Hypocrisy and Expatriate Tamils
1 February 1997
(from the Tamil Circle)
The question was asked in the Tamil Circle: "It is wrong is
it not for expatriate Tamils, in comfortable middle class homes in US, UK, Canada,
Australia and elsewhere, to support and thereby encourage a war at the cost of sacrificing
the lives of young Tamil children and causing untold suffering to the Tamils in Tamil
Eelam? ... How many of them are sincere about continuing the war to achieve Eelam at the
cost of sacrificing the lives of young children? If so how many of them have sent their
own children back to Jaffna to fight the holy war or are willing to send them for the
noble cause? If they can't stand by their own preachings please do not advocate for the
insanity of this war. Hypocrisy in politics is going to get us no where as a
The jibe is made from time to time that expatriate Tamils, in comfortable middle
class homes in US, UK, Canada, Australia and elsewhere, support and thereby encourage a
war at the cost of sacrificing the lives of young Tamil children and causing untold
suffering to the Tamils in Tamil Eelam. It was a jibe that was often made by ex
Oxford Union President and Sri Lanka National Security Minister, Lalith
Athulathmudali. And it appears that others too have not been able to resist its seductive
But, what then should the Tamil expatriate do? Stay silent and let the Sinhala army
occupy and rule the Tamil homeland? Stay silent and condemn the same young Tamil children
to a life under alien Sinhala rule? Plead with the Sinhala government, as the Tamils did for thirty years from 1948, to 'rule' the Tamils
fairly and justly? Petition the Sinhala rulers to be benevolent and generous?
Or take an even more transcendental stand and decry national divisions and espouse the
concept of the 'one world'? And so remove himself to a rarefied 'stratosphere' but
continue to live comfortably and safely in his middle class home - and, perhaps, encourage
peaceful protest, so that Tamils may be attacked like in 1958 and 1961
(long before the birth of the armed resistance movement) ?
After all let us remember that it was some 38 years ago that a Sinhala journalist,
Tarzie Vittachi wrote in Emergency 1958:
"On May 22nd (1958), five hundred thugs and hooligans invaded the Polonnaruwa
station, and smashed up the windows of the Batticaloa train in their frantic search for
The Observer reported this incident in more detail on May 24th: 'On Thursday night,
passengers were intimidated into getting off at Welikande as news had reached them that a
gang of men were on the way to prevent them from making the trip as they felt that
passengers must be prevented from getting to Vavuniya for the Federal Party Convention. A
gang of men, alleged to have numbered nearly 500, got on the train at this station,
smashed-windows, went from carriage to carriage looking for passengers, damaging railway
equipment as they did so.'
On the night of the 23rd at 9.15 pm the Batticaloa Colombo train was derailed at the
'215th mile post on the Batticaloa -Eravur line... Hoodlums, on the watch for Vavuniya
bound passengers, attacked the wrecked train.
At 6.00 pm on May 24 a crowd -nearly a thousand strong - again invaded the premises of
the Polonnaruwa railway station... Labourers from the Land Development Department, the
Irrigation Department and from the Government farms who made up the Sinhala Hamudawa
(armed thugs) were constantly on the rampage, raping, looting and beating up Tamil
labourers and public officers. The rumour that a Tamil army was marching to destroy
Polonaruwa gave the roughnecks a heroic stature. More veerayas (heroes) joined in to share
the glory of saving the ancient Sinhalese capital from the Tamil hordes as their ancestors
had done a thousand years before them.
The vast majority of the Hamudawa were imported Government labourers and the rest were
recently arrived squatters who had no roots yet in the area.
There was some evidence of method in all this madness -it was crudely but effectively
planned. The rioters had arranged signals-one peal of a temple bell to signify police, two
to signify army and so on. They also had a simple system of hand signals to give their
associates in the distance such information as which way a police patrol went.
The element of planning was even more evident in the agent provocateur system
which was widely used. Many thugs-some of them well-known criminals-had shaved
their heads and assumed the yellow robes of a bhikku. ..These phony priests went about
whipping up race-hatred, spreading false stories and taking part in the lucrative side of
this game-robbery and looting.
