2 December, 2020

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A Suggested Overall Framework For Reconciliation Discourse

By Basil Fernando

Basil Fernando

Basil Fernando

The author is sharing this writing, with a suggested over all framework for reconcilation discourse in Sri Lanka. It is meant to provoke thought and discussion. Responsiblity for this view is the author’s alone.

I

The village where I was born, for all purposes, looked very quiet and peaceful. However, an internal structure of discrimination was inbuilt into the social ethos of this village. The structure of internal violence was built on the basis of caste discrimination.

A classification of people as lower and higher was built into the very structure of the social ethos and, I think that, over many centuries, it had also been transmitted into the deepest recesses of the psyche, into the very soul of the people. People were therefore deeply divided.

This deeply divided people, both socially and psychologically, lived in peace. The external acts of violence, such as murder or even quarrelsomeness, did not have an expressed presence and visibility in this village. People were not friends; at the same time, they were not overt enemies. It was just that they were divided; they were not one. That was the source of constant inner violence, which was inbuilt deep into this village ethos.

The rules of the inner division were well known and well accepted by everyone. The rules were underwritten into the inner structure of everyone living in the village. As these were so deeply internalized, there were hardly any breaches of these rules.

That was the source of the absence of external conflicts. It could be said that there was a certain harmony but that harmony did not mean friendship, love, or any kind of respect for each other.

The absence of respect of one person for the other in the system of hierarchy was taken for granted. It was thought and felt that they had to treat each other differently and there was no dispute about that matter.

The division did not mean hate. The rules were so deeply internalized and psychologically accepted that it did not leave any room for hate. Thus, there was no love or hate in the relationships among these people.

There was some kind of an etiquette that was entrenched so deep that the observance of that etiquette could be taken for granted. Each one behaved towards the others on the basis of that inbuilt etiquette. As there were hardly any occasions when the rules of etiquette were broken, it could be said that there were no externally expressed conflicts in this society.

On some rare occasion, some one or another, tried to undermine the age-old rules. It was then that conflict became externalized and the retaliation very cruel. The division into lower and higher allowed those in higher positions to greater and disproportionate force. It was on those occasions that the cruelty of the internalized structure became visible. Such moments of overt violence was the way the old order was restored, and then things returned to normal, “peaceful”.

This indicates that the order that prevailed, and still prevails, was produced by the use of extreme violence, whereby some accepted the idea of being lower and remained in that position. So long as the lower group accepted this position, there was no external conflict and there was “peace”. That shows that the inner foundation was built in fear; this cement still holds. Internalized fear, not love or hate, created this “peace”.

From a rational point of view, there may be nothing to legitimize this social arrangement.

But, it persists.

Habits live long.

II

A look into some of the more frequently asked questions will illustrate the impact of cast as the inner structure. Here are a few such questions:
Why do we not get outraged in the face of blatant acts of injustice and violence?
Why do we not speak out on behalf of each other?
Why do police beat up poorer people in routine and never the more powerful, despite the powerful committing even greater crimes?
Why aren’t State officers courteous to ordinary folk?
Why is there a practice of disproportionate violence, such as beating a man to death for stealing of a bunch of bananas or killing a person after arrest?
The culture of silence and culture of violence cannot be explained, save by reference to the inner structure of our social ethos, which is one based on caste.

III

A similar situation exists among the Tamils too. Their “bond” is also cemented by caste. There is no greater love or hate between the lower and the higher among the Tamils.

IV

Race relationships in Sri Lanka are conditioned on the same basis as caste. Race relationships in Sri Lanka are an extension of caste relationships.

V

The basic argument made above is that Sri Lankan society is created on the basis of the internalized structure of caste. The very silence about the caste-based inner structure is itself a product of caste.

VI

The talk about reconciliation has not made much impression on many people, because, the inner structure of violence which is caste-based has not been brought forward as an integral part of process of reconciliation. The more sensitive part of the wound has remained untouched.

VII

Presenting two races, Sinhalese and Tamils, as two integrated units engaged in conflict, is artificial. Both groups are deeply divided, by the very inner structure of each.

