Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Expulsion of Jaffna Muslims: A Response to the Claim of Cultural Genocide

by Sachi Sri Kantha, November 29, 2005

I read with interest the rejoinder by A.R.M. Imtiyaz, to my three part commentary on the expulsion of Jaffna Muslims in 1990 by the LTTE. I am strongly skeptical about the claim advanced by Imtiyaz that this expulsion was a ‘cultural genocide.’ The phrase ‘cultural genocide’ is a very loaded weapon which should not be used carelessly or selectively.

Should this loaded weapon be used only for the events of the past 15-20 years, when a segment of Muslims living in the war zone are identified as victims and it has become dandy to use terms like ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘crime against humanity’? Everything should be kept in perspective. If one uses these terms in this context, then one must be careful to apply them uniformly. How about the reverse side of the coin, when Muslims either overtly/covertly perpetrated such cultural genocide in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia during the past centuries or some Muslims aided/abetted the atrocities against Tamil Hindus and Christians in Eelam since 1983 by destroying temples, churches, schools and libraries? Was Islam an indigenous religion to the Indian subcontinent? Is not cultural genocide the major factor in Islam gaining its foot-hold in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia? Why not extend the time frame for ‘hideous cultural genocides’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ to the past millenium?

For argument's sake and understanding that mores change over time, if one accepts this claim that ‘cultural genocide’ of Jaffna Muslims occurred in 1990, how would one classify the pilfering and plundering of the cultural wealth of Tamil Hindus by the marauding Muslim mobs from the North India which happened 705 years ago? For the grand scale plundering of Hindu temples which occurred in AD 1310 in Tamil Nadu, I provide a synopsis below, from a popular book by Michael Wood, a British broadcaster-journalist.

“…The campaign against the South[India] by the sultan’s general Malik Kafur lasted a full year, during which the southern Tamil lands were overrun, temples demolished, towns looted. In January 1311 they hit Trichy and attacked the great temple of Vishnu on the sacred island of Srirangam. The temple staff had no time to flee and a terrible massacre took place. The temple chronicle records the events of the time…

Many of the ancient temples in the Cavery valley must have been terrorized at this time, and some of the buried treasure troves uncovered in recent year must represent the desperate efforts of the priests to hide their old bronzes and temple treasures before the onslaught….

As the destruction of the accumulated artistic treasures of a civilization, Kafur’s year-long campaign had few parallels in south Indian history. Are we to see it simply as motivated by greed? Or by religious fanaticism?….The Koran, of course, provides both justification for, and explicit rejection of, such persecution….No doubt then it was as easy for Kafur to travel with chapter and verse in his baggage as it was for the Conquistadors. The scientist Al Biruni put it succinctly: ‘India is full of riches, entirely delightful, and, as its people are mainly infidels and idolaters, it is right by order of God for us to conquer them.’

In March 1311 Kafur reached the frontier of the Pandyan lands which were then rent by civil war, and marched on Madurai, raiding towns and villages and desecrating temples on his way….When Kafur reached Madurai on 10 April 1311, like Napoleon at Moscow, he found an empty city, for Sundara Pandya had fled with his family retainers and treasures….According to a relatively sober source, Kafur retreated with a vast baggage train loaded with loot, including 612 elephants, 20,000 horses and ninety-six measures of gold, the equivalent to 100 million gold coins….” [Book: The Smile of Murugan – A South Indian Journey, Penguin Books, 1996, pp.137-140]

This is real cultural genocide, more so than the expulsion of Jaffna Muslims in 1990. I have a reason to quote some snippets of this historical vandalism of Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu. Historical studies by other scholars also corroborate that such hideous Muslim invasions by the plundering mobs into Tamil Nadu was one of the factors for large scale migration of Tamil Saivaites from Tamil Nadu to Eelam in the 13th-14th centuries.

Has Imtiaz checked whether the LTTE damaged any Muslim mosques intentionally in 1990, when they expelled the Jaffna Muslims? Does he have any positive evidence that LTTE desecrated the places of Muslim worship? As per the count provided by Robert Holmes in 1980,

“Of the twenty one mosques, all are Sunni Muslims, except for one of the Shia sect. The three largest mosques (Mohideen, Grand and New) in Jaffna twon, have congregations of 500-600 families.” [Book: Jaffna 1980, Christian Institute for the Study of Religion & Society, Jaffna, 1980, pp.188-191]

First, in the absence of any vandalization to Muslim mosques, how can Imtiaz claim that the 1990 expulsion was a “cultural genocide”? Secondly, let us check how many Muslims are living in Jaffna now. As per D.B.S.Jeyaraj’s count,

“There has been a stream of Muslims travelling to and from Jaffna after the ceasefire. Some families have returned and the re-opened Osmaniya College now has 60 students on its roll. Two mosques are functioning again. According to a Jaffna Muslim source there is a floating population of about 2000 Muslims in Jaffna at any given time. Around 1500 are Jaffna Muslims while the rest are Muslim traders from other areas. About 10 Muslim shops are functioning.” [Sunday Leader, Colombo, October 30, 2005]

One has to trust the numbers provided by Jeyaraj with some reservation. Being an anti-LTTE scribe, he bloated the Muslims living in Jaffna town in 1990 to 28,000. But, citing more than one published source, I deduced the real figure to be around 12,000. Even if one assumes that the 2,000-head floating population of Muslims in Jaffna now is credible and that it is a fraction of the 12,000 who lived there in 1990, it still disproves the “cultural genocide” claim of Imtiaz.

I provide another unchallengeable source to substantiate my claim that the number of Muslims living in Jaffna district should be higher than 2,000. It is a given and logical to infer that Muslims vote for Muslims. In the 1994 general elections, which was boycotted by the LTTE, the total number of valid votes cast in the Jaffna district was only 13,479, whereas the number of registered electors were 596,366. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) contested in the Jaffna district and received 2,098 votes. Among these, a Muslim candidate, Aithurus M.Illias, received 1,575 votes and was elected as an MP. The current Minister Douglas Devananda’s slate (Independent Group 2) received a paltry 10,744 cumulative votes, and 9 candidates belonging to this nondescript clique became MPs. The last in the list of these 9 candidates was a Muslim, M.A.Ghafoor Zafarullah, who received 351 votes to become an MP.

In same 1994 general election, in the Vanni district, the SLMC received 8,142 cumulative votes among the 42,271 total number of valid votes cast. One Muslim, S.S.M.Abu Bakaar, received 4,269 votes and was elected as an MP.

Sufficient numbers of Muslims were voting for Muslim candidates in these elections that one has a hard time saying that Muslims in the north had lost their 'cultural or social identity.'

Thus, in conclusion, I state that Imtiaz’s claim that “cultural genocide” occurred to Muslims living in the North Eelam in 1990 is nothing but an canard. As a scholar, it would serve him better if he sticks to facts and not to fantasized claims.