16 April, 2024

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On [De]criminalizing Fantasies & Pinkwashing 

By Chamindra Weerawardhana

Dr. Chamindra Weerawardhana

What is a time-tested truism when it comes to any form of colonization? A deep desire to exercise maximal control. The British imperial project, for example, was full of many structures and laws that were precisely meant at reaching this objective – controlling the lives of the colonized, to the best possible extent. Sex-segregated school systems, developing a herd mentality among the local populace, brutal repression of resistance movements, ecocide, genocide, indentured labour, the denigration of centuries-old local languages, literatures, and knowledge systems – to name but a few – were among the strategies they deployed everywhere in their empire. In many countries, it goes without saying that we are still grappling with the long-term consequences of this highly exploitative project.

One aspect where this desire to exert control was more manifest than ever was when it comes to bodily autonomy. Roots of the severe restrictions on access to safe and legal terminations of pregnancy, legal provisions that criminalize sexual orientations that are not cis-heteronormative, and the institutionalization of a deeply patriarchal apparatus of governance were all part of this venture. In Sri Lanka, long-standing efforts to make progressive change have met with repeated roadblocks. These too are part of the enduring legacy of the colonial project. Although we gained dominion status back in 1948, the system remained, and we replaced the British officials with a local political class that one could contend was even more committed than the British to maintain the oppressive and exploitative colonialist systems in place. This political class has since been playing dangerous games, of igniting ethno-nationalist antagonisms and destroying progressive political movements. While this is not a place to discuss the social class, caste, and politico-economic fault lines of this political class, suffice to note that it continues to be one that is extremely arrogant and intolerant of anyone that challenges its power base.

In the last four decades of Sri Lankan history, one salient feature of our politics has been its near-irreparable drift to populist politics. Be it in the form of anti-Tamil rhetoric in the 1980s [Jaffna Library, Black July and more], the continuation of armed hostilities in the 1990s, political developments of the first half of the 2000s that paved the path for those of the second half of that decade [Mullivaikkal 2009, front-and-center rights violations, Sinhala chauvinist fantasies peaking et al], failed politicking of the 2010s [Sirisena saga leading to the Gotabaya R presidency via Easter Sunday bombings, the advent of the SLPP etc.], we have been [and continue to be] neck-deep in a brand of politics that can only be described as extremely toxic, racist, majoritarian nationalist, casteist, classist, and disgustingly misogynist. The left, or whatever is left of it, too has been quite complicit in this drift [e.g. the JVP-CBK coalition of the early 2000s, the JVP’s endorsement of a retired military man’s candidacy at the 2010 presidential election].

The late Dr bell hooks, a Black feminist theorist and visionary, aptly described the overall socio-political system of the USA [and indeed the rest of the neoliberal world order] as the imperialist capitalist white supremacist cis-heteropatriarchy. This conceptualization is very helpful when making sense of Sri Lankan politics. This writer would describe the conundrum of Lankan politics – briefly summarized in the previous paragraph – as the workings of the imperialist neoliberal capitalist Sinhala-Buddhist-nationalist cis-heteropatriarchy [INCSBNCH]. Taking stock of the fact that we operate in a system of this nature is an absolutely crucial first step to any political movement, social justice movement, or for that matter human rights advocacy initiative that seeks to work towards progressive change. The extent to which such initiatives seek to challenge, rattle, and dismantle the INCSBNCH will determine their overall impact.

The best thing that can happen to Sri Lankan politics right now is the left [as in, all hues of the left] coming to terms with this imperative of challenging, defying, resisting, disobeying, and working towards dismantling the INCSBNCH. There is evidence that at varying degrees, efforts in this direction are in progress – the only silver lining we can all be hopeful of.

Social justice and human rights initiatives simply cannot afford to ignore these broader political realities and act in a vacuum. The ongoing efforts in Sri Lanka to “decriminalize homosexuality” is a fine example of such inanities. To put things in a nutshell, no rights movement can sustain itself by piggybacking a political establishment that embodies and thrives on the INCSBNCH. If they do so [in the specific case of LGBT+ rights], it waters down to a keyword – pinkwashing. It also waters down to the weaponization of the said rights movement. Certain elements in the Sri Lankan political establishment – to give but one example – tend to bring rights issues to the fore for targeted purposes – such as the March Human Rights Council session, if and when Sri Lanka makes it to its agenda.