VIII

In racial conflicts as well as caste conflicts, persons who undergo the most painful events are, for the most part, the “lower” groups in the caste ladder. But, those who are engaged in reconciliation matters are the “upper” layer. Naturally, no real talk on reconciliation can begin that way. Those who have suffered direct pain must speak, if reconciliation is to begin. But, the very law of caste denies the lower group the right to speech. So, reconciliation talks never get to a start.

IX

Instead, under the pretext of reconciliation, upper”groups of both races are seeking greater power for themselves. As the “lower”groups of both races are not participants and by the very nature of the inner structure of each race, will never be allowed to participate till caste has its influence felt, “the Lower Groups”will see no benefit to themselves from the political games playrf by “the ÜPPER Groups”

X

It is only with the eradication of the inner structure based on caste – amongst the Sinhalese as well as the Tamils – that the talk of reconciliation will become a living dialogue.

The way to break the inner structure based on caste is through the creation of modern institutions, the basic democratic institutions, with adequate resources to remain functional, and making them the inner structure of Sri Lanka, a structure that will serve both the Sinhalese and the Tamils and other communalities.

Replacement of a caste-based inner structure with modern democratic institutions as the inner structure can do the magic of reconciliation. Among the democratic institutions that can make practical equality possible, both within each race and among the races, are the law enforcement agencies and judicial institutions.

What is meant by law enforcement agencies is the police and the corruption control agency. Using the term judicial institutions implies the Supreme Court and the upper courts, which enjoy all judicial powers, inclusive of constructional powers, such as judicial review.

The most important consideration is that these institutions should have adequate funds to function efficiently.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    1

    “It is only with the eradication of the inner structure based on caste – amongst the Sinhalese as well as the Tamils – that the talk of reconciliation will become a living dialogue.”

    Hats off to Basil Fernando for raising this issue of the caste. This is so embedded in Sri Lankan societies such that it inhibits progress and reconciliation.

    Many racist Sinhala Buddhists cite the caste system among the Tamils to justify their ostensible denial to grant power devolution to the N&E! In reality, the Sinhala caste system is as bad as the Tamil caste system!

    • 2
      0

      This phenomenon of caste system is a curse on India and Sri Lanka: I don’t know if it exists in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

      • 0
        0

        Indeed thanks to Mr. Fernando – structures of discrimination in Sri Lanka are both caste and CLASS and GENDER based and intertwined, and at the root of discrimination that poor people face is the culture of GREED and CORRUPTION of those who have more resources. This culture is institutionalized in the police and governance institutions which are a mirror of society!

        The corrupt politicians however, distract the moda masses from their misery with HATE SPEECH against minorities!

        Sri Lanka indeed needs a framework for reconciliation. Thank you Mr. Basil.

    • 1
      0

      This is rubbish to say that the Sinhala caste system as as bad as the Tamil caste system. As a Muslim I can judge the two systems objectively. The Tamil caste system is oppressive and deeply hierarchical, supported by the Hindu Manu Dharama, Temples and their Kururals; and even by the Tamil Catholic church. Go to a church grave yard in the Tamil areas and if you inquire a bit, even the graveyard is caste segregated. This is not son in the Church graveyards in the Singhalese areas. Apparently, when the Kandyans installed the Nayakkara Dravidians as kings who were expected to “safegurad Buddhism”, at least in public; they did not want to worship “low caste Buddhist monks”, and created upper-caste Buddhist “Nikaaya” for their benefit. So Hinduism gave its caste system not only to the Catholic church, but also to the Buddhists. The only religion which has no caste system is Islam.

      Mr. Basil Ferndo is a hypocrite. He knows that all sorts of horrendous things, violence and human rights abuses, are going on at his own door step in HongKong, and just North of him in China. But there is not a humm about them from his “human rights commission” which people say is an anti-Sri Lankan organization partly funded by the Catholic priests like Fr. Emmaneul whose pro-LTTE sympathies are well known. Basil Fernando has appeared on the same platform with LTTE high-ups in Australian events, and I was told that he has strong links with diaspora figures in Canada known for their membership in the World Tamil Forum banned by the Canadian government.

    • 1
      0

      Dear Burning Issue,

      It is well known within the AHRC and human rights activists that are associated with that NGO that Basil maintains up to 8 Gmail addresses in fictitious names. When he receives adverse comments on his articles, lo and behold, ‘someone’ writes a complimentary reply.

