What is the psychological motivation for ethnic violence in Sri Lanka?

(September 03, Washington, Sri Lanka Guardian) Most of the newspapers in North America and other western countries where many Tamil-speaking human beings are living as immigrants published a news item on May 18th, 2009, that the war in Sri Lanka was ended and the rebel leader for the movement Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eellam (LTTE) was killed. This news created happiness for most of the Sinhala-speaking human beings, who are the majority of the population in Sri Lanka, and their government, and also for others who are against the LTTE and so-called terrorism. However, this is not the case for most of the Tamil-speaking human beings who are a minority of the population in Sri Lanka and for the Tamil in the diasporas.

The reason was it was a sad day for most Tamils speaking people because, it was their struggle for freedom, basic human rights, for their land and self-determination rights despite their criticism of the movement and its ideology and actions. That’s why they fought against the Sri Lankan government. However, the oppression by Sri Lankan government and the fight against the oppression by LTTE who also oppressed Tamil speaking people in many levels, both created war and a violent environment in the country. There are many reasons, including psychological motivations that motivated this ethnic conflict on both sides, violence against each other and war on Tamil peaking people. Particularly both sides, majority and minority populations, were motivated by their beliefs and also by their fears which have been created by their social and political ideological systems for long time. The psychological and philosophical reasons are particularly bound together as a social influence in the majority and minority populations and can be explained based on cognitive social motivation theories. According to these theories, people conform and behave the way they had been doing; they were requested to follow the authority or leader as compliance, and they were made to be obedient to authority and/or leaders, and also were made not to take responsibility for their actions (Petri & Govern, 2004) and not thinking of alternative ways of behaving and creative actions to fight for their freedom and liberation. These all made that beautiful country not only as a dangerous and violent country but also death of many human being beings including many children and different ability human beings.

According to “cognitive consistency theory of motivation” (2004), it can be explainable that why both Sinhala and Tamil people are motivated toward violence. The reason is by their “relationship between their beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and behaviours” because it could reduce the internal contradiction within and to be consistent with themselves as an ethnic group (2004). Based on this theory, it can be understandable how these people are connected within themselves as an ethnic group and have a homogenous culture which separates them from others (Somasundaram, Jamunanantha, 2002). The individuals on both sides follow the majority of their population and their leaders. Soloman Asch’s (Petri & Govern, 2004) research indicates that, “80%... conformed to a group decision at least once even though that decision was clearly wrong”. Also, “Sherif’s ” (2004) experiments point to the power of the group to influence judgments, even when the judgments itself is an illusion. Every individual is different and has their own values and judgments based on their own experience and knowledge. But, they change their opinions when they become a part of a group in order to agree with other group members (2004). Therefore, conformity could change the individual’s beliefs or behaviour because of the pressure or situation (2004). No matter whether people are majority or minority, they accept and follow their social and political leaders and their visions and thoughts. Based on this, Sinhala and Tamil people also have changed their thoughts and judgements about each other because of their social and political turmoil. If we go through the past history, we can understand how this has been developed over the years.

Sinhala people believe that Sri Lanka-whole land- is their country and the only country in the world where Sinhala and Theravada Buddhism, which is their language and religion respectively exist (Somasundaram, Jamunanantha, 2002). Moreover, they support their beliefs from the country’s historical myths. One myth is that it is their responsibility to protect Buddhism in Sri Lanka (2002). Based on that they have to protect and save the country for their religion and language from the neighbours and invaders. They believe that Sinhala kings in the past fought against the Indian and Tamil kings who tried to invade the country formerly called Ceylon or Lanka in order to protect their language and religion (2002). Also, they had a belief and a fear that one day LTTE and its leader would control and dominate them and all their country because of the attacks made by LTTE in Sinhala areas and against ordinary Sinhala people. Some other countries experience also support this fear where minority ethnic groups controlled the majority. However the constitution of Sri Lanka is by itself authority enough to motivate Sinhala people against other ethnic groups, therefore, they do not need a leader as an authority person like LTTE’s leader. These reasons made them to conform themselves as a unique, tight and powerful Sri Lankan Sinhala Buddhist ethnic group.

