11 December, 2017

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Reflections On Minorities & The Majority In Sri Lanka

By Daham Rathnayake

Dahamchandra Sepala Rathnayake

I pose a question – was not Vellupillai – a necessary evil in Sri Lanka?

As a child, we undergo the fate of “into this house we are born, into this house we’re thrown”, without a choice. A child is still untouched by the hatred and corruption this world has to offer.

To witness life in all its glory and beauty is just remarkable. Each rain drop that falls, is astonishing; the sensation of each fruit you eat is overwhelming with the fulfilment of joy seeming endless. This world, in all fairness, is such a wonderful place. To feel each new sensation of love, joy and sadness, to thrive harder and harder at what you do, to keep exploring more and more to feed your hunger for curiosity of knowledge is truly surreal. To experience a mother’s love and a father’s guidance, to feel their undying devotion to a cause that is larger than life itself; this, in my view is what this world is all about.

The name “Vellupillai” comes of course from the fallen leader of the rebel Tamil Tigers. I decided to use it as the heading for my words because in more ways than one I feel I can relate to him. That is through understanding the fact that ” Every action causes an equal and opposite reaction”.

The more you live and get older and more mature, the more you start seeing the real horrors of this world. Indeed sometimes, you start experiencing them at a very young age when you are still very much connected to the awesome energies that keep our planet in orbit and can be life changing.

Events so horrifying which most do not ever recover from will always be there and shape your future in turn. “Rage” just as “Love” can never be engineered. These are emotions that can also never be ‘cured’ fully in my view until the day you meet your torturers and make them feel and pay for what they did to you. That is one view that may be taken.

But if we are blessed enough we find people in our lives, who do not see the meaning in fighting Fire with fire, and will guide you to a better path of letting go of this anger and moving on from it, that would be the greatest gift that life can give you. This means learning from that anger of course, but still to move on from it.

The more you learn from your mistakes you start seeing that what was done  to you should never be done  to any human, that karma is all what you have brought upon yourself and that it serves no purpose to keep the cycle going. But some people may feel that “Vellupillai” did not have such guidance or (in the Buddhist sense) good enough merit to learn this path in his life time. I thank the universe every day that I was fortunate enough to have such people to guide me and still guide me away from my anger rather than to embrace it and relive it. I must say that if I did not have this kind of persons in my life, the path i would have chosen would most probably have been one, such as his.

To look around you and to keep seeing that you are not treated equally as others, or even humanly at most times on a regular day to day basis , to keep hearing that you do not belong here and that others such as you should be gotten rid of, to cleanse the country which you know is yours as well can be a hard cross to bear To keep being ridiculed, un-appreciated, demeaned and abused on a constant daily basis until the point where the child is dead, the dream is dead and all that remains is the rage manifested in you through the years and years of torment based on nothing but the family you were born to is why I can relate to this man in almost every way.

This abuse over time makes you fearless, makes you brave and courageous, but also makes you numb to the beautiful sensations of this world. I sometimes wonder, if “Vellupillai” had taken a different path, that maybe things may have gone differently for him and his people and everyone of this country. On a personal level, the fact that I had enough spiritual merit to find myself in the path of ” The Dhamma” preached by Gauthama Buddha ,is is by far the only practise which helped me overcome the demons of my past. I believed that it helped me control the rage i had in me which had grown in me from the age of 2 when my father was brutally murdered at our doorstep. He was a lawyer who had decided to contest the elections in the deep South during the eighties when the country was dominated by killings all around.

But karma is karma.The more I live, learn and grow, the more I see that unfortunately or fortunately that all of us were meant to be here an exist in our characters, from the lover to the fighter , the killer to the healer, the Creator the preserver and the destroyer, that we all were meant to be here as we are, play the role we are ‘karmicly’ bound to act, and shall always fullfill the requirement according to our karmas to quote a late great poet “The world is a stage and we all must play our part”

My best friend in the present day and for the better part of my life is from the North of this ‘paradise island.’ And just as my family which is from the south who has always lived in the South, his family has always been living in the North since the beginning of existence.

We both went to the same school, but if not for the great game of Tennis, we would never have been so close to each other At the start, we were just two players. But the more time and knowledge we shared with each other, the closer we got to each other. Of course we had our falling outs as all friendship sometimes suffer, but these did not prevent the true growth of the friendship bond. This was more so because he was the so called pure Tamil and I the so called pure Sinhalese. Others had so many things to say about this unlikely combination, which only made us thrive harder to be better at what we did and indeed we did for many years. In all honesty the path I have chosen for my life and my future, and he for his life, and his future has been due to the restraint that this friendship has exercised on me. Similarly, minorities of the country keep the majority in check as they have never felt this entitlement we keep saying is ours.

