By Gavinda Jayasinghe –
The Subcontinent’s Independence: Aristotle, utilitarian perspectives, and context from the ‘Scramble for Africa’
What does it mean to gain independence?
I urge each of you to leave patriotism and human disposition aside for one brief moment in the formulation of your answers to the simple question presented above.
As I see it, it is a notion that is possibly a social construct, with its greatest utility residing in its capacity to rouse sentiments of loyalty and nationalism. The idea is sustained and propagated by the shared beliefs and principles that a particular sovereignty were established on. With no end in sight though, independence in and of itself is neither advantageous nor harmful; however, if objective truth and compelling logic were to be engaged in, we stand to gain much from this idea that elicits so much emotion. The endearing traits of independence and other unifiers prompt us to partake in the collective. Once its utilitarian appeal is recognised and its motives are deemed creditable, we adopt these attributes in a more cohesive effort toward the end of progress. In Aristotelian terms, this may be equated to conviction founded on an indistinct mix of ethos, pathos and logos.
Then there is independence that is purely emotional in nature. The basis for this is the romanticised ideal of perceived freedom from unjust subjugation. At its heart lies the persuasion of pathos. It is this motivation that most of our feelings converge to, as we commemorate the defeat of colonising influences in the varied nations of the subcontinent. We are only human; and so it is beautiful. Yet, it is dangerous, for its foundation is fragile and volatile. Without any foreseeable objectives, independence amounts to little more than a receptacle of human emotion and energy waiting to be harnessed. If its potency is not capitalised on, we can continue to expect distasteful manifestations of the price of unity and freedom. As we have witnessed plentifully over the past few years, this moral instability and confusion creates an opening for incendiary rhetoric and subsequent discord among the nation’s people.
It is time to reassess what implications independence holds.
The current juncture is timely, to reassess the validity and relevance of independence days and such. This carries with it the risk of appearing unpatriotic, but there are far greater things at stake. Never should we place patriotism and other social phenomena before the individuals’ right to live and be treated equally. Beyond the general nature of this schema that we adhere to, what significance does such a date bear in the modern context, except in harkening back to an epoch and the ensuing struggle? What is it that we fundamentally observe? The remembrance of dates attached to various transition points and watershed moments is an integral aspect of human evolution and it reinforces our ability to chronicle important passages along the way; to blindly immortalise days and heroes though does little to further the human cause in the world we currently occupy. It does more harm than good, for the broad subjective inferences that independence and its memorial carries also harbours the danger of it being misconstrued and used for agendas that are divisive.
Let us consider the independence of Pakistan, Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka. I have excluded Bangladesh and Bhutan from this list, as their fates were closely linked to the Dominion of Pakistan and Dominion of India, although the constituents of each sacrificed much in lessening the clutch of the colonisers.
It is true that we suffered much in the past, and that the multifaceted effects of colonialism are vibrant and transforming even today. Yet, the nations of the subcontinent have adequately moved past the resource drain that was imposed on us. We have recovered rather well from the situation resultant of the tangible resources withheld from us. I agree though that the psychosocial impacts of colonialism are manifold, complex, and may not be comprehended fully. In the Subcontinent, the vestiges of colonialism visible today are primarily of the mental variety. Today, they are not wholly representative of opportunities forgone due to the mutually exclusive nature of the finite resources the colonisers plundered.
To put this into perspective, let us consider the ‘Scramble for Africa’ briefly, where European colonial powers carved up the diverse nations of the African continent. Those at the helm in Belgium, Italy, France, Portugal, Germany, Spain and Britain, swindled and funneled to their empire centers the natural riches of this ancient land mass. Tribes that did not belong together were forcibly relocated and asked to live in each other’s midst. This is responsible in some way for the fissures that are evident to this day. Their sense of self-worth was reduced to extra-species levels. The racial connotations of the inhumane treatment meted out to these people were far worse than most of what was endured by the nations of the subcontinent. On the world stage, certain African nations still struggle to emerge from the rut they were forcibly placed in by the colonisers and the prior Arab conquest. Some of the deep seated implications of the colonisers’ enforcements have become commonplace now. Reflect on the fact that the language prevalent in government and media in nearly all African countries is one that they have absorbed through their respective colonisers.
