By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
Educating Serasinghe: the politics of denigrating Sinhala-Buddhists – Part III
The controversy with Ms. Sharmini Serasinghe began when she initially challenged the Sinhala-Buddhists to show what they had achieved which the others haven’t. In reply it was pointed out that the Sinhala-Buddhists had made three great contributions: 1. a new language; 2. a new culture and 3, a new civilization. Obviously, this revelation stunned her because she was educated just enough to know / believe that the Sinhalese were a bunch of gamaralas in loin cloth who had not achieved anything noteworthy in their history. Her ignorance of the monumental contributions of the Sinhala-Buddhists was exposed when she dismissed the Sinhala-Buddhists as having marched through 2500 years of history to produce only some “archaeological ruins and edifices”. According to her 2500 years of history has produced nothing else but bricks, sticks and a heap of rubble.
This obviously must be the basis of her challenge because if she knew about the historic achievements she would never have asked the Sinhala-Buddhists to show what they had achieved, would she? The intent of her question was to downgrade the Sinhala-Buddhists as worthless failures. Even in this respect she was not making an original statement. She was merely repeating what G. G. Ponnambalam, the arch communalist, and Prof. C. Suntheralingam, the Vellahala caste fanatic, used to say long before she slipped into her mother’s womb as a slimy bit of jelly.
The denigration of the Sinhala-Buddhists has been a calculated ploy by the Tamil leaders and their bandwagon to gain political mileage for their racist agenda. It was adopted and pursued relentlessly as a deliberate political tactic by the Tamil leaders (1) to divide the Sinhalese and the Tamil communities; (2) to maintain the myth that the Tamils were superior to all other communities; (3) to get a lion’s share of jobs, power and privileges in the public service and, most of all, (4) to grab Tamil votes in the Jaffna electorate by blaming the Sinhala-Buddhists for the politico-cultural failures of the Vellahla leadership – the only political force in Jaffna – to reform and redeem the oppressed dalits, exploited day and night as slaves under the Vellahla fascist caste system. Stuck in the feudal caste system they refused to change and take the peninsula progressively into the 20th century with the rest of the nation. They were bent on retaining Jaffna as a separate entity protected by the ubiquitous cadjan curtain.
The English-educated Saivite Vellahla leadership resisted any changes to prevailing socio-economic structures / institutions of Jaffna because changes were a serious threat to their caste dominance. Prof. Bryan Pfaffenberger argued that the Vellahla leadership hated S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike more for passing the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act aimed at dismantling the oppressive caste system in Jaffna than for the Sinhala Only Act. To cover up their sins/failures as leaders of Jaffna they projected the Sinhala-Buddhists as the bogey man creeping in to swallow Tamil babies. The most expedient means available to the Vellahlas was to divert attention away from their crimes against their own people by playing the racist card. Blaming the Sinhala-Buddhist made them look like the saviours of the Tamils. In reality, the Vellahla leadership played the racist card to the hilt in order to save their caste supremacy and never had any serious agenda for the liberation of the oppressed Tamils. In fact, in the thirties, Ponnambalam Ramanathan went specifically to London on the holy mission of saving the caste system. He presented his case to the Colonial Office urging the British not to meddle with the caste system but to retain it as part of Jaffna traditions. This was not surprising because he was a leading disciple of Arumuka Navalar – the ideological high priest who restructured and anointed the Vellahlas as the highest caste in the hierarchy of the ruthless and vicious caste system of Jaffna. In the absence of the Brahmins in Jaffna he filled the vacuum in the caste hierarchy with the Vellahlas. It was this caste/class that ruled Jaffna with an iron fist. And the Vellahlas were ready to fight tenaciously to save the privileges, perks, position and their power to rule as subalterns – a power that gave them a sense of superiority as the chosen ones born to rule.
