« Demons in Paradise : thèmes et controverses autour d’un travail de mémoire » par Eric Meyer

Le beau film de Jude Ratnam, actuellement en salle à Paris (à l’Espace Saint Michel), propose au spectateur, à travers une vision personnelle de la montée du militantisme séparatiste tamoul et des violences intestines qui ont opposé ses différentes composantes, une réflexion sur la mémoire d’une communauté confrontée à la tragique défaite des Tigres en 2009.

Les premières images du film, tirées d’actualités de la période coloniale, invitent à un retour en arrière historique. Sri Lanka, l’ancienne Ceylan, a été profondément transformée par un système colonial fondé :
– sur une conquête de l’espace matérialisée par un réseau de transports (le train, omniprésent dans le film) qui a connecté des régions jusque alors séparées, en particulier la ville tamoule de Jaffna, où se déroule une partie du film, avec le sud peuplé en majorité de Cingalais, la capitale coloniale Colombo, et l’ancienne capitale royale Kandy ;
– sur une prise de contrôle de l’économie par une agriculture de grandes plantations surimposée à l’agriculture paysanne cingalaise (une partie du film montre Kandy et les régions qui l’entourent, où se situent les grandes plantations de thé fondées sur le travail servile des coolies tamouls) ;
– et sur une domination culturelle et politique par l’imposition de l’anglais, langue du colonisateur, devenue en même temps un instrument de communication entre des groupes locuteurs de deux langues très distinctes, le cingalais parlé par 75% de la population, et le tamoul par 25%.

Ce qui conduit à la matière de la première partie du film, la discrimination dont ont été victimes après l’indépendance (1948) les minorités de langue tamoule (hindouistes, chrétiennes, musulmanes), majoritaires dans le nord-est de l’île, mais minoritaires dans le centre et le sud, confrontées à l’affirmation de l’identité majoritaire des Cingalais bouddhistes. Elle s’est traduite par l’abandon de la langue anglaise au profit du seul cingalais comme langue officielle en 1956, et par une succession de violences, en 1958, 1977 et 1983. Le film donne à entendre et à voir ces marqueurs identitaires que sont les langues, mais aussi les vêtements et les signes corporels. L’usage différentiel de ces trois langues, anglais, tamoul, et cingalais, selon le registre émotionnel ou discursif, et selon les interlocuteurs, y est d’une grande subtilité et authenticité. Les stratégies d’effacement (celui du pottu), ou de travestissement linguistique ou vestimentaire que devaient adopter pour leur survie les victimes de persécutions sont un thème récurrent du film.

La rupture du lien symbolique et pratique entre Cingalais et Tamouls qu’était la langue anglaise a correspondu à la rupture du lien matériel constitué par la ligne de chemin de fer reliant Colombo à Jaffna : ce train qui avait permis l’exode du narrateur enfant fuyant le pogrom de Colombo en 1983, et dont les images de wagons rouillés, envahis par la végétation, de gares dévastées, et de rails coupés, envahissent l’écran. Rupture dans l’espace, mais aussi dans le temps : le travail de mémoire de l’enfant devenu adulte et père à son tour passe par la reconstitution de ces fragments d’un passé où l’exode en train vers Jaffna occupe une place obsédante.

Mais cette mémoire personnelle s’inscrit dans une mémoire collective qui rend compte de l’adhésion de la population tamoule au projet indépendantiste de l’Eelam Tamoul. Comme le montre le film, ce sont les violences dont ont été victimes les Tamouls de Colombo et de Kandy qui l’ont rendue irrésistible. Le film convoque la puissance de l’image en mettant en scène le témoignage de l’auteur de la photographie devenue célèbre d’un homme nu martyrisé à Colombo en juillet 1983 par une bande hilare : l’interrogation sur la banalité du mal qui s’amorce ici va se poursuivre dans la seconde partie du film dans un autre contexte.

La montée du militantisme des Tamouls du nord en réponse à la violence de 1983 est le fait d’une multitude de groupes, pour la plupart basés dans la péninsule de Jaffna, qui s’arment pour protéger leur communauté. Ils se différencient par leur origine sociale (de classe ou de caste) et par leur stratégie plus que par leur idéologie : très vite ils luttent entre eux pour la suprématie du mouvement de libération, tandis que les services secrets de l’Union Indienne appuient et cherchent à manipuler certains groupes, avant d’intervenir directement en 1987 avec l’envoi d’un corps expéditionnaire. Les ‘Tigres de Libération de l’Eelam Tamoul’, qui privilégiaient l’action violente immédiate et excluaient tout accord avec l’Inde, s’imposent par la force face aux autres groupes (TELO, PLOTE etc) qu’ils éliminent physiquement ou absorbent. Ils mènent d’abord une lutte victorieuse contre l’armée et la police du gouvernement de Colombo, et contre le corps expéditionnaire indien. Ils prennent en 1990 le contrôle de Jaffna et y font régner leur loi : ils cherchent à rendre irréversible la séparation des deux parties du pays, et à empêcher hommes et femmes en âge de combattre de quitter le nord : un épisode du film montre symboliquement comment ils contraignent les candidats à la fuite à scier les rails de la ligne.

L’exode des jeunes Tamouls hors de Sri Lanka, qui avait commencé en 1983 pour fuir la répression du gouvernement et des groupes extrémistes cingalais, se double alors de l’exode de ceux qui fuient la conscription forcée des Tigres : tout ceci nourrit une diaspora tamoule qui aujourd’hui constitue, en Europe et en Amérique du Nord, une communauté transnationale aussi nombreuse que celle qui est restée à Jaffna ; le film montre comment ces deux communautés communiquent – notamment par Skype – mais aussi comment s’amorce un travail de mémoire, après trente ans de violence.

C’est alors que s’impose dans la seconde partie la figure tutélaire de celui que le réalisateur appelle son oncle, dont le douloureux travail de mémoire donne au film des accents d’émotion intense, lorsqu’il retouve les Cingalais qui ont abrité sa famille durant les émeutes – un comportement qui n’a pas été exceptionnel -, lorsqu’il évoque l’accès de démence de sa mère, et lorsqu’il se remémore les camarades qui ont été assassinés pour l’avoir protégé. Manoranjan, aujourd’hui journaliste réfugié au Canada, a en effet milité dans un groupe annihilé par les Tigres. Il s’interroge sur l’échec final de la lutte indépendantiste, qu’il attribue à la stratégie des Tigres et à l’effet des luttes fratricides entre factions rivales. Le questionnement s’approfondit et rejoint la réflexion sur la banalité du mal amorcée au sujet du pogrom de 1983, lorsque d’anciens militants rappellent l’attitude des spectateurs tamouls lors du massacre par les Tigres des militants du TELO, et finalement lorsqu’ils retrouvent autour d’un feu des survivants des différents groupes, y compris d’anciens Tigres, qui rejettent la responsabilité de la défaite sur l’opportunisme de la population tamoule.

On comprend que le film ait fait l’objet de violentes critiques de la part de Tamouls de la diaspora restés attachés à une image idéalisée de la lutte indépendantiste. Il est vrai que la reconstitution de cette histoire s’arrête en quelque sorte au début des années 1990 avec l’élimination par les Tigres de la plupart des groupes rivaux. Le film n’évoque pratiquement pas les années 1995 à 2009, qui ont vu le repli des Tigres vers le réduit de la région de Wanni après cinq ans de domination absolue de Jaffna, la militarisation de la société tamoule et la tragédie finale qu’a été de janvier à mai 2009, l’extermination par l’armée sri-lankaise des combattants Tigres et de ceux qui les avaient suivis, puis l’enfermement durant deux ans dans des camps de rétention de près de 300.000 civils. Il ne montre pas les exactions de la police ni l’armée sri lankaise, et en sont absents les moines bouddhistes extrémistes qui s’affichent aujourd’hui contre les musulmans de l’île après s’être opposés à toute concession aux revendications tamoules. L’absence de ces images ne permet donc pas de comprendre les blessures inguérissables et le ressentiment durable des Tamouls, en particulier en diaspora.
Le film ne montre pas non plus les attentats suicides perpétrés par les Tigres à Colombo, notamment par des jeunes femmes, après 1995, et la souffrance des civils du Sud touchés par leurs méthodes de terreur : l’attitude belliciste de la majorité de la population cingalaise peut donc échapper à la compréhension du spectateur.

Au fond, le propos du cinéaste n’était pas de produire un documentaire détaché prétendant à l’objectivité, mais plutôt de proposer le témoignage intime d’un douloureux travail de mémoire, et une réflexion indispensable, mais difficile, sur les dérives de l’action militante. Comme il le suggère en expliquant avoir donné à son fils un nom tamoul qui évoque le troisième œil du dieu Shiva, il ambitionne de voir plus loin, au delà des apparences.

Dans le corpus des films et des écrits récents ayant pour thème la guerre civile sri-lankaise et l’exode qui s’en est suivi, Demons in Paradise occupe une place à part. Comme Ini Avan d’Asoka Handagama (2012) il met en scène le retour à Jaffna d’acteurs du conflit, mais vu de l’intérieur et non de l’extérieur, sous forme de témoignage direct et non dans le cadre d’une fiction. Il ne s’agit pas non plus d’un film sur le traumatisme de l’exil comme le très médiatisé Dheepan de Jacques Audiard (2015), ou les plus authentiques et subtils films de Pradeepan Raveendran (Shadows of Silence, 2010, en attendant la sortie prévue en 2018 de Soundless Dance), ou encore les remarquables œuvres romanesques de Shobasakthi (l’acteur de Dheepan), dont un choix de nouvelles vient de paraître en traduction française (Friday et Friday, Paris, éditions Zulma, avril 2018). En revanche Demons in Paradise fait écho à l’ouvrage profond de l’anthropologue Sharika Thiranagama (fille d’une militante tamoule assassinée par les Tigres en 1989), paru à Philadelphie en 2011 sous le titre In my Mother’s House, ainsi qu’à l’article qu’elle a consacré au chemin de fer de Jaffna publié en 2012 dans la revue Modern Asian Studes sous le titre : « A Railway to the Moon »

Village versus plantation : colonial & post-colonial ideologies and practices , by Eric Meyer

We publish the revised text of a lecture delivered in November 2017 at the Sri Lanka seminar organized by the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg. The readers will find further information on this seminar in www.sai.uni-heidelberg.de/en/

The social history of rural Sri Lanka is no longer popular among social science scholars while it was in the forefront in the first 30 years after independence : the ethnic conflict studies have swamped the academic field for the last three decades. I am pleading for a return to socio-economic research. I am convinced that such a return can help to better understand the long term trends of the island’s history, including the two major crisis manifested in the double JVP insurgencies and the enduring Tamil separatist movement.
The political implications of colonial and post-colonial land policies have been studied by several authors (notably Mick Moore, Vijaya Samaraweera, Asoka Bandarage) in the 1980s, when the take-over of estates by the SLFP government, just after the first JVP insurgency, gave the issue a great visibility. I reviewed the issue a bit later, with publications in the Journal of Peasant Studies and in Modern Asian Studies in 1992, and that same year, Mick Moore and Jonathan Spencer (in Agrarian Change in Sri Lanka edited by James Brow) added to the literature of the subject. Since that period, the subject has lost its appeal; a quarter of a century later, it may be worth revisiting the question in a critical way.
I am not going to analyse the impact of the plantation system on the village sector (which is the subject of various publications of mine), but rather :
– to trace the origins and development of the representations of ‘the plantation’ and ‘the village’ taken as reified opposite entities, personified by the opposite figures of ‘the peasant’ and ‘the cooly’, and to explain the meaning of the dualistic theories and practices in the colonial context ;
– to document the development and the mass appeal of what could be called the ‘peasantist’ ideology and the role played by it in the land policies promoted, first in the economic and political context of the 1920s-1930s by a section of the colonial administration, then by nationalist politicians before and after independence ;
– to assess the consequences of the different options followed by the colonial administration and by governments after independence, to remedy landlessness and rural unemployment : either large scale agrarian colonization in the dry zone (rougly speaking, the UNP policy, from Senanayake to Jayawardene, from Gal Oya to Mahaveli project) ; or to the redemption and redistribution of plantation land in the wet zone (the SLFP policy) ;
– to review the academic literature on the subject in the 1970s and 1980s – what was called at that time ‘peasant studies’ – , and to discuss the thesis developed by authors such as Moore that the ‘repeasantization’ policies checked the development of violent agrarian movements – taking into consideration the subsequent revolutionary and ethnic violence correlated with these policies, and what could be considered as ‘depeasantization’ resulting from 30 years of war.

Constructing the dualistic model and the ‘peasantist’ ideology

During the last quarter of the 19th century, the impact of the plantation system on peasant agriculture and more generally on the ecological systems of the island began to question a section of the colonial administration. But is is only during the late 1920s and 1930s that it became a central political issue coinciding with the setting up of the Donoughmore system of representation, and with the major depression which hit the plantation economy.
The proto-history of the question is connected with the first cyclical crisis of the plantation economy, characterized by the collapse of coffee in the early 1880s. Until then, the land policy of the colonial government, which appropriated and sold for a song to coffee planters large areas of primeval and secondary forests (generally used for chena – slash and burn – cultivation by villagers) in the Kandyan upper and mid-country, had met with little open opposition, except in 1859 (when a combination of Kandyan headmen sellers and prospective intermediaries and buyers, who actually represented planting interests, met in Kandy), and after the property of some Temple lands was rejected by government (but temples themselves started to lease their lands to planters). Actually a large proportion of villagers in combination with intermediaries started themselves to plant coffee in their gardens and came to depend on coffee sales to pay their paddy taxes. But with coffee collapse which hit both the estates and the village gardens in the early 1880s, many villagers lost their holdings – often mortgaged to intermediaries : they became landless and famine conditions developed (especially in Uva, Walapane, Matale). This is well documented in Asoka Bandarage book.
Before that crisis, only a few civil servants, such as the governor Sir Henry Ward (1855-1860), took an interest in what they described as the decline of the village community due to the growth of individualism. The 1880s represent a turning point : the coffee crisis coincided with the growing popularity in intellectual circles in Britain and the East of ideas held by authors such as Henry Maine and John Phear, who drew an ideal picture of ‘traditional’ peasant societies (1). In their conception, these societies were self-regulating and egalitarian, based on customary institutions such as gansabhava (village councils), and it was the duty of the colonial masters to uphold or restore the (imaginary) village in its pristine purity. These views were reinforced by two contemporary developments : 1. the growing awareness among specialists of botany and forestry of the ecological degradation resulting from deforestation and monoculture (the successive directors of the Peradeniya botanic gardens, Trimen and Thwaites, were quite influent). And 2. the archaeological works undertaken in the ancient cities of the dry zone, which revealed the advanced technology (especially hydraulics) attained by paddy cultivators in the past.
A group of young colonial administrators (Le Mesurier, Fisher, Price, Davidson, Burrows) attempted to alert the public opinion in the island and in Britain on the condition of the Ceylonese (and specifically Kandyan) peasantry ; they were discreetly and later openly supported by the governor Arthur Gordon (who gave them as guideline: « Keep the peasant on the land »). They obtained in England the support of the Aborigines Protection Society. This group proposed practical measures to ‘save the peasantry’ : their campaign led to the abolition of the grain taxes in the 1890s, and to various experiments aimed at creating new villages (such as Lamasuriyagama, named after Le Mesurier) or at minimizing the negative impact of plantations on village life. But at the same time, the colonial system remained heavily dependent on the development of the plantation economy, the political strength of the planting interests was dominant in Ceylon, and many colonial administrators were themselves involved in covert land dealings, including Le Mesurier himself.
These ‘pro-peasant’ administrators attempted to reconcile their practice with their ideas by adopting a dualistic theory which presented the village and the plantation as two totally independent economic and social entities, which were to be protected from each other and which were to be kept apart. They themselves had a romantic image of the village : an harmonious, egalitarian, beautiful, ecological and smoothly working village versus a destructive, exploitative and morally perverting plantation. The dualistic theory was compatible with the view of the mainstream colonial authorities and their successors the developmentalists, who considered the village as stagnant, non progressive, feudal, unenlightened and immobile, better left to its stagnation as long as it did not compromise the working of a vibrant entrepreneurial and capitalistic plantation sector. To take an example, the Revenue Officer of the Kägalla district in the early 1890s, Price, left what he called « Friendly notes » (2) to his successor Davidson, in which he instructed him to distinguish two parts in the district, one left to the planters, the other to the villagers : « Restrict further sale of land to Three Korales and keep Four Korales as the Garden of the East – with a prosperous peasantry untainted by the civilization [sic in text] of Scotland and Mincing Lane ». This instruction was an extension at the district level of a principle which was applied at the micro level to village lands in the same district : the Revenue Officers effected during the 1880s a summary division of highlands, setting apart areas of chenas for villagers and appropriating the rest for sale to planters or keeping them as reserved forests. But the experiment ended in failure, for lack of legal and governmental support in the face of a wave of land speculation.
These debates in the narrow milieu of the Ceylon Civil Service were not without impact on the views held by the Kandyans themselves : an example is that of a chief headman of the Matale district, Tikiri Banda Aluvihare Ratemahatmaya (Sir Richard Aluvihare’s father) : in 1896, he wrote a report (titled « the silent revolution in the village ») at the request of the AGA of Matale Burrows (himself in charge in 1884-1886 of what was to become later under H.C.P. Bell the Archaeology Department, and the author of a guide book on the Buried cities of Ceylon published in 1905 : this is not a simple coincidence). This document is as far as I know the first example of the Kandyan discourse which will become a cliché on the ideal village life disturbed by the advent of the British planter ; I have published this document in my paper published in Journal of Peasant Studies (1992).
The dualistic model became popular in other colonies as well, notably in Dutch territories ; it was theorized in the 1930s by the Dutch scholar Julius Boeke (translated in English only in 1953). And that the same model in another colonial context led to the apartheid system.
In the 1890s, the coffee crisis was over and after the successful conversion of large estates (but not smallholdings) from coffee to tea, would-be tea planters rushed to the Kandyan areas to obtain fresh land either from government, or from the villagers themselves, who were often ruined and could not take to tea, using intermediaries and various stratagems for their landgrabbing activities (see my paper in Modern Asian Studies, 1992). Soon followed a huge demand for land for rubber plantations in the mid-country of the wet zone, especially in the Kägalla and Ratnapura districts, and for coconut plantations, especially in the Kurunägala district, in which the Colombo-based emerging Ceylonese middle class played a prominent role. In these circumstances, the colonial government interfered and tried to curb land speculation and assert its control over land by a new waste lands ordinance in 1897, which paved the way for the birth of a Land Settlement Department.

