தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Journey Down Memory Lane To Reach 'tamiz Izam'
R.Shanmugalingam

Chapter 32

I wanted to write about the ‘harmonious blend of tradition and modernity,’ in the light of our traditional belief in the supernatural and events as witnessed or researched by scholars. That has to wait, as I find that there is something keeping away the mostly lively discussions in the circle.

Are we in? or Are we out? Are we in and out? or where are we? Many seem to think life is not bad after all in the US. There still are a large number of Americans who believe that America is a land for all and not just for a few. They are ready to "lift our lamp to the world."

A tradition of over two hundred years, according to "Milestone in the History of the American Ceylon Mission", Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India-J.D.C.S.I. 1816 to 1951., with the five young men of Williams College Massachusetts resolve to found a Missionary Society at the Haystack Prayer meeting in 1806. They were Samuel Mills, James Richards, L Robbins, H. Loomis and B. Green. Between 1816 and 1818 the first 12 Tamil Schools were established.

In 1820 James Garret arrived with a Printing Press and the first Western Medical Mission in Asia at Pandaterruppu was founded by Dr. John Scudder. In 1823 the Batticaloa Seminary- the precursor of Jaffna College was established with Dr. Daniel Poor as its first Principal. In 1841 The Morning Star weekly in English and its counterpart in Tamil the first Tamil paper in the world was published. In 1848 Dr. Samuel Fisk Green founded the Hospital in Manipay. This was also a teaching hospital. I still carry a copy of a photograph of the First Students of Western Medicine under Dr. Green in his medical school in the 1850s.

It was not the first time the Christian missionaries sought the services of a non -Christian, ‘kavignar’ Kannathasan to compose ‘tamiz’ songs with Christian themes. Arumuga Navalar assisted in the translation of the Bible into ‘tamiz,’ way back in 1850.

The missionary spirit continues and there are Americans who do believe that it was their obligation to know about far-off peoples. They do not subscribe to such views as that of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s indifference to Czechoslovakia in 1938, " a far- off people of whom we know nothing." On the other hand you find Mammon worshippers who will be selfish to the core and stop at nothing to stop others prospering.

A case comes to mind. This was not widely known in Ceylon then and perhaps nobody knows about it today. This was discussed in camera perhaps and at the highest level in Ceylon. I happened to be a listener when this was blabbered at ministerial level in the late 40s. It appears, Good Year Tyre Co. proposed to build a tyre factory in Ceylon at independence. A blue print was submitted to the government. Naturally advice was sought from various expert fields. One such expert was the first Governor of the Central Bank, a Mr. John Exter.

Here was an example of sheer short-sightedness of the Sinhala leaders of the time to prioritise political expediency over national well being. Mr. Exter, was supposed to have advised D. S. Senanayake that they could still export their rubber and earn foreign exchange but whatever portion of the investments that was needed to establish a tyre factory would serve better to consolidate their political leadership. People should be made to feel independence in a practical and tangible way. That is how the free rice scheme and several other welfare programs came to be .

The rest is history and Sri Lanka is not at all ashamed to go round with the begging bowl. After all it is one of Buddhism’s cardinal way of life for their ‘cardinals.’ We ‘tamizar’ consider begging as inhuman and abhor even the thought of having to beg when able. This is where India scored at independence, they stuck on to a policy of non-import of luxury and in some cases comfort goods. Today they are rising to be reckoned as an economic power. It is partly due to the extension service program of the US governments that India is self sufficient not only in food but several other economic gains. Sri Lanka is still begging for foreign aid and in the form of loans on the never never repayment basis.

We should battle for progress and be prepared to accept changes. There is no thumb rule for achieving ‘tamiz Izam.’ At the same time we cannot expect every body to discuss strategy around a round table. If there is something called collective brain then it would be easy to send signals that match. It is my decision to write this journey and the way it is written. If I listened to even a couple of well wishers or ill wishers I could not have written even the first chapter. Without seeking for a collective brain. it is better to seek consensus on matters that need support.

I am sure some do not and will not agree with me. Then there are those who want something to be done. I want to do something positive and attainable, so I am pressing on regardless of immediate results. A necessity and a good thing is apt to catch the right attention and there after it is bound to snow ball. One should have the temerity to believe in the good chances of achieving one’s goal even if the existing conditions are unfavourable. If some of the Afro Americans did not dare and move forward, in a climate of the good minding their own business and the bad minding other’s business and the ugly engaged in disorder and mayhem, we would not have heard of a Dr. Luther King, a Rep Jordan, and a Justice Thurgood Marshall among the thousands of Afro American leaders. We cannot wait for things to be ready for ‘tamiz izam’ we must help to make ‘tamiz Izam, be ready.

