Feature Article

All in the game in the name of archaeology

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 27 April 2010, 03:19 GMT]
The Sinhala academics cannot compare their plight of opposing totalitarian social fascist system of governance with that of the Tamils who bear the entire brunt of fascism amounting to genocide set against them by an ethnic-powered state mechanism, says a Tamil academic in Jaffna responding to professor Sudharshan Seneviratne defending the archaeology agenda of Colombo. Genuine dialogue on culture, co-existence etc and partnership in opposing fascism come only when sovereignty snatched away from Tamils is restored as a priority and when there is parity. However patronising in overtures, individuals and organisations serving Colombo cannot escape from being ultimately colonial. Academics who are always on the side of enjoying the comforts of state power in the island are yet to explore ways of contributing to their ideals better by coming out of the system they identify as oppressive.

In response to a feature on archaeology in Sri Lanka by Jeremy Page in The Times and to a feature on the same subject appeared in TamilNet, Sudharshan Seneviratne, Professor of Archaeology of the University of Peradeniya and Director-General of the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) of Sri Lanka, came out with a response ‘Educating Jeremy Page’ in The Island last week.

Sudharshan Senevitratne, responding to comments appeared in TamilNet that he is now put to implement Colombo’s agenda in subtle ways through archaeology, wrote: “A section of the diaspora and its media, who enjoy the comforts of the First World must come to terms with the fact that there are individuals and organizations in the North and South of Sri Lanka who oppose a totalitarian social fascist system of governance and genuinely believe in inclusiveness, shared culture and co existence.”

Diaspora and its media are the only outlets for the Eezham Tamils to freely come out with their perceptions. Hence diaspora-bashing has become the fashion for those who don’t find the free Tamil voice fitting into their agenda, commented diaspora circles.

One has to be a member of this diaspora to understand what ‘comforts’ it could have with continued trauma and sleepless nights it experiences over the genocide and rape of its land, languish over its helplessness and simmering anger over the international deceit, diaspora circles further said.

In his response Prof. Seneviratne had nothing to say on the core issue raised by Page and TamilNet, i.e., Colombo building Buddhist complexes in the North and East to effect Sinhala colonisation and to deny Tamils their homeland.

Instead, he came out with a long list of what the CCF did for ‘multiculturalism’ in the island into past two years “with the knowledge and directives of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa.”

Commenting, diaspora circles observed: “It may be true that there are innovations by Sudharshan in the CCF, but in the argument behind citing them he sounds very much like the same British colonialism he criticizes. The ‘compassionate’ British were boasting of their achievements such as roads, railways, telegraph lines etc in a similar way to detract the independence of Indian people.”

“While ‘homeland’ is a ‘colonial historiographic baggage’ to Sudharshan, he conveniently forgets that his country Sri Lanka itself is a colonial baggage.”

“Even after six decades of the so-called independence if the social engineering envisaged by Sudharshan is going to be a ‘slow process,’ only for the posterity to appreciate the “wonderful diversity and plurality,” then what is wrong in Tamils thinking of undoing this wonder that is Sri Lanka before they become museum fossils for the posterity of archaeologists.”

“Why not the academics boldly come out with the alternative – separation for better and quicker reconciliation.”

When there is no preparedness to share land, sovereignty and political power that are the pressing current needs for real reconciliation of nations in the island, talk of multiculturalism and inclusion devoid of power has the potential of being misused to serve the smokescreen for demographic cum cultural genocide, especially when there is inequality in the nations, diaspora circles pointed out.

“Equating parochialism of ‘both sides’ may sound being above parochialism. But isn’t it a subtle parochial way of favouring the dominant by detracting the mobilisation of the oppressed. To what extent subconsciously upholding one-state formula that failed since its inception in the island is non-parochial?”

As cultural advisor to two consecutive regimes and as the chief of CCF, to what extent Sudharshan can disown responsibility for the genocidal culture of the state, especially in the last two years, is a question asked in the diaspora circles.