To drive home the point of how the subcontinent had it somewhat better, in a rhetorical sense, contemplate how South Asians were likened to uncivilised beings, as opposed to many in Africa being classified and labelled as animals. This stemmed from the incapability of Europeans at the time to comprehend such vastly beautiful differences in the physical appearance-spectrum of our species, or perhaps it was due to pure malice and ignorance. How cruel and calculating the human animal can be!
And, what of the natural resources the African continent was stripped of? Let us not even go there.
Therefore, the subcontinent’s lament ought not to be as melancholic and painful, at present. It isn’t, but then what are we essentially honouring with our nation’s ‘Independence Day’? This is not an attempt to detract from the importance of the massive push across the subcontinent in ensuring sovereignty once again, or to denounce some of the true visionaries who partook in the process. Such efforts culminated in the quelling of colonial influence and a shift in their agenda and policies, and for that we should be thankful. But, the independence we gained was more symbolic in comparison to the African continent’s malaise. It amounted less to a physical emancipation from our masters. Perhaps it had to do with the manner in which South Asian society was set up at the time, and also due to the centers of culture, liturgy and education that were thriving and offering continued resistance to the whims of the masters.
The subcontinent was colonised; Africa was left broken and impoverished.
Or maybe this is simply crass and hasty dissection, when in actuality it is what I am inclined to believe based on the sum of my experience through what I have heard, observed or read on the matter.
I believe it is time to reread the relevance, intrinsic purpose and significance of the subcontinent’s and the world’s independence days. To peg one’s progress against a seminal event necessitated by the forceful nature of the colonisers is ineffective. It is what we can do now that should matter, and not what was forced on us. Let us set an alternate benchmark against which our advancement may be measured; one that is more pertinent and contemporary. It matters not how our nation’s past may have victimised us, but only how we utilise this very moment. Post-independence, we have contended with further oppression by an assortment of parties and elected officials. We managed to evade imminent doom, just last month. Let us learn from such pivotal moments, to avoid such irresponsibility in the future and to mark our progress against era-specific decisive points in time and not the State established Independence Day. A long shot maybe, but such things have only as much power as we assign them.
May the power of emotion guide our intentions, but not our objectives.
If nothing else, we can use our independence and the decades of suppression preceding it to claim reparations from the Portuguese, Dutch and the British. We could certainly use the money, going by the bareness of our nation’s coffers after the merriment engaged in over the past few years. As I suggested to Dr. Harsha de Silva during a discussion with him a while ago, we can take a leaf out of Libya’s book in this regard. It is said that Colonel Gaddafi pressed the Italians into paying $5 Billion in reparations to Libya, for the colonial polices they enforced on the North African nation. Whether this actually went through, or if it was simply a guise for an alternate bilateral agreement, will probably not be known unless Muammar Gaddafi emerges – once again – from the dead. In any case, money is always welcome and it may help redress the balance somewhat.
*Gavinda Jayasinghe is an independent writer and singer-songwriter. He is of the view that both these forms of expression segue into each other unobtrusively. It is his purpose to instill in himself and promote among others, through the aforementioned vehicles, virtues such as compassion and equality. He commenced his tertiary education in Perth, Australia and completed his Bachelor’s degree in Missouri, USA. He can be contacted on email@example.com or Facebook (Gavinda Jayasinghe).
