17 April, 2024


Should Minorities Remain Minority Forever? A Response To Dayan Jayatilleka’s Response

By Mahendran Thiruvarangan –

Mahendran Thiruvarangan

Mahendran Thiruvarangan

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.

Related posts;

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

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Latest comments

  • 7

    I was there when EPRLF CM Varatha and his goons declared UDI at Trincomalee Town council grounds. How did he support the “Nation identity of Tamils then”.

    This DJ was part of the goons travelled around Trincomalee in a brand new Nissan air-conditioned car. I would say only 4% of all Tamils supported Varatha and his goons of their antiques. No one else supported them because they were thieves, murderers and corrupt bandits. Our great Doctor was part of that daylight robbers. For example, who killed a famous Dental surgeon by throwing bolder on his head.? Who killed disabled son of Trincomalee AGA? All by former CMs goons.

    DJ now writes eloquently does not mean his past is clean.

  • 9

    Dayan Jayatilleka nothing less than a racist Sinhale, who want to hide the whole truth behind the ant.

  • 5

    Why wasting your time replying to a DJ?


  • 6

    Dr. DJ’s brain is rusted with Gota’s and Mahinda’s Ghost principles. He wants understand about equality. Sinhalese are minority compare to Tamils and they are not entitle to own a state or a nation.

  • 4

    I really liked both your article and response.

    what I really liked about this response and your previous write up is the idea that minorities and nations are all about a certain amount dreaming and subjectivity. What is a minority and what are nations? There is a contradiction in classifying one as nation and the other a minority. What is a nation, but the dominant community, ethnicity wise. So some are nations and others minorities.But such a narrative enables the dreaming of a minority to attain nation status and desire a state, disassociated from being a minority as the majority is defined as a nation.

    My only query to you here is:you seem to repose too much faith in the state cleansed of the nation’s inequalities. I think you could problematize the state even further. Now, if we look at how nation states are made structurally, we can say that it is about receiving and remaking the individual as citizen and that’s how the state works politically and maintains hegemony. That’s how majoritarianisms of both sinhala and tamil hues work.

    So, what you are saying is that there is a problem withe the idea of nation. Then what about the state. I think in your response here, there could be a further problematization of the state itself.
    How does a state treat ‘its’ people equally. Vigneswaran’s counter narrative of nation and state cannot do that. Dayan Jayatilleke’s positivist international relations paradigm cannot do it either. The state intends to discriminate. At times such a move fails dramatically and tragically for itself and others. On the other hand, the state can extend its hegemony and interpellation processes to a larger section of the communities it incorporates within its boundaries. To do that, it needs to be more confident of its own national “majorities,” and the Sri Lankan state is not confident of anybody’s trust today as its disenfranchising them mightily on a daily basis. For that it has had to to invent itself as Sinhala Buddhist all the time.

    If the state treats tamils, muslims and all people, including sinhala people, equally, you are talking about it only in terms of ethnicity. Knowing that is not what you meant, i want to push the issue further. The state cannot treat any of these people equally anytime. It is a process of gaining recognition and responsibility that are already predicated on your class, ethnicity, gender and other structural inequalities. Now where is our critique of the state? This is the dilemmma facing you and me today. [ i hope I did not misunderstand you. ]

  • 1

    ” Should Minorities Remain Minority Forever? ”

    Not if planned well.

    In Britain it is feared that within two generations the native Britons will become a minority. This is due to the breeding patterns of the newly arrived populations and the free social amenities available to large families, even if the father/mother is unemployed. In addition multiple wives are a reality, and this magnifies the problem.

    Christianity will disappear altogether. The locals are today up in arms

  • 1


    I agree with your point that that the state cannot treat any of these ethnicized people equally at any time, as these people are produced in multiple ways (class, ethnicity, gender). The national question is then also about other questions. I completely agree with you on this. And as you say, it is also a process. Thanks for engaging!

  • 3

    Please allow me to free you from this misery. A nation I suppose is a subjective thing. In a way it tries to connect a culture and ethnicity to its physical enviorenment.

    Tamils are not a nation in the island becuase Tamil did not originate here. Tamil ethnicity did not evolve in the island from its inception. Tamil ethnicity was imported. Now, some can say “Jaffna Tamil” is a unique dialect. There are English dialects all around the world in Australia and Canada etc. Although the homeland of the English in England. Similarly, homeland of your culture is Tamil Nadu.

    The only indegenous cultures in the island of Sri Lanka is Veddah and Sinhala. Both are indegenous simply becuase its origin and evolution occured within the island. Veddah is a nation and so are the Sinhalas.

  • 5


    It is said that the Sinhala race originated in north/eastern India, though those roots have long been lost. So according to your definitions, only the Veddah ethnic group are the authentic nation of the island called Lanka.

  • 0

    Can some one enlighten me:

    – what powers does the State have that a Nation does not?
    – does having a nationhood equate to autonomy or “self determination”
    – what are some specific examples of actions taken by some group that tries “self-determination”?
    – Can Israel continue to be a “Jewish” state when demographics change to a majority of inhabitants being non-Jews?

    Side note:
    – the US still considers itself a white Christian state, but the actual demographics are changing pretty fast, and more and more non-whites are gaining power within the traditional power structure. This definitely will change the country. But yet, we do not see a significant majority of people scared of or resistant to that change.

    Why is that?

    • 0

      ‘State’ is a government of a region and its peoples.
      ‘Nation’ is a group of people with commonalities.
      US has elected the very first ‘black president’ and this has entrenched the equality of all its citizens.US has no ‘official’ religion.
      The Rule of Law ensures these values.

  • 1

    Do you know that a very small number of native Indians are given a separate land for their use and to foster their culture in the USA. Where do you find your theory that if Tamils are less than 10 percent then they cannot be considered a nation.

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