By Sanja de Silva Jayatilleka
I do not know Hejaaz Hizbullah. I have come to know of him from the several accounts published in the media over the past few months, by a classmate, a contemporary and colleague, a student and a brother. I do not know what pain of mind he must feel, isolated in a cell, without being charged, but accused of a heinous crime by the authorities and judged variously in the careless courts of public opinion. But I do feel pained, for him, for us on this island. This cannot be our lot, in this age, at this time. We cannot settle for such a future, for any of us.
I do not know why he chose to become a lawyer. From what I hear, he was extremely good at his job, ending up a Supreme Court lawyer at a young age. I do know what it is to want to study law, because that was my dream, too, and qualified to do so at university entrance, although my life took a different turn. Despite all the failures, delays and shortcomings of the legal system, young people still aspire to practice law, and people still want to believe in the justice system, and hope against hope that it broadly works.
I do not know of his alleged association with the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday bombings. I do know that after that fateful day in April 2019, things were never the same for many people. I was in Moscow, but distance didn’t make much difference. Russians cried, and young people came in groups to place flowers outside the Embassy, hanging around the Buddha statue at the front of the Embassy in disbelief, lit candles, prayed. Eight purple-robed Bishops conducted the service we requested for the victims at the Catholic Cathedral in Moscow, and unprecedentedly, the Church was filled with the diplomatic corps.
I do not know what motivated him to be an activist who helped people with various issues. I do know that his schoolmates and colleagues and students were impressed by his sincerity and dedication, because he seemed to have shown early signs that he cared about people. Those who knew him seem to be stunned that he should be involved in anything as mindlessly evil and brutal as a massacre of worshippers.
I do not know why the suicide-bombers chose Catholic worshippers in church on Easter, to carry out their carnage. I do know that there was no history of animosity, conflict or any kind of ill-feeling between Muslims and Christians of any denomination, on this island, which had seen plenty of violence of many sorts, including ethnic and religious, in its long history. As such, this was a shock and all the explanations and speculations by the confused don’t really make sense.
I do not know who his clients were as a lawyer. I do know that lawyers defend all sorts of criminals, because they are considered innocent until proven guilty. This is the only guarantee that we as citizens have of getting representation in a court of law, if by some unfortunate turn of fate one is accused of some crime one did not commit. It is a lawyer who can ensure the protection of the law to those unfamiliar with the legal arguments, as most of us are, and justice for the innocent.
I do not know why the authorities haven’t charged him. I do know that what he is accused of is to do with an involvement in a crime so heinous that in this country, it has been paralleled only by the Tigers killing worshippers at Anuradhapura (1985) and Kattankudy (1990). There is something particularly sickening in killing worshippers at a shrine, whatever the cause that set the killers on a path of violence.
I do not know how many others are in the same plight, incarcerated without adequate evidence for the purported crime, not properly charged, bewildered at their sudden removal away from their families, from everyday life, and not knowing how long the nightmare would last. I do know, only second hand, the feeling of utter horror and despair of such a fate as the pages of a novel by Kafka came alive for me.
I do not know how long it will take to bring justice to the innocent victims of the Easter bombings. I do know that Malcom Cardinal Ranjith has been urging it upon the government; this one, and the previous one. It is his flock that faced the horror of seeing their loved ones blown to pieces, the blood-splattered image of the risen Christ against the backdrop of utter destruction inside the Kochchikade Church becoming the unforgettable symbol globally, of that utterly inexplicable avalanche of terror upon Easter worshippers.
I do not know if the authorities will ever be able to bring closure to those who are left behind, those who suffer every day, the loss of their loved ones. The problem with suicide-bombers is also that some of the evidence dies with them. I do know that there were many mistakes made in failing to prevent such a shocking event, that governments changed as the voters gave their verdict.
I do not know if the inquiries will yield proper results or if it’s even possible. I do know that even if nothing comes of the inquiries anytime soon, there is something that a government can do, so as not to make things worse for the people. And that is not to pour vinegar on the wound. Every day that an innocent person suffers in prison without charge while the authorities scramble for evidence, and as days turn into months, the collective wounds of those left behind looking for answers, are renewed and their insecurities are redoubled. It begins to look like someone is being made a scapegoat because there is not much else the authorities can do.
