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Territorial Spaces and National Identities: Representations of Sri Lanka1 In South Asia xx (1998): 23-50 Nihal Perera Professor of Urban Planning Ball State University

Introduction According to the dominant rhetoric, the territorial integrity of the modern state is inviolable. Political geographer Peter Taylor notes that the idea of “nation” permeates the study of political geography to such a degree that the concept has been seen as largely unproblematic.2 Even in the postcolonial periphery, the notion of the nation-state has been sanctified for over a century. Yet in practice --from Northern Ireland to Irian Jaya-- this principle is constantly being challenged, drawing our attention to the continuing processes of construction, reproduction, and contestation of national territorial spaces and their representations. These contemporary struggles also remind us that the spaces of “national” representation and the spatial representation of “nations” have been at odds for a long time. I employ “national” here broadly to stand for “peoplehood.” Whether in the top-down homogenization of a people living in a particular territory into a nation or the bottom-up undertaking by a particular cultural group to construct a politically defined territory for themselves, “nationalism ” is used to interpret the flagrant expression of this conflict. Nationalism has become increasingly important in recent scholarship. Yet for the most part, the aim has been to capture the phenomenon of what is called nationalism in a simple Eurocentric “scientific” manner. For example, Spencer notes that “Each nationalism is based upon the assumption that people are naturally divisible into different kinds --known as nations-- and ideally

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 2 each kind should have the responsibility for its own governance.”3 Nationalisms, however, are much more complex than this suggests, not least Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka. I am, therefore, inclined to examine how these political positions are constructed. As Kemper argues, the strength of nationalism, or any other political movement, is its ability to draw on sentiments --language, religion, family, culture-- that seem natural and autochthonous.4 Sahlins asserts that the idea that the past is either continuous with the present or discontinuous from it is a false dichotomy; “every reproduction of culture is an alteration, insofar as in action, the categories by which the present world is orchestrated pick up some novel empirical content.”5 Despite its horrors, nationalism can also be viewed as a mechanism for the reproduction of cultures. Getting out of the immediate opposition between the separatists and the Sri Lankan government, or the Tamils and the Singhalese which these parties claim to represent, this paper explores the broader spatial context in which this nationalist conflict takes place. In the course of examining the context of colonizing Ceylon, its move to independence, and the contemporary separatist movement, I shall inquire into the construction and contestation of Ceylon’s nationalterritorial space, particularly the territory, boundaries, capital, and its centrality and domain. The paper will focus on the various and different representations of this space by the colonial British, Sri Lanka’s national leaders, and contemporary militant groups, particularly Tamil separatists. I shall argue that the colonial British not only produced Sri Lanka’s national space but also hegemonized the notion of its territoriality, a notion which, so far, has resisted and contained the efforts of its challengers. Every challenge to this colonially-produced “national” space has caused significant transformations in Sri Lanka. Yet at the same time, these challenges have been strongly characterized by their “oppositional politics” that move under the sign of irony; “fighting on a

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 3 terrain already mapped out by [their] antagonists.”6


The Colonial Construction of Ceylon The beginning of European expansion in the sixteenth century was also the beginning of

European colonialism in today’s Sri Lanka. However, apart from acquiring patches of territory along the coasts, almost three centuries of Portuguese (1505-1656) and Dutch (1656-1796) efforts to conquer the whole island of Lanka were futile. Here I use the more historic “Lanka” to identify the island now known as Sri Lanka before European colonization. It was finally the British who took over the Dutch controlled territory of Ceylon in 1796, eventually appropriating the whole island in 1815. Despite their early interests in the northeastern port of Trincomalee, the British used Colombo as the node from which to transform Ceylon into a unified political territory within the British Empire. In so doing, they also destroyed the territorial self of the last Lankan kingdom of Kandy, eliminating all significant traces of indigenous political power and cultural identity. Combining the name and the territorial self, it was the British who finally produced Ceylon.

Making Ceylon a “National” Territory For the British, the initial geo-strategic importance of Ceylon emerged as a result of the shift in European colonial competition in the eastern parts of continental India. While the early Portuguese settlements in the Indian sub-continent were limited to the west coast, from the seventeenth century, the Dutch, the British, and the French were expanding their colonial frontiers to the eastern parts. The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), in which India had been an important locus of Franco-British conflicts, transformed the Bay of Bengal into a significant region of

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 4 conflict.7 This geographical shift of European warfare in India, from the west to the east, precipitated the strategic need for a naval base in the Bay of Bengal. It was this need that made Trincomalee Bay, in the north-east of Ceylon, important for the European colonial competition from the mid eighteenth century.8 Although the British had, from the 1740s, been using Trincomalee from time to time, as a part of a comprehensive operation to gain control of about a dozen Dutch territories, the British captured the whole of Dutch controlled Ceylon in 1796. Once taken over, Ceylon’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean made it necessary for the British authorities to hold it as a Crown Colony, separate from the territories in continental India which were under the English East India Company.9 In the conflict between the Company and the British authorities over who should control Ceylon, the Company favored holding it under the Madras government (the forces of which had conquered Ceylon), whereas the British government wanted it to be directly under the Crown.10 Although the process of negotiation had already begun, the Ceylonese revolt of 1797-8, waged a little more than a year after the conquest, was used by the British government to fulfil its aims of gaining control of the island. The use of political events in the colonies to negotiate conflicts between the agencies of the metropole was not limited to Ceylon. Most significantly, after the 1857 rebellion in India, the control of those territories was also transferred from the East India Company to the Crown in 1858. The settlement made between Company and Crown authorities in London and Calcutta largely determined the future of Ceylon as a separate national territory. Like former southern Indian kingdoms, Ceylon could have well been integrated into a future India state by the British, especially since it was conquered and ruled for a short period by the Company forces of the Madras Presidency, which later constituted a part of India.11 Similarly, if the Dutch had succeeded in

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 5 restoring it to the Batavian Republic at the Peace of Amiens (1802), Ceylon could well have become a part of today’s Indonesia. The establishment of the Crown Colony in 1802, however, made Ceylon a separate politico-territory, a colony within the Empire. The full process of establishing a Crown Colony materialized after the Peace of Amiens which formally ceded Ceylon from the Dutch to the British. Hence, the territorial space of colonial Ceylon was constructed through negotiations between various agencies, both European and indigenous, but was nonetheless dominated by the British.

Spaces of Representation and Representational Spaces Although the territory initially appropriated from the Dutch was limited to the coastal belt, for the British, “Ceylon” represented the whole island, including Kandy. (See fig 1) Portuguese invaders had also thought of the whole island as a single cultural and social space, especially when the King of Portugal had become heir to the Kotte kingdom after the death of its king in 1597. Although Kotte was --with Sitavaka, Jaffnapatam, and Kandy-- one of four quite separate kingdoms on the island in the early sixteenth century, by the late century it had already been reduced to a Portuguese protectorate and had shrunk in size.12 Yet the imagined territory which the Portuguese appropriated was the whole island. The European name, Ceylon, a corruption of the Singhalese Sihala Dveepa, itself stood for the whole island. This is not an isolated case; Lower Burma provides a similar example of conflict between space in practice and representational space. Although the Irawaddy Delta and the province of Pegu were conquered only in 1852, the British declared both those as part of their colony of Lower Burma along with what they had conquered earlier in 1826.13

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 6 Unifying the island’s politico-territory under their own kingdom had also been a social and spatial conception of the “Singhalese” monarchs.14 This idea refers to a particular “golden period” in history (known as the period of Rajarata Civilization --the third century BC to the twelfth century AD), in which there was only one kingdom on the island. Yet Lanka, or Sihala Dveepa, did not represent a politico-territory, nor did the kingdom have physical boundaries. Instead, Lankan kingdoms were principally identified according to their metropolitical center, for example, Kotte Kingdom, or the region in which they were located, such as the Kandy country (from Kande Uda Rata, or hill country).15 In this sense, the kingdom was defined by the center and its reach and not by its boundary. The outer peripheries of Lankan kingdoms were, therefore, closer to the notion of “frontiers” than boundaries.16 Hence the congruence between the colony and the island that Ceylon represented was a European colonial construction which assumed a totalized relationship between these social and territorial units. In this context, Colombo’s function was to expand outward, subjecting the whole island to the British authority.

