19 March, 2019

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Chandrika Kumaratunga’s Point

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Politicians are wont to speak frankly on issues that ail them, particularly with regard to issues they feel should be prioritised in the interests of the country. Sure, there’s no such thing as a clean motive when it comes to them, but it is true that once in a while, they tend to slip up the truth, though conveniently hiding part of it under ideology-garb. Can’t help. With politicians, here and elsewhere, this is as timeless a truism as it’s going to get.

Former president (and present head of a government-mandated office to promote inter-ethnic reconciliation) Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was noticeably irked when she delivered a speech recently. She had commented on the trend of some schools in the country to restrict admissions to students of a particular race or religion, and had earned the ire of these schools on social media. She made some points, and attempted to clarify.

Firstly, she named names. She pointed at Buddhist schools. “Students in them don’t even get to hobnob with Tamils and Muslims. Is it any wonder that this country breeds wars, when we have a set of educational institutions that breed racialism?” She recounted an anecdote from her term in office, when she’d visited one of these schools and found out that not a single student was outside the Sinhala Buddhist community. She admitted a Muslim student, but that act was opposed when the student had to face harassment at the hands of his “friends” (not surprisingly, he had to leave).

And so she offered her bomb: “We need to enforce a minimum quota of minorities in these schools.” She didn’t drop it. She didn’t need to. That was enough. From that point on, therefore, she became a target on social media.

One can question (validly) why she picked on Buddhist schools in particular, but to her credit she argued that the situation was just as despicable in Muslim and Tamil schools. The reaction she got was predictable and respectful of historical realities: “These schools have existed for over 100 years, they were founded at a time when non-Christians were rubbished, and they served a function which continues even today.” Put briefly, the argument is that this country has enough and more space for schools dedicated to “missionary activity”, but very few dedicated to the faith followed by the majority community.

There’s nothing wrong in identity-assertion. Human beings are not, and will never be, lotus-eaters who fell from the sky. Even those who brand themselves as identity-less, who renounce faith and embrace a nebulous cosmopolitanism, are marked out well by their cultural, hereditary roots. To demarcate an entire educational institute as “racist” is to miss the point, and to miss some pertinent historical facts.

The point is that these schools were not started with the intention of preserving race and racialism. They were there purely because the Buddhists of this country couldn’t find a proper set of schools that suited their religious requirements. Neither the Catholic Church nor the Church of England could resist sidelining them, and in the end what happened was the creation of a Sinhala Buddhist consciousness that matured and was stunted in later decades. In other words, this consciousness wasn’t birthed by a need to exclude, but by a need to assert. Which is why, from their inception, such schools welcomed (and embraced) students of other communities.

This doesn’t marginalise what the former president said. But it does raise a problem. A pertinent one. If we’re so insistent on increasing the minority quota, as she suggested, why do we choose to go quiet over other educational institutions that privilege some and discriminate others? No, I am not talking about Muslim and Tamil schools. I’m talking about schools that are assisted only partially by the state, which are handled and managed by religious denominations. If Kumaratunga thinks that only Buddhist schools indulge in such crass selectivity with respect to admissions, she is wrong. And selectively so.
And to be fair, the claim that Buddhist schools make – that very few leading schools exist which cater (exclusively and specifically) to the needs of the Sinhala Buddhist community – is correct. Compare the number of (leading) schools which cater to the Christians, contrast with the number that exists for the Buddhists, the Muslims, and the Hindus, take into account ethno-religious “proportions”, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Isn’t it an injustice, then, to claim that such schools should not exist, that they should be branded as racist by those who themselves sanctioned, by omission or commission, selectivity back in their day?

Of course, the former president hasn’t, to the best of my knowledge, argued for completely doing away with privileging an identity. She has asked for increasing the minority quota (to about five or 10 percent). She has also demanded (implicitly, one can argue) for other schools to follow, though she specifically didn’t mention the Christian ones. She should.

So what’s the solution? Promoting an amorphous identity-less identity in our curriculum? Hardly. As I’ve written elsewhere, in our education discourse what’s privileged is secularism, not multiculturalism. Utterly crass. To remove religion and culture from our syllabus on the pretext that both subjects inject and promote majoritarianism and minoritarianism is to call for a reality that doesn’t exist. Not because it’s untenable, but because it’s useless: identities aren’t just created by school, they’re created outside it. Racists aren’t birthed by the syllabus, but by their social conditioning. Change and reform that, and you’ll see peace and harmony eventually.