... Before very long the goondas turned their spite against the Tamil officials in the
Government offices. .. The thugs displayed a temerity which was quite
unprecedented. They had complete assurance that the police would never
dare to open fire. The Apey Aanduwa (of Mr.S.W.R.D. Bandararanike) (The
government is ours) bug had got deep into their veins.
The goondas had developed a slick technique of throwing dynamite. They carried it in
the breast packet of their shirts, with the fuse hanging out. As the 'enemy' approached
they struck a match, lit the fuse, pulled out the stick of dynamite and flung it at
"On May 24 and 25, murder stalked the streets in broad daylight. Fleeing Tamils,
and Sinhalese who were suspected of having given them sanctuary had their brains strewn
about. A deaf mute scavenging labourer was assaulted to death in the Hingurakgoda area
-just to see what had made him tick. The goondas burnt two men alive, one at Hingurakgoda,
and the other at Minneriya.
"On the night of May 25, one of the most heinous crimes in the history of Ceylon
was carried out. Almost simultaneously, on the Government farms at Polonnaruwa and
Hingurakgoda, the thugs struck remorselessly. The Tamil labourers In the Polonnaruwa
sugar-cane plantation fled when they saw the enemy approaching and hid in the sugar-cane
bushes. The goondas wasted no time. They set the sugar cane alight and flushed out the
Tamils. As they came out screaming, men, women and children were cut down with home-made
swards, grass cutting knives and katties, or pulped under heavy clubs."
"At the Government farm at Hingurakgoda, too, the Tamils were slaughtered that
night. One woman in sheer terror embraced her two children and jumped into a well. The
rioters were enjoying themselves thoroughly. They ripped open the belly of a woman eight
months pregnant, and left her, to bleed to death. First estimates of the mass murders on
that night were frightening: 150-200 was a quick guess on the basis of forty families on
an average four each."
The hoodlums were now motorized. They roamed the district in trucks, smashing
up kiosks and houses, killing any Tamils who got in their way. The Anti-Tamil violence
soon spread almost throughout the country.
"If there had been any chance whatever at this stage of keeping Sinhalese tempers
under control it vanished completely following the Prime Minister's (Mr.S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike, and father of President Chandrika Kumaratunga) broadcast call to the nation
of May 26...
By a strangely inexplicable perversion of logic, Mr Bandaranaike tried to explain away
a situation by substituting the effect for the cause. The relevant portion of the speech
"An unfortunate situation has arisen resulting in communal tension. Certain
incidents in, the. Batticaloa District where some people lost their lives, including Mr
D.A. Seneviratne, a former Mayor of Nuwara Eliya, have resulted in various acts of
violence and lawlessness in other areas-for example Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Galawela,
Kuliyapitiya and even Colombo."
The killing of Seneviratne on May 25 was thus officially declared to be the cause of
the uprising, although the communal riots had begun on May 22 with the attack on the
Polonnaruwa Station and the wrecking of the Batticaloa -Colombo trail and several other
minor incidents. No explanation was offered by the Prime Minister for singling out
(the Sinhala sounding) Seneviratne's name for particular mention from the scores of people
who had lost their lives during those critical days.
...Colombo was on fire. The goondas burnt fifteen shops in the Pettah and a row of
kiosks in Mariakaday. Looting on a massive scale took place in Pettah, Maradana,
Wellawatte Ratmalana, Kurunegala, Panadura, Kalutara, Badulla, Galle, Matara and Weligama.
The cry everywhere in the Sinhalese districts was 'avenge the murder of
Seneviratne'. Even the many Sinhalese who had been appalled by the goonda attacks
on Tamils and Tamil owned kiosks, now began to feel that the Tamils had put themselves
beyond the pale. Across the country, this new mood of deep-seated racism surged. The Prime
Minister's (Mr.Bandaranaike's) peace call to the nation had turned into a war cry.
