19 November, 2017

In Light Of Dr Nalaka Godahewa’s Speech At The UNHRC In Geneva

By Lionel Bopage

Dr Lionel Bopage

If memories and past experiences are not re-examined in the light of new situations, bleak will be the future for all new generations.

Given Dr Nalaka Godahewa’s professional background, his speech at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appears to be a political stunt. For it is in the main misleading, illogical, irrational, “not doctoral” and at times disingenuous. His speech is premised on the fallacious hypothesis that discrimination against minorities in Sri Lanka, particularly the Tamil community has been a fabricated (or imagined) myth. Recent activities indicate that he would have represented “Viyathmaga”. His dubious political motives become clear at the conclusion of the speech. “No ethnic based solutions” he says, choosing not to face up to the current difficult constitutional development process, adding that this whole process is there to satisfy a western agenda by the external forces “who only want to divide us”.

This is not surprising given his political affiliations. Dr Godahewa was the Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Financial Crime Investigation Division had arrested him in December 2015 for a financial grant allegedly provided to a youth movement headed by a son of the former president. His lawyers argued that this was a political witch hunt and that the grant was “simply a sponsorship given with proper board approval for a stock market awareness program”. Leaving that aside, let us dissect what Dr Godahewa leaves out of the historical record in order to support his specious contention that there has been no discrimination against non-Sinhala communities.

Discrimination

Discrimination is primarily an intentional or unintentional ‘behaviour or treatment’ that does not accord with the principles of fairness and natural justice.

This is reflected in international law, which defines racial discrimination as:

“any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

A further clarification states:

Discriminatory behaviors take many forms, but they all involve some form of exclusion or rejection.”.

Thus, discrimination involves restricting a member or a group from opportunities or privileges that are available to another leading to exclusion, or the “othering” based on illogical or irrational decision making. It can and has developed into a source of oppression and resulted in inhumane and degrading treatment.

Background

This paper will highlight the implications of the inability of the Island’s elite to develop a national consciousness that transcends religion, language and caste – the reasons which are rooted in the country’s long servitude under the Portuguese, Dutch and the English. In the post-independence era, the failure of our political and cultural elite to deal with this vital societal issue has resulted in various forms of discrimination, particularly on the grounds of ethnicity. This is reflected by the communal violence and the human rights violations carried out by the state and its security forces, and political organizations – underpinned by the ideological perspectives of almost all political persuasions to protect the class interests and privileges of the ruling elite.

The argument that there is no national oppression or discrimination against Tamils in Sri Lanka and if there is it is only against the Sinhalese is based on the premise that Sri Lanka is the country only of the Sinhalese and non-Sinhala peoples are just recent migrants. This is a Sinhala nationalist construct of the island’s history. On the other hand, a Tamil nationalist construct of history attempts to portray that they were the Island’s first inhabitants. These counter narratives choke any room for dialogue or compromise when it comes to resolving the vexed national question.

In spite of the hair-splitting arguments they make, there are a few matters we could all agree upon: that many generations of those living in the Island, including the Sinhalese and Tamils have been inhabitants of the country for many centuries. Hence, Lanka is the homeland of all the people currently inhabiting it. Solutions need to be found for the current issues, not to a historical problem that existed centuries ago. Such solutions need to pave the way for a united, harmonious, inclusive and fairer Sri Lanka where all people are treated equally and can live with dignity and respect.

Centuries of subjugation and suppression under colonial rule trampled on the national dignity and fundamental rights of the local people, and flared up a national consciousness in each community. Therefore, the need arises to analyse and recognise the palpable peculiarities of each community, the difficulties they face in understanding the spectrum of inter-ethnic interests and the need for radical social transformation along with a prudent and patient approach to redress their concerns.

Sri Lanka did not develop a strong anti-colonial, pro-independence struggle. Tamil leaders were in the forefront of political agitation in tandem with Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others, who agitated for constitutional reforms. Ponnambalam Ramanathan was their first elected common representative. Ponnambalam Arunachalan, his brother, campaigned for education in local languages and local universities. the Jaffna Youth Congress gave leadership to transform this reformist campaign into an anti-imperialist one. The struggles of the working class led by the left and the Indian independence from colonialism in 1947 also influenced this transformation.

