By Rifai Naleemi –
I was shocked and dismayed to read one-sided article of Mr Tilak Samaranayaka in Colombo Telegraph on 5-5-13. The title article is “Understanding the causes of Sinhala Muslim conflict in SriLanka”. With full respect to his economic expertise in the field I’m sorry that I had to disagree with some of the points he raised in his article. I’m sorry to say that this article is not written objectively. He has indeed distorted some facts with mere prediction and assumptions. It looks that Tilak Samaranayaka has become one more victim of BBS’s false propaganda machine. A learned man like him should not write on the basis of mere prediction and more assumption without substantiated evidence.
I have full respect for Sinhalese race and I think that Sinhalese race is one of the unique and best human races on the face of this earth. I have had opportunities to interact and get on with many nationalities in my work place. Compared to customs, mentalities, and behaviours of many ethnic groups Sri Lankan Sinhalese are unique in their politeness, kindness, sense of humour, good manners. As a Sri Lankan born and brought up among them I can tell through my personal interaction with them for more 27 years in Sri Lanka. Even our long history itself witnesses that. This is the behaviours and manners of the majority of Sinhalese people and yet, a handful Sinhalese people are trying jolly ride with sense of superiority complex at the backdrop of defeating euphoria. They openly claim that they are indigenous people of Sri Lanka and all others are guest people or visitors. Hitler type mentality is inflicted to some of these extremists.
Yet, it is my own humble observation and I may be right or wrong. I do not know for sure how far my observation is fitting from anthropological, sociological and linguistic perspectives but Sinhalese people resemble Bangladesh people in calmness, politeness and appearance. I observe some similarities between people of the Bay of Bengal and Sri Lankan Sinhalese people in term of customs, language and way of life. Any one who has been to Bangladesh villages will notice these similarities in features and calm characters.
I’m neither a historian in ethnography nor an anthropologist and yet, I have been living among these two communities. Since I arrived in London I have been living with many Bangladesh friends. Some Bangladesh words look similar to Sinhalese language terms. Their physical appearance and foods are very much similar to Sinhalese. For that reason I’m very much convinced that Sinhalese race originates and hails from that part of sub-continent: I’m not an authority on this but it is a mere observation of mine. Today with the advancement in DNA technology this genealogy could be firmly established sooner rather than later. I think some students of sociology should do some research on this line. I recall this to remind all Sri Lankan communities that one way or another we all come to this Island from India continent/some other part of the world. Only Veddhas are the original inhabitants of Sri-Lanka in antiquity. So, we should not have superiority or inferiority complex at all.
Muslims have been living more than a thousand years in Sri Lanka among Singhalese people. Please read (The Muslim of Sri Lanka: One thousand of Ethnic Harmony 900-1915) by Lorna Dewaraja. And read Singhalese historians who testify this. The Singhalese people never harmed Muslims in Sri Lankaand indeed, it was Sinhalese kings and Sinhalese people who protected Muslims in the past.
I do not see any academic credit in your analysis of Sinhala Muslim relationship in Sri Lanka. You have one sided and biased story. I wonder if you are BBS agent in Australia. Let me refute and repulse some of your argument in a simple language: you argue that Muslims “never participate in any social or community activity. Their participation in any sport in the country is practically non-existent” This is a pure lie because, Muslims have been fully participating in all aspects of socio-political life: How many Muslim policemen were killed by LTTE just because of they worked with Sinhalese Government. ? How many Muslim officials of different government departments were killed by LTTE simply because they were with Sinhalese in their war with LTTE? How many Muslim army officials were killed merely because they are with Sinhalese?
Please read the history of Police establishment in Sri Lanka you will know that first police to scarify his life for police service was a Muslim police man. You say that we do not have any sport men in Muslim community. Look at the history sport in Srilanka in Rugby, Football, and in some other sports you will see a lot of leading Muslims persons in the past: It may be today we do not have enough sport men. It is not because of lack of talent among Muslims but because of discrimination and racism: Do you think that Tamil and Muslim communities have no talent in Sport? Of course, they have but they are not given opportunities. There are a lots of talented people but today racial and communal politics do all dirty work inSri Lanka: Sport persons have not yet been given rightful opportunities and you know well politics of Sri Lanka.
Since the independence Sri Lankan politics dominated by Sinhalese with the majority in parliament They could change laws and they could erect laws in their favour at any time: Look at this terrorism law that has been introduced recently: under this law any one could be arrested and detained for 90 days without access to lawyers. Of course, I agree with you that Sinhalese people were marginalised during the colonial period but now they are trying to marginalise all minority communities as they were treated by colonial powers: This is revengeful tactics and some of BBS members are leading this crafty politics.
I could tell you hundreds of incidents of racial discriminations that have been taken place since the Independence in Sri Lanka. Recent time it has doubled. In recent SLAS Examinations soon after 2009, all AGA are appointed by Singhalese candidates: as if there are no quailed candidates from Tamils and Muslims. Do you know how many percentages of Muslims in public sector employment in Sri Lanka? Less than 1.5% of entire Muslim population is in public sector employment SL. Why is this discrimination? Do not we have qualified people? How many percentage of Muslim students get university admission? I do not like to divide Sri-Lankans in communal liens at all. We all have to be united as Sri Lankans and strive and work hard as one family to rebuild Sir Lanka.
You have mentioned about population growth and religious conversion:
These are two sensitive areas I have intended to write extensively on these two areas: I will do so in this News paper other times: These two areas need more time and more space to write. Yet, in short, it can be said that Sinhalese population growth is not in decline rather growth is slow compared to Muslim population: Why is that. It is because the social lives of both communities are different to some extent. Sinhalese girls get marry late in life. Sinhalese girls go to work. They do not have time to look after children at homes. Most of them go to higher education and end up delaying marriage until late thirties. How could you expect them to have healthy babies if they marry late in life?
