28 May, 2022


Communal Politics In Sri Lanka: The Pot Calling The Kettle Black – Part II

By Lionel Bopage

Dr. Lionel Bopage

I can recollect the early sixties when the Federal Party launched their Satyagraha campaign against the Sinhala Only policy of the Bandaranaikes. The Bandaranaike government having declared a state of emergency under the Public Security Act, Major General Richard Udugama was dispatched to Jaffna to suppress peaceful protests. Tamil leaders were arrested to stop the Federal Party campaign. I can also recollect the late seventies when Tamil militancy was taking root in Jaffna dissatisfied with the peaceful protest campaign of the Tamil leaders. The Jayewardene government, having armed with extensive powers under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, dispatched General Tissa (Bull) Weeratunga to Jaffna to wipe out Tamil militant groups. Despite the career promotions these military men received, peaceful protests of Tamil people grew into a militancy and then into a war. Again, the communalists in the south appear to build up a similar scenario without genuinely working towards addressing the issues of non-majoritarian communities. Instead they continue to aggravate those issues so that they can use them to retain their power and privileges.

Sinhala was taught as a subject in schools in the north and east. The Tamil people did not reject studying Sinhalese until the ‘Sinhala Only Policy’ was adopted in the fifties and used that policy to discriminate against Tamil students in their studies, Tamil public servants in their career promotions, university entrants through standardisation of results, and so on. The religiously and ethnically segregated school system of today was established by the majoritarian led communalistic SLFP and UNP governments, not by any communalistic non-majoritarian community. Thus, the attempts to force Sinhala down the throats of the Tamil people failed and backfired. The outcome was escalating communal riots, and the rise of fundamentalist groupings that ultimately entangled Sri Lanka in separatist and jihadists currents.

Manufactured communalism

Peaceful protests and civil disobedience of Tamil leaders against the Sinhala Only policy and the economic competition between the two communities preceded the riots against Tamils in the south in 1958. Those riots were initiated with the backing of the SLFP led government. Since then, almost every decade there were riots against Tamils in the south resulting in the Sinhalese being attacked in the north. The July 1983 pogrom against Tamils launched by the then UNP regime, and the subsequent war of two and a half decades, ended up causing massive casualties to life, property and economy. The latest was the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019 carried out by Islamic fundamentalists that brought devastation to many, particularly to those of the Christian faith. These incidents are well-known, and we need not go into details.

Most of these incidents were the result of manufactured communalism by the political parties who have been in power for the last seventy odd years. Divisive politics are employed by almost all political parties who had been in power and who want to maintain or acquire power. Uneven development, class divisions, poverty and unemployment have aggravated insecurity among the working people and the rest of the society, making them vulnerable to political manipulation. All major political parties driven by political considerations, and guided by their vested interests, have taken decisions promoting communal violence. The ongoing economic competition between people of diverse ethnicities and faiths, particularly among lower middle and middle class strata, has fuelled communalistic ideologies.

Social media has become a dominant medium of spreading messages for creating communal tension and riots in any part of the country. In addition, some media outlets and political establishments are polarising society along ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural lines. Many media outlets play a devious role often by sensationalising and disseminating rumours as “news”, thus creating and arousing further tension and clashes between rival communalistic groups. Relative deprivation among all communities is caused by failure to adopt scientific and technological education, and therefore, their insufficient representation in the private and public employment market.

Lack of law and order 

Lack of inter-personal trust and mutual understanding between diverse communities often result in negative perceptions of threat, harassment, fear and danger from one community to the other, which in turn leads to hatred, tensions and ultimately to riots. One of the causes for communalistic violence is the failure of law and security enforcement agencies, as they themselves are influenced by communalistic political ideologies. They have become onlookers and/or instigators of violence abetting the intent of their political masters. Ignoring the rule of law and accountability has been an ongoing cause of communal violence during the last seventy odd years, but not a single regime of green, blue or red political hue has taken any effective measures to rectify this situation. Instead regimes have granted them more immunity to commit such violence with impunity.

