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Casteism, genocide, work hand in hand in Sinhala mind-set

[TamilNet, Sunday, 7 April 2013 08:26 No Comment]

Casteist terms used in derogatory ways by Sinhalese in their references towards Tamils reveal the sociological nature of the genocidal mind-set of Sinhalese in the island of Sri Lanka. "How many people outside of Sri Lanka know that ‘Sakkiliya’ is a Sinhala term used to refer to a Tamil person [...],” asks Christopher Tuckwood, who has introduced a new Internet-based tool, named Hatebase, to study hate language in predicting and preventing genocide. Tuckwood is the Executive Director and Co-founder of The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention, a Canada-based non-profit organisation dedicated to detecting and averting genocide throughout the globe.

Derogatory references to Tamils in a casteist language predate the modern national conflict among nations in the island, commented an Eezham Tamil activist in the island citing the term Para-Demala used by Anagarika Dharmapala. Sinhala language has two meanings for the word Para: one meaning foreigner (from Sanskrit Paradesi) and the other meaning an untouchable (from Dravidian Pa’raiyar).

While casteism is at the core of the Sinhala mind-set in manifesting into the genocide of Eezham Tamils, a campaign is currently being made among Eezham Tamils that conversion to Buddhism is the way to help them overcome casteism. Even in the mainstream Sinhala-Buddhist chapters such as Malwatta and Asgiriya, no one other than the Goyigama Sinhalese could become monks, the Eezham Tamil activist cited.

The references to the caste terms in derogatory ways are unfortunate as the practice, apart from the genocidal connotations in the island, directly affects the dignity and upward mobility of the concerned aboriginal communities of South Asia, the activist commented.

In this context, the Eezham Tamil activist drew the attention of the Tamils in London on the use of the term ‘Pariah’ by the former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

Ironically, the Labour politician used the British colonial English word originating from derogatory references of the colonialists towards a community of Tamils, to support the Tamil campaign now, without realising that the usage offends an ancient section of Tamils.

Last month, while discouraging the British Queen from attending the CHOGM meet in Sri Lanka, Miliband said that the hosting regime is fast “moving towards pariah status.”

PDF: Hobson-Jobson on English getting the word pariah

Pa’raiyar and Chakkiliyar are two ancient communities among Tamils whose identities were pushed down to derogatory status. The Anglo-Indian word Pariah that got into English dictionaries has come from the Pa’raiyar community of Tamils.

Tamils, especially in London, have to boldly tell the English dictionary makers to delist the word. Rather than blindly looking upon the West, the diaspora Tamils have to understand the significance of waging such protests in bringing in an awareness of the nature and continuity of the kind of oppression faced by Tamils under colonialism and then under the succeeding Sinhala colonialism, the Eezham Tamil activist in the island said.

Casteism and genocide today are significantly connected to the continuity of the colonial mind-set and to the continuity in constant transfer of power and protection on to the oppressors. If the right kind of struggle is not waged with right kind of awareness we would only get into one prison from the other, the activist further said.

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Christopher TuckwoodMeanwhile, explaining the new Internet tool, Hatebase, Mr Christopher Tuckwood on Friday told Wired.co.uk: “Hatebase helps us to know what to look for and to make sense of what we see".

Wired.co.uk website is an acclaimed monthly magazine that reports primarily on the effects of science and technology.

In a separate introductory article, Timothy Quinn, the ICT advisor of The Sentinel Project, said: “In the information-rich twenty-first century, good data remains the Achilles’ heel of genocide studies.”

Although the core of Hatebase is its community-edited vocabulary of multilingual hate speech, a critical concept in Hatebase is “regionality”, writes Timothy Quinn in his article.

“The users can associate hate speech with geography, thus building a parallel dataset of ‘sightings’, which can be monitored for frequency, localization, migration, and transformation,” Mr Quinn says.

Hatebase is available to end users through a Wikipedia-like web interface, and to developers through an Application Programming Interface (API).

Launched on 25 March 2013, the latest project termed as the world’s largest online database of hate speech has received wider attention with coverage appearing on Foreign Policy Magazine and in the Wired Magazine in the UK.

However, according to The Sentinel Project, the database is still in its early stages. The developers say that further functionality will be added in the coming months.

Crowdsourcing is the way of acquiring the content and editing services from a large group of people in an online community.

The mission of The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention, founded by Christopher Tuckwood and Taneem Talukdar while they were students at the University of Waterloo in 2008, is to prevent the crime of genocide worldwide through effective early warning and cooperation with victimized peoples to carry out non-violent prevention initiatives.

In 2009, The Sentinel Project’s approach was selected as a finalist in Google’s 10 to the 100th competition for innovative social application of technology.

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