By Malinda Seneviratne –
When any news on Sri Lanka in the ‘world press’ comes with a caveat such as ‘Sinhalese who are mostly Buddhist and Tamils who are mostly Hindu’, communalism becomes painted in lines bolder than reality on things political. There is a communal reality of course, but when it is used as a marker, nuance is lost. It is a phenomenon that communalists don’t necessarily object to for there’s a lot of political mileage to be gained by coming under spotlight.
It is not uncommon therefore for ‘ethnic’ and ‘religious’ to be painted on things that are not necessarily ethnic or religious. One of the outcomes of this state of affairs, interestingly, is a marked aversion by some to point the ethnic or religious of ethnic and religious things respectively. Indeed when the ethnic and/or religious does assert itself/themselves they are downplayed or ignored altogether. There are holy ethnic cows and holy religious cows, apparently.
Now it can be argued that such things are left alone because there’s been so much fire that adding more fuel cannot help douse. If that were the case, then it would be hands-off for all communities, all faiths, all ethnicities. There are people who are like that, i.e. those who don’t feed the rabble-rouser and who, even if reference to identity cannot be avoided will employ reason and responsibility so that the rabble-rouser will not benefit but the public will be better informed.
The politics of selectivity in these matters is interesting in and of itself. Take the fiasco regarding the Law Entrance Examination (LEE). Statistics show a steady increase in the intake of Muslim students. Does that indicate a ‘Muslim Hand’? No. We cannot conclude this. It can be argued that Muslim candidates have got more serious about exam preparation than Muslims of an earlier generation. Nothing wrong there. This year’s intake shows Muslin-intake not as ‘improvement’ following recent pattern but a veritable jump. ‘Muslim-hand’? No evidence, as of now. Better to presume ‘none’.
What is being questioned is the integrity of the entire process. There are allegations of ‘leak’ as far as the Tamil Medium papers are concerned. The Law College, Ministry of Justice (Rauff Hakeem, a Muslim who is a leader of a ‘Muslim’ party, is the subject minister, but that could be coincidence) and the Examinations Department are playing toss-the-ball. That’s not a ‘Muslim thing’ but a general response to problem common to all departments and ministries. The ‘Muslim-hand’ allegations come with reference to the ports recruiting Muslims in numbers not corresponding to ethnic percentages when a Muslim was subject minister and the foreign service likewise being ‘Muslim-loaded’ under A.C.S. Hameed. Relevant? No. Separate issues.
If the Tamil language paper has leaked and if the majority of Muslims took the Tamil version, then it is natural that they would perform better. If this was the case it could be because whoever was guilty of leaking wanted Muslim candidates to perform better (the ‘leaker’ could have been a Muslim) or because the ‘leaker’ wanted to make a fast buck (in which case his/her ethnicity, religious faith etc., is irrelevant).
The jury is out on all these matters and as long as the jury remains out, those who want to pain ethnicity to the story will only become stronger. From a purely rights point of view, it is a serious matter, especially since it is all about the law, law students and lawyers. We can envisage a situation several decades down the line where some (let’s say ‘deserving’) individual is made Chief Justice but is found to have entered Law College after sitting an examination that remains under cloud. That individual need not be a Muslim, let us remember. This is not an O/L paper leak. It is a competitive exam and far more important than competitive examinations such as the Grade 5 Scholarship exam. Foot-dragging is not just unfair for the candidates (including those who ‘passed’) but dangerous for post-conflict harmony among communities.
Be that as it may, what is strange is the total silence on the part of many who treat even the slightest error on the part of exam-holders as though it were a national calamity. Why? Is this issue a touch-me-not because there is suspicion that some group other than Sinhalese or Buddhists might be up to hanky-panky? Is it a fear that calling out minority groups would make the callers-out being identified with those who are routinely called ‘Sinhala Buddhist Extremists’? Is it a similar ‘fear’ that stops the otherwise vociferous political commentariat from saying anything negative about the Saudis even as they lambast the Foreign Employment Bureau and the regime over Rizana’s execution?
Ravaya has been silent for the most part. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Jehan Perera, J.C. Weliamuna and other anti-regime hawks haven’t found this juicy enough an issue to chew on. Such people focus on the protests led by Buddhist organizations. That’s fair enough, but it doesn’t warrant silence on what appears to be serious flaws in the process as evidenced by contradictory and vague statements issued by the relevant authorities of the relevant institutions.
Standing for minority rights does not mean giving minorities a blank cheque. Neither does it warrant silence when minorities benefit from error, simply because they happen to be a minority. Whenever foul mouthed people calling themselves ‘Buddhists’ or racist Sinhalese indulge in racism, there are many (mostly non-Sinhalese and non-Buddhists) crying foul, as they should. If they are asked ‘Are all non-Buddhists and non-Sinhalese saints?’ or ‘Would you ever or have you ever criticized racism on the part of non-Sinhalese or fundamentalism on the part of non-Buddhists?’ they are silent.
There’s something wrong here and it doesn’t help. There’s a monster waiting to get out of a box. There are errors of commission and errors of omission. We are seeing both. From all quarters.