25 May, 2024


Why The North Should Join The Aragalaya, Not Isolate Itself

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

As Hartal-2 approaches, it is useful to recall the glorious moment of Hartal-1, learn the lessons of the mistakes made and be determined to recapture and build upon its potentials so that opportunities are not missed and a progressive New Sri Lanka can be born.

A New Sri Lankan society and consciousness in being born in The Aragalaya. It is non-racist, indeed anti-racist; it is mutually tolerant and pluralist; it is solidaristic and inclusionary. It is the consciousness of the younger generation.

The ubiquity of the Sri Lankan flag is a supreme and superior act of subversion. The old patriotism, patriarchal, divisive, dominationist, is being replaced by the New Patriotism of generosity and mutual support. There is a new Sri Lankan family, multiethnic, multireligious, multilingual, multicultural that has come into being in and through the Aragalaya.

It is being created from below, from the old margins which have become the new mainstream. A new culture has been born.

For the new Sri Lanka to be consolidated, it is insufficient for it to remain multiethnic only in the southern two-thirds of the island. It is already manifest in the hill country and the East but it has to spread to the North.

It is little known that during the Hartal of August 1953, the kickoff rally at Galle Face was chaired by SWRD Bandaranaike, though the SLFP did not actively participate as a party in the Hartal. More strikingly, though the SLFP did not participate, the Federal Party did. The August 1953 Hartal therefore united the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher communities in struggle. The struggle embraced, as never before and never later, North and South, East and West.

What eclipsed that bright shining moment was that (a) the struggle was not fought to a finish by the old left, and (b) the successor UNP Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawela was such a pro-Western caricature that he provided ready fuel for the Sinhala Buddhist lobbies lurking in the wings.

By 1955, using the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations, the All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress headed by Prof Malalasekara produced a Commission Report which insisted on Sinhala Only. The bhikkhu lobbyists persuaded SWRD Bandaranaike to adopt it.

This would not have happened either had the Left and Bandaranaike or the Left and the Federal Party allied in 1956. Neither happened and instead when the Banda-Chelva Pact was signed and it came under attack from the Sinhala chauvinists, the Left did not step forward to defend it as Vijaya Kumaratunga did the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987, paying with his life. True, the Left bravely battled the Sinhala thugs in the 1958 race riots but it sat out the crucial political battle of 1957: the active defence of the Banda-Chelva Pact.

Today, the historic chance for convergence is being missed mainly because of the attitude of the established Northern political leadership which is far more interested in Constitutional agendas than in forging the unity of the North and South on a progressive, enlightened basis. They want instead to settle old scores and maintain the political and social isolation of the North.

Worse still, the very discourse of a leading spokesperson of the TNA, Hon MA Sumanthiran, is patronizing towards the Aragalaya, the South and the Sinhala people. His discourse verges on a sense of superiority and implicit racism, in the use of terminology such as “these people”.

Here is Mr. Sumanthiran speaking to the Political Editor of the Sunday Morning, Marianne David, last Sunday. Though her questions were excellent, his rhetoric is discordant, sectarian and more than a little offensive, to say the least.

“The north is a little amused that people are unable to cope without electricity for a week or two, when they have done that for a decade or two, without any electricity at all. They are rather amused that their brethren in the south don’t have any resilience to face this kind of hardship. They didn’t have fuel for 10 or 20 years. No diesel and no petrol at all, no batteries, power was totally out, but they managed. They grew their own food and they had alternatives that they worked out.

These are recent memories so they all remember those things and they don’t look at it as a major hardship. That’s one. They also produce; although the production yield has been affected by this chemical fertilizer policy, they do grow a lot of food. They are able to cope to some extent. As things get worse, I think they will also want to come out and protest. Right now, they are not doing that for two reasons. One is this, the other is that when calls come from the south for the north to join, etc., they have a justifiable question – that this did not happen from the south when the north bore a lot of attacks.

One or two people being killed on the streets is a huge issue here, but scores were bombed and destroyed not just during the final phase of the war but right through that period. Aerial attacks and carpet bombing were commonplace, but the rest of the country didn’t care. That is no reason to withhold support now. They may want to support the current protests; they think they are legitimate and particularly the youth are coming forward to do that, but they can’t forget the fact that when this was 100 times worse, these people did not open their mouths.” (The Sunday Morning)

What does Sumanthiran mean by “these people”? And why this particular use of “they”? Within the Aragalaya there is no “they”, there is only “us”. For the Aragalaya, “they” are the Rajapaksa clan led by Gota.

