By C.V. Wigneswaran –
Someone asked: What are your observations on the visits of the Chinese and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in recent times?
My response was: I am frankly alarmed. We have stepped into a Geo-Political game taking place in the Indo-Pacific region where Sri Lanka is a key chess piece in the rivalry among big powers. Sri Lanka must remember it was its unfortunate emotive anti Tamil stance that has got it into this mess. One of its objectives is to deprive India of the power to bring about a just solution for the Tamil people. However clever we think our Foreign Policy is going to be, we cannot rule out the possibility of violence breaking out in this region within an year or so.
Let me go back.
After 1919 when the British told Ceylon they were going to give self-rule to the Ceylonese the Sinhalese Leaders who were very friendly with the Tamil Political leaders until then, started to hatch plots to take over the entire Country to themselves. It probably was a reaction to the important position Tamils had held under the British. When my mother’s relative Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan returned in 1915 after a successful audience with the Queen of England on behalf of the Sinhalese prisoners who were to be released from incarceration by the local Police, the Sinhala Leaders pulled him in a chariot themselves discarding the Horses to show their gratitude. They pulled his chariot from the Port to his house at Horton Place.
But within 4 years everything changed. The reason was the then Governor had informed the Ceylonese of the British intention to give self-government to Ceylon.
Until then the Tamil Leaders occupied the Centre stage in Administration and Politics. There must have been a silent antipathy in the minds of the Sinhalese Leaders as to why a minority community should hold such an important position in administration and other fields when the Sinhalese were the majority. But the British believed in meritocracy and chose the fittest for all positions from among the Natives. The Tamils were docile, religiously bent, studious and conscientious. That is why even today the Tamils occupy important positions the world over.
The idea must have dawned among our Sinhalese Leaders that they should take over Leadership as soon as possible in the light of the willingness on the part of the British to give self-rule to Ceylon.
The setting up of the Pan Sinhala Cabinet in the 1930s was symptomatic of their secret desire and antipathy towards the Tamils. The interesting thing about the Pan Sinhala Cabinet was that it was the brain child of a Tamil Mathematics’ Professor C. Suntharalingam who was later the irrepressible Eylom Suntha in politics.
Thus as time went on, the idea became crystalised among the Sinhalese that Tamils were not to be allowed to rule the roost anymore. Many Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers, Public servants and so on were majority Tamils at the time of Independence. So thereafter steps were taken to weaken the Tamils and strengthen the Sinhalese. Disenfranchisement of the Up Country Tamils, Sinhala Only, Standardization were all directed against the Tamils to weaken them. In addition pogroms were staged to drive out the Tamils from the Southern Areas (South of the Northern and Eastern Provinces). Some went abroad. Many were sent to the North and East by boats by the Government itself. They recognized the North and East were Tamil speaking areas. They recognized the North and East were the traditional homelands of the Tamils.
But the Sinhalese Leaders were not contented with driving the Tamils out of Sinhala areas or disenfranchising them. They set about to expropriate traditional Tamil homelands. Colonization of traditional Tamil areas with Sinhalese took place in a big way. When Tamils reacted they were called Terrorists and massacred. Over a Million Sri Lankan Tamils fled the Island and are now in various Countries. They are being recognized by those Countries even though the Country of their birth drove them away.
So the present situation is that there are Resolutions before the United Nations against Sri Lanka. They relate to the genocide, war crimes and other International crimes committed by the Sri Lankan Politicians, Officials and its Forces.
In this light the Sri Lankan Government has found it difficult to extricate itself from the heavy debt they incurred due to the war from the Criminal activities they were involved in during and after the war. They therefore looked around for friends in the International Arena to help them economically and politically. China which needs a firm foothold in the Asian Pacific region found Sri Lanka to be an ideal vassal. The Chinese have played their cards well. They know the weakness of the Sinhala Leaders and Sri Lanka. These Sinhala Leaders and a powerful part of their Intelligentsia are prepared to cut their noses to spite their faces. Their obstinate and intransigent actions based on an anti Tamil perception might transform this area into a Conflict Zone. These are the leaders and so called intelligent persons from among the Sinhalese who believe the Tamils and Sinhalese have been traditional enemies for centuries. They forget this antipathy towards each other is a creation of recent years by those who wanted to thrive selfishly by the propagation of this false view.
If only there is one responsible person amongst the Sinhalese Leaders he would ask “Are we going on the correct path?”. “Instead of reconciling with the Tamils why are we treading a dangerous path which might bring suffering to all? After all we have decimated the Tamils, chased them out of Sinhala areas, we have forced many Tamils and others to flee abroad, we have colonized and taken over Tamil areas to a large extent, we have denied them the contiguity of the North and East, we have put up Buddhist Dagobas and Temples of worship in traditionally Tamil areas and we have fully controlled the Tamils of the North and East and brought them under the over- lordship of our Armed Forces. What else have we to do?”
To my mind there are two choices – we could reconcile with the Tamils and make this Country a peaceful and prosperous area overnight or we could continue with our dream of making this Country Sinhala Buddhist and in pursuance of our dream discriminate against all minorities and take all steps to undermine them in all manner whatsoever. My hunch is that many of the present Sinhalese leaders from both sides of the Parliament are confident that they have come close to destroying the Tamils and the Muslims and therefore they must pursue the pan Sinhala Buddhist path studiously.
This is a wrong perception from a truly Buddhist standpoint. They must remember that every Sinhala Leader of whatever hue will have to pay for what he or she had done to brutalize the minorities. Killings of the Tamils or any others for whatever selfish reasons will not go unheeded by Karma.
Gananath Obeyesekere, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University, said that “in the Buddhist doctrinal tradition… there is little evidence of intolerance, no justification for violence, no conception even of ‘just wars’ or ‘holy wars.’ … one can make an assertion that Buddhist doctrine is impossible to reconcile logically with an ideology of violence and intolerance”.
Those with military background or civil or religious background if they consider themselves Buddhists have no justification to continue with violence despite their varied perceptions. The Buddhist doctrine “is impossible to reconcile logically with an ideology of violence and intolerance”.
Thus there is still a chance to reverse the process of hatred and violence. That is to reconcile with the Tamil Leaders (not the boot lickers who are powerless to function on behalf of the Tamils) and set up fully fledged devolved unit in the North and East recognizing the fact that these areas have been the traditional homelands of the Tamils. By providing a just solution to the Tamil people, Sri Lanka does not have to antagonise any country and does not have to put itself in a dangerous situation. The only way to keep Sri Lanka a paradise and pursue a genuine non-alignment policy is to devolve power to the Tamil people. There need not be any misgivings about the future of the several Sinhalese who have occupied during the past fifty years or so within the traditional Tamil speaking areas. So long as the North and East are recognized as Tamil speaking areas, those in power there would expect the denizens of those areas to conduct their businesses in Tamil just as Sinhala is used in the South. Just as much as the Sinhalese want to preserve their language, religion and culture in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan Tamils too want to do the same with their heritage. After all the Tamils are the original inhabitants of this Country having lived here for more than three thousand years continuously. The Cholas and others only added to their numbers in later times. The Sinhala language only came into being in the 6th or 7th Century after Christ. The oldest Sinhala Grammar Sidatsangarawa was written only in the13th Century AD. The Mahawansa was not written in Sinhala but in Pali.
Therefore in answering your question as to what I think of the visits by the Chinese and the Americans lately I would say unless the leaders of our country take immediate steps to reconcile among themselves by devolving full powers to those who occupy specified areas for centuries and bring about cordial relationship among ourselves we are going to fall into the whirlpool of geo politics which may take us to a position where vital decisions on our behalf cannot be made by ourselves but by others on our behalf whether we like it or not.