By Harendra de Silva –
Open ethnic and religious sentiments such as Sinha-le (blood of the lion/Sinhala) have become fashionable in Sri Lanka with slogans across windscreens usually among the lower social groups such as three wheeler drivers who are bold enough to display the fashion! Are these people a majority who are Buddhists commited with deep convictions or are they displaying their ignorance? Do they even understand one stanza of the great philosophy of Buddhism? The upper strata except for a few are not that bold or are not convinced of the radical movement. However, prominent display of Buddha or Christian statues on dashboards, quotes from the Quoran across windscreens, or crosses hanging from mirrors reflect inner feelings of each group. I believe for most, it is an innocent action of bringing blessings or good luck from these religious symbols rather than being extremist or racist! A vehicle is accident prone and sometimes it’s lethal to occupants and needs supernatural powers to save them rather than drive carefully or obey laws!! One of my friends said that his Wife believes that the husband cannot resort to any vices (?except alcohol) in a holy environment of the car! or does it apply for the wife as well?
I suppose school colours or court of arms also reflect the clannish feelings. Others although not ‘racist’, (including politicians) favour the ‘religion ‘of the ‘college flag’ when giving appointments. For a few, covert ways of identifying clan members as happens in the West is by using “Gang symbols”. Haircuts, beards, ‘fish symbol’, attire, body language and jargon and distinguish members from outsiders and convey the clan in a subtle way maybe with a sense of moral superiority.
However, the right to worship and having statues, crosses, “budhu geys“ (domestic place of worship) at home is a right of a person, which should be considered private. One’s commitment to a religion should be the understanding of religious priniciples, the conscience of the practice of the religion in terms of correct attitudes and behaviour in society and home.
By discussing this highly controversial topic, I am likely/may offend many of all faiths and maybe it may be like opening a can of worms! I have anyway had a history of stirring hornet’s nests in the past, eg. the subject of child abuse and abuse in child conscription! However, in the absence of White vans today I am not reluctant to divulge my identity!
Division and Polarization of communities
Communities especially minorities feel insecure when they are by themselves as individuals, (or even majority groups when threatened and insecure or made to feel insecure by ruthless politicians) but feel strong as a ‘herd’ and would like to belong to a group either as an Ethnic or Religious group or both. Naturally Jews have their strength due to their ethnic inclusiveness and so are most minorities all over the world. Rulers often make use of these divisions to establish power locally or between Nations. These symbolic associations could be manipulated by power hungry (so called) leaders. All one needs is a symbol to rally around. ‘Empire’ was used by Alexander, ‘Chanda’ Asoka and the British or Crusades used Christianity as a Symbol. Americans today use “Safeguarding Democracy” in their quest to dominate the world while Hitler used the symbol of Aryanism or Swasthika. Hitler like most fanatic nationalists, believed his nation to be in a process of deterioration. He believed that if Germans fused together (as opposed as individual) like a single block of steel would create an indestructible body that no one could tear apart. More recently Prabhakaran used the same concept and manipulated the inner ethinic inclusiveness and insecurity for survival of Tamils. The ISIS now uses distorted versions of Islam as Jihad. All for the quest for POWER!!!. Koenigsberg contrasts this concept to the Buddhist phylosophy (if interpreted and practiced correcrtly), that seeks to discover the self in a place separate from language and symbolic systems such as race.
Almost every government uses terms like “Nationalism”, “Democracy”, etc to mobilise youth to sacrifice their lives to maintain or grab power. (Power Games in War and Peace: the tragic impact of corruption, violence and impunity on the Sri Lankan child. 2003, By Harendra de Silva). It is unfortunate to see Buddhist ideology after distortion creeping, in the quest to destabilise society and grab power by manipulative political groups. It is ironic to see groups that should preach ‘ahimsa’ (non violence) using “blood” (le’) indirectly to symbolise their call for violant action! Fortunately my gut feeling is that this call is fizzling out without a ‘climax’, with some symbols now appearing without the (blood ’le’) words and others with only the lion. Yet it is still lurking in the background with a threatening ambience!
