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 Features, Views, Analysis
SRI LANKA: Donor interest in north waning
Published Date: 06/07/2012 (Friday)
SRI LANKA: Donor interest in north waning



Sri Lanka blocks five Tamil news portals, arrests journalists
Published Date: 29/06/2012 (Friday)
Sri Lanka blocks five Tamil news portals, arrests journalists


Buddhist Nationalism and Religious Violence in Sri Lanka
Published Date: 18/06/2012 (Monday)
Buddhist Nationalism and Religious Violence in Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka: The meaning of victory
Published Date: 17/06/2012 (Sunday)
Sri Lanka: The meaning of victory


The meaning of victory
Published Date: 17/06/2012 (Sunday)
The meaning of victory

'After 30 years we now see the dawn that will take us to a golden age of the future,' declared Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa as he presided over the third Victory Day celebration on May 20. Over 12,000 personnel participated in the parade of military and police equipment used to defeat the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 after a three-decade long war.

A golden future will need more than triumphalist statements of victory. The cost of the war to Sri Lankan society was huge. More than 100,000 civilians died in the long conflict and nearly 40,000 in the final months. According to the government, over 24,000 Sri Lankan soldiers lost their lives and many more were wounded or maimed. Over half a million Sri Lankans were forced to flee their homes, either because of the fighting or ethnic cleansing. Many more moved to other countries, including India.

Both government forces and the LTTE were responsible for countless abuses for which virtually no one has been punished. Targeted killings and LTTE suicide bombs were frequent. The authorities arbitrarily arrested thousands of men and women. Many suffered torture, including sexual assault, and often languished for years in prisons across the country, detained without trial under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act. Thousands more disappeared in what may have been enforced, and this happens even now. Recently, hundreds of Sri Lankans, mostly women, turned up to search for their missing or detained relatives at the places listed by the government that could provide information. Most of them were turned away, disappointed.

The government refuses to face up to the human consequences of its military operations in the war's final months. Sri Lankan forces committed indiscriminate shelling into populated areas, summary executions of prisoners, and other war crimes.

India has been encouraging Sri Lanka to address this disturbing legacy. Its role in Sri Lanka has been difficult, having intervened with an unsuccessful peacekeeping force in 1987-90, and enduring the LTTE's assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi 20 years ago. All these led India to back Sri Lanka's military efforts against the LTTE.

With the end of the war, New Delhi pushed for reconciliation among ethnic communities, the rebuilding of shattered lives, and a government investigation into allegations of war crimes. As a result of international pressure, Sri Lanka has grudgingly made some cosmetic gestures towards these ends, but justice and reconciliation still remain a pipe dream, particularly for families who suffered abuses from both sides.

Those that expected India, as an emerging global leader with a seat in both the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council, to demand greater accountability in Sri Lanka, were disappointed when it provided development assistance for reconstruction efforts without insisting that the government take credible steps to address these concerns.

Colombo was taken aback when India chose to support a resolution at the Human Rights Council calling for Sri Lanka to act on the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. The Rajapaksa government responded by criticising political parties in Tamil Nadu and other opposition members who had called for support for the US-led resolution and even threatened India over its own domestic human rights record.

Sri Lanka would do better if it would understand why even its closest supporters are expressing disapproval. The Sri Lankan military, which has retained a large presence in the northern areas formerly held by the LTTE, continues its abusive behaviour towards ethnic Tamil civilians, as well as former combatants and their families. Disappearances are reported even now. Women, who approach soldiers seeking news of loved ones, who have vanished, or to protect those in custody, have been known to be coerced into providing sexual favours.

Local activists, who have been the target of government harassment, threats and worse, bravely carry out their work and report about the grim situation.

India has continued its efforts at encouraging reconciliation. A 12-member parliamentary delegation was recently in Sri Lanka and emphasised yet again the need to ensure that Tamils, after decades of war, can enjoy peace that provides "equality, dignity, justice and self-respect". However, the government has persisted in its suspicion and has been demonising the Tamil community.

India retains a major influence in Sri Lanka. It should insist that the government takes steps to ensure justice for all Sri Lankans from all communities. Two years ago, a UN panel of experts called for an independent international mechanism to monitor the government's accountability process and investigate allegations of war crimes from all sides - and India should support this. For a golden future, every Sri Lankan must believe that there will be a fair society in which there is justice and accountability for all.

Meenakshi Ganguly is director (South Asia), Human Rights Watch. The views expressed by the author are personal.