  • 1
    0

    Facts are stated correctly. There may be different takes on the opinions stated.

    While reading I became curious as to whether the over-riding opinion was reality within the Supreme Court (guardians of the rule of law) as well.

    Can a reader please enlighten us with a list of names of the Judges of the Supreme Court and name of the caste each one belongs to us.

    • 0
      0

      Yes, the caste system exists in Pakistan and Bangaladesh.
      But it is not prominent as it is in India and SL.
      May be that is due to Indian historical and proximity reasons.
      I can say that because I had associations with both groups during the time I worked amongst them.

  • 3
    1

    Quite true.
    Unless ‘caste’ discrimination, including the mere mention of the word ‘caste’ and derivations therefrom, are made punishable by legislation, this cancer will progress and pervade the entire fabric of society.
    Even the clergy of all religions, are based on caste of each individual.
    A ‘low caste’ clergy is not thought suitable to practice rituals required by every religion, to please the ‘devoted’ ‘high caste’ members of society.

    Sri Lanka will be a really democratic nation, when a so-called low- caste individuals become president, prime minster, or other holders of high political/elective office .
    This has happened in our northern neighbour – mainly because it has a secular constitution.

    • 3
      0

      ‘This has happened in our northern neighbour – mainly because it has a secular constitution.’

      Caste has no effect in India? Which planet are you living on?

      ‘Sri Lanka will be a really democratic nation, when a so-called low- caste individuals become president, prime minster, or other holders of high political/elective office’

      Have you never heard of Ranasinghe Premadasa or Gen Sarath Fonseka?

      • 2
        1

        taraki

        “Have you never heard of Ranasinghe Premadasa or Gen Sarath Fonseka?”

        So you know the caste of each and every politician of this island. I thought castism is ripe only in India.

        Caste has no effect in Sri Lanka? Which planet are you living on?

        Muslim Presidents.

        Zakir Husain,
        Mohammad Hidayatullah
        Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed
        A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (A Tamil)

        Sikh President

        Giani Zail Singh

        Caste was not considered a barrier for Kocheril Raman Narayanan when he was elected as the president of India.

        The father of Indian constitution Ambedkar was highly respected in India and elsewhere.

        J R made sure caste politics in South worked in his favour.

        Has there ever been a Tamil or Muslim prime minister in this island leave alone a president?

        • 0
          1

          Dear Native,

          How are your Dollar a Day mates doing there nowadays..

          I saw on AlZaeera that some in the Villages get USD 30 a year from the Govt.

          Mangalan says our Sinhala Buddhists should have no fear of Hindians.

          Mangalam goes even further to tell us that our Lion gene came from India.

          I am a bit worried,

          I am sure you know what happened to Buddha and his Buddhism in India.

          Because a Foreigner ( non White ) asked me the other day why there are no Buddhists or Buddhism there.

          • 1
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            Sumanasekara,
            Remind your foreign friend about Krishna and his Bhagawad Gita. Krishna lived 1000 years before Buddha and there are no doubts that Buddha learnt and mastered Bhagawad Gita teaching and then came up with somewhat different analysis of human life. Indians had two masters of their own, Krishna and Buddha, and they preferred great Krishna teaching… so what???

        • 1
          2

          In a vast nation like India those are a few rare exceptions. They are tokens to show how ‘modern’ that country is. The position of President in India is ceremonial as you well know, and power lies with the Prime Minister. How many Muslim and Sikh PMs has India had?

          You can learn about caste in Indian politics here.

          • 4
            1

            taraki

            Could you name prime ministers (non executive since 1978) of this island who come from the minority community?

            Please name Tamil/Muslim Governor-general of Ceylon.

            “In a vast nation like India those are a few rare exceptions.”

            In a small country like Sri Lanka it shouldn’t be difficult. However it is impossible when we have racists like you, somass, Ramuuus, sach, ….. MR.

            “You can learn about caste in Indian politics here.”

            The first time I learned about caste in politics was from the deep south. And am still learning.