Building the ‘peasantist’ ideology into the nationalist discourse

By the beginning of the XXth century, the idealized representation of village life became popular among the urban Sinhalese elite, while its lost its appeal to British civil servants. British colonial administrators in the previous years were proclaiming pro-peasant sentiments while practicing pro-planter policies, and the contradiction led some of them to drop out of the civil Service, like Le Mesurier. The views of the colonial administrators with a real knowledge of village life became generally pessimistic. A well known case is that of Leonard Woolf, who came back to England in disgust, to marry Virginia Stephens and write his celebrated novel on Ceylon, The Village in the Jungle, which was certainly not an hymn to the glory of the Sinhala Buddhist village, nor a picture of villagers oppressed by the planters, but on the contrary a representation of village society oppressed by an addition of natural, cultural and colonial forces. Others who remained in the remote areas of the island devoted their time to collect village folk tales (Henry Parker), or to defend the rights of the dry zone villagers (such as H.R. Freeman).
On the contrary, the ‘peasantist’ ideology was adopted as a central argument of the nascent nationalist discourse in its Sinhala-Buddhist version. Apparently this option went against the interests of a large section of the nationalist elite, which was very active in opening rubber and coconut plantations on former village chena lands. In the words of Samaraweera (1981) : « The first generation of national leaders were the most unlikely champions of the cause of the peasants (…) Some among them had actually benefitted from the British Land ordinances (…) It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the land qustion was looked upon by the first generation of nationalists as a convenient issue which would give legitimacy to their claim as representatives of the people of the colony ».
In this « typical urban middle class myth model of the harmonious village » (Spencer 1991), the ‘peasantist’ ideology (restoring the village) was grafted upon the Buddhist revival project (restoring the sasana) :
1. The ‘original’ village society was harmonious, without class conflicts, made up of peasants-aristocrats (in the words of Hocart, archaeologist and ethnologist, using himself the often-quoted Sinhala proverb related by Robert Knox « take a peasant, wash off his dirt, he is fit to be a king »)
2. Its economy was based on paddy cultivation (qualified as an ‘Aryan’ crop) and its inner organization was geared to the proper functioning of the hydraulic systems – revealed by the archaeology of the Rajarata and Ruhuna (the paddy field and the tank, yaya/wäwa) : the publications of Harischandra and his endeavour to make Anuradhapura a sacred city illustrate that view
3. The ‘original’ village society was free from crime, drunkenness, based on Buddhist values, transcending caste differences, and organized around the vihara : this is a central theme in Anagarika Dharmapala’s writings
4. The disintegration of the village was the result of outside malefic forces : the Tamil invasions in the past, the British invasion of the present, with the complicity of the ‘foreign traders and moneylenders’
5. The (British) plantation and its (Tamil) coolies was the negative antithesis of the (Aryan) village and its (Sinhala) peasants
6. Restoring the ‘original’ village was the most urgent national duty, to avoid the degradation of the free peasant into a slave cooly, equated with the degeneration of the Sinhala ‘race’.
These ideas were borrowed from European authors of the late 19th century and early 20th century quoted above. But the myth was promoted among the urban anglicized elite by outstanding writers such as the Anagarika Dharmapala or the young Solomon Bandaranaike (3) ; Indian models such as Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore were popular among the enthusiastic bourgeois youth who ‘discovered’ a romanticized version of the peasant life, while their fathers were at the same time exploiting the peasantry. The success of the myth had a political utility as well, which was to unite Kandyans and Low Country Sinhalese against a common enemy, real or imagined, the outsider (a composite category comprising the British planter, the Tamil cooly, the Chettiar moneylender, the Indian Muslim trader), and to offset the grievances of the Kandyans against the landgrabbing activities of the Low Country Sinhalese.
A committeee on landless and indebted villagers was set up in 1925 by the Legislative Council. Among its members were two outstanding figures, D.S. Senanayake and Madawela. Madawela was the representative of the Kurunegala district, where he had been active since 1906 in organizing the opposition to the activities of the Land Settlement Department in that area, where he was himself active in land dealings, together with various low country speculators from the Negombo-Chilaw area, such as the Corea brothers. Don Stephen Senanayake and his brothers were the sons of a successful landed proprietor who had made a fortune in graphite mining and had extended his coconut and rubber estates in the mid-country, but his reputation was built as fierce opponent to the repressive policy of the British during the First world war. At the beginning D.S. Senanayake’s position was quite close to that of Madawela: « In Ceylon there is no land at present suitable for the further cultivation of rubber, as the government is adopting the dog-in-the-manger policy. Ceylon would be far more prosperous if the government opens its eyes to the fact and releases land as much as possible » (Testimony before the committee of the Legislative Council on rubber restriction, CO54/874). They both were in touch with the most influent Ceylonese planters of the time, belonging to the new rich class, who in the 1920s were busy purchasing lands for rubber and coconut cultivation, such C.E.A. Dias and Dr Marcus Fernando, and with the Low Country Products Association which represented their interests. At the same time they were connected with Kandyan family groups who had themselves been involved in large scale land trasactions in the mid-country areas, such as the Meedeniyas, and with the influential press baron D.R. Wijewardene. Cases of villages entirely surrounded by plantations, and of villagers forcibly displaced, were frequent in the Deraniyagala area, and in all these cases Meedeniya, various intermediaries such as Van der Poorten and capitalists such as Wijewardene were implicated.
The Land Settlement Department, established by the Land ordinance of 1897, was very active after 1918 in two districts, Kurunegala and Ratnapura, where Ceylonese elite speculators were most involved, and it was their ‘bête noire’. Its officers were the resolute adversaries of the landgrabbers and saw themselves as the defenders of the peasantry, especially in the Kurunägala district, where small and medium landbuyers, anxious to invest in coconut estates, were purchasing title from villagers cheaply in advance of settlement by borrowing money on mortgage of these dubious titles from Indian moneylenders (Nattukottai Chettiar and ‘Coast Moors’). Before the Committee on landless/indebted villagers, Senanayake and Madawela tried to ruin the image of the Settlement officers as defenders of the peasantry, by insisting on the responsability of the Land Settlement operations in compelling the villagers to part with their lands, and pointed the role of Indians in the indebtedness and subsequent land sales of villagers in the coconut triangle, while in fact the Nattokottai Chettiars were lending money to would-be medium scale investors, most of them non-resident, rather than to small peasants. Madawela insisted that the Department should more liberally recognize private property of highlands, while the Settlement officers attempted to check the alienation of land to non-villagers.

‘Repeasantization’ : proactive land policies in the age of economic depression

In 1927, the then governor Hugh Clifford decided to appoint a Land Commission to review the entire land policy of Ceylon (4). This was a time when the great depression had not yet affected the plantation economy, which was booming. The starting points were the motion moved by Madawela and passed by the Legislative Council that the Settlement Officers should be instructed to recognize the private property of chenas, and the pressing request by a group of Ceylonese planters allied with British planters, and especially of Marcus Fernando, to speed up land sales in the wet zone for rubber, especially in Ratnapura and Kalutara, and in the Uva patanas for tea. The argument of Fernando (himself a former medical doctor, connected with the De Soysa big business family) was that many professional men had saved money and were anxious to invest in land, that owing to the slowness of the Land settlement proceedings, money was lying idle, that « the villagers have advanced side by side with the planters », and that the prosperity of the villages was proportionate with their proximity to a plantation.
These projects were opposed by popular meetings organized by local popular assiciations (Mahajana Sabhas) and became a public issue, and the colonial administration, startled by the risk of popular agitation, felt compelled to arbitrate between opposite demands. In a minute dated november 1926, the Acting Colonial Secretary wrote that there were two forces trying to influence the government policy : « the commercial establishment pressing it to expedite land sales to take advantage of the present boom ; the other may be described as the Ceylon nationalist party ; its extremists object to any Crown sale policy for estates and demand that land be reserved for the indigenous population »
Clifford’s own position was expressed in a text dated 11.02.1927 : « A school of thought has developed since 1910 [when Clifford was Colonial Secretary] until 1925-7 [Clifford being Governor] which maintains that tea and rubber estates are a parasitic growth which is battening upon the colony’s lifeblood, that they have worked no appreciable benefit to the indigenous inhabitants of the country and that they owe their existence to a systematic series of acts of expripriation and spoliation » ; Clifford considered it as « an historical and economic error » which « helps to fan the fires of class and racial prejudices, the blazing up of which can work nothing but misery and confusion ». But on the other side his position was that « the primary object of government is the multiplication of smallholdings, provided steps can be taken to prevent improvident alienation. The rapid development by means of estates of land which has not yet been exploited is by comparison a secondary consideration (…) I consider that early steps should be taken to encourage the overflow of (landless) people to such areas of fertile crown lands as are still available (in the wet zone), I should greatly prefer to see suitable crown lands utilized for this purpose than sold for conversion to still more estates. »
The Commission, which comprised officials of the colonial administration and elected members of the Legislative Concil, received a mass of memoranda and sat for one full year ; a part of its records were published in several reports in 1928 and 1929 but most remain in manuscript form. Its findings were informed by the ‘peasantist’ ideology : to quote the reports : « There is a very strong feeling among the unofficial members of the commission that villagers should not become coolies on estates ». « The rapid exploitation of the villager and his expulsion from his ancestral lands, the government being powerless to check the almost universal demoralization resulting from the success of the shameless practice of landgrabbing ». Many colonial administrators pleaded for greater powers to reserve lands in favour of the peasantry, and check landgrabbing, but they were sceptical about the possibility to operate a complete revolution : « I am not aware that anyone seriously contemplates the gigantic task of setting right the mistakes of the past by the only possible method, viz acquisition of lands from estates and their free sale to villagers » (Hodson, Government Agent North Western Province).
Unofficial members of the Commission, notably Madawela and Senanayake (in the 5th and 6th interim reports) while claiming to speak on behalf of the ‘poor peasant’, opposed any measures which would restrict the rights of the villagers to dispose of their lands. Besides these claims in favour of the peasantry, what is significant is that the Commission insisted that ‘middle class Ceylonese’ (as opposed in its phraseology to ‘outside capitalists’) should also get reserved lands, with the idea that their presence in the midst of the peasantry could introduce an element of authority and moral order. Senanayake suggested that blocks of 50 acres of highland suitable for coconut should be sold to these ‘middle class Ceylonese’, excluding outsiders, that is Tamil kanganies and Muslim traders : « the middle and professional classes (…) too wealthy to be classed as villagers (…) too poor to compete with big capitalists and companies (…) for the benefit of peasants men of educated classes should hold and cultivate estates of medium size (…) not only by providing employment for the peasants but also by securing the residence among peasants of men of culture and position ». C.L.Wickremesinghe, a friend of Senanayake and future Land Commissionner, who married his son Esmond to the daughter of D.R. Wijewardene, the press magnate, declared before the Commission : « Many of the middle class eke out a hand to mouth existence [sic]. I agree that Crown Land should be alienated to them… ».
The mechanisms set up to put into practice a new land policy were inspired by an influent but controversial colonial administrator, Charles Valentine Brayne. His elder brother Frank Lugard Brayne, a member of the Indian Civil Service, was one of the promoters of the Punjab colonies (5) ; Charles Valentine as government agent in Batticaloa had experimented a system of restricted tenure and planned alienation of land which he called ‘mapping out’, and obtained the green light of the government for that ; together with some of his colleagues he proposed to extend the system to the planting districts, and applied for the post of Land Commissionner when its creation was decided. His views were developed in an interesting unpublished text titled The protection of the village (6) « Everyone will admit that in parts of the country under rapid development in rubber and other economic products, there is a danger of the village disappearing and the villagers becoming landless. This has been put down by some to the government selling land to capitalists without sufficient forethought for village requirements. This may have occurred in certain cases. There is however a more potent factor at work, and one which presents a more complicated problem : government has now ceased to alienate land to capitalists, except after the most careful precautions to safeguard the future needs of the villagers ; the problem of the landgrabber has not however been solved ».
Brayne was criticized, violently opposed and even ridiculed by some of his colleagues who called him « Brainless Brayne », but his proposals were eventually adopted by the Land Commission and he was put in charge as Land Commissionner. D.S. Senanayake himself sided with him when he became the first Minister of Agriculture in the new State Council established in 1931. The Land Development ordinance of 1935 gave a legal basis to the system : but in the meantime, the great slump had intervened, which ruined land investors, threw out of employment hundreds of thousand coolies, and deeply affected the villagers who depended on estates : the dramatic malarial epidemic in Kurunägala and Kägalla in 1934-35 was partly the result of unemployment leading to undernutrition.
The great depression proved the falseness of the dualistic theories, the vulnerability of the peasant economy linked with the vulnerability of the plantation economy, especially owing to the overproduction of rubber which was the result of extensive planting. Its major political result was to give an impetus to the radical leftist movement, and to make it adopt the ‘peasantist’ approach. Young intellectuals underlined the contrast between abandoned estates and overcrowded villages. Following marxist orthodoxy, some of them undertook to organize (Tamil) coolies, considering them as an industrial proletariat ; but others began to demand the repurchase of estate lands for redistribution to (Sinhalese) villagers. One of the first promoters of the leftist movements, Wilmot Perera, defended a project of ‘Village reconstruction’ in his book Problems of Rural Ceylon (1932). He was the son of a ‘rubber king’ of Panadura, and convened an All Ceylon Rural Reconstruction Conference at his Horana estate in May 1932, where S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike spoke ; shortly afterwards, he founded the Suriya Mal Society in 1933, the precursor of the Lanka Samasamaja Party of which he was a member. He initiated a series of socio-economic studies of villages in 1934. He later became parlementarian and ended his career as Bandaranaike’s ambassador to Mao’s China in 1957.
Meanwhile, the landed middle class demanded the annulation of its debts, the expulsion of Indian moneylenders, and of all immigrants, with racist arguments reminiscent of antisemitism in Europe. Bandaranaike wrote in 1933 : « Rich and poor are being sold up by their creditors and driven in the streets, homeless beggars ». The memoranda and evidence of the Ceylon Banking Commission of 1934 are filled with these claims and complaints. Xenophobic – Indophobic sentiments were fuelled by the policy of the Indian authorities who appeared to interfere in Ceylon affairs, and eventually led to the disenfranchisement of Indian workers and merchants established in the island. The emerging Ceylonese elite (actually Low country Sinhalese) was careful to preserve its interests, through the creation of a Mortgage Bank (headed by Marcus Fernando) and later of a Central Bank. At the same time, the Land Commissionner services (controlled by Senanayake as Minister of Agriculture), undertook the distribution of available Crown land in populous areas of the wet zone, by mapping out and distribution of allotments, but resources were limited as long as the estates were left untouched. In the dry zone land was available, but malaria was still endemic and most attempts at restoration of the ideal hydraulic villages ended in failure.
The second world war, where Ceylon held a strategic position, created a new state of affairs : the rubber economy bounced back, food drive led the authorities to be very liberal in recognizing land rights, the government started to repurchase plantation land alienated to outsiders for distribution to villagers, especially in Kägalla district, where difficulties arose in 1946 in Knavesmire Estate, between expelled coolies and village allottees. Henceforth, the lax policy of succesive governments allowed quiet but uninterrupted encroachments by villagers on lands proclaimed as Crown by the Land Settlement Department. Finally, the extensive use of DDT against malarial mosquitoes made it possible to start land colonization in the dry zone, especially in the Eastern province, under the leadership of Senanayake, who became the First Prime Minister of independent Ceylon, in 1948. His policy of organized peasant colonization was again based on the ‘peasantist’ approach. It had a double objective : developping the country’s self sufficiency in paddy ; and deflecting rural discontent, land distribution to Kandyans in the new settlements acting as a sort of safety valve, without encroaching upon the planting interests. This policy allowed Low Country Sinhalese politicians to get the support of the Kandyans. But it alienated the Tamils because it encroached on the areas they considered as their homeland.

‘Peasantism’ in post-colonial political and academic controversies

At independence, the problem of landlessness was by no means new, but it had acquired such a visibility that it remained in the forefront, and became the major topic of research for social scientists and specialists of economic development, and a central political issue. The 1950s and 1960s witnessed a flurry of field researches on Ceylon villages, including very valuable ethnographical and sociological studies. After the Report of the Kandyan Peasantry Commission (1951), appeared a Report of Peradeniya University social scientists Sarkar and Tambiah (1957) under the title The Disintegrating Village, of the book of B.H. Farmer on Peasant colonization (1957), of Pul Eliya of Edmund Leach (1961) ; in the field of art and literature, the publication in Sinhala in 1944 of Gamperaliya (‘Village Upheaval’) by Martin Wickremasinghe was a landmark. These works exerted an influence on and were themselves influenced by the political controversies of the time.
The Kandyan Peasantry Commission analysed the adverse impact of the plantation system in a systematic way. Pre-colonial peasant economy was presented as an ecological system in equilibrium, achieving self sufficiency in food and employment, through the paddy system of production. Village society was depicted as knit together by common language, religion, and cultural traditions, « a great majority of the peasant population professing the Buddhist religion ». The advent of the plantation economy resulted in dualism, non-integration of the two sectors, and loss ; the villages became hemmed-in by estates : this obsessive image is constantly repeated. The major themes were the theft by the estate sector of useful peasant land and subsequent landlessness ; ecological impact of deforestation on paddy cultivation ; preferential treatment of Tamil coolies by authorities ; moral disintegration of peasant society : « New land was unavailable for village expansion, village councils gansabhava fell into disuse, prospect of crown claiming land prompted numerous sales to speculators, the old unity of village life began to disappear, moral and social standards were adversely affected, child marriage and giving out children for domestic service became common »
There was nothing new in these arguments, and many scholars consider the Report of the Kandyan Peasantry Commission as a rehearsal of commonplaces – what could be expected from a commission made up of a Colombo lawyer, two upper caste Kandyan MPs (Attygalle and Panabokke), and a representative of the Kandyan low castes, all of them close to Senanayake. In my opinion however, the Report is highly significant : its findings were based on a great number of memoranda (about 650), many of them in Sinhala, by various individuals and local associations, and by enquiries on the spot in different parts of the Kandyan regions in March and April 1949, one year after Independence, during which about 150 individuals were heard during public sittings. Most of these papers remained unprinted but are still available in the Archives : for example, the sittings of the commission in Badulla are vividly reported in a sort of diary. These documents reveal a high degree of public awareness of land problems in the Kandyan regions. A detailed examination of the lists of participants shows that the sociology of the memorialists closely corresponds with that of the people who will ensure seven years later the electoral success of the SLFP : schoolteachers, monks, high caste Bandaras and Appuhamys, a few low caste leaders, Village Committees, Cooperative Credit Societies and about 200 Rural Development Societies (the sittings were organized by Ellepola, in charge of these societies in the Ministry) ; besides these Kandyans, a fair number of Low Country Sinhalese established up-country as traders or small scale planters and writing in English ; and very few Muslims and Tamils. The result is that although the Commission was made up of UNP supporters, their report offers a sort of blueprint of what was to become the SLFP master narrative. These arguments are found after 1956 in the speeches of Bandaranaike and his Agriculture Minister (for a short time) the Marxist leader Philip Gunawardena, which are directly derived from the ‘peasantist’ theory, in which the Sinhala people is defined as a people of peasants.
Sarkar and Tambiah’s published six years after the Report of the Kandyan Peasantry Commission, just after the victory of Bandaranaike at the 1956 elections, an academic work, based on a detailed socio-economic quantitative study of a group of villages in the lower Dumbara valley (7). It was introduced by a sort of abstract of the Report, which gave it a scientific legitimacy. The very title of the book was derived from it. But it was however less prone to draw an idealistic picture of village life. Among the similarities, the insistence on history (« the basis of rural economy in ancient Ceylon was paddy cultivation »), the emphasis put on the « well integrated and self-sufficient social and economic system, well adapted to certain ecological factors », the affirmation that « the invasion of this system by the plantations struck a damaging blow to its stability, destroyed the balance between paddy, chena and forest », the use of the term « degeneration of the community »; the emphasis on ecological impact of the destruction of forests ; an analysis of the vicious circle of modernisation, better health services, population increase, landlessness, exploitation by the bourgeoisie of the less fortunate, and impact of the new law system. The study differed from the Report in that it used a statistical and scientific approach, and in that economic exploitation inside the Kandyan society was put on the same footing as « victimization and exploitation by the middle classes, merchants and estate owners » ; although not informed by the marxist theory, the book, because of its scientific approach, was to exert a decisive influence on the leftist Ceylonese intellectuals.
That same year 1957, B.H. Farmer published a detailed study of the dry zone colonies (8), which can be considered as a semi-critical assessment of the first results of the Senanayake policy started with the Land Commission of 1928 and the Land Development Ordinance of 1935, but really applied to the dry zone only after the war and the use of DDT. He pointed out the romanticism which led to exaggerate the wealth and population of ancient Rajarata and Ruhuna based on irrigation works : « it is important to give the lie to estimates which are grossly exaggerated ; if such receive credence as they unfortunately do they engender false optimism about the carrying capacity of the dry zone… ». He therefore doubted the capacity of the colonies to solve Kandyan landlessness problems, which he recognized as serious, while suggesting a balanced analysis of its causes : « The author is convinced by field evidence that the Crown Lands Encroachment Ordinance and the estates which grew because of it, have borne hard on many Kandyan villages and in doing so have accentuated an agrarian problem which would have been serious in any case ». Farmer became the first director of the Center of South Asian Studies at Cambridge, established in 1964, and his book sowed the seeds of a critique of the nationalist discourse on the question of the responsibility of the British pro-planter policy in the Kandyan agrarian problems.
This ‘revisionist’/developmentalist approach was initially defended by Lal Jayawardena : in his Cambridge thesis (1963) he raised the question as to why the Kandyan peasants, if evicted on a mass scale, did not become wage workers on the plantations ; he therefore minimized the impact, maintained that the colonial administration undertook to efficiently protect the peasantry, and at the same time exposed the responsibility of landgrabbers, especially members of the rising nationalist elite (his wife Kumari who wrote at the same time her thesis on the nationalist/working class movements in the interwar period once said to me : « my heroes are his bad guys ») ; but Lal Jayawardena left his work unpublished (he became a career economist and diplomat) and therefore had no influence, except on the group of historians at the Peradeniya University who from the mid-1960s until the mid-1970s undertook to deconstruct the Kandyan discourse, at a time when the campus was the scene of a growing agitation led by marxist students, especially during the year 1971. The Ceylon Studies Seminar met in the late 1960s under the aegis of Kingsley De Silva, with Michael Roberts, Vijaya Samaraweera, and L.A. Wickremaratne : they elaborated the ‘revisionist’ thesis in various papers which found their way in the Peradeniya History of Ceylon volume III. After the JVP insurgency and university reforms, some left Sri Lanka like so many British-educated intellectuals, while others regrouped outside the universities in NGOs and various foreign funded research institutes. But at the same time, western economists such as Snodgrass could still defend the dualistic theory : in 1966, Snodgrass spoke of « the classic purity of the Ceylonese case », of a « dualism nearly perfect » and maintaned that « smallholder production of export crops had only a marginal impact upon the giant mass [sic] of the traditional economy »

‘Peasant Studies’ ‘Repeasantization’, ‘Depeasantization’ : 1971 and after.

