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Lessons to be learnt and reconciliation – Part Two

In Sri Lanka the problem is denying the rightful place for Sinhala Buddhist culture and what has to be encouraged is integration of the Muslims and the Tamils into the nation that has been already created during the time of Pandukabhaya.

by Nalin de Silva
 

Read Part One

(October 27, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) As long as we follow the western theorists and the Tamil elite who claim that the Sinhala Buddhists are responsible for the so-called ethnic problem and injustices were done to the Tamils by the Sinhala Buddhists we will never solve the "problem" as it has not been properly formulated. In effect, with the assumption of the so-called grievances we are trying to solve a non existing problem. It is not only the westerners and the Tamils following the Tamil elite who formulate the problem in this manner but the Olcott Buddhists as well. These Olcott Buddhists before Colonel Olcott came to Sri Lanka could be identified as Thomian Buddhists as we said in the previous instalment. Recently I came across a novel written in Sinhala with the title "Dhara" by a well known novelist. She, apparently an Olcott Buddhist, attempts to discuss the concept of power and "power projects" not only among the Homo sapiens but among the other animals, and discusses many things foreign to her. She would discuss even the way a tiger would think when it kills another animal in her novel, and would justify the killing. I am not quite sure whether she symbolically justifies the killings by the two legged tigers but after reading the novel one cannot but come to the conclusion that the Homo sapiens are the cruelest among the animals and the Sinhala Buddhists are the most unjust among the Homo sapiens. However, what the Olcott Buddhists do not appreciate is the fact that there would not have been any Theravada Buddhism not only in this blessed island but in the entire world for them to practise, if that is the correct word to be used, if not for the Sinhala Buddhists who took upon themselves the task of protecting Buddhism, by which I mean a practising Theravada Buddhism and not a Buddhism confined to scholars and books in the libraries.

What is the problem that we have to solve in this country? It is nothing but denying the Sinhala Buddhist culture its due place in the country. It began with the arrival of the Portuguese who were probably not as cruel as the Sinhala Buddhists to the lady mentioned above and other pundits and still continues. As I have mentioned often the Burghers, whose mother tongue was English, the English educated Tamils and the English educated Sinhala Christians were given privileges by the English in that order and even the English educated Buddhists among the Sinhalas (I would not call them Sinhala Buddhists) were "nobodies" in the hierarchical structure, if I am to use the apt word introduced by Kumari Jayawardhane. One could imagine how the ordinary Sinhala Buddhists were treated and in my opinion the Sinhala Buddhist youth have an ill feeling towards learning English even as a language for the oppression they (their fathers) had to experience under the English who used English language. They have resented learning English even as a language, perhaps subconsciously, however much it will open the so called windows (Microsoft in today’s context) to the outside world. The word "kaduwa" (sword) symbolises that oppression and it is a fact that the percentage of English speaking among the Sinhalas is less than the percentage of English speaking among the Tamils and the Muslims. It is time those who are engaged in teaching English to the Sinhala youth gave some thought to this point as well. In my own case, I resented learning English consciously as a student and whatever English I have learnt is the result of some unconscious process that has taken place while studying western Mathematics, Physics, Philosophy and Marxism. Of course, there were a few Sinhala Buddhist youth then who learnt English to climb the ladder of social status by becoming doctors, engineers and lawyers but they were a few even after the opening of central schools in the villages and suburbs.

As I have said the loss of some of the privileges enjoyed by the English educated Tamils who displaced the Burghers from the leadership among the "Ceylonese", starting with equal representation for "ethnic groups" in the legislature, was interpreted as injustices to the Tamils in general and various concepts such as Tamil homeland were created defying history in order to deprive the Sinhala Buddhists and their culture the due place in the country. One of the concepts used was multiculturalism interpreted as equiculturalism. No two cultures are equal in a country but in Sri Lanka the Sinhala Buddhists were intimidated to accept that all the other cultures in the country as cultures equal in status with Sinhala Buddhist culture. Multiculturalism does not mean that cultures are equal, as in any country there is a dominant, hegemonic or significant culture. In Sri Lanka, however multiculturalism was and even today is interpreted as eqiculturalism. In European countries such as England and Germany equiculturalism is not practised to the extent it is practised in Sri Lanka as the English and German cultures are respectively the dominant cultures in those countries. However, even in those countries effects of multiculturalism are felt as illustrated by the following article that was reproduced in "The Island" on 20th October 2010.

"Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has provoked a heated controversy with her declaration that attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have "utterly failed". The "multikulti" concept, as the Germans call it, had led immigrants to believe that they need not integrate, learn the language or adopt the customs and practices of their new home. To some extent, the Germans have only themselves to blame, because they were less than welcoming to the millions of Turks and others who arrived under the Gastarbeiter scheme to help build the post-war economic miracle. Many were given a right to reside but denied full German citizenship – excluding them from certain jobs such as teaching. Most of the immigrants have settled; but in the eyes of many, they have not made much of an effort to become Germans.

The same is true in this country, if not more so. British tolerance of other people’s ways, religions, cuisines, languages and dress has not always been matched by an equal willingness on the part of immigrants to subscribe to the value system of the host nation. That was principally the fault of the multiculturalist creed espoused by the Left, which encouraged different ethnic groups to do their own thing, meaning they became more estranged from mainstream society and from one another. In some parts of the country, this led to segregation and separation – the "parallel lives" identified by a report into the 2001 riots in several northern cities. Rather than insisting that immigrants learn English – which would be to their own benefit – millions of pounds have been spent providing interpreters and translating public service documents. This is a subject political leaders usually recoil from discussing – and Mrs Merkel may pay a price for doing so. But the alternative is to leave the debate exclusively to the extremists."

In Sri Lanka the problem is denying the rightful place for Sinhala Buddhist culture and what has to be encouraged is integration of the Muslims and the Tamils into the nation that has been already created during the time of Pandukabhaya. (The western pundits should not come out with their pet theories on nation states coming into existence only after capitalism was established.) The state became a Sinhala Buddhist state during the reign of Gemunu after the Sinhalas became Buddhists officially during the time of Devanampiya Tissa. A necessary condition for reconciliation is acceptance of the Sinhala Buddhist culture as the significant culture in the country.

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