Leaked photos reveal fate of Tamil prisoners
Published Date: 16/06/2012 (Saturday)
Leaked photos reveal fate of Tamil prisoners

They are the faces of the vanquished. The captured Tamil rebels are young and barefoot. They are handcuffed to bus seats. Some are bandaged. All have the downcast faces of prisoners awaiting an uncertain fate.

Photos and videos recently smuggled out of Sri Lanka offer a rare glimpse of what happened at the end of the bloody civil war between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels.

Recorded on the cellphone of a Sri Lankan soldier, the images show wounded rebel captives and rows of bodies in paramilitary and civilian clothing. Inexplicably, many of the women’s bodies have been stripped naked.

“Possibly they could have been sexually assaulted and shot and killed,” said Vasuki Muruhathas, the British lawyer who obtained the images. “But this is clearly showing the ill treatment and the violence on women, and it’s not acceptable.”

Ms. Muruhathas said the client who gave her the digital files had worked at an Internet café during the war.

A female soldier was a customer and at some point the phone’s memory was backed up onto a computer hard drive.

The café owner initially deleted the files out of fear, but he recovered them at the urging of Ms. Muruhathas, who thought they were an important record of the decisive last weeks of the war.

A lobby group seeking an international investigation into whether war crimes were committed during the closing months of the conflict said it would distribute the images to Canadian MPs and media outlets next week.

Copies were obtained in advance by the National Post. There are two dozen photographs and 32 video clips — all recorded on the same Sony Ericsson phone between April 6 and May 19, 2009.

“These images have a great amount of significance in adding further validity to the evidences that have already been documented,” said Roy Gardiner Wignarajah, spokesman for the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), which wants independence for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority.

The LTTE fought a long war for Tamil statehood. The fighting concluded in 2009, when the Sri Lanka Army captured the last rebel stronghold. The Tigers’ top commanders were killed, including their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. About 10,000 combatants were captured. The number of civilian dead is not known and hotly disputed.

Three years later, the images show what a war looks like when it ends. There are scenes of feral-looking children in LTTE uniforms, and rebels sitting cross-legged on the jungle floor with their hands bound behind them. There are bodies wrapped in plastic in the aisle of a bus. One clip shows soldiers celebrating on the day of Prabhakaran’s death.

In the last videos and photos, dozens of dead are lying face up in a field. Almost all the women’s breasts and genitals have been deliberately exposed. They include Charles Anthony, a rebel commander and Prabhakaran’s eldest son. A few are clearly toddlers.

“There are some people with the uniform, but there are other people in civilian clothes so there may be a mixture of them, but definitely there are a few LTTE and it looks like small children,” Ms. Muruhathas said.

A Sri Lankan official has dismissed the images as a “fairy tale” and an attempt to discredit the government.

Their release comes as Colombo is under United Nations’ pressure to co-operate with an international war crimes investigation.

Ms. Muruhathas, who is the British secretary of the TGTE, denied the files were fabricated and said two families had already identified their relatives from the footage.

She intends to send the materials to the UN as evidence of war crimes, or at a minimum mistreatment. She also wants the UN to ask Sri Lanka to disclose the whereabouts of the captured combatants shown in the images.

“After three years the parents are still looking for them,” she said.

National Post
[email protected]

Once bitten; not twice shy
Published Date: 10/06/2012 (Sunday)
Once bitten; not twice shy


Fragrant memories of Jaffna Youth Congress
Published Date: 05/06/2012 (Tuesday)
Fragrant memories of Jaffna Youth Congress


UN 'deeply disturbed' by Sri Lankan shooting
Published Date: 05/06/2012 (Tuesday)
UN 'deeply disturbed' by Sri Lankan shooting

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay tells Channel 4 News that she is "deeply disturbed" by the shooting of a Sri Lankan journalist and calls on the Sri Lankan government to protect him.

In an exclusive interview with Channel 4 News, Navi Pillay urged the Sri Lankan government to "provide immediate protection" for Faraz Shaukatally, who is currently in intensive care after being shot by three unidentified gunmen on Friday night.

Ms Pillay said: "It's an act of attempted assassination so he needs to be protected immediately."

Mr Shauketaly, 52, who holds joint British and Sri Lankan citizenship, is a reporter for the Sri Lankan newspaper The Sunday Leader.

Ms Pillay said "I'm deeply disturbed by this particular shooting because it's a journalist and he's attached to a newspaper that's known to be critical of the government - particularly on accountability and in justice issues - which are issues that I cover. And I will be reporting to the Human Rights Council my concern over extra judicial killings, abductions and this kind of treatment and suppression of freedom of expression."