Whereas Muslims want their girls to marry early in life because of some religious reasons. We want men go to work and ladies look after children at homes and it is responsibility of men to provide maintenance for wife and children. It is the materialism that destroys Sinhalese population and it is materialism that encourages Sinhalese girls to live a western way of life and destroys family life: Tell them to follow pure Buddhism and control the greed for this world then they could increase Sinhalese population.
More facts could be attributed to this debate: Unlike in the past, new generation of Sinhalese population now move into town and cities: Both newly married husbands and wives work. Therefore, they do no have time to look after more than one or two children. Some do not want to have more than two children. If this social change has taken place within your community why do you blame Muslims for that: It is your problem of your won community and nothing to do with Muslims? it is a rapidly developing social change of your community: You should address this to your community. It is unfair to blame Muslims because of the fault of Sinhalese girls: secondly, your people do more abortion than Muslims because of our faith we do not do it?
We believe that killing babies in wombs is not acceptable at all in any human sense except there is any real danger for the life of mothers. Moreover, the thirty years of war may have contributed slightly for the decline in Sinhalese population growth. These are some of the facts you should examine and gauge in your objective research and we Muslims do not try to deliberately increase our population as you assume. Muslims feel that most of them live below poverty line and for that reasons they can not afford to increase population. If I do not offend you one more reason for Sinhalese population decrease may be that unlike other faith groups Sinhalese monks are not allowed to marry: This may in return reduce growth of population slightly in long runs.
It would not be make a huge difference and yet, this could contribute to some extent to the decline of population in your community. Take for instance, if Sinhalese have a community of monks around two to three hundred thousands in total in Sri Lanka. I do not really know what the monk population in Srilanka is and yet I assume like that. If these two hundred thousand monks can not marry this could definitely decrease Sinhalese population to some extent. I hope someone do a field research on this subject with some practical and scientific evidence. I do not say that these monks should change their faith and traditions to increase Sinhalese population rather I’m saying these as some of the facts that contribute population increase. Do not take me wrong for this and I’m just looking this problem from different perspectives.
Moreover, today more than 1.7 millions SriLankans work in the Middle and Europe. Most of house maids from Sir Lanka are from Sinhalese community and most of them are Sinhalese girls. They go to Middle East countries in the teenage life or in their adult age. Some of these girls work years in these countries and come back to Sir Lanka in their late twenties or thirties. Some do not even marry them on the basis of social stigma and suspicion.
Moreover, poverty and alcoholism among Sinhalese community may be some of the other factors that contribute to this decline in Sinhalese population and yet to blame Muslims for this is not convincing at all. Muslims maintain family unit in tact as a part of their religious faith not only in Sri Lanka but also over the world: The family life is one of the unique institutions that Islam shapes and guides in a beautiful way no other system has any parallel to that. That is why more western ladies accept Islam and become part of International Muslim community. Indeed, Muslim family life wives are not obliged to provide maintenance for the children and whatever Muslim wives earn they could keep it for themselves and not obliged to spend on children or on families rather it is husband’s responsibilities to finically support families. This is one of the reasons that educated western girls prefer to marry Muslim boys. At least theatrically this is stipulated in Islamic law.
You have argued that this population growth of Muslims put the county into economic burden. I’m sorry that I had to disagree with you. Today, population growth is not a burden rather it is human capital. If Sri Lanka could invest on this human capital in a good manner without any racial discrimination, this population growth of Sir Lanka could bring more wealth and prosperity to Sri Lanka more than any nation in Asia. Sri-Lankan is blessed with talents and skills. We have rich human resources in Asian countries and our human potentiality is better than any countries in Asia except a few states in India: You are saying that this could be burden. Yours is a pure pessimistic and one sided observation. “To meet this future Muslim population growth, scarce resources will need to be allocated for food production, health services, housing, education, and various other social services. In addition, the increase in population will also need more land to build schools, to expand infrastructure facilities for trading and other activities”
This is the fallacy of your argument and this should be seen from a positive perspective in line of human resource development. Sri Lanka could become prosperous nation competing Singapore if our politicians have determination and political will to do so without any racial bias between communities. That dream needs the unity of all communities in Sirlanka and also some good long term development projects and support of broad minded people.
I’m sorry that our economists in Sri Lanka have failed to advise our politicians in right directions in many projects and I’m sorry that we have do not have a good systems to train our youths in many modern professions in our country and this is the world of brain powers and skill forces. If Srilanka could guide and train next generation in modern professions that are in demand we could become of one of rich nations in Asia. This needs politically stable situation but BBS wants to destroy that and create more wars. They want to destroy economy of Muslims first and then they want to destroy Tamil heritage and then they want to destroy Christian heritage in order of priority. They are so narrow minded and so primitive in their thinking and mind setups. They do not think that if they destroy Muslims properties or Muslim business that they are destroying national wealth and national asserts.
As an Economist you tell me do not they do this by their rhetoric? Do not you see they encourage communal hatred? Do not they have any civilised way to address their concerns in this modern way? They have given bad impression and bad name for the entire Sinhalese community in the world? This has already damaged the image of this government too locally and international. It is shame that police, security and politicians have failed to take any actions. Yet, you seem to be pouring oil in burning wounds. Finally what can I say except Almighty God guides all of us into right path in our thinking, intention and actions? I shall write on conversion next week.