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Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: Its Origins and Development in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries Paperback – June, 2000

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Paperback, June, 2000

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Editorial Reviews


"The Tamil nationalist fervour that has urged forward the determination to establish a sovereign mini-state of Tamil Eelam has now become a permanent political reality within the contemporary Sri Lankan policy" writes A.J.V. Chandrakanthan in the opening words of the ninth chapter ("An Inside View") in this book. Professor Jeyaratnam Wilson, the leading expert in the field, explains, concisely yet comprehensively, how this ominous development came about.

The militarisation of the Sinhala-Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka began in the 1970s when attempts to reconcile by peaceful means the Tamils' claim for basic individual and collective rights with the Sinhalese need to allay their chronic sense of insecurity finally failed. Since then the struggle has intensified, erupting successively in the burning of the Jaffna Public Library with its irreplaceable cultural treasures on 31 May 1981, the anti-Tamil pogrom in July 1983, and the army's assault on Jaffna in October 1995. The point of no return to the status quo ante has long ago been passed.

The mainly Hindu Sri Lankan Tamils have always been separated by language, religion, and history from the Buddhist Sinhalese although the minority community in the island vastly outnumbers the Sinhalese when the 40 million Tamils in South India are taken into account. The Tamils flourished under British rule, but soon after independence in 1948 discrimination by the Sinhala majority government began, and Sinhalese colonisation of the Tamil areas of the north and north-east was stepped up.

Professor Wilson examines the social and caste structure of the Sri Lankan Tamils, and their linguistic, cultural, and literary heritage. There was a high level of political-cultural activity among them in the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th, and this is set forth with emphasis on the role of the eminent Ponnambalam brothers. In turn the various 20th-century expressions of Tamil consciousness are described: the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress, the Tamil Federal Party, the Tamil United Front, and the Tamil United Liberation Front. The final chapters detail the militarisation and arming of Tamil youth, the bloody struggle for supremacy among the armed Tamils, Indian intervention and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, and the phase leading to the present impasse. The author's analysis is informed by first-hand knowledge and personal contact with many of the actors involved.

Book Description

Since Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) became independent in 1948, its Tamil minority has become alienated from the Sinhalese majority, resulting in both peaceful opposition and armed struggle.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Univ of British Columbia Pr (June 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0774807601
  • ISBN-13: 978-0774807609
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,683,734 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
I greatly enjoyed this book. A great many of the men I have worked with were Tamil and I felt it important to learn about the events that caused this thing to happen, and learn more about why nothing is really being done to stop it.
But, like many global events, its causes are rooted in the complicated. The author does an excellent job of making this clear for the reader.
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Format: Paperback
This book would appeal to people who want to know more about the Sinhalese - Tamil conflicts in Sri lanka. The first few chapters are about the Tamil people in Sri lanka, their culture, language, religion and way of life. Their caste structure is explained in detail. I would have loved to see more about their history and the kingdom of Jaffna. The next few chapters are about the political developments of Tamil parties in Sri lanka. Here we come to know about the Ponnambalam brothers, G.G. Ponnambalam, S.J.V Chelvanayakam and other Tamil leaders who fought for Tamil rights in a peaceful manner. The last few chapters deal with the violence that became synonymous with Tamil nationalism starting from the 1970's.

Written by a Tamil, this book is definitely sympathetic to the Tamil cause. The author points out a number of anti Tamil incidents perpetuated by the Sinhala state that sowed the seeds of the present conflict. These range from political repression, such as higher qualifications for Tamil students to be admitted to universities, to barbaric such as the burning of Jaffna public library resulting in the loss of precious Tamil manuscripts and literary works. The author rightly points out that a democracy cannot function properly when the rights of minority groups are suppressed. However the author never condones the terror perpetuated by the LTTE on their own people as well as the Sinhalese. He never mentions the fact that the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was just one of a score of political figures that were brutally assassinated by them. He never talks about the Sinhalese people and why they hate the Tamil people except for saying that the Sinhalese are a majority in Sri lanka with a minority complex. In many places the author is needlessly repetitive and sometimes his language is meandering. Useful to those who are really interested in the subject.
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