Some comments on Neville Jayaweera’s autobiographical Reflections


N.Q. Dias

by R. M. B Senanayake

We may ask the question what it is that Neville Jayaweera wants to convey to the public and to posterity through his autobiographical reflections?

Direct or first hand experiences of events impart a special depth as opposed to the third hand reports of the same events. Those of us who were Jayaweera’s contemporaries in the CCS in the 1960s, such as I, can confirm that his narration of those experiences, in his Reflections, is generally a correct portrayal of the history of those times. One might not share all of his views, but his work is a sparkling revelation, full of spiritual substance, candour and intellectual depth.

What impressed me most in Neville Jayaweera’s (NJ hereafter) Reflections was his inherent sense of justice and fair play and, as Susil Sirivardena says in his Preface, his granite-hard commitment to conscience and humanistic values, He was influenced entirely by the Buddhist concepts of avijja (ignorance of things as they are) the yatharthaya and maya (illusions) and concludes that "within Buddha’s epistemology there is no room for ethnic divisions, for nationalisms or even for patriotism"

Clearly, as the GA of Jaffna , between 1963-1966, Jayaweera’s values were rooted in the Sutras and in the true Abhidhamma of the Buddha and in the Brahma Viharas, but were light years away from the distorted values of the Mahavamsa and the nationalisms of Anagarika Dharmapala and of N.Q. Dias.

Marauders from Kalinga

Jayaweera refers to the marauding Kalinga King, Kalinga Magha, who invaded Sri Lanka and laid it waste, desecrating temples and dagabos in the Rajarata not sparing even the Ruwanvelisaya or the irrigation systems on which the ancient Sinhala civilization of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa was built. He displayed callous brutality in blinding and executing the incumbent ruler Parakrama Pandya. Jayaweera says the memory of such brutality is deeply ingrained in the collective subconscious of the Sinhala people and probably accounts for the prejudice they feel to the Tamils even today.

The brutality of the Maravar invaders has bequeathed the word "maravara balaya" to the Sinhala language to denote the power of brutality, extreme cruelty and intimidation displayed first by the Maravar warriors of Kalinga Magha. NJ cites several comparable cases from diverse cultures across the globe. Without condoning it, Jayaweera says that the brutality of the modern LTTE is only a manifestation of this historical barbarism of the Maravars.

The Unfolding of the Conflict

NJ was handpicked by N.Q Dias, then Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defense and External Affairs to be the Government Agent of the Jaffna District. Jayaweera was known among his colleagues to be an efficient ‘no nonsense’ administrator with a strong authoritarian style. He took over in 1963 at a time when the Federal Party was agitating against the ‘Sinhala Only’ policy. Previously, Nissanka Wijeyeratne as the GA had dealt with the satyagrahis opposite the Jaffna Kachcheri in his own way. He had taken staff from Anuradhapura Kachcheri and sought to provoke the satyagrahis to violence by stone-throwing from the Residency Old Park!

NJ says that NQ commended to him the same strategy for handling the Tamil politicians who during this time were threatening to unleash a ‘Secessionist Movement’. It was to force "confrontations" upon them at every turn and establish the "absolute ascendancy of the State in every crisis created by them. There was to be no compromise. NJ challenged N.Q. Dias and asked how he could justify "confrontation" and "ascendency" over any group of people in the context of his professed commitment to the Dhamma.

An important aspect of NQ’s provocative strategy was to implement Sinhala as the official language throughout the Tamil majority areas. Naturally, there was tremendous opposition to it from the Tamil political parties. It was perhaps NQ’s perception that confrontation would fit in with NJ’s reputation as a domineering character, which was then also the perception among the Jaffna public. But there was another side to NJ’s character which the world including N.Q Dias had not suspected; another personality rooted in gentle values and which NJ refers to as the Yogi within him, as opposed to the Commissar, which was all that the world saw in him. The ‘Yogi’ resolved that the NQ Dias strategy was evil.