In the dying days of the British Raj the Vellahlas felt the serious impact of modernity making inroads into their sacred casteist society protected by the ubiquitous cadjan curtains. They knew that the end of the British Raj meant the loss of political patronage they derived from being His Majesty’s obedient servants. The alternative available was to grab more power before the British left through the incremental constitutional changes. It was then that Ponnambalam launched his 50 – 50 campaign in the thirties when the sun was setting over the British empire. Demanding 50% for 12% of the Tamils was “outrageous”. Ponnambalam’s ruse was to claim that 50% was for all minorities to make it look mathematically reasonable. But even then the total of minorities did not add up to 25%. Nor did the Muslims and Indian Tamils agree to this 50 – 50 demand. This was a demand of the Jaffna Tamils, by the Jaffna Tamils, for the Jaffna Tamils. This extreme demand was to replace the loss of political patronage which gave them the upper hand in colonial times. A mere 12% Jaffna Tamils were in a commanding position both in the administration and the legislature. And getting 50% of the share of power was the only way to compensate for the loss of British patronage.
But the historical imbalances left behind by all colonial regimes were destined to change under the new dispensations. The sole aim of Tamil politics was to resist changes to their feudal/colonial privileges. As a minority they were well-off with the historical imbalances that disadvantaged the majority and the others, including the low-caste dalits of Jaffna. On the eve of independence the English-educated, Saivite Jaffna Vellahlas constituted the most powerful priviligentsia who held commanding positions in the public and private sectors. This caste/class, which depended on British patronage, feared the departure of the colonial masters. As the sun of the British empire began to set the Tamils of the north began react aggressively. They perceived the Sinhala-Buddhist majority as the biggest threat to their commanding status in which they enjoyed a disproportionate share of positions, power and privileges which left the others way behind.
The rising aspirations and the political thrust of the post-independent period was to adjust the historical imbalances left behind by the colonial masters. It was a phenomenon common to all ex-colonies coming up as new nations. It was inevitable that the pendulum would swing back to reclaim the lost historical role of the people who lost most under colonialism. When the inevitable changes came the privileged Tamils cried foul and accused the majority of committing acts of “discrimination”. Ponnambalam was the pioneering Tamil leader who raised the cry of discrimination. When he took his complaints of “discrimination” before the Donoughmore Commissioners he could not prove his case. In the main, this cry was for the Tamils not only retain but also, if possible, go for a bigger share of jobs in the government service – the only growth industry in colonial times where the plantation economy thrived without any industrial expansion. The English-educated Saivite Jaffna Vellahlas who held a disproportionate share of jobs in the public service were naturally inclined to accept this slogan of “discrimination” because their dominance of the public service was threatened by the new entrants who would be more representative of the demography.
It was in this phase, when the Jaffna Tamils felt that their privileged position was threatened, that Ponnambalam launched the campaign to demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists. It was a vicious and provocative Tamil campaign that poisoned the prevailing communal harmony. For instance, the first race riots took place in 1939 in Nawalapitiya and the neighbouring towns of Maskeliya and Passara because Ponnambalam deliberately roused racist passions by attacking the Mahavamsa and ran down the Sinhalese as pariahs and hybrids, etc. Prof. Suntheralingam’s recurring theme in Parliament and in public was to condemn the Sinhalese repeating: “Sinhalaya modaya / Kavun kanda yodaya”.
So when Ms. Serasinghe and her mob attack the Sinhala-Buddhist culture in the same vein she is going down the same vicious path of demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists – a process that exacerbated the inter-ethnic relations in the post-independent period. Besides, parroting slavishly the racist politics of Ponnambalam and Suntheraligam has only led to hate politics and not to peaceful coexistence. The denigration of the Sinhala-Buddhists did irreparable damage to communal harmony, misleading the Tamils to believe that their problems were caused exclusively by the Sinhala-Buddhists, who were projected as their bitter enemies. It was also a calculated ploy of the Tamil leadership to divert attention from the Vellahla fascism of peninsular politics that systematically and ruthlessly oppressed dalits of Jaffna during the feudal and colonial times. Raising the Sinhala-Buddhists as the bogeyman helped the Tamil leadership to shift the blame to the demonised “other”. It divided the two communities into two hostile camps which prepared the ground for race riots to explode at the first drop of a kotta kelangu. Demonising takes away any inhibitions about attacking the “other”. After decades of demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists the Tamil leadership encountered no objections in declaring war against them in Vadukoddai Resolution. Eliminating the “enemy” through a military solution was quite reasonable in the eyes of the Tamils who believed in the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist propaganda manufactured by the Tamil leadership.
