14 December, 2017

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With You, Without You: The Reality Of Ethno-Religious Relations In Sri Lanka Today

By Nimanthi Perera-Rajasingham –                                               

Dr. Nimanthi Perera-Rajasingham

Dr. Nimanthi Perera-Rajasingham

On the weekend of June 14th and 15th 2014, new attacks against minorities were successfully mobilized in Sri Lanka.  This time it was not against Tamils, but against Muslims in the Aluthgama and then Beruwala areas in the South-West coastal areas.  The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a right wing, racist, nationalist group has claimed and used the tired but ever-effective rhetoric of Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism:  Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhala Buddhists; all minorities must know their place or else.

Five years after Eelam War IV and the end of ethnic war between the Government of Sri Lanka and the separatist Tamil Tigers, another round of minority mongering has occurred.  While the state and many sections of Sinhala society celebrate the glorious end of war and the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism and its foot soldiers continue to claim victims.  The state’s refusal to arrest members of the BBS, despite their racist hateful speeches, reminds us of 1983 when the state allowed the pogrom against Tamils to occur.

I use the title of Prasanne Vithanage’s recent film With You, Without You to invoke the present moment because I believe the film captures the impossibility of moving beyond ethno-religious conflict in Sri Lanka even after the war has officially ended.

With You, Without You tells us something about impossible futures, similarly to how the contemporary attacks against Muslims tell us that a future of religious co-existence under contemporary conditions may be impossible.

With You, Without You is about an army deserter Sarathsiri and his marriage to Selvi, a young, beautiful, orphaned, Tamil woman from the North.  Selvi was brought to the hill country, where Estate Tamils live and work, and meets Sarath when she tries to pawn some of her jewelry at a pawnshop he owns and runs.  The setting of the film in the tea estates, where South Indian Tamils were brought from South India as indentured laborers in the nineteenth century, is intentional.

Estate Tamils, or Hill Tamils as they are called, have experienced the brutalities of colonial indentured labor, continued in postcolonial Sri Lanka, and the racism of the post-independence state, which has historically expelled this minority group, claiming that they were not real Sri Lankans.  Furthermore, Sarath’s occupation, as a pawn-broker tells us something about how he exploits the poverty of the Estate Tamils to make a living for himself.  Hence, the place where Sarath and Selvi fall in love tells us about the long history of refusals in Sri Lanka to accommodate ethnic minorities.

Sarath marries Selvi, saves her from having to marry an old man, and attempts to provide for her.  All goes well until Sarath’s army buddy visits and it is revealed that Sarath was not only a soldier, but had participated in and/or witnessed the rape of a Tamil woman.  Subsequently, he lies on behalf of his soldier friends, so they are not tried for rape. Unable to live with his actions, he deserts the army and escapes to the hills.

The movie is in some senses an allegory of postwar co-existence.  Can Tamils and Sinhalese survive and live together now that the war has ended?  In today’s context we can ask if any minorities can live with the Sinhala majority. The film resolutely answers no.  No, because Sarath, as a Sinhala man, cannot be honest about his own involvement in the decimation of the life of the other, the Tamil.  He tries to make up for a history of rape, violence and war, by pretending he is a good guy, and by being kind to Selvi without accepting the past.  In other words, reconciliation without truth is his method of atoning for his past deeds.  Once, Selvi realizes who her husband is and what he has done, she refuses to build a life with him, and commits suicide.

Her suicide, her refusal of a future with him in post-war Sri Lanka resonates with the impossibilities of an inter-ethnic and inter-religious future in a country that cannot accept the crimes of its past.

Many people who watched the BBS’s leading Buddhist monk Galagoda Atthe Gnanasara, incite hatred against Muslims, were shocked at his rabid talk (see https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/horror-in-aluthgama-their-crime-our-shame/).

Yet, the post-independence history of Sri Lanka is a history of Buddhist priests refusing rights to minorities and claiming Sri Lanka as Sinhala Buddhist exclusively.  From the tearing of the Bandaranayake-Chelvanayakam Pact, to the assassination of SWRD in the late 1950s, to virulent pro-war, anti-Tamil speeches during the separatist war, Buddhist priests in large numbers have incited violence often and done so successfully.

Yesterday it was against Tamils; today it is against Muslims.  Sri Lankans cannot be surprised by this fact, because it has been a reality in our landscape for over fifty years.  Without acknowledging that Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka is racist, we cannot think of a future that is multi-ethnic and multi-religious.