... On the morning of May 27,.. in the (Panadura) bazaar there was sudden pandemonium.
The goondas intensified their depredations. They ransacked Tamil-owned shops and beat up
shopkeepers and passersby. A gang of goondas rushed into the Hindu temple, and attempted
to set fire to it. In their frenzy they were clumsy and failed to get the fire going. But
they had a more interesting idea. They pulled an officiating priest out of the Kovil and
burnt him into a cinder.
As panic spread, doors were closed in Sinhalese as well as Tamil homes. The
Tamils closed their doors to escape murder, rape and pillage. The Sinhalese closed their
doors to prevent Tamils running into their houses for shelter...
Among the hundreds of acts of arson, rape, pillage, murder and plain barbarity some
incidents may be recorded as examples of the kind of thuggery at work.
In the Colombo area the number of atrocities swiftly piled up. The atmosphere was thick
with hate and fear. The thugs ran amok burning houses and shops, beating-up pedestrians,
holding-up vehicles and terrorizing the entire city and the suburbs.
Another Tamil officer, working in the same Government department was unfortunate. The
thugs stormed into his house and assaulted, his wife and grown-up daughter in the presence
of his little child. His mind cracked under the shock. In the French liner Laos which took
the family away to safety in Jaffna he insisted on reciting large chunks of the Bhagavad
Gita to the captain of the ship. All his formal education - he is a Cambridge scholar -
had proved useless to him in the face of disaster. His broken mind reached out for the
only solace a man has when his own ingenuity and ability have proved futile.
At Wellawatte junction, near the plantain kiosk, a pregnant woman and her
husband were set upon. They clubbed him and left him an the pavement, then they kicked,
the woman repeatedly as she hurried along at a grotesque sprint, carrying her swollen
While the Prime Minister was telling the citizens' delegation that it was an
'exaggeration to call the situation an emergency' in every village from Kalawewa to
Nalanda, people's houses were in flames.
When an eye witness reached Dambulla it was still intact. In a few minutes a
factory-new Ceylon Transport Board "Special' arrived, loaded with 'passengers'. They
disembarked and swiftly set about their business: in ten minutes, six houses were blazing.
And hell spread through the bazaar.
The rioters continued their battle in the streets. Fresh fires broke out in Wellawatte,
Maradana and Pettah. Looting continued apace. "Gangs of hoodlums in the Ratmalana
area appeared to be working according to a predetermined pattern. Thugs disguised as
policemen went round Tamil houses warning the residents that the police could no longer
guarantee their safety and advising them to take refuge in the police station. Nearly
10,000 people left their homes in terror.
Then the 'policemen' returned, some now in mufti, others still in uniform, to ransack
the empty houses. When they had left the scene, hard on their heels came the 'firing
squads'. They came in vehicles in twos and threes. A bottle of petrol was flung into the
house. A stick of dynamite was dispatched after it and another house was burning. Others
less efficiently equipped, zealously collected whatever furniture was, left behind and
used it as firewood to get the flames going.
What are we left with (in 1958)? A nation in ruins, some grim
lessons which we cannot afford to forget and a momentous question: Have the Sinhalese and
Tamils reached the parting of ways?" (-Tarzie Vittachi: Emergency 1958 -
The Story of the Ceylon Race Riots, Andre Deutsch, London 1958 )
That genocidal attack on the Tamil people in 1958 was the Sinhala response to the
annual convention of the parliamentary Tamil Federal Party scheduled in May 1958. It was a
convention which had been called to decide whether or not to undertake a Satyagraha
campaign now that the (Sinhala) Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike had torn up the Bandaranaike Chelvanayagam Pact which he had
solemnly signed an year before.
In Tarzie Vittachi's words, in 1958, the Sinhala Prime Minister Mr.S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike's 'peace call to the nation had turned into a war cry'. Thirty eight years
later, Mr. Bandaranaike's daughter, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga continued
the family tradition with her own 'war for peace' and
continues the genocidal attack on the Tamil people - and celebrates her victory to boot in a Sinhala Buddhist
ceremony broadcast live on Sri Lanka TV.