However, with all the bitter memories of the post-Vadukoddai violence that brought only misery to the Tamils in particular, the urgent need is for a fresh start to shed the fear-mongering politics of Ponnambalams and Suntheralingams. The Tamils have everything to gain – and they have gained in the past – when they worked together with the other communities. The first task for reconciliation is to debunk the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist myths. Prof. Rajan Hoole, Dr. Narendra Rajasingham and Dr. Noel Nadesan, author of the beautiful novelettte, Butterfly Lake, are a few of the rare individuals who have shown a willingness to challenge some of the Tamil myths and the fascist racism that ran all the way to Nandikadal. There is at this stage a need to go further and demolish the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist myths for both communities to come together in a spirit of genuine reconciliation because perpetuating the Ponnambalam-Suntheralingam racism, honed by Chelvanayakam and his Vadukoddai Resolution, is no longer the way forward for co-existence.
When the Tamil leaders at the highest level – unlike the lower-level ethnic leadership of the Sinhalese – ran amok raising racist slogans to downgrade Sinhalese as inferior beings, the moral humbugs, particularly those with painted faces in the South, agreed heartily. Tamil racist attacks were never condemned as vile venom spewed by racists, extremists, chauvinists etc., even though they poisoned the nation with bigoted politics of hate. Of course, every community has its share of virulent communalism. But the other communities did not take it to the extremes of the Tamil communalists. The Tamils were the first to establish a communal party – the Tamil Mahajana Sabahi in 1921. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike established the Sinhala Maha Jana Sabhai in 1936, as a counter to Ponnambalam’s “outrageous” racism.Second, in every move to change the Legislative Council under British rule the Tamils insisted on communal representation. Fortunately, the British constitutional reformers and other national leaders were opposed to it. Third, of all the communities, the Tamils were the only community to declare their racist war and commit the crime against peace with the passing of the Vadukoddai Resolution. Post-independent history has been one continuous saga of combating virulent Tamil racism, growing incrementally on S. J. V. Chelvanayakam’s dictum : “little now and more later.” Stunned mullets with glazed eyes are not educated enough to grasp or see these realities.
Once again Ms. Serasinghe has come out like a blind bat out of hell screaming at the Sinhala-Buddhists in her latest outburst. In it she shows signs of being a totally disoriented Bunkum Bimbo who can’t sustain her arguments. In her very first outburst she questioned the achievements of the Sinhala-Buddhists in the past. In my reply I pointed out that the Sinhala-Buddhists contributed (1) a new language, (2) a new culture and (3) a new civilisation. Unable to meet the incontrovertible evidence that speaks eloquently for the great achievements of the Sinhala-Buddhists she tries a fast one in her latest outburst : she attempts to dismiss those achievements as “archaeological ruins and edifices”.
Obviously, she is flummoxed. Having asked the question she does not know how to deal with the answer that has floored her. So she skips the past and jumps to the present. She says: “To excite these gullible, fantastic tales contained in the Mahavamsa, and the superiority of a 2500 year-old culture, the remnants of which today, stand as archaeological ruins and edifices, (much like the morals of the heirs to this ‘culture’), are upheld as the iconic achievements of the ultimate human race- the Sinhala-Buddhists. How this supreme race has failed in recent times, to live up to this lofty ‘culture’ is never spoken of.” The structure of this garbled sentence alone is sufficient to convey to the reader the confused state of mind of a nit-wit thrown off balance by an incontrovertible answer. And then she adds: “Whenever a Sinhalese with an inferiority complex coupled with a racist mindset finds himself stumped, this much hackneyed theme of a 2500-year old culture, and what our great kings of yore achieved, are brought to play. But, no reference is made to what the Sinhalese have achieved and contributed, to perpetuate this grandiose culture since independence.” To sum up, what she says is that the Sinhala-Buddhists have only some “archaeological ruins and edifices” and no culture.