I think Kumaratunga’s proposal was misinterpreted on social media. “Increase the quota,” she said. “She’s asking us to change our history!” howled commentators. To be fair by them, Kumaratunga wasn’t (and isn’t) exactly perceived as a supporter of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. But that’s beside the point. She made a suggestion. Like all suggestions, it was open to debate. Doesn’t mean we should go on a tangent and trash her. And doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be wary of how that suggestion can be interpreted and abused in favour of those who continue, for worse I should think, to grind an axe with the Sinhala Buddhists of this country.

The education discourse in this country, as I’ve implied before, is shaped by identity. To do away with it isn’t the answer. But to accommodate the “other”, to get rid of this conception that views minorities as the “other”, and to affirm an identity that’s neither amorphous nor hostile, is the solution. I’m not sure whether increasing the quota is a panacea, because de-segregation without the attendant and necessary changes in mindsets among our people would be useless.

Put simply, the lady has a point. But that paints just half the picture. Going on a tangent and losing temper isn’t the answer. The answer is to confront the issue, examine history, and be fair to all. Picking on Buddhist schools while sidelining others will NOT help reconciliation. Purely and simply.

We need to work fast, hence. We need to change ourselves. By ourselves.

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Latest comments

  • 9
    0

    “Like all suggestions, it (has to be) open to debate” says the article.

    There are a few things that I can tell you from my personal experience, but here’s something that (TODAY!) I had discussed and e-mailed BEFORE seeing this article:

    http://transcurrents.com/tamiliana/archives/546

    As for the “Christian” schools, there are enough Catholics to fill their schools. In the case of the Protestant Denominations, they run a few prestigious schools to which children of ALL religions are admitted. Now, who is doing whom a favour? Without Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims those schools just can’t run!

    Mrs Chandrika K.’s own school is unique among the Catholic schools that they were allowed to charge fees between the years (roughly – all this has to be clarified through discussion, this being an impulsive comment) 1962 when schools were “taken over” and 1978 when the UNP government began assisting the so-called “non-fee-levying” schools again. Teachers salaries are paid by the State, free text books are given, and the “eligible staff” of even the completely private schools are entitled to pensions. In return these state-recognised schools are obliged to follow a few regulations laid down by the Department of Education. These schools number no more than 72.

    It was also around 1978 that “International Schools” NOT recognised by the Education Department, but paying income tax to the In-land Revenue Department came in to existence. Up to then there had been one (perhaps two) schools catering to actual foreign students. Of them, what remains now is the VERY expensive Overseas School of Colombo in Pelawatte, Battaramulla, but I think it had its origins in “The Hill School of Nuwara-eliya” which shifted to a location in Slave Island.

    Much more relevant, of course, are the state run village and estate schools, and I know the situation there much better. Things have improved: the details will have to be given later. Today you do have many Tamil and Sinhalese schools cheek by jowl in the hill country, but with hardly any inter-action. However, they all participate in the same Sports Meets, English Days, etc. You may not think this much, but I will later go in to the details of how much improvement there has been during the past fifty years or so.

    July 1983 did not take ME by surprise; I had seen it coming at least ten years earlier, but I was a sort of male Cassandra.

    This is a very important subject, but there is very little straight talking!

  • 0
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    [Edited out]

  • 7
    4

    Uditha Devapriya

    So what do we have. Religion is the Opium of the Masses.

    Separate, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu schools to brainwash the Children, in their own faith,with beliefs and false promises of Nibbana, Nirvana and Heaven. nobody sees this deception. No wonder the average National IQ is 79, and close to 50% of the population still belives that the Sun goes around the Earth.

    By bye Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Foucault.

    1. “Firstly, she named names. She pointed at Buddhist schools. “Students in them don’t even get to hobnob with Tamils and Muslims. Is it any wonder that this country breeds wars, when we have a set of educational institutions that breed racialism?” She recounted an anecdote from her term in office, when she’d visited one of these schools and found out that not a single student was outside the Sinhala Buddhist community. She admitted a Muslim student, but that act was opposed when the student had to face harassment at the hands of his “friends” (not surprisingly, he had to leave).”

    Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga is absolutely correct.

