Category Archives: caste issues

Caste, Democracy and Social Justice: ICES Conference in Late November 2016

atudor Tudor  a-obey Gananath

Tudor Kalinga Silva

This conference was held at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo on the 19/20th November 2016 with the participation of over 60 researchers from Sri Lanka and abroad. The objective of the conference was to review recent research on caste in Sri Lanka from the angle of democracy and social justice in line with the broader ICES interest in identity politics in Sri Lanka. The specific issues discussed included possible theoretical, conceptual and methodological issues relating to understanding caste and caste-like phenomenon in Sri Lanka, caste dynamics in Sinhala society, caste in historical context, caste issues in Northeast Sri Lanka, post-war transformation of caste, migration, caste and ethnicity, caste and religion and policy framework for addressing horizontal inequality and promoting social justice. The keynote speakers in the conference were Prof. Gananath Obeyesekere, Dr. Kumari Jayawardena, Dr. John Rogers (from the American Institute of Sri Lanka Studies) and Prof. K. Tudor Silva who also convened the conference on behalf of ICES. Continue reading

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Leonard Woolf, The Anti-Imperialist

Thiru Arumugam, Courtesy of The Ceylankan: Journal of the Ceylon Society of Australia, journal 76, Vol. XIX, 4 November 2016

aawoolf-dogWoolf and his dog “Charles” in Jaffna

Introduction: The Ceylankan has carried three articles about Leonard Woolf. In the May 2004 issue Vama Vamadevan wrote an article titled Leonard Woolf  which mainly covered Woolf’s years in Ceylon (1904-1910). In the November 2004 issue Yasmine Gooneratne wrote an article titled Lone Woolf in which she presents a scholarly analysis of Woolf’s book Village in the Jungle and describes a forthcoming new edition of the book with misprints in the first (1913) edition corrected and excised passages restored. Yasmine’s article mentions Leonards “patient devotion with which he had nursed Virginia Woolf through her spells of mental illness, thereby guaranteeing to the world the emergence of its foremost female literary genius”.  Finally, in the February 2009 issue Philip Sansoni wrote an article titled Leonard Woolf – The Lonely Cadet and the Maiden in which he describes in great detail Woolf’s affair in Jaffna with Kitty Leyden. Woolf in the second volume of his autobiography1 says briefly that it was only a one-night stand where he lost his virginity, which had survived his days at Cambridge. However, in a letter to his good friend Lytton Strachey in England dated 12 November 1905written from Jaffna, Woolf said something more “… what do you think of my new one alone with a burgher concubine in a long whitewashed bungalow overlooking a lagoon, where time is only divided between reading Voltaire on the immense verandah and copulating in the vast and empty rooms …” Continue reading

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Discontent and Confrontational Violence in Sri Lanka, 1948-2009

Gerald Peiris, being Chapter 7 from his book Political Conflict in South Asia (2013, University of Peradeniya)  — a chapter based on his previous writings  [1]

 The survival of the principle of representative government based upon universal adult franchise since its introduction to the constitution more than eighty years ago while ‘Ceylon’ was still a colony of the British Empire is a feature often accorded prominence in scholarly discourses on the political history of Sri Lanka. Over the first three decades after independence (1948) the regularity of peaceful transfers of power from one regime to another, based upon the will of the people as expressed at national elections, was also widely acclaimed as a feature that made Sri Lanka unique among the emergent nation-states of the post-colonial era. The radiance of that achievement has, of course, dimmed considerably in the more recent past, due mainly to the violation of democratic norms in affairs of governance, and the intense rivalry that features the sub-national disputes which often find expression in confrontational violence.

1958-riots-22  Scenes in Colombo from 1958 riots after OEG led crackdown1958-getty

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Reflections of a Maverick Tamil Intellectual about Politics amidst OEG, DS, Banda and Others

From the Daily News, 12 July 2016

suntharalingamOn the land like unto ocean, I assume the form of a wave, And trusted dreams as a lifeI was trapped in the whirlwind of three desires, Ensnared day after day For the mound of my body I searched for food Without rest night or day I eat, eat and sleep seeing nought else, I get no gain On the shore of sorrow, I erect a tent of five virtues, I regarded thou as my mother, my son Yet thee treat me in this fashion Without interceding on my behalf Standing in-between and questioning meIs it good to remain so? Oh! My Lord! The Lover of Sivakami!! Thou who created me, oh! Natarajah of Thillai!

