Friday, June 17, 2011

How Tamils were disproportionately privileged against Sinhalese by their colonial masters

  It has been a common knowledge that the so called 'Tamil Grievances' or 'the problems of Tamils' or mythical 'Tamil Homeland' are direct result of lost privileges of a section Tamils which had been bestowed upon to them by the Colonists, vastly disproportionately at the expense of Sinhalese who were the majority.

I quote below a part of the Prelude of the book ' THE SEPARATIST CONFLICT IN SRI LANKA Terrorism, ethnicity, political economy by Asoka Bandarage, currently a professor at Georgetown University.  She has taught at Yale, Brandeis and Mount Holyoke, and is the author of Colonialism in Sri Lanka; Women, Population and Global Crisis and publications on South Asia, global political economy, ethnicity, gender and population.

The 279 pages book is a must read for anyone interested in Sri Lanka. It dispels many a myth associated with the so called 'Tamil Problem' in Sri Lanka and gives a true picture about the subject with many hard evidences.
'The Kandyan peasantry lost much of their land to the Europeans and other social groups that came with plantation expansion. By mid-twentieth century, agrarian pressure had become so acute that in Nuwara Eliya and Badulla districts, the landless Sinhala peasantry were respectively 42 percent and 38 percent of the population. Alienation of village common lands ( through instruments such as the Crown Lands Encroachment Ordinance of 1840) and plantation development had much to do with the plight of the Kandyan peasantry in the twentieth century.   The plight of the peasantry became the source of the JVP insurrection later in the post independence period.
The Sri Lankan/Ceylon Tamils in the north were not particularly advantaged in the acquisition and ownership of plantation land located in the island's southern areas and the Kandyan Highlands. But they held a decisive advantage in the realm of English language education. The colonial state's grants-in-aid provided the greater proportion of Christian missionary schools to the Northern Province. The American Ceylon Mission established exclusively in the Jaffna peninsula in 1816 provided elite English Education comparable to university education in its schools. This education, however, was not available to all Jaffna Tamils, but, mostly to a group who came to be known as the aristocratic 'first class vellalas'

The ready availability  of English secondary schools in the North created a 'structure imbalance' giving the Sri Lankan Tamils, especially vellala caste an 'intrinsic advantage' over the Sinhala Majority and other minorities and the Tamil groups with regard to higher education, colonial employment and the modern professions. Next to the Burghers, the Ceylon Tamils were 'over represented' in the administrative service relative to their proportions in the island's population. In 1925, the Sinhalese constituted 42.5 percent of the government medical service and 43.6 percent of the civil service, whereas, the Sri Lankan Tamils made up 30.8 percent of the medical services and 20.5 percent of the Civil Service although their respective proportions in the island's population were 67 percent and 11 percent. These occupations brought many Tamils from north to the south placing them in positions of social and economic superiority over the Sinhalese Majority. The Jaffna vellala Tamils were treated as loyal community with privileged access to employment not only in Sri Lanka, but, also other British colonies, especially Malaya and Singapore. Thus, the Jaffna vellala Tamils evolved a distinct ethnoclass and caste identity as a transitional elite, their descendents constituting a large part of the educated, professional diaspora today. As Sri Lankan Tamil scholars themselves have observed, privilege arising out of loyalty to the colonial master was 'the essential psyche of the educated Tamil' *'

*Sarvanathan , 'In Pursuit of Mythical State'
As I pointed out in an earlier post too, this vastly disproportionate occupation in the sectors of employment and education by minorities created a significant discriminatory factor in a country where 73% is the majority who can boldly and undisputedly claim that their presence in the country in more than two millennia made significant impact in its culture and society. The efforts made by the successive post independence governments to correct this monumental discriminatory policy by giving the majority community their rightful position in the society were seen and continue to be seen by the Tamils as a move made against their well being. Obviously, the privileges they enjoyed were bound to curtail significantly as against the proportionate representation by the Sinhalese. The hardest hit segment of the Tamil society was the English educated Vellala Jaffna Elite who had been enjoying the superficial privileges unimaginable to any minority anywhere in the world. These frustrated sentiments of Elite Tamils were very smartly hijacked by their patrons, Vellala Jaffna Elite politicians who were instrumental in creating and writing a mythical Tamil history and 'Tamil homeland fantasy', mainly conceived in Colombo Cocktail parties.

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