By Vishwamithra1984 –
“The time is long overdue to stop looking for progress through racial or ethnic leaders. Such leaders have too many incentives to promote polarizing attitudes and actions that are counterproductive for minorities and disastrous for the country.” ~Thomas Sowell
Velupullai Prabhakaran had a dream until it turned out to be a terrible nightmare that kept on haunting the forlorn hearts and minds of the people in the North in particular and the majority Sinhalese in the South for nearly thirty punishing years. After many thousands of young men and women have perished, some as fighting soldiers on the battlefields in the North and East and others, innocent civilians, as victims of suicide bombings and indiscriminate slaughter, the dust doesn’t seem to have settled. The two communities, Sinhalese and Tamils, are as divided as ever, more so politically, than in the ordinary spheres of culture and economy. The distrust and lack of empathy for each other in both communities are growing invisibly. The rhetorical utterances, especially those made by Sinhalese Government politicians, are most closely backed by their allies in the clergy but these utterances have become empty words, with more noise than voice; nothing more, nothing less.
This play-acting by both communities is mainly for the consumption of the foreign media and overseas leaders. While portraying themselves to the global marketplace as fair-minded and compassionate, the governing circles, particularly those who are closely identified with the First Family as well as the TNA leadership, are posing to the indigenous audience as diehard nationalists whose only purpose of political existence is the safeguarding and the well-being of their respective communities. Enmeshed in a indirect and intricate socio-political maneuver of nationalistic propaganda, both communities and their respective leaders have been betrothed in a mad rush to drive their peoples to extremes; that extreme seems to be receding further and further into irreconcilable postures adopted by both parties with each successive event or sub-event that is overtaking the speedy flow of politics and legislative process.
The one stark characteristic that divides the two communities and which is really articulated on political platforms, at least in the way each one is perceived by the other, is that they perceive the other in the context of an opposing contender: the victor and the vanquished, winner and loser, majority and minority, Northerner and Southerner, the Army and the terrorist, or to put in plain and simple terms, Sinhalese and Tamils. The centuries-old story of ethnic division and invasion and fighting back and re-conquering the land have driven the people in these two geographical locations to some unspeakable crimes committed in the name of their respective communities; it has woven such a grandiose fabric whose cords, lines and curves depict a tale of utterly lamentable sub-tales of woes and enmities, of jealousies and hatred, of measures and counter-measures, of ‘the land, the race and the faith’ and traditional homeland. Whichever the definition or tagline each argument is associated with, the ultimate goal of reconciliation and meeting of the minds seem to disappear into the inaccessible corners of human interest.
Political leaders of both communities, Sinhalese and Tamils, due to their own parochial motivations, keep pushing the proverbial envelop relentlessly. Prabhakaran from the North embarked on a brutal terror campaign, ostensibly for the creation of a Tamil Ealam, a separate State for Tamils, encompassing an area of nearly two thirds of the country’s coastal areas stretching from Mannar to the southern tip of Arugam Bay, bordering the Kumana birds’ sanctuary. The thirty-year war that resulted as a product of this demand claimed more innocent lives on both sides than those in uniform on the battlefront. Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka in his ‘Long War, Cold Peace‘ book, says thus: “Most wars generate in their aftermath a process of reflection”; especially a war between two communities living in the same land, availing themselves of the same major infrastructure, land and water and due to significant historical factors, with the mindsets that have been nurtured and nourished overtly as well as covertly, yet constantly supervised and monitored by agenda-driven politicians and their devoted lackeys, the ‘reflection process’ that Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka is referring to does not seem to have materialized. If it has, then it is only an extension of the bitterness that has been pulling these two communities apart for centuries. However, the one striking difference between the forces that engendered the setting apart of the two communities was significant in that while the Tamil minority in the North and the East was merely driven by ethnic and language considerations, the Sinhalese were most irrationally and single-mindedly pushed by a unique kind of Buddhism- ‘Sinhalese Buddhism‘.