Reproduction of Colombo’s “Centrality” Despite their initial interest in Trincomalee, the British not only acquired all the Dutch controlled territories of Ceylon, but also followed their spatial organization, of which the capital was Colombo. A principal cause for the shift of political and geographical interest in Ceylon from Trincomalee to Colombo was a shift in the balance of power among European imperial states, in Britain’s favor, at the end of the Seven Years’ War.17 The easing of European competition and the conquest of Ceylon had shifted British attention from the acquisition of a reliable port in the Bay of Bengal to protect their interests in India, to that of appropriating the established port of Colombo, a

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 7 strategic requirement for their broader domination of the Indian Ocean. Colombo was also more strategic for the establishment of control over Ceylon. It was located in the mostly populated area and also provided the potentially most convenient access to the remaining Lankan kingdom of Kandy which the southern port city of Galle did not.18 Within this European representation of Ceylon, Colombo’s function was to spread outward, expanding the European maritime world in the Indian Ocean, subjecting the island to Colombo’s sphere of domination, and organizing it as a part of the larger Empire. Once Colombo was acquired, the attention of every European imperial power was inevitably drawn to the wealth that they assumed was hidden in the interior. George Viscount Valentia, a British traveller who visited Colombo at the beginning of the nineteenth century reveals this curiosity, “[Ceylon’s] central situation, its harbours, its produce, and the treasures which I suspect are hidden in the bowels of its lofty mountains, will, I think, render it one of our most valuable possessions.”19 The British Governors’ drive to construct Ceylon around Colombo was apparent from the beginning of British rule in Ceylon, particularly in the British desire to link Colombo and Trincomalee overland across Kandyan country. As a Crown Colony, Ceylon was ruled by the British authorities in London, through its agent in Colombo, the Governor. In constructing the vital link between London and Colombo, and other Crown Colonies, a Colonial Agency was established in London in 1801.20 The Agent’s duty was “to execute all directions received from the Government of Ceylon and the Secretary of State or the Treasury in this colony in reference to the wants or concerns of the colony.”21 In Colombo, the office of Governor was established in 1802,22 centralizing the authority as well as the responsibility over Ceylon. Ceylon’s meaning for the next one and a half centuries was to lay in the

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 8 larger organization of that British Empire. Historically, the Lankan kingdoms had been organized as self-sufficient, self-contained entities, of which the seat of government was located within the territory. The shifting of the center of political authority of the Lankan society(ies) to London reoriented the society and space of Ceylon towards the metropole, though through the colonial port city of Colombo. Moreover, the relocation of the political center outside Ceylon, in London, with the “colonial capital” set up in a colonial port city, inverted its spatial order, from one being inward, to another being outward oriented. The plantation economy would only reinforce this in the 1850s.23 Vesting formal political responsibility in a single office --that of the Governor’s-- was perhaps the most important factor in the construction of Ceylon as a single territorial unit around Colombo, and the political and administrative link to London. Bipan Chandra argues that colonialism is not about classes, but “between a foreign ruling class and colonial people as a whole.”24 In this sense, the Crown’s appointment of one official, the Governor, as the head of Ceylon, represented the subjugation of the whole society of Ceylon. According to one Colonial Secretary, the powers of the Governor constitute[d] a “paternal despotism,” modified only by the distant authority of the Queen [or the king]. The functions of his councils are consultative, but adoption or rejection of their recommendations rests exclusively with himself.25

In contrast to the theories of evolution of modern cities in Europe, modern Colombo did not evolve through “internal” or “organic” processes. Instead, it was constructed as a part of a British imperial system from “outside,” reversing what are normally seen as the organic processes of city growth.26 In a broader sense, according to Malcolm Cross, writing about the Caribbean, the

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 9 colonial society was not just “influenced” by Europe but actually created by it.27 Just as, in regard to Brazil, Mary Karasch has observed that it was Rio that made Brazil and not vice versa,28 so it was Colombo that made Ceylon and not Ceylon (nor Lanka) that made Colombo.

The Incorporation of Kandy The main and final barrier for the English to materialize the representational space of Ceylon, as well as unify the territory already under British control, was the kingdom of Kandy. The key to the British reorganization of the island into a single administrative space was the elimination of indigenous social and spatial structures which were seen as obstructions to the achievement of particular colonial objectives. A crucial strategy was to destroy the identity of Kandy, including that of the subjects. The desire to take over Kandy is evident in Governor North’s proposals to the king of Kandy in 1802, demanding free communication between Colombo and Trincomalee for the troops and tappal (mail service) of “my government.”29 Despite the failure of earlier attempts, the final conquest of Kandy in 1815 was made with the utmost ease. Tennent quotes Knighton: “From this day [February 14, 1815] we date the extinction of Singhalese independence --an independence which had continued without material interruption for 2,357 years.”30 The British, however, continued to treat the former Kandy as a separate entity until the 1830s,31 when, in order to bring the colonization of Kandy and the island as a whole to a climax, the entire administration of Ceylon was transformed. In so doing, the British divided up the whole island into homogeneous administrative provinces and districts, all of them subject to a single, English-speaking administration in Colombo. The organization of colonies in terms of Provinces

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 10 and District was not only common in many west European empires, but also refers to previous Roman colonial systems.32 Most significantly, the colonial state allocated parts of the former Kandyan country among all five provinces created in 1833, in this way eliminating Kandy’s physical and spatial identity. (See table 1 and figure 2) Apart from the Central Province, much smaller than the former Kingdom of Kandy, the administrative capitals of all other provinces were located within former Ceylon, outside former Kandy.33 Moreover, the colonial state’s use of cardinal directions to name the Provinces --Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western, and Central-- could well have been aimed at effacing earlier identities. It was only in 1889, for the first time, that a province was given a name. By then, the threat of Kandy, as a potentially subversive political unit, had disappeared.

Table 1 New Provinces of 1833 Province

Composed of former Ceylonese districts of

and former Kandyan districts of


Jaffna, Mannar and the Wanni Trincomalee and Batticaloa Galle, Tangalle, Matara, and Hambantota Colombo, Chilaw, and Puttalam


Eastern Southern Western


Tamankaduwa and Bintenna Saffragam, Lower Uva, and Wellassa Seven Korales, Three Korales, Four Korales, and Lower Bulatgamme Central Districts of Kandy Kingdom (Former Kandy Kingdom except what is shown above)

Source: Mills, Ceylon Under British, 68.

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 11 The hierarchical organization of these administrative divisions and their capitals, therefore, was to create the colonial spatial and urban structure of Ceylon, the crown colony. Compared to the former organization of Lankan towns, the prominent ones of which were religious and royal centers, these new urban settlements were politically and culturally alien to the surrounding society.34 The authorities of these urban centers received orders from the English speaking administration in Colombo, and the administrative functions carried out by them were evolved in Europe. Hence, these urban centers represented an extension of British authority, through London and Colombo, and the production of an urban-centric, Eurocentric Ceylon.