Needed reforms

If the author were genuinely concerned with the cancer of communalism then he could start by introducing reforms to the existing criminal justice system to have speedy trials, with arrangements to provide adequate compensation to the victims. There are also several other measures that he could use to deter communalism, such as:

* Revamping educational discourse to focus on values of peace, non-violence, compassion, secularism and humanism, and developing scientific attitudes and rationalism as core values in children at all levels of the education system

* Increasing representation of non-majority communities in all sectors of law enforcement, and providing specialised training for the police to handle communal riots

* Training law enforcement forces on the importance of protecting human rights and enacting basic principles on the use of force and firearms, as provided in the UN code of conduct

* Setting up special investigating and prosecuting agencies that may assist damping major communal discontent, and establishing hotlines to receive complaints and inquiries on racial discrimination

* Using early warning systems for alerting racial tensions and violence that monitor quality of life index (utilising criteria such as housing, health, income and education), and an index to perceive people’s needs and feelings about race relations in specific areas

* Encouraging and supporting civil society projects to create communal awareness, build stronger community relations, and cultivate values of communal harmony

* Establishing community relation units to promote harmony between diverse races and faiths, and conduct community awareness sessions on diverse cultural traditions and anti-discrimination frameworks

* Adopting pro-active approaches for promoting communal harmony, enacting legislation that would help curbing communal violence and then genuinely implementing them.


We forcefully drove the non-majoritarian communities to become inwardly focussed and communalistic, to look after and fight for their community’s specific interests only. Ultimately, we forced them to become outsiders and turned them into our enemies. State suppressed them using every means adoptable, including armed violence, killing many thousands with impunity, like it did in the south in 1971 and 1989 against the Sinhala youth who rose up against injustices of the communalistic minded and discriminatory political parties and their leaderships.

How ironic that this very same author, who during the entire war consistently pledged to the international community to offer a ‘13 plus solution’ to address the issues affecting Tamil people, is now branding any devolution of power as communalistic? Dismissing constitutional amendments as communalistic is patently untrue, and a distortion of facts. What we need to do is to adopt constitutional provisions to curb discrimination not only against other racial and religious groups, but also against the Sinhala speaking rural people in the south. That will assure them that treating others and equals and being treated as equals would bring everybody respect and dignity. 

Let us not get distracted by this naked attempt to grab political power. If it succeeds it will leave us in an even more perilous state politically, economically and communally. It is high time that the voters of Sri Lanka think of the lack of foresight, direction and leadership of the communalistic political parties that have been in power for the last seven decades, and use their votes wisely to get rid of the corrupt and criminal elements who are solely interested in capturing and maintaining power to safeguard their privileges and interests at a huge cost to the people of Sri Lanka.

Then only we can work towards building a saner, safer, and harmonious country in which all communities could survive and, future generations prosper!

Related posts:

Communal Politics In Sri Lanka: The Pot Calling The Kettle Black – Part I

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Latest comments

  • 4

    Mr Lionel Bopage,
    Thank you. Not many would realize the danger before the nation today. For some reason, saffron clad monks are speechless right at the moment.
    Alone the manner 69 lacks of srialnken people elected their leader in Nov #19 is not comprehensible to anyone with some sanity but our people proved it again that they would not think twice before going to do anything.
    Ethiopia and several countries in Africa were supremacists for their majorities over the decades but the consequence was that their folks starved on and on. BUt thanks to moderate politicians in those countries, it has changed tangibly today. Whatever vegetable, fruits and flowers and apparels we buy in the Netherland; France and Germany, today are imported from Ethiopia.
    Compared to negibours we are a smaller nation but our racial leaders through their fine tactics make every effort to twist the gullible gaping mindset of easily. Media mafia men fuel them to do the job fully forgetting the people’s problems for the moment. If the politicians could realize the real grievances of the people, we could develop the country within shorter period of time. I think, Uni dons and experts in various fields should come forward right at this highly critical turning point of the island nation – if not today when ?

  • 6

    Dear Lionel

    All I can say is you have no idea what was happening in Jaffna since 1970….the “Tamil crime against Tamil” in the name of liberating Tamil and from what exactly??

    Born 1963 and I studied in Tamil upto my A/L. All the Jaffna administration was in Tamil too. There are no armed forces in Jaffna and no law enforcement of any nature is why we were going through so many crimes unchallenged.

    You have mixed up a lot of past history and delivering your judgement as we were the ones living in Jaffna and we were the ones trying to find the best way out via finding solutions to peoples need has nothing whatsoever to do with the “Tamil Leadership”…….there were no such posts available in my democratic country other than the elected MP’s created their own job scope and talked about Tamil and Tamil never delivered normal scope to empower people. Delivered only hate speeches………well if you familiar with hate speeches down south and I am too familiar with hate speeches and killings in Jaffna which has nothing to do with Sinhalese people tq. We do not live for a the past but we devise a future for all and trying to understand the purpose of your article too without proposing solutions?? is it history lessons?? then it is missing a lots of issues in the other side off your statements that resulted in the Cause and Effect listings too…….they are all m missing in your article specially leaving the Tamil peoples wishes/progressive thinking out altogether by focussing on the self appointed Tamil Leadership who ran a mock in our life??