Watch on 4OD: Sri Lanka's Killing Fields

The newspaper's editor Sakunthala Perera said the journalist was shot while he was on the telephone discussing a story due to appear in this week's edition.

Police said three men broke into his house and opened fire on him while he was in his bedroom. The journalist, whose family live in Colywn Bay in Wales, was rushed to hospital with bullet wounds in his neck.

UN's Navi Pillar talks to Channel 4 News about the shooting of British/Sri Lankan journalist Faraz Shaukatally (Image: Reuters)

Time to 'demonstrate' integrity

Though he has miraculously survived, Mr Shaukatally is undergoing further tests in intensive care ahead of surgery. In 2009 an editor from the same newspaper was killed and other members of staff have also been attcked. No arrests have been made to date.

Today the Sunday Leader's website reported that Sri Lanka's Presdient Mahinda Rajapaksa has ordered a special investigation into the shooting incident.

However, when asked about suggestions that the government could have been involved in the shooting, Ms Pillay told Channel 4 News: "That's why there has to be a proper investigation before we can conclude that. In the meantime it's law enforcement that has to provide him protection. And it would demonstrate on the part of the government that they care if one of their citizens is fired upon. Everybody should care (about) who are the people who are going around shooting other people. This is what law enforcement is about.

"The Sri Lankan government swears by the integrity of their army and their police, well it's time they demonstrated that. These institutions built into the democracy must now begin to work properly and this is an immediate instance where they can demonstrate that. "

She said Sri Lanka must provide a credible investigation involving the civil society, because "if it is done by the government or the police themselves they do not enjoy the confidence of the people at this stage."

Human rights record

Sri Lanka's rights record has been subject to criticsim over alleged excesses during the military's final phase in defeating Tamil Tiger seperatists. Rights groups say the military killed thousands of minority ethnic Tamil civilians in the final weeks of the conflict.

Ms Pillay praised Channel 4's investigative report, Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, on the last few weeks of the Sri Lankan civil war, broadcast in 2011.

She said: "Let me say how much Channel 4's information is appreciated because you have brought this to the fore. I myself mandated by the Human Rights Council have been filing reports on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka - we will be reviewing that again in March, but I have consistently called for a credible international investigation particularly of the occurrences in the last few days of the conflict."

She added that she was frustrated by the Sri Lankan government's lack of investigation, with offers of UN help, to establish what happened at the end of the country's civil conflict.

The Sri Lankan government has rejected allegations of mass killings and has been dismissive of Ms Pillay's calls for investigation, alongside her calls for the demilitarisation of the Vanni region.

Jonathan Miller blog: Sri Lanka - skeletons in the cupboard?

But Ms Pillay insists: "We want to provide them with expert investigative assistance, we are ready to provide this kind of assistance and I'm really disappointed it has not been taken up."

She added: "It's particularly bad because this was government forces firing on civilians indiscriminately - they were shelled and the normal responsibility of governments is to protect people - not to kill them."

Criticism was also levelled at the UN which was in Sri Lanka at the time of the alleged atrocities and whose people were withdrawn.

She said: "I think that is deeply disturbing because it's a repetition of the criticism that was levelled against the United Nations during the Rwandan genocide and there was a report done after that with recommendations.

"Now, to the credit of the secretary general he set up the Petrie Commission to look at the UN's failures in handling the Sri Lankan conflict and I very much encouraged that, I've read the report and I'm urging now the United Nations to take steps to come up with action plans to implement those recommendations so that the United Nations doesn't repeat these kind of failures."

Fragrant memories of Jaffna Youth Congress in these bleak times
Published Date: 05/06/2012 (Tuesday)
Fragrant memories of Jaffna Youth Congress in these bleak times

Comments Made on the Occasion of the Release of Handy Perinbanayagam A Memorial Volume & The Jaffna Youth Congress

by Tissa Jayatilaka

A revised edition of Handy Perinbanayagam A Memorial Volume & The Jaffna Youth Congress edited by Santasilan Kadirgamar, published by Kumaran Publishers, Colombo, was released under the auspices of the Indo-Lanka Foundation on the 4th of March, 2012 at the Saraswathy Hall in Colombo. The first edition of the above publication, also edited by Santasilan Kadirgamar, was produced and distributed by the Handy Perinbanayagam Commemoration Society in Jaffna on 28 June, 1980.