    2. “One can question (validly) why she picked on Buddhist schools in particular, but to her credit she argued that the situation was just as despicable in Muslim and Tamil schools. The reaction she got was predictable and respectful of historical realities:”

    Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga is absolutely correct.

    3. “These schools have existed for over 100 years, they were founded at a time when non-Christians were rubbished, and they served a function which continues even today.” Put briefly, the argument is that this country has enough and more space for schools dedicated to “missionary activity”, but very few dedicated to the faith followed by the majority community.”

    “Put briefly, the argument is that this country has enough and more space for schools dedicated to “missionary activity”, but very few dedicated to the faith followed by the majority community.”

    Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga is mostly correct.

    So, our current education system is breeding citizen strangers. a generation of strangers, not a generation of citizens, to feed the whims of Monks, priests and Ulama.

    Oh, what has happened to the Land of native Veddah Aethho after the arrivals of the Paras with various beliefs.

    The Sinhala Buddhist students are Brainwashed in Sinhala Buddhism.

    The Sinhala Christian students are Brainwashed in Sinhala Christianity and Western Christianity.

  • 6
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    There are a few things that I missed out on in my hurried early comment; I’m also glad that the ubiquitous Amarasiri has identified many positives in CBK’s observations.

    There were indeed many private Buddhist schools which were run well, and with at least a few non-Buddhists in them, which were taken over in 1962. Ananda, Maradana, and Vishaka, Bambalapitiya, were among them, and they were run on genuine Buddhist lines, or so one gathers by reading Mahinda Palihawadana writing about Dr. E.W. Adikaram. I will not attempt to give details; the task is probably beyond me, but I hope that readers will google those two names. Today, the retired Principal of Nalanda is making a conscious effort to provide an English education in a Buddhist environment, but realising the need to have children belonging to other social groups also in the school – since that benefits the outlook of the Buddhist children themselves. However, the school is “International” (i.e. outside the control of the Department of Education) has to be fee-levying. This is the dilemma.

    http://www.viduracollege.com/info/Principal

    At the time schools were taken over, the country focussed on the need to control proseletisation, and the effect on Buddhist schools AND on the quality and balance of education were overlooked.

    http://archives.dailynews.lk/2011/01/21/fea03.asp

    As for “Christian schools”, I know that one, at least, has admitted Down’s syndrome children belonging to other faiths, and not the children of past pupils, conscious not only of the needs of those children, but also of the importance of persuading the “normal” children to care for the disadvantaged and the neglected.

    Barack Obama has been criticised for sending his children to an expensive school, but the school does a lot to ensure that at least some (unidentifiable!) “poorer” children are also educated there. It is run by a religious denomination so small that they have to welcome others, but then, that is part of the philosophy of the Quakers, NOT to “brainwash” even their own children in to their thinking.

    “Sidwell Friends School seeks a student body that represents varied economic backgrounds . . . The financial aid program at Sidwell Friends School is guided by our belief that parents have an obligation to pay the educational expenses of their children to the extent that they are able.”

    http://www.sidwell.edu/admissions/financial-aid/index.aspx

    Beware, this next link gives you 53 pages, but if you have the time, it tells you what the purpose in taking each course is. At the very least this expensive school is ready to share its insights with the rest of the world.

    http://www.sidwell.edu/documents/Curriculum%20Guide_14-15_FINAL.pdf

    All this is very well, for the affluent; our problem is that school admissions have become so corrupt that we forget the importance of a system where “parents have an obligation to pay the educational expenses”, and the richest parents bribe the “guy who matters” a huge amount, and then ensure that the State spends much larger amounts of state money on their children in “prestigious schools”. I think that we have at last begun to realise that every person in society is taxed: that indirect taxes are more pernicious than direct taxes.

    Even this second comment of mine is very lop-sided. What are important are the little village schools; we have to ensure that the closest schools are the FIRST CHOICE of parents. This means that WE must stop talking about OBA networks and Old School Ties. What future is being assured to those who attend/ have attended the decent village school? The State may be forced to run separate schools for the Sinhala speaking and the Tamil speaking, but what is the rationale for having Muslim schools?

    As for the cost of education: nobody bothers even to think of the subsidies given to the “not-so-rich” parents in the village to transport their children in to town schools with either “season tickets” or “schools vans” which are periodically given subsidised fuel etc. The result of these “populist” measures is that the very poorest children are neglected. Many “remote” schools, in environments that are just perfect, close because of this trend, and they tend to be the Sinhalese schools, leading to distorted claims that the majority community is shrinking.