On other hand, Tamil people believe that the part of the country which is North and East province is their home land and they have a homogeneous language, culture and the tradition through that land (2002). However, they believed that just because the Sinhalese are the majority, they are dominating and oppressing Tamils who are the minority. Moreover they have a fear based on the fact that the Sri Lankan government is systematically occupying their land by planned and established settlements in their region where the Tamils are the majority (Rogers, Spencer & Uyangoda, 1998). They believe this based on their past experience such as riots against them many times in last 60 years and laws made by Sri Lankan government against Tamils and their language (Somasundaram, Jamunanantha, 2002, Rogers, Spencer & Uyangoda, 1998). On top of this, the Sri Lankan constitution makes Sri Lanka a Sinhala Buddhist country which undermines and discriminates against other ethnic groups and their identity and rights. By this, Sri Lankan government proved the Tamils’ beliefs and fear. Moreover, they believe, that Sri Lankan government by carrying out a war against Tamils in the name of LTTE’s terrorism is just to eliminate them from their region and to destroy their culture, tradition, and religion in that region. These reasons made Tamils people to confirm as an ethnic group and stand by and fight against the oppression and discrimination agaisnt them.

All the above reasons attributed to condition the majority of Sinhala and Tamil people to behave in racial attitudes and violent behaviours against each other for many years. These attitudes and behaviours are well explained in the chapter, Beyond Prejudice: Toward a Sociocultural Psychology of Racism and Oppression which discuss the blacks and whites:

“This implicit theory began with Whites' prejudices, stereotypes, and discriminatory acts toward Blacks, which led to negative outcomes and negative attitudes toward Whites among Blacks, which in turn reinforced Whites' negative evaluations of Blacks in a sort of vicious cycle”. (Adams , et. all 2008)

Since they are confirmed as People of different ethnic groups such as Sinhala and Tamil, they are ready to accept and follow their social and political leaders and their requests based on their visions and thoughts. As Milgram (Petri & Govern, 2004) says, “it is a basic element of social living” to make sure not to be left out from and by society. On one side most of the Sinhala people developed racial attitude and behaviours against Tamils by supporting their political leaders requests and actions such as, laws against Tamils in their parliaments in 1948, 1956, and 1971, organised riots against Tamils in 1956, 1958, 1982 and 1983, and war against Tamils since 1983 (Somasundaram, Jamunanantha, 2002, Rogers, Spencer & Uyangoda, 1998). Also, majority of Sinhala people support the Sri Lankan government for the bloody war against ordinary Tamils for last 30 years and last 20 years it’s turned to be against LTTE which is symbolised as a terrorist organization in the name of to protect their country, language and religion.

On the other side most of the Tamils also developed a racial attitude that Sinhala people as their enemy because they believed that Sinhala people and the Sri Lankan government as a one entity. Therefore, they have begun the freedom struggle against Sri Lankan government and Sinhala people by using violence as a weapon and many Tamils supported this because of their failure in non-violence path in the past. These reasons made them to fight against oppression on them and to protect their land and language. These situations made them to form many Tamil rebel groups including LTTE, PLOTE, TELO, EROS, EPRLF and many other small groups and had been fought against Sri Lankan government and their military for their rights and freedom since 1976. However, LTTE banned all other movements and took the power in their hands and became as a only movement which representative of Tamils. They have been fought not only against Sri Lankan government and their military but also against ordinary Sinhala people for last 20 years.

When people are confirmed as an ethnic group and listen and behave according to their authorities or leaders, then they are also ready to be obedient to government authorities or the rebel leaders. Once people are obedient to their government or leaders and feel part of a tight group, then the “other” becomes different. These all lead them to behave not only as an authority people but also against or ignore even their moral values, ethics, and sympathy towards other human beings which is proved by Zimbardo’s (Petri & Govern, 2004) Mock prison experiment (please see and read about this experiment). This is proved by the actions against Tamil people that have been done by Sri Lankan government for 60 years and the actions by Tamil armed groups specially LTTE against Sinhala people, so-called Tamil traitors and intellectuals for last 20 years. Both sides have gone out from their own limits and have been doing and did many inhuman actions against the others. Sri Lankan government killed many ordinary Tamil people by creating riots, burning them and destroying their properties, firing sells to their living places, and dropping bombs over them day and night (Rogers, Spencer, Uyangoda, 1998). On the other hand, Tamil rebels groups specially LTTE used suicide attacks, not only against Sinhala political leaders but also against ordinary Sinhala people in buses, trains, temples and market places (1998). In addition to this, they killed Tamil social and political leaders and the dissenters who were defined by Tamil rebel groups as traitors (1998). This proves that when people are obedience to their state, government, movements and leaders can ignore their ethics, morals, and sympathy toward other human beings and carryout actions against to their morals (Petri & Govern, 2004). Because there is a psychological and philosophical motivational reasons are behind them as a cause and force for their violence behaviour against each other.