There is no question that the Penal Code of Sri Lanka, just like similar legislative structures and strictures in other Commonwealth member states, requires reform. Any legal provision that infringes the right to bodily autonomy and fundamental freedoms] have no place in a lawbook. However, such initiatives should be strategized carefully. Courting a political establishment that is inherently homophobic, socially conservative, deeply misogynist, racist, and exclusionary, and assuming that such an establishment would facilitate LGBT+ human rights in any shape or form, can only be described as a delusional and politically bankrupt move.

The safer, smarter, and most meaningful route is one of positioning all human rights advocacy initiatives and very especially, intersectional feminist initiatives, as integral components of social and political movements that have one core objective: challenging, and actively working towards dismantling the INCSBNCH, one brick at a time.

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  • 17
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    “….the overall socio-political system of the USA [and indeed the rest of the neoliberal world order] as the imperialist capitalist white supremacist cis-heteropatriarchy. […] Lankan politics – […] the workings of the imperialist neoliberal capitalist Sinhala-Buddhist-nationalist cis-heteropatriarchy [INCSBNCH].
    .
    According to author’s own words this isn’t anything unique to Sri Lanka or Sinhala Buddhists.
    .
    Infact if you look at the two descriptions provided by her (quoted above) of the US and Sri Lankan systems, features common to both are: neoliberal capitalism, colonialism, and cis-heteropatriarchy. Infact it is something common to the neoliberal world order.
    .
    Therefore I wonder how fixing or getting rid of Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism alone going to make any dufference.
    .
    Let this essay be an eye opener to those who think that Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism is the core problem in Sri Lankan society today and getting rud of it would solve woes of the society.
    .
    The author concludes by stating: “…challenging, and actively working towards dismantling the INCSBNCH, one brick at a time.”
    .
    I wonder how one could accomplish this or how effective it would be, without addressing the wider neoliberal world order in which this is part of, according to author’s own words?

    • 17
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      My dear Ruchira,
      … how fixing or getting rid of Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism alone going to make any difference.
      What an excuse you unearth to cleanse Sri Lanka of her Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism.
      Cheers!

      • 13
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        “What an excuse you unearth to cleanse Sri Lanka of her Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism”
        .
        No idea what you are on about here…

    • 14
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      Right. We can speculate all day on nationalism, but the real issue is poverty and/or lack of socioeconomic mobility. That’s what I was referring to in another post. If there is a strong middle class, people won’t see any need for a 13th Amendment or such. We can also argue night and day whether “racism” is a problem. Actually racism is a problem in every country with a majority/minority. The answer to racism is again, the emergence of a middle class with upward social mobility.

      ” the workings of the imperialist neoliberal capitalist Sinhala-Buddhist-nationalist cis-heteropatriarchy”

      Let’s give credit to the author. So-called “Sinhala-Buddhism” is much closer to Western thought than Wahhabism, Vlr casteism, etc. That is important for FDI. In terms of capitalism, there are no barriers to entrepreneurship, venture funding, outsourcing, etc. There is a semiskilled workforce with a 100% literacy rate that lacks a cohesive leadership. This would have worked in the country’s favor decades ago, had JR not been interrupted by domestic politics. He was ready to open the economy in a bigger way than Deng Xiaoping. Instead we got the brain drain.