The shock of the unexpected 1971 insurgency left indelebile traces in the realm of politics and economy. Its immediate results were the new republican constitution of 1972, and the take-over of the large plantations between 1972 and 75. The event had also a far reaching impact in the research field with the creation of the Agrarian Research and Training Institute established in Colombo in 1972. The insurgency was immediately interpreted (by the ruling classes and by their foreign advisers who began to swamp Sri Lanka with their foundations, NGO’s and the like) as the result of unemployment and subsequent demoralization among the educated rural youth, and also, (I insist on this point which is often overlooked because the JVP itself adopted elements of the nationalist discourse), to the influence of outside, non-national forces. These interpretations reinforced the political attempts to ‘repeasantize’ (term used by Moore) society, to reinject moral values, to promote ‘national thinking’ – Jathika Chintanaya.
It is often assumed – for example by Moore (9) – that the JVP had no agrarian programme, and therefore no real appeal among the rural masses. This is also the impression left by the books of Alles and of Gunaratna, who are up to prove that the only aim of the JVP was the seizure of power by a leninist-guevarist strategy : both books are written in a judiciary and political science perspective, and insist that JVP « was essentially a cadre party which had a limited public support » (10). It is true that the JVP was not an agrarian mass organization as such ; but its appeal for a great number of rural youth was based on what we have called ‘peasantism’. JVPers shared the ‘peasantist’ views of the SLFPers and integrated them in their revolutionary agenda. The ‘Five Lectures’ conceived by Rohan Wijeweera by the end of 1967 and diffused through classes of endoctrination in the high schools and universities give the rough elements of the JVP. ideology. They have not been published as far as I know, but their substance can be found in the statement of Wijeweera to the police (C.I.D.) dated 1971 and in the JVP press in Sinhala (11).
The first lesson dealt with ‘The economic crisis’ (the following were: 2 ‘Independence’ 3. ‘Indian expansionism’ 4 ‘Leftist movement’ 5 ‘The path to revolution’). The lectures were designed to fit with the aspirations of the educated unemployed rural youth. According to a classical marxist-leninist approach, the economic crisis faced by Sri Lanka was attributed to the impact of colonialism and post-colonial capitalism, in the form of the impact of the plantation economy on the peasant sector : « the primary root of the problem is the collapse of a self-sufficient economy ; the birth of the tea plant at the expense of kurakkan is the main cause of the crisis ». Then follows the usual analysis of rural decline found in the nationalist discourse, which is integrated into the revolutionary logic :
1. That the nationalist-bourgeois (and the walauwa people) were actually lying when they pretended to take the side of the peasantry. It was only by armed struggle that a real independence could be obtained, the maoist way; the old left similarly failed because it was prisoner of the democratic game, western ideas and modes, and led a bourgeois corrupt life, cut from the authentic masses. 2. That the real revolutionary class was made up of landless peasants, and swabhasha-educated unemployed youth (including young monks)(12) 3. That Indian plantation workers, contrary to the classical leftist view, were not a proletariat but the agents of imperialism, part and parcel of the plantation system
What was to be done ? According to Wijeweera in his submissions to the CID : « We should change the entire economy. The basic aim is to do away with the plantation industry, the hill slopes should be reafforested, reservoirs built, rivers diverted to the dry zone ». It was commonly said by JVPers in the villages in 1971 that they would uproot rubber and tea and plant yams instead – this is what had been done since 1935 in the Village Expansion Schemes that became the hotbed of JVP activities notably in the Kägalla district. Finally, the JVP strategy was to be guevarist rather than maoist : the conquest of towns from countryside being difficult in Sri Lanka, the leadership envisioned an instant revolution rather than a long walk ; as we know, this strategy ended in failure.
A parallel, or possibly a connection between JVP and Khmer Rouge ideologies may be explored. In a paper read at an international workshop on cultural heritages held at Heidelberg in 2011 (« The myth of Angkor as an essential component of the Khmer Rouge utopia »), Locard shows that there was an ‘repeasantization’ component in the economic policy of the Khmer Rouge. Their utopia – back to the countryside and to self-sufficient food producing peasantry- was grounded on the myth of Angkor ‘the hydraulic city’, just as the JVP utopia was grounded on the image of Anuradhapura. Both kingdoms had grown rich and powerful because they controlled extensive irrigation systems that produced surpluses of rice. By building a nationwide system of irrigation canals, dams, and reservoirs, the Khmer Rouge leadership believed it would be possible to produce rice on a year-round basis (13).
Successive attempts by SLFP and UNP to solve the problem of Kandyan landlessness and unemployment within the framework of the peasantist/nationalist ideology constitute in my opinion a decisive factor contibuting to the violence of the ethnic crisis, and finally fuelling the war itself. The SLFP in 1972 made the choice of the land reforms which were supposed to radically transform the system from above. It entailed a real dispossession for the class of the low country political leaders (coconut estates) but not for the upper caste Kandyans (paddy and temple lands which they controlled were excluded). In part, it was an extension of the principle of Village Expansion Schemes, but only 10% of the land was actually redistributed ; for the rest, it was an attempt at collectivization, creating cooperative production, which resulted in poor management, actual expulsion or even killing of Tamil coolies or supervisors, and the final restitution of plantation management by the state to private firms. The multiplication of violent clashes between Sinhalese (generally people from bazaars rather than villagers) and Tamils on estates, starting in 1977 and renewed in 1983, signalled the failure of the take-over project.
Back into power in 1977 with J.R. Jayawardene, (from a Low Country wealthy planting family connected with the Senanayakes), Gamini Dissanayake (from a Kandyan wealthy Goyigama family of Kotmale) and the low caste rival leaders Cyril Matthew and Ranasinghe Premadasa, the UNP immediately undertook to expedite the ‘repeasantization’ of the country with the Accelerated Mahaveli Development Project, which was meant to relocate impovershed Kandyans (especially from Uva and Matale) close to their native land and in continuity with the Gal Oya project. Jayawadene himself found it necessary to reinvent agrarian rituals in the very district where his class had grabbed land. Even Premadasa, who as a typical working class urbanite could have despised the peasantist ideology, felt it necessary to launch the Gam Udawa project (specifically for low caste villages). But the ‘repeasantization’ project was slowed down by the war, and aggravated interethnic relations, especially in the Eastern province. At the same time, the successive governments, either SLFP or UNP, were very lax in checking encroachment by villagers on public land for the purpose of putting up houses and gardens, either in the wet or in the dry zone. Local civil servants were easily corrupted, and local strong men, with the right political connections, were always ready to help. It was estimated in the 1980s that one sixth of the house cum garden plots in the whole country were thus acquired.
While these developments were taking place in the countryside in the 1970s and 1980s, ‘peasant studies’ became extremely popular in academic circles, but these critical researches had little bearing on actual policies. In the 1960s appeared the great stream of peasant studies – linked with the maoist experience in China. Eric Wolf published Peasants in 1966, Peasant Wars some time later, the Journal of Peasant Studies was started in 1973 by Terence Byres of London University, Eric Stokes published ‘The return of the peasant to South Asian history’ in South Asia, 1976. In France, the publications of the agronomist globe-trotter René Dumont (who was later a founding member of the Green party) were best sellers, and he was invited to visit Sri Lanka by Chandrika Bandaranaike : his book Paysanneries aux abois (Peasantries at bay) published in 1972 devotes 100 pages to Sri Lanka.
Agrarian Research and Training Institute’s field studies were published in a series of monographs in the late 1970s, and some of these studies were collected in Morrison (1979) published under the same title as Sarkar and Tambiah. Shortly afterwards, four theses of political economy using a more or less marxist approach were defended and later published : Tilak Hettiarachchy (The Sinhala Peasant MA 1978), Asoka Bandarage (Colonialism in Sri Lanka Ph D Yale 1980) and Mick Moore (The State and Peasant Politics in Sri Lanka Ph D Sussex 1981). Several papers by the marxist political scientist Newton Gunasinghe (Ph D Sussex 1979, who died prematurately in 1988) were later published by the Social Scientists Association. Further additions to this body of literature were the contributions to a conference held in Anuradhapura in July 1984 published in 1992 by Brow and Weeramunda, Agrarian change in Sri Lanka. Other important publications included Charles Abeysekera, Capital and peasant production, Social Scientists Association, 1985 (especially the introduction by Newton Gunasinghe) ; and the report of the Third Land Commission headed by Prof. Madduma Bandara, in 1987.
Tilak Hettiarachchi’s historical booklet published in 1982 reproduced the nationalist discourse (as suggested by its title, The Sinhala peasant) with a marxist packaging, making a mechanical use of Dobb, Polanyi and Eric Wolf. The cover of the book showed the trinity ‘Wäwa, Caitya, Yaya’ with a crack. The author maintained that the pre-plantation peasant system based on paddy cultivation was balanced, self supporting, sustainable, socially indifferentiated and economically homogeneous and free from any clash of interests. He ignored the debates raised by the revisionist school. The facts were taken mainly from published writings on the coffee era.
Asoka Bandarage’s book on colonialism published in 1983 was more sophisticated. Colonialism in Sri Lanka, the Political Economy of the Kandyan Highlands adopted the general thesis of the disintegrating impact but took into account the revisionist theories ; Asoka Bandarage attempted to deconstruct peasant myths and to analyse class conflicts inside the village society (« the overdrawn image of the Sinhalese as a nation of rice cultivators and rice eaters, constituted an important element in the ideological control exercised by the overlords in keeping peasants tied to the paddy fields »). But at the same time she agreed with the idea that peasantry was homogeneous in Kandyan times, economically speaking, and that « caste differences within an otherwise homogeneous peasantry inhibited the emergence of a class consciousness and collective action among the cultivator class ».
Newton Gunasinghe’s papers and other publications by the group of social anthropologists and political scientists known as Social Scientists Association were much more critical, written in a neo-marxist perspective. Newton Gunasinghe attributed to the repeasantization strategy the technological stagnation, and considered that Village Expansion schemes were more housing projects than agricultural projects.
The theoretical question raised by Mick Moore (who was attached to the Agrarian Research and Training Institute and the Sussex School of Development Studies) was the absence of a peasant (smallholder) political interest group and of peasant movements in Sri Lanka, in which he saw the result of the ‘repeasantization’ strategy of the ruling classes. He considered that this strategy was a success : « Unlike almost all other developing countries Sri Lanka has experienced no major flight of people from the rural areas to the cities » He explained that the major reason for that was « the relative excellence of public provision for most of the population » : a cheap transport network, free education, free health, subsidized prices of foodstuff, land given out to the poor, extension of small scale family farming, social laws, low incidence of taxation. As a result, « the total number of agricultural holdings has increased faster than the rural population ; the center of gravity of the smallholder economy has shifted substantially to the dry zone ; rice production through this process has expanded faster than plantation production ». Even in the plantation sector, the development occurred in Sinhalese-owned smallholdings, especially in the South, and employment on estates was increasingly occupied by non-resident Sinhalese villagers. If we follow Mick Moore, the Senanayake and Bandaranaike policies have succeeded. Then 1971 appears as a minor revolt and not as a peasant class revolt in any case, and the ethnic crisis is something unconnected with general socio-economic problems. On the contrary, C.M. Madduma Bandara (President of Third Land Commission) in a report of 1987 maintained that Village expansion schemes had not ‘created’ a prosperous peasantry as anticipated by the planners of the 1930s : « On the contrary the majority of these settlements have become pockets of poverty and areas of social deprivation. Many of them have become centres of turmoil in the present crisis (JVP) ».

After 30 years of civil war, of militarization or massive outmigration of the youth, and of growing ‘rurbanization’, are the questions raised in the 1970s and 1980s still relevant ? I would suggest that the war signalled the failure of the ‘repeasantization’ projects : a large proportion of the unemployed rural young men found employment as soldiers in the war, while a large proportion of rural women went out as factory workers or as maids in the Middle East.
What happened was ‘de-peasantization’ rather than ‘re-peasantization’ : what remains are nostalgic symbols such as Rajapaksa’s kurakkan-colour shawl… Power in the countryside has been seized not by agrarian leaders, but by successful mudalalis (petty businessmen) and armed gangs. Village Buddhist values have been superseded by the discourse of urban activist monks. It looks as if what a century or more of colonization had spared has been disintegrated by three decades of turmoil.

Bibliography :
ABEYSEKERA Charles ed., Capital and Peasant Production. Studies in the continuity and discontinuity of Agrarian Structures in Sri Lanka. Colombo : Social Scientists Association, 1985
BANDARAGE Asoka, Colonialism in Sri Lanka, the Political Economy of the Kandyan Highlands. Berlin/New York : Mouton, 1983
BROW James & WEERAMUNDA Joe, eds., Agrarian Change in Sri Lanka. New Delhi : Sage, 1992
The Disintegrating Village. Report of a Socio-economic Survey conducted by the University of Ceylon [Sarkar & Tambiah]. Colombo : Ceylon University Press, 1957
DUMONT René, Paysanneries aux abois : Ceylan, Tunisie, Sénégal. Paris : Le Seuil, 1972
FARMER B.H., Pioneer Peasant Colonization in Ceylon. London : Oxford University Press, 1957
GUNASINGHE Newton, Changing Socio-Economic Relations in the Kandyan Countryside. Colombo : Social Scientists Association, 1990.
HETTIARACHCHY Tilak, The Sinhala Peasant in a Changing Society. Colombo : Lake House, 1982
LOCARD Henri, « The myth of Angkor as an essential component of the Khmer Rouge utopia » in Falzer Michael ed., Cultural Heritage and Civilizing Mission, Heidelberg, Springer, 2015, p. 201-222
MEYER Eric « ‘Enclave’ Plantations, ‘Hemmed-in’ Villages and Dualistic Representations in Colonial Ceylon » in Val. Daniel et al. Plantations, Peasants and Proletarians in Colonial Asia, London : Cass 1992 ; also published in Journal of Peasant Studies 19 (3/4)
MEYER Eric « « From Landgrabbing to Landhunger: High Land Appropriation in the Plantation Areas of Sri Lanka during the British Period. » Modern Asian Studies 26, 2, (1992) pp. 321-361.
MOORE Mick, The State and Peasant Politics in Sri Lanka. Cambridge, U.P., 1985
MOORE Mick, « The Ideological History of the Sri Lankan ‘Peasantry’ » in Brow & Weeramunda p. 325-356
MORRISON Barry et al . eds., The Disintegrating Village. Social Change in Rural Sri Lanka. Colombo : Lake House, 1979.
SAMARANAYAKE Gamini, Political Violence in Sri Lanka, 1971-1987. New Delhi : Gyan, 2008
SAMARAWEERA Vijaya, « Land, Labour, Capital and Sectional Interests in the National Politics of Sri Lanka » Modern Asian Studies 15 (1), 1981, 127 – 162
SNODGRASS Donald, Ceylon, an Export Economy in Transition. Homewood : Irwin, 1966.
SPENCER Jonathan « Representations of the rural, a view from Sabaragamuwa » in Brow & Weeramunda 1992, p. 357-387

Sources :
Report of the Kandyan Peasantry Commission, Ceylon Sessional Paper 18/1951
Land Commission Reports, Ceylon Sessional Papers, 1927-1929
Cambridge South Asian Archive : C.V. Brayne Papers
Sri Lanka National Archives (Colombo and Kandy), Record Groups 30 (Kägalla district), 69 (Land Commissionner), 108.28 (Kandyan Peasantry Commission), 220 (Land Settlement)
Colonial Office Archives (Public Record Office, Kew), series CO54.

Notes
(1) Henry Maine, Village Communities in east and west, 1871 ; John Budd Phear (former Chief Justice of Ceylon 1877-79), The Aryan village, 1880.
(2) Sri Lanka National Archives 30/2246
(3) S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, The spinning wheel and the paddy field, 1933.
(4) Sri Lanka National Archives : Commentaries, Memoranda, and Evidence before the Land Commission, 1927-1928 ; Confidential files 1926 ; Hugh Clifford, Some Reflections on the Ceylon Land Question, Colombo, 1927.
(5) His books published during those years : Village uplift in India (1927) and The remaking of village India (1929) made him famous in India
(6) C.V. Brayne papers, South Asia Archive, Cambridge (undated, probably 1928)
(7) The Disintegrating Village. Report of a Socio-economic Survey conducted by the University of Ceylon [Sarkar & Tambiah]. Colombo : Ceylon University Press, 1957
(8) B.H. Farmer, Pioneer Peasant Colonization in Ceylon. London : Oxford University Press, 1957
(9) Mick Moore, The State and Peasant Politics in Sri Lanka. Cambridge, U.P., 1985, p. 220
(10) Rohan Gunaratna, Sri Lanka, a Lost Revolution. Kandy, 1990, p. 93
(11) Gamini Samaranayake, Political Violence in Sri Lanka, 1971-1987. New Delhi, 2008 p. 254-267
(12) « The so-called left-wing leaders of our country have said that the peasantry is not revolutionary. These leaders will never understand the problems of Ceylon. Due to a failure to analyse the problems of the peasantry scientifically and accurately, there has been no attempt to establish a worker-peasant alliance nor any move to unit the entire oppressed class and to work towards a socialist revolution…It is only socialism that could permanently liberate the up-country landless peasant, the peasant in the wet zone whose crops are being constantly destroyed by the floods, the dry-zone peasant who is the victim of droughts, the agricultural labourers, chena (slash – and – burn) cultivators and sharecroppers. » (« The Peasantry is the Main force of the Ceylonese Revolution », Vimukthi, 4, September 1970.)
(13) The Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan obtained a doctorate in Economy in Paris in 1959 for a dissertation on Cambodia’s economy, which was later eagerly read by the group of Cambodian students (the text is available in English translation at Cornell U.P., 1979) ; he belonged to a proto-maoist group in which the French-reunionnais Jacques Vergès played a prominent role ; the Maison du Cambodge where they all stayed became for a few years the scene of constant incidents between warring factions, especially after 1968 and was eventually closed for 30 years in 1973 ; I met there a few Sri Lankan JVPers in the early 1970s.

Landgrabbing by coffee estates in the Kägalla district, by Eric Meyer

After « The 1934-1935 Malaria Epidemic in Sri Lanka » (http://slkdiaspo.hypotheses.org/1251) and « Gamperaliya in the Kägalla district » (http://slkdiaspo.hypotheses.org/1354), we publish here the third paper in a series on the socio-economic history of the Kägalla district.
Download the paper here:
Coffee estates Kegalle

LEWUKÉ DISAWA : un aristocrate kandyen du 18ème siècle, par Eric Meyer

Méconnus de nos jours, à peine cités dans les livres d’histoire, les Lewuké (le nom est souvent abrégé en Leuke) incarnent mieux que d’autres familles seigneuriales plus célèbres l’esprit de l’aristocratie du 18ème siècle kandyen, esprit de résistance et de négociation ; les Lewuké ont croisé toutes les figures importantes de leur époque ; leur histoire très particulière mérite qu’on s’y arrête.

Lewuké l’Ancien (vers 1680/90 -1751), qui porte en 1744 (selon le texte de la donation qui lui a été faite par le roi) le titre de Wijayasundara Rajakaruna Herat Mudiannehé, est issu d’une famille de petits seigneurs : couramment appelés Ralahami (Sires), ils sont traditionnellement membres de l’escorte du gouverneur (disawa, parfois orthographié dissave) des Quatre-Cantons, Hatarakorale, qui forme avec les Trois-Cantons, Tunkorale, l’actuel district de Kägalla. Son village d’origine, Lewuké, est situé en contrebas du haut-pays kandyen, région traversée par le grand chemin qui conduit de Colombo à Kandy. C’est là que se concentrent les forces vives du royaume chargées d’arrêter l’avance des envahisseurs européens. Le gouverneur des Quatre-Cantons, dont l’étendard (Ira Handa Kodiya) figure le soleil et la lune, symboles d’éternité, joue un rôle essentiel dans la politique kandyenne : il est nécessairement l’homme de confiance du roi, et sert d’intermédiaire ou de bouclier face aux Hollandais qui occupent les zones côtières depuis le milieu du 17ème siècle et cherchent à s’emparer des terres de l’intérieur où pousse la cannelle, qui fait leur fortune. Ce gouverneur appartient habituellement aux grandes familles aristocratiques du haut-pays (les Radala des Cinq-Pays, Kande Uda Pas Rata), et réside dans la capitale ; il est souvent en même temps le gouverneur de la province voisine des Trois Cantons. Ne visitant qu’épisodiquement sa province, il y est représenté en permanence par un secrétaire général (Disawa Mohottala) et par des secrétaires militaires adjoints (Atapattu et Kodituwakku Mohottala).

Au temps du grand roi Rajasinha II (1629-1697), le gouverneur des Quatre-Cantons est Tennekoon Disawa ; il apparaît dans le récit de l’Anglais Robert Knox qui a été en résidence forcée dans cette région. Le beau-frère de Tennekoon, Edanduwawe Rala, issu d’un village proche de Lewuké, est gouverneur d’une province lointaine (Tamankaduwa, la région de Polonnaruwa). Il a glorieusement combattu à la tête des armées royales ; mais il est impliqué dans la rébellion de 1664, et exécuté sur ordre du roi. Cette famille Edanduwawe est l’objet d’une série de récits populaires recueillis par H.C.P. Bell dans les années 1890. Son ancêtre, connu sous le nom de Edanduwawe Panikkiya, aurait été le chef d’une des deux écoles de lutte kandyenne (la lutte Angam, comparable au Kalarippayat keralais), et après sa mort en combat, c’est sa fille qui aurait repris la tradition. Après avoir été formée aux techniques de combat en Inde, elle aurait vaincu son adversaire devant le roi Rajasimha II, lequel en reconnaissance de ses hauts faits, l’aurait nommée gouverneur-e (disapathini) des Quatre-Cantons – la seule femme à avoir jamais exercé une telle fonction. Le fils de cette disapathini serait Edanduwawe Rala, aussi surnommé Panikka Disawa.