    The fact is that Education needs long term, patient, almost dreary, work. Throwing money at education will NOT bring results. The solution is one that I hope will emerge from all the discussion which I hope will take place. Only three comments to be seen so far, one edited out.

    • 2
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      Sinhala_Man

      “There are a few things that I missed out on in my hurried early comment; I’m also glad that the ubiquitous Amarasiri has identified many positives in CBK’s observations.”

      “Only three comments to be seen so far, one edited out.” Why? Bi-modal, tri-modal or multi-modal distribution the IQ of the Sri Lankans?

      Thanks. It is a pleasure to read your comments in full, and thanks for the links.

      Amarasiris’s thoughts went like this: Bertrand Russel said “95% of the solution is identifying the problem”

      Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga has in my opinion identified the problem. Sinhala_Man, you have expanded on that, with the recent historical background to it.

      However, the root goes to religious hegemony. That is why it is so critical to separate, Church, Temple and Mosque from the State. The problem has been correctly identified by the US constitution, the French constitution and the Turkish constitution by Mustafa Kamel Ataturk.

      One can go 800 to 1,000 years back, during the Islamic Golden age, when different scholars of different faiths interacted and debated science, engineering, mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, medicine, religions etc. Read about the House of wisdom in Baghdad.

      Neil DeGrasse Tyson – The Islamic Golden Age: Naming Rights

      Published on Mar 18, 2012
      Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, discusses how Islamic scholars contributed to the Islamic Golden Age and how over time independent reasoning (ijthad) lost out to modern institutionalised imitation (taqleed) present in the wider islamic society today.

      Until Iman Hamid Al Ghazali shows up, and embraced by the Ulema, and supported by the ruling Califs due to political reasons, and Revelation replaced investigation reason and observations.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDAT98eEN5Q

      Replaced by Stupidest Muslim Ulema 800 years ago, due to political reasons.

      Stupidest Muslim Vs Neil Tyson – How ideology can ruin intellectual power
      Published on Nov 10, 2014

      This is not a debate between some Muslim and Neil Tyson. But this video shows the thinking of some very well educated 21’st century Muslim (I don’t know he is ignorant, stupid or dishonest. But he is one for sure) and Neil Tyson speaking in a lecture about how Muslims intellectual power ruined by an ideology. You can watch the Full video of this Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s amazing lecture filled with fun and knowledge by clicking on the link below.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyCxrL9-C84

    • 2
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      It’s not easy getting plaudits from Amarasiri, but I don’t think that I deserve them. We began to interact only recently, and that was with Izeth Hussain’s articles; despite which I have forgotten to even mention Zahira College:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zahira_College,_Colombo

      Behind that list of Principals, and the fact that in 1983 they had a “Director of Studies” is a most interesting story. Let’s have somebody else relating that!

      This list of very old schools also contains the seeds of many interesting stories:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_oldest_schools_in_Sri_Lanka

      What “Richmond College, Galle”, the oldest? I will tell you more about it if no-one else does. This book (still available) may help:

      https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/the-forgotten-history-of-richmond-rolls-the-years-back-courtesy-of-ananda-dias-jayasinha/

      If not for MaRa the book would have been sold out, but that’s a different story.

      This list is interesting, and the inaccuracies also tell a story. I’m still not sure whether there is a single Hindu Private School; would anybody know? The inaccuracy I have already spotted is that the Moneragala District has two “National Schools”, but Badulla none.

      http://everything.explained.today/List_of_schools_in_Sri_Lanka/

      On the other hand, I can certify this Wikipedia entry as being pretty accurate:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Sri_Lanka

      May I humbly suggest that we start reading between the lines of that last Wikipedia entry, and I hope that Uditha Devapriya, the author of the main article, will also make his observations. Our Sinhala_buddhist friend, HLD Mahindapala just won’t answer queries:

      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/chelvanayakam-thanthai-who-pushed-tamil-children-over-vadukoddai-cliff-to-nandikadal/comment-page-1/#comments

      The question I asked him is this one, and very relevant to this story it is:

      “I’m disappointed that HLDM doesn’t provide responses to questions asked of him.