Whom is she trying to kid? First she asks the Sinhala-Buddhists to show what they have achieved in the past and when that is shown she turns back and says that they are mere “archaeological ruins and edifices.” Then she blames the Sinhalese for not making reference to what the Sinhalese have achieved since independence. But this issue was never raised by her initially. It is when she was whacked for a six by the achievements of the past that she switched over to question the achievements of the post-independent phase. Had she asked the question earlier the answer would have been given. But first let me deal with Ms. Serasinghe’s idea of “culture”
The best she can come up with is to ask : “..(D)oes ‘culture’ mean mere, archaeological ruins and edifices only?” Now this kind of question can come only from a dumbo or a bimbo. Or both. Once again she confirms that she is capable of only asking asking stupid questions. For instance, does she think that a “new language” means “archaeological ruins and edifices”? Does the Chinese culture mean the bricks that went to build the Great Wall of China? Does the Christian culture mean Pope Alexander VI who organised bacchanalian orgies ending in incestuous relationship with his daughter, Lucrecia Borgia, or producing illegitimate children with his mistresses? And again, do we judge Christian civilisation by the acts of the President of America who says “God Bless America” after he had bombed the hell out of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or better still, is the Christian culture contained concisely in the words of President Obama’s pastor, Rev. Wright, who told his congregation in Chicago : “God damn America!”? If she has the slightest inkling of what culture and civilisation means she would not ask her stupid questions. I must also confess that it is bloody irritating to engage with dumb Bimbos because I have to start educating them from A, B,C….
For instance, it takes time to educate Ms. Serasinghe that archaeological ruins, edifices and other achievements of the past enhance the value of the majestic heritage of the past of any nation. All nations take great pride in the achievements of their ancestors. Enlightened scholars spend a life time studying these edifices and ruins which are some of the greatest treasures left behind by our ancestors for posterity. It is the ruins of the glorious past that inspire the present and the living in any culture. The living take off from the place left off by their ancestors, paying homage to the enlightened creators of their culture and civilisation. It is because the glorious ruins are inspirational guiding forces with the power to bond people that the Tamil leaders and their mouthpieces like Ms. Serasinghe continue to attack the Mahavamsa and the heritage of our kings. The Sinhala-Buddhists like any other nation with a heritage have a right to claim their past. Though it is irritating I am prepared to spend some time teaching Ms. Serasinghe the values of the past which have continued to guide the present to achieve remarkable “miracles” of the post-independent period. Just keep on reading Missie, and you will find yourself coming out at the end of it as a better educated woman than when you started asking stupid questions.
Lesson 1. The “Sinhala Governments”, as branded by the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist lobby, faced uprisings of Sinhala fascists in the JVP and the Tamil fascists of the north and crushed them both. These are great victories of the post-independent period because it preserved the democratic foundations laid by the Sinhala-Buddhist founding-fathers at Independence. These victories have protected and preserved the fundamental freedoms of all communities. Stabilising society and eliminating brutal violence were two moral and positive steps achieved to restore normalcy, peace and, to some measure, serene joy and emotional piety.
Lesson 2. The “Sinhala Governments” crushed the Right-wing coup of the Westernised, anti-Sinhala-Buddhist officers and once again snuffed out a dictatorship of military officers, reinforcing democracy and safeguarding the rights of all individuals. This too was a moral and positive step taken to promote serene joy and emotional piety. Mark you, in the current global agenda stabilising societies, overthrowing Pol Pots, and restoring and democracy are listed as the highest achievements. Restoring and reinforcing democracy throughout the nation by eliminating the Tamil Pol Pot have been hailed as great achievements by the world plagued by terrorism of the fascist dictators.