The ‘Aryan’ shade that ‘sheltered’ our ancient ancestors lent uniqueness as well as an elitist flavor to the invading gang of seven hundred men led by Prince Vijaya, thrown out of their country for being too averse to law and order in Kalinga, now Orissa of India. Although this shade of Aryan-ness was added as recently as the end of the Nineteenth Century or beginning of the Twentieth Century, no religious or political leader would dare contest the validity of this Aryan character that has been ascribed to the Sinhalese. And when this Aryan-ness is coupled with the purity of Theravada Buddhism, the Sinhalese ethnic family assumes almost an impenetrable holiness that is usually reserved for the sublime and great. But the tale gets revoltingly muddy when greed and lust of modern-day pursuits invade life.
From the perspective of the Sinhalese, especially after the dawn of the Twentieth Century, any reconciliation, leave alone recognition of their Tamil brethren as equal and co-partners of the same large family of Ceylonese, vanished at the onset of the notorious Tamil demand for Fifty-Fifty- equal representation in the legislature between the majority Sinhalese and the rest of the minority-communities, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers. The sharp divide that occurred, or more aptly stated, created, by the social and political leaders of the time is continuing to date. With the introduction and enactment of the Swabhasha Policy by S W R D Bandaranaike in 1956 and the forces that this policy unleashed thereafter took care of shaping and defining the national character and its substantive core.
The social degeneration that most of our pundits lament about and the negative and destructive impact the cumulative effects of these changes entailed, gave birth to a nasty and superfluously invincible and impenetrable psyche. The terror war that was embarked upon by the militant Tamil youth in the early Nineteen Eighties with the sole objective of creating a separate State of Ealam only buttressed the divisions and separateness between the two communities. Bodu Bala Sena and other religious Balakayes whose members are openly defying the law of the land and marauding the streets, invading non-Buddhist places of worship and portraying themselves openly as a law unto themselves, all in the name of safeguarding and protecting the Dharma of the Enlightened One, are not a new phenomenon, but an advanced manifestation of the old-school Sinhalese-Buddhist activist in the genre of Metthananda, Rajaratne and Jayasuriya, led by Venerable Baddegama Wimalawansa Thero, and the likes decades ago. Actors have changed but the act is the same and intensity looks more acute because of the very alacrity with which these acts and melodramas are brought to the notice of the public via television and Radio.
The gullible laymen and women are waiting to follow these modern-day messiahs; they are even more obsessed and motivated by a sense of the so-called war-victory that has given them an artificial notion of superiority. And this ‘superior feeling’ among Sinhalese Buddhists is not going to disappear nor is it going to diminish in its superficial luster. In such a tragic but brutally factual context, the Tamil National Alliance, its leaders and Tamils in the North and the East as a whole have no alternative but to adjust though unfortunately, to this newly emerging reality of quasi-permanent Sinhalese overlord-ship and make the necessary grading of their expectations and hopes, their desires and wants and their ambitions and socio-political objectives, both as individuals as well as a collective community.
The Thirteenth Amendment may well be a beginning point for them. But the war-victory with the total massacre of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam and other terrorist organizations has assured that any agitation for anything more and beyond the Thirteenth Amendment would be a futile exercise. A regime change through democratic means, could be one hope for them but given the propensities for ‘Mahindafication’ of Sri Lanka’s body politic and with the apparent attitudes of some of up and coming politicians, it is quite unsafe to make any electoral predictions even in fairly-conducted elections. But any Opposition politician, UNP or otherwise, who wants to outdo the Rajapaksas on the ‘national question’ issue would stand a snowball’s chance in hell to get any votes from the Tamil community. As such, the need of the hour for the Tamil community may be to work on a long-term basis with the more-understanding segments of the Sinhalese community a la the early part of the last century and make some conciliatory inroads into the present-day Sinhalese psyche. Such a process could be extremely slow-moving and subject to criticism from both friend and foe but the potential dividends for the Tamil community could be comparatively immense and long-lasting.