I do not know if anyone’s listening. But I do know that people are speaking. They want peace. They want to know they are safe. They want to know that the right people are punished, but that there are no more innocent victims of a tragedy already too horrific to forget. Nobody asks for a show trial to appease the calls for Justice, where yet another innocent life, and those of his family are ruined. That is not Justice for the victims of the Easter bombings. But for the grace of God, it may well have been their lives, their families. People want to know that the authorities can be trusted to release those who may be innocent, if no evidence is available to prove the contrary. They, “would not condemn the innocent”.
Blessed are those who are merciful.
Eelam conflict: In memory of fallen combatants
Sri Lanka’s economy is in shambles. The recent Supreme Court ruling set the record straight though silly attempts are being made to divert public attention. Regardless of the continuing economic crisis despite going to the IMF on the advice of pundits, the government and the Opposition should at the same time pay close attention to unresolved accountability issues as Lankan Tamil Diaspora with the subtle backing of the West will step up pressure with an eye on the outcome of the next Geneva session early next year. Perhaps, they should be reminded that Tamils here cleared the military by overwhelmingly voting for Fonseka at the 2010 presidential poll though he lost the contest by a staggering 1.8 mn votes.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Fifteen years after the successful conclusion of the war against separatist terrorism, Sri Lanka is still embroiled in a simmering controversy over how to remember fallen members of the armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), despite the latter resorting to raw terror tactics virtually throughout the conflict, especially with the wide use of brainwashed suicide cadres to mount senseless attacks in pursuit of their dream.
Recently retired IGP C.D. Wickremeratne, who had received three extensions in spite of the steadfast refusal of the Constitutional Council to endorse President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s repeated recommendation to grant him extensions and the Director of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) last Friday (24) assured the Court of Appeal that action would be taken in terms of the Criminal Procedure Code against LTTE supporters who celebrated what they called ‘Great Heroes Day’ (Maveerar Naal). But events were underway in the North regardless of previous rulings issued by courts over there against such commemorations.
The assurance was given by Senior State Counsel Shaminda Wickrema, on behalf of the IGP and the Attorney General, in respect of a petition filed by a retired Warrant Officer of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI).
Maveerar Naal events are celebrated both here and abroad with the participation of politicians even after the LTTE’s total military defeat.
Fallen members of the Indian military, too, are remembered in annual events at Palaly, in the Jaffna peninsula, though there hadn’t been memorial events whatsoever for members of other Tamil groups killed during the conflict. Some of them died while fighting for the Tamil National Army (TNA) formed by New Delhi ahead of the withdrawal of the so-called Indian Peace Keeping Force from the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka after they were asked to leave unceremoniously by the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
Event in London
Front organizations of the LTTE on Nov 27, 2008 celebrated their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s (VP) birthday in London while a relentless combined security forces offensive against the group was underway in the Vanni east.
Fifty-four-year-old VP had been in command of sufficient fighting cadre to sustain offensive action, though the area under his control was shrinking rapidly on the Vanni east front. By then, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s Army had taken the upper hand and was gradually advancing on the enemy held territory in one-time LTTE bastion Mullaitivu, under his personal supervision, as he directly gave fighting orders to his individual field commanders, down to the rank of lieutenant colonel, from Colombo using CDMA phones almost on a daily basis.
With the capturing of Pooneryn on Nov 15, 2008 – 12 days before VP’s birthday, the Army turned eastwards and Paranthan was regained on January 01, 2009, Kilinochchi on January 02 and Elephant Pass on January 09. That brought the entire Vanni west back under military control.
Regardless of the LTTE being in a much disadvantaged position by late 2008, Diaspora Tamils still felt confident that the group could still turn around the situation, as they had done on countless occasions previously, hence the celebration in London, where the LTTE operated its so-called International Secretariat years ago even after they had assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi as he campaigned in Tamil Nadu in May 1991.
