AN ISLAND TRAGEDY
Buddhist Ethnic Cleansing in Sri Lanka
Could you tell us about your origins and background?
I was born in Colombo in 1923, but my father’s family were tenant farmers from the village of Sandilipay in Jaffna Province. The north of the island is flat and arid—there are no trees, no rivers, no mountains. My grandfather had so little land, and such poor land, that the only thing he grew was children: he had thirteen in all, but seven died in childbirth or very young. He was so fertile that he was known locally as the farmer with a green penis. My father was the second-youngest of thirteen. He was very bright, did very well at the local school, and won a scholarship to a Catholic school in Colombo. Education was the only route to jobs and social advancement for Tamils. Under British colonial rule, many Tamils were sent to fill bureaucratic posts in one or another malarial station in the interior, to open up the country, as it were. My father, who was educated at primary school in Tamil and English, joined the postal service at the age of sixteen, to support his family. By the time I was born, he was a sub-postmaster in Kandy, but throughout my childhood he was often transferred from one place to another. So when I was ten or eleven, I was sent to Colombo, to attend St Joseph’s College. It was a big Catholic school in the middle of the city, but surrounded by narrow streets and slums, through which rich people travelled to attend classes.
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