Elite Reproduction of National Space For the Ceylonese indigenous elite, principally represented through the Ceylon National

Congress and later, the United National Party, independence was merely a peaceful transfer of power and did not imply significant changes in the economic, administrative, ideological, and spatial structures. In contrast to the anti-imperialist leadership of the last kingdom of Kandy, for example, what the leadership of independent Ceylon represented was an elite sympathetic with the values of the colonial community. Moreover, the leadership of the Kandyan aristocracy was replaced by this new Low-Country elite, a multi-ethnic, multiracial group led by Low-Country Singhalese. The territories which the Lankans had lost to European imperial powers and what the Ceylonese recovered were also radically different. Instead of the four kingdoms which had existed prior to European colonization, what their populations “received,” on independence, was a single state. Paradoxically, for the elite, the new “national” society and space was given in the post-

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 12 colonial state. Hence, the principal objective of the Ceylonese elite was to replace the British, whether in regard to their positions or their spaces. Yet the construction of a “nation-state” out of the post-colonial state was the responsibility of the particular state itself. This was carried out by the postcolonial state taking over the colonial administrative unit and the implicit recruitment of “national” subjects to this pre-established structure, simultaneously attempting to transform this ensemble into a so-called “nation,” in the process expanding the extant inter-state system. In this context, the most central characteristics of colonial Ceylon did not change much after independence; even the naval and airborne installations on the island were retained by the Biritsh until the mid 1950s. Nonetheless, the consciousness of Ceylon becoming a single nation increased intra-group competition among the elite and this is clearly evident in the reconstruction of their ethnic differences and identities.35 The inflation of the Tamil elite’s request from that of a reasonable representation for Tamils in the Legislative Council from 1910 to 1931, to having equal weightage for Tamils and Singhalese from 1931,36 can be viewed as an outcome of their becoming increasingly conscious of having to share power within a single state. A crucial event that intensified such consciousness was the 1923 Order-In-Council creating an elected majority in the colonial Legislative Council.37 At the same time, the Singhalese leaders escalated their efforts for the reclaiming and restoring of their historic and sacred places.38 A significant turning point in this development was the split in the Ceylon National Congress in 1921 when a prominent leader, Ponnambalam Arunachalam, left the Congress with its Low-Country Singhalese majority. Watersheds in this development also include the formation of the Singhalese-nationalist Singhala Mahajana Sabhawa in 1919.39 The alienation from the larger

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 13 Ceylonese society, however, prevented the elite from mobilizing their caste and ethnic schisms into any substantial social movements. Moreover, the socialist challenge from the 1930s made them focus more on their class and status based interests which they were compelled to protect first. In regard to the political center, the post-colonial regime adopted the colonial administrative center of Colombo. The significance of Colombo for post-colonial rulers can be explained by the fact that it was solidly within the colonial society and space, and particularly in relation to Colombo, that the meaning of the elite and their identities was produced.40 Decolonization, however, drastically constrained the umbilical chord that connected Ceylon, through Colombo, to the metropole. If the elite derived its original political power from the authorities in London, with independence, they had to rely on, and negotiate with, the average Ceylonese. What we see in the post-colonial, national territorial and urban spatial structures is, therefore, a multivalence. This represents a conflict between the continuing colonial spatial structures of which Colombo was the center and the reconstruction of a historical continuity of the people which made religious centers the nucleus. In this context, while Colombo continued to function as the center of the Ceylonese polity, economy, as well as capitalist culture, the religious and cultural organization of Ceylon reproduced the centrality of their historic centers, for example, Kandy and Jaffna/Nallur, for each community. It is this reconstruction of the “post-colonial split site� that brought about a multivalence to the social, cultural, and spatial formation of Ceylon. This multicentricity, however, did not generate any disorder in Ceylonese society and space until the 1980s, a situation I shall address below. As much as producing Ceylon, the colonial elite had also to transform themselves to be a part of the society and the state. To a lesser degree, the state also assumed the role of providing

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 14 historic patronage to Buddhism. Buddhism is to be understood, in this context, as a reformed version which many of the elite had studied, through the medium of English, and some in Oxford, for the first time.41 Although only implicit at times, the increase in significance of historic Buddhist centers in the post-colonial political arena is illustrated by the fact that every ministerial cabinet of newly formed governments has made a pilgrimage to the Temple of the Tooth at Kandy. The apogee of this “invented tradition” was reached in 1977 when Prime Minister J.R. Jayawardena, following a Kandyan royal tradition, addressed the “nation” from the octagonal podium, Pattirippuwa, of the Temple. The post-colonial rulers of Ceylon used the new authority brought about by independence to restructure the society and space of Ceylon. In the first place, the post-colonial regime viewed Ceylon as their space, though did not readily accept all colonial subjects as nationals. Instead they were selective. Despite their alliance with the Tamil elite, the Singhalese elite were not ready to accept the plantation workers of southern Indian origin as nationals. This is evident in their classification of them as Indian Tamils, reaffirming them as a foreign people. Within a mere two years, the United National Party government of 1948 was to deprive the plantation workers of Indian origin of their citizenship and voting rights.42 In 1928, D.S. Senanayake, who later became the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon, had invited plantation workers to get assimilated into what he saw as Ceylon. He wrote, “We do not consider the Indians as aliens. We tell them ‘become part of ourselves, become Ceylonese, and then share in the government of the country.’”43 Yet the plantation workers’ active role in the anti-colonial struggles of the 1940s, led by the socialists, made the elite distance themselves from these “proletarian” laborers. Hence, what we see is an ambivalence on the part of the elite, for whom the

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 15 planter capitalist was a model, on one hand needing the labor of these workers but on the other, resenting their social roles and political values. If the anti-colonial struggles had brought these plantation workers into Ceylonese politics and “national” space, the post-colonial state denied them legitimate entry into it. Another major concern of the post-colonial rulers was economic self-sufficiency. Since Ceylon was part of the British Empire, its self-sufficiency was not a principal concern of the colonial state, but of the Empire. As the deficit of the staple food, rice, was imported from within the empire, particularly Burma,44 the production of the full requirement of rice within Ceylon was not seen as a necessity, except during periods of economic recession. It was only within the perception of an independent Ceylon as a single political entity that the post-colonial rulers of Ceylon viewed its “self-sufficiency” as a national requirement. Although historically, selfsufficiency may have operated at the village level, and under colonialism at an imperial scale, the post-colonial concern was for this to be achieved at the national level. In addition to restoring former irrigation works, the colonial state had also undertaken the construction and expansion of new irrigation structures from the 1920s.45 Both these projects entailed the resettling of farming families in irrigated areas. This was, however, not the revival of former villages but rather, a process of establishing them from Colombo. It is therefore no coincidence that these settlements were called “colonies,” a practice continued till the 1960s. Nonetheless, this was also the time for the post-colonial state to incorporate the whole island into its domain. Moreover, post-colonial governments viewed the colonial division of Lankan territory into administrative provinces, districts, and its urban structure as orthogenetic, i.e., natural or given.

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 16 Growing up within a colonial system with its emphasis on an urban-centric society, the postcolonial elite did not acquire a capacity to question the appropriateness of colonial administrative divisions, or a national urban structure with its capital, the colonial port city of Colombo, at the top of this hierarchy. The creation of provincial councils and the transfer of districts into constituencies in the 1980s is the most profound transformation which these old colonial divisions have undergone. Yet this was simply a modification of the functions of these territorial units, putting them to a “better use,” but was not a radical transformation.


Anti-Colonialist Conceptions of National Sri Lanka The socialists, particularly the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, and the nationalists, principally

the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, formed in 1951, shared the view that independence in 1948 was incomplete. Completing this mission, in 1972, the United Front government not only changed the constitution of the country but also its name, from Ceylon to Sri Lanka. Moreover, it was the newly formed Sama Samaja Party that had led the independence struggle from the 1930s. In contrast to the struggles that strove to repel European invasions and restore the legitimacy of Lankan kingdoms, these independence movements which had been born within the colonies saw colonial society and its territory as orthogenetic. Ironically, it was precisely this Ceylon that the socialists opted to liberate. Just as trade unions of the European proletariat corresponded to the production units (factories) and “trades” organized by capital, anti-colonial movements also operated within the society and space defined by the British Empire. As most socialist movements of the time, the Sama Samaja Party’s spatial orientation was international. Its internationalism largely lay in the Marxist slogan that attempted to unite the

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 17 working class against capitalism, across national frontiers, and as a critique of the Stalinist notion of socialism in one country.46 Although its goals contested those of the capitalist world-system, the international solidarity that the Sama Samajists strove to build was not explicitly directed at producing a single socialist world. Instead the inter-national socialist revolution it conceived was to be carried out by socialist parties at national level. What I wish to illustrate here is that the nature of the society and space represented by this anti-colonial movement was not inevitable. For example, given the international orientation of organizations like the Sama Samaja Party, in theory, much broader anti-colonial movements could have been organized at an imperial scale accepting the empire as the social and spatial unit; given the working class orientation of many independence movements, they could also have joined with the working class movements of the metropole. Yet historically, despite the sporadic occurrence of some alliances across colonial borders, such as between Vietnamese and French Communist parties and the Sama Samajist’s cultivating relationships with leftist anti-colonial groups in India, none of these developed into broad-based anti-imperial organizations. More so than with any other political movement in Ceylon, Sama Samajists’ ambivalence towards the “inter-national” was more effective in producing the “national space.” This was not, however, the outcome of supporting the notion of the “national,” but was largely their ignorance of it. Wallerstein points out that, in Europe, “it was the socialists who first and most effectively integrated the “outlying” zones into their respective nation-states.”47 He refers here to the strength of the British Labour Party in Wales and Scotland, French socialists in Octavia, and Italian socialists in the south. Without exception, the Sama Samaja Party was also instrumental in closely integrating marginalized areas and subjects into the prospective national space of Ceylon.