A noteworthy feature of the present revised edition of the publication is its availability in all of the three national languages - Sinhala, Tamil and English. It was the editor’s determination to make the ideals and vision of the late Handy Perinbanayagam, the founder of the Jaffna Youth Congress (JYC), accessible to all Sri Lankans that made him bring out the volume in all three languages. He endured the delay thus involved in bringing out the revised edition because of his motivation to release all three versions of the book simultaneously. It is both fitting and proper he should have done so. For Handy Perinbanayagam the Ceylonese nationalist (not, please note, a narrow ethnic nationalist) would not have wanted it any other way.

The publication is most timely given that we are at a moment in our history when the need for a principled search for genuine national reconciliation is extremely urgent. To this end, the legacy of Handy Perinbanayagam and the Jaffna Youth Congress should serve as a stimulus and congenial guide. Absent such a reconciliation, our future as a united country is in far graver danger than most of us seem to realise.

Handy Perinbanayagam (1899 – 1977) pioneered the movement in Ceylon for total national independence (‘Purna Swaraj’). Inspired by and imbued with the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, he was an educationist of the highest calibre. He fought for the right of a child to be educated in her own native language and for a people’s right to be governed in their own. The book before us today is a well deserved tribute to Handy Perinbanayagam’s long and distinguished service to the people of Sri Lanka and to our world in general. His was the voice of liberal humanism.

Handy Perinbanayagam was a remarkable Sri Lankan and citizen of the world. Among all that he has said and written, what I cherish are the two following:

Here’s the first:

What Sinhala is to the Sinhalese, Tamil ought to be for the Tamils. A minority need not be subordinate to the majority in a free country.

The other expressed by Handy Perinbanayagam in 1947 goes like this:

In spite of the reverses which the ideal of one Ceylon, Free Ceylon, has received recently we hold our faith in it. The conception of a free country where politics is free from the ideas of race and caste calls for courage and imagination and true statesmanship. We shall not subscribe to anything less than that, for nothing less will save Ceylon.

How very prophetic!

The Inclusive Vision of Handy Perinbanayagam Inspired as he was by Gandhian ideals, Handy Perinbanayagam never wavered from his ideal of a united and independent Sri Lanka. He believed utterly and steadfastly in the dignity and equality of all human beings and hence rejected any form of social exclusivity. Handy Perinbanayagam was also, when the occasion demanded it, unconventional and unorthodox in his thinking. At times, we thus find him in disagreement with the orthodoxy of the Christian Church. He subscribed to the view that the principles of Christianity and Saiva Siddanta were virtually inseparable. As a non-conformist , as one who likes to question dogmas and orthodoxies, and as one who prefers inclusivity to exclusivity, I have found myself naturally drawn to the independence of spirit and thought that marked the life and work of Handy Perinbanayagam.

The educated Sri Lankans of the period around 1920 to mid- 1950s - - give or take a little - - much like Handy Perinbanayagam and others of the JYC, were part of the bilingual intelligentsia of our country. They were not frogs in the well as most of their counterparts appear to be today. Our predecessors, for the most part, were aware of our indigenous traditions and values just as much as they were familiar with traditions and values that are universally valid. They were at home in their indigenous languages as they were with English. We then had the ability and self- confidence to let other cultural winds blow across the length and breadth of our island home and absorb from those winds what was useful and leave out what was of no use. We thus achieved a synthesis of human values which stood us in good stead. It is a pity that we do not manifest that ability and that national self-confidence today.

The ideals of the Gandhian movement, the idealism of the American missionaries who propagated western Christian liberal values (happily minus the vested interests the generality of their imperialist British counterparts manifested), and the impact of the Hindu nationalists who established Hindu schools in the north combined to shape the broad and humane world view of the JYC. One of the defining features of the American missionary education enterprise in northern Sri Lanka was its emphasis on the study of both Tamil and English. It is the fine combination of this indigenous and non - indigenous tradition of learning that ensured that men like Handy Perinbanayagam and his JYC colleagues were not culturally divorced from their roots. They were thus rooted in the particular as at the same time they reached out to the universal.

The Evolution and History of the JYC

The Jaffna Students’ Congress, the precursor of the Jaffna Youth Congress, came into being in the 1920s - - 1924 to be precise. Hector Abhayavardhana in his perceptive essay titled Tamil Nationalism and the Sinhalese (see his Selected Writings, Colombo: 2001, pp.350 - 368) suggests that the break up of the Ceylon National Congress with the departure of its influential Tamil members around 1924 may have had something to do with the formation of the Jaffna Students’ Congress in that year which later metamorphosed into the Jaffna Youth Congress. Here’s how Abhayavardhana puts it:

Though Arunachalam and his followers had no visible connection with the formation of the Students (sic) Congress (later the Youth Congress) in Jaffna, it is possible to conjecture that the breakup of the Ceylon National Congress and the formation of the Students Congress in Jaffna were not completely unrelated.

