Bogus Vellala Gandhis reduced Tamils to abject slaves | Sunday Observer

Bogus Vellala Gandhis reduced Tamils to abject slaves

7 March, 2021
Mahathma Gandhi
Mahathma Gandhi

In 1968 Jaffna was shaken by the most explosive moral, political and religious issue that has been simmering beneath the surface for centuries. The low-castes who were treated as outcasts and pariahs decided to challenge the might of the Vellala supremacists by staging a non-violent satyagraha at the entrance to the Maviddipuram Temple pleading that they too be allowed to enter the inner sanctum and pray to the common Hindu God/gods.

Until the sixties the low-castes had no leadership to guide them into political action. Political leadership in Jaffna was monopolised by the Vellalas and no other entity could get a toe in. As the English-speaking, Saivite, Vellala majority entrenched in the commanding heights of the society – from the village temples to the top rungs of the colonial administration -- they ruled the roost. The vacuum in the leadership of the low-castes was eventually filled by N. Shanmugathasan, leader of the Peking-wing of the Communist Party. Earlier he had organised the protest against Arumuka Navalar when his statue was taken in a procession along the streets of Jaffna.

Navalar is the revered holy guru of the Vellalas. It was he who elevated them to the highest level in the Jaffna caste hierarchy. In the absence of the Brahmins in Jaffna – they were forbidden to cross the seas – Navalar raised the Vellalas to the level of the Brahmins. Shanmugathasan organised a mass protest, with posters and placards against the procession. In some places the statue was stoned and the Police had to be brought in to keep the peace. That was only a test run. The real clash took place at Maviddipuram in 1968.

The organised non-violent protest of the low-castes to enter the Maviddipuram temple brought two antagonistic forces of Vellala and non-Vellalas into a head-on crisis. Never before had the low-castes organised themselves on such a scale to confront the Vellala supremacists.

This was the opportune moment for the so-called Gandhians in the Federal Party led by S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and Appapillai Amirthalingam to stand up for the oppressed low castes, particularly on the critical issue of temple entry to restore dignity, equality, justice and peace to the Tamil people. The elitist Vellalas enjoyed dignity, equality, justice and peace but not the Tamil people who were below them. In dodging the issue Amirthalingam came up with the specious argument that he does not want to mix religion with politics. And Chelvanayakam shuffled along, haltingly, taking advantage of his physical disability caused by Parkinson’s disease, to project himself as a saintly Gandhian.


It was not a time for Gandhians to be non-committal. It was a time to take sides and stand up for what is right. But the bogus Gandhians in the Federal Party ‘tip-toed’ out of the issue not to offend the Vellalas, as stated by Prof. Bryan Pfaffenberger. They did not lift a finger to help the low-castes while their representative Prof. C. Suntheralingam, (Cambridge) walked up and down the pathway to the Temple with a walking stick threatening to hammer any low-caste who dared to cross the line. Prof. Suntheralingam (Cambridge) was the public face of Vellala Gandhism.

When tensions were rising in Maviddipuram police had to rush in. It was Superintendent of Police S. Sunderalingam who stepped in to separate the two forces. He was appointed by Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake as the head of Northern Province Police and given a free hand to handle the rising tension within Jaffna. Of all the actors in the scene he can be considered the most objective and informed authority on this issue. He also happened to be a family friend and I approached him for clarification long after he retired. His reply is illuminating. I reproduce it in full mainly for its insights and its objective analysis. It is also important to place it on record. He was the brother of my friend, Dr. R. Pararajasegaram, the great pioneering ophthalmologist with an international reputation. After doing a stint at Interpol “Sunda”, as he was known to us, was living in Chennai when he wrote this reply:

Dear Mahinda,

Just returned to Chennai from Hyderabad. A Lecture at the Police Academy. Well, you have written a thesis on Vellala caste Tamils in the Jaffna Peninsula. A well-researched analysis.

My input will be minimum, confined to my personal experience and happenings on caste disputes during my 6- year tenure in Jaffna as SP Northern Province. It was a fact the Vellalla community, considered the High Caste, dominated all political and economic activities in the Peninsula for decades in the pre-Independent and post-Independent Ceylon.

In 1970 all Jaffna MPs were Vellallas. If one had visited a village in Jaffna, one could have observed that the Vellalas lived in residential area in well built houses, the lower castes always lived in clusters in the outskirts in cadjan sheds doing daily menial work for the high caste Vellalla Hindus and Christians. To be fair, Christians were more compassionate. It was during the sixties the so-called depressed classes including Nalavas, Pallars, Parayas etc etc woke up , thanks to Mr Shanmugathasan and his Peking-wing set up a “Minority” (low-caste) front to fight for their rights

The Prevention of Social Disabilities Act 1957 was only an Act in the statute book to deal with social disabilities based on caste discrimination, more applicable to the Jaffna Penninsula. The bubble burst with the Maviddapuram Temple Dispute in 1968. My namesake Mr C. Sunderalingam (CS), a fanatic, put up a barricade in front of the Temple dividing the area. The outside area was exclusively for the Lower castes while a separate entrance was erected for the so-called Vellala caste people to walk closer to the inner sanctum.

