by the racist LTTE since late 1970s. The tenacity and the destructive power of the terrorists has steadily increased since then.

If one go to the LTTE controlled areas in the North and East and in the recent years the LTTE infested plantation areas in the central highlands the ethnic problem is clearly visible by the non-presence of the Sinhalese. This is not by choice by the terror unleashed by the racist Tamil extremists. If there is an ethnic problem in Sri Lanka it is created and maintained by the Tamils.

LTTE has assassinated a President, Presidential candidate, several Ministers and MPs, a foreign (Indian) Prime Minister, over 200 Sinhalese Buddhist Monks, over 4000 innocent Sinhalese civilians and over 15,000 soldiers. Interestingly enough, LTTE has also assassinated the leaders of all the rival Tamil terrorist groups as well as the leaders of the Tamil political parties e.g. Tamil United Liberation Front.

They have also bombed the two most sacred places of Buddhist Worship in Sri Lanka - the Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest tree in the world with a recorded history and the Sri Dalada Maligawa, the srhine which house the Tooth of the Buddha.
LTTE has also bombed the economic center such as the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, World Trade Center.

Sri Lanka certainly has a terrorist problem unleashed by the racist Tamil extremists led by LTTE.

Tamil History

Myth: Tamils are a nation in Sri Lanka

Reality: Tamils are an ethnic group in Sri Lanka.

If we define nation as a state-centered category, then there is only one nation in Sri Lanka and that is Sri Lankan. If we define nation as an ethnic-centered category then also there is only one ethnically defined nation in Sri Lanka and that is Sinhalese as only the Sinhalese qualifies to be a nation within the territory of Sri Lanka.

Tamils are an ethnic group. An ethnic group is defined as a human grouping bound by culture. The cultural criteria which defines the ethnic group can be the language, religion, historical experience, skin colour, etc. Thus in the case of Tamils we have two distinct ethnic groups. Sri Lanka Tamils (which two is socially divided into three, Jaffna Tamils, Colombo Tamils and Batticaloa Tamils) and the Indian Tamils.

The concept of nation is always used for the creators, defenders and perpetuators of a civilization. Thus Sinhalese, being the creators, perpetuators and defenders of the Sinhalese civilization, are a nation. The Sinhala civilization is over 2500 years old. Tamils on the other hand did not create a civilization of their own in Sri Lanka. Jaffna is the place where the Tamils were numerous but it was not the center of Tamil civilization, which was located in South India. Nation is more than thick density of population of a people speaking the same language.

The Tamil nation exists in Tamil Nadu in India. It has been a historical fact. Kaweri valley has been the center of that Tamil civilization. Northern and Eastern Province were never a center of Tamil civilization. One has to rewrite the Tamil history not only here but also in South India to define Tamils in Sri Lanka as the Tamil Nation. This is a total disgrace and denial to the Tamils in Tamil Nadu who really constitute the Tamil Nation.

"Tamil Kingdom" in Sri Lanka

Myth: There was an independent Tamil Kingdom in Sri Lanka

Reality: There was a regional Tamil ruler in Nallur for a very brief period.

In the minds of the people and the rulers of this country from 6th Century A.D. the Territory of the Sinhala kingdom was the entire island. So the term Sinhaladipa and Dammadipa. Even the word eelam is only the Tamilized version of Sihala the name given by the Sinhala people for the island. There was never a concept of a Demaladipa. On several occasions during the history of two thousand five hundered years the regional rulers emerged on a few locations e.g. Kelaniya, Ruhuna, Nallur, However, these regional centers were subsequently brought under central control of the King of the country as their existence was considered unacceptable and wrong. In the case of the Nallur kingdom, the task was achieved by the Portuguese. We must note that from a two and half millennia history Nallur regional rulers lasted less than 200 years.

Compared to what the Sinhalese have built in the Dry Zone Plains running all the way to Nagadipa in Jaffana , the so called Jaffna rulers disappeared into oblivion without leaving a trace of their existence.

Original inhabitants of Sri Lanka

Myth: Tamils were the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka

No one really knows definitely the ethnicity of the original inhabitants of this island. The Tamil ethnonationalists say that the tribes lived in pre-Vijayan era were Tamils. This is nothing but wishful thinking. What is most ironic and even hilarious about this claim by the Tamils is that they accept the existence of the tribes of Yaksha, Naga and Deva, based on the information only available in Mahawamsa all the while condemning and rejecting Mahawamsa as cooked up history of Sinhalese.

If the Tamils were original inhabitants and the three tribes were the Tamils themselves, one is at a loss to understand the lack of historical continuity of them and any archeological, documentary or even oral-tradition evidences. However, the Sinhalese can make a better claim to be the original inhabitants on the argument that the present Sinhalese were the descendants of the original inhabitants of this island and the immigrants who came with Prince Vijaya in the 6th century B.C. The Tamils were possibly the original inhabitants of the areas that fall within present Tamil Nadu Province in India

Historical Continuity

Myth: Tamils have a longer historical continuity than the Sinhalese

Reality: Sinhalese have the longest historical continuity and permanent Tamil settlements started only in the 11th century.

From the early periods of our history people from South India may have migrated into the island. There may have been Tamils among them as well. However, according to the historical evidence these isolated immigrants have been integrated into the main stream Sinhalese-Buddhist society. What is important is that this integrated process happened ceaselessly and without any violence. The accommodation and integration of outsiders by the Sinhalese-Buddhist society has been an intrinsic quality of the latter. Thus whatever their original identities, upon coming here they all became an integral part of the Sinhalese-Buddhist society.

There is hardly any historical, archaeological, literary evidence to prove the continuation of Tamil settlements in the island longer than that of the Sinhalese. It was only after the 11th century parallel to the drifting of the Sinhalese-Buddhist center southwestward, that Tamils began to migrate in sufficient numbers to have permanent settlements of their own in the northern parts of the island. This is the conclusion of a meticulous historical research carried out by K. Indrapalan, a Tamil Professor of History. The permanent Tamil settlements in the eastern sea board came much later.

However, as these facts do not support the modern day so called "Tamil historians" , Indrapala has been made terra incognita. Other than these self-appointed Tamil historians who falsify the history to legitimize the separatist claim, there isn't any credible Tamil historian who could prove this Tamil myth. Apparently, the few copies of Indrapala's Ph. D. thesis are now missing. This and Tamilizing Sri Lankan history are nothing but acts of intellectual terrorism of Tamil ethnonationalists.


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