A sa mort, Edanduwawe Rala laisse un fils et une fille. Son fils, Edanduwawe Rala le second, devient disawa sous le successeur de Rajasinha, le roi Wimala Dharmasuriya (1687-1707), qui en fait l’un de ses conseillers les plus écoutés. Sous le règne de ce roi modeste, ceux qui s’étaient opposés à son père reviennent en faveur, et un premier mouvement de renaissance religieuse se produit avec son soutien : il invite des moines birmans de l’Arakan à restaurer la tradition monastique en 1697. Mais conformément à une tradition ancienne, son épouse principale est une princesse d’origine tamoule. Son fils Narendrasimha devient roi en 1707. C’est (selon les documents d’époque) un personnage débauché et superficiel, qui délaisse les donations royales aux monastères, au point que le dernier moine instruit décède en 1729 ; ce roi devient vite impopulaire, et une nouvelle rébellion impliquant les plus grandes familles du royaume se déclenche en 1709, visant à mettre sur le trône son demi-frère Pattiye Bandara, issu d’une mère kandyenne. Edanduwawe le second est impliqué dans ce complot, et il est exécuté comme l’avait été son père 45 ans plus tôt.

La fille d’Edanduwawe Rala l’Ancien, Kumarihami, a épousé Lewuké Rala, jeune homme qui a reçu une éducation poussée. Il a en effet été moine novice dans sa jeunesse, au temps du roi Wimala Dharmasuriya, apprenant à lire et à écrire le singhalais et le pâli sous la direction du moine Watabuluwe Thera. Il n’a pas été consacré ; mais il a gardé de sa formation le surnom de Vihare Ralahami (le sire du temple), et des liens étroits avec les milieux bouddhistes qui vont promouvoir la renaissance du bouddhisme monastique. Sa vaste culture est rare pour l’époque ; il est l’auteur de poésies en singhalais, et l’un des rares Kandyens à savoir le pâli. Sans être directement impliqué dans le complot de 1709 comme son beau-frère Edanduwawe, il est inquiété par le pouvoir qui le met en résidence surveillée dans un village situé près d’Alagalla, la montagne qui surmonte les cols d’accès au Haut Pays. C’est là qu’il rencontre le jeune novice Weliwita Saranamkara, âgé de 17 ans, élève de Suriyagoda Rajasundara, un moine qui a été formé par les Birmans, et que Narendrasimha a fait mettre à mort pour trahison en 1715. Saranamkara, qui sera à l’origine du grand mouvement de renaissance du bouddhisme, s’est réfugié après la mort de son maître dans une grotte de la montagne d’Alagalla. Il y vit comme un ermite, nourri par les villageois, mais coupé de tout contact avec le Sangha. C’est Lewuké qui va parfaire son éducation, et lui transmettre ce désir de restaurer le bouddhisme. Les études consacrées à ce mouvement de renaissance, focalisées sur le règne de Kirti Sri, ne donnent pas à cette genèse la place qui lui revient.

Une quinzaine d’années plus tard, Lewuké est revenu en faveur à la cour. En 1732, selon Schnee, l’officier chargé par le gouverneur hollandais de Colombo de l’ambassade annuelle à Kandy, il est disawa mohottala (secrétaire général) de la province des Quatre-Cantons : sa culture et les appuis qu’il a à la cour auprès de la maîtresse kandyenne de Narendrasimha et de son fils, Unambuwé Bandara, y sont pour quelque chose. Il devient le leader des Kandyens hostiles à l’entourage tamoul des reines, mais il risque évidemment de subir le sort de son beau frère. En effet, la succession de Narendrasimha s’annonce difficile : il n’a pas de fils de ses épouses Nayakkar (tamoules) de rang princier, et l’entourage de ces reines pousse à la nomination d’un membre de leur famille. C’est ce qui se produit à la mort de Narendrasimha (1739) auquel succède son beau-frère, et non son fils Unambuwé. Lewuké est néanmoins épargné de même que son protégé Unambuwé, alors qu’il a pris position en faveur de ce dernier contre les Nayakkar ; il est vrai que c’est son ami Saranamkara qui a été le précepteur du nouveau roi (Sri Wijaya Rajasimha, 1739-1747), et que ce dernier va encourager le bouddhisme pour faire reconnaître sa légitimité par les Kandyens : Lewuké a compris et peut-être inspiré la stratégie habile de Saranamkara. De son côté, le nouveau roi va entretenir les rivalités entre les Radala kandyens pour régner, en particulier pour limiter le pouvoir et les ambitions de la famille Ähälepola qui déteste Lewuké.

Lewuké est en conséquence élevé au rang de disawa des Quatre et des Trois-Cantons, une marque de faveur insigne, d’autant qu’il est très rare qu’un gouverneur soit nommé à la tête d’une province dont il est originaire, pour éviter qu’il devienne trop indépendant. Excellent administrateur, il veille à ce que l’autorité du roi soit respectée jusque dans les régions proches de Colombo (les cantons de Siyane et d’Hapitigam, qui ont été autrefois sous la juridiction du gouverneur des Quatre-Cantons). Il obtient du nouveau roi en 1744 une donation considérable en toute propriété transmissible (paraveni), alors que les gouverneurs sont généralement dotés de terres pour la seule durée de leur mandat, et cette donation qui fait état de sa fidélité au roi ‘depuis son enfance’, est inscrite sur une plaque de cuivre à bordure d’argent d’une gravure parfaite, où figurent les emblèmes du lion et du léopard d’un côté, du soleil et de la lune de l’autre, avec le signe Sri incrusté en or. Le texte de ce sannasa fait descendre Lewuké d’un brahmane indien de Dambadeniya qui aurait été le chef laïc (Basnayake nilame) du temple de Vishnu à Alutnuwara construit par le roi Bhuvaneka Bahu dans les Quatre-Cantons, et qui aurait épousé une femme de la famille du moine Widagama Terunnanse, favori du roi Parakramabahu VI de Kotte. Il mentionne que Lewuké « a contracté un mariage auspicieux en accord avec Nos instructions royales pour perpétuer la caste kshatriya dont la lignée est restée continue depuis que Nous avons établi Notre pouvoir à Siriwardanapura [Kandy] ». L’accent est mis sur le statut kshatriya (guerrier) de la famille du récipiendaire et notamment de son épouse, ce qui en fait pratiquement l’égal de la dynastie royale, et le texte laisse entendre que le mariage peut-être tardif de Lewuké a été arrangé par l’entourage du roi Sri Wijaya, peut-être par la mère d’Unambuwé. Le manoir (walauwa) qu’il fait construire dans son village d’origine et où il réside devient le cœur de la province.

Lewuké Disawa devient dès lors l’homme de confiance du roi pour tout ce qui concerne les rapports avec les ambassadeurs hollandais qui chaque année viennent à Kandy en traversant sa province, et toute la correspondance entre la cour et les Hollandais passe entre ses mains ; lui-même va visiter Colombo à de nombreuses reprises. Les mémoires des gouverneurs hollandais soulignent son intelligence et ses qualités de négociateur, et les sources singhalaises son attachement à son pays et à sa religion. Il va contribuer à organiser à la demande de Saranamkara, en 1741, 1745 et 1747, avec l’aide des Hollandais et les conseils de leurs collaborateurs cingalais de Colombo, des missions en Birmanie puis au Siam, pour faire venir des moines susceptibles de restaurer la tradition interrompue par la mort des derniers moines régulièrement ordonnés, et il pousse à l’expulsion des catholiques dont l’influence est devenue grandissante à Kandy. En outre, Lewuké a fait construire ou restaurer toute une série de temples de la région : dans le temple rupestre de Danagirigala, situé non loin de son domaine, un personnage porteur d’une offrande le représente. Enfin, il a fait remettre à jour par son secrétaire l’ancien registre (lekammitiya) énumérant les services militaires auxquels sont astreintes certaines familles de sa province – un outil administratif indispensable, qui inclut les services dûs dans les cantons disputés de Siyane et de Hewagam, près de Colombo. Ce document exceptionnellement détaillé, daté de décembre 1747, moins d’un an après la mort de son protecteur le roi Sri Vijaya, est parvenu jusqu’à nous, en plusieurs exemplaires, soit originaux, soit copiés à la fin du 19ème siècle à la demande d’un administrateur colonial. Il fournit un tableau complet de l’organisation de la province, qui a été exploité partiellement par le résident britannique à Kandy John D’Oyly au début du 19ème siècle.

Après la mort de Sri Wijaya, qui n’a pas de descendance et auquel succède son beau-frère (1747), l’arrogance de Narenappa, père du nouveau roi Kirti Sri, alors mineur, dresse contre lui l’aristocratie kandyenne qui est endettée auprès des prêteurs tamouls de l’entourage de ce personnage : un nouveau complot se prépare, auquel Lewuké participe. Cette fronde débouche sur la mise à l’écart de Narenappa, à la majorité de Kirti Sri. Lewuké décède en 1751, au retour d’un voyage à Colombo. Son successeur au gouvernorat de la province, Migastenne, est loin d’avoir les mêmes qualités de fermeté et de diplomatie. En outre, dès 1760, les complots aboutissent à une nouvelle tentative faite par cette fois par Saranamkara et par un noble apparenté à Lewuké, Samanakkodi, pour renverser le roi et le remplacer par un prince siamois. Enfin en 1765, la guerre reprend contre les Hollandais, qui ravagent le pays kandyen, et mettent à sac la capitale avant d’être repoussés en 1766.
Lorna Dewaraja, dans son histoire du royaume de Kandy, considère que c’est le patriotisme de Lewuké l’Ancien qui l’a amené à prendre position contre l’accession au trône de la dynastie Nayakkar, mais qu’en dépit de sa position unique il n’a jamais trahi les Nayakkar pour les Hollandais malgré les fortes pressions exercées en ce sens. Il n’a jamais non plus poussé à la guerre contre les Hollandais. Sa personnalité complexe domine l’histoire de la période 1740-1751 tant dans les sources singhalaises qu’hollandaises. Il est probablement de toute l’histoire kandyenne le seul chef qui ait fait une telle unanimité en sa faveur, et peut à ce titre être considéré comme un véritable homme d’Etat.

Le fils de Lewuké devient à son tour disawa en 1800, sous le règne du dernier roi de Kandy, Sri Wickrama Rajasinha, et s’illustre en combattant les Anglais qui ont remplacé les Hollandais, tout en cherchant comme son père à favoriser un accord diplomatique. Mais Sri Wickrama est un jeune roi susceptible qui voit des traîtres partout et est influencé par son premier ministre Pilimatalawe. Jaloux de la victoire de Lewuké le second à la bataille d’Hanwella (1803), alors que lui même a fui, le roi le fait exécuter sur le champ. Une ballade très populaire célèbre son courage: « Comme la lune qui fait resplendir sa gloire sur le royaume / Sa chevelure dorée flottant sur ses épaules / Encerclé par l’armée du seigneur de la Mort / Lewuké, seul, fait face au milieu du champ de bataille. »

Une des filles de Lewuké le second, Loku Kumarihami, a épousé le noble kandyen Molligoda, qui finit par livrer Kandy aux Anglais en 1815, leur remettant symboliquement l’étendard du soleil et de la lune, et continue de leur apporter son soutien lors de l’insurrection de 1817-1818, en gardant le contrôle de la province des Quatre Cantons dont il est le gouverneur. C’est lui qui hérite du domaine de Lewuké et du lekammitiya de la province, et qui communique la teneur de ce document à D’Oyly, qui a joué un rôle essentiel dans les intrigues de Molligoda et des autres chefs kandyens contre le roi. Après la mort de Lewuké Loku Kumarihami (il semble qu’elle n’ait pas eu d’enfants), c’est une de ses sœurs, mariée à Talgahagoda Loku Banda, qui hérite du domaine. Mais ce dernier le néglige, comme beaucoup d’aristocrates kandyens désargentés et dépouvus de relations avec les maîtres coloniaux. En 1888, lors de la visite de Price, l’administrateur colonial du district, le domaine, enregistré en 1870 au nom de Talgahagoda Loku Banda, était à l’abandon, et le manoir (walauwa) dilapidé, était passé après sa mort aux mains de son frère Ihalagahagoda Banda.

Mais l’histoire ne s’arrête pas là : les deux filles de Talgahagoda Loku Banda avaient épousé successivement un homme ambitieux, Abeyratne Banda Paranagama, fils d’un notaire et homme de loi, Paranagama Mudianse, et de Ratwatte Punchi Menike, issue d’une grande famille kandyenne. Abeyratne Banda, qui se faisait appeler A.B. Ratwatte du nom de sa mère, était devenu un personnage puissant à Kandy au début des années 1880, en combinant deux activités, l’une liée à l’économie capitaliste, comme shroff (fondé de pouvoir indigène) d’une grande banque britannique (Mercantile Bank of India) ; l’autre liée au système féodal kandyen réactivé par les colonisateurs à cette époque : par son mariage avec Talgahagoda Punchi Kumarihami (vers 1880), il avait pris le contrôle du vaste domaine de Lewuké décrit dans la donation royale, le sannasa du 18ème siècle, qu’il s’était sans doute approprié (le document est réputé disparu après 1870 mais il figure dans la liste des sannas récupérés par les Archives Nationales selon Dewaraja) ; puis il avait été désigné comme chef laïque (Basnayake Nilame) du temple de Vishnu à Kandy qui était propriétaire de nombreux villages de la région de l’ancienne province des Quatre et Trois-Cantons et figurait dans ce même sannasa. En l’espace de quelques années, à force de prêts à des aristocrates kandyens désargentés et de procès intentés à des débiteurs récalcitrants, A.B. Ratwatte avait pris le contrôle de l’ensemble foncier le plus vaste des régions kandyennes. Au cours des années 1894-95, durant le pic de la spéculation foncière dans le district de Kägalla, il s’était heurté aux tenanciers de ses domaines qui s’étaient soulevés contre ses exigences financières nouvelles, ses méthodes brutales, et sa propension à les traîner en justice. Les fonctionnaires coloniaux locaux avaient tenté en vain de prendre la défense de ces derniers, mais le gouvernment central avait choisi de privilégier ses relations avec ce puissant personnage. A.B. Ratwatte est dépeint dans ces documents comme un personnage d’une dureté impitoyable, sans scrupules, opprimant la paysannerie, et qui s’était attiré la haine de ses dépendants, au point que dix ans plus tard on rapportait la rumeur d’un projet d’assassinat contre lui sur le chemin de la walauwa de Lewuké, qu’il avait fait rebâtir et où il se rendait tous les samedis. En louant à des planteurs les terres dont il avait le contrôle, il s’était constitué une grande fortune qui allait lui permettre de propulser sa famille au premier rang de la société kandyenne, en mariant ses filles à des grands noms de l’aristocratie et en donnant à ses fils une éducation à l’anglaise.

Parmi la douzaine de descendants d’Abeyratne Banda, trois fils, éduqués dans la grande école anglophone de Kandy, Trinity College, ont eu une carrière de premier plan. L’aîné, James Cuda Ratwatte, est devenu maire de Kandy, et a reçu des Britanniques le titre d’adigar ; il est le premier Kandyen a avoir été anobli par la Couronne britannique. Le second, Barnes Ratwatte (1883-1957), a reçu le titre de disawa et a été à plusieurs reprises représentant du district de Kägalla dans les Assemblées législatives et parlements mis sur pied par les Britanniques. Le troisième, Harris Ratwatte (1900-1964), a lui aussi eu une carrière politique dans le district, et a récupéré à son profit le titre de disawa et surtout le nom de Lewuké qu’il a accolé à son nom de Ratwatte. A la génération suivante, les innombrables Ratwatte sont devenus un élément essentiel de la galaxie des grandes familles kandyennes (ce qu’on appelle aujourd’hui les ‘gens de walauwa’) : leur descendante la plus célèbre étant Sirimavo, fille de Barnes Ratwatte, qui a épousé Salomon Bandaranaike, le fils d’un plus grands propriétaires de plantations de la région de Colombo, et du plus élevé dans la hiérarchie des collaborateurs indigènes de Britanniques. Salomon Bandaranaike est devenu on le sait premier ministre de Sri Lanka en 1956, et après son assassinat sa veuve Sirimavo Ratwatte lui a succédé, la première femme premier ministre au monde ; Chandrika Bandaranaike, leur fille, devenue à son tour Présidente de Sri Lanka, de 1994 à 2005, serait donc une lointaine descendante de Lewuké et d’Edanduwawe disapathini…

A l’intérieur du seul vestige qui reste de Lewuké, la merveilleuse petite chapelle familiale sur pilotis (tampita viharaya) située sur une plate forme surmontant l’antique walauwa à présent remplacée par un bâtiment sans style, sont représentés deux personnages, de part et d’autre de la porte. L’un, aux cheveux longs, à la fine moustache, tient un stylet et une feuille d’ôle (feuille de palmier servant de papier) : je pense qu’il représente le jeune Lewuké, ‘Vihare Ralahami’, peut-être dans sa fonction de secrétaire du disawa , à moins qu’il ne s’agisse de son fils ; on retrouve une représentation assez comparable dans le temple rupestre voisin de Danagirigala, où Lewuké le père, qui l’a fait restaurer, porte une offrande. Le second personnage, barbu, vêtu comme un chef kandyen et porteur d’offrandes, est-il Lewuké plus âgé, dans sa tenue de disawa, ou encore, comme pourrait le laisser supposer la fin d’une inscription à demi effacée, Unambuwe, fils de Narendrasimha, écarté de la succession au profit de Sri Wijaya ? Sur un des murs extérieurs du viharaya est représentée une scène tirée, selon mon hypothèse, d’un des Jatakas, le conte du lièvre et du lion (Duddubha Jataka), qui célèbre la sagesse du lion (représenté comme un futur Bouddha), qui sauve les animaux paniqués par la rumeur de la chute d’un fruit (beli) en les rassurant par la recherche de la vérité : si cette peinture est contemporaine des précédentes, le choix par Lewuké de ce thème nulle part représenté ailleurs (et en tout cas absent de l’ouvrage de Marie Gatellier sur les fresques kandyennes) ajoute une touche au portrait moral du personnage. Ajoutons que sur les photos prises de la chapelle il y a quelques années par les chercheurs de l’Université de Kelaniya, deux belles sculptures en bois de lions dressés encadraient l’entrée ; elles avaient disparu lors de ma visite en février 2016 : ont-elles été la proie de pilleurs d’antiquités ?

Le tampita viharaya de Lewuké en 2016

Fresque représentant probablement Lewuké Dissawe (photos C. Martarelli et A.M. Sabot, 2016)

Documentation
L.S. Dewaraja, The Kandyan Kingdom of Sri Lanka, 1707-1782, Colombo, Lake House, 2e ed., 1988
Michael Roberts, Sinhala Consciousness in the Kandyan Period, 1590-1815, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa, 2003
John Clifford Holt, The Religious World of Kirti Sri, New York, Oxford University Press, 1996
Kitsiri Malalgoda, Buddhism in Sinhalese Society, 1750-1900, University of California Press, 1976
Marie Gatellier, Peintures murales du Sri Lanka, école kandyenne, Paris, 2 vols., EFEO, 1991.
John D’Oyly, A Sketch of the Constitution of the Kandyan Kingdom, Colombo, Tisara, 1975
Diaries Kägalla, années 1895, 1905, Sri Lanka National Archives, lot 30.
H.C.P. Bell, Report of the Kägalla District, Colombo, 1892 (Sessional Paper XIX of 1892)
Hatara Korale Maha Lekammitiya (inédit), sk. Unduvap 1669 = 1747. Original, Peradeniya University Library, ms. 277674 ; copies (1888) Colombo Museum Library ms. J13 et Royal Asiatic Society, London
Lewuké Sannasa, sk. Medin 1665 = 1744, in Sannas of the Central Province vol 1 n° 194, Sri Lanka National Archives, Land Settlement Department Records (voir : Lionel Lee, « Notes on a Sannas », Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1870, pp. 8-10)
Lewuké Tampita Viharaya, photos A.M. Sabot et C. Martarelli, 20.02.2016 ; voir aussi le site fondé par des chercheurs de l’Université de Kelaniya: http://www.samkathana.lk/index.php?option=com_allvideoshare&view=video&slg=lewke-tampita-viharaya&orderby=default&Itemid=139

Eric Meyer, le 13.03.2017

Table ronde sur Sri Lanka à Edimbourg

Une table ronde consacrée à la situation politique et sociale actuelle de Sri Lanka est organisée à Edimbourg le 26 et 27 mai 2016 par Jonathan Spencer, professeur d’anthropologie à l’Université.
Nous reproduisons ci-dessous le programme provisoire de ces journées d’étude:

Sri Lanka Roundtable (DRAFT PROGRAMME)
Edinburgh 26-27 May, 2016

Thursday 26 May, Techcube, Summerhall (t.b.c)
9.00-9.15 Introduction and welcome
9.15-11.00 Youth and war Isabelle Clark-Decès (Princeton), Youth in the cultural politics of contemporary Jaffna
Dhana Hughes (Durham), Sinhala Youth and Military Enlistment
Giacomo Mantovan (CEIAS/CRH, EHESS) “They were kings…” The farewell to arms of former Tamil Tiger fighters in exile in France
Giyani Venya De Silva (Oxford) Living with continuity, waiting for change: commentaries from students in Colombo
11.00-11.15 Coffee
11.15-12.45 Gender Asha Abeysekera (Colombo) Balancing Modernity and Morality in the Sinhala-Buddhist Family Exploring the Rhetoric of Sinhala-Buddhist Nationalism
Kristine Hoglund (Uppsalla) Gender and the Pursuit of Justice in Sri Lanka: Testimonies of Peace and Conflict
Jayanthi Lingam (SOAS) Gendered working lives in the post-war transition in Jaffna district, 2009-14
12.45-1.30 Lunch
1.30-3.00 Justice and Security Georg Frerks (Utrecht), Rajapakse’s Peace’: The President’s discourse on the post-war situation in Sri Lanka (2009-2015)
Ali Brown (Amsterdam), Human Security in the Era of Sirasena
Gerrit Kurtz (KCL), The evolution of post-war transitional justice in Sri Lanka
3.00-3.15 Tea
3.15-5.00 Transitional Justice and Constitutional Reform: State of Play and Future Prospects Harini Amarasuriya (Open University and Public Representations Committee on Constitutional reform), Alan Keenan (international Crisis Group), Asanga Welikala (CPA and University of Edinburgh), with Christine Bell (University of Edinburgh)
6.00-7.00
7.30 Dinner, Mother India, Infirmary Street

Friday 27 May, Seminar Rooms 1 and 2, Chrystal Macmillan Building
Please note, in the morning we will split the space to run parallel panels in the two rooms. In the afternoon, we will open up the two rooms for our final plenary sessions.