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 18 In Ceylon, the socialists organized the masses across ethnic, religious, and caste boundaries. The struggle for Sri Lankan independence was constructed through the articulation of widespread anti-colonial sentiments against the colonial state of Ceylon. They had a special appeal for the marginalized. Two forms of social consciousness were produced among such groups. First was the consciousness of discrimination among social and cultural groups, including Singhalese “lowcastes.” Roberts argues that supporting the Sama Samaja Party also provided the means to engage in caste and other conflicts.48 Second was the consciousness of being a part of the same society, and not outside it. This is demonstrated in the confidence the socialists gained among the Ceylon Tamils (now Sri Lankan Tamils) and, more ardently, by the plantation workers of Indian origin (officially, “Indian Tamils”).49 Spatially, these struggles drew the British-owned, Indian-worked plantation enclave into national politics. Despite the deprivation of their citizenship by the government of 1947, it was impossible thereafter to perceive plantation workers as non-national or “alien.” The Sama Samaja Party, of which the first goal was national independence, not only represented nationalist sentiment during this phase, but also produced it, profoundly promoting the perception of Ceylon as a “nation.”

Post-colonial “Democracy” and Colombo’s Centrality Colombo’s political and spatial centrality over the island thus remained unchallenged, even by the socialists and nationalists, until the 1970s. During these three decades, Colombo’s position as the national political and administrative capital was reinforced by the popular consent of the Ceylonese for the post-colonial political establishment. This largely occurred through the timely and peaceful transition of power to the Ceylonese, the even balance of the principal political forces,

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 19 and the predominance of a “class” identity. In addition to Lankan religious revivals of the late nineteenth century, the shifting of the locus of independence struggles to the plantations in the 1940s obscured the centrality of Colombo. The reliance on the “proletariat” in its struggle against capitalism, made the Sama Samaja Party view capitalist spaces in Colombo and the plantations as the principal potential sites of confrontation. The Sama Samajists entered the plantations, creating a working class --in regard to its consciousness-- and organized plantation workers against both British domination and capitalism right at the heart of the space that British capital commanded. As the central battlefield, the plantations were transformed into the principal locus of political confrontation.50 Struggles in the plantations in the 1940s, therefore, were an invitation to the colonial regime, once again, to enter the opponents’ territory to settle the disputes. Nonetheless, the timely British transfer of political power to the Ceylonese, which drew every politician’s attention to the task of capturing political power located in Colombo, was instrumental in transforming the locus of anti-colonial struggles from the plantations to Colombo. With independence, Colombo’s role as the locus of political negotiations in Ceylon was continued through a form of European political culture based on a “Westminster” type of democracy. Representatives from electorates were sent out to the House of Representatives in Colombo to govern the “nation” as well as to negotiate issues concerning each individual electorate. At the same time, the transfer of political power to the Ceylonese provided the opportunity for Sama Samaja and Communist Parties, formed in 1942, to enter parliament. The socialists who questioned the premises of capitalist democracy, but who were ambivalent about resorting to “armed struggle,” were drawn into the election process by their success in elections, rather than

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 20 failures. The election of two Sama Samaja candidates to the State Council in 1936 had made them view the Council as the principal platform for the anti-colonial struggle. Increasingly, the LSSP’s approach to the Parliamentary system was largely to work through it, if not gain power within it.51 The hope of winning a future election was boosted by the socialists coming closer to forming a government in the elections for the first parliament of independent Ceylon.52 By the 1970s, they were so deeply entrenched in this position that some factions became quite interested in such European models as “Eurocommunism,” particularly the path to socialism through the Parliament. Hence, the post-colonial locus of political power, for socialists, communists, nationalists, and capitalists alike, remained in Colombo. Colombo’s significance was further reinforced by the somewhat balanced strength of the two major political forces at independence, one led by the elite United National Party, and the other by the socialist Sama Samaja Party. The political culture developed during the transition, in which the strength of political rivals in Ceylon was evenly balanced, prevented either of these attempting to use excessive force of any sort against the other, or extinguish its rival. This can be contrasted with the political situation in India where the Indian National Congress was too dominant so that the Muslim League resorted to a policy of separatism. In the 1937 elections, the Indian National Congress came to power in all eight provinces, even in Bengal, and the Muslim League only gained a total of 40 out of 119 seats.53 Besides attracting more new political parties into the election process, this political enthusiasm in Ceylon was reinforced by the fact that, by the early 1970s, most political parties represented in the parliament had also participated in a government. By the end of the 1960s, the

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 21 main political weapon against any government had become the vote, and about 90% of registered voters casted their ballot in general elections.54 Not only did all elections in Sri Lanka between 1952 and 1982 result in a change of government, but the ability to change governments made the election process increasingly attractive to the masses, especially as an important political weapon. The inability of a single political party to win an election on its own further enhanced the room for manoeuvre for smaller political groups.55 The “success” of this imported system of European political culture in Ceylon can be contrasted with its failure in many post-colonial countries in Asia. According to Pandey, Indonesia abandoned its democratic system in 1957, as did Thailand for the second time in the same year, Pakistan in 1958, and Burma in 1962. Cambodia’s skeletal democracy collapsed in 1970. In 1972 the Philippines came under martial law ...56

In short, the reason why both political leaders and the people believed in the “parliamentary system” lay in the early beginning of that system, the timely transfer of political power by the British, the balance of political forces at the time of transition, the relative absence of corruption in the electoral process, the relatively “healthy” economy, and the lack of direct external manipulation. All these factors contributed towards the process of people with various regional, ethnic, religious, and communal identities and affiliations being transformed into “nationals,” principally concerned with economic and social rather than ethnic issues.


Contesting National Space From the early 1970s, the post-colonial society and space of Sri Lanka was subjected to

profound challenges. The challenges include rebellions, particularly the insurrections led by the

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 22 Janata Vimukti Peramuna, and the separatist struggles, led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam aimed at creating a new Tamil state, Tamil Eelam. These struggles displaced the primary focus of the post-colonial polity on social and economic issues, with others concerning conflicting ethnicities, youth, and rural poverty. At the same time, these struggles destabilized the spatial organization of the nation, principally by undermining Colombo’s position as the locus of political debate and the rules governing political negotiations. In addition, the separatists also challenged the integrity of Sri Lanka as a single state. The changes these challenges brought about in the society and space of Sri Lanka were principally fivefold. First, Sri Lankan youth has became a significant political force. Second, the primacy of social and economic questions in the national political agenda has been replaced by cultural issues. Third, the primary mode of political negotiations has shifted from Parliamentary debates to military confrontations. Fourth, the locus of political negotiations has moved away from Colombo into rural areas. And fifth, the “national integrity� of Sri Lanka has been both seriously questioned and destabilized. The context in which these shifts have taken place was largely provided by the inefficacy of the hegemony constructed for itself by the post-independence political establishment, and the changing national and global political and economic conditions that exposes the system to new vulnerabilities. Unlike in western democracies, Sri Lankan political parties, dominant classes, and the mass media have not been able to hegemonize the idea that elections are the only acceptable means of changing governments and completely marginalize any subversive movement contesting the political establishment. The subversive movements addressed here have highlighted the incompleteness of such a political establishment primarily dominated by two main political parties