  • 3

    A mother was thinking her two children were playing together, outside of home and she was working in the kitchen. After she finished cooking, she went out to get them for dinner. They were not really playing, but beating up each other. She thought leaving them like that, she would have more of her time and told them when they finished fighting they can come and have food and she returned to her work. She did not separate them, teach them their limits and territories in game, in room, in dine, in lessons…….When she finished her things & she look outside, the ambulance was outside with flashing lights. The neighbors were helping the paramedics to load the fainted children to hospital. The Mother might have though she may be going to get some free time. But no longer would the life at that home be normal.

    Old King put together the all party committee to make IC go goofed until he sell the sovereign land to China,, buy arms and win his war against Tamils. He said Tamils would be getting 13+ after war, but he had set up a PSC under Nimal to find ways to abrogate the 13A.

  • 2

    In 1956, at my age of 17, I applied for a job in a closed Government Department in Colombo, sat for a competitive examination in English medium at a center in Jaffna and summoned for an interview in Colombo. There were about 50 who had turned up for the iknterview and I was the first to be called in. The interview board members started questioning me in Sinhala, smiled at seeing me blinking and started questioning me in English about my Sinhala knowledge. Subsequently, I got my appointment letter by post and reported for work. 49 new appointees had reported. We were welcomed and informed that we should undergo one months training, that the rest of the day we were free, to move about the office and socialize. There were a good number tamils among new appointees
    Three elderly gentlemen came towards us and one of them asked “Who is V……..?” I got up and identified myself. he said ” Adey, Sinna Podiyan in Tamil (Small boy) and without any further talk, they walked away. I was shocked and afraid as to why they should single me out and ask for my identity.
    During our training period, we were allowed to go to the canteen for tea in the morning and afternoon and for lunch.
    (To be continued)

  • 3

    Did these big talkers of ‘Jathiya Vinashakarana Peramuna’ talk or do anything to eliminate oppression of low-caste Demala people (Dalits) by high caste Vellala Demala people.
    Did they tell Vellala Demala people to get rid of Malabar customary law called ‘Thesawalamei’ they used to keep land within their caste?

  • 2

    In the canteen, I frequently saw those three Senior Officers, got encouraged by their smiles and one day went to their table and asked why they wanted to know me. They laughed and said in Tamil ” Don’t worry, Out of about 1250 who applied and sat for the written examination in 5 centers in Colombo and 4 Provincial towns, you ranked the first, but after the interview faced by 100 and 49 selected, you were placed 9th, 8 Sinhalese had overtaken you. Yet, among the tamils who are appointed, you rank the first”
    At that time, I was not bothered about what they told me. I was happy that I got a job and doing well in the training. After a few weeks, I became friendly with the senior Officers who had been working there for a long time and learnt about seniority and started thinking about loss of my seniority. . Though my work was appreciated and commended by many Superior Sinhalese Officers, there were one or two who were jealous and communal and waiting for opportunities to harass me.
    I lost my timely promotions due to my seniority and opportunity to go abroad on scholarship due to my race. I was affected in the communal riots of 1958, 1977 and 1983.

  • 2

    Lionel Bopage,

    You want to find solution to Tamil issue alone first, out of thousands of problems faced by the People.
    Do you not think that all issues are interrelated?
    It is true that nation building is priority number one and then the other problems could be resolved in a better environment

  • 1

    Me being a purebred Tamil have more Sinhalese as my good mates rather my own ilk.
    I lead a humble livelihood but sadly am not in a position to say why.
    When I was schooling at St Joseph’s College in Maradana and then for further studies at Aquinas University College most of my buddies were from the now might-less thanks to the weightless Rajapuka clan and even to this second are my great ball squeezing buddies.
    Most of my cricketing and rugby football teammates were also from the same race combination.
    Whilst being at St.Joseph’s after a session of rugby practice I got into a fistfight with a then petty yak at the bus halt on Darley Road where we went hammer and tongs tearing each others shirts.
    As we were living in Fort I was able to take a short bus ride home.
    Soon afterwards we became great buddies and which we are still today.
    This evening a few hours ago, whilst having a long time consuming with a swabasha proficient yak friend he said you speak better Sinhala than me.
    Yes, I do thanks to all the domestic staff who were employed by our parents and the bank where my late father was a senior manager.

  • 0

    Comrade Bopage ,

    In our country , all are Pots and all are Kettles ! Prove me otherwise !

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