By Arun Kumaresan –
Much has been spoken about a Sri Lankan identity but it has been limited to mere words and to occasional speeches that are few and far between. I have to concede at least it is spoken once a year in a ceremonial setting on February 4th – the day we became independent from the colonial rule and forgotten within hours on the same day.
At least on this day we pay homage to the great leaders of our struggle for independence starting from Keppitipola Dissawe to Puran Appu, the heroic Buddhist clergy led by Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, Wariyapola Sri Sumangala, Migettuwatte Gunananda, the Tibetan poet monk S. Mahinda, to F.R. Senanayake, D.S. Senanayake, D.B. Jayatilleke, John Kotelawala Snr., Anagarika Dharmapala, Ponnambalam Arunachalam, P. Ramanathan. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, T.B. Jayah, the left leaders such as S.A. Wickremasinghe, N.M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva, Philip Gunawardena and Bernard Soysa, working class leaders like A.E. Gunesinghe, N. Sanmugathasan and Kandasamy, leaders of plantation workers like Natesar Aiyar, women leaders like Mary Rutnam, Daisy Dias Bandaranaike, Doreen Wickremasinghe, Selina Perera, Parameswary Kandiah, Noble Rajasingham, Viviene Gunewardena, Kusuma Gunewardena, Florence Senanayake, working class women leaders such as Agnes de Silva, Ponsinahamy, and foreign leaders like Marie Musaeus Higgins, Clara Motwani, Col. Olcott – and all the other unsung heroes of our freedom struggle against foreign domination. It is clear, as the names suggest that we were united in the struggle to gain independence but we still remain divided after 70 odd years of gaining independence.
We also have failed to live up to the visionary leaders post independence, who clearly were hell bent to create a United Sri Lanka. The first Prime Minister of Independent Sri Lanka, D.S. Senanayake said after unfurling the national flag in February 1948; “our nation comprises many races, each with a culture and a history of its own. It is for us to blend all that is best in us —– in establishing peace, security and justice for all people”.
When presenting the Tamil Language Bill in Parliament in July 1958, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike stated ” so that we can march forward together and achieve that progress ……… under this freedom which we have, freedom for the Sinhalese – yes, remember too, that it is freedom for the Tamils, for the Muslims, for the Malays, for the Burghers ………. and if it is not freedom in that way, for all”.
The other nations that liberated from the colonial rule in the same era have had remarkable success in their act of nation building. They knew failure to be’ inclusive’ and accommodating all segments of the society will lay the foundation for discontent, division and conflict. Hindu majority India opted to have the emblem of “dharmachakra” used as a symbol by the Buddhist King Asoka in their national flag instead of a symbol that depict Hindu signage. They opted for a national anthem written by a Bengali poet Rabithranath Tagore – A language spoken by 7% of the population – instead of ‘Vanthe Matheram’ due to the simple reason as it contains reverence to ‘Durga’ ; the Hindu warrior goddess, which may alienate the believers of the other faiths to sing in unison.
Singapore too was magnanimous after they came out from the Malayan federation; they allowed the star depicting the 13% Malay population to remain in the national flag and entire Singapore sings their national anthem in Basha Malay and NOT in Chinese. Their first President was a Singaporean of Indian ancestry and the present is a Singaporean with Malay ancestry.
Founder President Sukarno of Indonesia too was a visionary and was specific that the constitution for the decolonized Indonesia with 87% followers of Islamic faith will not have any Islamic religious quotes as pre amble for the simple reason it may not be held with reverence by the minority religious practitioners. Indonesian constitution has a quote from ‘Panchaseela’. These symbolic acts laid the foundation in creating UNITED countries.
It is with pride we should note the similar visionary thinking of our President Mr. Maithiripala Sirisena. In his speech on the resolution to set up the Constitutional Assembly he said that whilst people in the South were fearful of the word “Federal”, people in the North were fearful of the word “Unitary.” A Constitution is not a document that people should fear. His inspirational quote amplifies his aspiration to create a Constitution, which all citizens could own and uphold with reverence similar to the status given to the ‘Holy Texts’.
Meaningless Debate Of Unitary Or Federal
For 70 years we have been dabbling and debating on these words that have become poison to each side. The uselessness of the above two terminology could be well seen from the following examples. Unitary Nations that are seeking secession; Scotland is seeking divorce irrespective of the United Kingdom being ‘Unitary’ and they lost by a narrow margin at the referendum. Spain another ‘Unitary’ nation and Catalonia is attempting to secede. Similarly ‘Federal’ Nations too have encountered such challenges. Canada had a similar experience in Quebec and India in Punjab and both countries have now overcome their challenges and remain united. In contrast majority of the nations in both these categories remain UNITED for decades.