But still games are being played by others in this land. “Unity” has become a business just as “Peace” and all that goes with it. “Loyalty” to one another is a farce which does not exist anymore. “Integrity”? Well, this chap left the building a very long time ago. A Dutch friend of mine told me the joke they use to crack in their college back in Netherlands, That if you put three Sri Lankans in a whole.. none of them will ever get out as just as one is almost getting out of the whole, without letting him go get a rope or help, the other two would just keep pulling him down. As much as I did not like the joke,  I had to agree as it is the plain and simple truth.

As a Tamil and a Sinhalese who literally spent all their lives or a better part of it together, to experience the growth of our relationship and at the same time to witness the absolute and utter disgraceful demise of the relationship between the majority in the country, from day to day and see it getting worse and worse is not a good experience. The guilt I felt as a Sinhalese and the resentment he had to have felt towards me during the early years when we first got to know each others was the hardest obstacle we had to overcome. But we did not let it alter our perception of each other and we overcame it just as we did almost all our opponents on the Tennis court.

In the little I have achieved, the greatest achievement to me and which will always take precedent over everything I have achieved will be this friendship and the togetherness I have with this so called Alien Tamil, who apparently, according to most, should not be here. I am a Sinhalese who would die for my brother who is a Tamil if needed, for I see more clearly and evidently than ever before, the sins, “prima facie” of some of my so called people who went out of their way to try an ensure the end of a race through torture and abuse, just as Hitler did with the Jews.

Though he lost his way from the original vision he would have had for his people, “Vellupillai” was a necessary occurrence which had to have existed in this place we call Paradise.

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  • 11
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    Vellupillai – a necessary evil in Sri Lanka, – a stupendous beginning.

    This world, in all fairness, is such a wonderful place, – Indisputable.

    “Rage” just as “Love” can never be engineered, – Reflecting a deep mind.

    … abuse over time makes you fearless, makes you brave and courageous, but also makes you numb to the beautiful sensations of this world, – a nugget of Wisdom

    … Though he lost his way from the original vision he would have had for his people, – uninhibited understanding of reality.

    NB: You are eternal proof that good prose is as effective as poetry.

    Daham Rathnayake, May the good Lord bless you.

    • 4
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      Whose Lord? Christian, Islamic or the many gods of Hindu, Greek and Roman pantheons are blessing him? But it is a lovely piece of prose. As an Agnostic I do not need blessings from human imaginations but it is indeed a lovely piece of work.

  • 0
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    It may be that human life started arbitrarily on planet earth and we all come together by a freak accident,
    The S’s and the T’s in this island are an example. Who knows?
    Man’s instinct for survival is deep rooted, perhaps that’s the reason why his drive to find direction ends in conflicts and his talk about love, peace, democracy, compassion finally ends up as just rubbish.

  • 4
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    This gobbledegook could have been put in a short and simple way:

    Ethnic minorities have been oppressed politically + economically + socially + culturally( = psychologically) from the time of independence till now(oppression didn’t stop with the end of war in 2009 but continues to this day. Man has a very strong sense of belonging to his ”group”- sometimes ethnic, sometimes religious, ….

    Federal Party(formed in 1949) was the most popular party by far among the Tamils and tried non-violent forms of struggle to get justice and equality. When they all failed they began to voice peacefully for separation and formed Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF) along with the minor Tamil parties in 1976. In 1977 elections they received overwhelming support from Tamils.

    Some youth tend to respond to oppression in a violent way, esp when they learn that non-violent ways of their parents have not worked out. Thus Tamil youth formed armed groups in mid-1970s – Prabhakaran’s group wiped out all the other armed groups in the 1980s – I am amused to find that the author has used the name Velupillai instead of Prabhakaran.

    You were lucky to have been born a Sinhalese and Prabhakaran was unfortunate to have been born a Tamil. I’m sure your father was not murdered because he was a Sinhalese(Was he murdered because he spoke against the injustice to the Tamils?)

    Well before TULF and armed groups emerged there were lone voices among Tamil politicians for separation but they were all ignored by the voters till 1977. Tamils thus overwhelmingly supported federalism till 1976.

    • 4
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      List any big nation where Ethnic minorities and specially indigenous people or black people have not got a shitty deal? If you justify LTTE terrorism them African American people should have justified war and suicide bombs too; In fact for what they had to undergo by law they could have started a civil war and used suicide bombers too. But instead they resorted to Christian values. Yet they are today in a far worse place than most other minorities in S.Asia.. Also talk about Native Americans and the First people in Canada or the Aborigenes in Australia. Should they resort to terrorism and suicide bombers?

      • 4
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        Dear Kalaveddha,
        ” Yet they are today in a far worse place than most other minorities in S.Asia.”
        Really? Please tell us ignorant people how many Tamils have become President or Prime minister in Sri Lanka? How many Muslims or Hindus?
        If you want to compare, compare with India.