Finally, the terrible conditions under which the war ended, the suffering of Tamils in the Vanni at that moment, the military occupation of Tamils by the Sinhala army and state in the North and East in the war’s aftermath, and the plunder of the resources of minorities need to be acknowledged if future ethnic and religious violence is to stop.

Five years after the war, the state and large sections of the Sinhala population pompously celebrate the state’s war victory without acknowledging Sinhala chauvinism.   At the present moment, large sections of elite and popular society in Sri Lanka refuse discussions of the truth, and so the past will, I believe, repeat itself.

Majoritarian Sinhala politics has merely shifted its target today to attack Muslims.

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Latest comments

  • 11
    1

    Nimanthi Perera-Rajasingham,

    You hit the nail on the head, just as Sharmini Serasinghe has done before.

    Hats off to your objective analysis as you are in a position for being neutral.

    Will the Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinist Dayan Jayatilake agree with you?

    There are so many Dayans around propagating the Sinhala chauvinism and war celebrations.

    • 3
      7

      Hi Thiru!

      You say 
      “…Hats off to your objective analysis as you are in a position for being neutral…” 

      Truth is that  Nimanthi Perera was never ever neutral as you are trying portray her … She has long history of bashing Sinhalese and whitewashing Tamil terror …  Because of part of her name, you guys describe her opiniions as ‘objective analysis’, ‘in a position for being neutral’ …. What a world! 
      I know one thing for sure … [Edited out]
      ‘Objective analysis and being neutral’ are words millions worth in that journey… Bashing the country of birth and one’s own ethnicity is sure way to earn those valuable words from ‘highly educated’ professionals who could easily be taken for ride.

      This is a opinion for one of her published column in 2003 with heading “Remembering 1983 – Sri Lanka’s last riot” ….

      “Opinion
      Sri Lanka’s last riot

      The column written by Nimanthi Perera Rajasingham and appearing in the Daily News of July 10, 2003 under the heading “Remembering 1983 – Sri Lanka’s last riot” is, to say the least, a gross misrepresentation of facts. The writer has, for reasons best known to herself, has completely ignored the bomb blasts at Pettah, Maradana, Dehiwela, Central Bank, etc., killing of local political leaders, attempted killing of the President, gruesome killings at border villages, incidents at Sri Maha Bodhi, Temple of the Tooth, killing of a busload of Buddhist priests, ethnic cleansing over 20,000 Sinhala families, point blank killing of 700 police constables who surrendered, continued kidnapping, torture, demanding ransom etc.,

      After 1984 (according to Sunday Divaina of 13.7.2003) there had been 100 instances of group killings of six and over in the Eastern Province, while there had been 4000 instances of group killings of less than six persons, in the same province. Thus, what happened during the last 20 years are over thousands of times worse when compared with what happened in July, ‘83. In such a scenario, no sane person can say that Sri Lanka’s last riots were in 1983. The riots are still going on and are much more gruesome than what happened in ’83.

      Furthermore, adding insult to injury, the said writer, in an apparent attempt to justify the killing of 13 soldiers in 1983, states in her columns that such killings took place as a retaliation to certain incidents that took place in Jaffna prior to July ’83. Thus based on this logic of the writer herself, one could justify what happened in July ’83 as well, since it certainly was a retaliation to the killing of the 13 innocent soldiers. This is something the writer will have to agree based on her own logic. Moreover, the writer has very conveniently forgotten to mention a single word in appreciation of the great restraint and compassion shown by the majority community, in the midst of gruesome happenings enumerated above, a situation unprecedented perhaps in the history of the entire world.

      If retaliation, which the writer appears to justify as far as the killing of the 13 soldiers are concerned, took place on account of what happened during the last two decades as enumerated above, there would have been more blood flowing in this country, than the recent rain waters. This is something that should be highly appreciated and taken into account by anybody speaking or writing about July ’83. No one can write of July ’83 as an isolated case, without taking into consideration the pre and post July ‘83 incidents. What happened in July ‘83 is only a very minute fraction of what happened thereafter.   D. M. Wijewardena , Matara”

    • 6
      0

      Almost all of what you say is true, Nimanthi. But the fact is that members of the Muslim community have COLLUDED all along with the Jarapassa regime – for a few perks. Ethnic relations are NOT so black and white. There are wheels within wheels..