I have my peculiar style of telling the truth without reservation, it has not landed me in any trouble. May be that some are squeamish about telling the truth as the object may not be reached. But this is a changing world, those in power today is gone tomorrow. The one that comes tomorrow may perchance see the truth and react. That is the type of hope that has sustained me in my not so casuistic approach to life.

My letter to the then Secretary of State George Shultz is an example. I did not expect the Secretary to take the phone and call me or JR and take him to task. I wanted to register a protest with the American government against the atrocities perpetrated against ‘tamizar’ only because they are not willing to be subjugated, They were and are not accepting their relegation to second class state in their own land. There was so much of human rights violation that the champions of human rights had a responsibility by the violated and abused. I give below an excerpt from a letter to The Boston Globe on July 9, 1983:

" We are in search for civilised means to resolve Tamil/Sinhala conflicts that have exceeded the limits of trust in the slow progress of reason, seek your assistance and direction to abort a holocaust gestating in Sri Lanka---- It now appears , Tamil leaders of the time have postponed the inevitable in trusting Sinhala leaders to help Tamil minorities achieve equal rights that Sinhala majorities have since proven themselves loath to dispense."

I also reproduce a copy of a letter to Secretary Shultz on June 12, 1983. These dates are significant because as a keen student of ‘tamiz’ situation in Sri Lanka, I was in a position to understand the direction of the indecision leading us into. The 1983 riots against ‘Tamizar’ the worst in our history took place in July 1983.

June 12, 1983.
Mr. George Shultz
Secretary of State , Department of State, Washington DC.

Mr. Secretary,

It is with a deep sense of concern and fear for more Tamil lives and property in Sri Lanka, we appeal to you, to take such action as is possible to thwart all terror and indignities perpetrated against Tamils by Sinhala people and their government. Tamil issues are real and natural, they are very authentic, serious and fundamental.

Because of geographic limitations, an encumbrance for an island such as Sri Lanka , a mass exodus of Tamils seeking refuge in neighbouring India is suicidal.

Periodic ordeals Tamils are facing at the hands of Sinhala people and their government since independence, drive concerned and restless Tamil youth direct their frustrations towards a handful of Tamil supporters of a malevolent government. Such isolated incidents are answered by Sinhala army terrors in Tamil lands and with Sinhala thuggery in other areas. A retaliatory terror is a far cry for Tamils and unconditional surrender of their birthright or flee the country seems to be the available alternatives open to the Tamils today.

A few Tamils have fled Sri Lanka under the pretext of education, pursuit of careers, trade or join their families abroad. Those Tamils who are not able to leave Sri Lanka are exposed to Sinhala indignities, army terror, civilian thuggery, denial of basic human rights and a host of set-backs faced by a second class citizenry to lead normal lives, let alone enjoy pursuits of progress and development as Tamils.

A handful of enterprising and determined Tamils who have found their way to come to the United States of America , are being denied political asylum on the grounds that there is no Tamil persecution by Sinhalese. We understand the absence of concern for Tamils by the State Department. This is as a result of our inability to give publicity to our problems from within Sri Lanka for obvious reasons. Organised action was not possible until recently and for starters, Tamil World Associates appeal to you to direct one of your Senior Official in the Department of State to familiarise with current Tamil problems and prevent a further deterioration in Tamil/Sinhala relations. We will give every assistance to your official for updating evaluation of the situation and arrive at a decision in keeping with the objectives and wish of the founding fathers of this greatest democracy.

We do not want to conclude that America has created false expectations for the oppressed and particularly among Tamils in and out of Sri Lanka. Apartheid in South Africa is a historic tradition, a master/servant relations has existed since colonisation of these lands. Helpless indigenous Africans have learned to endure the obnoxious governance. Tamil situation is even more abhorrent when, mutual trust between allies and peers are replaced by suspicion and betrayal with relegating Tamils to subservience under an overwhelming army advantage. It may be true that there is no numerical equal in the Jewish lives annihilated in Nazi Germany, but, should there be another holocaust to stir the world to respond to the Tamil cries, cries seldom heard by the outside world, as all means of communications either come under government censorship or any journalist account of Tamil sufferings is controlled by a partisan Sinhala owned and operated mass media.

Mr. Secretary, we appeal to you, as a gesture of human kindness, to please initiate a show of concern and care by the State Department for the Tamils who fled their land of birth. Tamils are denied career advancement if they refuse to learn an alien Sinhala language, which is the only official language in the Sri Lankan constitution. They are persecuted because they frustrate a Sinhala desire for a "piggy-back" ride on unwilling Tamil backs. We cry out to you to exert moral pressure on a savage and senseless people, for a speedy solution to this inhuman genocide and help us seek an urgent just redress based on human rights.

Thank you Sir,

Very sincerely yours, R. Shanmugalingam
For Tamil World Associates.

continued

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