At the beginning of his response to my article “Reading Against the Grain: Notes On Wigneswaran’s Speech on the National Question,” Dayan Jayatilleka poses a couple of questions:
If an ethnic group which accounts for 4% -10% of the populace is defined as a nation, just how small does an ethnic group have to be, to be recognised as a national minority or minority nationality? Are there no such entities as minorities, in the Chief Minister’s scheme of things?
These questions revolve around recognition. But what needs to be understood is that recognition here happens in relation to a state that claims to treat all of its people equally. Recognizing a group of people as minorities in relation to the state implies recognizing another group as the majority in relation to the state. Refusing to recognize a 4%-10% of the populace as nation in relation to the state implies recognizing a group with a higher population as nation in relation to the state. In each of these arguments, the ‘in-relation-to-the-state’ part is important. All these acts of recognition undermine equality. Thus, what we have is an uneven state, a state that privileges its nation(s) over its minorities. By framing a group of people as minority in the name of state reforms the state can continue to privilege the nation over the minorities. To put it differently, for the state to function as a site that offers privilege to its nation(s), minorities are necessary. Tamils may want to advance their struggle as minorities, but in so doing they expect that post-struggle or post-revolution, they will definitely not have to live as minorities. If they live so, the state still remains an oppressive state and their struggle has not ended (By stating that there were no minorities, President Rajapaksa tried to put an end to the minorities’ struggle at the end of the war and preserve the state as it was). Wherever there are minorities, the struggle for liberation is alive there. It is a struggle that is taking place everywhere in the world, though its modalities and intensity may vary from place to place.
If Dayan Jayatilleka’s questions anticipate that struggling minorities should always consider themselves as minorities, then the questions accept that the state can associate itself with one nation, or community, or people in a way that offers a place of privilege to that nation or community or people. They also anticipate that the state can somehow make everybody (including Tamils) feel happy by asking the Tamils to imagine themselves as part of the state as minorities but without dis-identifying itself with Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. In other words, the state would identify itself with Tamils as minorities and with Sinhala-Buddhists as a normative (unmarked for either majority or minority) group of people. Identification happens here unequally. Tamils won’t feel happy this way. And justifiably so. Rejecting this model of state as solution, Tamil nationalism comes up with a narrative, determined partly by the compulsions of international law and partly by contestable historical, geographic and cultural accounts, that Tamils are a nation with territories but without a state. Some versions of this narrative want a separate state, whereas others—almost all shades of Tamil nationalist politics operating within the island—want a federal unit under a pluralist state that recognizes the Tamils as a nation with the right to self-determination. When the national question is discussed, they hardly demand the state to dis-identify itself with Sinhala Buddhist nationalism, though they would say that the character of the state is Sinhala-Buddhist. Nationalism—whether it is separatist or pluralist or multi-culturalist or hegemonic or counter-hegemonic—desires identification with a state or a territory. In their haste to legitimize themselves or identify themselves with a state or a territory, liberal versions of nationalism affirm other people’s nationalisms or produce nationalisms for others as well. After the revolution, becoming part of the state (country, sub-unit of governance), nationalism continues to divide communities and perpetuates isolationism among them. For a non-divisive pluralism or multiculturalism or multi-lingualism to flourish, the state has to dis-identify at all its levels. Then we may see the beginning of the disappearance of minorities from discourses around the state.
Brother Bernard And The National Question by C.V. Wigneswaran
Wigneswaran’s ‘Two Nations’ & The State’s Two Blunders by Dayan Jayatilleka
Reading Against The Grain: Notes On Wigneswaran’s Speech On The National Question by Mahendran Thiruvarangan
Response To Mahendran Thiruvarangan On The CM’s Chinthana by Dayan Jayatilleka