Lesson 3: The vilified “Sinhala Governments” fought all violent uprisings and coups within the democratic framework without resorting to the excessive powers to suppress the fundamental rights of the people. Other developing countries faced with similar threats crumbled like a pack of cards and were taken over by authoritarian rulers.
Lesson 4: The “Sinhala Governments” have maintained a welfare state under the most trying circumstances arising out of wars, coups, labour and student unrest, tsunamis, floods, droughts etc. Mark you, these were achieved despite the fact that all post-independent governments were hampered by limited resources and with an income below the poverty line until recently.
Lesson 5 : The “Sinhala Governments” changed hands non-violently, introducing radical changes to bring the nation in line with the needs of the 21st century, even though with tardiness and infirmities that need refinements.
Lesson 6: The “Sinhala Governments” defeated the deadliest terrorist of the world who boasted that they were the invincible force that defeated the Fourth largest of the Army of the world, India.
Lesson 7: The “Sinhala Governments” liberated roughly 300,000 Tamils who were held hostage as a human shield by the fascist Pol Pot of Asia, Velupillai Prabhakaran. Which Tamil leader dared to save the Tamils from their Tamil despot?
Lesson 8: After defeating the fascist Pol Pot of Vanni the “Sinhala Governments” democratised the entire nation – the highest ideal of the greatest power on earth, America, though they have failed in Iraq after ten years and wasting over $60 billion.
Lesson 9 : The “ Sinhala Governments” gave Tamils their first elected regional body to govern their region with their chosen representatives. This is the first time in the history of the Tamils that they were given the opportunity to elect their own rulers by exercising their own free will. Which other Tamil ruler, who had ruthlessly oppressed and suppressed the Tamils through feudal and colonial times, ever gave them that right? Which other Tamil ruler gave them the respect and the dignity to stand up as liberated individuals in the eyes of the free world? Which other Tamil leader / ruler liberated the Tamils from the tyranny of Asia’s most cruel Pol Pot? Did not 27,000 Sinhalese soldiers sacrifice their lives to liberate the Tamils and give them their due dignity to live as free men and women?
Lesson 10. For the first time in the history of the Tamils the Tamil language was written into the statue books as the official language of the state when the “Sinhala Government” of S. W. R.D. Bandaranaike passed the Special Language Provisions Act.
Lesson 11: The biggest boast of John Kerry and Samantha Power in international fora is the great triumph of democracy in Sri Lanka and our local Missie wants to know what we have achieved in the post –independent era.
Lesson 12 : The “Sinhala Governments” set a record, recognised even by the UN, for delivering food, medicine and other existential essential to a rebel-held territory.
Lesson 13 : The IDP camps (example Manik Farm) set up by the “Sinhala governments” had two hospitals – one by the Indians and the other by Sri Lankan doctors. It had schools, shops, clean water from the Malvatu Oya, training centres, special teachers flown from Colombo schools for Tamil students sitting for A Level exams. Of the 26 million IDPs scattered in various parts of the globe these camps were the best. The facilities made available to the IDPs were not provided by the Tamil state of Eelam which held them as hostages.
And last but not the least (14) wasn’t it “the saffron robed brigade” led by Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, that “saved democracy” on January 8th, 2015, according to NGOs, and Ms. Serasinghe? Wasn’t he vilified and even demonised on the cover page of a book of a Tamil propagandist, going by the name of S. J. Tambiah? Wasn’t he condemned like the way the other political active monks are condemned today? Didn’t the demonised Sinhala-Buddhism all of a sudden became a lauded moral force the moment “the saffron robed brigade” aligned itself with the American embassy? Didn’t the West, NGOs, pseudo-intellectuals, hired academics, et al, enthusiastically hailed the role of the “saffron robed brigade” which they said “saved the nation” from Ms. Serasinghe’s “dictator”? If, for instance, the BBS join Ms. Serasinghe’s mob today won’t they be elevated to sainthood tomorrow?
