Colombo Telegraph

Ethnic Divisions On Rise, In Once Paradise Isle 

By Lucien Rajakarunanayake

Lucien Rajakarunanayake

There is an increasing cause for worry in Sri Lanka as the ethnic and religious divisions are deepened by the politics of electoral gain.

Politicians, both in government and opposition, are calculating the votes they will gain from the increasing divisions in the national electorate. The partitioning on ethnicity and religion is vastly spreading, giving increased opportunities for the success of divisive politics. Sri Lanka is rapidly moving away from unity to a country divided on race and religion, caste and creed, faith and belief – and away from the search for peace, truth and justice.

Buddhism, the religion of the vast majority, has acquired the descriptive ‘Sinhala’ adjective, rapidly moving away from the teachings of Gautama Buddha, who gave the philosophy of Buddha Dharma and not a Buddhist Religion. There are members of the Sangha – the Buddhist clergy – now prohibiting a Buddhist, with political differences, from entering temples where Buddhist rituals are observed, and teachings of the Buddha are preached.

The socio-political divisions, rising in the post–Easter Sunday tragedy of Jihadist Terrorism, bring a reminder of the bloody reality of the island’s post-colonial history. In the seven decades since independence, there were many situations of bloodshed on issues of ethnicity, religion, and equality? Such bloodshed and its divisive consequences have taken place almost every decade since 1948 when freedom from colonial rule came.

Just a decade later, saw the first ethno-bloodshed in 1958 directed at the Tamil minority. A little beyond a decade, in 1971 came the first JVP – People’s Liberation Front – Marxist revolt on socio-economic disfavour and lack of equality, a bloodshed killing thousands, especially youth. The United National Party’s (UNP) massive victory in 1977, under JR Jayewardene, saw another bout of anti-Tamil violence. In 1983 saw the next phase of anti-Tamil ethno-bloodshed that paved the way for the Tamil separatist war, which went on for three decades. Amidst this was the second revolt of the JVP in 1987-89 with a more massive bloodshed. All this was in a country once poetically described as Paradise Isle. It is a harsh reality that each decade of freedom has been stained with the blood of humans?

With all that bloodshed behind, there are no signs of moving to the progress of peace and understanding, or even today’s much bandied word – reconciliation.

In the peace that followed the defeat of the terrorist forces of the LTTE in 2009, efforts at peace building, accountability, and reconciliation have been overall rejected.  Tainting any search for genuine peace, against bloodshed, have been the anti-Muslim riots in Aluthgama and Beruwala in 2014, the later attacks on Muslims at Ampara, in Digana and others areas of Kandy in 2018, as well as rival inter-Muslim attacks in Kattankudy, attacks on Buddhist temples by Muslims at Mawanella; and the recent Easter Sunday tragedy of Jihadist terrorism in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa- targeting Christians and the Tourism Industry.

Following the recent Fast to Death action by Buddhist monk Member of Parliament Athureliya Rathana Thera, and the consequential resignation of all Muslim Ministers of Cabinet, State and Deputy Rank, and two Muslim Governors of Provinces, the country remains in trepidation over expectant reality of bloodshed in ethnic clashes. The Muslim community, largely engaged in business and commerce, is facing both open and hidden boycotts, and threats arising from unconfirmed and non-investigated allegations on surgical attacks on the fertility of Sinhala women. The faster any such proper investigations are done with scientific accuracy and honesty, and not responding to demands of the yellow robed fraternity of ethno-religious enmity, will help reduce social tensions that prevail.

The evidence being given before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on the background to the Easter Sunday Tragedy is certainly revealing much more than what those in governing authority would like to be known by the people. Such knowledge is no threat to the national security (that was not carried out before Easter Sunday), as made out by the President and those supportive of such secrecy in the Opposition. Former Governor of the Eastern Province, Mr. Hizbullah, says he (like other Muslim candidates in the last elections) was glad to obtain the support the National Thowheed Jamath’s (NTJ) leader, who planned and participated in the Easter Sunday attacks, because he was “not a terrorist” in 2014,and what he preached was only another thinking of Islam. This long time politician, so involved in Wahhabism and Saudi funding, did not know that Jihadism did preach violence and terror, as against Islam and the Holy Quran? He also says this NSJ leader supported President Sirisena, while he (Hizbullah) supported Mahinda Rajapaksa in the polls, showing the deep political divisions on extremist support.

The other resigned Western Province Governor Mr. Salley, says – (with documents, too) that he had given information about the NSJ, its leader and leading members, to the Police, the IGP, the Secretary Defence, and to the President himself, through several years, and very close to the Easter Sunday attack, too. But nothing was done by anyone. This is an appalling revelation. No wonder those in high places, such as President Sirisena, who is the Minister of Defence too, don’t like the PSC.

Bloody Sri Lanka is now caught in a crisis of non-governance. The President who is head of the Cabinet – does not attend Cabinet meetings, He is against the PSC. The rivalry and clashes between the President and Prime Minister, are now rapidly threatening the very core of governance and the rights of the people. Politicians who wallow in the chaos of crooked governance are delighted at how these divisions will help their vote bases in future polls.

This land of repeated bloodsheds, that has never had a decade of peace since independence, is hugely threatened by the purveyors of divisive politics, with no leader with a commitment to peace and justice anywhere it sight.

How long can this remain the bloody, divided land it is today, and worsening too; without the blessing of Buddhist Teachings for peace, not soiled by today’s increasingly popular taint of Sinhala Buddhism?

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