9.00-9.15 Introduction and welcome
9.15-10.45 Work and Livelihoods (Seminar Room 1) Urs Geiser (Zurich)The making of control over land in Wattamadu – local organisations, engaging the state, changing conjunctures
Charles Wilkinson and Maura van den Kommer
(Amsterdam) Living the Uncertainty: Exploring the Effects of the EU Ban on Sri Lankan Fisheries
Joeri Scholtens and Maarten Bavinck (Amsterdam) Facilitating change from the bottom-up? Reflections on civil society efforts to empower marginalized fishers in post-war Sri Lanka
Religion and transition (Seminar Room 2) Mahinda Deegalle (Bath Spa) The Vision and Leadership of the Architect of Yahapālanaya: Venerable Māduluwāwe Sobhita’s Exemplary Role in the Political Transition of Sri Lanka in 2015
Neena Mahadev (Max Planck) Notes on contemporary religio-economic linkages between Sri Lankan & Singapore
Dominic Esler (UCL) Northern Tamil society after the war: the revival of Catholic kūttu in Mannar
10.45-11.15 Coffee
11.15-12.45 Work and Politics (Seminar Room 1) Sandya Hewamanne (Essex) Neoliberalism’s New Recruits: Tamil Workers, Human Rights Thrashings and ‘Mundane’ Politics in Post-War Sri Lanka
Mythri Jegathesan (Santa Clara) Is a progressive politics possible? Examining the contemporary intersections of industrial sustainability and political shifts in Sri Lanka’s plantation sector
Darshi Thoradeniya (Heidelberg/Colombo) Women Citizens in Welfare State of Sri Lanka
Past and present (Seminar Room 2) Deborah Winslow (NSF) Contexts of Caste
Alessandra Radicati (LSE) Precarious Patriots: Reflections on Past, Present and Future in a Coastal Community
Carolina Holgersson Ivarsson (Gothenburg), Religious identity, nationalism and social media among Sinhala-Buddhist youth
12.45-1.30 Lunch
1.30-3.30 Borders and Margins Vagisha Gunasekara,
Prashanthi Rasadhari Jayasekara,
Gayathri Hiroshani, Hallinne Lokuge,
Aftab Lall (Centre for Poverty Analysis, Colombo), Production of Marginality: Findings from a six-year research programme on basic services, social protection and livelihoods in the North and East
Jonathan Goodhand (SOAS/Melbourne), Vagisha Gunasekera (CEPA), Alice Kern (Zurich) and Thiruni Kelegama (Zurich), with Rajesh Venugopal (LSE), discussant, Sri Lanka’s borderlands and frontiers
3.30-3.45 Tea
3.45-5.30 Writing War and After Sunila Galappatti will read from her new book, A Long Watch: War, Captivity and Return in Sri Lanka, and V.V. (Sugi) Ganeshananthanan will read from her work in progress, The Missing are Considered Dead.

Also in attendance (participating but not presenting): Ashwini Vasanthakumar
(York), Dennis McGilvray (Colorado), Anne Blackburn (Cornell), Rose Fernando (Utrecht), Niels Terpstra (Utrecht), Eric Meyer (INALGO, Paris), Oivind Fuglerud (Oslo), R.L. (Jock) Stirrat (Sussex), Kanchana Ruwanpura (Edinburgh), Anthony Good (Edinburgh), Jonathan Spencer (Edinburgh), Sidharthan Maunaguru (NUS), Tanya Ekanayaka (Edinburgh), Deborah Menezes (Edinburgh)

Disparition de Sobitha Thera, moine politique

Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera est décédé à Singapour des suites d’une intervention chirurgicale. Né en 1942, ce moine bouddhiste influent, supérieur du monastère de Kotte, s’était imposé sur la scène politique de Sri Lanka dans les années 1980-1990 en défendant avec virulence la cause nationaliste cingalaise contre le mouvement séparatiste tamoul. Après la défaite des LTTE en 2009, il avait pris ses distances vis à vis de la politique triomphaliste menée par le Président Mahinda Rajapaksa, puis avait mené campagne contre la corruption du régime, fédérant les mécontentements au point d’envisager de se présenter aux élections présidentielles. Il avait finalement soutenu la candidature de Maithripala Sirisena, contribuant à son succès, et avait infléchi ses positions dans le sens d’une ouverture aux revendications des minorités et d’un dialogue interreligieux constructif. Sa disparition prive le nouveau régime d’un important appui symbolique.

« The scourge of majoritarianism »

Dans un important discours prononcé à l’occasion de la commémoration du 25ème anniversaire de l’expulsion des Musulmans de la province Nord par les LTTE (Tigres de Libération du Tamil Eelam), le Ministre des Affaires Etrangères de Sri Lanka, Mangala Samaraweera, analyse les causes profondes des conflits intercommunautaires qui ont déchiré le pays, et pose les bases d’un processus endogène de réconciliation nationale.

 » I would like to thank the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress for organizing this commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Expulsion of Muslims from the North. At this historic juncture, when Sri Lanka is grappling with its past and creating a constitutional framework for true peace, this tragic episode in our history, and the anguish that persists to this day, needs to be remembered and addressed.

I would like to particularly thank Minister Rauff Hakeem for his vision and leadership in organizing this event – it is a privilege to be invited here to speak a few words. The SLMC has a long and chequered history of advocating on behalf their community’s rights. Both the late Mr. Ashraff and Minister Hakeem have boldly voiced the grievances and concerns of the Muslim community in Cabinet, in Parliament, in the press and in their travels abroad. The SLMC’s fact-finding and reporting efforts during the Aluthgama Pogrom and surrounding attacks were particularly bold.

The history and suffering of Sri Lanka’s Northern Muslims is a microcosm of our post-Independence history. In October 1990 the LTTE gave 75,000 Muslims under forty-eight hours to leave their ancestral homes across the North and take nothing more than their clothes and 500 rupees to live in IDP camps – where an estimated 80 percent remain 25 years later.

They had peacefully lived, farmed and traded with their Tamil brethren for centuries. In fact, some Muslims initially helped the LTTE and many more were sympathetic to their cause. The bonds between the communities were close. Therefore, the LTTE’s sudden order came as a surprise to many. It was a crime that shocked the conscience of the entire country.

The LTTE’s justification echoed the age-old line of majorities towards minorities: they, the majority, had been lenient, generous and considerate, while the minorities have been treacherous and ungrateful. In this case, the Tigers alleged that the Muslims’ specific crime was colluding with the state and the Indian Peacekeeping Forces.

But underlying the arguments about Muslims being a fifth column and a security threat to the LTTE was something more pernicious. It was a belief that the power of numerical majority was a justification for violating the rights of individuals and minority groups.

The North of Sri Lanka was as much home for its Muslim population as it was for its Tamil population. Both communities had as much claim as the other to live there and these claims were not contested. The two communities had lived together for centuries in peace.

But the LTTE believed that the Tamil population’s numerical majority gave it the right to expel the entire Muslim population. It was not just the LTTE, few Tamils criticized the LTTE while many justified their actions; even today Muslims returning to their homes face majoritarian resistance from Tamil bureaucrats.

The story is of course many-sided. Numerous Tamils weeped when their Muslim neighbors left, hiding valuables on their behalf and helping them in what little way they could. But as a whole, the majority community, failed to stand in solidarity and protect the rights of the minority community in their midst.

The expulsion occurred because the LTTE was unable to accept a society based on equality and freedom; they were unable to accept that North was multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. They were unable to celebrate diversity. They were even unable to have the basic decency to give the community they exiled a few extra days or weeks to leave and to take their heirlooms and title deeds with them.

The racism and majoritarianism undergirding the LTTE’s expulsion of Muslims from the North is not something isolated to the Tamil community. It prevails to this day among all communities in our society. Just as the LTTE was unable to accept a multi-ethnic North, extremists in the South are unable to celebrate our country’s diversity – much the less accept that Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and Malays are as much a part of Sri Lanka as the Sinhalese.

Especially since the end of the war, which should have ushered introspection, magnanimity and healing, majoritarianism in the South raised its ugly head. The government indulged in an orgy of triumphalism based on equating Sri Lanka’s identity with the Sinhala-Buddhist community, and relegated the minority communities to the place of unwanted guests.

They ignored the grievances of those in the North and the South and trampled on their rights. The Aluthgama Pogrom and the hundreds of smaller attacks surrounding it were a clear signal to minorities that they were not only second-class citizens but that the state had abdicated from discharging its basic responsibilities towards them, including safeguarding their person and property.

In fact, it is this scourge of majoritarianism that is at the very centre of our post-Independence failure to build a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka that is united and undivided both on the map and in its citizens’ hearts and minds. Each and every ethnic, religious, class and caste group discriminates and oppresses in areas where they form a majority whether it be in the North, South, East or West.

At this critical moment in Sri Lanka’s history the lessons of the expulsion have much to teach us. Since Independence we have failed to establish a society where all citizens feel equal and free and, as a result, instead of peace, conflict has prevailed.

The end of the war presented a historic opportunity for all our communities and leaders to demonstrate true leadership by breaking away from the past and beginning the task of building a truly united Sri Lanka. Just as Muslims and Tamils lived together as brothers and sisters in the North for centuries; prior to Independence in 1948, Sri Lanka had many centuries of ethnic amity and peace.

Of course, there were disturbances, like the 1915 riots, but they were isolated and rare. Even before the colonial era, Sri Lanka enjoyed a highly syncretic culture – there is evidence that Buddhism was widely practiced by the Tamils of Jaffna, Tamil was spoken by the kings of Kandy and there are some indications that the language of court was Tamil; Muslims generally speak both Sinhalese and Tamil and thus it could be argued that they are the most Sri Lankan of all the ethnic groups. They were also functionaries at the Dalada Maligawa and participated in the Kandy Esala Perahera. The religious and cultural practices of Sri Lanka’s many communities indicate a high degree of tolerance and borrowing.

We need to understand why that amity broke down, and why it broke down to the extent that war and violence followed.

The challenge for us today is to learn from our past failures, remedy mistakes and move forward. This is a rare opportunity we cannot miss. Speaking in Parliament last Friday I said, “Sri Lanka has yet another window of opportunity to come to terms with its past and move on. Extremists in the North and in the South have been defeated in the recent elections, two of the most liberal minded leaders since independence are leading the country and the two main parties, for the first time in history, have formed a national unity government. This is a moment we cannot afford to lose.”

But it will not be an easy or a pleasant process: we will have to look critically at our own faults and strive hard to hear the voices of others. It will require courage and commitment. But I am confident it can be done.

The TNA recently announced that it would be leading its own community in a process of introspection. The SLMC, welcoming this statement, indicated that it would do so as well. The National Government comprising of both the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party have committed themselves to guiding the entire country in this difficult process of dealing with the past.

As for the Government of Sri Lanka – as you are aware- we are now beginning to lay the foundations for peace and reconciliation through truth-seeking, accountability, reparations and non-recurrence. Already the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation, the Ministry of Resettlement and other government agencies are taking steps to assist in this process, and just yesterday I met with civil society, including representatives of the Muslim community, to discuss the consultations process necessary to design the mechanisms to implement this process.

Muslims will be an integral part of the truth, justice, reparations and non-recurrence process.

Muslims’ grievances and concerns will be a part of the consultations, design and operationalization of the domestic mechanisms; including the Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence, the Judicial Mechanism, the Office of Missing Persons and the Office of Reparations. Together with the Ministries and government agencies, these mechanisms, will provide much needed relief to the daily struggle of the thousands of Muslims who remain in IDP camps, are struggling to return to their homes or are dealing with the losses of loved ones.

These mechanisms will not only address the suffering and grievances of members of the Muslim community, they will also address the grievances and concerns of members of the Sinhala and Tamil communities and the concerns of other minority groups.

At this historic moment, let us not be afraid to engage in meaningful dialogue aimed at finding solutions to problems as opposed to pointing fingers, heaping blame and scoring political points at the expense of future generations. Let us design, define and create our future by our hopes and aspirations, and not be held back by the fears and prejudices of the past. Let us not be afraid to dream. « 
(source: srilankabrief.org/2015/10)

Le rapport de la Commission des Droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies

Le Conseil des Droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies réuni en session à Genève en septembre 2015 a adopté une résolution concernant la situation passée et présente de Sri Lanka sur la base du rapport détaillé fourni par le Haut Commissaire des Droits de l’Homme. Nos lecteurs peuvent prendre connaissance de ces deux textes dans leur version anglaise; une analyse détaillée en sera faite ultérieurement

OHCHR Report 2015
United Nations Resolution

La démocratie raffermie

Les résultats de l’élection législative du 17 août 2015 confirment ceux de l’élection présidentielle de janvier 2015. Les candidats de l’United National Party (UNP, élargi sous le nom d’United National Front for Good Governance, UNFGG, à des membres de la société civile, à des dissidents du Sri Lanka Freedom Party et à une fraction du Jathika Hela Urumaya) remportent la majorité des sièges dans 11 districts sur 22, les plus urbanisés, les plus jeunes et les plus mêlés ethniquement, obtenant au total 93 sièges; cette coalition regroupe l’essentiel des forces qui avaient soutenu la candidature à la Présidence de Maithripala Sirisena, et avaient gouverné le pays depuis janvier sous la direction du leader de l’UNP, Ranil Wickremasinghe, sans avoir la majorité au Parlement. L’United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA, dont la grande majorité des candidats appartiennent au Sri Lanka Freedom Party) conserve la majorité dans 8 districts cingalais du sud et du nord-ouest principalement ruraux, mais avec un score très inférieur à celui de 2010, et remporte 83 sièges; l’ancien président Mahinda Rajapaksa, battu en janvier, avait tenté de jouer sur la peur d’une résurgence du militantisme tamoul ; il comptait s’appuyer sur les candidats de ce parti qu’il avait sélectionnés en forçant la main de son successeur Maithripala Sirisena (théoriquement leader de ce même parti), afin de contraindre ce dernier à le nommer Premier Ministre au cas où l’UPFA l’aurait emporté. La Tamil National Alliance (TNA) remporte les élections dans les trois districts à majorité tamoule du nord et de l’est, avec 14 sièges. Le Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) n’obtient que 4 sièges, et les deux derniers sièges reviennent à un parti tamoul aligné sur l’UPFA (l’EPDP) et à un parti musulman, le Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC).

Le système électoral complexe combine l’élection à la proportionnelle dans le cadre de 22 districts électoraux de 196 députés sur des listes établies par chaque parti mais où les électeurs peuvent exprimer un vote préférentiel permettant d’établir un ordre de classement et donc d’éliminer ou de favoriser tel ou tel candidat de la liste. En outre, 29 députés sont désignés sur une liste nationale en proportion des voix obtenues à l’échelle nationale par chacun des partis dans l’ensemble du pays: l’UNFGG gagne 13 sièges nationaux, l’UPFA 12, le JVP et la TNA 2 chacun. Pour constituer un cabinet sûr d’une majorité stable au Parlement, Ranil Wickremasinghe pouvait obtenir l’appui ou la neutralité de la TNA et du SLMC, mais le projet qu’il avait élaboré avec le Président Sirisena de former un gouvernement d’union nationale impliquait d’y associer l’UPFA. Les semaines qui ont suivi les élections législatives ont donc été consacrées à des tractations compliquées entre les deux partis, qui ont abouti à l’isolement de la faction Rajapaksa au sein de l’UPFA, mais qui risquent de donner des gages à des politiciens opportunistes, contrairement à l’esprit du printemps sri lankais.

Ces élections confirment la maturité démocratique du corps électoral sri lankais. Le taux de participation moyen est de l’ordre de 75%, un peu inférieur à celui des présidentielles, mais bien supérieur à celui de beaucoup de démocraties occidentales: les seuls districts ayant un taux inférieur à 70% sont ceux de Jaffna (55%), d’où beaucoup d’électeurs potentiels ont émigré, et de Hambantota (64%), le district d’origine de Mahinda Rajapaksa, qui l’avait déserté pour se présenter à Kurunegala et laisser sa place à son fils, son frère et sa nièce… Ce sont les élections les plus pacifiques et les plus régulières dans ce pays depuis le début des années 1960. Après le cycle de violence amorcé dans les années 1970 avec les révoltes du JVP cingalais et leur répression en 1971 et 1989, après la montée en puissance des Tigres de l’Eelam Tamoul, la guerre de près de trente ans qui en est résulté, et leur écrasement sanglant par l’armée gouvernementale en 2009, et après la dérive démagogique et les atteintes aux droits de l’homme sous les deux présidences successives de Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-2015), la démocratie est à présent raffermie dans un pays dont la jeunesse a décidé de tourner la page et de dépasser les années d’épreuves et de mauvaise gouvernance qui avaient fait de Sri Lanka l’homme malade de l’Asie du Sud. Le printemps sri lankais a porté ses fruits. Il restera de lourdes tâches au gouvernement, celles de consolider la démocratisation des institutions et des pratiques politiques, et de mettre en place les outils d’une véritable réconciliation nationale entre la majorité cingalaise bouddhiste et les minorités linguistiques et religieuses. A cet égard, le ralliement de membres influents du clergé bouddhiste à des positions ouvertes est un signe encourageant. Il fait écho à l’appel de plusieurs organisations de Tamouls de la diaspora à rentrer au pays et à jouer le jeu démocratique. Jamais depuis un demi siècle les conditions n’ont été aussi favorables à une solution pacifique des problèmes du pays.

Eric MEYER

Note: On trouvera sur le site adaderana.lk les résultats complets accompagnés d’une infographie de bonne qualité.

Dheepan: le film et ses acteurs

Nous invitons nos lecteurs à lire ci-dessous l’article très bien documenté écrit par le journaliste d’origine tamoule D.B.S. Jeyaraj et publié sur son site (http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/41581) consacré à Dheepan, le film de Michel Audiard qui a obtenu la palme d’or au festival de Cannes, et à ses acteurs tamouls, en premier lieu Anthonythasan Jesuthasan (Shobasakthi)

Jacques Audiard’s Film “Dheepan” About Three Tamil Refugees in France Wins Golden Palm at Cannes

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Cannes is a city on the picturesque French Riviera-Mediterranean coast in South-Eastern France. It is classified as a French commune which is an administrative division roughly equivalent to a municipality.
The pride of Cannes in contemporary times has been the annual international film festival held in the city. Known as the Cannes Film Festival in English, it is regarded as the most prestigious film festival in the world. Competing at Cannes, let alone winning an award, is a feather in the cap for a filmmaker.

The 68th annual Cannes film festival was held this year from 13 to 24 May. The highest prize awarded for a film at Cannes is the ‘Palme d’Or’ (Golden Palm). The Golden Palm this year was won by renowned French Film Director Jacques Audiard for his film ‘Dheepan’.

The top honour at Cannes going to ‘Dheepan’ has aroused much interest in Sri Lanka as the film tells the tale of three Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. The travails and tribulations faced in France by the trio, notably the chief protagonist named Dheepan, forms the essence of the movie.
The three main roles are played by Tamil actors of Sri Lankan and Indian origin. Though much of the film is set in France, over 85% of the words spoken in the film are in the Tamil language in the form of conversations by the trio and other Tamil characters in their mother tongue.