      This story is extremely embarassing to us Sinhalese. It begins like this:

      “In truth, Nethmi Lavanya Yogendra should have attained fame when the Year 5 scholarship results for 2007 were released late last year. Nethmi was placed second in the Colombo District after securing 190 marks at the scholarship exam held in August last year.”

      The link is this:

      http://transcurrents.com/tamiliana/archives/546

      And yet there are seventy comments on the rubbish he spouts, but this comment of mine may only be the eleventh.

      Amarasiri is likely to once more make nasty comments about “my people” and their intelligence.

      • 4
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        Sinhala-man,

        Thanks for your interesting inputs. What I appreciate is that you seek pertinent information before commenting. Most don’t.

        To the best of my knowledge there are no private Hindu schools, despite the Hindu Board of Education (HBE) yet existing in Jaffna. The Hindu Board of Education inspired by Arumuga Navalar and led by S. Rajaratnam (State Councillor) did yeoman service to education in Jaffna. The HBE created a network of high quality feeder schools and finishing schools that served Jaffna well and counter-balanced the well established missionary schools. Tamil language ,Hindu religious , English language ,arts and science education were fostered while resisting anglicization and proselitization. Some of these schools, also started teaching their students Sinhala. The HBE was run by enlightened and practical men, who had the ability and intellectual prowess to envision a future aligned with the times for the younger generation of Jaffna.

        Alas, the HBE apparently exists in name only now. The elite( if there are any left in meaningful numbers), politicians and the religious sector in Jaffna,do not have a vision for the future for the youth in Jaffna. This is one aspect of the tragedy that has engulfed Jaffna.

        There is a need for some Private schools to foster, preserve and take forward the heritage of Jaffna, without becoming xenophobic. We are being overwhelmed by a lumpen culture seeded by the turmoil of the past several decades and the South Indian Influences and losing our distinct identity quite rapidly. Tamil languages and Hindu religious education is of very poor quality. The Hindu religion taught is of a ritualistic type, sans any metaphysical and philosophical depth. This decline has to be reversed urgently.

        At one time there were Muslim students also studying at Jaffna Hindu College. I met one who is now an Engineer, who was well versed in Tamil and understood the substance of Hinduism. He is a good Muslim as well. He also explained to me how many aspects of Hindu thoughts were also shared in Islam and also taught me that many of the Gods we pray to as Hindus, were great persons who had made a substantial and significant impact on this world and that they are listed in the Holy Quran. It was a very refreshing experience in the midst of the narrow mindedness and xenophobia that is rampant amongst us now.’

        Dr.RN

        Dr.RN

  • 11
    1

    It is quite easy to break, but very difficult to rebuild. We destroyed everything that was right in this country with gay abandon and are now engagaged in a Herculean task to regain it. It is not going to be easy as many have gained power and influence from what is wrong. We encouraged and voted for the breakers and sideline the makers.

    However, we have to keep trying harder to repair everything starting from cradle to grave.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 1
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    Religion, Politics, ethnicity etc have not diminished the ‘happiness’ levels of the Sri Lankan masses in comparison to the rest of the world.

    • 9
      1

      It is because we are a ‘Kaapalla, Beepalla, and Jollykerapalla’ people! We drink and dance on every occasion available from births to funerals. We know how to drown our woes in alcohol and be joyous. Even the prudent Jaffna man has learned this way to be happy. The president recently advised the Jaffna man to drink less not knowing that drinks help the lazy and charity dependent – the many- to forget about their responsibilities and sample eternal bliss. The long suffering Jaffna women probably complained to the president.

      Dr.RN

  • 5
    3

    CBK’s Mother ruined the education system when she ran the country, CBK did nothing durinh her tima, and now she ahs proposals etc. Naturally, when one is not in power one yet has to talk a lot of bullshit to be heard.
    What many Sri Lankans forget is that Sri Lanka will always stay in the stone-age, even if the betel seller owns a iPhone. Ignoarace,Greediness and Arrogance, the 3 main ingredients that the Sinhales possess will always hinder the development.

    • 3
      1

      Rio Ziegelaar
      You are right about CBK’s mother, who strangely enough was a product of St.Bridget’s. But I think you ought to give her due credit for the Equal Opportunities bill and the famous “package”, both shot down by the UNP.
      She had good ideas about education, but had to deal with a lot of extremists in her own party.

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