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 23 and ruled by the majority. By capitalizing on the concerns of youth and ethnic groups these political movements have arguably defied this post-colonial political establishment and diversified the means and modes of political negotiations. Both the JVP and Tamil separatist groups consist primarily of militant youth.57 Although youth organizations are not new, these explicitly distrusted the leadership of the “old guard,” the leadership of the conventional left which the JVP branded as feeble (mahalu nayakatvaya),58 and, for the Tamil separatists, that of post-colonial Tamil political parties.59 The JVP notion of the “old left” appears to have been inspired by the Cuban revolution of 1959 which was led by a group of young militants, and the Chinese cultural revolution of the late 1960s, in which many “old leaders” were replaced by young ones. This viewpoint suggests that youth has become a significant social and political agency. Increased longevity of life has no doubt opened up this space for such agency. The role that youth played in uprisings of the late 1960s in Europe, in communist revolutions, and in nationalist struggles, is well known. Yet the study of youth as a social group has been limited to concepts of, for example, “generation” and “cohort”60 which are not anywhere near concepts such as “class” or “ethnic group.” According to Simon Firth, “youth” is not a term of sociological jargon.61 The treatment of youth even as a theme in social history is very recent.62 Emphasizing the youth aspect, Blackton has noted that “the insurgency of armed youths against an adult system ... is the first instance when tensions between generations have led to a military conflict on a national scale.”63 As in most struggles from the 1960s, the uprising of 1971 in Sri Lanka was unprecedented. Parliamentary political parties of Sri Lanka --and elsewhere-- have failed to grasp the meaning of this event through their own frameworks. Instead, the government constructed an antiestablishment position for the JVP, represented as terrorist. Hence the government received

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 24 formidable support from all formal political parties in Sri Lanka, as well as both Super Powers, and the regional powers, India and also China --a rival of India-- in crushing the rebellion of 1971. The prelude to these struggles was the politicization of universities, particularly, of the students. The boycotting of classes and conflicts in the universities were common in the late 1960s. Rising unemployment during this period, and insecurity about the future caused by this, is arguably the main cause for increasing student willingness to risk their immediate objective of graduation for more longer term political goals.64 JVP activism had, however, expanded this arena of youth political struggles from universities, to include the state-run high school system --Madya Maha Vidyalayas and Maha Vidyalayas.65 Socially, the militancy of youth expanded from a highly educated and urbanized group to a much broader and rural based one, and the so-called low castes also came to play an important role. Walton’s argument that “In the late 1970s and 1980s political movements in the Third World are principally an urban phenomenon,”66 largely represents an urban-centric view of the Third World where most struggles have, in fact, been based on the rural. Although universities acted as crucial nodes, the JVP uprising was constituted principally in the coastal areas between Ambalangoda and Tangalla and the “low caste” areas of Kegalla District. A similar trend can also be seen among the Tamil separatist movements. They have moved their bases further away from the universities to the interiors of the Jaffna peninsular. Although the JVP itself was not victorious, these struggles were instrumental in drawing more of the attention of the central government to rural areas. The acceleration of rural transformations, particularly land reforms, was largely the government’s reaction to this situation. These have, however, not addressed the concerns of rural youth, which have been largely the incapacity to leave the poverty of the village, a particular knowledge and aspiration diffused by

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 25 urban-centric Western education, and not a land problem.67 This is reflected in what Moore represents as the JVP having no “agrarian program,”68 despite its rural base. In regard to the national society and space, the JVP was ambiguous about the central government and Colombo’s command over Sri Lanka. The JVP did not have a program to change the state as much as replacing personnel within it. This was even more evident in JVP activism in the 1980s, in which isolated attacks were primarily targeted on regional and local rural leaders of the ruling UNP, instead of on the central state. Their principal targets in 1971 were also local police stations.69 Nonetheless, the 1971 uprising astonished the entire political establishment of Sri Lanka; it also drew them to the rural areas to negotiate power relations which were supposedly centered upon Colombo. Moreover, this was a crucial turning point in the socialization of violence, once monopolized by the colonial state and later disguised by the post-colonial propagation of the idea that there can be no revolution in a Buddhist country where people are inherently non-violent.

Ethno-Politics and Separatism Though it was only from the 1980s that the struggle for a separate Tamil state occupied center stage in Sri Lankan politics, this particular conflict had been developing from the 1920s. Although historically, the Singhalese, Tamils, and Muslims have lived peacefully together --from the viewpoint of today’s sense of nationalism-- contemporary issues result from the fact that they now have to live in one state, and ethnic issues can be built up into political forces as a means of attaining power. Early ethno-political organizations that emerged from the 1920s were confined to a broadly defined group of elites, and operated along with other social differences such as caste -privileging the elite of the each caste etc..70 The political bargaining between these took place within the confines of the constitutional framework and through electoral representatives sent to

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 26 Colombo. In the late 1940s, the Tamil based Federal Party adopted federalism as its strategy to resolve what it saw as issues concerning the Tamils. However, it was the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna which advanced ethno-politics to a serious national issue through its “Singhala only� language policy, implementing some measures to this end after it came to power in 1956. In 1972 the two main Tamil political parties, the Federal Party and the Tamil Congress, responding to the Singhala biased politics of post-colonial governments and the need to secure their votes, banded together to form a Tamil United Front (Tamil United Liberation Front in 1976). In May 1976, they raised the demand for a separate Tamil state.71 The TULF drew massive support for its policy of a separate Tamil state, winning all electorates where Tamils were the majority of voters and making, for the first time, a Tamil political party/front the second largest in the Parliament. Once the TULF became the second largest group in the parliament, instead of there being a leftist or a right-wing government and a corresponding opposition, the Parliament polarized into a Singhala-Tamil duality. In this context, ethnic issues concerning the Tamils were prioritized in the national political agenda, and any issue that came up in the Parliament was debated for its implications on Tamils until the TULF had to leave the Parliament in 1986.72 Spatially, what the TULF proposed was two states on the island instead of one, with an international boundary between them, and two capitals, Jaffna and Colombo. In this sense, the alternative society and space proposed by ethnic separatism was clearer than whatever the JVP struggles had implied. Although the TULF, as the main opposition, was in the best ever position to bargain for the rights of the Tamils, the heavy imbalance of forces (a mere 18 TULF seats in a 168

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 27 member Parliament) was insufficient to win a separate state through the parliamentary process which favors the majority. Moreover, the Tamil youth activists were discontented by the distance between the rhetoric and the deeds of the older generation of political leaders. Once the TULF had left the Parliament, the LTTE emerged as the predominant Tamil force, and violence became the primary means of resolving the conflict.73 The huge imbalance of forces, particularly in the parliament, and the state’s carrying out of law and order which is biased towards who holds this apparatus, were compensated for by the growing militancy among the Tamil youth that had improved their capacity to negotiate. These were not merely extra parliamentary struggles, which is a parliament-centered position. These groups contested the validity of the Parliament itself, disrupting and boycotting elections after 1982 and threatening to kill whoever participated in them, whether as candidates or voters.74 When the separatist struggle turned confrontational in the early 1980s, the ground of the socalled ethnic conflict had completely changed. First, the militants had taken over the representation of Tamils from traditional parliamentary political parties. Second, as the party confronting rising separatism, the ruling UNP assumed the role of what amounted to a Singhalese leadership, marginalizing the SLFP, which had explicitly held this position for three decades. Third, the place of such negotiations not only shifted away from Colombo, but to what would be Tamil Eelam for the separatists. The crucial outcome, however, was that the integrity of Sri Lanka has been undermined. The ethnic issue is largely a product of the compartmentalized peoplehood produced through the inter-state system, which forces all ethnic, religious, and cultural groups living in a particular territory into politically defined units. Within the contemporary system of states in which