The British made Ceylon ‘independent’ in 1948 in accordance with their new geo-political and military strategy launched to counter the expanding ‘threat of communism’ in Asia. In doing so, they did not consider the political exigencies needed to ensure fairness and justice for the island’s diverse residents post-independence. In this political vacuum, rancour replaced civility and the national project degenerated into ethnic/communal conflict. The Sinhalese regarded Tamils as economically and educationally privileged. Increasingly falling out with Tamils, the Sinhalese wanted to secure “majority rights”. They were also very concerned about the geographic proximity of the Tamils in Lanka to the numerically strong Tamil community in the Madras State of India. Psychologically, the Sinhalese felt a minority in comparison to the multitudes of Tamils living in the sub-continent.

In the current global economic phase of neo-liberalism, the economic disparities that lie at its heart, intensifies the national and religious strife for independence and identity of smaller nationalities and nations. In such an environment, the solution lies not solely on carrying out a resolute and consistent struggle against nationalist and chauvinist manifestations, but also on agitating for achieving equality of opportunity and equity of access through ensuring fairness and completing the tasks of the democratic revolution that could not yet been accomplished in many countries like Sri Lanka.

*To be continued…..

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Latest comments

  • 9
    4

    Sinhalese say that they are the first inhabitants and Tamils say that they are the first inhabitants.
    Geological – Tamil Nadu and Srilanka were a single land mass before the sea upheaval over 10,000 years ago which separated them. NASA and Indian Oceanology Institute have stated that they have evidence of a civilisation that is under sea between Tamil Nadu and Srilanka.
    Linguistic – It is the conclusion of international linguists that Tamil is the oldest language in the world and at one time everyone in the world spoke Tamil or some form of Tamil. This is the reason why Vijaya was able to communicate with Kuveni and Vijaya’s friends were able to communicate with their brides from Pandiyan kingdom.
    Genetic – Core genetic material in Sinhalese is South Indian with Bengali input. This proves that Sinhala language and ethnicity evolved from Tamil like how Malayalam did around the same time. Until 50 years ago Sinhalese in north west coast spoke Tamil as their home language.
    Archaeology – While 2000 year old stone inscriptions in Tamil have been found in Srilanka, the earliest Sinhala stone inscription is only 1700 years old. Several urn burial sites including the latest one in Galewela have been found denoting presence of Dravidians. Also pottery found in northern mainland was similar to that found in Tamil Nadu signifying that the same people lived in both sides of the divide. The recent discovery of 10,000 year old civilisation in Settikulam seals the issue.

    Considering all these data, it is left to the impartial intellectual people to decide who were the first settlers in Srilanka, which has been deliberately covered up by Sinhala historians. Should people living in this era continue to believe the trash dished out by Mahawamsa distorting the truth. If a proper archaeological survey using modern equipment is done, the correct picture will emerge. Will the racist government controlled by Sinhalese ever permit it, which will blow off their claims.

    • 2
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      NEVER WILL PERMIT,NEITHER SHOULD because majority of communities live equally and amicably.Country experienced the LTTE TERROR which ruined three generations of Tamil,and not forgetting the Sri Lanka.The LTTE rump is still trying the sacrificing innocent Tamils in Sri Lanka.

      • 5
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        Sinaloa racism damaged this country for 70 years that ruined Sinhalese and nor forgetting Sri Lanka. The racist rump is still trying to sacrifice Sinhalese in Sri Lanka

      • 3
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        Kumar Dasseneike
        “NEVER WILL PERMIT………..”. Never will permit what?
        “…………NEVER SHOULD……….”. Never should permit what?

    • 0
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      Tamil is not the oldest language of the world. The oldest language must be the one spoken in Ethiopia or Levant back then. Tamil is the one spoken in the Tamilnadu area or perhaps as you suspect spoken in the Indian subcontinent.

      Urn burial sites does not indicate a Tamil presence. If so please tell us how?

      • 3
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        Anti-Tamil prejudice and sheer hatred blinds the dimwit Shenali
        Waduge to facts. All you have to do is Google and ask for the oldest
        language in the world – and thus educate yourself. Evidently, anything Tamil sends you into a blind rage. But facts, woman, are stubborn. Worse still for you – 30-35% of the Sinhala language comes from Tamil.

