Tag Archives: caste thinking

Caste in Modern Sri Lanka Politics

Michael Roberts

This essay first appeared in http://www.transcurrents.com on 24 February 2010 and readers will see blog comments therein.

 

In a recent intervention in the web-site http://www.transcurrents.com (10 Feb. 2010), Lakruwan de Silva has conjectured that caste rivalry between the Govigama and Karāva contributed in a secondary manner towards the rift between the Rajapakse clan and General Fonseka.[1] In his broad survey of caste undercurrents in the history of the Sinhalese, he also refers to the Kara-Govi rivalry that surfaced during the contest for the “Educated Ceylonese Seat” in the Legislative Council in British times in December 1911. In serendipitous coincidence a gentleman named Nadesan recently alluded to this famous occasion when the Govigama elite of that day is said to have backed Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s candidature and helped him defeat Dr. Marcus Fernando for this coveted post.[2]

Let me begin by clarifying the background to this contest. A coalition of Ceylonese activists from the Burgher, SL Tamil and Sinhalese communities had begun to exert pressure on the British rulers from circa 1906 seeking devolution of power. The British authorities responded in miserly fashion in 1910 with the Crewe-Macullum reforms conceding a modicum of expansion in the advisory Legislative Council and introducing the electoral principle for the “Burgher Seat” and the newly-created “Educated Ceylonese Seat;” while still maintaining the existing nominated seats.

Members of the Orient Club, circa 1907 Amadoris Mendis & the Senanayakes in relaxed mood, latter photo courtesy of Kumari Jayawardena

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Waiting for the Jaffna Train

Ahilan Kadirgamar


Courtesy of HIMAL, February 2010 issue, http://www.himalmag. which features everal articles on Sri Lanka

Even as the people of Jaffna – and those who were displaced – make use of their new freedoms of movement, they are confronted with the effect of decades of political stagnation.

Illangai enpatthu nam thai thiru naadu
elil mihuntha iyerkai valam niraitha nal naadu
maanikka muthuhalum maanburu katchihalum manathai kavarthuvudum naadu
yaalpaanam entru sonnal then suvai oorum
panai palamum puhai ilaiyum ondraha valarum

Ceylon/Lanka is our respected motherland
A good land endowed with environmental benefits
A Land where precious gemstones and beautiful sceneries cover our minds

When we pronounce the word Jaffna the taste of honey oozes
Jaffna, where the palmyra fruit and the tobacco leaves grow together

Translation (by writer) of the opening lines of Tamil song, “Ilangai enpathu” by A E Manoharan

Allaippidy, Jaffna in the afternoon. Cricket outside a community centre.

When I visited Jaffna recently, like all those returning home after years away I too sensed feelings of nostalgia welling up inside. This was my first visit in six years, and almost 25 since I had last lived in Jaffna, as an 11-year-old. The opening lines are by A E Manoharan, the Tamil pop star and baila singer who took Jaffna by storm in the 1970s – a time when, in my mind, Manoharan was more popular than the youthful leaders of the militant movements who would emerge soon enough. I have vague memories of going to an open-air Manoharan concert, sitting on the bicycle bar as one of my relatives rode us to where we could hear the loudspeakers. Incidentally, Manoharan composed “Ilangai enpathu”, with its reference to the palmyra fruit, two decades before rights activist Rajani Thiranagama and her colleagues would write The Broken Palmyra, for which she would be murdered.

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