If Sudharshan enjoyed the emotional experience of warm reception accorded to him by the teaching staff and students of the University of Jaffna recently, that was because of the hard-earned credibility of him in the last more than quarter a century by his objective writing of history, said a member of the university community in Jaffna.

“In fact it is this credibility Mahinda Rajapaksa wants to exploit. Sudharshan admired Mahinda Rajapaksa a smart politician.”

“The credibility will be at stake if the warm reception accorded to the academic stand of Sudharshan is misinterpreted as acceptance of him as cultural official of the Rajapaksa regime or of the Sri Lankan state,” the university academic further said.

Dushy Ranetunge in London finds a problem of perception in Sudharshan’s responses: “The Sinhalese team of Sudharshan Seneviratne would have perceived the meeting as described by him. But, I would suggest that the Tamils would have perceived it as a ‘power’ relationship, and the emotions and views expressed by the Tamils to the Sinhalese would be in line with that perception,” he wrote in Sunday Island.

Dushy Ranetunge cites his own earlier experience at the Jaffna University during the height of the war: After the Sinhalese officials left the conference hall he heard the academic community saying that they were happier in the LTTE administered Jaffna.

Because the victory is unfair, and because of the incapacity in conceiving satisfactory solutions, instead of relief there is only paranoia in several circles of ‘Sri Lankan’ nationalists, commented a social psychologist in Colombo.

“In their paranoia they are frantic in exploring all possible ways, crude as well as sophisticated, to see that the Eezham Tamil national question is stamped out. But the obvious solution of recognizing the Tamil nation for peaceful reconciliation is not in their dictionary.”

“Just like twisting the paradigm of ‘war on terror’ to their favour, there is a potential danger of twisting the corporate-favoured paradigm ‘multiculturalism’ to the sophisticated denial of the national cause of Eezham Tamils,” the social psychologist said.

“Multiculturalism as practiced traditionally in South Asia is of a different genre. It is different in the liberal democracies of the West- differing in needs and shades even between the New World in North America and the Old World in Europe. Exported multiculturalism finds another meaning in the dictionary of corporate colonialism. It will mean yet another to Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sinhala nationalists if at all they accept it.”

“One need not doubt the genuineness of Sudharshan in speaking multiculturalism. But from which camp he says it matters a lot.”

“Attack on classical colonialism for its manifestations in the island is fine. But the platform cannot be contemporary colonialism that denies nation to a people when they need it the most, but bents on creating a corporate class, ruling class / family and a ‘multicultural’ working class.”

“Development de-linking political power from people is the unsaid paradigm of corporate colonialism today. A dangerous precedent will be set if intellectuals in the island are carried away by concepts of culture and development as alternatives to conceding long overdue demands of a people for political power. Whoever refuses nation and political power to Tamils refuses them to the Sinhalese as well,” were the observations of the social psychologist.

In fact Sudharshan is a wrong target for any attack. No one can belittle his personal and institutional efforts to bring in objective historical understanding between the nations in the island. Weakening him will only benefit the hawks among the chauvinists. But it is not Jeremy Page who actually put him into trouble. It was Mahinda Rajapaksa, said the diaspora circles.

Meanwhile the ‘Big Brother’ in the neighbourhood is not lagging behind in the race for archaeology in the island.

Organized by Professor Vasant Shinde of Deccan College, Poona, and Professor Anura Manatunga of Kelaniya University, the Society of South Asian Archaeology is convening an International Conference of South Asian Archaeology in Colombo in August. The theme is ‘The Island and the Mainland.’

Eezham Tamil academics can neither voice freely in the island nor travel freely to India for their voice to be heard on South Asian matters. In recent times, on a number of instances, the Eezham Tamil academics were either denied of visa or refused landing in India.

Related Articles:
08.12.09   Hindu temple of ritual significance destroyed in Trincomalee

External Links:
Sunday Island: Educating Jeremy Page: By Sudharshan Seneviratne
Sunday Island: Educating Jeremy Page: By Dushy Ranetunge
TimesOnline: Archaeology sparks new conflict between Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese



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