Several years ago, one of my drivers placed a lazer burnt 3 D Buddha statue on my dashboard. Why did I remain passive? I suppose, it may have been because others also did it or did I not mind the herd instinct of being identified as a Buddhist? At the time I suppose I did not realize the deeper consequences? What really works in a person’s mind when s/he sees a religious statue may be “he is one of us!” by which you are reassured of having one or more clan member around giving a sense of security! On the other hand when one sees a symbol of a different clan “he is not one of us! …. Bloody ……..” which may create anger, feelings of hatred and a blow to your feelings of superiority and security. This feeling may want you to add on a ‘Sinha le’ sticker and for another to add a larger cross! Although I cannot generalise this reaction, it would happen at least in a few individuals. In a different scenario, what may be the inner reaction by someone of another creed when they see/meet a woman wearing a ‘hijab’ or a ‘pottu’? Basically these inner feelings of rejection or to despise each other even by a minority of that population would lead to separation, isolation and polarization of communities even though the extremists may not be too significant in numbers initially! How many extremists were there at the beginning of the seperaritist war in Sri Lanka? Tit for tat action by the different groups further separated, isolated and polarized communities which gathered momentum and cascaded into a vicious cycle of war! Power hungry leaders would want this polarisation to happen in their quest for power through a divide and rule process! Unfortunately Humans of whatever ‘race’ or religion have short memories except justifications of hatred and vengeance rather than memory of wisdom! It would lead to moving away from the positive notion of Nationaliam or Patriotism in the context of being Sri Lankan! Lankan politics has thrived on Nationalism based on Ethnicity from Vijaya/ Yaksha/ Naga, Dutugemune/Elara through Bandaranaike/’Sinhala only’, Prabhakaran/Eelam to Rajapakse/BBS.All these divisions have stabilised their power at least temporarily but always shed blood! Concepts of “the Chosen People” typically from the Hebrew Bible, and also similar notions by other religions endorse the perception of unique groups superior to others. This leads to ”infidels“ or “Kafirs” the ”non beleivers” those who are supposed to be inferior or not fit to live!.
At present we are somewhat complacent without actively pursuing the “Sri Lankan” identity (as opposed to ethnic/religious identity) except for a few songs and symbolic meetings! Generally polititians are not willing to express their feelings since it is considered to be dangerous to express reality something they too could use when it is needed. In contrasrt non tolerance of ethnic/religious extremism shown by the legal system today in a few instances indicates that the present regime is not willing to tolerate extremism that would harm another group. I suppose this process is continued.
Humanity’s inherant obsession with ‘Blood’ (“le”) a symbol of sacrifice
Humanity has had a long fascination with blood sacrifice”. Hitler was convinced that “blood sacrifice preserves the nation.” (He believed that the German race was threatened by germs i.e. Jews) His objective as Nazi leader was to wage war—so as to generate blood sacrifice and thereby preserve Germany. Hitler’s theory was that: if not for blood sacrifice, Germany could not exist. Goebbels, claimed that willingness to sacrifice, The duty of the individual extended to “sacrificing his life for the life of his nation.” By dying at the front, the soldier “fulfilled his duty.” Goebbels asserted, “The laws of war are harsh. Millions of German soldiers have to be ready to die on the battlefield.” Carolyn Marvin stresses that “society depends on the death of its own members at the hands of the group.” (Marvin, C. & Ingle, D. W. (1999). Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag. New York: Cambridge University Press). They argue that ‘American patriotism is a ‘civil religion’ organized around a sacred flag, whose followers engage in periodic blood sacrifice of their own children to unify the group’. It is interesting that in America too, there is a more centralized and well organized, system through the flag and Purple Hearts to make youth sacrifice life for a so called democracy i.e. Global Power, against other countries whether it be Korea, Vietnam, Iraq etc. including extremist Islam (ISIS) or maybe for the ‘religion: of ‘oil’! As Marvin points out it is also interesting to note the coffins of patriots and martyrs are draped with the National flag/s!! Marvin quotes Churchill “I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, toil and tears”! It is interesting to see ‘Sinha-le’ borrowing a part of our National flag the lion (ironically with the sword !) with the word le (blood) in red and in some stickers one could see drops of blood! There are others with only the Lion but not the red words!
Dravidian-Hindu culture in many instances idolizes Suicide and blood! (The use of child soldiers in war with special reference to Sri Lanka D. G. Harendra de Silva, Paediatrics and International Child Health 2013 VOL. 33 NO. 4). The tradition of Durga Pooja (Buffalo sacrifice, Durga Puja, Kalibari Temple, Silchar” on YouTube) “The use of the blood, worshipers smearing it upon themselves at times, spattering it on their houses, or scattering bloody rice on the boundaries, appears to be explained by totemism in that the worshipers seek a blood relationship with the deity”. It should again be noticed that any connection established by such uses of the blood is with the goddess, and not with the animal sacrificed. (Elmore, Wilber Theodore. (2013). pp. 130-1. Dravidian Gods in Modern Hinduism: A Study of the Local and Village Deities of Southern India (Vol. 15). London: Forgotten Books ) However, others (Nanditha Krishna) disagrees that it has anything to do with Hinduism. She argues that Durga puja also celebrates the defeat of the buffalo-grazers of ancient India by the food-producing Dravidians (Mundas) who worshipped the Mother Goddess. Thus you will find that Durga pooja and buffalo sacrifice is strongest in places of Dravidian culture. It happens in Sri Lanka at the Munneswaran kovil as well, but the buffalo has been mostly replaced by goats and Cockerel although some buffaloes are still sacrificed.
According to Taraki (late Sivaram), “The ultimate expression of loyalty to one’s commander, is deeply embedded in the Tamil psyche. (the debt of red rice) is a phrase that is widely used today by Tamils as an expression of loyalty. One frequently hears of it in a popular Tamil song. The phrase stands for the ritual of partaking of rice by which Maravar and other Tamil military caste warriors bound themselves to their king or commander to die in suicidal battle for him, or to commit suicide on the day he was slain. “thinking of nothing but the red (blood) rice the Maravar give their life as offering in battle.”