      1. Why has the BBS Balu Sena that has been attacking Muslims and Christians, and Tamils and Muslims for two years now, and its fascist leader has not been arrested and brought to trial although there is ample evidence?
      The So-called Minister of Justice, Rauf Hakim is culpable and ensured that Gota the Goon’s BBS has impunity in order to protect his cheap perks from the racist regime. Without Rauf Hakeem and the Muslims who support Rajapakse the 18th Amendment would not have been passed and the destruction of Law and order and justice institutions would not be so complete.

      Even now the newspapers which are all pro-govt. particularly the Communalist Ceylon Today, will not show BUDDHIST VIOLENCE, but will given the Racist BBS leader and his lies the lead story space. Check out Todays Ceylon Today. Likewise the Daily Mirror NEVER shows the violent Buddhists in Action. They will show the violence of the LTTE but will never BUDDHIST VIOLENCE and therefore the myth is created that Buddhists are victims. Today we need to examine how paranoid Buddhism has been created. Buddhists are always portrayed in the RACIST media – Ceylon today and Daily Mirror and Island as victims although they are the biggest perpetrators of the greatest violence in the country.

      • 0
        0

        “”Without Rauf Hakeem and the Muslims who support Rajapakse the 18th Amendment would not have been passed and the destruction of Law and order and justice institutions would not be so complete. “”

        Arnt the e-block nut voters/ religious voters paying for the biggest sin by being undemocratic and extend term.
        You ……die by the sword. taste the steel chum.

  • 2
    2

    Nimanthi,

    What bonds a Sinhalese strongest to another Sinhalese is the mutual distrust and hatred of minorities. It is so pervasive I have come to the conclusion that the Sinhala psyche is imbued with all facets of hatred. The more a Sinhala leader can focus his or her vitriolic diatribe against a minority the more he or she is respected. This is the downside of democracy in Sri Lanka. All leaders starting with SWRD understood these phenomena well, so much so they successfully adopted minority hate into their political policy.

    The minorities do not stand a chance in hell against what the pure, unadulterated hate speeches from the likes of Gnanasara can achieve. Gnanasara and the BBS are the creation of Gotabhaya, the ruthless war criminal, and as long as such dangerous people are in government the minorities should not expect any respite from the bloodthirsty mobs that walk the streets arm in arm with overfed thugs in saffron robes.

    • 4
      0

      BBS:

      I agree with you entirely and as a thank you let me recite you the following.

      After great a “HESITATION ” and deep a “MEDITATION” I have come to the “COCLUSION” that the Tamil “POPULATION” is a great “BOTHERATION” to the Sinhalese “POPULATION” and that is why they are hell bent on “ELIMINATION”.

      I cant be any more clearer and forthright than this and hope you cherish it.

    • 4
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      BBS:

      I should have also added the word SUBJUGATION.

      that is why they are hell bent on ” SUBJUGATION & ELIMINATION”

  • 4
    0

    With or without Gnanasara or Ghota, these atrocities would continue because it is us, our Mamas, our Nandas, brothers & sisters who create these monsters and, in return, these monsters make us worse fools, and continue the process. So unless we, Sinhalese majority, change, all SL citizens would go down and get closer to hell and whole country would be a burden to rest of the civilized world…

  • 4
    3

    Dear Nimanthi Perera-Rajasingham –

    “On the weekend of June 14th and 15th 2014, new attacks against minorities were successfully mobilized in Sri Lanka. This time it was not against Tamils, but against Muslims in the Aluthgama and then Beruwala areas in the South-West coastal areas. The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a right wing, racist, nationalist group has claimed and used the tired but ever-effective rhetoric of Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism: Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhala Buddhists; all minorities must know their place or else.:

    This is the Para -Sinhala ideology based on lies and imaginations of monk Mahanama of Mahawansa Fame-Notoriety, in the Land of native Veddah.

    The Sinhala and Tamils and Muslim and all others are Paras, in the Land of Native Veddah.,,

    the Para Sinhalese want to deny that fact.

    However, the proof is in their bodies, in their DNA that they are from South India.

    The Major Picture In Understanding Our Ethnic Conflict
    June 8, 2014 | Filed under: Colombo Telegraph,MORE OPINION,Opinion | Posted by: COLOMBO_TELEGRAP

    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-major-picture-in-understanding-our-ethnic-conflict/

  • 2
    2

    Dear Nimanthi Perera-Rajasingham –

    “Yet, the post-independence history of Sri Lanka is a history of Buddhist priests refusing rights to minorities and claiming Sri Lanka as Sinhala Buddhist exclusively. From the tearing of the Bandaranayake-Chelvanayakam Pact, to the assassination of SWRD in the late 1950s, to virulent pro-war, anti-Tamil speeches during the separatist war, Buddhist priests in large numbers have incited violence often and done so successfully.”

