4 June 2011 / by Ranga Jayasuriya
Omanthai, the former entry point to the then Tiger controlled areas of the Wanni has now been given new Sinhala terminology. The name board of the newly opened railway station there identifies the town as Omantha. Overwhelmingly Tamil residents in the area are not impressed.
In the heart of Kilinochchi town, a name board identifies a street as the Mahinda Rajapaksa Mawatha. Another street is named Aluth mawatte (The new road)
Driving northward on the A 9 road, travelers go past a newly erected Buddhist stoopa in Kanagarayan kulam.
Tamils are wary with the new changes that they fear would reshape the demography of the terrain, but they confess, with an air of melancholy that they are helpless before the colossal power of the state and its military.
“Before our own eyes, Sinhalization is creeping in the Jaffna peninsula and the Wanni,” quips an old school Tamil intellectual, who requested anonymity citing personal security concerns.
Some streets in Kilinochchi and Wanni have been named after military personnel who made supreme sacrifices in the military operations against the LTTE.
“Granted that they (soldiers) fought and won the war. But, Tamil people don’t feel that it is right to name their roads after soldiers with whom they have no affinity,” he says.
Another Tamil gentleman views this phenomenon in a historical perspective.
“This is not a unique situation,” he says. ‘Throughout the history, whenever an army captured a land, the victorious army named towns and villages of the conquered land after their generals and leaders,” he quips.
“They built places of worship of their religious faith in the ruins of the temples, kovils and cathedrals of their rival faith,” he adds.
However, cultural invasion is only one aspect of the Sinhalization of Jaffna, long considered to be the citadel of Tamil culture.
T.V.K Shivagnanam, a former municipal councilor says even some of the southern business ventures which have opened up offices in Jaffna are insensitive to the feelings of the residents in the town.
“Banks, for instance, use same Sinhala terminology they use in the south, but, Tamils in Jaffna are oblivious to what is meant by those high-flown Sinhala words.
“They call a particular kind of savings account , Ran Kekula, but, these words are like Greek to Tamils. How many people do you think can understand what those words means?” asks Mr Shivagnanam.
He says that business ventures should localize their service. “It would have been better if they use an equally rich Tamil name for their service. Or they can translate the Sinhala name into Tamil, rather than implanting Sinhala names which not many people could understand.”
He contends that the Sinhalization of the North contravenes the constitution.
“In the Sinhala edition of the constitution, the name of the country is identified as Sri Lanka and in the Tamil translation, it is Illankai.’’
Therefore, he argues, that the relegation of Tamil language is unconstitutional. However, certain others point to far more disturbing facets of the “Sinhala hegemony” in Jaffna.
Last week, a discussion on Tamil literature attended by Jaffna intellectuals and chaired by Prof Rathnajeevan Hoole was interrupted by military personnel who suspected that the participants were commemorating the fallen LTTE cadres.
The literary event was part of the Noolaham Project, of which the primary purpose is to collect rare books and manuscripts from across the globe, and digitize and make them freely available to all researchers.
Last week while Jaffna scholars were discussing literature, an army colonel brusquely entered the hall, rudely shouting, “who is in charge?”
When the person in charge, an emeritus professor, identified himself, the colonel shouted at him for all to hear: “No LTTE commemorations. Ministry of Defence orders. Do you understand?”
“We were allowed to proceed after a Tamil speaking person from the army in civil attire was allowed to sit among us and under the condition that copies of the presentations should be given to him. Soldiers were moving around the hall peeping in on the meeting.
As we left, our names, identity card numbers and addresses and telephone numbers were recorded,” said Professor S. Ratnajeevan in a media communique‚ on behalf of the Noolaham Foundation.
He added: “Our day was spoilt. The meeting was ruined because we were so worried by the military presence that we could not focus on the speakers. We could not freely express ideas since the military presence and weapons were intimidating. The public will keep off from our functions now and those who rent us halls will be fearful of doing so.”
A participant who attended the event summed up the military action as a means of psychological intimidation.
“The military is acting with scant regard to basic constitutional rights of the people. One of those rights is right to peaceful assembly.”
“Now we have to obtain permission from the military in addition to the police to organize any form of intellectual gathering,” he revaels, citing new regulations. Usually the police grant permission; however, the new regulations have given discretion to every area commander of the army to decide whether such meetings are to be permitted.
The military intrusions on peaceful assembly of people have become routine. In the same week, an official event at St. Charles’ School was interrupted by the army on a false tip-off.
The participant adds: “You can gauge the plight of the everyday folks, when professors and intellectual elites of Jaffna are humiliated and intimidated by the military.
Ordinary people are scared to express themselves.” (That explains why many sources of this article requested anonymity). But, even, scholars and intellectuals are finding that the situation is becoming overwhelmingly oppressive. The participant at the Noolaham literary event , who was quoted earlier describes the mood of a fellow academic.
“He told me, hereafter even if Lord Shiva ( a Hindu God) is coming to make a speech, he is not going to attend any event in Jaffna’’.
So much for the triumphant claims of restoring normalcy in Jaffna. This government may have restored an uneasy peace, but that’s far from restoring human dignity to the people in the North courtesy:LakbimaNews