The storyline
The main role in the movie is that of Dheepan whose name is the title of the film. The film narrative begins with the end of the war in Sri Lanka. Survivors flee or try to flee. One such person whose nom de guerre in the militant movement (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) was ‘Sivadhasan’ cremates his fallen comrades at Mullivaaikkaal and burns his military fatigues.
Subsequently as the story unfolds we learn that Sivadhasan is all alone, having lost his wife and child in the war. He dons civilian clothes and mingles with the displaced ordinary people seeking escape to a new life abroad.
At the refugee camp, he gets the passport under the name Dheepan and feels he has a better chance of gaining acceptance as a refugee in a foreign country if there is a family. A “fake” family is cobbled together hastily. A law student who lost her parents in the war becomes the Dheepan’s wife Yalini. An orphaned child is found to play the part of nine-year-old daughter Ilaiyaal. The “pretender” family, comprising father, mother and daughter, who are totally unrelated to each other in actuality, begin travel by sea to France.
In France they face an immigration inquiry with an implausible story about their past. The friendly Tamil interpreter “changes” their version into a believable one to convince the authorities. The Dheepan “family” is granted temporary visas and relocated to a large housing block in Le Pre-Saint-Gervais in the north eastern suburbs of Paris where a recently abandoned flat is given to them as their new home.
After peddling novelty items like flashing rabbit ears on the streets of Paris for economic survival, “husband” Dheepan gets a job as resident caretaker. “Wife” Yalini works as a home-health aide for an ailing senior citizen named Habib who is suffering from Dementia. “Daughter” Ilaiyaal is enrolled at a special needs school and begins learning French.
Internally there is rippling tension within this counterfeit family as it tries adjusting to existential reality. Being complete strangers, they find it increasingly difficult to pose as family and genuinely relate to each other. The orphaned child Ilaiyaal has problems at school as an immigrant kid. She misses the love of her dead parents and cannot find it in her “new” father and mother.
The woman Yalini does not like French life and yearns to join her cousin in England. She finds herself unable to cope with her new avatars of wife and mother. Dheepan who lost his real wife and child in the war is also finding it problematic to adapt to his “adopted” synthetic wife and daughter.
Externally there are the problems faced by an immigrant family in an alien often hostile environment. A gang of dope sellers invade the housing complex and takes over a block where Yalini goes to work. A former “Colonel” in the LTTE accosts Dheepan and exerts pressure. While Dheepan and Yalini are compelled to enact a parental role to Ilaiyaal, Dheepan begins to “thaw” in the case of Yalini. She however is somewhat fascinated by the bigwig of the drug gang Brahim. This in turn arouses quiet resentment in Dheepan, who now is beginning to feel he must protect his “family”.
Dheepan draws a white line around his residence and declares a “no fire zone” in that area. Mounting tension however explodes with gang strife erupting. Dheepan is forced to resort to violence to protect his family and himself. He fights the gang by returning to his past and using the combat techniques he learnt as a “guerrilla”.
After engaging in “screen vigilantism” of the Charles Bronson variety, Dheepan along with Yalini and Ilaiyaal leaves France for Britain. In a departure from earlier times when none had genuine feelings for each other, the trio has now drawn closer and share a new intimacy among themselves. The film which began with tragedy and sorrow ends on a note of blossoming love and hopeful optimism.
Antonythasan Jesuthasan
The chief role of Dheepan is played by Antonythasan Jesuthasan, a 47-year-old Sri Lankan Tamil who now lives in Paris. In what is perhaps an interesting example of life imitating art, Antonythasan himself – like Dheepan – is a former Tamil militant turned refugee in France. He told the press at Cannes that the story of Dheepan resembled about 50% of his real life.
Unlike Dheepan in the film, Anthonythasan in real life is currently a reputed writer in Tamil. He writes under the nom de plume “Shobasakthi”. He denounces war and violence and is severely critical of the Sri Lankan State as well as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Anthonythasan Jesuthasan known famously now as Shobasakthi hails from the northern island of Allapiddy. Born in 1967, he joined the LTTE as a “helper” after the 1983 July anti-Tamil pogrom. He was a 16-year-old schoolboy at the time. He became a full-timer in 1984 and received local training. He was called “Thasan” and “Buckle” in the LTTE. Anthonythasan was more inclined towards the arts and the LTTE utilised his talents accordingly. He acted in the popular street drama produced by the LTTE in 1985 called ‘Yuddhakkaali’ or ‘War Kali’.
Anthonythasan became increasingly disillusioned with war and the LTTE and quit the tigers in December 1986. After undergoing the customary punishment meted out by the LTTE for leaving the movement, he moved to Colombo when the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed in July 1987. War however soon broke out between the LTTE and the Indian Army. Anthonythasan was arrested as a “Tiger” in Colombo and detained. He was released after the LTTE began talks with former President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
He then fled Sri Lanka to Thailand and was registered as a refugee in Bangkok by the UNHCR. After repeated attempts to reach Canada or Britain, he ended up in France as a refugee claimant. He did a number of jobs in France ranging from dishwasher to street peddler in Paris. Anthonythasan also began writing in Tamil using the pseudonym Shobasakthi. He has written several short stories and novels drawing heavily on his personal experiences of growing up in Allaipiddy, as a LTTE cadre and as a refugee in France. Shobasakthi dubs his work as ‘Autofiction’.
Much of Shobasakthi’s writings display an impish sense of dark humour. His creative writing as well as other essays and interviews have been strongly critical of the LTTE and the Sri Lankan State. This has stirred up huge controversies in the Tamil literary realm. Two of his novels –’Gorilla’ and ‘Traitor’ – have been translated into English by the US-based Indian academic Prof. Anushiya Ramaswamy. Shobasakthi has also acted in and co-written the script of the Tamil film ‘Senkadal’ (Crimson Sea) directed by Leena Manimekalai.

Kalieaswari Sreenivasan
The character Yalini is a Sri Lankan woman but in the film it is played by a Tamil actress from India, Kalieaswari Sreenivasan. She is essentially a drama artiste and ‘Dheepan’ is her debut in a feature film.
Kalieaswari is the daughter of a retired military officer. Though her native place is Sathurangapattinam near Kanchipuram, Kalieaswari grew up in the Tamil Nadu capital of Chennai schooling at a convent. She acts in offbeat dramas and street theatre and also teaches drama in schools. Kalieaswari, who has acted in two short films including ‘Kuttram Kadidhal,’ got married a few weeks ago to actor P. Vinod who played the villain ‘Maari’ in the much acclaimed film ‘Madras’.

Claudine Vinasithamby
The role of the nine-year-old daughter Ilaiyaal is played by 10-year-old Claudine Vinasithamby who is a student in Paris. Her parents are both Sri Lankan Tamils. Her father is a Hindu from Kaithaddy in the Thenmaratchy sector of Jaffna. Her mother is a Catholic from Karaveddy in the Vadamaratchy sector of Jaffna. Interestingly enough, young Claudine’s pet name at home is Ilaiyaal, her screen name in ‘Dheepan’. Ilaiyaal means young woman or girl.
Selecting the cast
How these three were chosen by Director Jacques Audiard to act in the film is by itself an interesting account.
Jacques Audiard along with his Casting Directors Philippe Elkoubi and Mohamed Belhamar first began auditions for actors within the Sri Lankan diaspora in France. Later they conducted auditions in London and the Indian cities of Chennai and Bengalooru. Over 2,000 potential actors were auditioned before this trio was selected. The ‘Kollywood’ grapevine has it that even prominent Tamil Nadu actors like Dhanush, Vijay Sethupathy and Pasupathy were considered before it was decided that comparative newcomers should be picked.

The name of Anthonythasan Jesuthasan alias Shobasakthi for the role of Dheepan was suggested to Casting Director Philippe Elkoubi by dramatist and theatre personality Kumaran Valluvan from Puducheri (Pondycherry) in India. Valluvan was a friend of both Philippe and Shobasakthi. The Directors then returned to Paris and interviewed Anthonythasan who was found to be most suitable. Later Audiard was to say in an interview that he was sure that he had found the right guy for Dheepan as soon as he saw Anthonythasan walking and talking. He also described his discovery of Anthonythasan as being with “the help of God”.
Anthonythasan as Dheepan fits his screen role perfectly and gives off a very powerful performance. Speaking to the media at Cannes, Anthonythasan revealed that he was already familiar with the films of Jacques Audiard before taking the part of Dheepan. He further said “When it came to the acting, it was difficult but it was a joy.”
Kalieaswari Sreenivasan who plays Yalini was picked after an audition in Chennai. It was the same Drama Director Kumaran Valluvan who had recommended Shobasakthi for the Dheepan role who had suggested that Kalieaswari should try out for the role. Another artiste Seema had also told her of the audition. Though not a Sri Lankan woman, Kalieaswary was selected. Claudine Vinasithamby was selected as Ilaiyaal after an audition in Paris.

After being selected, the actors had to undergo “preparatory” training for a month in Paris. Kalieaswari had to “learn” the distinctive pronunciation of Sri Lankan Tamils. Anthonythasan was most helpful in this regard. She acquired the correct Sri Lankan Tamil accent and diction and acts her part convincingly as an “authentic” Sri Lankan Tamil woman. Young Claudine who grew up in France also acts her part as Ilaiyaal well. Her pronunciation of Tamil also sounds natural like a child who grew up in the Sri Lankan north as opposed to a kid growing up in Paris with an “Europeanised” Tamil accent.
Though Anthonythasan alias Shobasakthi had nothing to do with the film’s screenplay, he did help translate the dialogues originally written in French into Tamil for the film. It is noteworthy that when Anthonythasan was selected initially, the Director was not aware of his LTTE past or literary abilities. He was picked only as an actor. It was later that a delighted Director discovered his background.
Subsequently when the film was being made Anthonythasan’s personal history and writing skills came in handy for director Jacques Audiard who utilised him “unofficially” as a resource person. The conversations in the film are in Tamil, French and English with Tamil amounting to about 80% to 90% of the words spoken. The original script was a joint effort co-written by the Director Jacques Audiard along with his “regular” Thomas Bidegain and Noe Debre.
Apart from the major roles of Dheepan, Yalini and Ilaiyaal, there are several minor “Tamil” roles too in the film. One such role is that of the “Ex-Tiger Col” who exerts pressure on Dheepan in Paris. This part is played by Vasanth, a theatre artiste from Tamil Nadu. Then there is the role of the Tamil interpreter who helps the trio gain acceptance in France by “altering” their story into a convincing version acceptable to the authorities. This role is played by Eelanathan, a Sri Lankan Tamil living in France. Likewise, several other “bit” roles are also acted by Sri Lankan Tamil residents of France such as “Oasai” Mano, “Manmadhan” Bhaaski, “Uncle” Sree, “Police” Arunagiri, Satha, Pranavan, Kesavan, “Velanai” Prabha and Sudhaa. All of them act as Tamil refugees living in France.
A few other Sri Lankan Tamils from France have been involved in the film production too. Vipin who is knowledgeable in Information Technology worked as a technician in the film’s post-production. Praveena, a Tamil girl in Paris, worked as a casting assistant. Another Parisian Tamil woman, Oavia Ilankovan, worked in the Editing section. Oavia incidentally is the niece of Colombo University Law Faculty Dean Prof. V.T. Thamilmaran.
Among the non-Tamil roles, the performances of two actors are somewhat remarkable. One is that of Brahim played by French actor Vincent Rottiers. The 29-year-old Rottiers has acted in more than 30 films in a film career that commenced in 2002. Rottiers plays the head of the violent gang for whom Yalini played by Kalieaswari has a quiet infatuation. The other role is that of Youssef played by 31-year-old Marc Zinga. Youssef is the community liaison officer who guides the Sri Lankan Tamil newcomers in Paris and finds them housing. Zinga is a Belgian actor of Congolese decent.
Apart from the actor newcomers, there are two notable “freshers” to feature films in the music and camera spheres. American-Chilean musician Nicolas Jaar has composed the background music and sound tracks for ‘Dheepan’. The cinematographer is Eponine Momenceau. She has had no feature film experience prior to ‘Dheepan,’ having done only short films and documentaries.
Editing for ‘Dheepan’ is by an Audiard “old faithful” Juliette Welfling, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2007. She has won four Cesar awards editing Audiard’s films. ‘Dheepan’ is scheduled for international release on 26 August this year. The film is produced by Pascal Caucheteux for Why Not Productions in France.
Shooting locations
The shooting for ‘Dheepan’ began in 2014 and continued this year. Originally it was intended to shoot some scenes in Sri Lanka. After a visit to Sri Lanka last year, the filmmakers decided that given the political climate prevailing then, it would have been risky to shoot in the island. So the film crew began shooting at Rameshwaram in southern Tamil Nadu where the biggest camp for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees is located at Mandapam.
Many Tamil movies dealing with the Sri Lankan Tamil issue like ‘Senkadal,’ ‘Kannathil Muthamittaal,’ ‘Kaatrukkena Vaeli,’ ‘Rameswaram,’ etc., have been filmed in Mandapam – Rameshwaram. In the case of ‘Dheepan,’ a partnership was struck with Wide Angle Creations in Chennai.
The company is run by Suresh Balaji and George Pius. Suresh incidentally is the son of actor turned producer K. Balaji and a cousin of Malayalam superstar Mohanlal. Suresh’s father Balaji shot much of his film ‘Thee’ in Sri Lanka in 1980. The film with Rajnikanth had Sri Lankan beauty queen Tamara Subramaniam pairing with the Tamil super star actor.
Wide Angles erected a huge refugee camp set in Mandapam and arranged for numerous extras to act as refugees. Most of these extras were Sri Lankan Tamil refugees themselves. Mullivaaikkaal was also re-created in Rameshwaram. The company also provided technical crew for the film. The shooting was done for about seven to eight days in December 2014 and January 2015 in India.
Some scenes were shot in the highlands of Udhagamandalam known as Ooty. The well-known hill station Ooty like Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka with its colonial heritage is a ‘Little England’ in many ways. The producers of ‘Dheepan’ used Ooty with its quaint old English type residences to depict Britain itself.
The bulk of the filming for ‘Dheepan’ was done in Paris and suburban Paris. Shooting in France was held in stages for 60 days. In addition there was shooting in India for about 10 days and in the UK for about three days. Post-production work after shooting was completed had to be hurried so that the film could be entered for the Cannes Film Festival. Discerning film reviewers observed a certain roughness instead of the usual polish in an Audiard film due to this post-production hurry. The Golden Palm however has made that frenzied hurry extremely worthwhile.
The Cannes Jury
The Jury that determined the winner at Cannes was chaired by American filmmaker brothers Ethal and Joel Coen. Apart from the Coen brothers, the other members of the Jury were Spanish actress Rossy de Palma, French actress and Sophie Marceau, English actress Sienna Miller, musician from Mali Rokia Traore, Mexican Film Director Gullermo del Toro, Canadian actor and Director Xavier Dolan and US actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
Speaking to the press about the award going to ‘Dheepan,’ Ethal Coen, the co-chair of the Cannes Jury, said: “The decision to give the Palme d’Or to ‘Dheepan’ did not take long, because we thought the film was magnificent, although obviously other movies really appealed to the Jury members. There were not enough prizes for us to be able to acknowledge all of the films that we would have liked to single out. The rules prevented us from doing that.” His brother and co-chair Joel Coen told reporters after the awards ceremony, alongside fellow jurors like Guillermo del Toro and Jake Gyllenhaal: “This is a jury of artists who are looking at the work.”
Juror Gulliermo del Toro brushed off suggestions of a political agenda in the selection of ‘Dheepan’ for the top prize, saying: “The issue of immigration per se was not something we discussed.” But Spanish actor and fellow juror Rossy de Palma did draw parallels between the film and “the people in the streets you see and wonder where they come from. People living in very difficult and precarious circumstances.” “‘Dheepan’ is real cinema and we feel deeply concerned by what’s happening in the Mediterranean,” Rossy said.
Media reports said that Jacques Audiard sprang to the podium at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes and accepted the award with warm gratitude, bowing to the Jury. He was joined by the makeshift parents of his film – Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Anthonythasan Jesuthasan. “To receive a prize from the Coen brothers is exceptional,” said Audiard, who added that only receiving one from the Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, the Belgian filmmaking siblings, could equal it.
Jacques Audiard
Jacques Audiard, who describes himself as a “cynical romantic,” is a well-known name in France. He is regarded as a “cool icon of French cinema” along with the likes of Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Luc Godard, Luc Besson and Mathieu Kassovitz. The 63-year-old Film Director and Screenwriter is the son of Michel Audiard, who was also a famous French Film Director and Writer.

Jacques Audiard, who was born in Paris in 1952, began his career by training as a Film Editor. He then became a Film Script Writer at the age of 22. His first film as a Writer was ‘Bons baisers…..a lundi’ (Kisses Till Monday) released in 1974. After writing screenplay and scripts for many films, Audiard turned to directing two decades later.
Audiard’s first film as Director was ‘Regarde les homes tomber’ (See How They Fall) in 1994. It won a Cesar Award in France for Best First Film for a Director. The Cesar Awards are the highest national awards for films in France and regarded as the French equivalent of the Oscars in USA. Two years later in 1996 Audiard co-wrote and directed ‘Un heros tres discret’ (A Self-Made Hero). Audiard won the award for Best Screenplay with Alain Le Henry at Cannes that year. He was also nominated for Best Director Award at Cannes for the same film but failed to win.
The third feature film by Jacques Audiard was ‘Sur mes Levres’ (Read My Lips) made in 2001. The film won a Cesar Award in Writing for Audiard and co-writer Torino Benacquista. Audiard also got an award for directing when the film was screened at the Newport Film Festival in the USA. His next film ‘De battre mon Coeur s’est arête’ (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) made in 2005 won two Cesar awards for Audiard in addition to several others for other artistes in the film. Audiard got the Cesar Award for Directing and another for Best Adapted Screenplay which he shared with Torino Benaquista. The film also won a BAFTA award in Britain for the best film not in the English language.
‘Un prophete’ (A Prophet) was released in 2009. It was regarded as the best film made by Audiard until ‘Dheepan’. Jacques co-wrote the script with Thomas Bidegain, Abdel Raouf Dafri and Nicolas Peufaillit. The film was nominated for a record 13 Cesar awards in 2010 and won nine including Best Film and Best Director. ‘A Prophet’ also won a ‘Grand Prix’ at the Cannes Festival. The Grand Prix Jury award is regarded as one for the runner-up in the best feature film category. The film was also nominated as one of the five best foreign language films at the Oscar Academy awards. ‘A Prophet’ also won the British Film Academy’s BAFTA Award for Best Film not in the English Language.
Jacques Audiard made ‘De rouille et d’os’ (Rust and Bone) in 2012. The film was nominated in various categories for many awards both nationally and internationally. It won many awards including one Cesar Award for Audiard and Bidegain for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film and Director were nominated for Cannes but Audiard did not win any. The star of the film was actress Marion Cotillard who acted as a woman trainer of killer whales. Her amazing performance in the film resulted in her being showered with accolades and awards.
Three years after ‘Rust and Bone,’ Audiard made his seventh feature film, ‘Dheepan,’ which has won for the French Director his first ‘Palme d’Or’ at Cannes.
The perspective of the other
In that context of winning the Golden Palm, the “golden” question asked by many is: “What motivated Jacques Audiard to make this film ‘Dheepan’ about the travails of three Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in France?”
The best answer to that was given by the Director himself at the press conference in Cannes. When the question was posed to him, Audiard replied: “Through this film, what I’m interested in is the other, the perspective of the other, of those people who sell us roses on the terraces and who we know nothing about. It’s a little fanciful, but that’s how it is.”
Speaking to reporters at Cannes, Audiard stated that ‘Dheepan’ named after its chief protagonist played by Jesuthasan Anthonythasan was “a French film where people speak Tamil”. Audiard further said: “That script was a vigilante story, and though there was a great film in it, it was not the film I wanted to do… That’s when the idea emerged that the film was a love story, that this man would do anything for his family out of love.”

Making the characters refugees from Sri Lanka was also something that emerged gradually. “These people are running away from a tragedy and I didn’t want it to have anything to do with post-colonial France. Sri Lanka seemed like the end of the earth for me; before embarking on this project I couldn’t have located it on a map.” Audiard said: “I have more empathy and compassion for those people because the longest journey you can take to change your life is from those margins. As much as I love French actors, if this story had centred on them, I would not have wanted to do it.”
Making his lead actors Tamil speakers had many difficulties but Audiard said working with non-French-speaking actors was not especially hard. “Each actor always speaks a foreign language. As a Director you have to learn the language of each one.”
According to media reports, Audiard has said that infusing the plot of ‘Dheepan’ with ideas on subjects like immigration, refugees and family was second nature. “It’s not a goal, like I wake up with it every morning as something to do. It’s probably just part of my mind. “What did attract Audiard to ‘Dheepan’ was the dramatic arc of its characters, “the history of love constructed in front of our eyes. In the beginning it is a lie, a fiction, but we go from a lie they pretend to something that becomes real.”
Jacques Audiard further elaborated on the genesis of ‘Dheepan’ in an interview given in French to Fabien Lemercier for a European journal. Originally he and his co-writers had thought of doing a remake of Sam Peckinpa’s ‘Straw Dogs’ starring Dustin Hoffman. Its French version was named ‘Chiens de Paille’. As the script evolved, it shifted from vigilantism to love. A concept from Montesquieu’s ‘Persian Letters’ also influenced the screenplay. The concept was ‘What is a Persian?’
Jacques Audiard sums up his film ‘Dheepan’ thus in the interview: “Making a French film, in France, in which the characters speak in Tamil, was a project that seemed insane at the outset. I just took foreign actors and pushed things as far as I could. I didn’t want to make a documentary on the civil war in Sri Lanka, or a documentary on a community, but to view these events and situations as a form of wallpaper that is part of the set without you actually having to describe it. In fact, I can’t really describe them.”

Le climat politique début mai 2015 vu par Jayadeva Uyangoda

Dans un article paru dans The Island du 12 mai 2015, que nous reproduisons ci-dessous, Jayadeva Uyangoda, le meilleur politologue sri lankais, analyse le climat politique du pays à l’issue des quatre premiers mois de la présidence de Maithripala Sirisena.

 » Nirmal, Maithri and Mahinda –The three who made the past week

By Jayadeva Uyangoda

Three events dominated Sri Lanka’s most recent political developments and debates. The May Day mob attack on Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri and Dr. Kumudu Kusum Kumara is the first. The intensification of the campaign to bring former President Mahinda Rajapaksa back is the second. The meeting between the present and former presidents is the third.

