26 September, 2023


Ethnic Relations Take Centre Stage In Sri Lanka

By S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan

Tenderer than a flower is love. Very few recognize how delicate it is”- Thirukkural

A Clean Break

To the writer yet more tender than love, is the art of nurturing ethnic relations in our midst. More so since it has been ravished for long and is being brought back to life after 67 years. In those times never did we seek to be independent. Our dependence was on strife and turmoil to resolve our tussles. What have we gained from them all? This question is posed only as a rhetorical one. Quite a span is needed to place irksome memories in the back burner for them to recede with time. Our vision transfixed on the future and energies canalized for growth and change, can see the beginning of that difference.

Reconciliation at Centre Stage

Wall Street Journal saw Sri Lanka at the ready to take centre stage. Quite perceptively Armitage and others placed Ethnic Reconciliation at the top of the agenda for the nation’s redemption.

At a perfectly timed visit to Sri Lanka, Ms Nisha Biswal met the powers that be of the government. From TNA leadership she “heard their perspective for meaningful progress on Reconciliation she said. She also “expressed United States’ willingness to work with the new government and looked forward to partnering with the Sri Lankan people”. A welcome initiative for the nation to take the cue from.

President Maithripala Srisena in his Independence Day address placed particular emphasis on the process of Reconciliation. From the way its importance is highlighted by voices from the US and responded to by the highest Executive of the country, one could look forward to accelerated attention in this regard.

A New Axis

In a change of regime, the US and the West foresee other developments to follow. Sri Lanka’s shift towards India is one such. Responsiveness to the stances of Japan is another. With momentum moving in a westerly direction, embracing Europe and US, extending due weightage to India and the Indian Ocean and the leverage of Japan being correctly understood; Sri Lanka is sure to be drawn into the vortex of Washington, New Delhi and Tokyo. This is not to suggest that Sri Lanka will be out of China’s financial benevolence. Time may be all too soon when the island nation benefits from both the worlds.

Maithripala Hindu TamilSome changes are already sensed. Ban on fish imports to Europe may be suspended for six months. To follow is likely to be restoration of GSP plus concession. Loss of momentum on the UNHRC Resolution is casting its shadows. All what they indicate is that if the infant grows up with acceptable behavior it will be molly coddled well and chaperoned with care. Do not fight with your smaller siblings may be the staple coming from outside.

Indo Lanka Rapprochement

The President’s trip to meet Modi in 10 days, signifies great things to come. It comes about after visits by two Foreign Ministers, who presumably did the groundwork. Of no less importance was Sampanthan’s meeting with Modi in New Delhi. The visit of Modi in March will be a portentous one in setting the pace for a protracted and meaningful journey.

The meeting comes as the fifth in a series, preceded by high caliber discussions in recent months. The national question, with all the fallout thereof has gnawed at the membrane of every citizen’s consciousness. But that is not reason enough for the ethnic problem to collapse like a pricked balloon. It is not given to us to cheer like the British when Neville Chamberlain exulted “Peace for our Time” after signing the Munich Agreement in September 1938. Neither Modi nor Maithripala nor Sampanthan can be exuberant with victory scored.

We should be happy that a thorny issue kept aside for long is brought to the front burner for attention. With understanding and goodwill on all sides we may reach the periphery now and the core even swiftly. The polity cannot pitch its sights all too high and then abandon itself to disappointment. The problem by itself is not intractable. Danger lies in unrealistic expectations. Working on the outcome with pragmatism will help take issues to a separate turf and a different level.

Economic Front

As for social stability and harmony, so with ethnic peace and cohesion, erosion of economic disparity is compulsory. Economic and Social Statistics published annually by the Central Bank provide authentic statistics that are edifying.

When the data is related ethnically to Tamils there is a contrast with the Sinhalese. When compared geographically, the North-East suffers badly with most of the remaining Provinces. War doesn’t explain away. Marginalization policies could have been abandoned. Affirmative action in five plus years should have narrowed the contrast. It is not meant to dwell on it any more. It’s most pragmatic to turn the disadvantaged past to a beneficial future.

The New Regime can make January 2015 as a watershed in the nation’s history. Taking the cue from the benevolence showered by nations on Sri Lanka by Tsunami, the government can negotiate for debt moratoria, rescheduling of loans and even for write offs. All these for a credible economic house in order.