    Did you notice that none of the Mahanayakas and senior Buddhist Priests who claim to follow Buddha spoke against the Violence at Aluthgama?

    What does it Tell you?

    It supports the Monk Mahanama Kies and imaginations being believed by Sinhala Buddhists. They are actually, Para Sinhala in the Land of Native Veddah.

  • 2
    2

    “Five years after the war, the state and large sections of the Sinhala population pompously celebrate the state’s war victory without acknowledging Sinhala chauvinism. At the present moment, large sections of elite and popular society in Sri Lanka refuse discussions of the truth, and so the past will, I believe, repeat itself.”

    “Majoritarian Sinhala politics has merely shifted its target today to attack Muslims.”

    1. Because they are not Sinhala Buddhists who worship Monks…

    2, Earlier they attached Tamil Hindus….who do not worship Sinhala Buddhist Monks.

    3. Next in line are other non-Sinhala Buddhists,, the Christians and others,

    In the Land of Native Veddah..where everybody else is Para.

  • 2
    3

    This is what you call fishing in troubled waters

  • 4
    2

    I am reluctantly compelled to share Himanthi’s cynicism. The chances of the Sinhala and Tamil community closing ranks to form one Nation now has to be ruled out. The peaceful way out is 1 country of 2 Nations – the Sinhala and Tamil, outside the Separatist ambit. From 1956 the racially prejudiced and politicised Buddhist Sinhala priesthood and its servile Mahanayakas have made rapprochement between the communities impossible. The Mahanayakas did very little to use their enoprmous influence and standing to change the chaotic disorder in the country. On the other hand, there is much to argue they indeed did much to exacerbate it travelling with the political winds of the day.

    To use the expression of that celebrated Indian Election Commissioner Shri T.N. Seshan what we see now is the Degeneration of Sri Lanka.

    Kettikaran

  • 8
    3

    The big question is who orchestrates such inhuman social eruptions? Was Gnanasara the instrument or the culprit? From all accounts coming out of Aluthgama and Beruwala the recent eruptions were precisely planned, involved men transported in and meticulously executed. They are permitted to incite and execute, but are never arrested, charged or punished. They are always free to go their merry ways. Buddharakita was jailed only because he killed SWRD. This instance is no different from the 1958 riots and those that followed.

    The objective has been teach the minorities, whether ethnic or religious,a lesson not to demand rights equal to the Sinhala-Buddhists, not to demand community political rights and not to collectively be more successful or prosperous. The tools that have been always used are the scum of society and government employees or those beholden to the government(harbour workers, irrigation department workers and those settled in colonization schemes) hired for that specific purpose. They are given lists with specific instructions, plied with liquor, given transport and tacit police support, before being let loose. They start when told and they stop when told. They are never arrested, rarely injured and never killed,although they kill.

    The police and armed forced have only served the function of putting a stop to the events, once the objectives have been achieved. The valuables are always looted as rewards for these tools. Aluthgama was no exception. In 1958, a Tamil ASP with one of the names of Lord Murugan, carried looted furniture items in several lorries from Kurunegala to Jaffna! During the Eelam wars, the spouses of Sinhala soldiers were seen wearing gold Thalis with thick chains (an sacred ornament that all Tamil women wear after marriage) in Sinhala villages!

    The acts of the nasty characters orchestrating these regular episodes and their henchmen or tools, should not be confused or confounded with the ordinary Sinhala people. They have been always the sad and helpless spectators. They feel sorry, they help to shelter and help victims as much as possible, but they are powerless to stop events. They are also victims of a pernicious political culture, which is at its highest crest now. The LTTE and other Tamil militant groups also looted many Tamil homes during their hay day as their right, but without the accompanying mass violence. It was terror of a very specific targeted kind.

    The events that have been staged by the BBS and Ravana Balaya over the past two years were practice sessions leading to the recent explosion in Aluthgama and Beruwela. But who was behind all this? Was this also a ploy to counter (or divert attention from) international pressures at their high point now?

    As always, it was the government and the leading figures within it who are culpable more than the tools they deploy. Who in government was involved in this instance? The conclusion that many have reached, but fear to articulate, is that it reaches to the highest levels of government. Gotabaya Rajapakse name is whispered and alluded to often because of his well known association with the BBS and the refusal by Police to arrest and prosecute the yellow robed thugs who have led many preceding BBS outrages, but have very quickly arrested a school girl who stole two coconuts, because of poverty.

