Feature Article

Heritage genocide abetted by decades of Western funding

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 30 December 2009, 11:57 GMT]
Ever heard of ‘archaeology’ being first priority in a conquered territory? If not, then you don’t know Sri Lanka, writes an academic from Jaffna on Colombo’s heritage genocide. Colombo’s use of archaeology against Tamils is not new. But the dimensions to which Tamils are now exposed to are not only its acceleration but the tragedy of facing imposed ‘knowledge supremacy’ that only the Sinhalese can explore, excavate, manage and teach heritage. Sri Lankan state is not the only culprit. The West, especially the UK, US, Germany, France and Holland as well as India, Japan and Australia, the main countries that have been giving funds, training and scholarships to Sri Lanka and also the UN agencies have to be equally indicted for blindly following only State protocols and vested interests, without considering the long-term genocidal impact of their assistances in the island, he further writes.

Full text of the article follows:

Ever heard of ‘archaeology’ being first priority in a conquered territory?

If you have not heard of then you don’t know the Sri Lankan state.

If you are imagining of excavating mines, caches of arms and mass graves of the Tamil victims of war, then you are mistaken. Killing and dumping continue unabated.

This is real archaeology in the North and East of the island, led by officials of the Sri Lanka archaeology department, Buddhist monks, Sinhala university dons and retired archaeologists considering themselves as the guardians of Sinhala-Buddhist identity in the island.

The aim of their feverish archaeology is to build Sinhala-Buddhist stupas in the heart of the Tamil homeland paving way for islands of Sinhala-Buddhist colonies protected by military. This will go hand in hand with the ‘development’ projects aiming to open the conquered territory to the conquerors and eventually the change of demography so that Tamils can never fight for their national rights in the island.

Temporally and spiritually it is a heritage genocide: to make Eezham Tamils feel that their homeland doesn’t belong to them, they are historically inferior ‘intruders’, they have no claims for their nationalism and as long as they exist as Tamils they cannot be equals.

Sinhalese and Eezham Tamils are two siblings whose very ethnic formations and territorial identities took place in the island as a result of more than two millennia of history, which no one, not even hard-core Sinhala-Buddhist historians, could deny.

What is the point now in engaging in one-sided ‘archaeology’ rather than coming out with political formulas to resolve the national question, if the intention is not genocide?

If the intention is really the preservation of cultural heritage the best way to do it is recognising the territoriality of Eezham Tamils in their homeland. When there is no fear of subjugation the heritage of the land will be spontaneously preserved by the people of the land.

On the contrary, what happened in a paranoid way immediately after the war was a sudden inrush of a number of Sinhala ‘archaeologists’ to the North and East, exploring ‘opportunities.’ A Sinhala Buddhist monk was appointed as the curator of the Jaffna museum. This monk, exploring the peninsula with the help of the army, announced the ‘discovery’ of potential sites within weeks of his manoeuvres.

Meanwhile, a veteran Sinhala archaeologist lately upholding Mahavamsa ideology, is said to be eying on opportunities to excavate Kantharoadai in Jaffna and Maanthai in Mannaar as early as possible with the financial support of one or two Western countries.

The Netherlands government is said to have given financial assistance to renovate the Dutch fort in Jaffna under the aegis of Sri Lanka government and Sinhala archaeologists, to make it a haven of visiting government dignitaries and Sinhala ‘pilgrims.’

Colombo government using archaeology and heritage as tools for it genocide is nothing new to Eezham Tamils. It is a decades long process.

But the new dimensions to which the Eezham Tamils are now exposed to is not only the acceleration of the process but the tragedy of facing imposed ‘knowledge supremacy’ that only the Sinhalese can explore, excavate, manage and teach what is heritage.

For decades now, the Sri Lanka archaeology department doesn’t have any Tamil or Tamil speaking Muslim officers in its staff, despite the fact that Eezham Tamils are inherent partners and the Tamil Muslims have at least a millennia of partnership in the heritage of the island.

The Cultural Triangle programme of the state, long led by a Western trained Sinhala architect-turned archaeologist, that produced hundreds of Sinhala archaeology officers, university teachers, students and Buddhist monks in archaeology and heritage for more than quarter a century never included any Tamils or Tamil Muslims in its programmes.

So far, in the last several decades, not even a single Tamil or Tamil Muslim has been sent abroad, by the government for any education or training in archaeology, while scores of Sinhalese were the exclusive recipients of the privilege.

The very few archaeologists among Tamils, numbering three or four, received their education in archaeology spending their own money in India, shaming decades of operations of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) in the island. They never received any Sri Lankan state assistance, either in their education or in further practice of the discipline.