Abahayavardhana goes on to make a key point about the Jaffna Students’ Congress in that it was a national and not a mere regional movement confined to the peninsular of Jaffna or the Northern and Eastern provinces. Its perspective, notes Abhayavardhana, an all-island one and its goal was explicitly announced to be independence, national unity, secularism, and the overcoming of all caste barriers. It contributed the first manifestation of genuine nationalism in the country’. We thus see that notable Sinhala Sri Lankans such as D.B. Dhanapala, P. de S. Kularatne, G.K.W. Perera, once a Principal of Nalanda Vidyalaya and later a State Councillor, A.E. Goonesinha the labour leader, the father of Marxism in Ceylon Philip Gunawardene (even though based in London at the time), D.S. Senanyake, George. E. de Silva, E.W. Perera, D. B. Jayatilaka, Francis de Zoysa, S. W. Dassanaike, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, N. M. Perera, Leslie Gunewardene, S. A. Wickremasinghe, W. Dahanayake , J. R. Jayewardene, Colvin R. de Silva and Selina Perera joined forces with the JHC. So also did up country Tamil leaders such as Peri Sunderam, Malay leaders such as T. B. Jayah. Not only was the JYC able to transcend ethnic limitations by having under its umbrella a diversity of Ceylonese, it was thereby also able to overcome the limitations of its peninsular base (Cheran 2009).

-The spirit of sturdy independence its members extolled is evident from the very first session of the JYC held at the Ridgeway Hall, Jaffna (later the site of the Jaffna Town Hall) on 29-31 December 1924. Handy Perinbanayagam was the chief organiser and he was assisted by several Jaffna youth, prominent among them being M. Balasunderam and S. Durai Raja Singham. The JYC was the first organisation in that era made up of members from the English-educated class, in Jaffna or elsewhere in the country, to use one of the indigenous languages together with English in the conduct of its business. One of those present at the 1924 Sessions in his speech highlighted the national awakening taking place at that time in the country. He called upon those present to alleviate the suffering of the economically weak, the unemployed, and the oppressed men and women. These laudable objectives, he stressed, may be achieved through a sincere desire to serve the motherland (Kadirgamar 1980; 2012). The emphasis thus was very much on national unity, social justice, and sectarianism. The JYC may be considered as perhaps the earliest true nation builders of Ceylon. They were nationalists of a very special kind as distinct from the narrower type exemplified by G. G. Ponnambalam, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the Jathika Hela Urumaya and like-minded groups of non-political actors in the country.

To his eternal credit, Handy Perinbanayagam did not join a political party. He remained true to his ideals to the very end. Although the JYC subscribed to egalitarianism, Perinbanayagam was not a Marxist. His vision was broader, far more significant, infinitely more all-encompassing, and humane. The achievement of Handy Perinbanayagam becomes the greater when we remember that his radicalism was nurtured and preserved in an essentially conservative caste-bound feudalistic Ceylon/Sri Lanka. Men of Handy Perinbanayagam’s calibre will forever be remembered by those of us free of narrow political and social agendas for their sincerity and integrity - - qualities sadly not much in evidence today in our badly fractured society.

The Jaffna Students’ Congress, founded in 1924, held its first sessions that year in Jaffna. The period 1925 - 1931 was one of significant growth and, in the latter year, the Students’ Congress became the Jaffna Youth Congress. The second Annual Sessions of the Congress were held in Keerimalai in 1925 and was addressed by P. de. S. Kularatne who, it is reported, had his audience of visionary youth spellbound; the third scheduled for April 1926 were postponed to December 1926 and held in Keerimalai, the postponement being due to an outbreak of cholera in Jaffna. The Sessions of 1927 were significant as this was the year Mahatma Gandhi was chief guest at the invitation of Handy Perinbanayagam. One of the key decisions taken at the Annual Sessions of 1928 was to establish similar student organisations in Kandy, Galle and Colombo and in other parts of the country with the eventual aim of setting up an All - Ceylon Students’ Congress. This decision became a reality, as Santasilan Kadirgamar notes, in May 1931 with the holding of its inaugural meeting at The Plaza Theatre, Wellawatte. Kadirgamar tells us that Jawaharlal Nehru, at the time holidaying in Sri Lanka, had attended the meeting in Wellawatte. In 1929, the venue for the Annual Sessions of the JYC was Kankesanturai whilst that in 1930 was Thirunelvely.