  • 0
    1

    Whilst accepting Basil’s analysis can we equate the staus of the upper caste and lower caste, to majority Sinhala Buddhists and minority Tamils. However from time to time minority Tamils also revolt seeking equal rights like the low caste Sinhalese.They did it first non violently through Satyagraha etc. and seeing no result took up to armed violent struggle which went on for three decades.That war may now be over,however the situation remains the same. Until the majority Sinhalese realise that irrespective of the numbers Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays or Burghers.all have equal rights.there will be no ‘reconciliation’. Unfortunately the often quoted ‘Mahavamsa mindset’ does not allow the Sinhala people to realise this. After 1956 when Sinhala only Act was enacted many Burghers left Ceylon as it was then known to Australia and gained a considerable equal rights whereas Many Tamils after the 83 Black July left ‘Sri Lanka’ for western countries, Australia and New Zealand and have gained considerable equal rights. Many countries in the world grant citizenship to persons from other countries after 5 or 7 years of residence in their countries. However in Sri Lanka there are still some plantation workers without citizenship for ages toiling in the Tea Estates still without citizenship just because they are Tamils just as 7 of their parliamentarians including the poet Velupillai lost their positions just because they were Tamils, courtesy the father of the Nation, D.S.Senanayake.

  • 1
    1

    The caste system is a worldwide phenomenon not just in Sri lanka. caste system cannot be eradicated in whole although it has changed a little bit. The caste system was created when mankind was created.
    That is not the problem in Sri Lanka now. The problem is the demand by the Tamil people in the North and East to live freely and not subjugated by the majority Sinhalese. They want their lands back, they do not want a massive presence of Army in the North and East and the army removed, they want the Tamil political prisoners released from the prisons, they want to know where their brothers, sisters, and fathers who surrendered to the armed forces during war and afterwards are. The Tamils cannot accept the Prime Minister’s words that they are dead. They want to share power with the Sinhalese in the form of a federal state. If their demands are met then there will be reconciliation.

  • 2
    2

    The Front line of the Sri Lankan Defence force is predominantly low caste and the commanders are from high class. Similarly the front line fighters of LTTE was predominantly low caste.
    The people who are suffering from thirty years of civil award are the low caste Tamils and Sinhalese.these guys don’t know the meaning of the word reconciliation.
    Will reconciliation and accountability touch or improve their lives?
    Rani W the PM owned up that all those Tamils who surrendered, predominantly from the low caste, are now dead.
    He did not show any remorse.
    Is the life of a low caste worth less ?

  • 3
    1

    The author is confused. Caste is a social problem. It exists in every community, all over the world.The difference is that some societies call it “caste” other societies base their discrimination on “social status”. Even in western countries the labourer does not sit at the dinner table with the “executive”.Social engineering is what the author is dreaming about. It may be possible if the economy improves for all communities.
    But the racial division in Srilanka is politically motivated.The political leaders who Disenfranchised Tamils,Created Sinhala Only Policy, Standardization for University admission etc are the architects of racial division.We need equal treatments of racial communities. We know it is not possible with the Sinhala-Buddhist majority. Hence the need for Federalism.

  • 0
    1

    Caste only came into Sinhala society with Hindu influence -especially when a bunch of Hindus came in and set up a ruling hierarchy in Kandy. Previously, it was egalitarianism and sharing of labour (a man working in the field also cleaned up after himself, and did not have lower caste to do the deed).

    A farmer remained traditionally a farmer, and a fisherman, a fisherman. There was hardly any need for the two to mingle. Then there were the banished persons who did some misdeeds and formed scavenging societies of their own. A scavenging person had the chance to rise in status, if they showed good habits. A fisherman wandering into paddy field, and who could help with the harvest, could join the gang of farmers (as long has he didn’t have the propensity of killing canal fish). A farmer, who lost his crops to drought, would have easily taken to fishing (if he could tolerate the killing of fish, in spite of the Buddhist precepts).

    Sinhala kings too, ruled with this sharing of labour, and indeed, the kings themselves, enjoyed working along with the peasant, fishing, and fighting the enemy. Of course they did the easy parts of them, but it was a show of solidarity and egalitarianism so as to keep the Buddhist heritage alive. Time Sri Lanka went back to that time, and taught the Tamils about it too.

  • 1
    0

    The comment by Justice that there was no so called low caste in high office,I guess he forgot that Premadasa was of the washer caste.Free education to a great extent made it a level playing field. I would not agree with the writer that we are as bad as India where harijans are not allowed to visit kovils.The problems in the north started as a result of the Vellala caste ignoring the the so called lesser ones, and Prabakaran I am told was of the fisher caste. The caste issue in SL is swept under the rug other than when it comes up for matrimony,just look at the newspapers under the matrimonial section and is self explanatory.

