Lessons from the Month of July

Daily Mirror

We Sri Lankans, like other inhabitants of this planet are first and foremost, citizens of this earth and in this context, creed, breed, high-born or menial should not matter. Yet our history has been regularly punctuated with incidents/actions which belie this eternal truth.   

All of our leaders save one came from families of privilege effectively dividing the country between the privileged few and the toiling masses. When the exception was assassinated large sections among the Sinhalese lit crackers! (The reference is to the late President R Premadasa -TW) Our system of government ensures only citizens of a particular creed and breed rules over us.   

And… the month of July in our history is replete with events that should have taught us the dangers of fostering and enhancing such differences.   

July 26 1957 – The date of the official signing of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact designed to give a degree of autonomy to the Tamil minority in the country. Its unilateral abrogation by SWRD Bandaranaike led to the communal riots of 1958.   

July 1960 – The SLFP who had a pre-poll agreement with the FP regarding the implementation of the Banda-Chelva Pact won the elections but reneged on its promise.   

Instead in the Throne speech it announced the full implantation of Sinhala only as the official language and announced Sinhala as the language of the Courts. The Tamil party’s expectation that the unwritten agreement would be honoured was rudely shattered. It only led to greater suspicions and deterioration in relations between the Sinhala and Tamil communities already at a low level in the aftermath of the race riots of 1958.   

July 1964 – The leftist parties, LSSP and Communist Party which had earlier stood for minority rights and against the implementation of the Sinhala Only Act joined an SLFP as coalition partners, however the government lost its majority in December 1964 and general elections were held in March 1965. The UNP which was successful at the hustings promised to form a ‘National government’ with the FP and small nationalist parties with a promise to form district councils.  

July 25, 1968  – The then Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake announced the abandonment of his District Council proposal in the face of opposition led by the SLFP and its coalition partners the LSSP and CP who used racist slogans to whip up the populace – a rallying cry of both the LSSP and the CP being “Dudleyge bade masalawade”. The breakdown between the communities had reached breaking point and Tamils lost confidence in all Sinhalese-led political parties.   

July 23, 1983 – Black July/Karuppu Yulie/Kalu Juliya marks the state sponsored attack or pogrom against the Tamils. Over the next few days, between 400 and 3,000 Tamils around the country were killed and triggered a civil war that lasted 26 years.   

July 18, 1987 marked India’s attempt to force a solution on the warring communities via the Indo-Ceylon Agreement and the entry. The attempt to force a peace on the warring parties failed due to the intransigence of the LTTE and war ensued between the peacekeepers and the LTTE. However the entry of the 100,000-strong Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to disarm the rebels enabled the Sri Lankan security forces to relocate and tackle the JVP-led insurgency in the south.  

The month of July, in short, has been a month of tragedy and jeopardy for us Sri Lankans. Our leaders had opportunities to reconcile differences… yet the tragedy has been… we failed to capitalize on the opportunities for the sake of political expediency.   

What is even sadder is that, even eleven years after the worst tragedy which overtook this country, we have still not recognized that we are first and foremost citizens of planet earth and creed and breed should not matter in our short stay on the planet. Scarcely five years after the struggle with the Tamil community ended, we saw attacks directed against different sections of our populace based on religion. To make matters worse, media reports indicate that glorification of breed and creed raising its ugly head in other fields as well.   

Are we going to allow a repetition of the mistakes we made in the past? Will we ever learn? It seems as Nobel laureate Bob Dylan penned and sang “The answer is blowing in the wind”.