Time Magazine commented on the victory ceremony held on 6 December 1995 in Colombo:
"... In a function room in the Presidential Secretariat, (broadcast live on Sri
Lanka television), Sri Lanka's leader (President Chandrika Kumaratunga) stood gravely
before a line of tough-looking military officers. Deputy Defence Minister Anurudha
Ratwatte, fresh from hoisting the flag in Jaffna town, presented her with a scroll rolled
up inside a red velvet container. The scroll was dated "full moon day of the month of
Uduwap in the year 2939 in the Buddhist Era."
"It read, "Your Excellency's rule and authority has been firmly
re-established" in the historic city. The territory was not referred to as Jaffna,
its official name, but "Yapa Patuna" the term used by conquerors in medieval
times... Kumaratunga's use of Sinhalese-Buddhist iconography carried a message: she had
conquered Tamil lands and defeated her enemies, in much the same manner as Sinhalese kings
of centuries gone by..."
The armed resistance of the Tamil people to alien
Sinhala rule did not just happen. It arose in response to decades
of oppressive rule by a permanent Sinhala majority within the confines of an unitary
Sri Lanka state.
But even today, President Kumaratunga neither admits to the oppressive rule nor the
legitimacy of the armed resistance - on the contrary, she categorises that resistance as
'terrorism' and engages in a vicious genocidal attack on the Tamil people. She appears
bent on pursuing her father's 'strangely inexplicable perversion of logic' by trying to
explain away the situation by substituting the effect for the cause.
What then should Tamil expatriates from 'comfortable middle class homes' do?
In 1992, I was in Lucerne in Switzerland. I was taken around some excavations of pre
ice age rocks by a young Eelam Tamil activist .As we came out, at the exit there was a
geological clock which illustrated the reality that on a 24 hour time scale, man's own
existence may be counted in seconds. I remarked aloud that it was in our existence in a
speck of time, and that too, in a speck of space, that conflict and confrontation seem to
assume such great importance.
The young Eelam Tamil activist was quick to respond. He said: ''Annai, what you say is
true. But how many of us truly live our lives on the basis of that perception. In the case
of Pirabaharan, he has committed his life to what he believes must be done, here and
now''. This young Eelam Tamil activist, who if not for standardisation, may have made his
own contribution to further intellectual thought in some university, was making a succinct
point: ''No Vethantham please.''
And ofcourse, not all expatriate Tamils come from comfortable middle class homes. There
are over hundred thousand Tamil asylum seekers in many countries in the world. In Germany,
they speak German and Tamil, in Switzerland Deutch and Tamil, in Norway, Norwegian and
Tamil and many only know a smattering of English. And, perhaps they relate even more
closely to the struggle back at home than the more well established English speaking Tamil
Be that as it may, it appears to me that the central question is whether the Tamil
struggle against alien Sinhala rule is just or not? David Selbourne of Ruskin College,
Oxford was right when he said in July 1984:
"Everyone who possesses an elementary sense of justice has no moral choice but to
acquaint himself fully with the plight of the Tamil people...Their cause represents the
very essence of the cause of human rights and justice; and to deny it, debases and reduces
To deny the justice of the Tamil cause debases and reduces us and in addition condemns
the people of Tamil Eelam, both young and old to a life under alien Sinhala rule.
But the point has been made:
"How many of you are sincere about continuing the war to achieve Eelam at the cost
of sacrificing the lives of young children? If so how many of you have sent your own
children back to Jaffna to fight the holy war or are willing to send them for the noble
cause? If you can't stand by your own preachings please do not advocate for the insanity
of this war. Hypocrisy in politics is going to get us no where as a community."
It is true that hypocrisy in politics will not get us anywhere as a community.
It is also true that there must be a coincidence of word and deed.
But, is it hypocrisy to support a struggle for freedom from alien rule, because you
yourself have not taken up arms or because your children have not taken up arms?
