Northern perspectives of the Tamil homeland

By: Professor S. K. Sittrampalam

The genesis of the concept
As aptly observed by K. M. De Silva, the concept of a traditional Tamil homeland is inextricably linked with the political ideology of the Federal Party since its inauguration on 18 December 1949. This is evident not only from the inaugural speech by its founder S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, but also in its resolution at the first national convention held in Trincomalee in 1951:

“Inasmuch as it is the inalienable right of every nation to enjoy full political freedom without which its spiritual, cultural and moral stature must degenerate and inasmuch as the Tamil speaking people in Ceylon constitute a nation distinct from that of the Sinhalese by every fundamental test of nationhood, firstly that of a historical past in this Island (which is) at least as ancient and as glorious as that of the Sinhalese, secondly by the fact of their being a linguistic entity entirely different from that of the Sinhalese, with an unsurpassed classical heritage and a modern development of language which makes Tamil fully adequate for all present day needs, and finally, by reason of their territorial habitation of definite areas which constitute over one third of this Island, this first national conference of I.T.A.K (Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi) demands for the Tamil speaking nation in Ceylon their inalienable right to political autonomy and calls for a plebiscite to determine the boundaries of the linguistic states in consonance with the fundamental and unchallengeable principles of self-determination”

Chelvanayakam has argued in his presidential address to the party in 1949 that the Tamils had settled on the Island not only during ancient times as the Sinhalese had, but that this country had been ruled at times by Sinhalese kings and at others by Tamil kings. From these alternating fortunes between the two communities there emerged in the 13th century an exclusive Tamil kingdom, which was conquered by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British in succession.

The above view was later confirmed by the Vaddukoddai Resolution of the first National Convention of the Tamil United Liberation Front, successor to the Federal Party, on 14 May 1976. At its first convention, presided over by Chelvanayakam, they resolved to restore and reconstitute the state of Tamil Eelam.

Their resolution was as follows:
“The First National Convention of the Tamil Liberation Front, meeting at Pannakam (Vaddukodai Constituency) on the 14th day of May 1976, hereby declares that the Tamils of Ceylon, by virtue of their great language, their religions, their separate culture and heritage, their history of independent existence as a separate state over a distinct territory for several centuries till they were conquered by the armed might of the European invaders, and above all by their will to exist as a separate entity ruling themselves in their own territory, are a nation distinct and apart from the Sinhalese and their constitution, announces to the world that the Republican Constitution of 1972 has made the Tamils a slave nation ruled by the new colonial masters, the Sinhalese, who are using the power they have wrongly usurped to deprive the Tamil nation of its territory, language, citizenship, economic life, opportunities of employment and education and thereby destroying all the attributes of nationhood of the Tamil people.

“And therefore, while taking note of the reservations in relation to its commitment to the setting up of a separate state of Tamil Eelam expressed by the Ceylon Workers’ Congress as a Trade Union of plantation workers, the majority of whom live and work outside the Northern and Eastern areas, This convention resolves that the restoration and reconstitution of the Free, Sovereign, Secular, Socialist State of Tamil Eelam based on the right of self-determination inherent in every nation has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil nation in this country.”

From non-violence to armed struggle
So the concept of a Tamil homeland nurtured as a political philosophy by the Federal Party and later by the Tamil United Liberation front has gone through the political models from federalism to a separate Tamil state since independence. Commenting on the nature of the people of the north, especially Jaffna, Portuguese historians described that they are generally, “quiet and mild without any military training and therefore unlikely to rebel unless instigated by the outsiders. However Michael Roberts, a modern historian of Sri Lanka writing in 1978, in his article on ‘Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka and Sinhalese Perspectives: Barriers to Accommodation’ warned that “Indeed there is room in Sri Lanka for the conflict to evolve in the direction of such awesome ‘models’ as Northern Ireland, Cyprus and the Lebanon.” Instead of solving the ethnic problem politically by addressing the problem democratically, successive governments sought to solve it militarily. Consequently the State became militarised. Today the country in divided both militarily and administratively with two armies and two governments.

Perceptions of the Sri Lankan historical sources Commenting on the vision of Sri Lankan history bequeathed to the Sinhalese, Michael Roberts observed that: “The history of the Island has bequeathed to the Sinhalese a vision: their role as a chosen people destined to preserve Buddhism in its pristine purity within the Island Bastion. This vision is embodied in two sister concepts the Dhammadipa concept (Island of Dhamma) and the Sihadipa concept (Island of the Sihala people or Sinhalese). Dating from the fifth century A.D., at the very least, these concepts were not only embodied in the ancient Pali chronicles (the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa) but also were maintained and embellished in Sinhala literature, folklore and mythology.”

According to these myths the credit of introducing civilization was attributed to Vijaya. Although he and has retinue of 700 people married a Pandyan princess and other maidens from the Pandya country, his descendents have been called as Sihala / Simhala / Sinhalese. The form Sihala / Simhala which originally denoted the Island, was identified with the Sinhala ethnic group. Kings of Anuradhapura became the Kinsmen of Buddha and the Island became Dhammadipa where only a true faith of Therawada Buddhism could flourish. Concepts of only Bodhisattvas (future Buddhas) could become the kings of the Island gained currency. Scholars who have analysed these myths have found a kernel of truth in the Aryan colonization from North India, although the term Aryan is not found in them.

Thus, G.C.Mendis, a pioneer historian of Sri Lanka writing in the late forties on the history of Sri Lanka assigned a third place to the Dravidians (Tamils) after the Stone Age and the Aryan settlements. Paranavitana, a doyen of Sri Lankan history and archaeology remarked that “there is also no evidence to establish that a people of Dravidian stock who in historic times occupied the neighbouring mainland and on many occasions fought with the Sinhalese for the sovereignty over the island were present there at the time of the first Aryan settlement. Early Tamil literature contains nothing to indicate that Ceylon was a region in which that language was spoken by a considerable proportion of the people.” K. M. De Silva in his book published in 1980, after discussing the Aryan colonization and the introduction of Buddhism into the Island observed that the “Dravidian influence was the third major ingredient in the Island’s development in Proto-historic times. There is no firm evidence as to when the Dravidians first came to the Island, but come they did from very early times either as invaders or as peaceful immigrants.”

Tantalizingly enough the perceptions of the Pali chronicles about the Tamils such as ‘aliens’ ‘usurpers’ ‘adventurers’ and ‘people of false faith’ have found acceptance in the writings not only of the eminent historians but also eminent people who adorned the judiciary of this country. Claiming historical legacy for ‘Bhumiputra’ and unitary constitution concepts

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