14 December 2016
Tamil Caste system and White-Australia Policy
‘Although the Indian government has strenuously denied that caste and race are two sides of the same coin, these two hierarchies and the rules governing them are in fact very similar.’ - Dr. Devanesan Nesiah - “Caste, Social Justice and Democracy in Sri Lanka” published by Sri Lanka Guardian.
The commonness is not limited to race but starts with Age and Gender – two natural aspects of diversity. The way Australia had White-Australia policy – Jaffna had the caste and gender based separations as part of its policies. They are included in the law of Thesawalamai. If Australia continued to maintain the White Australia policy, the illegal immigrant problem would be better controlled by the Australian Government. The problem will continue until the Common Australian value is stronger than the investment in diverse cultures for the purpose of showing greater power.
Whether it is caste or race – some practiced it positively and others negatively when it was an active measure to determine rights and wrongs and therefore deliver the order of distribution of benefits (money and status). In the Jaffna Caste system for example – the Vellala caste was required to take responsibility for Administration and Governance of the whole area. A big part of this was the heritage-development which to my mind resides in the individual as her/his genes. Whether we invoke these genes or not – depends on our current conduct.
Recently a fellow Accountant said to me that a relative had said that there were only two Accountants in their family – one Income and the other Expenditure. This means there is no recognition of Assets and Liabilities which make up the structure through which Income and Expenditure are generated and processed. In a home with positive net Assets – the heritage would be strong. In terms of biological structures the oldest of the structures are the inherited ones and they get invoked when our current structures go into liquidation. Likewise, in the caste, race or religious structures that are no longer working structures in our current environments.
Dr. Nesiah cites as follows:
[When the majority of the Supreme Court of the US in Plessy v Ferguson, 1896 upheld the conviction in Louisiana of Plessy, who was racially seven eights white and one eighth black for refusing to sit at the back of a railway carriage, it endorsed racism and segregation under cover of a spurious “separate but equal” doctrine.
That case is yet remembered and cited twelve decades since then and will continue to inspire scholars and human rights activists for the courageous and memorable dissenting judgment of Justice Harlan:
“It was said in argument that the statute of Louisiana does not discriminate against citizens but prescribes a rule applicable to white and coloured citizens. But [every]one knows that [it] had its origin in the purpose not so much to exclude white persons from railway cars occupied by blacks as to exclude coloured persons from railway cars occupied or assigned to white people … In the view of the Constitution, in the eye of the Law there is in this country no superior, dominant ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is colour blind …The thin disguise of “equal accommodation for passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead anyone nor atone for the wrong this day done…”
In the above example – if the Railway system was developed more out of White-American’s sacrifices and the African Americans did not accept them as their Seniors – then at the Fundamental level – they cannot be bound by the same Law. Common belief entitles us to make decisions on behalf of others and have the expectations from lesser contributors to the Common system. Hence the position of Authority. In the above test case in relation to ‘Separate but Equal’ doctrine, Justice Harlan reasons as follows:
[There is a dangerous tendency in these latter days to enlarge the functions of the courts, by means of judicial interference with the will of the people as expressed by the legislature. Our institutions have the distinguishing characteristic that the three departments of government are co-ordinate and separate. Each must keep within the limits defined by the constitution. And the courts best discharge their duty by executing the will of the law-making power, constitutionally expressed, leaving the results of legislation to be dealt with by the people through their representatives. Statutes must always have a reasonable construction. Sometimes they are to be construed strictly, sometimes literally, in order to carry out the legislative will. But, however construed, the intent of the legislature is to be respected if the particular statute in question is valid, although the courts, looking at the public interests, may conceive the statute to be both unreasonable and impolitic. If the power exists to enact a statute, that ends the matter so far as the courts are concerned. The adjudged cases in which statutes have been held to be void, because unreasonable, are those in which the means employed by the legislature were not at all germane to the end to which the legislature was competent.]
Dr. Nesiah presents the parallel of the above ‘three departments of government as follows:
‘We note the reference to caste. The three fundamental common components of race and caste are heredity, hierarchy and endogamy. In a racist society your race is determined by your ancestry and so too your place in the social hierarchy. These are also features of a casteist society.’
In terms of Health – they are the Genes, Common Habits and Current enjoyments(benefits) and exertions(costs). In terms of Judgment they are Truth, Law and Facts. In terms of Family – the are Ancestors, Parents and Children.
The Doctrine of Separation of Powers between the Judiciary and the Executive Government, has its base in the Doctrine of Separate but Equal.
Article 9 of the Sri Lankan Constitution which affords foremost status to Buddhism in Sri Lanka, is valid only where there is Separation on the basis Religion. In Democracy this Separation needs to be visible at the primary level. Hence Devolution of Powers as per majority religion or no hierarchy to any religion and therefore Unitary State. With Article 9 there is no lawful claim for Unitary State. Without Article 9 or its various branches there is valid claim to Unitary State through the Constitution.