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 28 all land is claimed by states, the marginalized have no “vacant” land to which they can exile themselves. This is very well illustrated in regard to the Kurds who are marginalized in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, and the Palestinians in Israel and Kuwait. Ironically, it is precisely this situation that makes those groups which do not want to be part of a particular state want to construct a new state, leading to separatism and violence. Ironically, the LTTE has directly accepted the notion of the inter-state system and colonial provinces. What the LTTE, other separatist groups, and the TULF demanded, and strove for, was to produce a new state within the hegemonic system of states. This state is an ethnic one --a Tamil one. Modern states, however, have not just been constructed to contain or constitute ethnic groups, but so-called “nations.” Past experiences of the modern state, from seventeenth century Europe onwards, demonstrate that the process of states homogenizing their subjects into nations was more prevalent than homogenous cultural groups forming states.75 “Nations” thus largely consist of multiple cultural groups dominated by one or a couple of them, partly assimilating and suppressing the rest. This leads to the second ambiguity, that of the territory perceived as Tamil Eelam. Despite the nuances represented in some maps, what the LTTE strives to “liberate” are largely the Northern and Eastern Provinces, the two furthest from Colombo, out of a total of nine. As discussed above, these Provinces were created by the British, not only without any regard for cultural differences among the Lankans, but also to deliberately obscure them. If there ever was a clear territorial division between the Tamils and Singhalese in history, which is very difficult to trace, such a division has radically changed during the last five hundred years, both through migrations and colonial and postcolonial state policies and programs.76

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 29 The LTTE’s solution would, once again, lead to the same problem of peoplehood. The problem of the Muslims of Sri Lanka is very telling here. The population of one of the two provinces which the separatists claim, Eastern Province, consists of about 30% Muslims and 30% Singhalese. Hence, the conception of Tamil Eelam confronts the problem of its “Tamilness.” How the LTTE seem to want to handle this problem is by carrying out a program of frightening away (or “ethnic cleansing”) of the non-Tamils from the province,77 while the state claims to be providing military protection to them. Among the Tamils themselves, the ethnoscape has become more complex; historic cultural differences such as castes have been overlain by new religious and class categories, such as Christians, administrators, and capitalists merchants or landowners, particularly during the colonial period. Moreover, Tamils live in almost all provinces in Sri Lanka, with a considerable proportion in Colombo. It is only when these political and other cultural dimensions such as caste divisions are added that the separatist struggle can be seen as the complexity it actually represents. For example, Jupp observes, “Within the Tamil and Christian minorities, differences of caste are as important as among Buddhists and arguably, even more so. Tamil Kariars at Point Pedro do not behave politically like Tamil Vellalas [high castes], while Tamil minority castes seem susceptible to extreme leftwing appeals.”78 What I am arguing here is that there is no single variable --ethnicity, language, religion, or caste-- that is simply applicable across this group; different positions produce different perceptions. Yet, as Gellner argues, nationalism also holds that the political and national unit should be congruent.79 In this context, the provinces do not have the same meaning beyond that of the colonial administration for whose purpose they were produced. It is important to ask how much of the politics of one cultural group is comprehensible to

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 30 another cultural group, and how this difference is negotiated. In western democracies there is a strong tendency to boil down the possibility of expressing differences to a dualistic two-party system. This was precisely what polarized the Sri Lankan polity, compelling the left --Sama Samaja and Communist Parties-- to join the Freedom Party, in whatever form, in order to survive being eliminated in 1960 elections. The Tamil Federal Party which fought to become a strong bargainable third force that can work through its two “Singhalese� rival groups also faced the same fate in a general election. What we see therefore is the emphasis of different identities at different instances. The Federal Party, which was supposedly proposing a federal policy in the Sri Lankan polity, was, in its Tamil designation, Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, meaning the Ceylon Tamil State Party.80 The politico-territorial solutions offered so far by governments, and all party conferences, have also been based on the same administrative divisions. For example, the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord of 1987 offered a degree of devolution of power to all nine Provinces, represented by Provincial Councils. Directly responding to the territorial demand of the separatists, the conference also made temporary provision for a unified North-Eastern Provincial Council. Spatially, although the solution of either side may not be the outcome, the issue of separatism is highly politicized. The LTTE --and also the JVP-- has used the same violence they employed to fight the government, to wipe out their rivals,81 and so have the government.82 Talks between the LTTE and the government, particularly that of 1989, reconfirmed the importance of the battle between them to the Singhalese and the Tamils, and also to eliminate the opponents of either party. Moreover, the LTTE, wiping out their rivals while the government launched an attack on the JVP in 1989, demonstrates that the talks were a means to clearing up other entanglements together.

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 31 Both parties also agreed to get rid of the Indian Peace Keeping Force, and began a fresh round of fighting in 1989. In this sense, these struggles have produced complementary enemies, who only have an agreement about their antagonism, and both the government and the LTTE have thrived on a problem unlikely to be solved between them. The attitude of the new government of 1995 is yet to be seen. As elections in a “democracy,” peace talks from time to time have therefore been interludes that reproduced the importance of the conflict between Sri Lanka and Tamil Eelam, and Jaffna and Colombo. Nonetheless, the LTTE led struggles have also shifted the locus of political negotiations to the rural areas. It has vehemently refused to participate in the parliamentary process. The LTTE not only is not represented in the parliament in Kotte (Colombo), it also actively hinders the election process. Instead of negotiating in Colombo, representatives of this movement have invited the representatives of the state to their territory to negotiate on their terms, but with arms. The government has, therefore, been compelled to send troops to negotiate and regain control over those areas. As far as the most significant political conflict is concerned, Colombo has lost the consensus it once had as the locus of political negotiations for three decades after independence. By sending troops to Jaffna, the present government has only confirmed this. Tamil separatism has not only deflected the state’s focus away from the economy, advancing ethnic strife to the top of the national political agenda, but has also made the territorial integrity of the nation a crucial issue requiring the state to increase its annual military expenses in order to reproduce itself. The LTTE has, therefore, not only challenged Colombo’s role as the locus of political negotiation, but also the territorial domain on which its administration and political authority had been comfortably based for three previous decades.

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 32 Conclusion While the immediate post-independence Ceylonese elite opted to occupy colonial positions and spaces, the nationalists, socialists, youth rebels, and separatists, have all striven to transform the society and space of Sri Lanka. All these agencies have directed our attention to the problems caused by the incongruence between peoplehood and their territorial representations, highlighting the significance of getting out of colonially produced perceptions. Yet at the same time, they have all been unable to operate outside the colonially produced frames of reference, reproduced under an overall US hegemony and operated through global organizations such as the United Nations. Limiting their own efforts, these “nationalisms” have sustained the system of nation-states and other territorial organization of society such as provinces and districts. As Nandi has argued, ironically, “[nationalism has] consolidated the western presence on the cultural plane, while it nurtured the rebellion against the West on the political plane.”83 This is precisely the irony that the modern day nationalist has not been able to overcome. The way in which this conflict will be negotiated is yet to be seen.


Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 33 Notes: .

This paper is drawn from Nihal Perera, Decolonizing Ceylon: Society and Space in Sri Lanka (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Forthcoming), which focuses on the European colonial constructions of urban and territorial spatial systems in Sri Lanka and indigenous responses to these.


Peter Taylor, Political Geography: World-Economy, Nation-State and Locality (London and New York: Longman, 1985).


Jonathan Spencer, “Writing Within: Anthropology, Nationalism, and Culture in Sri Lanka” Current Anthropology 31 (June 1990): 283. See also Gananath Obeyesekere's comment on this article in the same volume pp. 295-6.


Steven Kemper (The Presence of the Past: Chronicles, Politics, and Culture in Singhala Life (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991, 224) draws on Clifford Geertz, “The Integrative Revolution: Primordial Sentiments and Civil Politics in the New States,” Chapter in The Interpretation of Culture (New York, Basic Books, 1973), 255-310.


Marshall Sahlins, Islands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 144, quoted in Kemper, 224.


Terry Eagleton, “Nationalism: Irony and Commitment,” in Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, and Edward Said, eds., Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1990), 26.


Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System III: The Second Era of Great Expansion of the Capitalist WorldEconomy, 1730-1840s (San Diego: Academic Press, 1989), 179.


K.M. de Silva, A History of Sri Lanka (London: C. Hurst and Co., 1989), 40; Colvin R. de Silva, Ceylon Under the British Occupation 1795-1833 2 vols. (Colombo: Colombo Apothecaries, 1953), I: 20-21; Edward Ingram, Two Views of British India. The Private Correspondence of Mr. Dundas and Lord Wellesley: 1798-1801 (Somerset: Adams and Dart, 1970), 41, 185.


de Silva argues that “a British Crown Colony was established in [Ceylon], largely, if not entirely, for reasons of imperial strategy.” (A History of Sri Lanka, 219)


James Emerson Tennent, Ceylon: An Account of the Island. Physical, Historical, and Topographical with Notices of its Natural History, Antiquities and Productions. 2 vols. (London: Longman, 1859) II: 71.


