The Majority Must Commit itself to unite all Citizens (Original Title)
Of the innumerable ingredients that adversely influence Sri Lanka’s efforts to achieve its full potential as a flourishing, progressive, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society, the most destructive is undoubtedly the desire of “Sinhala” Buddhists to be, and to remain, the pre-eminent group in Sri Lankan society and to relegate the rest to a lower status. The violence that is resorted to from time to time by extremist groups to assert this dominance is very damaging when it is not dealt with impartially and efficiently by recourse to existing laws and an independent Police. The negative social and economic fall-out from these barbarous outbreaks, coupled with the harm done to Sri Lanka’s international image as a tourist destination and investment target, is incalculable. Blind religious and cultural indoctrination from early childhood onwards, followed by separatist educational streaming on the basis of language, is the fuel that feeds the ethnic, religious and cultural clashes that began to grow from the mid-1950s up to 1983 and have begun to pick up once again since 2009. It is up to “Sinhala” Buddhists, as the majority, not to alienate other groups but to take the initiative in drawing them together to work as the children of one Motherland.
The four criminally stupid Muslims who fatally assaulted a Sinhalese lorry driver a couple of weeks ago were taken into police custody and were expected to be charged with murder. Unfortunately, the death of this driver proved to be a welcome development for a few extremist “Sinhala” Buddhist groups that have been spewing out increasingly vicious anti-Muslim propaganda since 2009. These groups have been growing bolder with the overt and covert support of certain politicians, religious figures and others. They had been waiting impatiently for an excuse like this incident to put into action the plans that they had been refining assiduously after having carried out the Aluthgama attacks a few years earlier.
The attackers in the Ampara and Kandy Districts recently had mostly been outsiders. Moreover, a large number of Police and Special Task Force (STF) officers have been widely reported to have encouraged, supported and participated in these atrocities, and had even been seen laughing at the plight of the victims. This type of behaviour is by no means a recent phenomenon. The non-performance of their obligatory duties by the Police, mostly “Sinhala” Buddhists, began to gather momentum slowly but steadily from as far back as 1956 when some Tamil politicians were manhandled and thrown bodily into the Beira Lake because they sought to carry out a non-violent “satyagraha” outside the old Parliament.
It would be prudent to re-visit the concept of “race” before going any further.
Dr E.W.Adikaram has explained forcefully that there can be no race that can properly be called Sinhala or Tamil or Moor or anything else. CIMOGG went a little further a few years ago and explained that, scientifically, the origin of all human beings can be traced back, by DNA tracking, to a single woman from a small tribe in East Africa. In short, all human beings on this planet are related by blood through one common ancestor and cannot sensibly claim to belong to a particular (imaginary) race. Indirectly confirming Dr Adikaram’s position in the local context, a highly-vocal, leading “Sinhala” Buddhist academic revealed in a newspaper interview some months ago that his ancestors had come to Sri Lanka from central India in or about the 12th century and that they had only subsequently metamorphosed into “Sinhala” Buddhists.
How is it that Vijaya and his followers, who were of North Indian origin, spoke some Indian language and married brides imported from South India, have come to be considered as the founders of the “Sinhala” race? When did they become “Sinhala”? Was it by learning to speak whatever form of the Sinhala language was extant in Sri Lanka at that time? If, on the other hand, only those who are the direct descendants of the alleged union of a lion and a human princess are to be considered to be genuinely “Sinhala”, surely it is only Vijaya himself and his direct descendants who could be classified as such? How many self-styled “Sinhala” citizens would be able to trace their direct genealogical connection to Vijaya? Our confident guess is that there are no such individuals. In the circumstances, it seems to us that the most practical way of defining a Sinhalese would be to say that it is someone whose mother tongue is Sinhala.
Especially over the past century, contrary to the implications of the analysis given above, the “Sinhala” Buddhist priesthood, politicians, teachers, writers and elders of “Sinhala” Buddhists have carried out years of inculcating their self-centred beliefs in homes, schools, daham paasalas, temples and elsewhere. The children of “Sinhala” Buddhists have been taught that it is they who are the original and legitimate owners of Sri Lanka and all its resources. Consequently, even the most liberal and generous “Sinhala” Buddhists believe openly or subconsciously that they have a superior claim on Sri Lanka despite sincerely fighting for democracy, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, equality and so on for every citizen.
Politicians, Buddhist priests and many other categories of citizens revel in referring to Sri Lanka as a “Sinhala Bauddha Rata”, which means that others who are not “Sinhala” Buddhists do not have the same intrinsic right to be termed “Sri Lankans”. Most of them also refer to the Sinhalese as the “Maha Jaathiya” (“great race”). Even President Maithripala often refers to this country as a “Sinhala” Bauddha Rata, ignoring ungratefully the “Sri Lankanness” of more than half of those who voted for him.
Thanks to the opportunistic chauvinism of our politicians, the majority of whom are “Sinhala” Buddhists, no policies have been adopted so far that would, by their inclusive nature, induce the minorities to work with total commitment with the majority for the common good.
Gautama Buddha has, inter alia, preached metta, karuna and non-attachment to worldly things. Why parents, teachers, religious instructors, priests and politicians cannot appreciate these teachings and impart the right values to children as they grow up is a matter for the greatest sadness. The vociferous attachment of the “Sinhala” people to “their” Sri Lanka is no more rational than the attachment that they have to their personal material possessions.
Cartoon from internet
The push to strengthen “Sinhala” Buddhist claims of priority at the expense of all the other communities in Sri Lanka has had other negative consequences. The declaration of Sinhala as the state language led to the abandonment of English, which could have served not only as a link language but also as an efficient tool to keep up with the better developed countries. Most deplorably, educational policies were allowed to develop in such a manner that children of the different ethnicities are not able to interact on a daily basis so as to help forge a common Sri Lankan identity for all of them. Sri Lankans of the different language, cultural and religious backgrounds now have very little occasion to mix socially. The resulting paucity of social intercourse between the different peoples of this country has already done untold harm and will continue to destroy whatever sense of a common Sri Lankan identity that we have been able to preserve to date.
Apart from this, the reality is that violent hate speech attracts and holds audiences better than any sober expositions on the equality of all citizens, human rights and so on. It is no secret that there are a few highly popular “hate” speakers who are invariably given a special place on political platforms because they are guaranteed “crowd-pullers”. These individuals, mostly “Sinhala” Buddhists and other extremists, are given top publicity by the media whereas whatever peace-loving citizens have to say gets drowned instantly.
Lest readers get the idea that CIMOGG is placing all the blame for ethnic violence on “Sinhala” Buddhists, we should like to state that, in this article, the concentration on the “Sinhala” Buddhists is to emphasize the fact that it is they, being the numerical majority, whose actions are of far more importance than those of any of the minority groups. The principal responsibility for uniting all the peoples of Sri Lanka is unquestionably in the hands of the “Sinhala” Buddhists. If they succeed in uniting everyone to work for the advancement of Sri Lanka, by treating everyone equally, it would be a 100% effective effort. If, on the other hand, the 30% minority have to spend their time trying to defend themselves against discrimination and violence, Sri Lanka would be working at a maximum of 70% efficiency or probably very much less.
(The writer is president of CIMOGG, Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance)