By Harendra de Silva –
‘Patriotism’ is one of the most misused and misinterpreted words not only in the English language but universally in whatever country, language or culture.
The Americans thump their chests with Purple Hearts to adorn and what not? One definition says “America’s first patriots were its Founding Fathers who had risked their very lives to create a nation that reflected their visions of freedom with equality”. For whom did they risk their lives? Like today for the power-seeking leaders far from battle! For what did they risk their lives for? A land with physical resources that they did not inherit from forefathers, a land forcibly occupied by the imperialist British. Then the settlers decided to take it for themselves (from the British!) “Did they consider freedom and equality when they “risked their lives” to rampage, murder, rape and pillage the ‘Indigenous’ Indians?” Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) said that the English and the French were just “two robbers” stealing land from the indigenous people and that neither deserved to live there!
How does that compare with Prince Vijaya, a delinquent who was exiled by the father from Bengal (India), landed on a land occupied by Yakshas and Nagas? Did he not fight to gain a foothold together with the traitorous Yakshini Kuveni and then exterminated the Yaksha community? According to, Anura Manathunga, “Vijeya killed them and wore the jewellery he looted. It also proved that there was some form of developed craftsmen among the tribe. Vijeya waged war with these groups and returned victorious and the ‘yakkas’ were chased away. Vijeya’s ministers conquered the Uruwila, Udeni and Anuradha area and developed them into villages”.
Consistent with all other examples around the world, the important components that necessitated the establishment this ‘glorious’ country were: Acquisition of land, annihilation of indigenous people, looting the people and though not documented raping women and children may have been invariable consequences. Have we forgotten or in denial of these facts but protest against a similar atrocity of Israeli occupation of Palestine? The British who did the same to Aborigine (similar to Yakkas) Indigenous persons in Australia are trying to come to terms, although it is too late! Funnily enough there would be traitors like Kuveni in all such battles!
In line with the British invaders, where does Vijaya stand? Are you too biased to decide? We also don’t know from where the Yakshas and Nagas came from? There may be claims from South Indians? On the same argument they were aliens at some stage of history!
How pure a race are we genetically to claim a land as Indigenous?
Apart from Vijaya not being an original Sri Lankan Inhabitant, He discarded Kuveni of indigenous, probably Aboriginal Royalty with 2 children, he brought 100 ‘princesses’ of Pandyan (Dravidian/Tamil descent). Therefore, right from the origin of the Sinhala race in Sri Lanka, there was ‘genetic contamination’. Just think of any ‘race’ or country it’s the same. Robin Cook the British Foreign Secretary once said “The British are not a race, but a gathering of countless different races, the vast majority of who were not indigenous to these islands. The idea that Britain was a `pure’ Anglo-Saxon society before the arrival of communities from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa is a fantasy.” No sensible person in a right mind will even imagine that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist Country! It is incomprehensible as to why the Cardinal keeps on saying this! The Impurity of the genes probably has affected the purity of mind! Having said that We need not be ashamed of being ‘impure’ in our genes so long as we don’t bang our chest about ‘purity’! In fact, we should be proud of our mixed gene pool, it is better than inbreeding which is unhealthy
Imported Slaves and Mercenaries from South India
Although there are different versions or part fantasy, the most cited is: Gajabahu the 1st invaded South India, Brought back 12,000 imprisoned ‘Sinhala’ soldiers and in addition 12,000 Cholas (Dravidians) as ‘interest’. It will be a vain attempt to find out whether these Cholas married Chola women and remained as ‘Chola’ in Sinhala areas or remained bachelors!! Again, the ‘Chola beans’ obviously would have been scattered all over the genetic pool.
He also brought Goddess Pattini’s anklet by force to set up the Pattini Devale. When we talk about looting, is it only by the Moghuls, British or Germans? In the above reference by Manatunga, “Vijeya killed them (yakshas) and wore the jewelry he looted” shows that looting did take place! Or is human behavior the same? In any calamity looting happens, but not justified! It has nothing to do with race! During war did the Germans loot the Jews? What happened in Sri Lanka? The Tsunami was another example. The Peraliya train tragedy and the stories of looting is just one instance. Discrimination between race or religion did not matter when it came to greed and looting!
Mugalan, King Kashyapa’s brother of Sigiriya fame brought thousands of Chola (Dravidian) soldiers from India to defeat the brother! What happened to them? Did they get naturalized with the ‘Sinhala’ community, were they ‘repatriated’ after the wars? Or did they take the next ‘flight’ back home?
Invasion, domination and colonization
Along the historical track of Sri Lanka, how many times did South India invade us? How many Tamil Kings did we have? Daya Hewapathirana states that Lanka was invaded By South Indians 17 times, and Dravidians who sat on ‘Sinhala’ thrones altogether for 170 years! King Elara the Dravidian King ruled over Lanka for 44 years!! Was the genetic pool intact in water tight containers (compare condoms in the modern world)? Or did women wear chastity belts? How many chest banging Sinhalese know that one of our favorite kings Weera Parakramabahu (the Great) who ruled over Lanka for 33 years, was of Pandyan descent or that Nissanka Malla, was the first among the Polonnaruva kings who was purely Kalinga blooded. He was born and raised in Kalinga (India) and came down to Sri Lanka by the invitation of King Parakramabahu I. Well I did not know that as a child! Either our nationalistic teachers avoided facts or did not know! There were scores of Kings with Dravidian Blood including our last king! Others had married Dravidian Royal blood since they could not marry another regional princess’s because they were often at war with each other! The Royal blood was also ‘contaminated’. Most Palaces in Polonnaruwa had Hindu temples for the queens even evident today. Of course, right along they had the Tamil speaking armies to protect them! Did these hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers or mercenaries who came over a period of 170 years of rule, bring women? Did they ever have physiological desires? Were they bachelors? Or homosexual (no offence! only for argument)? (in fact, in Greek history Homosexuality was prevalent among soldiers including Alexander the Great!) Since the physical appearance of Tamils and Sinhala are similar one may not be able to differentiate legitimacy of offspring by the phenotype (“the set of observable characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment”), In s similar situation, unlike in Sri Lanka, the invading Caucasian Greek soldiers of Alexander with physiological needs, left their distinct genetic tracks, therefore the distinct recognizable phenotypes in Afghanistan, Pakistan and North India in the form of blue, brown or green eyes, blond hair and light skin! Did the culture, religion and the “RACE” of the offspring become Greek!! No, they remained Afghans, Pakistanis or Indians in spite of the genes. It was so common that it did not even leave a stigma!! Several years (2013) ago there was an uproar in the media, of Mitochondrial DNA (mother to daughter inheritance) evidence of Diana’s ancestry to have Indian genes, making Prince William very likely to have the same mitochondrial DNA “to indicate an Indian root, but without any phenotypic signs of an Indian!
Then came the traders from Europe who invaded for trade, while others from the Middle East used their charm and married ‘Sinhalese’, then the ongoing subtle modern invasion by the Chinese through economic blackmail. Unlike South Indians, who did not leave phenotypic changes but only genotypic identity, we are yet to see any phenotypic changes which will be obvious in time to come like the Greeks in Afghanistan! Sorry, I may be fantasizing the future of Sri Lanka!
The Javanese were brought by the British to our Police and Malay Regiment in the army as mercenaries, since the British could not trust to give arms to an indigenous person!
Then the other dimension of South Indian Slaves brought by the British to work on tea estates. Since the women were brought there was some segregation. Who knows how many ventured further into Sinhala villages and vice versa? When holidaying as a child in Thalawakele I distinctly remember a ‘latrine coolie’ who was a phenotypic Caucasian apart from his attire and behavior, (similar to my example of Greeks in Afghanistan).
In the meantime, the original Kuveni’s contaminated indigenous genes continue to venture into familiar ground!
Genetic studies have found “no significant genetic variation among the major ethnic groups in Sri Lanka” (Forensic Science International: Genetics, Volume 3, Issue 3, June 2009, Pages e105-e106). (Experimental and Molecular Pathology, Volume 87, Issue 2, October 2009, Pages 159-162)
This argument is not to disown the Tamils or Muslims as indigenous, but to accept that all these hundreds of thousands of soldiers and traders who merged into the local population at some period of time, as Sri Lankan. However, more often many have a proud board stuck across the chest as Sinhala-Buddhist, Tamil Muslim or ‘Pure’ Burgher! How impure races can be? How dynamic religions are? The chest beaters on all sides will have to prove their purity over centuries and document how ‘thy ancestral neighbors behaved’! Therefore, Human Rights of the people of Sri Lanka cannot be a privilege to indigenous, Sinhala or Buddhist. This stand has to be taken at the highest level like what Lee Kuan Yew who said “We will not as a majority squeeze the minority… We made quite sure whatever your race, language or religion, you are an equal citizen and we’ll drum that into the people”. That ‘Drumming’ will not happen in Sri Lanka as long as the Politicians rely on ethnic votes!
Populism and Pseudo-Patriotism!
Who are Populist leaders?