Sri Lankan genetic identity
First there are conflicting stories of the origin of the ‘Sinhala’ race from Mahawansa, Dipawamsa and other Chronicles. Briely Most widely accepted version is Vijaya the son of Sinhabahu the lion slayer arrived in Lanka with his army and others from the Benghali region in India. After his aquaintamce with Kuveni an indigenous queen belonging to the Yakshas, probably of Aboriginal origin that resulted in two offspring, he decided to be a legitimate King by marrying a ‘real’ Princess! A Pandyian (Pandu) Princess arrived from Madhura (?Madurai) with another 100 Pandyian women for his followers. Since Pandyans are of Dravidian stock the resulting progeny (although Vijaya did not have children from her) by his followers could not be of pure Benghali/Sinhala genes as shown by genetic studies (Papiha SS, Jayasekara R, et al. Human Biology 68 (5): 819–35).
Another study has found “no significant genetic variation among the major ethnic groups in Sri Lanka” (Ruwan J. Illeperuma, et al, Forensic Science International: Genetics, Volume 3, Issue 3, June 2009, Pages e105-e106). Dissanayaka and others came to the same conclusion using different genetic markers. (Vajira H.W. Dissanayake, et al Experimental and Molecular Pathology, Volume 87, Issue 2, October 2009, Pages 159-162)
Another interesting finding was the Sinhalese and Sinti Roma (Telagu speaking ‘Ahikuntaka’ community) also have a high frequency of Haplogroup R2 (38% and 53% respectively) (Sengupta, S; et al. (2006), The American Journal of Human Genetics 78 (2): 202–21). A 2003 Nature study found the Romani language to be most closely related to Sinhalese language. In addition the Romani people and Sinhalese both have a high requency of Haplogroup H (Y-DNA) (Gray, Russell D.; Atkinson, Quentin D. (2003). “Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin”. Nature 426 (6965): 435–9). These findings point to a multi faceted origin of Sinhalese and the other ethnic groups with a similar genetic pattern of mixed genetic background.
If you go into the Sri Lankan history, many Sri Lankan kings or princes’ including Gajabahu and Mugalan, (King Kasyapa’s brother of Sigiriya fame) brought thousands of Chola (Dravidian) soldiers from India! What happened to them? Did they get naturalized with the ‘Sinhala’ community or were they ‘repatriated’ after the wars??? What happened to Indian fishermen who strayed over to Lankan shores? Similarly the Sinhala fishermen who got washed onto the Maldivian archipelago. Divehi has so many similarities to SinhalaIese. Isn’t it a funny situation? Benghalis landing in Sri Lanka no longer remain as Benghali to become Sinhala, then they become Buddhists with the arrival of Mahinda thera and then these same Sinhala Buddhists land in the Maldives and then are no longer Sinhalese but Maldivian, and these Buddhists become Muslims with the Arabs coming in! Our theories of pure blood of Sinhalese or for that matter any race?? gets shot down in no time!
Similarly Muslims probably arrived in Sri Lanka in the pre Islam era. But the traders who came did not bring wives and naturally married Sinhala women, while the so called lower caste Hindu Tamils in the Eastern province converted to Islam. However Muslims do not identify themselves with the Sinhala or Tamil but as an unique group descending from the Arab world, thus creating the division which is further amplified by the clothes worn similar to Arabs suitable in the deserts! It is also interesting to see similaties in attitude with Jews! (Both religions are Abrahimic religions stemming from the same roots but now at loggerhead) ! A good study for geneticists would be to study the mitochondrial haplogroup of Muslims in Sri Lanka and track down the maternal origin and compare with the Y haplotypes that would track the paternal side. (mitochondrial DNA can track the origin of the mother’s mother’s…..mother’s …… origin going back to the origin of the mutation going back even 50,000 years in history while Y DNA looks at the paternal side…….)
Similarly, Taliban are anti-Western and anti-white, although their blue, green and grey eyes give away their Greek Ancestory brought during Alexander’s invasions.
In short there is nothing called pure blood or stock (without considering illegitimate progeny)!!! It is all invented by power hungry leaders!! It is high time our Yahapalana leaders (if in existence!) have a program including the ONUR, for everyone to identify as Sri Lankans rather than individually closed entities (groups), while keeping the right of people to worship any religion privately. We need a fearless but consistent in vision, ‘Lee Kuan Yew’ type of leadership. Why should politions play a prominent role in religious celebrations? Why should religion play a leading role in political meetings? Mainly because they want mutual support for each other! This creates an opening for politicians to introduce religious sentiments into politics and vice versa. Let me reiterate: ‘Depolitisation’ of religion and ethnicity’ is imperative in Sri Lanka. Religious activities should promote the understanding of religious priniciples, the conscience and the practice of religion in terms of correct attitudes and behaviour in society and at home. The state Policies and governance should devolve all religions to be non partial to religions. This raises the question whether religious or ethnic groups should be allowed to form political parties under the constitution?? I am sure this question has stirred many hornets of differing species and sub species? I will stop for now since i am not sure whether we have all the antidotes!!