        Kettikaran

      • 4
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        Shenali, I pity your ignorance due to Tamil hatred. Find out from Wikipedia and Google which states that Tamil is the oldest language in the world. Egyptian/Coptic is only the third after Sanskrit. Urn burial sites is a hall mark of Dravidian presence and Dravidians spoke Tamil from which other Dravidian languages arose. If you cannot accept the decision of international linguists after scientific study, then it is your problem due to bigotry. Do you know that a civilisation dating back to over 10,000 years has been unearthed in Settkulam, which will certainly be Dravidian.

        • 2
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          Continuing bad news for bogus Sinhala patriot Shenali. The surname Waduge came from Kerala – from the depressed classes
          known in Malayalam as Theeyar. You certainly behave like one.
          It may have come from either Coconut-tree climbers or
          Cinnamon Peelers – both from that Indian State to this island
          who settled more beyond the Kalu Ganga.

          Kettikaran

  • 5
    1

    Dr. Lionel Bopage in this essay, quite rightly argues……To use his own words

    Lanka is the homeland of all the people currently inhabiting it. Solutions need to be found for the current issues, not to a historical problem that existed centuries ago.

    In that sense Dr.LB. IS A REALIST.

    • 2
      3

      We saw and go through 1971,what he and his organisation did and similar with the LTTE.He may call him self DR NOW,but people who know him and his organisation,would run a mile(BUT WITH HIM AROUND MILES).Even TODAY,the JVP leaders are a CURSE to Sri Lanka.

      • 3
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        we have seen Dr and Prof do. We have run thousands borbmiles away. Both JVP and LTTE were created by the political scoundrels. Those are the curse. JVP tried to resurrect Sri Lanka. LTTE tried to save Tamils. Geo politics caused the failure. Irish fought for 300 years to get freedom from British.bTamils will don the same if people like writter do not get to lead this country

  • 2
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    Whatever said there is nothing notable reason is given for evolving sinhala language and separate culture in Sri Lanka despite of so called high influence of tamilnadu. It suggests tamil historians are trying to justify creating a separate country in northern part of the island based on fabricated historical claims. Previously they put forward so called discrimination as a reason. Now everybody can understand the real mindset.

  • 4
    2

    If Tamils are not discriminated can one comment on attacks on Tamils by the majority Sinhalese Buddhists beginning 1956 ending 1983 where scores of them were killed and houses burnt periodically. Why did they stop attacking from 1983. Because Tamils stood up to it lead by Prabhakaran. What late senior Thondaman said some time back sums it up all. ”The worm has turned.”

    • 1
      3

      Yes we saw what happened to the MIGHTY “WORM” WHO USED TO BE CALLED THE TIGER.in 2009.

      • 4
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        Kumar D,
        Yes, what a GREAT victory!!!!! 3,00000 grown men with tanks, planes and ships to defeat 15000 LTTE plus 15000 schoolchildren. I wouldn’t talk about it if I were you.

        • 2
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          in other words school children and innocent civilians were used by the Mighty Worm and the Animal Clan against an elected government in the process got perish worse than an animal.
          The Mighty Worm eliminated three generations of Poor tamils,and all the eco refugees were doing all menial work in the west to keep the Mighty Worm to get Pseudo Eelaam.

        • 2
          2

          You mean each LTTE terrorist had a school child to stand in front and protect him? Yes, that figures.

          • 4
            1

            Taraki

            “You mean each LTTE terrorist had a school child to stand in front and protect him? “

            Good question.
            How long did it take you to draft the above?

    • 0
      1

      TERRORISM stood up,and TERRORISM GOT ELIMINATED IN 2009.
      INDIA used the IDIOTIC LTTE as a CAT’s paw to destabilise SL, the innocent Tamil civilians paid the price.

  • 5
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    Lionel Bopage presents a realistic and much needed practical approach for us to get out of the hole we dug ourselves into.
    It is clear the language/religion divide created to bank votes has turned out to be an ogre.
    How come the people who talk LB’s past do not talk Wimal’s past or Dayan’s past in a Tamil liberation front?

  • 2
    1

    Lionel
    Good Intro. Waiting to read your next instalment.

    • 0
      1

      Dr Bopage

      ” not doctoral” !!! ????
      A dosthar mahatmaya can have a dottarate in one subject and be a fool in other subjects. That is simple common sense.
      He can also be fool in many parts of his own subject other than what he has studied. That is also common sense.

      he can also be a fool on all subjects including his own – that is a truth we have learned over and over again in SL in the recent decades.

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