Three weeks after the London celebrations, Canada-based columnist D.B.S. Jeyaraj claimed that the LTTE had the wherewithal to defeat the Army on the Vanni front. Close on the heels of DBS’s declaration, the LTTE suffered successive battlefield defeats and four months after the London celebrations, the LTTE received an unprecedented reversal at Anandapuram, Mullaithivu. The five-day Anandapuram battle (March 31-April 04, 2009) sealed the fate of the group, once considered invincible. Over 600 LTTE cadres, the majority from its elite units, along with senior commanders, were killed. Hundreds of others suffered injuries.
Let us discuss the situation then and the developments against the backdrop of wartime Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama (January 2007 to April 2010) recently assuming responsibilities as our High Commissioner in London.
The Sri Lankan mission in London failed, in 2008, to thwart Prabhakaran’s birthday celebrations in spite of the then High Commissioner, retired Supreme Court Justice Nihal Jayasinghe (May 2008-Dec 2010) efforts to prevent the event. Jayasinghe succeeded top career diplomat Kshenuka Senewiratne, as our next High Commissioner designate in New Delhi.
On the instructions of the then Foreign Minister Bogollagama, the mission in London unsuccessfully asked for the UK’s intervention to stop it. But, Diaspora Tamils were allowed to organize a public event at ExCeL London, 1, Western Gateway, Royal Victoria Dock, London E16 1XL. The UK permitted the event in spite of the LTTE being a proscribed terrorist organization under the UK Terrorism Act. That is how London fights terrorism with their double standards as can be clearly seen from what is happening in Gaza now.
Five months later, Prabhakaran was dead. On May 19, 2009, a pro-LTTE website denied the death. “I wish to inform the global Tamil community distressed witnessing the final events of the war that our beloved leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran is alive and safe”, tamilnet.com quoted LTTE Selvarajah Pathmanathan aka KP as having said. A few months later KP ended up in Sri Lankan custody, thanks to Malaysia.
Reappraisal of strategy necessary
The government shouldn’t interfere with Maveerar Naal commemorative events held in honour of the fallen members of the LTTE though originally it was meant to remember the first cadre to die in Tamil Nadu on Nov 27, 1982 following a confrontation with Sri Lanka Army. Sathiyanathan alias Shankar also known as Suresh was his name. The LTTE had moved the wounded Shankar across the sea to Tamil Nadu for treatment.
Later the LTTE combined its leader’s birthday with Maveerar Naal to declare a week of ‘celebrations’ and commemorative events. It was part of their strategy meant to attract public attention, whip up the fighting spirit of its cadres and also win international recognition. VP used to declare his policy speech on his birthday on Nov 26. Since the death of VP in May 2009, the event has lost much of its significance and today bankrupt politicians sought to take advantage of these events.
The government and the Opposition should reach a consensus on the issue at hand to prevent those who supported and tolerated terrorism from exploiting the gullible Tamil population. Why should organizers of politically-motivated Maveerar Naal events be allowed to exploit the deaths of fallen LTTE cadres? Both politicians and law enforcement authorities should realize that unnecessary interference in Maveerar Naal events would be counterproductive and only facilitate Diaspora propaganda. Let them recollect the failed murderous Eelam project and how well over 200,000 civilians were held hostage as a human shield by the LTTE for its survival when it was well and truly cornered. Even the much maligned Hamas that has been ruling the West Bank after being democratically elected has done no such thing though they continue to be vilified by the West, while forgetting the fact that Israel kept the Palestinian territories like open concentration camps as pointed out by many independent observers.
The government should launch an initiative to remind the people of the use of child soldiers. The despicable practice of using children as cannon fodder continued until the military brought the war to an end in May 2009. Even during the last few months of the conflict, the LTTE made desperate efforts to recruit children from among the civilians they held as a shield.
Cancellation of Victory Day parade
In the aftermath of Maithripala Sirisena winning the January 2015 presidential election, Sri Lanka cancelled the annual Victory Day parade. President Sirisena, who also served as the Defence Minister, in addition to being the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, made the decision in agreement with its coalition partner, the UNP.
The government declared that May 19, which was marked as the Victory Day will be celebrated as the ‘Remembrance Day’ instead, to commemorate all who died in the war.
