Caste, the Sangha and theocracy

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole


We are supposedly living in a secular country, notwithstanding Buddhism being the foremost religion sponsored by the state.

And yet, when my friend and senior schoolmate, Mr. K.C. Nithiananthan was to come as Governor of the Northern Province, effective 6 April, it did not happen.

On enquiry I was told that our former Governor, Reginald Cooray, who had been posted to Kandy, had been rejected by the Mahanayakes there, saying a fishing caste Christian is unacceptable but they would allow a Christian if he is of the agricultural caste.

Unbelievably, negotiations happened over the caste issue. Cooray and Nithiananthan had a meeting in Colombo with the authorities. The government apparently bought this line by the Mahasangha and, as I gathered then, Cooray would go to Kurunagala and a woman of the right caste would go to the Central Province!

This is against all the laws and principles we profess. It is a part of the fraud that Sri Lanka is – preaching high principles and doing the opposite. Welcome to Sri Lanka, perhaps the most racist and communalist country in the world. Worse, our non-agriculturists have acquiesced by accepting their slavery – there are so many powerful fishing caste people in government from whom we have not had a whimper. They have no sense of dignity or pride. They acquiesce to their third rate status below the agriculturists.

Our people are our people, cut from the same rags I think. So what of Tamils? Wondering about this, I asked my driver who worships Arumuga Navalar and is not an agriculturist, whether he knows Arumuga Navalar’s teaching to Tamil school children in his Paalar Paadam that if a low caste person, a menstruating woman or a dog sees his earthen cooking vessels, he ought to destroy them and buy new ones? My driver was aghast and said no one taught him that.

Why just last Sunday 8th I drove from Jaffna to Batticaloa to attend the fiftieth ordination celebration of my good friend The Rev. Fr. John Joe Mary on Monday. I settled down in my car to read my Sunday newspapers. A prominent English language Sunday newspaper had its top, page 1 story with the headline emblazoned: New Year Gift to the North: Army to free 650 acres. They take our private lands and think it is theirs for them to give us a gift by vacating it? The Editor, presumably the best of the Sinhalese intelligentsia, let that headline pass thinking he is really giving us a gift of what is ours. All the way from Vavuniya through Trinco and Moothur  to Batticaloa, I saw all these encroached and forcibly settled lands, wondering what our future in this country is as Tamils. Are we to acquiesce to this lopsided view of private Tamil lands as a gift to us?

I also recalled with bitterness my brother-in-law’s land which he had purchased in Keerimalai for a resort home. Adjacent to the presidential palace, it has been taken over. A government that promotes free trade cannot afford to violate people’s ownership rights over their property. Returning our lands to us is an easy way to win a permanent winning alliance with Tamils. However, the government seems to enjoy keeping Tamil prisoners for investigation of their alleged crimes for over 10 years whereas if they are really guilty they would have finished their maximum imprisonment terms by now.  Our leaders seem unable to seize winning opportunities.

As we reached Batticaloa, I wondered about the people of Batticaloa who worship Pattini/Kannaki and at the same time had Navalar statues erected by their MP Yogeswaran. Did they know that Navalar decried Pattini as a low caste Jaina Chetty goddess? Indeed he demanded “What temples for that Chettichi?”

The oppressed Sinhalese put down by the Mahanayakes, still fall at their feet. Navalar has insulted Batticaloa Tamils and banished their goddesses from Jaffna. Yet the people of Batticaloa and their MP Yogeswaran put up Navalar statues and worship him. The people of Batticaloa also have acquiesced to their slavery.  We are all willing slaves to those who oppress us. It is the culture of oppression.

The root of this master-servant relationship can be traced to the Mahavamsa where in the Second Century BC (if the Mahavamsa is to be believed at all) King Duttugemenu’s son, the Prince Salya, marries a low caste woman, Asokamala. For this, he is banished. The only difference now is that we are doing the same horrible low-class thinking in the twenty-first century. Lord Krishna said in the Gita that he created the castes according to their moral qualities – the higher the qualities, the higher the caste. In Sri Lanka we have those claiming to be high castes exhibiting very low qualities in disrespecting the rights of those who are not agriculturist.

Until the worldly powers of the Buddhist clergy are removed we will always be a third rate country. In Jaffna, we have in Neduntivu (or Nainativu) a monk who has the Navy in his service. According to a reliable professional from there, he has fathered some 10 children through Tamil women. These ladies, like the fisher caste people who accept that they cannot be governors of the Central Province, are willing concubines while he claims to be the Mahanayake of the North. These ladies have acquiesced to their oppression.

I do not regard Nainativu as a part of my heritage because of how the Navy behaves and foisted criminals as our representative. I visited there for the first time only recently when a relation, on the occasion of my daughter’s marriage, gave us all a picnic-tour of Jaffna. The bus she hired took us at some point by ferry to Neduntivu. We walked about and a monk without asking any permission, came and sat on the front seat that I had been occupying. I politely told him it is a private bus, but he glared at me. I am a slave in Jaffna and knew I could not throw him out without the Navy coming to his protection. I too had acquiesced to my oppression.

Should we not rethink the foremost position for a religion that brings out the worst in man – acquiescence to our own oppression. All jobs should be open to everyone based only on qualifications. Does the government have a new policy on caste as a qualification for jobs?

Today 13 April, it appears that after public airing of grievances over the consideration of caste in appointing Governors, the government had relented. Reginald Cooray, today’s Island announced, was sworn in as the Governor of the Central Province as planned. It is not clear why but K.C. Logeswaran’s announced move as Governor of the Northern Province has been annulled and he is going to the North Western Province. There was no news of the Northern Province, perhaps because the Northern CM and his allies wanted Cooray to stay, although it had for long been a Tamil position that the Northern Governor should be a Tamil. During Cooray’s objected transfer to Kandy, the complaint was made by an ITAK Legislator “They want a Goigama for Kandy but will not give us a Tamil in Jaffna.”

Then push-back, it seems, from the Mahasangha. Todays’ Daily Mirror Breaking news announced that P.B. Dissanayake who was sworn in yesterday for Uva has been sworn in for Governor of Central and will act for Uva. The forces for good that had insisted on the appointment to Kandy/Central Province without regard to caste, had lost. Evil forces upholding caste had won.

We voted for a government to rule us by high principles. But our elected government had knuckled down to pressure from backward, archaic forces. We voted for a democracy. We have a theocracy. At this point, any party that firmly opposes theocracy has a chance to form a permanent, winning alliance with minorities. But they seem too thick-headed to grab the golden opportunity. Our history is missed opportunity after missed opportunity!


  1. Rathnajeevan havent you fotgotten how baticloa tamil being treated by jaffna tamils and they cant even have water from their houses? Just because you heard some rumours dont wag your tounge foolishly,

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