This shows how people are trained to be obedient in a step by step process. First social power or authority makes individuals agree with each other and form a group. Then the leader requests them to do the action or behave for a cause based on their above agreements which becomes their dominant ideology of the group. Finally, the orders come from the authorities or leaders for an action to fulfill their wishes or the social motivation of that time (2004). Stanley Milgram’s (2004) experimental research on obedience based on Holocaust experience, suggests that most people are likely to obey their authority or leaders figures in society and are ready to use themselves as an instrument to fulfill their motivations. They do not have any rights to ask any questions and even cannot have any self doubts. However, In addition to this, if the request comes from a powerful person in the society or group, people show more obedience and follow them without asking any questions against them (2004). This attitude is the basis for the ideological domination of most of the societies and across different cultures in world including Sinhala and Tamil societies. The above experiments showed that 60% of the participants of a group punished other group members with severe shock treatments beyond the unacceptable levels. (2004). According to this experiment, “we are in fact much more obedient to the authority figures of our society” (2004). That’s why it is easy for the individuals in authority or as leaders to order low level people or individuals to kill others by various methods such as dropping bombs or suicide killings. This has been done by many countries and movements including Sri Lankan government and LTTE for many years for many reasons.

Personal Responsibility is one of the many factors people always ignore. The reason is people do not take responsibility for their actions because of their obedience and following to their leaders or the system. Those who commit the crime wave the responsibility off to the authority figures and those who authorize and control these actions claim to have no such connections, with such horrid activities because they were not in the situation (2004). In this way, people are being irresponsible for their actions. However, people who are in power protect themselves and punish the lower level people for their behaviour and actions which is asked or ordered by them. This is really a hypocritical behaviour which is not only accepted and followed by Sinhala and Tamil people but other across cultures and societies in the earth too. That is why individuals separate themselves from their actions and the responsibility for the actions. This is “called as deindividuation which is an important component of much violence seen in modern society” says Zimbardo (2004). Also his Mock prison experiment suggests how the situations make a person behave the way they behave for the situational demands but not to respond to the person’s own thoughts, beliefs or emotions (2004). In addition, social motivation helps to solve cognitive dissonance (2004) in an individual and as a result that person follows the social rules or expectation by leaving or putting aside his or her own opinions and thoughts. It is difficult to believe that some people appear one way in one situation and behave totally differently in another situation because of their dissociation which is another factor for the obedience to authority or leaders (2004). Therefore, there is no one to take responsibility for the actions/events happen in these societies. Based on psychological and philosophical motivation theories, it can be understandable the causes and reasons for Sinhala and Tamil people’s beliefs system such as superiority, racial attitudes and behaviours such as violence and war against each other. The recent video clip which is telecast by channel 4 is a good example. One group of human beings killing another group of human being like playing with jokes while one person taking video of this heart breaking event. These kinds of behaviours have been done by both sides the government and LTTE and unfortunately government still continue because they have the absolute power after defeating LTTE. However, there is no one to take responsibility for this video clip but blaming each other. Those human beings can be any one, but sure they are basically human beings belong to some groups which is unfortunate. For government and most of the Sinhala people and their supporters, they are happy if they can prove that LTTE is responsible for these killing but not Sri Lankan army. For LTTE, their supporters and most of the Tamils, it should be other way round; they would like to prove that Sri Lankan army is doing all these killing but not LTTE. Basically, both of them are happy if the people who have been killed are their people and because both of them want to prove the other is the bad and blame them. That is why it seems that no one care about the individuals who have been killed whether they are Tamils or Sinhalese and no one likes to see them as human beings beyond their identities. All of our hands are tainted with blood even without taking arms or killing someone but being silent and arguing to blame others. Is there anyone who is thinking at least to stop these kinds of actions/killings happening in the future? That is what we need now but not to blame others because blaming is not going to stop further killings like this.

However, there is a basic different between Sinhala and Tamil people other than their ethnic, culture and religious difference. Sinhala people are majority and behave as superiors and oppressors and Tamils feel inferiority because they are minority and are oppressed. Even though Sinhala people have and follow their social and political leaders, they have a valid legal entity that’s their constitution is more powerful than their leaders. Their leader’s responsibility is to protect the constitution because it was drafted to protect Sinhala language, Buddhism, their myth history which is discriminate against other ethnic groups, languages and religions. Therefore, whatever the action they take even actions such as discriminating and oppressing against Tamils becomes legal. It has a legitimate value. That’s why when governments run war or violence is not recognized as Terrorism. This is applicable to all government in this world. But this is not the case with Tamils. They do not have any legal entity. Therefore, Tamil people have to follow their leaders who are democratically elected political leaders or so called illegal leaders who are rebels. Tamil people also expect their leaders to protect their language, culture, land and religion from the oppressors who is Sri Lankan government. When the riots or violence was happened against Tamil people by Sri Lankan government or Sinhala people, the leaders of Tamils people were pushed to take arms to protect them and their people. Unfortunately, the violence against the oppression by the oppressed people has been seen as terrorism because they do not have any legitimate value like governments have. This is applicable to all oppressed people all over the world. That is why democratic system is questionable in this point because its function is somehow biased.