The word ‘Unitary’ or ‘Federal’ has no meaning or relevance for those seeking secession. Hence, getting stuck on these words in our Constitution making process is absolutely meaningless. The only way we can overcome these perceived fears is to see each other as SRI LANKANS. This is the great challenge. Sri Lankans of all shades will call Arjuna Ranatunga and Muttaiah Muralidaran as Sri Lankan cricketers and not as a Sinhala or Tamil cricketer. Likewise, we should also be able to see our Army as Sri Lankan Army and not as a Sinhala army and Mr. Sambandan as a Sri Lankan politician and not as a Tamil politician. A true SRI LANKAN identity makes us to stay united and unity is strength.
It is also pertinent to see the terminology that is being contemplated in lieu of ‘Unitary’ and ‘Federal’. Sri Lanka is a United, undivided and an indivisible nation. Even if we wake up Shakespeare from the grave; he will not have anything better in the English Language; a phrase to give the meaning of the superlative form of the word UNITED; the proposed phrase symbolizes the meaning of united both in the present tense and also gives a futuristic dimension – indivisibility
We created a nation 70 years ago but have faltered in the act of attaining ‘nationhood’. 70 years should give us political maturity to learn from our own faults. It is time we forge ahead creating an environment to attain nationhood for meaningful freedom from colonial rule – freedom from fear, from poverty, from ignorance, from disease and most of all freedom to be equal and live with dignity and self-respect.
The challenge of creating a Constitution is no easy task. In the words of Sir P. Arunachalam whilst speaking on Constitutional reforms 1917 said “No scheme can be perfect: or satisfy everybody ……….. we must all give and take, we must sink our differences and present a united front to achieve our object …….. We all feel that racial representation is pernicious and has operated to widen cleavages …. and to obstruct that unity and harmony”. May we take note of this and unite in the act of creating a SRI LANKAN identity through a new Constitution that guarantees Democracy and Social Equality and Justice.
Mr President; you are in the threshold of reshaping the destiny of our nation; may you have the strength and support from all segments of the society in your mission to create a Constitution that will be revered without any fear by the entire SRI LANKANS.
LAW / October 25, 2017
What bountifully scriptured piece of work. The fundamentals clearly visible for all to understand ” A SRI LANKAN IDENTITY” and not on any other lines. let our politicians be given a copy of this article to be read and understood before they sit to shape the destination of our blessed country
Native Vedda / October 26, 2017
“It is clear, as the names suggest that we were united in the struggle to gain independence but we still remain divided after 70 odd years of gaining independence.”
Could you tell us all about “the struggle to gain independence”. What sort of struggle did they launch and sustain prior to granting of Independence?
The country was returned to the people on a platter only to be hijacked by a clique for its own purpose. Brits wisely decided to leave this island as it would have been strategically impossible to maintain as long as India was free.
The president should educate himself first and then the Grant Dukes of Sanghas, the war criminals, those who were in uniform, the meaning and importance of “Unity in Diversity”.
I believe you too read the typing of readers in this forum. I don’t see many good Sinhalese and Good Buddhists challenging those supporters of fascists, racists and bigots. Isn’t it the time to protest against Sinhala/Buddhist fascists?
I wonder where some bigots got the idea of this island being named Sinhala/Buddhist country.
Sunil / October 26, 2017
Arun Kumaresan, this Sri Lankan identity should celebrate diversity instead of having a forced approach that some movements try and only make things worse!!
Some call for a United Sri Lankan identity… this can only happen if we can learn to value and celebrate diversity first…
Diversity and multiculturalism can enrich a nation while teaching us valuable lessons in coexistence…
Plato. / October 25, 2017
You were given just one month extension for your Navy Chief post. In that sense the shortest serving Navy Chief!
I will tell you something my dear fellow. You are a Tamil; However much you write such articles you will not achieve your potential!
Lakshman Kadirgamar is a fine example!
We hear that you were the principal actor in destroying LTTE boats carrying arsenal at the height of the war. Fine! You did your call of duty;
MR / October 25, 2017
For Sinhalese, a true srilankan identity means that Tamils should give up their tamil identity and absorb with the Sinhalese. Read the Speaches in the Parliament by 1MRA Iriyagolla, Sahara Palansuriya and others made in 1955 who have bluntly told that ” disunity would not arise because we Sinhalese want to absorb you into our community” ” we want to absorb you .Why do you resent that? Because there are 40 million people speaking the Tamil language across the palm strait, you people give up Tamil language and get absorbed, get assimilated”
until 1956 Sinhala and Tamil languages were official languages. This position was changed by bringing Official Language Act 1956 by one of your ” great leader” SWRD. What made him to change? To assert the primacy of Sinhala and dominance of Sinhalese over Tamils? A step towards assimilation?
Don’t you know that SWRD’s ” march forward together and achieve that progress” cannot be achieved by corresponding in Sinhala only with Tamils, even after five decades.
National Lion flag adopted in 1951 represents Sinhalese and the stripes are for the outcasts, as N M Perera said in Parliament. How could outcasts gain srilankan identity unless they get assimilated and become Sinhala Buddhists.
” On behalf of the Congress and on my own behalf, I give the minority communities the sincere assurance that no harm need you fear at our hands in a free lanka” . These are the words of your another “great leader” D S given before independence. Then what happened after the independence? Nearly one million Tamils lost their citizenship rights.