These three events encapsulate and signify some key dimensions of the dynamics of Sri Lanka’s current political turmoil. This essay seeks to comment on some of them.

Mob Attack

I have heard three responses to the mob attack on Nirmal and Kumudu at the May Day rally organized by those who are leading the campaign to bring former President Mahinda Rajapakse back as either the President or Prime Minister. The first is by a minority who blame Nirmal and Kumudu who went to the Dinesh, Vasu and Wimal meeting deliberately to create trouble in a provocative manner. Their argument is that this was a politically motivated, and therefore pre-meditated, attempt to discredit the campaign to bring Mahinda back. According to the logic of this argument, Nirmal actually got what he was seeking – beating and publicity. By getting beaten up, Nirmal is also said to have achieved his political objective, namely discrediting the Dinesh – Vasu -Wimal campaign to bring Mahinda Rajapaksa back to power.

One does not have to be surprised by this response. It blames the victims while rationalizing the actions of the perpetrators.

The second response admits that the attack on Nirmal and Kumudu was bad, but blames the victims because they exposed themselves to hostile mob action by going to the meeting. There are two different constituencies who share this viewpoint. The first represents the so-called Left of the ‘bring Mahinda back’ campaign. The second constituency includes, quite paradoxically, even some of the fervent supporters of Nirmal and Kumudu. This second constituency is totally horrified by the fascist-type reaction to the presence of Nirmal and Kumudua near the Dinesh – Vasu – Wimal meeting, but is unable to make sense of why, for god’s sake, these two went there at all.

Democratic Political Culture

The third response, which I share with both Nirmal and Kumudu, is the following: May Day demonstrations and rallies are part of a long tradition of democratic and Left politics in Sri Lanka. Political activists and academics watching them, irrespective of their own political sympathies, are also integral to that political tradition. Observing party political rallies during election campaigns, irrespective of one’s political affiliations, is also embedded in that democratic legacy. In my own experience, until recently I too have practiced this political habit with no hostile consequences, although I am also a well-known critic of certain political parties.It is my old age that prevented me from indulging in this incorrigible habit this May Day, and perhaps saved me from a good beating!

The attack on Nirmal and Kumudu and its open and veiled rationalizations tell us that there is something really nasty about our contemporary political culture.It is about the presence of a deep and hostile polarization in the structures of our society’s political consciousness that treats adversary as an enemy, critic a traitor, and dissent treason. I have experienced this even within our university system in which the authorities until recently – that is, till the second week of January this year — considered dissent as the cousin of terrorism.

This incident also tells us that the 19th Amendment is not enough for democratization in Sri Lanka. Constitutional and legal reforms can only lay the institutional foundations for change. We need a democratic revolution in the political consciousness of our society leading to a substantive transformation in our political culture, values, practices, and forms of political life. However, a sort of counter-revolution, that has the potential of reversing all the gains for democracy, is also in the making at present. Sri Lanka’s politics in the coming months is certain to be conditioned by the intensification of the struggle between two opposing forces – (a) continuing democratization within a limited framework, and (b) return to authoritarianism on an expansive template.

BMBC

The ‘Bring Mahinda Back’ campaign (hereafter BMBC) seems to be gathering momentum. Visual media reports of the rally held in Kurunegala last Friday show that the organizers have managed to mobilize a big and enthusiastic crowd, eagerly anticipating the second coming of their deposed leader.

What does the BMBC say about current politics in Sri Lanka? It in fact shows us the interplay of a number of interesting trends that characterize the trajectories of our politics today and tomorrow. Perhaps the most important facet it shows is the widening of the space for democratic politics since the regime change in January. The intensity of the open contestation between the government and the newly emerged opposition formation is something that may not have been allowed, and even tolerated, a few months ago. It enjoys so much coverage in the media, generating immense public political interest and debates. Even the government is put on the defensive, which is not a bad thing, from the point of view of democracy. The UPFA MPs seem to be exercising and enjoying their newly gained freedom of speech to the utmost. For the first time in recent history, perhaps in their life, they are criticizing a government, its President, the Prime Minister, Ministers, and their policies. Meanwhile, what Sri Lanka lacked under the past regime are effective checks and balances on those who wielded state power. Checks and balances on the government, both formal and informal, now galore. ‘Democracy is now having a ball,’ as my late mother- in –law would have said in her Negombo English.

Blurred Distinctions

It is also important to note that the BMBC is gathering momentum in a context where the line of demarcation between the government and the opposition has become blurred under rather strange and unique circumstances. President Maithripala Sirisena, who won the election in January with the support of the UNP, the then opposition party, is now heading the UPFA and the SLFP, against which he contested the presidential election. To make the situation somewhat more surreal, both the President and the Leader of the Opposition are from the same party, the SLFP. Thus, the distinction between the government and the opposition has become indistinct.

Against this backdrop, the line of antagonism –-which is not unusual in parliamentary politics — between the ruling party and the opposition is seen by the ordinary SLFP supporters as one between the UNP and the BMBC. In fact, the present success of the BMBC, at least in terms of its attraction to the SLFP voters in the rural districts, can partly be explained by the fact that it offers them an alternative organizational space to reenact the familiar politics of antagonism between the SLFP and the UNP. Even some of the SLFP ministers of President Sirisena’s cabinet, which is headed by a UNP Prime Minister, enjoy the freedom to re-sharpen the old hostility between the SLFP and the UNP with a rather liberal attitude to the principle of collective responsibility of the cabinet.

In a somewhat paradoxical way, and consequent to the peculiar circumstances in which the SLFP finds itself today, BMBC is also a SLFP campaign against the SLFP.It is the logic of this unusual political situation that is likely to ensure the inevitability of the breaking up of the SLFP as a political party. It is quite clear that the SLFP has already split into two antagonistic camps. The Maithri-Mahinda meeting, as the media reports suggest, seems to have only accelerated the pace of the inevitable. It is difficult to see at present how the growing antagonism between the two camps could be resolved amicably. Judging by the media reports of the Maithri-Mahinda meeting, the two sides have engaged in a game of hard bargaining with no intention of reconciliation.

From a broader point of view, the splitting of the SLFP at the present juncture might not actually be a bad thing. It can be good for the SLFP as well as fordemocracy in Sri Lanka, because it will hopefully prevent a bitter and potentially violent factional power struggle within the party. Such a power struggle might even run the risk of spreading itself across the state structure. A split might also enable those in the BMBC to realize that to bring their leader back to power, they need to politically convince a majority of Sri Lankan voters of all ethnic and cultural identities. For that they need a good political programme that can appeal to the democratic political imagination and seasoned political judgment of our citizens. They also need to learn that politically empty demagogic and provocative slogans uttered in shrill speeches can hardly be a substitute for a political programme.

Poverty of Politics

While the BMBC has emerged as the most organized, energetic and influential ‘political’ campaign in the country today, its political agenda is devoid of any substantive politics. It has only one mobilization slogan, ‘bring Mahinda back.’ It is a slogan backed by not even a single constructive political idea aimed at enhancing the quality of political life of the Sri Lankan citizens. It has no promise of democratic political reforms; nor does it go beyond propagating mass hysteria, leadership cult, and the cult of the militarized state. That is why the BMBC is in essence an authoritarian project whichpresents the Leader, not a programme of reform, to the masses as the most visible embodiment of the nation, the state, sovereignty, politics, and, no less, the future of all of us.

It is quite instructive to juxtapose this extreme personalization embedded in the politics of BMBC with the ‘anti-politics of personality,’ which President Sirisena seems to be practicing. He is obviously committed to depersonalizing the office of the head of state and government, in both substance and style. His giving up of all those unlimited presidential powers and his personal style of modesty can be interpreted as marking a new phase of Sri Lankan politics which can be described, by borrowing a term from Claude Lefort, the French political theorist, as one of ‘disincarnation of society.’ It is a condition specific to modern democracy in which no individual, or figure, can or should represent the political unity of society; it is the democratic constitution, not the supreme leader, that embodies social and political unity.

For good or bad, President Sirisena is not an ideological politician.Therefore, he does not seem to know the importance of explaining this particular democratic virtue of his ‘anti-politics of personality’to the masses in ideological terms. His spokespersons and media team, if there is one at all, seem to be at a loss in making political sense of their leader’s refreshing, innovative, and ground breaking mode of politics. This is a decisive disadvantage which President Sirisena can only ill afford to have even for a few more months.

Depoliticization

Even a superficially psychoanalytical reading of Sri Lanka’s contemporary politics shows that during the past few years, there has been an extremely novel phenomenon which has emerged with the capacity to re-orient the nature of political competition. It refers to the cultivation of an authoritarian father,big brother, sovereign – superman figure, claiming to embody the nation and its destiny. Aided by the colour television, digital printing, larger than life billboards, and genuinely sycophantic professionals in the artistic, media and university circles, the image of the former President was also presented, particularly during the last election campaign, with not – so – subtle libidinal messages. It is quite interesting that the BMBC campaign has revived this strategy of libidinal propaganda, once again in a not-so-subtle manner, to make a sharp distinction between Mr. Rajapaska on one hand and Messrs Sirisena and Wickremesinghe on the other.

I have heard quite a few times people, who have voted for as well as against Mr. Sirisena, complaining: « What is this? We don’t even feel that there is a President! » To feel the presence of a President, the President has to be an object of desire and worship as well! This is one of the most pernicious aspects of the depoliticization effect, which the politics of personality cult has built in Sri Lanka over several years. This effect is so overwhelming that even those intellectual sections of the BMBC campaign show great pride in the poverty of politics in their project.

It is in this paradigm of depoliticized and authoritarian politics that the violence to which Nirmal and Kumudu were subjected at the May Day rally can be explained away, and rationalized, by the argument that Nirmal was responsible for the electoral defeat of the former President, and it was simply provocative for him to be there at the rally with his colleague, and therefore the duo got a beating of their own volition.

May 10, 2015 « 

25% of the Sri Lankan population is ‘computer literate’

Selon une étude du département du recensement et des statistiques de 2014 citée dans un article publié dans The Island, que nous reproduisons ci-dessous, un quart de l’ensemble de la population sri lankaise, et plus de 54% des jeunes de moins de 19 ans, savent se servir d’un ordinateur, et 22% des foyers en sont équipés.

 » According to Director General of the Department of Census and Statistics Dr A.J. Satharasinghe, the Computer Literacy of the country had been gradually increasing between 2006/07 and 2014.

« Overall Computer Literacy reported in 2006/07, 2009 and 2014 are 16.1%, 20.3% and 25.1% respectively. The Urban sector shows the highest computer literacy rate (34.6%) among residential sectors according to the results the survey conducted in the first half of 2014. Computer literacy rates for Rural and Estate sectors are 23.8% and 6.2% respectively. The Computer literacy among male (27%) is higher than that of female (23.3). Young youths (aged 15 – 19 years) show the highest computer literacy rate (54.4%) among all other age groups.

The survey results reveal that higher the level of education higher the computer literacy. The group with A/L or above level of education shows the highest computer literacy rate (68%). Also computer literacy is higher among those who are literate in English language (67.3%)

Computer literacy among the employed population in Sri Lanka is around 50 % in the first half of 2014 and the positions such as Senior officials and Managers (74.3%), Professionals (80%), Technical and Associate professionals (80.8%) and Clerks and Clerical support workers (86.5%) have higher computer literacy.

Even among individuals engaged in elementary occupations twenty per cent are computer literate. The unemployed youths in age groups 15 – 19, 20 – 24 and 25 – 29 are having high computer literacy of 64.8%, 73.7% and 75.9% respectively.

Every 10 out of 100 persons aged 5 to 69 years use the Internet facility and 8 out of 100 persons use E-mail facility at least once during last twelve months. Different usage patterns of internet usage can be observed among Provinces. Western Province shows the highest percentage (17.5%) of population using internet, while North Central shows the lowest percentage (4.3%.). The Highest e-mail usage is reported from the Western province (14.9%) followed by the Northern Province (8.3%). The lowest e-mail usage (2.8%) among the provinces has reported from the North Central Province. Among youth in 20 – 24 years age group, one out of every four persons has used the internet facility at least once during the last 12 months and the same group shows the highest usage of e-mail.

In 2014, one out of every five households is having a commuter in Sri Lanka as well as rural areas in Sri Lanka. In the urban sector 36 households out of hundred is having a computer and in the estate sector 4.6%of households having at least one computer. The highest computer availability is in Western province (33.0%) while the lowest availability is reported from North Central (7.4%). Over the survey period from 2006 till 2014 overall percentage has increased sharply from 3.8% to 16.6%.

Language adeptness in English is found very important for the country in improving individual computer literacy level, The Survey results clearly reveal the disadvantaged position of the North Central Province in computer related ICT achievements compared to other Provinces. Further, the reported high computer literacy rates among youth (aged 15-29) show the improving quality of the labour force and the necessity of new’ investment on emerging ICT sector ».

Gouvernement d’union nationale et abolition du régime présidentiel à Colombo

Le SLFP a rejoint l’UNP, la JHU et les partis musulmans pour former un cabinet d’union nationale à Sri Lanka, ce qui rend plus difficile un retour au pouvoir de l’ancien président Rajapakse à l’issue des élections législatives qui doivent avoir lieu dans quelques mois. Ce cabinet élargi présente au Parlement le 19ème amendement à la Constitution, qui met en place des nouvelles institutions consacrant l’abandon du régime présidentiel. En dépit des difficultés de l’exercice et des tensions inhérentes à tout processus de ce type, cet essai de réforme politique radicale représente une « grande première » qui pourrait servir d’exemple.
Nous reproduisons ci-dessous des extraits d’un article de Rasika Jayakody paru dans le Daily News, qui analyse ce processus.

Maithri-Ranil-Chandrika Trinity Checkmates Mahinda by Forming National Govt Comprising UNP and SLFP

By

Rasika Jayakody

When he defected from the Rajapaksa administration to challenge Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency in November, last year, he only had the support of eight Parliamentarians of the UPFA who accompanied him in a face of a government that seemed invincible. The large majority of UPFA Parliamentarians criticized Sirisena’s move calling him a traitor who betrayed the party and its voters. In response, Sirisena said that he was still the legitimate General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and he never left his party where he started his political career over four decades ago.

However, in his run up to the presidency, 28 MPs, who represented the UPFA, joined hands with him, putting a damper on the election campaign of the former President who was running for his third term in office. Addressing his election meetings, Sirisena confidently said that he would regain his position in the SLFP following his “victory” at the presidential election.

A few days after his election victory, a sizable proportion of Central Committee members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party aligned themselves with the newly elected President, accepting him as the “by-default” Chairman of the SLFP. They said Sirisena had the backing of the majority of the SLFP Central Committee members and appointed a new board of officials with the new President as the head of the party.

Fearing a possible split in the party, the SLFP seniors, decided to urge the former President to relinquish his positions, making way for President Sirisena to become the official Chairman of the SLFP. At a meeting held at the Speaker’s official residence, former President Rajapaksa told the new President that he was ready to transfer the powers of the SLFP. Soon after this transfer of power, President Sirisena was formally appointed as the Chairman of the party by the Executive Committee and the Central Committee of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

However, there were some seniors of the SLFP who still wanted “Mahinda” to lead the Parliamentary election campaign of the party as the Prime Ministerial Candidate. Some of them even attended the rally held at Nugegoda extending their support to what they termed as the former President’s Prime Ministerial candidature. Realizing the possible consequences of this trend, President Sirsena got his party secretary to issue a special statement on behalf of the Central Committee, prohibiting the members of the party from attending events organized by other political parties and organizations.

As a result of this measure, no senior SLFP Parliamentarian attended the rally which was held in Kandy to promote the former President who was on a feverish mission to return to active politics probably as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the UPFA coalition. With little or no support from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the pro-MR rally in Kandy ended as a disappointment.

Taking a step further, Sirisena drew the support of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party MPs by allowing them to join the government before the Parliamentary election. With this move, 26 MPs of the SLFP accepted ministerial portfolios from the government extending their support to the national led unity government, led by Maithri-Ranil-CBK troika. This new national government project, initiated by the UNP and the SLFP, came into play at an important juncture where the government’s 100 day programme is concerned.
During the special Cabinet meeting held on March 15 at the Presidential Secretariat, the Cabinet of ministers widely discussed the differences of opinion on dissolution of Parliament and the proposed constitutional amendments. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Jathika Hela Urumaya wanted to “water down” the 19th Amendment as they wanted to preserve certain powers of the Executive. When Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe distributed a draft of the 19th Amendment among Cabinet ministers on March 12, Ministers Rajitha Senaratne and Patali Champika Ranawaka hit out at the amendments saying it had ignored the recommendations of the SLFP and the JHU.

Therefore the Cabinet meeting ended with a lot of negative sentiments with regard to the constitutional amendment. At the same time, the United National Party was in a hurry to complete the 100 day programme and go for a Parliamentary election on April 23 while the Sri Lanka Freedom Party wanted to buy more time. As part of their plan to get the Parliamentary elections postponed, the SLFP asserted that the 19th Amendment should also accompany electoral reforms. This was backed by the Jathika Hela Urumaya and Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, Convener of the Movement for a Just Society. The SLFP also expressed willingness to form a national government with the UNP, if the ruling party wanted more time to introduce electoral reforms and the 19th Amendment simultaneously.

The United National Party vehemently rejected the idea of forming a national government with the SLFP before the election. The UNP seniors said they were only willing to form a national government after the forthcoming Parliamentary election. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made his position clear saying that the present government only had “oxygen” to exist until April 23. A lot of conflicting views were expressed by the UNP and the SLFP in this regard and it appeared as if the country was running into a political crisis of some sort.

It was against this backdrop that President Sirisena, fresh from his visit to London, convened the Cabinet meeting on March 15.

At this meeting, the Cabinet of Ministers decided to entrust President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga with the task of holding discussions and arriving at a final decision on issues such as dissolution of Parliament on April 23, introduction of constructional amendment and finalizing electoral reforms. The Cabinet also listed down certain areas where everyone could agree upon when it came to the abolition of executive powers held by the President.

This included reduction of the Presidential term from six years to five years, provision for a citizen to challenge the President under fundamental rights jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, terms pertaining to Presidential pardon, two-term restriction on re-election of a President, provisions on appointment of Cabinet ministers and ministry secretaries, definition of the head of state and the head of government, and prevention of arbitrary dissolution of Parliament by the President.

The Maithri-Ranil-CBK troika realized that it was important to get the SLFP to play an active role in the introduction of the constitutional amendments. On one hand, they needed the two thirds majority in Parliament to get the amendments passed in the country’s legislature. On the other hand, the President too needed a strategy to further consolidate his power in the SLFP as some members of the party were greeting his decisions with a modicum of suspicion. He needed a “trump card” to position him as a leader whom the party could rely on at difficult times.

UNP’s compromise strategy

Settling for a national government before the election was nothing short of a compromise for the United National Party. But, it was a compromise that the UNP could not avoid. They needed the two thirds majority in Parliament to introduce constitutional amendments and go for the election as soon as possible. In this process, the UNP will now have to share the “credit” with the SLFP for the 19th Amendment.

However, no one can undermine the role the UNP played in the battle against the Executive Presidency, especially when Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power. It was the UNP who first decided that the abolition of the Executive Presidency should be the main rallying point for the opposition alliance at the presidential election. This was when certain political pundits pompously pointed out that slogans such as ‘abolition of Executive Presidency” were not appealing enough to the public.

The UNP’s compromise will also allow President Sirisena to dissolve Parliament soon after the implementation of the 100 day programme. The President will now be in a position to justify his decision to the rank and file of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party as he has also allowed the SLFP to join the government accepting ministerial portfolios. Hence, from the UNP’s perspective, it can be construed as an act of taking one step back to jump two steps forward.

The United National Party prefers to have the Parliamentary election before the end of June. At the last Working Committee meeting of the party, the UNP appointed a special committee to look into immediate social welfare measures that need to be taken before the Parliamentary election. The committee comprised of Ravi Karunanayake, Sajith Premadasa, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Harin Fernando, Gayantha Karunathilake, Eran Wickremaratne and Ranjith Maddumabandara.

The party also decided that immediate development programmes should be carried out at the grassroots level to draw more public support to the party at the election. Although the party is preparing its election machinery for an early election, the dissolution of Parliament is in the hands of President Maithripala Sirisena who is also the Leader of the rival political camp. However, at a meeting with the heads of media institutions last week, President Sirisena said that he would not be “insincere” to the feelings of the UNPers who elevated him to the Presidency at the recently held election.

Irrespective of the outcome of the election, the Maithri-Ranil-CBK troika has already arrived at the decision that there should be a national government in the country for at least another two years. This has been repeatedly stated by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on numerous occasions. However, the ministries held by each party will be proportionate to its share in Parliament. Therefore, it is important for both parties to get a bigger share in Parliament and become the “majority stakeholder” of the new national government.

Joint Cabinet support total abolition of Executive Presidency

The joint Cabinet of the new national government met at the Presidential Secretariat on Monday evening to discuss the future of its programme and the proposed constitutional amendment. The meeting was attended by new members of the Cabinet who represented the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. In a major development, the joint Cabinet decided to adopt the 19th Amendment to the constitution without amendments. This means the Cabinet arrived at a principled agreement that the Executive Presidency, which was introduced by the late J.R. Jayewardena, should be abolished in its entirety.