      • 12
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        Points that I agree with Lester, for SJ’s (and any others’) information:
        .
        (1) “We can speculate all day on nationalism, but the real issue is poverty and/or lack of socioeconomic mobility”
        .
        (2) “Actually racism is a problem in every country with a majority/minority.” – The United Effing Istates of Amerikkakkaak is a perferct example.
        .
        (3) “So-called “Sinhala-Buddhism” is much closer to Western thought than Wahhabism, Vlr casteism, etc.”
        – infact Buddhism may even be better than the Western thought! Western Civilization imv has peaked and is running out of ideas to sustain… soon they may have to look towards the East for solutions… it seems to be already happening… albeit in small scale at the margins of western discourse…
        .
        (4) “In terms of capitalism, there are no barriers to entrepreneurship, venture funding, outsourcing, etc. There is a semiskilled workforce with a 100% literacy rate that lacks a cohesive leadership.” – LACK OF COHESIVE LEADERSHIP BEING THE KEY POINT.
        .
        Anyone wants to debate/discuss these are all good points. Instead smarty pants here are busy insulting and name calling people…

        • 13
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          Ruchira,

          Western civilization seems to be following Moore’s Law at the moment. Reverse Flynn Effect is in play.

          “Jon Martin Sundet and colleagues (2004) examined scores on intelligence tests given to Norwegian conscripts between the 1950s and 2002. They found that the increase of scores of general intelligence stopped after the mid-1990s and declined in numerical reasoning sub-tests”

          And the parallel with Moore’s Law: “In 1999, an Intel researcher worried that the industry’s goal of making transistors smaller than 100 nanometers by 2005 faced fundamental physical problems with “no known solutions,” like the quantum effects of electrons wandering where they shouldn’t be.”

          “Numerous other prominent computer scientists have also declared Moore’s Law dead in recent years. In early 2019, the CEO of the large chipmaker Nvidia agreed.”

          The question is, can AI/machine learning save Western civilization from intellectual stagnation? Not a commie, but like Marx said, the wealth gap will become larger in coming years. Those invested in major tech co’s like NVDA and Apple will be the new wealthy class.. The rest will probably survive off the universal basic income (UBI) that is likely to come into play within two decades. A nascent middle class.

          • 12
            10

            Lester –
            .
            Thanks for that input. Didn’t know about the Reverse Flynn Effect. But the scenario you have described at the end is very much predicted by various people. Not sure if you have heard of WEF’s alleged Agenda 2030 and the motto promoting it “Own Nothing Be Happy”. You could see their promo video here: https://m.facebook.com/worldeconomicforum/videos/8-predictions-for-the-world-in-2030/10153920524981479/
            .
            I am not sure if AI could make any difference. If at all it will intensify and speed up the process and would further increase the wealth gap. Future of the Western Civilization seems rather dystopian and capitalism may not be able to save it or ots own face.
            .
            Except the idea that the 5th (Industrial) Revolution being a revolution in mind. A spiritual revolution. An idea also comes from the WEF founder – Klaus Schwab. A context where Buddhist and other such Easter philosophies may increasingly become relevant.

            • 12
              12

              Continued…
              .
              The Global Shapers Annual Survey highlighted mobility, consumption, relationships and governance as areas that would face the greatest changes in coming decades. ‘Will these challenges make us more stressful as individuals? If so, will it have an impact on the health of our generation?’ was undoubtedly one of my main concerns but my concerns were put to rest by discussions led by Prof. Klaus Schwab who envisioned the 5th industrial revolution to be more of a spiritual one rather than industrial.”
              .
              https://www.ft.lk/IT-Telecom-Tech/epigenetics-in-the-face-of-the-4th-industrial-revolution/50-628927

              • 13
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                Ruchira,

                The link you gave is very interesting. One point in particular, that “Western values will have been tested to their breaking point.” A good example of that is foreign alliances. So Russia is “evil” because it invades Ukraine to protect its borders from NATO, but Israel is allowed to do anything in Gaza because of the Holocaust. In terms of breaking point, there may need to be a re-alignment of “allies” and “foes” (enemies), apart from the traditional one that is taken for granted. With full integration of Russia and China, but not necessarily India. Brexit is another example of the breaking point. And the EU reversing its immigration policy after realizing one million unskilled people from Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen cannot be absorbed into Germany, Sweden with the flick of a switch.
                I don’t know if Buddhism is the answer. But there will definitely have to be educational reform. People will have to be trained for the workforce much quicker. The unskilled will need UBI. Population control is essential. The issue with religion, it’s all but dead in the West, with the exception of Muslims, Hindus, and fundamentalist Christians (who believe the Earth was created in 6 days).

                • 12
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                  Lester,
                  .
                  Glad that you found the link interesting. I agree with the allies and foes. The US also seem to have double standards when it comes to Sri Lanka and Taiwan.
                  .
                  While they seem to prefer Sri Lanka in the sphere of influence of India (to put it midly) coupling our economy and development with that of Indias, it seem to want Taiwan to be independent of China.
                  .
                  Their double standards are becoming obviuos to everyone.
                  .
                  India’s allegiances will be time tested. Right now they seem to want to eat the cake and have it too. On the one hand they want to be an ally of the US while being a member of BRICS at the same time. So far it has been balancing it’s interests by maintaining their ties with Russia amids condemnations from the west and rejecting the invitation to join NATO plus.
                  .
                  TBC

                  • 12
                    11

                    Continued…
                    .
                    But some people seem to envisage a third world war, which I doubt will take place, in which India is an ally of the US. In which case they should not forget that they are surrounded closely by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran all of whom are nuclear enabled countries and India’s forseen western allies are far away. India will be decimated before they know it.
                    .
                    I donot think Buddhism or any other religion/philosophy will be THE solution but their roles may become more relevant when people start looking inwards for solutions rather than outwards.
                    .
                    Good point about Christians thinking the world was created in 6 days. They also think Jesus rose from the dead. Don’t you call such people zombies…?

                  • 13
                    9

                    Ruchira,

                    I understand your concern about the US. It’s very hard to stop them because of a few factors. The first is the SWIFT banking network. Enemies of the US/Israel are kicked out of SWIFT, leading to economic chaos, e.g. currency devaluation/hyperinflation. You will often find people in these countries (Russia, Syria, Iran) hoarding USD. The second is the USD as the reserve currency. This gives the US and its allies significant leverage over energy markets. The third is the sheer scale of the US military empire. More than 800 bases all over the world.

                    An alliance of China, Russia, and maybe Iran (if other Arab nations cooperated with Iran) would pose some threat to US hegemony. The problem is, it’s very unlikely these countries would defend each other if any were attacked.

                    Where does Sri Lanka align itself…East or West…that is the mega-million question. It will determine the fate of the country for several decades.All I know is, without a strong alliance, there are parties such as Global Tamil Forum waiting on the sidelines for some kind of chaos to erupt. They can then use this to push their separatist cause.

                    • 12
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                      *Iran is not Arab of course. Persian. Just a typo there.

                    • 12
                      4

                      Lester,
                      .
                      Yes I agree that balance of power is skewed to the US by many folds in the event of a ww3 and how its hegemony is maintained. I was just thinking out loud. Not that they – Russia, China, Iran, NK -would defend each other, but in the case of a ww3 I was thinking of a scenario where they are on the same side opposing a western alliance. I agree that it may not be the case.
                      .
                      As for Sri Lanka I am not sure if we can afford to take a side. Both Chinese and Indians have a clear presence on the ground. Taking one side would be suicidal. We could be the battle ground or the peace maker in the region if our leaders are smart a position that could be used for economic advantage. Anyway I don’t think ww3 would break. Just responding to some claims that it is impending. I think an idea floated by the US and the west to justify containing China. That said if someone doesn’t do something about increased encroachment of Sri Lanka by India we may soon find ourselves in a mess that we can’t get out of.

      • 11
        13

        “If there is a strong middle class, people won’t see any need for a 13th Amendment or such.”
        It was the strong middle classes that were most responsible for the bigoted thinking that led to communal violence.

      • 12
        11

        Lester,
        “So-called “Sinhala-Buddhism” is much closer to Western thought than Wahhabism, Vlr casteism, etc”
        Why oh why are there four different Mahanayakas for one religion? Or are there four different religions?

        • 7
          13

          oc
          Bigotry is bigotry by whatever name one may call it.

          • 15
            9

            Throwing around clever expressions without a clear definition or context does not validate an argument. Neither does bringing up data points which are several standard deviations away from the mean (extreme outlier). As an example, murder is not legal in most countries, but if someone attacks you without provocation, you can claim self-defense and “get away” with it.

            • 6
              12

              Lester the data point man,
              So, what exactly is your point?
              Is there or is there note casteism in Sinhala Buddhism?
              BTW, you still haven’t named any Sinhala racists.

  • 14
    6

    Yes, we had our own culture including our own sexual orientations, where we were intelligent, creative, happy, and self-sustaining before extraneous forces created INCSBNCH.

    • 9
      11

      Was the Mahavamsa written by an extraneous force?

      • 0
        8

        Hello SJ,
        This might be a technical question that needs more than the 200 word limit. Considering that Turnour was the first to provide a translation of the Mahavamsa into English, was there a Sinhala version or did you need to understand Pali to read it. I would imagine that bits and pieces entered into common knowledge through Buddhist priests that understood Pali. So when did the Mahavamsa pervade all of Sinhala Buddhist society?
        In the Middle Ages, in most of Europe, biblical knowledge was the property of the Catholic Priesthood as the Bibles were in Latin. John Wycliffe translated it into English in the 1520s and was condemned to Death in 1536 for heresy. The Reformation and the new King James Version ensured that all people, regardless of Class, had personal access to what was written in the Bible.
        You could compare Protestantism with Sunni Islam where they each consider that theirs is a personal relationship with God, whereas the Catholics and Shia are mediated by a Pope and Ayatollas.
        It seems to me that Buddhism in Sri Lanka has been hijacked by Hindu ideology e.g. the Cult of Pattini and praying to gods.
        Best regards

        • 5
          12

          LS,
          “It seems to me that Buddhism in Sri Lanka has been hijacked by Hindu ideology e.g. the Cult of Pattini and praying to gods.” Or the other way around?
          That is because most Sinhala royalty (or their wives) were imported from India due to strategic alliances and caste considerations, despite Buddhism rejecting caste on the surface. These people brought over their Hindu religious practices, which eventually became part of local Buddhism. The Sinhalese, for better or worse, were always open to adopting foreign customs.

        • 0
          13

          LS
          Translation flaws may occur when words are misunderstood.
          Where statements hostile to a people and to a branch of Buddhism and its sponsors occur, it is hard to blame a translator. The worst that a translator could do is over emphasize something or downplay it.
          But introducing extraneous ideas where nothing like it existed? I doubt.
          Mahavansa was not intended for wide reading and texts on palm leaf were not universally accessible like printed material.

      • 12
        5

        SJ,
        Mahavamsa was not racist then. If there was any differentiation of races, it was in very mild form according to a mild reference to caste (mild as compared to the Hindu Indians). Indeed, Both Sinhalese and Tamils united as one, according to caste. It was the British who caused the divisions between the races with their Eugenics hypotheses. Our country’s shame lies in perpetuating this.

        • 11
          5

          And in Sri Lanka, caste was based on labour according topographical location. This was quite different from the Indian Hindu determination of caste that placed people in one topography into permanent low life or high life stations. Some of it has seeped into our culture too, but Buddhist Egalitarianism always prevails, never letting it reach the levels of India.

          • 8
            12

            Ramona
            “caste was based on labour according topographical location. “
            Ah, so the labour of the Asgiriya Mahanayakas was more valuable than the labour of the others? So, a low-level mask-maker from Ambalangoda couldn’t be Malwatta Mahanayaka. As good an explanation as any….

            • 11
              5

              Asgiriya Mahanayakas…didn’t they get a lot of Hindu influence from South India?
              The low-level mask-maker is welcomed into other sects.

              • 1
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                They were most influenced by the Thais.
                They are the Siyam Nikaya.
                There is much more Hindu influence on the coastal belt with all manner of huniam, devil dancing and other witchcraft as well as a Hindu pantheon of gods at home that even a pious Tamil Hindu may not.

                • 13
                  6

                  SJ,
                  Yeah, all the Lankan casts like to frisk around and dance with the Hindu gods and witchcraft and things, in national egalitarian unity.

        • 2
          12

          It has racist utterances.
          When did it become racist then?
          Are you saying that what we have is not the real McCoy?

    • 6
      12

      “where we were intelligent”
      When were we last?

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