By P. Soma Palan –
I refer to the above titled article in the Daily Mirror of 1stJune, by Uditha Devapriya (UD) and respond to some of the views expressed therein.
The main thrust of this article is that, racial/religious bigotry is the result of the mundane economic reason than the racial/religious feelings of a community. This is an over-simplification of a deep-seated emotional element, which is the fundamental reason for arousing religious/racial bigotry. The economic element is a peripheral, marginal and an enhancing contributory factor only, if at all, and not the core reason.
This emphasis on the economic reason for the racial riots, in my view, is wittingly or unwittingly, to exonerate the Sinhala community of any trace of racism.
Economic Reasons Adduced
The economic reasons given are, specifically related to the recent violence unleashed on the Muslim community by the Sinhala mobs and extremists elements, in Aluthgama and Kandy regions. Mr. UD states that “racism begins with the economic as opposed to the religious or communal”. However, he cites the recent violence against the Muslims, which is localized, sporadic and limited, and leaves aside the generalized, organized, pre-meditated, and large scale communal riots against the Tamil community, in 1958 and 1983. Accordingly, the economic issues he refers to are:
- Multiplication of Muslim population
- Hallal Certification
- Economic hardships
Other than (c ) above, (a) & (b) are social and communal related, and has nothing to do with economics. Mr. UD argues that economic adversity of rising cost of living, taxes, economic hardships, give rise to social tensions, disunity, and disharmony with other communities and breeds hatred. Economic issues and hardships do not affect only one community, but common to all communities. If so, how could it be the reason for hatred and disharmony between different communities. This is a question of “haves” and the “have- nots”, irrespective of communities. This economic disparity does not correspond exactly to a communal divide. Even within each community, there exist a disparity between the “haves” and “have- nots”. Does this manifest in hatred, violence and riots within communities? No. Therefore, the truth is that, it is not economic but emotional disapproval and antipathy that inflames bigotry, based on religion and race. No amount of economic rationalization can deny the racial and religious element that incites bigotry and violence.
Communal Riots against the Tamil Minority
Mr. UD, either by intent or inadvertence, does not mention the communal riots against the Tamil minorities. This is understandable, because he will not find the said economic reason, which inflamed bigotry for communal riots by the majority Sinhala community against the Tamils. What inflamed riots against the Tamils was, pure and simple, bigotry of race and religion and not economics, in 1958 and 1983. Communal riots of 1958 and 1983, is not one between two communities, Sinhala and Tamil, where there is mutual attack and violence between two communities. It was one –sided, the Sinhalese rioting and attacking the Tamils, who were the passive, helpless victims.
What inflamed racial/religious bigotry
Two factors inflamed racial/religious bigotry of the Sinhala Buddhists:
- The remote, Historical factor, and
- The post independence, Political factor.
From 2ndcentury B.C. two Chola invaders from S. India, invaded and ruled Lanka for 22 years, followed by Ellalan for another 44 years. Dutugemunu defeated the latter and wrested rule. This symbolized the beginning of Sinhala nationalism. A lurking distrust and enmity against the Tamils continued to linger and haunt the Sinhalese even to the present day, creating a religious/racial hatred amongst the Sinhala majority community.
With the gain of Independence from the last colonial rulers, the British in 1948, Political power passed into the hands of the majority Sinhalese, marginalizing the substantive Tamil minority. Sinhala nationalism was on the ascendency, leading to discrimination and antipathy against The Tamils.
Bigotry of religion and race
Mr. UD ask, ”what inflames Bigotry”, rather than asking “whoinflames bigotry” of race and religion, which is most crucial. In my view, it is inflamed by following segments of the Sinhalese, such as:
- Although, a Majority of the Sinhalese masses are not given to racism, but being ignorant and uninformed, they become a prey to the machinations of:
- The, Political class and the Buddhist Clergy, who inflames (a) above, by conditioning and indoctrinating by racist/religious rhetoric, particularly the Politicians ,who rouse racial/religious sentiments of the masses, which is the easy road to gain political power. Rival Sinhala Political Parties compete against each other to be more nationalistic than the other.
- The educated Sinhala urban middle class, non-secular Business class and the Intellectuals and professional class, who propagate racist/religious sentiments for racial and political hegemony.
- The liberal and secular-minded educated and informed Sinhala people, who are mindful of the extremism of the Sinhala/Buddhists elements, are a voice-less, powerless and a helpless class.
- The Constitution of the Country itself inflames racial and religious bigotry, by legitimizing it, by entrenching a clause for “foremost place for Buddhism”.
In short, this racial/religious bigotry of the Sinhala Buddhist majority is nourished by a false notion of the ancient history of Lanka and a false notion of superiority of race and religion (similar to Hitler’s “Harren Volk” doctrine) and a false presumption that Tamils are outsiders and aliens who were brought into Lanka by the later colonial rulers to serve on their plantations in the 18thand 19thcentury A.D. The Sinhalese feign ignorance of the truth that, Tamils and other Dravidians existed from pre-Vijayan and pre-Buddhistic times, millennia before the evolution of a Sinhala identity.