Populist leaders are often Ultra-right wing, ‘showmen’ who ‘speak to the Gallery’. This charismatic showmanship cannot be groomed or borrowed but is natural! They are often ‘Tribal’ showing hatred against ‘other’ groups. The ‘other’ groups are often ethnic, religious, ideological, professionals or elite based. They often insult opponents on family background, sex, sexual orientation. They can be bad mannered like Trump and Duterte. President Hugo Chávez, once said: “I am not an individual – I am the people“. They often behave obsessed with threats to territory. Invasions, Bomb scares, impending civil war with indigenous minorities. These are areas that are close to the heart (it is actually in the hypothalamus of the brain) of the masses and strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their years of concerns will be addressed by the populist! We have heard charismatic speakers about our ‘History’, ‘Abhimanaya’ and how invincible we are? just for votes!
Populists often show their power with money. by statements, accusations, intimidations and physical violence (often by proxy) to consolidate authoritarianism. Pseudo heroes and patriots are created in this process! Just before the attack on the Capital, Trump ‘created Patriots’ by the statement “just a great honor to have this kind of crowd and to be before you and hundreds of thousands of American patriots who are committed to the honesty of our elections and the integrity of our glorious Republic”. Thus, a new breed of chest banging patriots are encouraged and created by populist leaders. Samuel Johnson’s 1774 essay made a famous statement: “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Do we see the chest banging, slogan screaming pseudo patriotic scoundrels who are ‘patriotic’ to the power wielders for personal gain or positions even today? Why should patriotism and martyrdom be synonymous with violence? Patriots can be non-violent like Gandhi’s prophesy!
What is your country? Is it the territory? History? The Flag? Government, dynasties, or policies of power wielders?
Have we forgotten the fauna and flora including the people and their rights, liberty or equality irrespective of species, caste or creed? When Buddha (a North Indian) chanted Siyalu sathwayo niduk wewa, Nirogi wewa, Suwapath wewa (May all living beings be Happy and Healthy), didn’t he mean all live beings are equal? Why do we repeat the stanza after the Buddha, without understanding the meaning and more importantly not practicing the concept while calling ourselves Buddhists?
The flora is alive. Isn’t it the flora that gives us life? Without the flora we cannot survive! Yet we destroy the precious flora for money and other personal benefit and call ourselves belonging to a race and religion (e.g. Sinhala Buddhists). We are at the same time willing to destroy and kill in the name of patriotism! Those who ‘fight’ to protect flora (and fauna) should be classified as real patriots!
It is the life in the community and diversity that we should love and cherish and prevent from being annihilated. It is the life of fauna and flora including humans that keeps a community going! Not necessarily inanimate land (without life), a history distorted and written to the benefit of rulers. A flag that has to be respected but scientifically it is a piece of cloth that we can kill for? Monuments of heritage although we should cherish and protect, it does not give life to a community? Why are monuments targets of the enemy? E.g. Bamiyan statues, the Dalada Maligawa, or the Sacred Bo tree premises or the Easter Sunday attack. The easiest way the terrorists could make the people angry is to attack a place of worship close to their heart i.e. in reality the hypothalamic reaction for survival. When the public is angered, they would reciprocate by attacking innocent civilians the terrorists are supposed to represent! If they represent the innocent civilians why do they want a reprisal? Once there is a counter attack, the anger and sympathy for the ‘cause’ is strengthened for funding and recruitment. In short, terrorists who may commit suicide for a ‘cause’ are misled by the leaders and then glorified as martyrs.
Let me pause for a bit here: I do not in any way want to denigrate the real heroes and martyrs of any side; those who truly believed that they were doing it for the country and the people! I just want to blame leaders who created mayhem and wanton destruction of, not only the infrastructure and life, but also the serenity of life, culture and norms. It thus creates intergenerational hatred, racism and bigotry in the name of patriotism. Why? POWER is the name of the game! Power for both sides. The leaders who decide policy on race and religion, hardly ever risk their lives but get others by proxy to do it!
How do we classify persons or groups as patriots; those who selflessly speak or protest on behalf of the oppressed including those divided on political lines, racism, bigotry, disabled and children who don’t have a voice to protest? Instead the scoundrels will classify them as traitors?
My Plea is to find new definitions for Indigenous people and Patriotism not only in Sri Lanka but for the Human Kind!
Suggestion: A person who sacrifices for a common cause for the betterment and sustenance of life, identity, quality of life, independence and integrity of a nation focusing on people, fauna and flora.
I just want to stimulate a platform to integrate different facets of meaning form all sides.