This should be examined against the backdrop of Western governments criticizing the Victory Day parade. On behalf of all those who had been pursuing war crimes allegations since the conclusion of the war against the Sri Lankan military, Canada in 2014 demanded the cancellation of the parade.
Sri Lanka quite rightly rejected that blatant Canadian interference declaring that the issue is purely a domestic matter. In the run-up to the 2014 Victory Day parade, in Matara, Canada publicly declared that it wouldn’t be represented. It was the fifth Victory Day parade held amidst stepped up international pressure.
Several years later Canada accused Sri Lanka of perpetrating genocide, whereas in actual fact it was the white colonisers of North and South America who committed numerous acts of genocide often to grab natives’ lands in the new world. Acts of genocide were even committed in Church-run schools for native children where they were kept by force often against the wishes of their parents and communities even up to mid-1990s, more than two thousand unmarked graves of those children were discovered on grounds of those schools recently. And what about dozens of native women there who have disappeared without a trace in recent years and have the Canadian law enforcers made any genuine effort to trace their fate? Despite all that, the Ottawa government has the temerity to level genocide accusations against Sri Lanka and those accusations conveniently surfaced a few months before a public protests campaign allegedly backed by the US forced the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to quit office. In spite of Sri Lanka’s outright rejection of unsubstantiated allegation, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued to reiterate genocide took place, hence May 18 declared as ‘Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day.’
However, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry has acknowledged that they never made such a finding. When the writer sought a clarification regarding Trudeau’s claim, the Canadian HC in Colombo reiterated that the Premier’s stand remained the same. However, Kelum Bandara in an exclusive Daily Mirror report headlined ‘Canada informs SL that no genocide took place in SL, Trudeau says otherwise for political ends’ posted on June 16,2023, exposed the Canadian lie.
Bandara pointed out that Canada’s official position contradicted the allegations pertaining to genocide propagated by some of its leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as such belated accusations does not hold water. According to the DM report, the Canadian Foreign Ministry had responded to the Sri Lanka regarding concerns raised on March 21, 2021 by Brampton’s City Council’s reference to genocide.
Having pointed out that municipal and provincial governments enjoyed independence from the federal government of Canada, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry acknowledged “the Government of Canada has not made a finding that there was genocide in Sri Lanka.”
But even after that, the Canadian Prime Minister repeated genocide allegations on May 18, 2023, a day prior to the 14th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s war victory against the LTTE.
Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion when LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was shot through his head on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. That finally ended the scourge of terrorism.
On May 18, Tamils mark Mullivaikkal Memorial Day, in remembrance of those who died in the final phase of the fighting.
Actually how many civilians died as more than 200,000 were held as a human shield by the retreating LTTE? Would it be possible ever to identify the number of civilian and LTTE deaths as it was also not unusual to find Tigers who fought in civilian clothes, unless the Tamil community accepted the status of the dead?
If those who had been genuinely concerned about accountability issues and wanted to establish the number of dead, wounded, disappeared and those who secured foreign citizenship under assumed names, a proper census should be conducted with the assistance of the international community. Diaspora groups can play a significant role in carrying out an accurate survey. The census of the LTTE dead should begin with Sathiyanathan alias Shankar also known as Suresh (the first Great Hero in their parlance).
The census should be able to establish the number of ex-LTTE personnel living abroad to ensure they are not categorized here as war dead or disappeared. Perhaps South African Yasmin Sooka, a member of the UN Secretary General’s panel of experts on Sri Lanka accountability issues, can help conduct the survey as she, a Tamil of Indian origin, already had done a limited survey in the West.
The writer dealt with this issue in a report headlined ‘Sooka’s latest report to UNHRC: Glaring omissions’ posted on June 29, 2016.
The expensive survey had been carried out by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), affiliated to the Foundation of Human Rights in South Africa. Based on that survey ITJP released ‘Forgotten Sri Lanka’s exiled victims.’ The release of the report coincided with the commencement of the 32 sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2016. The report unintentionally revealed the existence of clandestine networks, facilitating Sri Lankans of Tamil origin, including former members of the LTTE, reaching Europe, through illegal means.