Almost all Tamil political leaders cooperated with the Sinhalese politicians before independence and entered into agreements after independence were betrayed. Tamil people have lost everything now and it gives grand opportunities for the government to assimilate them. Your ” srilankan identity ” is not far away.
K.Pillai / October 25, 2017
Arun Kumaresan ~ “Constitution Making & Creating A Sri Lankan Identity”
Sri Lanka been in UNHRC radar for quite a while. The language/religion barrier is the cause of this unwanted attention. Unfortunately SL is not interested in shooing off this identity.
“Let us be another Singapore” say politicians. Singapore’s wealth is due to the practice of secularism, absence of bribe etc. Lankan mindset is against secularism.
By the way Kumaresen, Major General Kamal Gunaratne wants supporters of New Constitution ‘Must Be Killed’. This is plain Nazi thought.
SJ / October 26, 2017
Singapore is a police state.
There is bribery, but punishment is heavy if one is caught.
Jimsofty / October 26, 2017
K. Pillai: who wants supporters of the new constitution killed. Is it a retired Army veteran of the Tamil editor of the CT ?. I heard Tamils were very supportive of getting rid of LTTE. That is funny secret.
Native Vedda / October 26, 2017
“Almost all Tamil political leaders cooperated with the Sinhalese politicians before independence and entered into agreements after independence were betrayed.”
SJ doesn’t believe so. He thinks Federal party and Tamil Leaders are to be blamed for every political and natural disaster that befell on this island.
You don’t agree with him.
SJ / October 26, 2017
“It is clear, as the names suggest that we were united in the struggle to gain independence….”
There was no “struggle for independence” here if we compare with India or other Asian colonies.
The Jaffna Youth Congress mooted independence and the Left took it up a few years later.
Then there was WW2 and the Left was driven underground.
Once Indian independence was seen to be inevitable, the colonial masters made a deal with an elite group which formed the UNP to ensure loyal succession.
Some of our “national leaders” did go to prison, but not for calling for independence.
Maya / October 26, 2017
During your career how many times you and your subordinates have dropped bombs and killed Tamils?
You were given gallantry awards by the govt for your brutality. Does it make you proud and happy even now?
Surely your KARMA will be haunting you these days, if not in the future. Pray hard putha.
old codger / October 26, 2017
“At least on this day we pay homage to the great leaders of our struggle for independence :the heroic Buddhist clergy , the Tibetan poet monk S. Mahinda, Anagarika Dharmapala, ” That’s going a bit bit too far isn’t it? These are the very reason for our present condition, the very sowers of disunity.
“and foreign leaders like Marie Musaeus ” You left out the leader ,local or foreign, who was most responsible for our independence- one Mahatma Gandhi, and the thousands of INDIANS who died for our cushy transition.
Pygmalion / October 26, 2017
Singapore is a Police State you say.
There is Bribery you say; But punishment is heavy if one is caught.
Srilanka too is a Police state,but only in the North-East.
Bribery galore all over the country and the Police too are involved in a big way.
The only difference between Singapore and Srilanka is that in the latter case hardly anyone gets caught; But if by some chance they do get caught nothing worthwhile happens.Being a Buddhist State Compassion is the gateway!
Native Vedda / October 26, 2017
“Singapore is a police state”
Blame the Federal Party.
SJ would have been much happier had Mao annexed Singapore with mainland China.
Plato. / October 27, 2017
Mr. Arun Kumaresan.
Mea Culpa Mea Maxima Culpa. I apologise.
My comment earlier on should have been directed to the Ex: Navy Chief- Admiral Travis Chinniah who was very much in the news over the past few days.
I HAVE BEEN AT-SEA LIKE AN ADMIRAL!
Strange no other reader pointed this out.
Sinhala_Man / October 27, 2017
One can’t read everything. But when Colombo Telegraph made this the “Top Story” with quotes from MaRa highlighted, I read it:
And I liked what Arun Kumaresan had said. So, I read the other article by him, and the comments, and lo, I marvelled at all that you were saying about Kumaresan having been given only a month etc. And so, I came to this second comment of yours.
I still have no idea what your real name is, nor is Rajan Hoole aware; but you have named yourself after the son of Ariston, and that guy,
Plato thought nature but a spume that plays
Upon a ghostly paradigm of things;
According to Yeats in “Among School Children”.
Never mind! You are one who seems unerringly to make the most appropriate comments. And even here, you have redeemed yourself.
It doesn’t really matter whether Arun Kumaresan reached his full potential or not. I think we both salute him for remaining a decent human being who writes constructively. We shouldn’t all be obsessed with success.
He ought to be proud that he hasn’t received all the insults that Kamal Guneratne is currently receiving!
Maya HAS said something hurtful, though. I understand why he’s said it. I can only appeal to him/her not to expect everybody to his clone. We have to mature to a point above that.
Plato. / October 28, 2017
The highest honour any human being could bestow any other!