Of much greater significance is Direct Investment from foreign quarters. Institutional aid apart are massive amounts flowing in as remittance by expatriates. China and India stand tall in this regard. Sri Lankan Tamils together with Sinhalese and Muslims can show dazzling performance. The condition precedent is that armed marauders, who sojourned for a quarter century and more should be put behind bars. May it be remembered that LLRC has emphasized this necessity.

Good infrastructure built by the previous government was for show purposes. The incumbent regime was voted in to change the culture of waste and to usher in an ethos of investment. Let the people partake of the benefits of investment and employment. Let the powers that be become totally blind to ethnicity and religion.


Economic progress will make for Reconciliation. Nothing else can.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    S. Sivathasan –

    RE: Ethnic Relations Take Centre Stage In Sri Lanka

    This is because this was not properly addressed over the years.

    Then there is corruption that has become worse along with Law and order..

    Want to know more…

    Listen to AKD Anura Disanayaka speaks at Nugegoda Rally


    Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s speech against Mahinda Rajapaksa-2


  • 6

    Gee I don’t know, I think the light bulb is yet to go off on these Tamils.

    War doesn’t explain away. Marginalization policies could have been abandoned.

    No one in the history of mankind has succeeded in keeping rabid ethno nationalism in one hand and NOT GETTING marginalised in the other. Don’t you have that in your “Thirukkural” ?

    If your political leaders bring Tamil nationalism to Ceylon, ipso facto you will get marginalised. You will also suffer from violence, displacement, anarchy and inevitable poverty. Its no longer academic isn’t it? Its real and quite apparent to most others.

    • 9

      “If your political leaders bring Tamil nationalism to Ceylon, ipso facto you will get marginalised. You will also suffer from violence, displacement, anarchy and inevitable poverty. Its no longer academic isn’t it? Its real and quite apparent to most others.”

      There is no Tamil Nationalism but there is a Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism. If you think marginalisation & violence is the right outcome for recognising rights of the Tamils then you belong to Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalism. Devolution of power is not nationalism. It is an accepted mechanism in many countries to avoid violence, discrimination, displacement and authoritarian governance.

      This sort of attitude towards marginalisation did not benefit to Sinhalese or Sri Lanka as a Nation. They also suffered due to this policy of marginalisation of Tamils. The current change does not remove the past and Srilanka was accused as the worst Nation for human rights violation, corruption, lawless state. Unless you realise the truth about human values, there is no hope for the future.

      • 0

        There is no tamil nationalism?
        Tamil nationalism or correctly tribalism is the mother of all evils in SL.

        GGP and even Arunachalam were the pioneers in Nationalism in SL…shameful tribal society.

        Just because some community is a minority power is not devolved. Power is devolved when nations are united. There was no independant tamil nation to begin with.


        the day you can prove ancient tamil nation in SL we can talk about it

        • 0

          I know you are very ignorant and confused. You say there was no Tamil territory but next sentance you say Jaffna kingdom from 13AD. There was no Dutch and Eglish in 13thAD, but there was Kandian Kingdom and Kotte.Sinhalese did nnot have territory from 16th AD to 19thAD. So, can you prove Sinhalese Nation duriny this period?

    • 3


      “Its real and quite apparent to most others.”

      What is apparent to most others including the world over is that, the Majority in Sri Lanka, once tipped to be the beacon of light and example to third world countries, betrayed the minorities and bastardised the constitution to suit their whim and fancy of their own! In so doing, they cared two hoots as to what the minorities thought and marginalised them with utter contempt. When the minorities the Tamils in particular protested democratically, they set thugs on them with impunity. They did not stop there, they set alight to the Jaffna Library that bestowed priceless artefacts. All atrocities that were levelled against the minorities went unpunished.

      The complain that you have is that, the minorities did not want succumb to the whim and fancy of the majority! What arrogance that you exhibit on public forum!

      • 1

        Alot of things have been said about what SL did to so called minority.

        But many ignore the fact it was the minority that first started the racism politics and separatist agenda

        Contrary to popular belief, separatism and tamil nationalistic politics were alive WAY BEFORE independance…

        Arunachalam in 1922 said their target is eelam and GGP in 1939 caused Navalapitiya riots

        • 2


          “But many ignore the fact it was the minority that first started the racism politics and separatist agenda”

          The 1948 constitution was endorsed by all parties in order that a nation could be built. Since, it was the not Tamils or anyone else for that matter who bastardised the constitution! Take full responsibility for the Sinhala polity and those who elected them for what happened. Remember that the Sinhala have been power and not the minorities!