With this new development, the President would be the Head of State and the head of the Security Forces. However, a question arose with regard to the head of the government and the head of the Cabinet. The 19th Amendment, which was adopted by the Cabinet, was silent about the head of the government and it actually remained a grey area.

However, a senior Cabinet Minister, who spoke to the Daily News on Monday night after the Cabinet meeting said that for all practical and tactical purposes, the interpretation would be that the Prime Minister would function as the head of the government.

The Cabinet also adopted the provisions of the 17th Amendment to the constitution which includes the setting up of independent commissions. The setting up of independent missions, which was also a key aspect of the political campaign of the common opposition at the last presidential election, will be done as part of the 19th Amendment to the constitution.

With this decision, the Elections Commission, the independent Police Commission, the Public Services Commission and the Constitutional Council will be set up as part of the process to reduce the powers of the Executive.

The Cabinet agreed that the Executive Presidency should come to an end with the end of President Sirisena’s first term. After the President’s first term, the Presidency will be more or less a ceremonial figurehead as in India and several other Western countries. President Sirisena has already stated that he will not contest for Presidency again and this will be his last term in office.

Ranawaka wages lone battle

However, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka who is also the General Secretary of the Jathika Hela Urumaya vehemently opposed the move saying the Common Opposition campaigned for the removal of the excessive powers of the Executive Presidency and not for the total abolition of the system. He was of the opinion that the total abolition of the Executive Presidency would destabilize the country and would go against the mandate of the new government.

The remarks made by Minister Ranawaka irked several senior members of the United National Party who were strong advocates of the total abolition of the Executive Presidency.
At this point, Minister Laskhman Kiriella responded to Ranawaka stating the original idea was to fully abolish the Executive Presidency and the present President can retain his powers until the end of his term, in accordance with the provisions of the constitutional amendment.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera strongly responded to Minister Ranawaka saying the those who were involved with the opposition campaign from the beginning were pushing for the total abolition of the Executive Presidency. The Foreign Minister said the JHU joined the opposition campaign much later.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, while endorsing the Cabinet’s decision, said there should be a more comprehensive constitutional amendment under the new Parliament which will be convened after the next Parliamentary election. He said the 19th Amendment was only an amendment to the present constitution implying that it should not be considered as the end of the road.

President Sirisena, addressing the Cabinet meeting, said the government was already late in terms of introducing much needed constitutional amendments. What he emphasized was the fact that the government had no time to waste over trivial matters. He also added that the national government should work fast and take every possible action to get the amendments passed in Parliament without any delay. The President has already made his position clear stating that he was for the total abolition of Executive Presidency and he did not want to cling to his presidential powers eternally.

Although there are some concerns about politicians who have been included in the joint Cabinet, the first meeting of the ministers produced a satisfactory outcome with two main parties arriving at a settlement on the total abolition of Executive Presidency.

National govt puts a damper on MR plans

The newly formed national government has certainly diluted the campaign to bring Mahinda Rajapaksa back to power. Although the pro-Mahinda parties are already planning to hold another rally in Rathnapura, it is clear that the movement has lost momentum with the SLFP joining the UNP-led Cabinet. The pro-MR parties were constantly urging the SLFP to name Rajapaksa as its Prime Ministerial Candidate at the election and the SLFP’s decision to join the national government is a severe blow to their campaign. By joining the national government, the SLFP has given a clear indication to the pro-MR supporters that the party was not interested in accommodating “Mahinda” at the election.

At this point, if former President Rajapaksa wants to be a Prime Ministerial Candidate at the next election, he will have to form another political movement with the support of hardcore MR loyalists. But, it is now becoming clear that the former President does not want to take a political gamble by contesting without the support of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Therefore, he will take a backseat at the upcoming General Election as the two main parties will seek a mandate for the formation of a national government.

That was what former President Rajapaksa meant when he congratulated he national government formed by the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

He said he was laughed at when he spoke of a national government during the time of war. “But I will not laugh at the new national government,” Rajapaksa said wearing a typical Cheshire cat smile on his face.
“I am having a rest these days. So I should not talk about the developments on the political front,” Rajapaksa said when he attended the prefects’ investiture ceremony held at the Samarasinharama Dhamma school in Thelijjawila, Matara, on the day the national government was formed. Determined to get a fiery comment from the former President, a journalist who was present at the event asked Rajapaksa whether a national government was good for the future of the country.

In response, the former President calmly said it was yet to be seen. He avoided further questions by bringing forward Mahinda Yapa Aneywardena who also joined the national government just hours before. “If you have any questions about the national government, ask our “national government ministers,” said Rajapaksa with a wide grin.

“I have nowhere to go these days, except temples. I accept invitations from Dhamma schools. The children who come from the distant areas speak of the success of Dhamma schools. A Dhamma school is a good place for producing a disciplined set of people.”

“According to Buddhist doctrine we are able to face victory and defeat in the same manner. Children should be able to face victory and defeat alike. Do not betray the country. Respect the country in the same way you respect your parents, “he said.

« Sri Lanka : Democracy at Work » by Eric Meyer

The South Asia Democratic Forum (www.sadf.eu) organized at the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday, 21st January 2015, a post-electoral briefing on Sri Lanka, which was attended by an international audience including South Asians, and European MPs.
We publish here the text of the intervention of Eric Meyer, who was invited to present his views in the discussion panel.

1. RESILIENCE OF DEMOCRACY

In the decades after Independence, Sri Lanka used to be regarded as one of the most advanced democracies in Asia.

Then after 1971 (the first JVP insurgency and its suppression) and 1978-83-87 (the beginning of Eelamist rebellion and civil war, the establishment and manipulation of a presidential system, foreign intervention by India and its failure), Sri Lanka came to be branded as the sick man of South Asia.

After more than 40 years of civil war, of social and political violence and of growing lawlessness, the results of the presidential vote and the conditions of the transfer of power to the new President show the resilience of the democratic system in Sri Lanka, and a democratic maturity which was unexpected a few months ago by pessimistic observers.

Sri Lankans could share the words of Radhika Coomaraswamy (former U.N. Undersecretary general in charge of the rights of children) : « the elections made me triumphantly proud of my country ». But does it mean that Sri Lanka is back at square one ?

2. DEMOCRACY AT WORK : ANALYSIS OF ELECTION RESULTS

The high voter turn out, above 81.5%, is remarkable (the highest in the history of the country), as compared with the previous presidential elections of 2005 and 2010 (73-74%); even in northern Jaffna it was more than 66%, while in 2005 it was 1.2% because the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had imposed a ban on voting, and in 2010 it was 25% in the aftermath of the bloodbath and repression of the previous year. This progress is the result of a return to more settled conditions and of a political will for change.

The overall result shows a margin of 3.7% between the two candidates, rather similar to that witnessed in well-established democracies : 6,217,162 votes (51.28%) went for Maithripala Sirisena, the common candidate of the opposition who had resigned a few months before from the Rajapaksa government, against 5,768,090 votes (47.58%) for Mahinda Rajapaksa. Regional breakdown shows that the north, east, and the large cities, voted overwhelmingly in favour of Sirisena ; that the rural areas of the South voted in favour of Rajapaksa but with a reduced majority ; and that in the Centre and Centre north, the balance was rather equal. If one extrapolates to assess the vote of the ethnic groups, it is clear that the great majority of the Muslims, of the North/East Tamils and of the Up-country Tamils voted for Sirisena ; and that a small majority of the Sinhalese, especially in the countryside, voted for Rajapaksa (about 52%).

But it is also clear that between 2010 and 2015, Rajapaksa lost in the Sinhalese majority areas about 10% of the votes – and more than 15% in urbanized areas (Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Kandy, Galle) and in the north central rural districts (Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa). Without this shift, Rajapaksa would have won even if all the minorities had voted against him. It is therefore inexact to affirm, as he did after the results, that he lost only because of the vote of the minorities.

There are no opinion polls age-wise or by occupation in Sri Lanka, but most observers consider that the young people who voted for the first time chose Sirisena, and the postal votes (open only to civil servants and members of the armed forces) follow the general tendency.

In a democratic election, the marginal difference is meaningful. What is the message sent by the voters who made the difference – the young people who voted for the first time, the members of the minorities who decided to cast their vote this time, the people of the large cities? Rajapaksa had at its disposal almost all the media which he had for the last six years forced into submission, but his opponent had young supporters using social networks, and many professionals such as lawyers who were outraged at his high-handed style. Family ‘bandyism’, growing corruption, unethical behaviour, lawlessness and impunity, price hikes of basic commodities were denounced by the various groups supporting Sirisena : it is significant that the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a party founded by nationalist Sinhala Buddhist monks, on one side, and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the party which before 2009 supported the Eelamists, on the other, abandoned their extreme nationalist rhetoric to focus on these common themes ; so did the well-organized Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which was behind the two revolutionary attempts of 1971 and 1987-89, and the pro-western United National Party (UNP). In addition, the atrocities committed by the Bodu Bala Sena, an extremist self-styled Buddhist Force encouraged by Mahinda’s brother Gotabhaya to outflank the Jathika Hela Urumaya, alienated the Muslim minority and many Christians.

3. DEMOCRACY AT WORK : THE TRANSFER OF POWER

According to press reports and a few independent testimonies, it seems that Mahinda Rajapaksa, under the influence of his brother Gotabhaya, was prepared, if the election was narrowly lost, to proclaim a state of emergency under the pretence of maintaining public order, to postpone the proclamation of results, and to stage a ‘legal’ coup d’état. For that they needed the support of the Inspector General of Police, the Army Chief, the Judiciary (Chief Justice and Attorney General) and the Elections Commissionner. The Chief Justice Mohan Pieris, who was with the President during the election night against every principle of separation of powers, seems to have been involved from the start, but the refusal of the Attorney General and of the other VIPs derailed the attempt.

Then Rajapaksa contacted Ranil Wickramasinghe (the head of the United National Party, whom he knew well) who decided to come to the President’s residence, where he was able to persuade Rajapaksa to finally accepted his defeat by giving him a few assurances. It may be that the visit of pope Francis four days later made it difficult to plunge the country into political turmoil. Finally, the main political actors acted with restraint and responsibility, in spite of temptations to the contrary : democracy passed its second test.

4. THE VICTORY OF DEMOCRACY IS FRAGILE

Mahinda Rajapaksa and his supporters still control of a part of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party electoral machine : they may win the legislative elections which are due in April – May, and try to reimpose their power, especially in view of the relative weakness of the UNP especially in rural constituencies. The question is whether Maithripala Sirisena will be able to get rid of the most corrupt individuals in the party (of which according to the statutes he is now the head instead of Rajapaksa), impose new leaders, obtain the support of the majority of the SLFPers, and consolidate his power. Or will Rajapaksas continue to pull the strings, claim to represent the majority, brand Sirisena as the traitor who owed his election to the vote of the minorities and was manipulated by the former President Chandrika Bandaranaïke ?

The illegal activities of members of the Rajapaksa entourage may continue. Private security firms connected with them, which employ ex-soldiers, had recently imported huge loads of firearms. In addition, various paramilitary groups (including Tamil ex-LTTE armed groups who defected to Government) are still roaming about the country. Civil disarmement is going to be a huge problem for the Sirisena administration.

Vested interests are likely to suffer high losses if the Sirisena administration succeeds in cleaning up the country – for which it was elected : new rich groups derive their wealth from building and transport contracts, but also from casinos, prostitution, drug trafficking. The army and navy are controlling a large part of the reconstructed economy and a share of the lands in the war zones of the north and east and members of the armed forces derive large benefits from it. It will be difficult to eradicate corruption in the political class.

Finally, the cost of electoral promises might prove difficult to finance : with a taxation system which allows a lot of tax evasion, the rise of the salaries of public servants, of the pensions, of social allowances, of the guaranteed purchase price of agricultural products and so on will require new resources hard to find.

5. CONTRADICTIONS IN THE SIRISENA PROGRAMME

Maithripala Sirisena was the common candidate of a very heterogeneous opposition alliance. Its programme envisioned a series of constitutional reforms by a caretaker cabinet during a 100-days period, and in a second stage after the parliamentary elections, a National government formula for at least two years. Among the immediate reforms, the repealing of the 18th amendment to the Constitution which allowed the indefinite candidature of the President in office, and gave him full control over the Police, Justice, Electoral, Bribery and Human Rights Commissions ; the return to an electoral system based on constituencies instead of the present Preference Vote system ; the revision of the current budget ; and the reestablishment of a civil administration in the former war zones.

But the components of the coalition differ on several basic issues which will come into the fore sooner or later. As regards economic policy, the UNP, which controls the key ministries in the caretaker cabinet, has a history of favouring free enterprise and foreign investments ; while the JVP and the JHU, although with different ideological/moral arguments, converge in their radical critique of global capitalism and multinationals and will put pressure on the government.

As regards the political reforms long promised by successive governments but never really implemented to give the linguistic and religious minorities better rights, especially the regional devolution envisioned by the 13th amendment to the Constitution, the position of the monks of the JHU (and of its present lay leader, Champika Ranawaka) is or was the opposite of that of the left-oriented intelligentsia (illustrated by the interview with the Indian press of the new Foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera who promised to fully implement the 13th amendment)

On other issues such as the role played by the army in the reconstruction of the North East, the place of Buddhism and Buddhist monks in the polity, the activities of International NGOs in the country, opinions also differ.

The National Advisory Council just set up by the President, is going to be the forum to discuss and hopefully settle some of these issues. It comprises : Maithripala Sirisena, Ranil Wickramasinghe, the Prime Minister, leader of the UNP, Chandrika Bandaranaike, the former President (1994-2005), Champika Ranawaka, leader of the JHU, Anura Dissanayake, leader of the JVP, General Sarath Fonseka, who led the Army against the LTTE, lost the election of 2010 against Rajapaksa and was emprisoned by him, R. Sampanthan, the leader of the TNA, Rauf Hakeem and R. Bathiuddeen, leaders of the main Muslim parties.

Rebuilding democracy after one of the bloodiest civil wars in Asia, and decades of authoritarian rule and attack on human rights is a difficult exercise which is being undertaken by the Sri Lankans themselves. The burning issue of war crimes committed during and especially in the final phase of the conflict is constantly raised by the Tamil diaspora and by Human Rights organizations abroad. The Sirisena programme does not elude the question but considers that it must and can be tackled by the Sri Lankans themselves*. The sensible but too limited proposals of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) set up by the Rajapaksa regime were never seriously implemented. Whether the Sirisena administration will be able to do it will be the third and most difficult test of democracy. European democrats should give it enough time and support to pass it, while monitoring the progress of human rights in the country and keeping a tab on undemocratic activities abroad.

——–
* « Since Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Rome statute regarding international jurisdiction with regard to war crimes, ensuring justice with regard to such matters will be the business of national independent judicial mechanisms »

Radhika Coomaraswamy: je suis fière de mon pays

Nous reproduisons ci-dessous l’article publié dans le blog de DBS Jeyaraj par Radkika Coomaraswamy, célèbre juriste sri lankaise, militante des droits humains, et jusqu’en 2012 sous-secrétaire générale des Nations Unies chargée de la question des enfants dans les conflits armés.

“Why The Elections Last Week Made me Triumphantly Proud of my Country”

By

Radhika Coomaraswamy

There are times in one’s life when one becomes very proud of one’s country. For many it is when we win in cricket or in war. This is triumphant pride where we defeat someone else- an external sports team or an internal enemy. For this kind of pride we need “an other” whom we compete against or dislike without restraint. It is a mixed blessing, filled with pride, but especially in the latter case also fear and hate.
pic by: Anura Srinath – www.anurasrinath.com

pic by: Anura Srinath –
www.anurasrinath.com

However there are times when pride can transcend the obsession with “the other”. In Sri Lanka it could be when we are immersed in its astounding natural beauty or when we live up to our own values and expectations. For me the elections last week were a very important moment- at least for my own personal connection to this island.

Democracy in Sri Lanka had taken a bashing for decades but especially since 2009. We saw things that were absolutely surreal- like something out of a bad Fellini film. And yet we were constantly warned against change, pointing to the possibility of chaos that an Arab spring could bring such as in Libya, Egypt and Syria- no-one of course mentions Tunisia where its has been a great success.

What saved us was the courage of individual politicians who by acting jointly have given us the following moments to savour in our lifetime -no matter what happens in the future: –

Firstly, our public servants, including our rule of law institutions and the security forces showed us what they can do if there is proper leadership and an atmosphere which even holds out a prospect where their professional independence is respected. :- a judiciary that refuses a last minute effort to break election laws by state media institutions; an Elections Commissioner who is proactive in ensuring a free election, constantly surrounding himself with monitors and the press so that no-one could “get at him”; a police force that finally does its job arresting those who did wrong and thwarting many acts of violence and intimidation, an army that refused for the most part to allow soldiers out of the barracks and if stories are true refused to pervert democracy and shoot its own people. (Egypt, Libya and Syria failed because the armed forces did not show this restraint unlike in Tunisia) Also if reports are true, an Attorney General who refused to push for the Proclamation of Emergency. We must also remember the countless public servants who made this election a success. This commitment to democracy by our public services and institutions more that anything will convince the world that given the proper leadership we are not a failed state or a banana republic- the image the rest of the world presently has about us and that brings shame to many of us working in this field.

Secondly, after years of being ruled from the top by people with a monarchical dispensation, it was wonderful to see dialogue and discussion slowly begin to take the place of threats and scaremongering. Particularly interesting has been the slow transformation of the rhetoric of both the TNA and the JHU. From bottom line thinking, inflammatory language and vitriol, both sides have publicly begun to affirm the need for discussion, dialogue and understanding. For many of us who have been watching the political scene for decades this has been extraordinary development. It is also interesting to see the slow transformation of the rhetoric of the UNP and the JVP- the former beginning to speak of limitations to neoliberal policies and the JVP agreeing to serve on the Advisory Council. The JVP and the JHU’s indefatigable struggle against corruption will hopefully continue holding the feet of the present government to the fire as well to ensure that this election is not another recycling of the spoils. These are all good signs, moving us away from the bottom line, boycott politics of the 1970s and 80s that got us into this mess in the first place to a more deliberative democracy focusing on process and substance. If this holds we are truly moving toward becoming a modern democracy.

The inauguration of the 6th Executive President was an absolutely chaotic affair. For some, freed from years of repression and intimidation, it was nostalgia and an affirmation of freedom and spontaneity- a carnival for a people’s president. Others, having been accustomed to years of a disciplined Colombo, were mortified- believing that this was a sign of things to come and that the coalition will lead us down the road of chaos and disorganization away from the “stability” of the last few years. The Cabinet appointments as well as the appointments of Secretaries and Governors should dispel such fears. These are appointments for the most part- though not all- based on merit and competence. We hope at least they will contribute toward effective governance.

There are still many obstacles are ahead and the promises and the expectations may never be fulfilled. In addition, the discourse and rhetoric of fear, rumour, darkness and hatred is still trying to make a comeback. It is true that the minorities did make a difference in this election but we must also ask why the former incumbent’s share of the Sinhala vote dropped from 65% to 55%- that is what made him lose the election since the minorities have always voted against his policies. It is the split in the Sinhala vote more than the minority vote that delivered this election to M. Sirisena. To see it as anything else is to deliberately obfuscate the issues.

We have also not resolved the ethnic issue and a lot of political landmines remain in that area. Yet we must ask- “how can the terrorists and violent rebellion ever come back?”. There is no leader, the people of Jaffna have no stomach for violence and even the irresponsible and self-absorbed diaspora are strangely talking about Mahatma Gandhi. The western countries and India, especially after this election, will not tolerate fund raising or clandestine mobilisation. Where is this threat? The issue is not military- it is political- how do we find a political solution, how do we win hearts and minds, develop the economy and livelihoods and treat people with respect and empathy. The appointment of a civilian governor to the northern province with familiarity on these issues is a step in the right direction.

We still do not know if any of the pledges of the Coalition will be fulfilled in the next 100 days. We have two active, political parties- the JHU and the JVP as well as a reinvigorated civil society that will now have the freedom to be vigilant to make sure it happens. If the pledges are implemented, we will have fundamental transformation in our political system and our rule of law institutions- hopefully they will ensure that democracy is entrenched no matter what happens after April.

At this time we must also remember all those who are not with us who would have also savoured this moment- among them- my mentor Neelan Tiruchelvam and his wife Sithie, Charlie Abeyesekere , his daughter Sunila and her son Sanjay- and also, though we had very divergent political views especially on the ethnic question, HL de Silva and SL Gunesekere who in their life time fought very hard for democracy and the rule of law. As Sunila’s daughter Subha wrote in a moving piece,

“So you see, democracy is not just a system, a structure. It is also a feeling. It is a feeling within each one of us; a desire to be led by the things we believe in and the people we see those things in. It is a desire to stand up, to feel powerful in our own way, to wield that power in the face of despair and frustration. It is a feeling that inspires other feelings; it gives us courage, it gives us hope”.

The arrival of the most popular religious figure in the world the day after the appointment of the cabinet of ministers seals this moment we can savour. We may not all be of the same religion or even religious at all but this is the Pope who has said that religion and religious institutions are not all that matters- it is one’s own spirituality and doing what is right that is the most important. May his blessings entrench our gains, help us transform hope into reality and vengeance into justice with mercy.