23 November 2015

Where does ‘South’ end and ‘North’ begin?

Years ago, just after the 13th Amendment to the Constitution first found on-the-ground expression in the form of provincial councils, the EPRLF-led North-Eastern Provincial Council called itself ‘The Government of the North-East of Sri Lanka’.  I cannot remember Dayan Jayatilleke, at the time quite cosy in the lap of Eelamists and Eelamism, objecting to the nomenclature (then as now).  Language, ladies and gentlemen, is not innocent.

The other day I was reading an interview given to the Ravaya by Elmore Perera.  The title picked up from the interview implied that somehow the Sinhalese are solely to blame for the so-called ‘ethnic’ conflict; that the onus is on the Sinhalese to reach out and that if this was not done the island would be divided.  Elmore showing a marked ignorance of history reduces source of conflict to the Sinhala Only Act.  He forgets the racism and chauvinism of Ponnambalam Ramanathan, the separatist intent of Tamil politics pre-dating 1956, especially those of G.G. Ponnambalam and S.J.V. Chelvanayagama and of course the unsubstantiated claims regarding traditional homelands.  All he can point to is perceptions of depravation and un-belonging, which of course no one can resolve through legislation. 

He had interesting things to say about IDPs.  He thinks that IDPs are used to living with landmines and therefore wants the Government to let them all return to their original places of residence. Easy for Elmore to say because a) Elmore won’t lose a leg to an LTTE Jonny-batta, and b) Elmore won’t have to take the flak if indeed Sinnatamby or Krishanthi steps on one.  Let’s call it ‘difference of opinion’ and leave it at this, though.  There are more serious things to worry about.

Elmore, interestingly, even as he advocates all kinds of things in the purported interest of keeping the nation undivided, deliberately feeds separatism by championing divisive and separatist language.  There was a time when people called those areas that were under attack from the LTTE or where the battle raged ‘border areas/villages’.  That was a near Eelamist slip-in. It gave implicit legitimacy to the Eelamist lie regarding exclusive traditional homelands.  This gave way to ‘threatened areas/villages’ as people cottoned on to what was happening.  The other device is the reference to a ‘North’ and a ‘South’. This is old but people like Elmore keep it ‘new’. 

The moment you start talking of a ‘North’ and a ‘South’, you not only assert a division, anticipate and promote a division, you even give the uninitiated, naïve outsider an utterly skewed picture of ethnic compositions and residencies.  It implies that the Tamils live in the northern half of the island while the Sinhalese live ‘down under’. 

Immediately the geographical, demographical, archaeological and historical realities get brushed aside.  The fact that the North and East (i.e. the provinces that go by those names) constituted the heartland of Buddhist heritage gets erased. The fact that 53% of Tamils live outside these areas gets brushed aside.  All of a sudden we don’t have 9 provinces. We just have two.  Where does the South meet the North, will Elmore tell us? Or will he say ‘that’s just an expression’?  Would he then say ‘bastard’ is also an ‘expression’ and so too ‘thalaya’? 

These terms are the lie-feeders and the users of these terms actively feel the Eelam-lie.  They are not innocent.  Elmore knows enough and therefore can leave out things carefully just as he underlines other things. Carefully.  He’s no baby in this business.  Neither is Dayan Jayatilleke.  When he (Dayan) refers to the Tamils as ‘them’ he immediately assumes the role of ‘Spokesperson for the Sinhalese’ and does so in a manner that conflates ‘Sinhala’ with ‘Sri Lankan State’ in the worst possible ways to boot.  He too likes the ‘North’/’South’ break down because it clearly inflates the Eelam case and produces a corresponding deflation of demographic realities that clearly undermine all Eelamist posturing. 

I doubt that Elmore will believe he has to do any soul-searching; he operates as though he knows it all.  Well then, counsellor, how about elaborating on your choice of line with respect to ethno-political geographies?    



This article was first published in the 'Daily News' on November 23, 2010