See Ingram, 10, 144, 153, 162, 205.


King Don Juan Dharmapala had already transferred his capital to Colombo in the 1560s. Due to the losses sustained, the Portuguese decided to quit protecting Kotte in 1565. (de Silva, A History of Sri Lanka, 107) As a consequence, King Dharmapala took refuge in the Portuguese fort of Colombo, conflating the territories controlled by them, the Kingdom of Kotte and the Portuguese controlled Ceylon. Within a polity that was somewhat polarized between the Portuguese-Kotte alliance and Sitavaka as the leading opponent, however, the conflation of Colombo and Kotte did not change the overall jurisdictions of the Portuguese substantially.


Yda Saueressig-Schreuder, “The Impact of British Colonial Rule on the Urban Hierarchy of Burma” Review x (Fall 1986): 254.


By a “Singhalese monarch,” I refer to a king or a queen of a “Singhalese kingdom” who may or may not be Singhalese in ethnicity. For example, the rulers of the Kandy Kingdom in the last phase were of the south Indian Nayakkar dynasty.

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 34 Although the rulers of Tamil kingdoms in the north of Lankan territory had also attempted to capture the whole island, there is not enough evidence to argue that those monarchs had imagined the whole island as a single society and space.


This translation is taken from Henry Marshall, the surgeon of the military that conquered Kandy, who wrote, “the kingdom of Kandy, as it is frequently called, the Kandyan country.” (Henry Marshall, A General Description of the Island and its Inhabitants with an Historical Sketch of the Conquest of the Colony by the English (Kandy: Kandy Printers, 1954 [1846]), 24)


In his discussion on traditional and modern states in Europe, Anthony Giddens makes a similar distinction between frontiers and boundaries. (See, The Nation-State and Violence, vol II: Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1985), 88)


Wallerstein, 57, 193; Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 1145.


See K. Dharmasena, “Colombo: Gateway and Oceanic Hub of Shipping,” in Brides of the Sea: Port Cities of Asia from the 16th Century to the 20th Century, ed., Frank Broeze: 152-172 (Hawaii: Hawaii University Press, 1989).


George Viscount Valentia, Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt in the Years 1802, 1803, 1804, 1805, 1806. 3 vols (St. James: W. Blumer, 1809) I:309. (Italics added)


de Silva, Ceylon Under the British Occupation, I: 252.


de Silva, Ceylon Under the British Occupation I: 252; Lennox A. Mills, Ceylon Under British Rule 1795-1932 (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1965 [First published in Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933], 46).


Mills, 99.


See Nihal Perera, Decolonizing Ceylon: Society and Space in Sri Lanka (PhD Dissertation), Chapter Three.


Bipan Chandra, “Colonialism, Stages of Colonialism and the Colonial State,” Journal of Contemporary Asia 10 (1980): 284.


Tennent, II: 167.


See Braudel (Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800 (New York: Harper Row, 1973), 401; Paul Bairoch, Cities and Economic Development: From the Dawn of History to the Present (London: Mansell, 1988); Gideon Sjoberg, The Preindustrial City: Past and Present (Glencoe, Il: Chicago University Press, 1960); Lewis Mumford, The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1961).


M. Cross, Urbanization and Urban Growth in the Caribbean (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 9.


Mary Karasch, “Rio de Janeiro: From Colonial Port Town to Imperial Capital,” in Colonial Cities: Essays on Urbanism in a Colonial Context, eds., Robert Ross and Gerard J. Telkamp: 123-154 (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1985).


de Silva, Ceylon Under the British Occupation, I: 88,94.

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 35 30.

Tennent, II: 89n.


de Silva, A History of Sri Lanka, 235; Mills, 159; de Silva, Ceylon Under the British Occupation, I: 302.


See Anthony D. King, Colonial Urban Development: Culture, Social Power and Environment (London: Routledge, 1976), 75. These provinces and districts were largely organized according to the reforms recommended by the ColebrookeCameron Commission in 1833. (See Mills, 68)


Mills, 68.


In regard to the smaller towns in Kandy, Knox notes that the best towns are devales (temples). (Robert Knox, An Historical Account of Ceylon (Glasgow: James McLehose and Sons, 1961 [1711]), 10)


For example, in conceptualizing globalization, Roland Robertson refers to implications of various groups becoming conscious of the world becoming a single place. (See, Globalization:Social Theory and Global Culture (London: Sage, 1992). In addressing the process of globalization and localization, Stuart Hall also highlights the fact that cultural groups construct what he calls “local” differences within the larger ”global.” (“The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity,” in Culture, Globalization and the World-System: Contemporary Conditions for the Representation of Identity, ed., Anthony D. King (Binghamton, NY: Department of Art History, State University of New York at Binghamton, 1991)


I.D.S. Weerawardena, Government and Politics in Ceylon (1931-1946) (Colombo: Ceylon Economic Research Association, 1951), 15.


Weerawardena, 7.


Including Ven. Naranvita Sumanasara taking residence at a main temple site of Anuradhapura, Ruwanvelisaya, in the 1870s, and irrigation systems, making Anuradhapura the focus of this effort. (Kemper, 142) See also Elizabeth Nissan, “History in the Making: Anuradhapura and the Singhala Buddhist Nation” Social Analysis: Journal of Cultural and Social Practice 25 (September 1989): 64-77.


de Silva, A History of Sri Lanka, 416.


This aspect is not unique to Ceylon. For example, Patricia Salinas has argued that the spatial organization of Peru around Lima and the growth of commercial cities on the coast were the direct outcome of the export of agricultural surplus through these port cities to its metropole. As they grew richer, these cities attracted more of the “rural elite” to “residential comforts and glitter of urban life.” (Patricia W. Salinas, “Mode of Production and Spatial Organization in Peru,” in Regional Analysis and the New International Division of Labor, eds., F. Moulart and P. W. Salinas (London: Kluwer-Nijhoff, 1983), 87).


For example, the Prime Minister of Ceylon from 1956 to 1959, S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake, claimed that it was at Oxford that he first learned Buddhism and, in a statement to the Parliament in 1944, that English might be more useful than Singhalese for studying Buddhism. (Richard Gombrich and Gananath Obeyesekere, Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), 447-8)


This was carried out through the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Act (no. 18 of 1948) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (No. 48 of 1949).


Hugh Tinker, South Asia. A Short History 2nd ed. (London: MacMillan, 1989 [1966]), 118.

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 36 44.

See de Silva, A History of Sri lanka, 306.


B.H. Farmer, Pioneer Peasant Colonization in Ceylon: A Study in Asian Agrarian Problems (London: Oxford university Press, 1957),112.


Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects (New York: Pathfinder, 1969) 279.


Immanuel Wallerstein, “Liberalism and the Legitimation of Nation-States: An Historical Interpretation,” Paper prepared for the conference on Structural Change in the West conference iv: Nation-States and the International Order, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, September 4-6 (unpublished): 13.


See Michael Roberts, Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of the Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 291-2.


E.F.C. Ludowyk, The Modern History of Ceylon (New York and Washington: Frederick A. Praeger, 1966), 182; Leslie Gunawardana, A Short History of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Colombo: Progress Publishers, 1975).


The LSSP adhered to a Leninist anti-war position --condemning the war as a capitalist means to divide markets among themselves-- and escalated the struggle against British rule at that advantageous moment. Workers' strikes in the plantations disrupted production and were deployed as the main weapon against British rule.


I would argue here that capitalist space cannot be captured and transformed into an alternate mode, since it derives its meaning from the capitalist discourse, and outside this, it would not have the same meaning.


In 1947, the UNP and the LSSP gambled to form the first independent government, both attempting to win non-party members elected to the Parliament and those of other small parties, into a coalition led by them. However, this position seems to be the result of over excitement, since what the three “leftist” parties gained was eighteen out of a total of ninety-five seats, and 20% of total votes cast in the 1947 elections. (See Patrick Peebles, Sri Lanka: A Handbook of Historical Statistics (Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1982), 293-4) Moreover, some independent MPs who supported the LSSP were in fact representing more ethnic and cultural, rather than class values, which were to be represented through new political parties in the immediate future.