      • 1
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        Pl read the WHOLE of my post if and when you have time.

  • 7
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    Dear Daham

    A touching tribute to the power of friendship and the need for racially integrated schools.

    The experience of the Tamil child growing up in a majoritarian Sinhalese environment, is not very different from what other types of minorities live. For example a gay person would say the same thing.

    Although some amongst us would like to label us and think of us as completely different, we are in fact one and the same – regardless of label.

    Hope saner minds and warmer hearts than in the past prevail in the future of this tiny island, so we create a true paradise here.

    Peace

  • 7
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    I salute you, Daham for your humanism and your desire not to do that to another which you do not wish another to inflict upon you. That destructive virus of communalism has not contaminated you, mercifully. Funny, looks like Sir Ivor Jennings had this in mind when that wonderful man created 29C. How I wish there were many Sinhalese and Tamils like you – when this country can be, in the words of that magnificent singing group of decades gone by – The Platters – who sang “Heaven on Earth” in such magnificence.

    If the tribe of Sinhalese grows to the extent the late Ven. Sobita Thero may have had in mind, in his 2nd coming in the 2,000s, then there is indeed hope for all of us in Sri Lanka – in our own life time. This is so inclusive and qualitatively different to the divisiveness that grew by leaps and bounds from the mid-1950s. Sadly, and to strike a discordant note, the system produces more Elle Gunawansa’s and Gnanassaras than Sobita Theros; more Dinesh G’s than Mangala S’s; more Pavithra W’s than CBKs.

    But no matter, good friend, go ahead in your splendid course. May your tribe grow fast and in great number.

    Kettikaran

    • 4
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      and more Prabakarans than Neelans, more Tamil Chelvams than Amirthalingams. more Pottu Ammans than Kadirgamars, more Nadesans than Sumanthirans….shall we go on and on?

      • 5
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        And more Kalaveddhas too, sadly.

        • 0
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        • 0
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          Yusuf:

          Which part of Saudi Arabia you are from ?

          • 2
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            Jim, Which part of Apeland are you from?

          • 0
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  • 8
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    Vellupillai was a side effect of constant marginalization and betrayal. Its called cause and effect. Its ironic the so called “Sinhala-Buddhists” nationalists can’t grasp this concept. “Cause and effect” is one of the core principles in Buddhism.

    How long do you think a group of people can tolerate pain and suffering? Eventually, even the most innocent of people will take up violence. The sole responsibility for the creation of the LTTE is with the “Sinhala-Buddhists” nationalists and not anyone else.

  • 4
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    The day I can live in the north and feel no difference is the day I will agree with u ! The racial bias propagated by terrorism has left its scars and true peace and reconciliation cannot be achievers by the retributive justice demanded by UN “war crime” allegations.

  • 2
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    Vellupillai is a product of Tamil Separatist Ideology. Not related to sinhala-tamil relations. In 1930s separatism started. Even before SJV Chelvanayagam. Vellupillai was a product of telling one thing to the common man (low caste) and the behaviour of the so called Tamil elites (Vellala)…They ALWAYS point to the Sinhalese as the root cause to the common man whilst benefitting what is offered by the Sinhala people and the GoSL. This is how it is. Then a reactionary force comes from the common man destroying the elites as well as the sinhalese. As he hates both….I don’t know which one is hated more than the other……..

    NO matter what Sinhala-Buddhist people did the Tamil will want Northern and Eastern Provinces majority Tamil owned.

    Whilst at the same time enjoying Sinhala land in other parts of Sri Lanka.

    Simple solution is to create Sinhale for Sinhalese and certain Tamil region for Tamils in Northern Province and certain areas of Eastern Province. Leave the Tamils alone in their region and we min ours

    Sinhale will be under Sinhala-Buddhist control only.

    • 5
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      ‘NO matter what Sinhala-Buddhist people did the Tamil will want Northern and Eastern Provinces majority Tamil owned.’

      This point is very true and has not been mentioned before. I once visited Jaffna in the Sixties long before the war. Everybody was very polite but you are made to feel an outsider, a tourist. You could visit, you could even stay and start a small business if you want to, but just remember your place. You will never belong, this land is ours, and ours alone.

      • 4
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        Total nonsense Atticus. You felt as an outsider because you could not speak the language and its your perception that is all. There were many businesses Sinhala owned existed in Jaffna. They monopolised the baking industry for a start. Get real!

        • 2
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          You are wrong about this. I was there remember, you weren’t. There is absolutely no doubt that the Jaffna Tamil considers the North his alone.

          • 5
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            I grew up there and I know for sure that the baking industry was dominated by the Sinhala! The language is the major issue that makes one feels alien; your ignorant is a bliss!

