By Mano Ratwatte –
We all look alike, exclusionary rights, Language and the “R” word
We do look alike and probably are both Dravidian
The notion that Sinhalese are Aryan is probably not based on evolution, reality or science. This writer recalls attending a lecture by the distinguished Professor Siran Deraniyagala in 1996 and applauding loudly when he said that if a Genome mapping of a random sample of Sinhalese and Tamils was ever done, that we would probably find the same common ancestry; couldn’t agree more. ( Could someone in Sri Lankan academic circles please tell the Colombo Telegraph readership if Sri Lanka participated in the global genome mapping/DNA project?
The Sinhalese and Tamils both look alike. Think about it. We are both represented by the same hues of brown pigmentation to varying degrees and of other similar phenotypic traits. Some of us have very dark skins and others are much lighter. Some individuals have curly hair in both racial groups and others have straight hair (all genetic traits). Perhaps some Tamils and some Sinhalese are fairer than others because they have different ancestral traits? Perhaps both groups also have Malayali ancestry? Perhaps some are taller than others again, but on the whole both Sinhalese and Tamils fall into the category meant by the “Ya’ll look alike” phrase that White people use to describe all people of color. I feel we all do look alike because our common ancestors probably came from the same regions of India.
The concern expressed is that unlike Tamil language which has over a 100 million adherents, Sinhalese is a small ethno-linguistic group. I was stuck with this similarity to Dravidian languages in the Sinhala script the first time I took the Grand Trunk Express from New Delhi to Madras in 1981 and the train passed through many different states in India(each a distinct ethnic group); I was fascinated at the language diversity there and as we passed Andra Pradesh; I sort of saw a strange resemblance in the script to Sinhala. Sinhala is a unique language and culture no doubt about it. The language itself has Pali/Sanskrit origins but even its script looks more round like either Telugu or Malayalam than Hindi or Urdu. There are also similarities to Thai – which makes sense, as Buddhist scriptures are a common resource to both cultures. Sinhala words and phrases sound more Hindi like in contrast to Tamil. To share a little sample of that use the word :Amma. Some of the phonetics appear similar to South Indian languages more than either Bengali, Hindi or Urdu.
In such a world, where people are basically alike whilst just being separated by a twist of language, what is there to kill each other with such gusto?
Having lived for a few years amongst tall big made Sikhs, it is clear that the Sikhs, like the Pathans and Sindhis, Kasmiris and North Indians are of Indo-Aryan heritage. These races are bigger and taller than the Sinhalese and Tamils;it is more than likely that the Sinhalese and Tamils are of a common Dravidian heritage interspersed also with ancestry from Eastern Indian(Aryo-Dravidian?) states of Bihar, Orissa, Bengal and Kerala as well.
It doesn’t matter what that ancestry is anyway. How does what happened millenniums ago apply to 2015? The Kings and Royalty in Kandy were linked to Kerala. Buddhism was revived with help from Siam and Burma. The roots don’t really matter that much.
At school , this writer recalls some students insulting and teasing the so called Kandyan people, alluding their fairness to “hospitality to whites” during the occupation of the hill country, as per Robert Knox’s narrative of his days in Kandy. But how can one be labeled a Kandyan if one was born and raised in Colombo? There are some areas of Kandy known for families with distinct European traits including lighter colored eyes. Wherever those genes came from, it happened 250 years ago right? Some Tamils are of much lighter skin tone too; perhaps there was some of that “hospitality” there too.
What is the point of claiming to be proud of being Kandyan or Brahmin Hindu or Vellala or Govigama or this or that race or sub group in the context of today’s complex world? To further demarcate boundaries? To claim some mythical relevance to the soil one happens to reside on? All this is only for “us” but rest is for all ? What good is it to put one group down for the same reasons? What is this point of using insults about the people from the South? If I am not mistaken Tiger Tamil terrorism was defeated eventually by leadership given by the people of the south not Kandy! The LTTE leadership themselves hailed from the so-called “lower” classes, not the landowning pseudo-aristocracy that spawned the separatist movement.
Reality is that a lasting political settlement needs to account for the concerns of all groups concerned. The concerns of the minority who feel their identity is threatened is legitimate. We have to somehow forge a national consensus, not bully everyone into submission and impose foreign made solutions such as the forcible merger of the East with the North without any historical or societal justification. That was a principal demand of the Tamil Tigers and their calls for a lebensraum, not dissimilar to the way Hitler used the German language as an excuse for expanding the boundaries of his state. Will the global community ever acquiesce to a small, densely populated, poor nation, carving out 45% of its land mass and 60% of its coastal land for a racially exclusionary separate nation for a 12% minority of its population? “that is exclusively ours” but rest is for everyone?”
Can a racially exclusive land carved out of one part of a small-overcrowded island nation for just one ethno-linguistic group or an ethno-religious group survive when most of the people seeking exclusivity live in rest of the island? Will such a nation be viable when almost all its resources are from outside? Would this sort of ethnic division work?
It’s very easy to throw the “Racism” card at people of a majority. On the other hand, if a minority argues for exclusionary rights, it is not considered racist. It is not equality that is the issue here. It is equitable access to the resources to develop human capital to its best potential,that is the fundamental issue.
The Tamil community in Ceylon used education as the path towards upward mobility. The introduction of “standardization” was seen very differently by the two communities and served to fan the flames of separatism rather than solve anything. Minorities should not be deprived of equitable access to resources. The notion of one part of a small nation being “ours” while rest of it for “all” is disturbing considering every educated Sri Lankan from North or South is a product of “everyone’s resources. There will always be poor and rich in all communities; there will always be those who have an inherent advantage by virtue of wealth. Stable societies try their best to enable a more equitable access to all necessary resources across all groups of people. Some will become richer than others. This is a dilemma being faced by even the richest countries in the world.
There is nothing great about being white, black, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim or Brahmin or Kandyan or whatever label we want to put on ourselves to feel better; and what is worst is then using those labels to go around destroying others. The dangers of ISIS and other such groups wreaking havoc on fellow Muslims is a glaring example of such horrors today.
If one has a critical illness and has to be given blood it doesn’t matter how one regards oneself. All that matters is, that you are either A, B, AB or O and what donors are available. There are even “universal donors” and “universal recipients”. So even the most racist, wealthy aristocrat who needsa transfusion can accept the blood type O-positive, (a universal donor) regardless of the ethnicity, caste, religion or income of the donor. People do not bleed SLFP, Brahmin, Tamil Eelam, Sinhala Buddhist, Christian, UNP, JVP, LTTE either..
What good is to live segregated lives within one’s own little group being afraid of anyone who looks differently or talks differently or dresses differently? What good is it to just want to stick to one’s own kind and feel isolated? What good is it to hide behind masks? The 21st century world led by technology, and social media is leaving people wanting segregated lives behind.
The words of the Nobel Laureate Tagore the Bengali master was a lament about Indian society which has remained so backward and divided by religion and caste for so a long part of its history. These immortal words of his apply to all societies, including the US where race relations have taken a turn for the worse and also to Sri Lanka’ trying desperately to heal from the scars of a cursed 28 year war. When this writer has moments of prejudices(many are such moments of anger ) and biases he has to remind himself of this poem too.
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
We are who we are based on what we do with our own lives; what we make of our lives and our calling in life for the limited time we are on this earth. Whether we are born rich or poor, Brahmin or Untouchable, what we contribute to our society and how we live our lives is what matters. We all look alike no?