I visited the Temple with a Police Squad when tensions were running high. I saw CS, with a walking stick, ordering the Palla community worshippers to do their worshipping by standing behind the barricade. They were not allowed to enter the sacred area reserved only for the upper caste. In the meantime, GA Jaffna, Vernon Abeysekera, and Mr Stanley Senanayake, SP Special Operations Anti-Immigration, KKS also arrived on the scene. Negotiations failed and free-for-all occurred between CS group and Minority group. It was not a major clash. Only a few were injured.

I mentioned to CS that he was morally bound to open the Temple to all persons alike or close the Temple doors for everyone. I remember telling him God is equal to everyone standing before him. Mediation with CS failed and Temple doors were closed. In one of the telegrams sent by CS to IGP and PM he alleged that the SP was acting as a Dictator and asked for my removal. PM Dudley Senanayake was well briefed by IGP. PM’s response : “Let the Sundaralingams fight it out”. The next morning Sunday Observer headlined “The Battle of the Sundaralingams rages in the North.” Police filed a plaint against CS under the Social Disabities Act. Same time CS filed action against me for Unlawful Assembly etc in Mallakam Courts.

The Magistrate was a die-hard Vellalla who was determined to go for trial. I went to Colombo, and met Attorney General, Mr Victor Tennakoon. By virtue of his position under the criminal procedure he had the right to withdraw any private plaint filed against any Government official. When the State counsel appeared in Court with A/G’s letter on the next date, this caste-minded Magistrate rejected A/G’s plea and document. Believe me, this case went up to Supreme Court (SC) in Colombo.

It overruled the Magistrate’s order and granted my discharge. In the meantime, Police filed action against CS under Social Disabilities Act and he was fined Rs 100. 00 and warned. When, however, SC upheld the Magistrate’s order CS went to Privy Council. With his personal appearance he was hopeful that the conservative Lords will accept his arguments based on the customs and traditions of the Jaffna Tamils but the Privy Council upheld the SC order. Mr Gratien appeared for the Govt of Ceylon. This was the last Privy Council case from Sri Lanka with no more appeals after that (I believe).

Aftermath- Maviddapuram Temple was closed, with an injunction filed by AG restraining CS and the Maviddapuram High Priest. My evidence was recorded for 3 days in District Court of Jaffna. In 1971 a Parliamentary Committee composed of Pieter Keuneman, Leslie Goonewardena and Cholomondely Gunawardena, with my recommendation, passed a new amendment to 1957 Act with more stringent provisions

Caste discrimination prevailing in Jaffna, no doubt, initially led to the growth of extremist Tamil Youth Movements. One Sivakumar, identified as a Militant Youth leader before Prabaharan in 1970, planned a campaign in the Peninsula for a common sit-down meal comprising all-caste youth in one sitting. This was a movement to get all youths of all castes together. Sivakumar was suspected in two bomb throwing incidents, including Alfred Duraippah’s car bomb incident, during this period. To begin with, all Youth leaders of the LTTE came from VVT Karaiyar caste.

I have always stated that the detention of Rohana Wijeweera in Jaffna 1971 and JVP attack on Jaffna Jail was an inspiration to Jaffna Youth. The cry in Jaffna was : If Sinhala Youths can revolt against Government what are we doing? From one perspective, it can be argued that Rohana Wiieweera created Prabahaharan (?).

You are free to quote me in the incidents and happenings in Jaffna during my tenure in Jaffna.

Best wishes to your wife.


This is a stunning expose, coming from the highest Tamil Police officer in Jaffna. It exposes four major aspects of the Vellala supremacists: 1. the Vellalas fought for Vellala privileges and not for the common rights of the Tamils who were kept out of Vellala temples / society ; 2. intransigent determination of the Vellalas to go to the ends of the earth – even to the Privy Council – to preserve their casteist hegemony (3) the domination, manipulation and the rigging of the administrative and the judicial systems to protect and serve Vellala supremacy and (4) the low-castes had to fight their own battles to regain their dignity, equality, justice and peace from the Vellalas.

With the entire Jaffna elite expecting him to throw his weight behind the Vellalas it was not easy for Superintendent Sunderalingam to take the side of the low-caste. But his duty was to uphold the law and he did it with courage. In this letter Superintendent Sunderalingam debunks the fiction of the Vellala leadership being angelic apostles of Ahimsa.


Prof. C. Suntheralingam, a bright mathematician from Cambridge University and a minister in the first Cabinet of D. S. Senanayake, was the face of the Vellalas inside Jaffna. Casteism was ineradicably ingrained in the blood stream of the Vellalas that not even Cambridge and Oxford could take it out of their system. Outside Jaffna the Vellala leadership was posing as non-violent Gandhians demanding ‘Tamil rights’ – a euphemism for Vellala privileges which, for instance, did not include the rights of ‘minorities’ to enter a Hindu kovil. The mask of Tamil non-violent piety was the public face worn by the Vellalahs to deceive the world. The Vellala elite of Jaffna was the most privileged community in Sri Lanka. They were better off than even the Sinhalese in some respects. But they preferred to wallow in the myth of victimology. It is those who believed in this myth that ended up in Nandikadal.