“These people” who are multiethnic and multireligious are waging the Aragalaya not because they are softies but because their threshold of tolerance of injustice is very low and their sense of sovereign agency is very high, so rooted and internalized are the values of democracy and republicanism.

One or two people being killed on the streets is a huge issue, because no one is waging a terrorist war here, using suicide bombers at that. When there was a civil war in the south, and another between North and South, “these people” withstood great carnage, resisted and emerged with democracy intact and the territory of their country reunified.

The people are rising up against the Rajapaksas’ ideology because the non-discriminatory country and devolved state they could have built was substituted by a hierarchical, hyper-centralized system.

There’s pre-Aragalaya time and Aragalaya time. On this island, there’s no “these people” and “those people”. There are only the Sri Lankan People. An authentic Sri Lankanness has been born in the vortex of the struggle, the Aragalaya

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Latest comments

  • 10

    DJ is a man for all seasons. If you track his career, you will see he is ready to sing for his supper even with the devil. He defended a murderous Rajapaksa government that slaughtered and raped thousands of LTTE cadres on the orders of the then Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. LTTE cadres, including those who surrendered with white flags, were summarily executed. During the war, a haughty Gotabaya claimed that hospitals and schools are legitimate military targets.

    Today, DJ is the political adviser to Sajith Premadasa of the SJB. The youths from the north have protested but not on the scale in the south. The reason(s) are not far to see.

    The young protesters in the south have taken to the streets for economic reasons. If tomorrow or the day after the shortage of food, fuel, medicine eases and electricity outages come to an end the protesters will go home. But the political problems faced by the Tamil people will not end.

    The Tamils are facing problems like land grab, encroachment of Hindu Temples by Buddhist monks and army under the guise of restoring Buddhist heritage sites, menacing presence of the Sinhalese army in the ratio of 1 soldier for every 5 persons in the north and war refugees still languishing in camps. 1/2

  • 11

    The army is still in occupation of about 30,000 acres of land both private and state in the northeast, mostly in the north. These lands belong to poor farmers.

    The war was over nearly 12 years ago, but the armed forces are on the spree to grab more lands. Two days ago, the Sri Lankan air force tried to acquire private land belonging to the Tamil people of Karimnagar, Jaffna.

    Rajapaksa government has torpedoed the expansion of the Jaffna International Airport. Had this airport been made functional, thousands of Indian tourists would have visited Ceylon.

    Two months ago, Prime Minister Rajapaksa visited Jaffna. For what? To lay a foundation for a Buddhist temple at Kantharodai where there are no Buddhists. Is this not madness? He also went to Nainathivu and declared the Buddhist vihara there a sacred place.

    So, the south and north are totally different. The Sinhalese are first-class while the Tamils are second or third class. 2/2

  • 6

    Heard of the saying one swallow does not make a summer? One Sinhalese protester voicing his or her concern regarding the treatment of Tamils at the hands of the Sinhalese is not going to change anything. It has to be large scale. Individual Sinhalese have always been voicing their concerns about Sinhalese racism on various platforms even on this forum, but nothing has changed. Also, realize the law and order situation in the north and east is very different from the situation down south. There is a racist occupying Sinhalese army that is very trigger-happy when it comes to Tamils. The police shot one Sinhalese and you can see the hue and cry down south and the government, armed forces, and police backed off, however, it will not be the same in the north and east. MP Rasamanickam from Batticaloa has been issued a court order by the government, preventing him from demonstrating. Sumathiran has tweeted, pointing out the differences between the law and order in the north and east from the south.

    • 5

      We Tamils have used these economic hardships that have been deliberately imposed on us by many Sinhalese-led governments from independence. We have successfully lived and learned to cope with it. The South’s struggle is completely different from the Tamil struggle in the north and east. Their struggle is economic and has only now come to the streets due to this. Not for any other fundamental change. Most of them are quite happy with the third-class treatment given to the minorities, especially to the Tamils, and voted for this government for this reason. Once this economic hardship is over and this horrible government is ousted, they will return to their homes, and a 99% chance is they will elect another Sinhalese racist government, that still marginalizes the minorities. Our struggle is not only for economic emancipation but also for political emancipation from Sinhalese racist domination and to regain our lost rights and safeguard our homeland, language, and heritage. Granted the Rajapakses are the worst of the lot and have to go but who will take their place. someone even more worse?

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