The Sessions of 1931 are significant as it was at them that the famous or infamous (depending on one’s perspective) ‘Jaffna Boycott’ resolution was passed. This resolution called upon the members of the JYC to refrain from participating in the elections to the State Council as there was no purna swaraj or self-government on offer. Earlier the JYC had rejected the Donoughmore Commission’s proposals for the same reason - - for not going far enough in the direction of self-government. In 1931, as noted above, the Jaffna Students’ Congress became the Jaffna Youth Congress. The Seventh Annual Sessions were held at the Jaffna Esplanade with Srimathie Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, the sister-in-law of Sarojini Naidu as chief guest.

1934 is considered to be the year when the decline of the Congress began and the movement began to diminish as a force for change. It is also around this time that leading personalities of the day began to move once more towards sectarianism, moving away from the laudable goal of an overarching Ceylonese - - as opposed to a Sinhala or Tamil - - nationalism with S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike founding the Sinhala Maha Jana Sabha and G. G. Ponnabalam the Tamil Maha Jana Sabhai.

The Scholarly Reaction to the JYC

Apart from Jane Russell’s research into and commentary on the JYC in her doctoral dissertation published under the title Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution 1931 - 1947 (Colombo: 1982), very little scholarly attention has been paid to the Jaffna Youth Congress by our historians and political scientists. Santasilan Kadirgamar’s indefatigable labours as the primary historian of the JYC, therefore, assumes even greater significance.

Somewhat cursory references to the JYC are found in the following publications: University of Ceylon History of Ceylon Volume 3 From the beginning of 19th Century to 1948, edited by K. M. de Silva (1973), Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism Its Origins and Development in the 19th and 20th Centuries, A.J. Wilson(2000), S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 - 1977 A Political Biography, A.J. Wilson (1994), A History of Sri Lanka, K.M. de Silva (1st Edition: 1980); (2nd Edition:2005), and Sri Lanka in the Modern Age A History of Contested Identities, Nira Wickramasinghe (2006).

Interestingly, Murugar Gunasingham, the author of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, A Study of its Origins (Sydney : 1999) chooses to ignore the JYC altogether! He makes mention of the Jaffna Association, Jaffna Tamil Association, Jaffna Hindu Youth Society, but makes no reference whatsoever to the Jaffna Youth Congress! A.J. Wilson thought that the JHC was ‘Idealistic and impractical’. According to Wilson, although the Congress’ motives were honorable, it let opportunities pass by. He was one of those who considered the ‘Jaffna Boycott’ a tactical blunder of sorts. Here’s how he put it:

The protest movement (Jaffna Boycott) petered out after two years, but the Tamils

had blundered by losing opportunities to secure places in the Board of Ministers,

the elective executive under the Donoughmore Constitution.

Jane Russell is of the view that ‘the Youth Congress members performed social services in the villages, and their continual residence in the peninsula combined with such boldness, enthusiasm and almost quixotic idealism, made the Jaffna Youth Congress a very potent force indeed in the Northern Province from 1927 onwards’.

It may well be that the JYC’s call for a boycott was politically naïve, ‘quixotic’ or unwise. But, the fact remains that, that decision wise or unwise, was not arrived at on the basis of communalism. It was perhaps a hasty decision taken in an anti-imperialist fervour, but it had nothing to do with communal politics that was rearing its ugly head by this time. In this regard, it must be noted for the record, that neither G.G. Ponnambalam nor S.J.V. Chelvanayakam ever identified with the JYC. Quoting from an editorial in one of our (unnamed) newspapers, T. Duraisingham in his Politics and Life in Our Times Volume 1 notes that:

The story of the Youth Congress is the story of a splendid failure, it is splendid, in spite of its failure. It failed not because of the usual vices that corrode public movements, but because of its very virtue. In spite of its end, as untimely as it was unmerited, the courage and the ideals that lay behind it and the tenacity of purpose that characterised it while it lasted constitute an inspiration to all who come after it.

Not too many political or social movements ever receive an obituary as memorable as the above. In these bleak times we are passing through, the ever fragrant memory of the JYC serves to lift the spirit of those of us who yet pursue that seemingly elusive brand of Sri Lankan nationalism - - as opposed to the narrow and harmful sectarian nationalism that some of our misguided citizens appear determined to pursue - - and helps sustain the hope for a better and meaningful future for us all.

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