The Vellalas, in short, have been the worst enemies of the Tamils. In Jaffna the cows, the chicken, the dogs could walk in daylight except that class of Tamils classified as Turumbas by the Vellalas. The assumed sense of superiority and purity of the Vellalas led them to discard their own people as pariahs. Not knowing how to come to terms with their criminal past and their guilt of denying their own Tamil people dignity, justice, equality and peace the Vellala elite distorted the reality and accused the Sinhalese of denying dignity, justice, equality and peace to them. This is typical of their habitual tendency to deviate from the truth to demonise the ‘Sinhala state’.

In any case ‘the Sinhala state’ has been in existence only or 73 years. But Jaffna was turned into a colony of slaves by the Dutch, with the consent of 12 Vellala mudliyars in 1707. Jointly they produced the Tesawalamai which gave the Vellalas the right to own slaves and rule their lives from the womb to the tomb. Historian Nira Wickramasinghe and Alicia Schrikker argued that by “tapping into a perceived local practice of slavery and legally constituting slaves, Dutch colonial rulers further strengthened the power of the dominant caste Vellalar over their subordinates.” (The Ambivalence of Freedom: Slaves in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries - The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 78. No.3 (August 2019).

So, colonialism and Vellalaism went hand in hand to consolidate the power of the Vellalas to rule Jaffna with an iron fist. Vellala supremacy was crowned with codification of Tesawalamai. This gave them the power to persecute, suppress, marginalise, ostracise, burn the schools and houses of low-castes, beat them if they violate the Vellala norms, rape their women and even murder them.

Vellalas used political tools of discrimination, marginalisation and majoritarianism against the minority low-castes. From 1707 until the rise of Velupillai Prabhakaran they fought the low-caste minorities on these lines.

The administration reports of the Dutch and British are crowded with Vellala thuggery, rape, inhuman treatment of slaves, exploitation, and generally reducing the Tamils to subhuman species unfit to live in human society. Ironically, when they resorted to demonise the Sinhalese they used the same accusations of discrimination, marginalisation and majoritarianism. Coincidence? No. That is the Vellala way of trying to look good after what they had done to their own people. That is their way of trying to expiate their sins by pretending to be victims of the Sinhala demons.

The rise of the Vellalas since the Dutch period to its overdetermining height in peninsular politics is undisputed. Early power was based on caste supremacy. As castesim waned as a viable ideology to hold casteist Jaffna together they shifted to Gandhism and Tamil language mixed with various shades of Tamil nationalism.

Initially the Vellalas gained considerable political mileage posing as the pious apostles of the noble non-violence doctrine propounded by Gandhi. He came to Jaffna in November 1927. The reception was overwhelming. But Gandhism was not in the hands of the Vellalas. It was in the hands of the radical and idealistic youth of Jaffna. It can be considered as the only Golden period in Jaffna when the youth came out denouncing communalism and casteism. P. de S. Kularatne, Principal of Ananda College, was even elected as the President. It was also a formidable force in its day. When it fizzled out in the thirties with the rise of G. G. Ponnambalam’s virulent racism it never rose again, dashing all hopes of the Jaffna youth who yearned for one nation, one people.


After the demise of the youth Congress Vellalaism reasserted itself with renewed vigour. And the people of Jaffna and the nation as a whole have been paying with their lives for the divisive, destructive and demonic politics of the ‘congenital idiots’ of Jaffna ever since then, who wallow in their myths of being Gandhians. Gandhism had very distinct characteristics like (1) anti-imperialism; (2) non-violence at any cost (leaving violence to Subas Chandra Bose) (3) anti-casteist oppression (4) national unity and not separatism and (5) peaceful coexistence emphasising commonalities and not differences.

The Vellalas who posed as Gandhians betrayed the essence of Gandhism. For instance, one of Gandhi’s life and death battle was against separatism. It was essentially an ego trip of one man – Jinnah. If the objective was to find a home for Muslims it failed. There are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. And the division had led to more death, destruction and wars. The identical situation would have risen in Sri Lanka if it was divided into two.

Then consider the claim of being non-violent Gandhians. Prof. A. J. Wilson says that his father-in-law, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam went through with a fine comb every word of the Vadukoddai Resolution which declared war on Sri Lanka. Which Gandhian would have meticulously scrutinised and worded the declaration of war that led to deaths, destruction and dehumanisation – and, mark you, without achieving anything in the end? Since he is ultimately responsible for the Declaration of War all the deaths, destruction and the evil that followed should be placed fairly and squarely on the head of Chelvanayakam – the bogus Gandhian who sent other people’s children to premature death.

As a cub reporter I was there at the Galle Face witnessing the Federal Party leaders staging their first satyagraha against the language issue. I was also there at Maviddipuram covering the tail end of the battle. To this day I am baffled trying to figure out in what part of the verti the Gandhians had tucked in their non-violence!