  • 2
    0

    Basi Fernando

    A Suggested Overall Framework For Reconciliation Discourse

    *** My friend you have got your Priorites wrong.

    ACCOUNTABILITY before RECONCILIATION.

    1) Race relationships in Sri Lanka are conditioned on the same basis as caste. Race relationships in Sri Lanka are an extension of caste relationships.

    *** I take issue with you on the above and you need some education on how Caste System evolved and the diference between Casre & Race.

    If one is to accept what you are saying then that means You lot are Higher Caste and the Tamils are Lower Caste. What a Load of Rubbish.

    Caste is based on Socio Economic and Race is based on Language and Religion. You kill us because of who we are so dont mix the two.

  • 1
    0

    This very sad article is so contrived it is hardly worth commenting on. You are capable of so much better Basil.

  • 0
    0

    THIS WRITER HAS SOME INFERIORITY COMPLEX ON THIS CASTE ISSUE.
    WONDER WHETHER HE COULD DISCLOSE HIS NAME OR CASTE. THIS WILL ENABLE THE READER TO UNDERSTAND WHAT HE IS INDIRECTLY AIMING AT.

    “The caste system is a worldwide phenomenon not just in Sri lanka. caste system cannot be eradicated in whole although it has changed a little bit. The caste system was created when mankind was created”

    “The author is confused. Caste is a social problem. It exists in every community, all over the world.The difference is that some societies call it “caste” other societies base their discrimination on “social status”. Even in western countries the labourer does not sit at the dinner table with the “executive”.Social engineering is what the author is dreaming”

    “A Suggested Overall Framework For Reconciliation Discourse *** My friend you have got your Priorites wrong. ACCOUNTABILITY before RECONCILIATION. – Kali”
    YES THE CATHOLIC CHURCH & DANISH KRONERS MAKES THIS WRITER GET HIS FOOT IN THE MOUTH ALL THE TIME.

    John Stewart Sloan HAS BEEN OFFERED A JOB AGAIN AT ahrc ??????

    • 0
      0

      thondamanny,

      Good Lord! Caste system is no where else in the world other than India. Sri Lanka has some semblance of it due to Hindu presence, but it sits uneasily with the Buddhist mindset. Even if it rears it hideous head time and time again, Buddhist sensibilities prevail and the Sinhalese tap into the greater awareness of egalitarianism.

      In Western countries when the labourer does not sit at the dinner table with the executive, that does not mean the laborers son cannot become an executive one day. And indeed, there are institutions in place that can make the labourer an executive if he so choses.

      Not in a place like Hindu India. Generations for millennia remain mired in the same low caste with little to no possibility for upward mobility. India is trying its very best to be inclusive, and the US has spent billions tapping into India’s supposed potential.

      But now US is pulling out in fright after seeing the ground reality of the Indian caste system that prevents the same corporative egalitarian spirit that gave US,the West and even China, that edge to create money through, and for, the masses.

  • 0
    0

    Thank you Basil.
    My village is not any different from yours.

    The poet Avvayar said, “Sathi etandoliya verillai. Iddar periyor, Idathar Elikulathor.” ie “There is no caste but two. Those who gave are great persons and those who does not give are low ones.”

    Our education system perpetuates the caste system. The schools near the concentration of those categorised as low caste have low qualified teachers and Principals. And low resources. Years of discrimination had deprived many from tertiary education. They have less teachers. Good teachers and principals if transferred to such schools within a short time they use neopotism to get themselves transferred out.
    Years of Missionary education did not eradicate the caste system. Even Tigers could not eradicate the caste system thought they had more members from the discriminated people. Even when Jaffna displaced some shelters were segregated as those who thought themselves to be of higher birth would not live in the shelters in the same compound.
    Human beings the world over has and still do discriminate against each other using one criteria or other, but the caste system is unique as it discriminate within one’s own linguistic group and within ones own village. Rational and academically highly qualified persons practice caste-ism that goes against what they have learned.
    Those who want to know about caste through the mind of a child can read, “My Village.” in http://www.tamilnation.co

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