Niranjan M. Khilhani, India’s Road to Independence, 1857 to 1947 (London: Oriental, 1987), 97; See also Dr. Padmasha, Indian National Congress and the Muslims 1928-1947 (New Delhi: Rajesh Publications, 1980).


See Robert N. Kearney, “Politics and Modernization,” in Modern Sri Lanka; A Society in Transition, ed., Tissa Fernando and Robert N. Kearney (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1979), 61); Peebles, 293.


See Peebles, 294. Clapham highlights the small number of post colonial states where an opposition party has peacefully taken control of the government after winning an election: India (1977, 1980, 1989), Sri Lanka [1956, 1960-twice, 1965, 1970, and 1977], Jamaica (1972, 1980), Mauritius (1982, 1983); “it is yet to happen in Africa.” (Christopher Clapham, Third World Politics. An Introduction (London and Sydney: Croom Helm, 1985), 67)


B.N. Pandey, South and South East Asia, 1945-1979: Problems and Politics (London: Macmillan, 1980), 29.


77% of the 10,192 JVP suspects arrested in 1971 were between the age of 17 and 26 years; “An average age of the insurgent was twenty years.” (A.C. Alles, The JVP 1969-1989 (Colombo: Lake House Investments, 1990), 250).


The JVP leadership was largely formed from youth leaders expelled from the pro-Chinese Communist Party. (Alles, 10)

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 37 59.

See Rajan Hoole, Daya Somasundaram, K. Sritharan, and Rajani Thiranagama, The Broken Palmyra (Claremont, CA: The Sri Lankan Studies Institute, 1990), 18, 32.


See Michael Mitterauer, A History of Youth (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1992), 235.


Simon Firth, The Sociology of Youth (Lancashire: Causeway Books, 1984), 1.


Mitterauer, vii. See also, Shirley Brice Heath and Milbrey W. McLaughlin ed., Identity and Inner-City Youth: Beyond Ethnicity and Gender (New York: Teachers College Press, 1993).


Charles Blackton, in Alles, 245. Rev. Paul Casperz has argued that what the JVP struggle represented was more than a tension between generations, but also a violent reaction by youth against the whole system. (Paul Casperz, Towards a Sociological Analysis of the Youth Struggle in Sri Lanka, 1971: A critique of Educational Effectiveness in a Developing Area (Thesis: Oxford University, 1973), vi, 113; cited in Alles, 245. See also, Tissa Balasuriya, “Democracy in Sri Lanka,” Lagos 2 (August 1987).


In regard to India, one study reveals that Indian universities have shown student unemployment to be a major cause for student unrest. (See Prayag Mehta, “Some Perceived Needs and Problems of University Youth,” in The Indian Youth: Emerging Problems and Issues (Bombay: Somsaiyta, 1971), 47.


Alles, 243, 359-360.


John Walton, “Urban Protest and the Global Political Economy: The IMF Riots,” in The Capitalist City, eds. Michael Peter Smith and Joe R. Feagin, 364-386 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), 365.


Alles, Casperz, and Balasuriya focus on a better and appropriate education as a means of enhancing opportunities for the youth. (Alles, 343-348; Casperz, “Organizing Youth for Productive Enterprises” Marga, 85)


See Mick Moore, The State and Peasant Politics in Sri Lanka (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 224.


Although the plan included particular attacks on Colombo and the capture of the Prime Minister, (see Alles, 105119) their primary focus was on attacking police stations around the country at the same time (midnight of April 5, 1971).


See Perera, Chapter Four.


V. Suriyanarayan, “Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka,” in Domestic Conflicts in South Asia, ed., Urmila Phandis, S.D. Muni, and Kalim Bahadur (New Delhi: South Asian Publishers, 1986), 132; Robert N. Kearney, “Politics and Modernization,” in Modern Sri Lanka; A Society in Transition, ed., Tissa Fernando and Robert N. Kearney: 57-83 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1979), 78. The TULF called for the “restoration and reconstitution of the free, sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam.” (Mohan Ram, Sri Lanka: The Fractured Island (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1989), 48)


In 1986, the government passed an Act requiring every state sector employee, military personnel, as well as Members of Parliament to make a pledge to the constitution and the territorial integrity of the country. The TULF MPs refused and lost their seats. Some analysts show this event as the disenfranchisement of Sri Lankan Tamils, a repetition of the disenfranchisement of the Indian Workers in 1947, and also by the same party in office.


The employment of violence on a large scale in Sri Lankan politics can be traced back to the early 1970s. The JVP led rebellion of 1971 and a speech made by Kasi Ananthan of the TULF in 1972 were two important events that

Territorial Spaces and Their Identities: 38 forecast a violent future for Sri Lanka. Kasi Ananthan's speech read, “Mr. Duraiappa [SLFP Mayor of Jaffna Municipal Council], Mr. Subramaniam, Mr. Arumpalam and Mr. Anandasangari [Currently the leader of the TULF, who used to be a popular LSSP politician in the north] are enemies of the Tamil nation. They do not deserve a natural death, nor to die in an accident. The Tamil people, especially the youth, must decide how they should die.” (in Rajan Hoole, Daya Somasundaram, K. Sritharan, and Rajani Thiranagama. The Broken Palmyra (Claremont, CA: The Sri Lankan Studies Institute, 1990), 17). The turning point in this direction was the assassination of the Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappa, in 1975. (ibid, 17)


From time to time though, these groups did participate in elections, for example, the separatist groups participated in the provincial council elections of 1987, and the JVP leader, Rohana Wijeweera, also contested the 1982 presidential election.


See Wallerstein.


See K. Indrapala, Chola Inscriptions of Ceylon (Jaffna: University of Jaffna, 1975); UTHR, 11: 6-7.


See University Teachers for Human Rights, 11.


James Jupp, Sri Lanka: Third World Democracy (London: Cass, 1978), 157.


Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992 [1983]), 1. The acceptance of this assumption is explicit in the Federal Party's manifesto that claims “The Tamil-speaking people of Sri Lanka constitute a nation distinct from that of the Singhalese by every fundamental test of nationhood; firstly that of a separate historical past in the island at least as ancient and as glorious as that of the Singhalese [sic], secondly by the fact of their being a linguistic entity entirely different from that of the Singhalese with an unsurpassed classical heritage and a modern development of language which makes Tamil fully adequate for all present-day needs, and finally by reason of their territorial habitation of definite areas.” (Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi, “The Case for a Federal Constitution for Ceylon,” (Colombo: Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi, 1951), cited in E.J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 6)


A Jeyaratnam Wilson, The Break-Up of Sri lanka: The Singhalese-Tamil Conflict (London: C. Hurst and Company, 1988), xii.


These include the elimination of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), including its leader, Sri Sabaratnam, in May 1986, accusing TELO of being the agents of Indian imperialism; (Hoole et al 1990, 81-4) killing, in Madras, thirteen leaders of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) which was elected to office in the North-East Provincial Council set up as a part of the peace agreement of 1987, immediately after the IPKF had substantially withdrawn from Sri Lanka; the killing of the TULF leader, A. Amirthalingam and the leader of the Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Uma Maheshwaran, both in Colombo, in July, 1989, during the LTTE-government peace talks to get the Indian troops out. (Hoole et al, 426 and 30) See also Alles, 367. In case of the JVP, their antagonism to the Peace Accord of 1987 victimized a large number of leftist leaders. (See Alles, 290-304)


The government has shifted to using not only the military but also privately organized violence against their two enemies. This was extended at times against other anti-governmental forces. These acts were revealed, among others, in the confession of the former Deputy Inspector General of Police, Premadasa Udugampola, and the finding of a mass grave at Ratnapura. Particularly the JVP.


Ashis Nandy, The Illegitimacy of Nationalism (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994), 89.

Territorial Spaces and National Identities  

The article investigates the construction and contestation of Ceylon’s national territorial space, particularly the territory, boundaries, c...

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