The stillborn artificial Sri Lankan identity – VIII

Dharmapala and discrimination against non-Sinhalas in sports

by Prof. Nalin de Silva

(September 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is true that the so called Buddhist revival of the nineteenth century was not a pure religious movement. In fact there have been no pure religious movements in the world, and the nineteenth century Buddhist revival was no exception. However, it was neither a movement to get a bigger share of the national cake for the Buddhists meaning of course the Sinhala Buddhists as there were hardly any other Buddhists in Sri Lanka at that time. Neither the national movement in the fifties was on getting a better share of the national cake. They were all movements against discrimination of Sinhala Buddhists by the British, and also of course against the colonialism.

We have said on number of occasions that western Christian colonialism with so called humanism had three components. They were the political, economical and cultural. As a community it was mainly the Sinhala Buddhists who had been fighting against this colonialism since the Portuguese came to this country. In fact since the time the Dutch occupied the maritime provinces of the land it was the Sinhalas and mainly the Sinhala Buddhists who had been fighting against the colonialists. It was not a case of having the bigger share of the cake as the Sinhala Buddhists had no share of the cake at all. The cake was possessed by the western Christian colonialists and pieces were given to the communities other than the Sinhala Buddhists, who were enjoying whatever was given to them by the western powers. There were exceptions but on the whole it was the situation in the nineteenth century as well.

The humane British had massacred the Sinhala leadership in the 1817 – 1818 struggle against colonialism and it was left to the Bhikkhus to carry forward the struggle. In 1848 as even the historians produced by Peradeniya should know the Sinhala leadership did not come from the "leaders" as they had been slaughtered by the humane Christian British, and ironically the leadership was given by one Puran Appu among others, who was a Christian. The British would not have expected a Christian to become a leader at that stage and in their eyes Puran Appu would have been the biggest traitor. Though the elite Christians were enjoying the cake with the British there were ordinary Sinhala Christians who did not have any cake at all. Even today while there are RMB Senanayakes who would speak of western humanism, there are many Sinhala Christians who understand what Christian colonialism means.

Anagarika Dharmapala gave leadership to the anti colonial struggle in his day though a historian who is not familiar with the general but with the particular may come out with a statement by the Anagarika that spoke good of the British in his old age, perhaps forgetting the adage among the English that exception proves the rule. This adage reminds me of a famous theorem in Mathematics called Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem that completely dismantled the base of western Mathematics in the thirties. The logic of modernism, realism etc., were thrown out with it and of course the double slit experiment in Physics, though unknown to the realists and Aristotelian logicians who live in the nineteenth century. However I am not going to deal with it now but will come back to it on a later date. On the whole Anagarika Dharmapala led the fight against western Christian colonialism. In general the Buddhist revival of the nineteenth century was a struggle against the British colonialism. In the latter part of the nineteenth century this struggle took a cultural form as it was against the cultural component that the Sinhala Buddhists fought during this period. It had nothing to do with the national cake and was only a continuation of the 1817-1818 and 1848 major independence struggles. There had been minor struggles all along and the Buddhist revival was the third major independence struggle after 1815, the year in which the Sinhala British agreement (the so called Kandyan Convention) was signed.

If the first struggle was mainly political the second was mainly economical while the third towards the end of the nineteenth century was mainly cultural. However, this does not mean that they were confined to political, economical and cultural fields respectively. All the components were always there but in each of the struggles one of the components became the predominant. In 1817-18, the Sinhalas were directly aware of the political independence that they had lost and thus the struggle took a more political nature. In 1848 the Sinhala uprising was mainly against the economic policies that had been introduced by the British while towards the end of the nineteenth century the Sinhala Buddhists became aware of the cultural colonialism of western Christian modernity.

It is an understatement to say that the Sinhala Buddhists were discriminated by the British who favoured the ethnic communities who lived in the country. Recently I read an interview where a stalwart of the CWC giving statistics to show that the up country Tamils are not represented in the professions, the legislature etc. Even a British person who reads that interview will think that the upcountry Tamils are being discriminated by the Sinhalas. What these champions of upcountry Tamils who had gone to the schools" and who live in Colombo among the Sinhalas fail to say is that their people were discriminated by the British by uprooting them from their native lands in present Tamil Nadu, and employing them as near slaves in the plantations. It is only after the so called Sinhala governments came to power that the living conditions began to improve. The leaders also forget to tell that the land of the Sinhala people were taken by the British under the Waste Land Act and other such humane acts, making the Sinhala people wretched among the wretched. Those who claim that some of the upcountry land was not cultivated or without a population do not know the land policy of the Sinhalas nor the history of the country. These leaders who try to present statistics should have concentrated on similar statistics in the nineteenth century. What was the percentage of Sinhala Buddhists who had found employment in the government sector then when the national percentage of the Sinhala Buddhists was more than seventy five? It is not a question of having a bigger share of the cake but a conceptual problem where the Sinhala Buddhists were discriminated by the British.

I do not want to go into details on the percentages of Sinhalas especially Sinhala Buddhists in the legislature from 1825 onwards but it was quite apparent that the British were favouring the other communities everywhere from education to sports. Even in the fifties in some of the elite schools in Colombo and Kandy the percentage of Sinhala players in various sports teams were very much below the national percentages. Those days there were twenty five Tamil students for fifty Sinhala students in the classes and there were another twenty five students from the Burgher and Muslim communities. Thus in schools the percentage of the Sinhala students was much below the national percentages and it was reflected in the schools sports teams. Those days the elite Sinhala had their Sinhalese Sports Club while the Tamil elite had the Tamil Union, the Muslims the Moors etc.

However, today all these have changed not only at the government schools but schools run by the good Bishops and other clergies of the various Christian denominations. The number of Sinhala students in the cricket teams at the schools run by the Bishops have increased while the percentage of the students of other communities have come down as it should be. Does anybody say that the wardens and rectors of these elite schools have discriminated against the Tamils, Burghers (by the way where are they? Perhaps the anthropologist turned historian Michael Roberts can answer that) and favoured the Sinhala boys?

Moreover we find that the Tamils discriminating against the Tamils and the Muslims discriminating against the Muslims in sports. Why does not the Tamil Union play more Tamil players? Why do they give more opportunities to the Sinhala players? How many Sinhala players play for various other teams that go by the name of the ethnic communities? It appears that wardens, rectors, and chairmen of sports bodies have joined hands with the government in discriminating against the non Sinhala communities!
- Sri Lanka Guardian