The Sooka study disclosed that LTTE personnel, including those who had been with Shanmugalingam Sivashankar alias Pottu Amman’s dreaded intelligence service, had secured citizenship in European countries, including the UK. Obviously, the report was meant to intensify pressure on Sri Lanka on the Geneva front, and justify the demand for a hybrid war crimes court on the basis of exaggerated and unsubstantiated accusations directed at the Sri Lankan military.
The report dealt with information obtained from 75 Tamils, living in the UK, France, Switzerland and Norway. Almost all of them had fled Sri Lanka after the conclusion of the war, in May, 2009 often after bribing local officials both civilian and military as alleged by some.
Sooka functions as the executive director of the foundation as well as ITJP. The report: “She is a former member of the South African & the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and was a legal advisor to Ban Ki-moon on Sri Lanka. She was the Soros inaugural Chair at the School of Public Policy and recently sat on the Panel investigating sexual violence by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic.”
The writer sought a clarification from UNSG’s deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, regarding Sooka’s tenure as a Legal Advisor to UNSG on Sri Lanka. The Island received the following response from Haq: “Yasmin Sooka has been on high level panels, including on Sri Lanka, but she has not been the legal adviser to the Secretary-General.”
A proper survey cannot be carried out unless stakeholders pay attention to the following matters: (1) Combatants and civilians killed before July 23, 1983, killing of 13 soldiers at Thinnavely, Jaffna, that triggered attacks on the Tamil community. (2) Combatants and civilians killed between August 1983 to July 29, 1987 (3) Combatants (Indian Army included) and civilians killed during July 29, 1987 to March 1990, when India ceased its military presence here. Accountability issues cannot be addressed unless India’s role is fully investigated and (4) combatants and civilians killed during June 1990 to May 2009.
The survey should also focus on (1) number of Indian and locally trained Tamils killed in clashes among groups (2) those killed during weapons training in India and hunted down and eliminated by Indian police and security forces after the LTTE assassinated former Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, PLOTE cadres killed during Nov 1988 raid on the Maldives and those killed by the Indian Navy while they were fleeing the Maldives in a commandeered merchant vessel (3) Sri Lankan Tamils given refuge in India after the collapse of the North-East Provincial administration 1989/1990, and finally (4) Members of political parties and Provincial Council killed during the conflict. At least few of them had been killed by Tamil groups at the behest of Indian intelligence. Current MP Dharmalingham Siddharthan (TNA/PLOTE) is on record as having said that TELO killed his father, a then MP in Sept 1985 on the orders of the Indian intelligence.
The late Jayantha Dhanapala, the much respected diplomat raised the accountability on the part of the international community. Dhanapala did so when he appeared before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in Aug 2010 but successive governments conveniently ignored his submissions. They never did until the great man passed away.
Finally, it must be asked why there is no proper accounting by the UN types to illegal wars fought by the West and its proxies in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Palestine, Syria, etc., often on false pretexts that have caused millions of deaths, injuries, destruction and also millions of refugees since 1948.
Who Are We?
by Geewananda Gunawardana,
Years ago, at an international gathering held in New York, someone asked me where I came from. I was living in Chicago at the time, and I told him so. “No, I meant before that,” he insisted. Before that I studied in Australia, and I told him so. Seeing him preparing his next question, my American colleague who witnessed this exchange, shot back “How far back do you want him to go? I am sure that his ancestors migrated out of Africa, just like yours and mine.” The interrogator backed down.
Back then, I thought it was funny, but from a hindsight, I realise that my friend sensed the racist undercurrents of that line of questioning and put a stop to it by stating the obvious. A recent event made me think of the reality of what my friend said and its implications, that is if we can understand what it really means. My Wife and I, both brought up to be proud of our pristine ethnicity that goes back thousands of years, submitted ourselves for genetic testing.
There are not many genetic studies on Sri Lankans, and as a result, conclusions made based on limited data sets can be unreliable, we concluded. We wanted additional information. Unfortunately, authors of history books have inserted their nationalistic, linguistic, and religious biases into their writings. Or, the records reflect only the views of the victorious side and not those of the vanquished or displaced. There is plenty of archeological and anthropological information out there, but to get closer to reality, one must remove the coloured glasses put on us at birth.