This poem from the Natarajapathu was translated by Suntharalingam on January 14, 1978 (Thaipongal Day) and annotated in his mother’s copy of the Kandapuranam from 1930.

What does a grandfather’s letter mean to you? Boring… pedagogical… jam-packed with advices? For C Anjalendran, his grandfather’s letters reveal a bygone grand era of Ceylon. His grandfather was a strange combination of being a professor of mathematics, lawyer and – most interestingly – a politician walking shoulder to shoulder with D S Senanayake, S W R D Bandaranaike, J R Jayewardene, Sir John Kotelawala and Sir Oliver Goonetilleke.

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Failures in the Southern Political Leadership and Missed Opportunities in Jaffna,1963-1966

Neville Jayaweera, presenting here Extracts from Chapters 9 and 10 and Epilogue 1 of his book “Exorcising the past and holding the vision – an autobiographical reflection on the ethnic conflict”, covering the period when Jayaweera was the Government Agent of Jaffna in 1963-66 and the aftermath.... with the highlighted emphasis within the text being choices inserted by the author himself.

                  From chapter 9:  Nationhood and Leadership

 In the last week of December 1964, a cyclone of unprecedented ferocity devastated the Northern Province. The fishing villages of Myliddy, Kankesanthurai, Point Pedro, Nargakovil and several areas within the Jaffna District were reduced to a wilderness of sand dunes, stagnant salt water and windswept debris. In the Myliddy fishing village alone, several hundred lost their lives at sea. The Collector of Ramnad District in SE Tamil Nadu (India) contacted me to say that over 200 bodies had been washed ashore there and he had no alternative but to order mass cremations on the seashore to halt the spread of disease. Throughout the Jaffna District the Kalavoham crop (the main paddy crop) was wiped out and hundreds of fishing boats were reduced to matchwood. The distress was appalling.


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Meeting Daya Master in Jaffna in 2013 — Padma Rao Sundarji

Padma Rao Sundarji, being Chapter 7 in her book Sri Lanka. The New Country, bearing the title “Jaffna: A Former Tiger is a TV Producer” …. while I have taken a few liberties with the formatting and also inserted my emphases for reader attention: Michael Roberts

10155718_10152329598339593_3887767725851885689_n (1)The morning after meeting Ravi Kumar, I sat on the balcony over coffee. As puttering motorbikes announced the arrival of couples for breakfast at the Green Grass’s outdoor restaurant, I mulled over a decision I had to make. During my two-years of ‘sick leave’ from the Sri Lanka story, foreign reporters based in Delhi, who had been in Sri Lanka (some of whom had been admonished and deported) but also some social workers and NGOs in Colombo, had told me that I should be careful and utterly fastidious in my choice of whom I speak to in the north and north east on my first trips to post-war Sri Lanka.

The army, they said, was everywhere. Jaffna was crawling with military intelligence. They tapped phones, they shadowed reporters, they were even capable of knocking on your door late at night to confiscate your tapes and laptop.



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About-About: Clarifying the Work on Jeronis Pieris and His Times

Michael Roberts

This account is a clarification of the circumstances inspiring and surrounding the preparation of the book Facets of Ceylon History through the Letters of Jeronis Pieris (1975) in the light of Ian Goonetileke’s review article of 1976 (which I saw for the first time this October). The elucidation does not address Ian’s criticisms of the chapters on British waste lands policy or the role of buffaloes in up country paddy cultivation — for the simple reason that it would require a complex and lengthy exposition . The focus here is on the letters themselves and colonial politics.

1_Alfred House_exterior_Capper-500LR Alfred House during the heyday of the Warusahännädigē de Soysas in the mid-19th century

This book was drafted in 1969/70, but its appearance in print was delayed till 1975 because I took up a Fulbright Fellowship in USA in 1970/71 and we then had production problems with Hansa Publishers. The writing was informed by the British empiricist heritage in historical research that was integral to the Department of History, Peradeniya University where I was teaching in the Sinhala medium from March 1966 after returning from England following my doctoral dissertation. The book is in fact dedicated to Mr. WJF Labrooy who was Head of Department in my time.[1]

While teaching and exam-marking duties were heavy during the late 1960s, the semester-break system provided me with time to pursue my researches in agrarian history. This involved regular visits to the National Archives at Gangodawila where an old University pal Haris de Silva was Deputy Director and an asset in all my endeavours. At this stage these historical labours had been extended by the continuation of my oral history project interviewing and tape-recording Sri Lankan administrators as well as politicians on their life’s work.[2] Continue reading

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