In conclusion, the fight between Sinhala and Tamils had been continued even before the country called as Ceylon when many western powers invaded in the last five centuries, in the name of protecting their kingdoms which are ruled by kings who controlled the people for their power and exploit them. Therefore, according to past history, the country was some time divided and some time it was united by the kings who won the war. However, when the British invaded the country which was already a dived country but when they left the country in 1947, they made as a united country for their administrative propose and gave to Sinhala Buddhist leaders who later changed the country’s name as Sri Lanka and made it as a Sinhala Buddhist country. On the other hand, Tamils had the feeling that they have been discriminated and treated as second class citizen by Sri Lankan government. Therefore, they fought against the Sri Lankan government through non-violence and violence. Since then both ethnic groups have developed to see each other as an enemy. This has been happening, according to psychological and philosophical motivation theory, by conformity, compliance, and obedience to their society and leaders. Unfortunately, both sides have not chosen a different creative path or positive thought or behaviour or attitude other than racism and violence because they are conditioned to be and do so by andocentric male chauvinist ideology. Because of these condition individuals do not know their potential and what they can achieve with their potential in their life which are characterised by Amram Marslow and Carl Rogers as self actualization and self potential respectively. This new path also can be used to fight for the rights and freedom in a creative way. If individuals know their potential, then they could be more creative in their actions and behaviours even in their war and violence against others. In addition, we should incorporated new feminist ideologies which emphasise the new way of behaviour and attitude such as creative, intuitive, loving, caring, singing, dancing, and laughing alternative for war and violence. Women have been oppressed, exploited, and discriminated for long time in a brutal way across cultures than any other oppression but they never took arms or path of violence to fight against men or the oppression. Men should learn this attitude and behaviour from women. Moreover, loving and having sex is better than fighting and killing in a war. Therefore, it is inevitable to leave our old andocentric male chauvinist ideology and behaviour which has been dominated human beings specially women, children and different sexes and genders for long time in a destructive way. Finally, there have been agricultural, industrial, information social waves, changes and revolutions. Now, individuals need a new social wave, change and revolution in creativity with total consciousness or flow (Murakimi, T., Nishiwaki, T. et al 1991). Therefore, the only path left to us is to grow in our conscious to know our unique potential in order to participate in creative revolution. Are we ready for new future for a development of human beings, growing in our consciousness for a creative culture, behaviours and attitudes?

Adams, G., Biernat, M., Branscombe, N.R., Crandall, C.S., Wrightsman, & Lawrence , S. (2008). Beyond prejudice: Toward a sociocultural psychology of racism and oppression. Commemorating Brown: The social psychology of racism and discrimination. Decade of Behaviour. Washington , DC , US : American Psychological Association. (pp. 215-246) Murakimi, T., Nishiwaki, T. et al (1991). Strategy for creation. Cambridge , Woodhead Publishing Ltd.

Petri, H.L., & Govern, J.M. (2004). Motivation: Theory, research, and applications.

Belmont, Wadsworth.

Rogers, J.D., Spencer, J., & Uyangoda, J. (1998). Sri Lanka: Political violence and ethnic

conflict. American Psychologist. Vol 53(7), Jul 1998, pp. 771-777

Somasundaram,D.J., & Jamunanantha, C.S.(2002). Psychosocial consequences of war

Northern Sri Lankan experience. Trauma, war, and violence: Public mental health in socio-cultural context. The Plenum series on stress and coping. Ed. Joop T. V. M. de Jong. New York , NY , US : Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers. (pp. 205-258).




-Sri Lanka Guardian
Ram Muni said...

The writer tries to present a lot of theories as to the cause of LTTE terrorism. No such theories are necessary. The Only reason is that the some Tamils aspired to what was not theirs, and their greed for land and "lordship" far exceeded their humanity.

SL said...