          • 8
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            Atticus

            Aren’t you happy that they unlike the Sinhala/Buddhists noisy minority don’t claim the entire island for themselves?

    • 2
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      sinhala_voice

      “NO matter what Sinhala-Buddhist people did the Tamil will want Northern and Eastern Provinces majority Tamil owned.”

      The Sinhala/Buddhist noisy minority of course want to grab the entire island for themselves.

      • 1
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        NV

        “NO matter what Sinhala-Buddhist people did the Tamil will want Northern and Eastern Provinces majority Tamil owned.”

        And the rest Sinhala owned. The problem is Tsmils want both. A “Tamil Homeland” will mean A TAMIL HOMELAND.

        Native, you must have noticed that I am the only Sinhalese who supports the idea of a Tamil Homeland.

        Soma

        Soma

        • 2
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          somaaaasss

          “Native, you must have noticed that I am the only Sinhalese who supports the idea of a Tamil Homeland. “

          Have you noticed I am the only non Sinhala/Tamil who supports your Sinhala/Buddhist ghetto?

  • 5
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    I have had the good fortune of knowing Daham and interacting with him.
    Please reflect on this – all the problems in the world are due to the fact that there is lack of love for one another. Moment we start following -“Love all Serve all, Help ever hurt never” the world will become a much better place to live in.
    If a Doctor’s,Engineers /Singers etc child doesn’t become a doctor /engineer /singer by virtue of being born to one,but, has to study to become one, why should this not be applicable to religion?

  • 3
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    Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, burger, Christian. These are all just labels created by some to control, divide and manipulate. Wake up , evolve and realise that being labeled and acting as a Srilankan or a human being is more beneficial and powerful to the majority. Religion and labels should be rejected if Sri Lanka is to fully prosper.

    Srilanka may be proud of its literacy levels. Although being literate doesn’t equal being educated or informed.

    • 6
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      Suda ata

      “Srilanka may be proud of its literacy levels. Although being literate doesn’t equal being educated or informed.”

      Please note educated or informed does not mean wise.

      Education is not = Wisdom
      Information does not make one wise.

  • 0
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    Wasn’t Velupillai his father’s name ? I am nit picking here on an otherwise excellent article.

  • 5
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    It is indeed a heart rendering story, written on the wane of love among and in our society. A nation is built not just by bricks and mortars but by people like Daham.
    It is the power hungry men and woman in all walks of life and especially the called social elites, who propound the theology of hate for a divide and rule axiom. This is not unique to this land of paradise, I must hasten to ink.
    I personally feel that the introduction of so called “swabasha” in the in mid 50s by SWRD, was the beginning of the end. Having said, it was the beginning of the end; it could have been the end of the beginning, if our political masters of both the ethnic divide, had wanted too.
    I grew up in a country among the Sinhalease majority, where we were in the same school studying and playing to gather. This is not rocket science. Indeed , broadening of perspectives of human life, makes it clear that the real interest of the self lies, only in the interest of others. The common thread is compassion and dedication for the service of our fellow men and women. Where has compassion gone in the land of Dharma , I ask myself. The truth is it is there; which is unique to the human race but we engineer and manipulate it, to the greater good of a few.
    Sri Lanka has an unique chance with the so called “Unity Government” in power, to pave the way for peaceful and vibrant co-existence. May be, I am too much of an optimist!
    I leave with a quote:
    “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far we can go” T.S.Eliot

  • 1
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    My understanding is that the very rigidly enforced caste system also led to the marginalization , degradation and humiliation of Tamils by Tamils in the North and elsewhere .

  • 3
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    Very well written prose with a profound meaning and a deeper message. Are we not all human? Do we not all love, bleed, care, or even hate the same way? Whilst we squabble over S n T dogma, the rest of the world laughs! We are one people, one nation. Both the Ts and the Ss should realize that. We are Sri Lanka. Ask any white man they can hardly tell the difference. I’m Sinhalese and out of my top three Sri Lankans of all time Two Tamils top the list, Mr. 800 Murali and the genius Mr Kandiragama, Arjuna being the third! Brilliant article Daham, I hope your message resonates and reach all Sri Lankans! Well done mate. More of you and Sri Lanka still has a beakon of hope.

  • 0
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  • 2
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    Thank you Daham for opening your heart. It is a temple decked with beautiful thoughts.

    Why the hell do the Lankan politicians go all the way to Indian temples? The Gods over there seem to be interested in getting richer. The devotees follow the same path!

    There must be other Dahams on both sides of the language/religious divide. Please give us hope.

  • 0
    0

    K Pillai
    What do we see here?
    There is a rare voice of sanity. Then just one or two voices of appreciation.
    But other voices dominate to discuss anything but what deserves to have been discussed positively.

    Thank you for your effort to restore some sanity.
    Sadly, I cannot promise you luck.

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