The first archaic human species, meaning the first to display the human body type including bipedalism (Homo erectus), evolved in East Africa about two million years ago. Fossil records show that they emigrated out of Africa and populated most of Asia and Europe. Modern humans (Homo sapiens) emerged, also in East Africa, about 300,000 years ago. Sapiens have migrated out of Africa in two waves: the first around 130 to 100 thousand years ago taking a northern route and the second around 70 to 60 thousand years ago taking a southern route, hugging the coastline. These later migrants have both interbred with and or displaced the earlier arrivals while settling in different corners of the globe. For example, there have been several other Homo species, like Neanderthals and Denisovans; while non-existent today some human populations carry Neanderthal genes.
Peopling of the Indian subcontinent, the meeting ground of settlers from several adjoining regions, has been a complex one. Following are the main population groups involved in this process: a) Aboriginal Indians. These are the members of the second wave of humans that left Africa and settled around fifty thousand years ago; b) Iranian farmers; c) Farmers from Central Asian Steppes; and d) East Asian rice farmers. The farmers from Iran and steppes were mainly wheat and barley growers, and their East- Southeast migration had been slowed for some time as their crops were not ideally suited for tropical climate. While rice farming was adopted by all populations, the East Asian farmers have not made much of an impact in populating the country, except in the Northeast corner.
The generally accepted migration pattern of these populations is as follows. Iranian farmers who have arrived in the Indus valley around nine to seven thousand years ago crossed into India, mixed with the aboriginal Indians, and moved southward around four thousand years ago. The resulting population is referred to as Ancestral South Indians. Farmers from the steppes moved to Indus valley, mixed with the Iranian farmers. The Steppes farmers, referred to as Europeans but different from the Germanic Europeans, introduced horses and wheels. This Iranian-Steppes mix moved Eastwards towards the Gangetic valley and mixed with the earlier arrivals. This population is referred to as Indo-Europeans. Their southward migration has been slowed for several reasons. It is generally accepted that it was this latest group that introduced the precursor to Sanskrit language, Vedic literature, and the four-tier caste system.
Some argue that it was the strict caste system that prevented further mixing and southward spread of this Indo-European group. These classifications and nomenclature have created much controversy and debate. The use of terms like Ancient Northern Indians and Ancient Southern Indians are disputed as their origins are outside of India. The use of Aryans and Dravidians is equally controversial, and arbitrary.
Now, let us see what happened in Sri Lanka. The maximum depth of the 48 km long Adams Bridge is about 10 meters while most of the shoals are less than 1 metre underwater. During the height of the ice age, between 80 to 20 thousand years ago, the sea levels stood about 120 meters below the current level. Therefore, Sri Lanka had been part of the Indian landmass, allowing for the southward migrations to reach the island, until the sea level rose about six thousand years ago.
Archaeological evidence indicates that some of the early migrations reached the island as early as 125,000 years ago. Modern human fossils found in Sri Lanka have been dated back to 36,000 years (Deraniyagala 1992). Remarkably, these are the only reports of that antiquity in Southeast Asia. They were hunter gatherers using tools belonging to the middle stone age. They thrived until people skilled in agriculture and cattle breeding arrived around 2,800 years ago.
Then the narration of the great chronicles takes over, which describes migrations from Northern India along the maritime routes. The arrival of North Indian prince Vijaya, with his retinue of 700 men, and ruling the country from 543 to 505 BCE is the cornerstone of this narration. There are many associated legends that cannot be verified. Vijaya’s campaign to eliminate the natives, who belonged to Yaksha and Naga tribes, is one. Some report Vijaya being from the Northeast coast of India while the others suggest a Northwest origin. However, linguists and historians see a connection between Sinhala and the languages spoken along the Konkani coast, favouring a Northwest origin. Realistically, there are no reasons to rule out continuous exchanges between India and Sri Lanka along the east and west maritime routs as well as through the shallow seas in the Palk Strait throughout the history.