  • 6

    Sivathasan Ayyah,

    While it is good to entertain some hope and optimism about reconciliation, don’t yet start counting your chickens. Rajapaksa had the best opportunity to embark on a true reconciliation programme, however he had other priorities to attend to- no 1 being robbing the country dry.

    Don’t underestimate the people behind the new people in front, such as the hawkish clergy and the considerable might of the people who are easily swayed by the Mahanama myths. These blighters will stand on the way of any concessions.

    With regards foreign relation we must not toss the Chinese out along with the Rajapaksas just because they had a cosy relationship. China has a lot of money and are not too loath to disburse it (unfortunately the moosalaya Rajapaksas pocketed most of it) compared to India or for that matter the west. India unfortunately have more pressing domestic cravings to disburse their new found wealth than in Sri Lanka. And the West are notoriously Shylocky when handing any money and unlike the Chinese will demand its pound of flesh at the most inopportune moment.

  • 1

    “Time may be all too soon when the island nation benefits from both the worlds.”

    Sane people rarely see the ghosts in the room so they have no clue as to the underlying nexus of perceptual relationships that generate the world.

    The current upsurge arises from the major shift in geostrategic equations consisting of Indias decision to align itself with the “democratic” western ethos in the face of harsh pressures from its confucian neighbourhood which in turn was made possible by the realization that while India harbors absolutely no ambitions to be a power that rules the world the confucian camp most certainly and obviously does.

    The outcome is that we can now – indeed it is demanded that we urgently – cultivate the “art of nurturing ethnic relations in our midst”.

    The road will not be smooth but strewn with rocks and possibly land mines, until those who repose their trust in violent coercion and terror choose to change their ways and accept a law government state designed through decent civil discourse and development.

    What can be done with the advocates of violence and the oppression of minorities who cunningly disguise their objectives in the language of revolution and duality with its eternal war against the “bad”turning “good” to bad in the process?

    How can the dynamic non dual world of unity and harmonious balance be articulated and be brought into being?

    When will my madness be accepted as sanity and a space be made for me and others like me at the table of the developmental discourse that shapes the future?

    Until then I must continue to seek asylum in places where my words and works are comprehended.

  • 1

    We must have a balanced relationship with all nations. Indian influence must be limited, as otherwise we will be like a part of India. We can already see many Multinationals in Colombo having Indian CEOs and Sri Lankans are going overseas. I was shocked to see Mastercard head in Sri Lanka is Indian – is it because Top management of Mastercard USA are Indians, whereas many Lankans can easily fill this position. Most of the Galle face green property is with Indians – Taj and Indian Hotels. We must have a policy of friendly relations with India and create a safe Indian Ocean but we must maintain a unique identity and culture. Remember, Indians overseas hardly help Lankans in their career (ask Lankans in Middle East)

  • 0

    “Good infrastructure built by the previous government was for show purposes.”
    Yes Rajapaksha should not have spent those colossal sums on infrastructure development in the North and East(“structural genocide”). Should not have developed Colombo where majority are Tamil and Muslim. He should have allocated the money for rural south instead. Should not have released the surrendered Tigers (genocide)
    Ingratitude of these people has no bounds.

  • 1


    Thank you for the well merited thoughtful article.
    The minorities, especially the Tamils after a period of time have courageously shown their solidarity with the Sinhalese to bring about a change of government. The people and the government have now come to realize the need for a post war reconciliation and to find out a sustainable action plan to bring about unity and harmony of ethnic and religious communities in Sri Lanka.
    As the writer mentioned “The national question, with all the fallout thereof has gnawed at the membrane of every citizen’s consciousness” and as such the time is ripe and the environment is set for “the nascent regime to fly apace at supersonic speed” to take the decisive step to ‘Cross the Rubicon’.
    Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe in his article on CT recently has rightly said thus “It is important to strike a balance between the need to rebuild the lives and livelihoods, together with the psychological development of those internally displaced and to provide people with an environment where they can live without fear or suspicion”.
    Thank you.

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