Anpu / February 8, 2015
“we can use our independence and the decades of suppression preceding it to claim reparations from the Portuguese, Dutch and the British. We could certainly use the money, going by the bareness of our nation’s coffers after the merriment engaged in over the past few years. As I suggested to Dr. Harsha de Silva during a discussion with him a while ago, we can take a leaf out of Libya’s book in this regard. It is said that Colonel Gaddafi pressed the Italians into paying $5 Billion in reparations to Libya, for the colonial polices they enforced on the North African nation. Whether this actually went through, or if it was simply a guise for an alternate bilateral agreement, will probably not be known unless Muammar Gaddafi emerges – once again – from the dead. In any case, money is always welcome and it may help redress the balance somewhat.”
It looks like you will agree with people who feel that Tamil should have their land back.
Before the arrivals of Portugese Tamils had their own kingdom http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaffna_kingdom .
Have you had time to read ?
Would like to hear your comment on the above article.
Punitham / February 8, 2015
Not just land.
Loss of prosperity through discrimination:
i. lack of employment in a variety of govt institutions
ii. negligible economic investment in the Northeast
iii. series of pogroms killing Tamils and destroying their properties
iv. aerial bombing driving Tamils away from the Northeast into the South and overseas
Sharanga / February 9, 2015
According to the Wikipedia article you linked to, the Jaffna Kingdom existed from 1215 CE to 1624 CE, and was established after the invasion of Magha. If that’s true, doesn’t it kind of justify the claim made by the Sinhalese that they are just trying to protect their country from colonists, and that they want to keep their land?
The Sinhalese precede the Jaffna Kingdom by at least 1500 years. People from modern South India invaded their island, and established a kingdom in the north of the island. After the European colonists left, they want the land that they had, which they originally took from the Sinhalese. Sounds really unfair.
My point is, if you want to continue to hold your dream of a racially based territory, instead of talking about individual rights and struggles, the Sinhalese could make a much better case for their own racially based territory.
Anpu / February 9, 2015
“the Sinhalese could make a much better case for their own racially based territory” by lying?????
To resolve the problem we do not need to go back beyond 1948.
But we can learn lot from history and do the right thing.
No point in saying we are BUDDHIST and doing the wrong thing.
Have you read these articles ?
Dominion Status, The Lost Independence https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/dominion-status-the-lost-independence/
“Neither Epigraphy nor Pali chronicles say Dutugemunu was a Sinhala” http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/1956
The Traditional Homeland of The Tamils
Sharanga / February 9, 2015
Anpu, two of the linked articles have nothing to do with the historical homeland of Tamils (and one of them is pretty biased), and one of the links is a book (I couldn’t be bothered to read an entire book. Maybe you could highlight what you think the most relevant). The other link is hilarious because it argues that the Sinhala race was created by the Mahavihara monks by writing a book around 5th century AD.(I’m actually surprised that you linked to it. It’s a political article, not a history article. This is where you get your history?).
I’m not an expert on this. I think the historical homeland argument is irrelevant, and that it’s ridiculous that people on both sides talk about racially based territories based on that irrelevant argument instead of focusing on individual rights. But this idea that Tamils were here before the Sinhalese, and yet somehow the Sinhalese managed to create a language of their own while the Tamils in the island spoke pretty much the same language spoken in Tamil Nadu, seems like complete nonsense. The mere fact that Sri Lanka is the only place the Sinhalese language was ever spoken makes a strong case for it being their historical homeland.
Burning Issue / February 9, 2015
My feeling is that, a separate state for Tamils is preposterous and outdated provided that the Sinhala who hold power establish a system to govern justly. The Tamils must have access to their language and culture unabated.
As for the Tamils took the land from Sinhala originally; there is no proof that Sinhala ruled the North in Particular. Of course there were Sinhala settlements but no authentic proofs that they were reigning. Manimehali is an epic story written 2,000 years ago centred on Naynathevu (Nagatheepa), a Tamil Buddhist story! No one can deduce that based on Buddhist archaeological findings that Sinhala occupied the north exclusively. Like the Sinhala in the North, The Tamils too made settlements in the South, West, and East. One only have to look at many surnames of the Sinhala to know that. I have read the book Understanding the Sinhalese authored by SB Dissanayake where he talks about the names of the Sinhala!