The author of this article has continently ignored the fact that the favoritism enjoyed by the elite class of Tamils under British colonial rulers. The truth is Brits had no special love for Tamils but they convienetntly use this "loyal & timid" minority to implement their famous "divide-&-rule" practice. Under the protection of Brits, Tamils were mis-treating the Sinhalese majority and their own low-case, under-privileged Tamils. Once Brits were mulling about awarding independence to their colonies Tamils feared that they would lose all these powers they got through favoritism once democratic representation has been instated. Then they demanded undemocratic mechanisms like 50:50. However, the Sinhalese leaders were smart enough to persuade the Brits not to grant these unfair demands. Once Sri Lanka become Independent or at least a dominion-state, the political power was gradually shifted the Sinhalese as it should be in a democratic society. All that Sinhalese people wanted was that their language and their religion to be protected. This is natural as for any other race in the world not because that they believe in a "myth" as portrayed by the author . Further, Sri Lanka is the only country for Sinhalese race, which is only 15 million where there are 60 million Tamils in India alone. Imagine that there is a federal statue created in north and east of the Sri Lanka and there is nothing to prevent mass-immigration of Tamils from South-India to these areas. With in 10 years both Sinhala language and Sinhala-Buddhism will be vanished. Every Sinhalese know this plain truth and that is why they fight their tooth and nail against Tamil dominance in Sri Lanka. That is why even after 30 years of fighting they didn't give up and finished the Tamil terrorism. Now Sinhala people have to defeat Tamil-Nationalism, which try to white wash Tamil-Terrorism, (like the author of this article) and try to gain the dominance in Sri Lanka.

Unknown said...

Writer makes an attempt to explain the SL issue from a Management theory perspective but if we go by practical truths, more realistic than vague Management theories that are not absolute sciences.....Over the following phrase cited "it was a sad day for most Tamils speaking people because, it was their struggle for freedom, basic human rights, for their land and self-determination rights"...If Tamils are not free how come more than 50% of Tamils live in majority Sinhalese areas but not vice versa?On human rights is there any one Tamil boy/girl prevented being sat for O/L, A/L exam, even Praba's son/daughter sat for SL exams b4 entering oversaes universities.It was LTTE forcibally recruited innocent Tamil children violating these childrens' human rights, so why SL govt./Sinhalese people held accountable by the writer?Critically since when Vanni area became their land from SL map, under what legislation?Invading a foreign soil & capturing & occupying it,do not signify inheritance or ownership based on invaders' wishes.Wrier has to go through Nehru's dream of attaching SL to Tamilnadu than management theories for clarity, which Indira Ghandi promoted through LTTE/other rebel groups to fish in troubles waters to teach a lesson to JR regime, which was more pro Western.Irrespective of many arguments, it is the right & the duty of the sinhalese people to safeguard this island which their fore-fathers fought & secured for their great grand children out of theirblood & flesh.Writer vehemently blames SL constitution, Sinhalaese people contitute almost 80% of the mass, so Sinahlese/Buddhism should be the first ranking under any yardstick, If not ethical why in India when original Hindi speaking/Hindu worshipping are not even 60% of gross population, Hindi language/Hindu religion become their national heritage?Why English people say "God save Queen" than "God save multi cultural England".Solution is simple, Let SL Tamils think as Sri Lankans, not as Indians & not to force Indian power to suppress Sinhalese majority as a coward mean & assimilate with all SL communities including Muslims who have fair share similar to Tamils, agree to 50/50 giving in policy against the cry of full pound of flesh,get away from Channel 4 type unverified propaganda which is food for out side elements to muddle the soup.

Peggy said...

The majority of Sri Lankan Tamils were not voluntary followers of Prabhakaran, and did not approve of violence or killing. Sinhalese likewise include many people who do not approve of the tactics of the army. If they are heard, the dissenters are jailed or killed. Therefore they must be careful what they say. Prabhakaran is dead, and therefore people may say what they wish about him.
Although Sinhalese claim the whole of the island as a gift to them to the Buddha, Tamils claim a part of it as their homeland. Sinhalese constitute the great majority of people in Sri Lanka, their army is enormous, and their government has military support from richer countries. Therefore, the two parties are not equivalent. Their psychologies are also not equivalent. Please do not equate the LTTE with all Tamils, nor the Sri Lankan Security Forces with all Sinhalese. Otherwise it will be necessary to say that the majority of killings and other atrocities in Sri Lanka were committed by Sinhalese. To protect the island for Buddhism, the inhabitants of the island must follow the precepts of Buddhism. The first of these precepts is non-killing.