In a last minute desperate move didn’t all those who vilify Sinhala-Buddhism rally round the Sinhala-Buddhist icon of Ven. Sobitha because the Westernised elite like Ranil Wickremesinghe and his side-kick, Chandrika Kumaranatunga were not acceptable to the people? Was it possible for Ms. Serasinghe’s “aapa government” to come into power without the active politics of “saffron robed” Sobitha? Where would the “aapa government” be today if, as demanded by Ms. Serasinghe, Ven. Sobitha walked into the forest and meditated instead of supporting the change of government, eh Missie? Wasn’t it the kind of active Buddhism that she vilifies that “saved the nation”, eh Missie? This makes me wonder whether our Sera Missie can hold two thoughts together in her pin-head and think straight on any given issue! Is the “saffron brigade” great to Ms. Serasinghe only when it marches with America and not with Norway? Her cheap chicanery indicates that she may be able to argue more coherently if she keeps her knickers between her legs instead of twisting it round her head! Though she is tearing her hair moaning about the low levels to which the moral have sunk has she bothered to consider her own morals? (See PS below)
The list of Sinhala-Buddhist achievements in the post-independent period can be detailed further. But I will stop at this to emphasize that the democratic institutions and traditions succeeded, against all odds outlined above, because the Buddhist culture has been a dynamic, protective and positive force. Prof. A. J. Wilson in his early work argued that democracy put it roots down in Sri Lanka soil because it was fertilized by the Buddhist culture. One can be always certain that the democratic traditions and institutions reinforced by Buddhism will live long after the paint on Ms. Serasinghe face has vanished.
Like the way she challenged the Sinhala-Buddhists to show their greatness, either before or after independence, I too wish to challenge her to show the achievements of the others, particularly those who denigrate the Sinhala-Buddhists. How have the others shown their greatness in pursuing universal principles, surpassing narrow communalism, to co-exist peacefully? If the ultimate aim is to create a diverse universe for multi-cultural entities to co-exist peacefully can it be achieved with only Sinhala-Buddhists clapping with one hand while the “others” are doing their damnedest to chop off even that hand? Using her own criteria, can she tell us what the “others” have achieved to beat the achievements of the Sinhala-Buddhists, either before or after independence? After all, the Tamils also ran a state with their police, courts and the other paraphernalia of a state, and with foreign diplomats parading in Vanni. Besides, she too should be able to tell us because she too had to deal with her ideal state when she was at the Peace Secretariat, no Missie?
In the meantime, Aney, Missie, can you tell us how this non-Sinhala-Buddhist state, like the non-Buddhist school you praised after leaving Vishaka, performed to raise human values, dignity and freedom to your ideal levels? Or is it that only the Sinhala-Buddhists who had preserved democratic traditions for the well-being of all (as stated above) should be held accountable while the others are allowed to run amok violating and destroying all known principles and norms for decent and peaceful co-existence, eh Missie?
PS: Taking the high moral ground she asks: “What are those today, crowing about this glorious and ancient culture trying to prove, when the very heirs to this ‘culture’ stand, as beacons of miserable failure, in upholding the morals and ideals of such?
In these censorious statements she poses as the defender of pure morals and pure Buddhism. But shouldn’t she at least occasionally pause to examine her own moral culture? Isn’t she like the mother who abandons her only child and then starts preaching about the glories of motherhood? To what kind of a culture does she belong if as a mother she abandons her only child? The way she attacks Buddhism is like a mother attacking her child – the most loved thing in the world. But then her Buddhism is tainted with hate – hate as bitter as that of a mother who would not even grace her son’s wedding. If this doesn’t prick her conscience this should at least ring a bell, no Missie?
*To be continued..