Anpu / February 10, 2015
Burning Issue says “Sinhala who hold power establish a system to govern justly. The Tamils must have access to their language and culture unabated. “
This has not happened since 1948. What is happening is TAMIL GENOCIDE.
You are saying “historical homeland argument is irrelevant, ” – it is RELEVANT.
1. The Englishmen, Sir Hugh Cleghorn, wrote in June 1799 to the then UK government, within 3 years of British set foot in Ceylon….”Two different nations from a very ancient period have divided between them the possession of the Island. First the Sinhalese, inhabiting the interior of the country in its Southern and Western parts, and secondly the Malabars (Malabar meaning Tamil) who possess the Northern and Eastern Districts. These two nations differ entirely in their religion, language and manners.”
2. The island of Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) was ceded to the British Crown in 1802 by a treaty known as the Treaty of Amiens. The map of Ceylon attached to this treaty depicts the Island of Ceylon as two different countries – a Tamil country composed of the Northeast and a Sinhala country composed of the South West and central parts.
3. A Chief Justice in the British Government, Sir Alexander Johnston wrote on 01.07.1827 to the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland as follows….”…I think it may safely be concluded both from them and all the different histories which I have in my possession, that the race of people who inhabited the whole of the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the Island of Ceylon, at the period of their greatest agricultural prosperity spoke the same language, used the same written character, and had the same origin, religion, castes, laws and manners, as the race of people who at the same period inhabited the southern peninsula of India….”
Anpu / February 10, 2015
To support I what I said I am providing this link. Annual Dinner 2015 jointly organised by the APPG for Tamils and British Tamil Forum
The texts are in Tamil. But the speeches by the British MPs are in English
Anpu / February 10, 2015
“This has not happened since 1948. What is happening is TAMIL GENOCIDE. “
Before making the above comment I did not speak to Chief Minister Justice CV Wigneswaran.
“the Chief Minister of Northern Provincial Council (NPC), Justice CV Wigneswaran, on Tuesday called for real international investigations on genocide against Tamils committed by the successive governments since Ceylon’s independence from the British in 1948.” http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=37634
Gen Gon Fonsikker / February 8, 2015
“What Does It Mean To Gain Independence?”
Answer: Greater power to suppress the minorities with greater vehemence.
Amarasiri / February 9, 2015
Gavinda Jayasinghe –
RE: What Does It Mean To Gain Independence?
“The Subcontinent’s Independence: Aristotle, utilitarian perspectives, and context from the ‘Scramble for Africa’”
What does it mean to gain independence?
Suggest you read, The Common sense Phamplet by Thomas Paine, 1776, and Rights of Man. Further suggest you read up on The american Crisis by Thomas Paine.
Common Sense (pamphlet)
BBS Rep / February 9, 2015
Some time ago I was travelling by train to Nanu Oya. A teacher seated next to me made a comment while appreciating the landscape of tea plantations from the window of the train – [Edited out] . I suppose that sums up the answer to your question, “What Does It Mean To Gain Independence?”
BBS Rep / February 9, 2015
I am surprised a non offensive wording was edited out. I will now translate what I wrote in Sinhala,
“The white made made the country and ate, our fellows are eating by destroying the country”.
Indepen dance / February 9, 2015
“It is said that Colonel Gaddafi pressed the Italians into paying $5 Billion in reparations to Libya”
Look what hapenned to him
Inde pen dance and Freedom / February 9, 2015
Independence is what a child gets from its caring parents. Freedom is what a prisoner like Nelson Mandela received from his captors. Which is more honorable?
The Sinhalese word ‘nidahasa’ is a more accurate and less fawning word that I prefer to use – it should be called freedom day.
No need to Thank The British