In 1974 the Sri Lanka Archaeology Department opposed the appointment of Dr. K. Indrapala as Professor of History and Archaeology to the newly started University of Jaffna, citing he had no qualifications in archaeology. His appointment was truncated to History alone. Now the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka, introducing Culture Studies to Sinhala universities, deprives Jaffna and Batticaloa of this state of the art discipline but wants them to run courses in archaeology without qualified staff to teach.

A couple of years ago the writer found that the one and only Tamil working in the island’s prestigious Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology in Colombo was the janitor sitting at the entrance. No Tamil students study there. This institution was the dream child of an internationally known Sinhala archaeologist close to a political dynasty of the past.

The Institute of Fundamental Studies started by J R Jeyawardene in Kandy engaged only Sinhalese for archaeological assignments and some of them were given further training in the Indus sites of India, ultimately to become ‘counter insurgency’ experts!

Another important heritage institution in the island, The National Archives doesn’t have a Tamil or Tamil Muslim staff member ever since the retirement of Dr. Navasothy, quarter a century ago. Like in archaeology, no Tamils received training in archival studies while only the Sinhalese had the privilege. The National Archives Director Dr. Saroja Wettesinghe recently appealed for more funds to preserve the ‘national legacy’ that doesn’t have national representation.

Sri Lankan state is not the only culprit to this cultural genocide.

All those Western countries, especially the UK, US, Germany, France and Holland as well as India, Japan and Australia, the main countries that have been giving funds, training and scholarships to Sri Lanka and the UN agencies have to be equally indicted for following only State protocols and vested interests, without any consideration to the long-term genocidal impact their assistances were causing in the island.

At least at this juncture, after seeing what is taking place, these countries and the UN agencies should refrain from aiding the cultural genocide of Colombo, by stopping all funding to Sinhala-only departments and cultural institutions in the island.

Until the national question of Eezham Tamils in the North and East is politically resolved, no funding should be given to Colombo’s cultural agenda in Tamil homeland, whatever pretexts such as development or tourism with which Colombo may approach.

Instead the countries should opt for direct funding to institutions of Tamils in the north and East.

Urgent attention need to be paid on human resource training and removing imbalance in knowledge. Donor countries have to make arrangements for direct recruitment of Tamil and Muslim students and academics for training.

It is heartening to note that some British institutions like the SOAS, London Institute of Archaeology etc., refrain form encouraging ethnically charged research projects in the island and instead concentrate on universal topics such as prehistoric archaeology, environmental archaeology etc. But this alone will not do enough justice unless Tamils are trained to do the job. Otherwise it will lead to knowledge dependency of them to the Sinhalese who now pose themselves as the colonial masters.

Western academic and cultural institutions have a responsible role to play in influencing their governments against abetting cultural genocide. Diaspora should act with vigilance in this respect. What the Netherlands is doing in Jaffna has so far not attracted the attention of the Tamil diaspora in the EU countries.

While Tamil temples and historical sites are systematically destroyed and occupied by the Sinhalese and when cultural genocide takes place in the model of Portuguese colonialism, some ‘intelligence’ writers of the Indian Establishment ridiculing Tamil diaspora’s nationalist efforts, say that an unperturbed Colombo is engaged in its own model of ‘reconciliation’ with the Tamils in the island.

It is said the Indians are now wrestling with China in grabbing the ‘archaeology’ of the neighbouring Maldives. China is now building a National Museum for Maldives. The old boss Sri Lanka is kept out of the fray. Everybody knows that if allowed, in their present spirit of ‘archaeology’ the Sinhalese would not hesitate to claim that Maldives was a Sinhala Buddhist country and all those Maldivians today are invaders and intruders from Arabia!

Observers say it is the fanaticism of Sri Lanka and arrogance of India in mishandling small national formations that pave way for the insinuation of others in the region. It will not take a long time for the intelligence-led rule of the Indian Establishment to collapse under its own weight of such gross errors.

Many political analysts are of the opinion that the Tamil question in the island of Sri Lanka has long become a guinea pig to powers for all sort of vile experiments - military, economic, social, cultural and ideological. This is why when an obvious genocide took place and is taking place they all in chorus deny it.

Eezham Tamil diaspora has every justification in responding to the situation by mandating their independence and forming its own country councils and transnational government to look after a multiplicity of vital affairs including heritage. Diaspora needs to be only vigilant that the experiment gets into right hands.

Meanwhile, efforts are now under way to organise a museum and an archives in London by some diaspora institutions and individuals keen in preserving and presenting Eezham Tamil heritage. These efforts need the support of everyone and such heritage foundations have to be established in every major country. The foundations can eventually educate and train personnel coming from the home country.

Supporting the creation of such foundations and training academic personal to run them are in fact atonement in a small way for the Western donors for what they have done or what they have not done all these decades to the heritage of Eezham Tamils by funding Colombo’s cultural monster.


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