Whether it be genes or Truth – they are still forces – which manifest themselves when one enjoys pleasures or endures pain beyond the seen and the known. That is the way of Natural Justice. These are commonly known as Punniyam / Virtues when they are positive and Paavam / Sins when they are negative.
In the caste system separation is needed until there is active practice of the secular system and/or the intermediary race system where order is low as per Common Law. I myself separate myself from my neighbors in Thunaivi - most of whom have not gone beyond primary school education. This is so because the folks of Thunaivi have isolated themselves. The parallels at racial level – are the LTTE and the JVP in Northern and Southern Sri Lanka respectively.
A Sri Lankan Law Academic said at one stage that there was no need for Equal Opportunity Laws in Sri Lanka because the existing laws include such doctrines. To be valid, every ‘foremost’ hierarchy needs to be offset by Devolution which facilitates Separation at the level of Law.
Dr. Nesiah shares with us the following:
[There is a tendency, in Sri Lanka as elsewhere,to gloss over the severity of caste/race oppression.I was informed sometime in the mid-80s by Prof.Higginbotham(a Black law Professor at Harvard Law School)that as late as the mid 20thCentury he had gained admission to Harvard (from which Blacks were earlier excluded)but could not find a place in any of the Harvard boarding houses as they remained closed to Blacks. He found it impossible to get private accommodation with heating near Harvard as he was not from a rich family, and he found it impossible to study in the winter evenings after the Harvard libraries closed. He had sought an interview with the President of Harvard and told him he was not seeking to end segregation but merely to find a place warm enough where he could study late in the evenings. The President of Harvard was not at all sympathetic and told him that it was his problem and not of the President who would abide by the rule to exclude Blacks from the Harvard boarding houses. Incidentally, at that time the KKK was active at Harvard.]
Therein lies the clue – that the parents of Harvard at that time were White-Americans. The then President was a child of those parents practicing endogamy, like the current and immediate past Presidents of Sri Lanka. The Buddhist monks in Politics are the KKK’s parallel in Sri Lanka.
Dr. Nesiah continues:
[I had most of my schooling in Colombo but I would often visit Jaffna around the mid 20thCentury and noticed that even in several churches separate benches were provided for the untouchable castes. In fact one Diocese based in Jaffna had a policy of not recruiting priests from untouchable castes so as not to lose membership from those of higher castes. Even in the first quarter of the 20thCentury many schools in Jaffna refused to accept untouchables as students, still less as boarders. Even now there is caste discrimination in appointing Principals to government schools.
Those of untouchable castes were prohibited from entering eating houses and tea shops or were seated separately and served in separate vessels till around 1960. Prohibition of untouchables entering temples continued till much later. Even now, some of the restrictions remain. These facts are not widely known because caste is a taboo subject for public research and most journals are selective about publishing news of caste discrimination. Even research institutions like the Jaffna University do not encourage research on caste discrimination……. I am indebted to Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole for his comments on my draft]
When there was contest between Professor Hoole and the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna, Professor Shanmugalingam – I went to the Hindu temple within the University to pray for the University. In terms of Professor Shanmugalingam I prayed that he be helped in terms of his health risks due to his stress. I felt the power at that temple. I have since read some of Professor Hoole’s opposition to the Hindu Leadership at University of Jaffna. But that is a heritage on which the University of Jaffna has developed just as much as Jaffna College of Professor Hoole’s religion established the ‘undergraduate section’ in Jaffna town which now includes the Jaffna branch of my Alma Mater – the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka. It would be easier for a Hindu to invoke the Hindu Vellala genes at the University of Jaffna and a Christian to invoke the American Christian genes at Jaffna College. These cannot be invoked through cleverness but by belief in ancestors whose minds continue to support out diversity. If not for that ancestry we would not have a Tamil University to confirm our diversity in Education. A graduate of the University of Jaffna comes with those genes – to Australia for example. But if used actively – such graduates would live in the past.
Caste separation in Jaffna is needed by junior groups until they invest enough in the secular system. Likewise Racial separation is needed by minorities until all of us investment more in current systems through common laws and disciplines such as Engineering, Medicine and Accountancy. The stronger our practice of the Common values – the less the role of genes in current manifestations. Recently a female colleague recommended that I took to ‘reading, knitting , or writing a book, playing computer games, watching mindless soap operas on TV instead of blogging’. These are all high class hobbies indulged in by ladies of leisure back then which have evolved now as face-book chats and blogging. My genes are from my paternal grandmother who cooked, cleaned and took care of the temple in Thunaivi-Vaddukoddai which provides refuge to locals. Changing to the above activities would be the parallel of changing from Hinduism to Christianity. One who has matured as a home-maker would develop that heritage/genes for her children and grandchildren. I am confident that all of my children and grandchildren would have enough positive genes available to them if they seek to be good home-makers.
When outcomes manifested are due more to genes – we place them in the Acts of God basket. These should not be blindly copied towards current benefits nor insulted to show current costs. Like the Sun they will do their job to enlighten or plunge us in darkness.