Does that mean that the thousands, in many parts of the world, who supported Vietnam's
struggle against foreign occupation, were hypocrites? Or does that mean that they should
have stayed silent whilst the Vietnam war and the carpet bombing by the US killed
thousands of young Vietnamese and devastated acres of agricultural land - because their
support may have prolonged Vietnamese resistance?
Or was it the fact that their support, strengthened Viet Nam resistance, and in this
way brought the war to quicker end - and saved lives and secured freedom?
Or to take a more recent example, does it mean that the millions who supported the
struggle of Nelson Mandela against a racist regime in South Africa should have stayed
silent unless they were willing to send their children to fight in South Africa?
Does it mean that those who supported Mandela's struggle by calling, for instance,
sanctions against South Africa were hypocrites because at the same time they did not send
their children to join the struggle in South Africa?
Or was it the fact that that the successful call for sanctions helped to bring a
quicker end to apartheid and in this way secure the lives and well being of millions of
blacks in South Africa?
I believe that there are thousands upon thousands of Tamils who have suffered in many
ways for the stand that they have taken to openly support the struggle for Tamil Eelam -
some have become asylum seekers and refugees to escape the wrath of the Sinhala
government, others have had their families split and they live in many lands as wandering
Some years ago a Tamil activist in the US was asked what was it that made him spend so
much of time and energy supporting the Tamil cause. He paused for a while and said
"You know, when I first came here, I came largely to secure a good education for
my children in the face of standardisation and Sinhala only in Sri Lanka. At that time, I thought I
would retire back in Jaffna. But I now face the prospect of retiring and dying in this
country. And that is a prospect that I do not welcome. Again, as for my children, it may
well be that they may not return to Jaffna - because we have not been able to return there
even for a holiday. But at least I would like them have the choice of returning to a free
Tamil Eelam or staying here."
Suffering is a great teacher and distress binds a people together. One
is reminded of the suffering of that well respected journalist Mr.S.Sivanayagam who had to
leave Jaffna in a boat to Tamil Nadu to escape the wrath of the Sri Lanka government, for
the honest and courageous views that he had expressed in the Saturday Review. He was later
incarcerated by New Delhi for the views that he continued to express in support of the
Tamil struggle. But he has continued to write fearlessly and he now edits Hot Springs.
Knowing him, I know that he will dislike these public references to him. But we as a
people should recognise the contributions made to the struggle by persons such as him, who
have stood up, unafraid, (and, often, at tremendous personal cost) to give their voice in
support of that which they believe to be right and just. And they may have not have taken
up arms to fight in the Vanni.
Each expatriate Tamil is an ambassador of the struggle for Tamil Eelam. Each one has
something to contribute to that struggle, however small that contribution may appear to
him to be. Support for the struggle will not prolong it - it will bring it to a quicker
end and secure the freedom of a people.
Velupillai Pirabaharan has won the trust and respect of
millions of Tamils, not only in Tamil Eelam, but in Tamil Nadu and many other lands. He
has won their trust because of his unswerving commitment to the Tamil struggle for self
determination. He has won their respect because of the political and military skills that
he and the LTTE have displayed during the past several years - skills that are necessary
to secure the goal of the struggle.
And, support, does not mean blind support. By all means let us raise the issues that
confront the struggle. To the extent that we openly do so, we purify the struggle - and
thereby strengthen it. The struggle will not benefit from mindless support.
But, let us not consort with the enemy, whether consciously or otherwise. Again we are not
desiccated calculating machines - nor simply clever writers. We also have heart. Here,
Gramsci's words are helpful:
'The error of the intellectual consists in believing that it is possible to know
without understanding and especially without feeling and passion.. that the intellectual
can be an intellectual if he is distinct and detached from the people-nation, without
feeling the elemental passions of the people, understanding them and thus explaining them
in a particular historical situation ... in the absence of such a bond the.. intellectuals
become a caste or a priesthood...'