The "Reasonable Use of Tamil" law had been passed although not gazetted. NJ canvassed against NQ’s strategy with Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. There is a brilliant passage in Jayaweera’s Reflections where, in the presence of the Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike, Jayaweera asks N. Q., "Sir, how would you like it to have your children’s marriage certificates issued to them in Tamil, or your own death certificate issued to your children in Tamil". N.Q. fiddled with his wristwatch strap for want of words. But seeing the logic of Jayaweera’s reasoning, Mrs B authorized him to change course and allow the three language policy including Tamil, in the Northern Province long before Tamil was incorporated in the Constitution through the 13th Amendment of 1987, NJ convinced the Prime Minister that NQ’s strategy was faulty and obtained her approval to pursue his own strategy, of "consultation, compromise and conciliation" instead of confrontation.

Jayaweera’s admiration for NQ

However NJ has great admiration for NQ Dias as a man with foresight. He had visualized the Tamils taking to arms and prepared for the eventuality by establishing military camps in the North. Anticipating the opposition of the Tamil political leaders to the establishment of such military camps he camouflaged his motive by ascribing the need for such military camps to counter the smuggling of goods and people illicitly from Tamil Nadu. The present regime is carrying out NQ’s strategy probably assuming that there will be resurgence of armed conflict.

NJ claims that his own strategy of consultation and compromise produced better relations between the Tamils and the government, which made it possible for Dudley Senanayake, the next Prime Minister, to enter into the Chelvanayakam- Dudley Senanayake Accord. Unfortunately that too had to be scuttled owing to the opposition of the Buddhist monks.

The subsequent history of the conflict

NJ analyses how the conflict was transformed from a conflict between the Sinhala Buddhists and the bourgeois Vellalar Tamils of the Federal Party and the Tamil Congress, to one in which the Tamils came to be represented by the non-Vellalars who outnumbered the Vellalars. How did the Vellalars lose control? He describes the traditional social exploitation of the non-Vellalars through stringent caste discrimination through the ages. The first expression of the non- Vellalars bid to change the status quo was the agitation for Temple entry. Non-Vellalars were not allowed to enter the Temples reserved for the Vellalars. NJ not only acknowledged the agitation of the non-Vellalar underclass, but decided to do something to alleviate their suffering. Jayaweera researched the Vellalar claim that Hinduism validated the caste system and disproved it.

Vide the Appendix to the book he points out that the social prohibition of entry into Temples was a violation of the "Prevention of Civil Disabilities Act of 1957." The non-Vellalars decided to storm the famous Maviddapuram temple putting an end to thousands of years of discrimination.

New Tamil leadership.

But with this new empowerment of the non-Vellalars, a new Tamil political leadership of the non-Vellalars emerged and paved the way for Prabhakaran as the leader of the new Tamil Nationalism. The non-Vellalars had suffered not only socially but economically too, being shut out from the lucrative professions owing to lack of land and education. They ascribed their economic grievances to discrimination against them not only by upper caste Vellalars but also by the Sinhala dominated State. They had no faith in the Sri Lankan State or the Sinhala people. They believed only in armed struggle to win their rights in a separate Tamil state – Eelam, . So those who wanted a bourgeois democratic solution had to be eliminated. Several Vellalar political leaders were killed and Prabhakaran became the undisputed leader in the struggle. NJ observes ominously that these non-Vellalars had much more in common with Tamil Nadu than the Vellalar bourgeoisie.

Jayaweera’s vision

Anyone seriously interested in understanding the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka should read Neville Jayaweera’s " Exorcising the past and holding the vision -an autobiographical reflection on the ethnic conflict" . He has offered a solution based on liberal humanism and genuine Buddhist spiritual truths. He points out the need to start building a new consciousness of the "Nation" as opposed to Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. We need to accept the fact that Tamils are closely related ethnically to the Sinhala and have at least 50% Sinhala genetic material in them since according to the Mahavamsa, Vijaya and his band of seven hundred men took Pandyan women as their wives.

If a Sinhala Buddhist leader wants to build a Sri Lankan nation as a solution to the ethnic conflict with the Tamils, he should read NJ’s book.

The Vellalar and Non-Vellalars are united in the Tamil Diaspora. He expects the re-emergence of the non-Vellalar radical leadership of the Tamil nationalist cause when the present bourgeois TNA leadership fails. He praises President MR for holding the elections to the Northern Provincial Council but faults him for not allowing it to function. He is highly critical of MR’s post war triumphalism as detrimental to the reconciliation process. The TNA may lose their political support to radical elements and there may be a resurgence of armed conflict. He thinks MR’s actions would lead ultimately to the partition of the island through Indian intervention.


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