by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam
(April 02, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) I refer to the article ‘Lankan Muslims and their Freedom of Choice/Expression’ by M.I.M. Noordeen, published in Sri Lanka Guardian.
Mr. Noordeen says ‘In an unwanted attempt to white wash the Muslim community (as if they have committed a huge crime by supporting the Pakistanis) Mr Izzeth Hussain is creating a division among the Muslims. Unlike the un-united Tamils of Sri Lanka who are divided into many tribes (Vellalar Tamils, Jaffna Tamils, Batticaloa Tamils, Vanni Tamils, Colombo Tamils and Up-country Tamils) and discriminate each other, the Muslim community in Sri Lanka is united in brotherhood. Dividing the Muslims into the Moors, the Coast Moors, the Malays, the Borahs, and the Memens is totally unnecessary.’
The internal hierarchical system is healthy in any community. The above ‘alleged divisions’ within the Tamil community was initially a vertical arrangement just like the Muslim religious hierarchy. They help each one take their place as per their jobs and status. That status was initially as per the jobs. If we stuck to work in allocating status – we would not go wrong. But given that we do not always derive the full value of our work immediately – we have this ‘status’ system. It’s on this basis that the benefits of Higher Education are balanced. The caste system practiced by Tamils was the same. The race system practiced by Sinhala Governments was not in accord with this and hence our protests.
Recently I read a young Tamil lamenting about the Divisions in the postwar LTTE support group. This young Tamil claimed that under his Thalaivar Prabaharan there was unity. That did not seem right to me. Prabaharan got rid of his opposition and hence lost his fundamental right to form a democratic government. One who is able to accept opposition as her/his other side is the one that qualifies to claim any democratic right.
In terms of these ‘divisions’ – be it Sinhalese or any other group - including EPDP and Karuna Groups, if Tamils are able to see them as ‘opposition’ and take up 50% we are already within the protection of Democracy. Likewise, if Muslims seek to be democratic in politics – they need these internal separations – just like we have between the Executive Government and the Judiciary. As Sri Lankans we feel intuitively connected. Without this connection none of us has the right to criticize each other including members of the government – except through objective proof obtained through independent processes external to our common areas.
Most races in Sri Lanka are unable to accept disagreement as expressions of opposition. Each one who fails to – is disqualifying her/himself from the system of democracy. This is the reason why LTTE wanted separation. That was the right way for Sinhalese. Not for Sri Lankans. To me as per my assessment of myself I am Sri Lankan. When a Sinhalese opposes me – I accept them as my equal opposition and switch to democracy. With those who accept me through common faith – I don’t need to think. We just work as part of each other.
There are many groups within postwar Tamil community. These divisions were always there but the desire for self-rule was stronger than the differences and hence we seemed more united. So long as our commitment to self governance through democracy is stronger than our desires for immediate benefits and apparent power - these divisions would convert themselves into democratic oppositions within one umbrella. Then we would be attractive not only to other races in Sri Lanka but in the Western world also – especially in countries like Australia where we are yet to solve the racial problem. Likewise Muslims. If Lankan Muslims become democratic – they would be a good model for other Muslims all over the world to follow.
Mr. Noordeen says ‘For some unknown reasons, a few Muslims in Colombo support the Pakistanis and it had been going on for many decades without anybody’s objection. Of course, unlike Tamil Nadu that supports the Sri Lankan Tamils, Pakistan is not going to support the Sri Lankan Muslims if they have any problem but in a multi-ethnic/religious democratic country like Sri Lanka, questions such as whom you support should not arise. If an ultra-nationalist/racist comes with such questions, he/she should be ignored. Nation building should not be confused with freedom of choice to cheer a team you personally like. I may be a Sri Lankan Patriot even though I support the West Indies cricket team. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
If the Sri Lankan Muslims are considered as outsiders (from India) then everyone else in Sri Lanka other than the Veddas are also outsiders (from India). The Muslims in Sri Lanka also have the same rights as the Sinhalese and the Tamils and they are free to support whom so ever they choose to support. This should not be considered as a big issue’
It looks as if Mr. Noordeen is including cricket in this. I was asked by an Indian student yesterday as to which one I was going to support in tonight’s cricket – India or Sri Lanka? I did not have a ready answer. To me it is more about merit – because I am a foreigner to cricket itself. My husband is a citizen – hopefully a global one.
In terms of India being our origin, to the extent we are still conscious of it and need it to support an argument – we are Indians – the way majority Australian migrants from Sri Lanka are still Sri Lankans. That is ok – so long as we do not claim the right to govern ourselves. Those governing themselves here in Australia need to feel Australians and use Sri Lanka only as an experience to support current life. Like with parents we never forget. But once we are independent we need to give our own form to our life but always in the consciousness of our connection to the root. The deeper the root we feel connected to, stronger the stability that supports us as we grow wider to become global.
Recently when there were some violent protests at our Christmas Island Detention and also a death – I was wondering about their connection to what was happening in the Middle-East. I do believe that, like with racism, if we do not consciously override our habitual tendencies – we subconsciously go back to that group that is our natural environment. That is the strength of faith when we are within the boundaries of that faith and that becomes weakness when we are outside those boundaries. With most people the physical environment influences the mental environment and therefore the boundaries within which we live.