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Nation building in Sri Lanka

| by A Special Correspondent

( January 20, 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Today people are talking about national reconciliation, communal harmony, peace and development in Sri Lanka. I think as a prerequisite for all these, the majority community should stop stereotyping minorities in Sri Lanka: Since the independence the Sinhalese have been looking down on minority communities. Minority communities have been labelled with different derogatory names. It is deeply rooted in the mind-sets of some Sinhalese to claim that they are the “sons of soil”. They have been claiming that “Sri Lanka belongs to Sinhalese race only”. Some of them have had a habit of saying that all other communities are new arrivals to Sri Lanka.

Muslim community with its business skills and experience could enrich this nation hugely, Tamil community with its intellectual heritage and international exposure could share its experience to take this nation forward in this modern era, and Sinhalese community with its manpower and human resource could take this nation into rapid develop.
Such claim has been repeated by politicians, academics, and military leaders and even by some monks. This is an insult to all other minorities in Sri Lanka. This type of stereotyping other communities as second class citizens of Sri Lanka would not bring any good for this nation at all. Rather this will make further division among communities. This really hurts feelings of minority communities and yet, some racist Sinhalese people cannot grasp the psychological scars of such stereotyping. Sometime, Tamils, Muslims, and Malay communities are considered by some racist Sinhalese as aliens or strangers.

These racist Sinhalese claim that “we were here before you” and this is an ancient homeland of ours” I think to make a real reconciliation, all communities must be regarded as sons of this land. It does not matter whether they are Sinhalese or Tamils and Muslims. All should be treated as equal citizens of this country. Derogatory words such as Tambila, marakkalaya, and similar negative words should be made illegal to use in public. Similarly, minority communities should avoid labelling Sinhalese people with any negative terms. I think a courteous and polite communication between communities is the first step to win the hearts and minds of people. This is the first to make a real national reconciliation. Consider for instance, the filthy utterings of Gnanasara Thero. He has insulted the entire 1.2 billion Muslims in the world with his derogatory words about Islam and Muslims. Thus tarnish a good name of Buddhism and Sinhalese community in the world. Hate speeches about other communities should be made illegal. Inciting hatred among communities should be regarded as punishable crime in Sri Lanka. Thus, healing the wound of communal disharmony and tension should start with basic manners of communal interaction in our day to day communication. People should know how to respect each other, how to speak one another in public.

One Tamil scholar notes that soon after the defeat of the LTTE, one of the top military personals in Sri Lanka declared that “Sri Lanka is Sinhala Buddhist state. Tamils should not expect any special treatment as minorities. They have to accept this reality and live accordingly” (Kandiah Sarveswaran.p39). Before Sri Lankan government takes any meaningful step to make any real reconciliation Sinhalese people as majority community should learn how to respect minority community with sense of humour and respect. They should have sympathy and empathy towards minority communities. Minority communities know well that Sinhalese constitutes 75% of Sri Lankan population and they are the majority in Sri Lanka. This is an undeniable fact. Yet, it does not mean that minorities should live as second class citizens in this country. Some racist Sinhalese have been trying undermine all minority communities in Sri Lanka. It really hurts the feelings and sentiments of minority communities. This should be stopped soon if Sri Lanka really wants to make any meaningful reconciliation.

These racist Sinhalese who insult minorities with such arguments do not know the historical truth of ancient settlements in Sri Lanka. Prof Senake Bandaranayke gives us a comprehensive description of early settlement in Sri Lanka. He records that “Vaddda people are aboriginal. Sinhalese are the descendants of protohistoric migrant from North India, the Tamils are of South Indian stock, the Muslims descended from Arabian immigrants, the Burghers from Portuguese and Dutch settlers and so on” ( Senake Bandaranayke .p8). Yet Kandiah on the basis of “historical, anthropological, archaeological, epigraphic and linguistic studies argues that the Saiva-Tamil civilization is the oldest civilization of the Island and with introduction of Buddhism, a section of the Island’s society divided and evolved as Buddhist –Sinhala civilization” (Kandiah pp42-43). Thus, historical records tell us that all communities came to Sri Lanka some times in history. Therefore, no point arguing about historical legacy of ownership of this Island rather we should now learn to live with realities of modern day. Cultural diversity and richness of different communities enrich Sri Lanka today. All communities have some potentialities and credentials to develop this nation. Muslim community with its business skills and experience could enrich this nation hugely, Tamil community with its intellectual heritage and international exposure could share its experience to take this nation forward in this modern era, and Sinhalese community with its manpower and human resource could take this nation into rapid develop. All community should be untied to do this. That is one of fundamental principles upon which we need to enhance the notion of nation building in Sri Lanka.

To be continued:

References:
  • 1) V. R. Raghavan: Post conflict Sri Lanka: rebuilding the society, VIJ BOOKS, INDIA PVT LTD. NEW DELHI. 20012.
  • 2) ETHNICITY AND SOCAIL CHANGE IN SRI LANKA : a collection of research papers published by Navagama Printers: Colombo .1985



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