Let us turn to genetic studies. Humans are a genetically homogeneous species; this suggests a population collapse in relatively recent times, leaving a small number of females of reproductive age. Modern technologies developed in the field of genetics can use a type of markers known as mutations to track the genealogy of an individual or a population despite this homogeneity. When a cell divides, its genetic material or DNA is duplicated and distributed equally among the two daughter cells. During this copying process some errors are made. Genes or DNA is a set of instructions written in a language that has five letters: A, T, G, C, and U. The words in this language are made up of three letters. It has its own punctuation and sentence structure. Most of the copying errors are misspellings, typos as we say. These errors, known as mutations, can do three things: a) does not alter the meaning, so nothing happens, b) makes the instructions indecipherable rendering cells non-viable, and c) provides instructions to do something new. This third function is the all-important mechanism of evolution. This is how the Europeans became light skinned to make vitamin D in the limited sunlight. In any case, these errors are known as single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), and these are the most common markers used in genetic studies to trace genetic history. To be accurate, there are other types of mutations, but this is not the place to discuss them.
There are several small-scale genetic studies conducted on Sri Lankans. The most recent open access publication by Singh and others provides references to these studies (Singh et al., iScience 26, 102797 October 20, 2023). I am using the set of data reported by Ranaweera (2014) and graphically represented by Chaubey (2014) for this discussion, as these data are representative of the overall findings. I will not describe the technical details involved in this type of study here, except to say that data represent mitochondrial DNA haplogroup analysis that allows tracing the maternal ancestry. (See Fig.)
These are the most striking facts that emerge from these data: the major ancestral share of all Sri Lankans, i.e. those identify as upcountry, low country, and mixed Sinhala; Sri Lankan and Indian Tamil; and Adivasi population, is the Ancient South Indian genotype, which is considered as consisting of 75% Ancient Ancestral South Indian and 25% Iranian Farmer genotypes. All Sri Lankans have over 60% of this type. At the same time all Sri Lankans, except the Indian Tamils, also carry more than 20% Indo-European genotype. Not surprisingly, considering the island’s geographical location in the East-West maritime route and 500 years of European occupation, Sri Lankans also carry anywhere from 6 to 14% of other genotypes, which are not identified in this study. Sri Lankan Moors are not included in this data set, but they too carry a high percentage of Ancient South Indian genotype indicating mixing with the other types (Perera 2021).
This genetic homogeneity of different “races” should not come as a surprise. Our ancestors have been living on this island for nearly three millennia through war, peace, and famine. As can be seen all over the world, interbreeding can happen under any condition, for better or for worse. In more recent history, mercenaries have been brought into the country. They did not become monastics after the war ended or go back to where they came from. They settled down in the south and assimilated without trace. Not only genes, but words, customs, beliefs, and food were exchanged. The boundaries between so-called Adivasis, Aryans, Dravidians, Moors, or others are porous and have no meaning in the big picture. They have the same origins, and as a result they all have the same equal rights.
Now you may be wondering about my ancestry. I am a low country Sinhala, and my wife is upcountry Sinhala, and we both fit into the respective profiles that the data suggest. But we differ in the unspecified segment. I have some Dutch and a little East Asian ancestry. She has Anglo genes. It came as a shock, but who knows what else Robert Knox was up to in addition to observing Kandyan life during those nineteen years!
The loud and clear message these data send us is that genetically we Sri Lankans are the same. Attempt to put labels based on who came first or what language is superior is an utterly meaningless but quite successful technique that those seeking power have employed throughout history. It is called divide and conquer, and examples are there all over the world for everyone to see. Despite these manmade divisions, for which we have been tricked to commit atrocities on each other, we have common origins, we were born on this land, and share a common destiny. We must open our minds and think of the nation first and avoid falling to sectarian trickeries of hideous power seekers with dubious intentions. We are Sri Lankas, that is the truth, and that is what matters.
By Lynn Ockersz
When spirited PC Krishnamurthi,
Plunged into that swirling deep,
In hot pursuit of a miscreant,
He was not bitterly weighed-down,
By the infamous historical luggage,
Which trips many of his compatriots,
For, he cared not for any identity badges,
Which have opened a North-South rift,
But sought to tell the feuding halves,
That selfless service for one’s fellow men,
Lays the basis for enduring peace.
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