    The big question is, if this is true, could Gotabaya Rajapakse do such things without the concurrence of his brother- The President? Could Cyril Mathew and Gamini Dissanayake have done what they did in 1983 without the concurrence and knowledge of J.R.Jayawardene? Could 1977 have happened without the green light shown by J.R. Jayawardene himself? Could C.P.De Silva have done what he did in 1958, without the knowledge and concurrence of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike? Could all the terrorist acts of the LTTE have happened without the knowledge and concurrence of Velupillai Prabaharan?

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 5
      2

      “The acts of the nasty characters orchestrating these regular episodes and their henchmen or tools, should not be confused or confounded with the ordinary Sinhala people. They have been always the sad and helpless spectators.”

      Sorry for the strong word, you are fooling yourself with this statement. As a citizen of 117 crore populous country I know that if Majority do not condone these racist ideologies, it will never strive to this extent. Population of Srilanka is just 2 crore, do you think containing these racist elemnets is such a difficult task if majority is against them? I think majority of the sinhalese are misguded and allowed to nurture this.

      • 2
        1

        I agree with you manisekeran. The Sinhala people the oridnary folks going about thier day to day life seems not bothered. After 30years of war the countyr is immune to racist attack and killing and arson.

        What a failed nation.

    • 1
      1

      Dr RN,

      I agree with manisekaran and Rajash and disagree with Taraki and yourself.

      From my own personal experience having lived most of my life in Sri Lanka I can conclude without the slightest hesitation that the entire Sinhala people are racists.

      So many riots and so many deaths, so many rapes, so much destruction and nothing done about it. It is because the powers that be since independance have judged the mood of the majority quite correctly. That is why they have permitted this kind of horrible behaviour to continue unabated.

      Mob violence against helpless people is a cowardly act. That is why during the hayday of the LTTE these cowards were so placid and accomodating. With the demise of the LTTE the cowards have raised their ugly heads once more.

  • 3
    1

    Manisekaran, if the majority of Sinhalese were in favor of these episodes, by now there would be no minorities left in the country. Do you remember what happened to the Sinhalese in the Eighties when the JVP were active? They have suffered as much as anyone else. Dr RN is right in his analysis. The big question is who is behind it (and why?)

    Could it be
    GR trying to unseat MR?
    MR allowing GR to run riot while he is abroad?
    MR & GR allowing riots to show the world that they alone can control them?
    BBS acting on its own? (very unlikely)
    A Jewish (Israeli) act to show all Muslims as troublemakers? (ridiculous)
    BBS paid by LTTE in Norway to cause problems for MR?
    Something else?

    Its all smoke and mirrors in Sri Lanka. Without a free press, with corrupt politicians, police, judges etc there is nowhere where one can find out the real truth. Perhaps we will know who is behind it all many years from now.

    • 2
      0

      There are lot of rumors saying most of new hotels and resorts are belonging to GR and Rajapakse siblings. Some countries already put travel advises on SL. Tourists reduce and Rajapakse family assets will be impacted by these BBS acts…Then why GR want to do this? Everything is a puzzle as Taraki said…

  • 1
    0

    “Then why GR want to do this? Everything is a puzzle as Taraki said…” AVB

    There is a hidden plan of MR & cabal – to keep the Dynasty going in the
    guise of Democracy – Elections. Their henchmen stand to gain for decades
    to come – be it a Lalith or a Sajin. These trial-runs of violence enables
    the Regime to place their bets in future elections – no one dares to fix
    polling rip-offs whereever they occur. Some Forces are looked after well
    to implement any such scheme as all controls District-wise have been set-up.

    The UN inquiry may come and it will be concluded in few years to come, but
    keeping control of its Sinhala-Buddhist Voters matter first. The chaos
    of today is within the scheme of things.

    • 0
      1

      “Then why GR want to do this? Everything is a puzzle”
      Hehheh… As if we are talking about sane and logical people!

  • 1
    0

    Hi Nimanthi,

    I liked your article. There was, however, one point I disagree with, which is: “..to virulent pro-war, anti-Tamil speeches during the separatist war, Buddhist priests in large numbers have incited violence often and done so successfully.” Until the rise of the BBS, Buddhist priests were largely not at the forefront of inciting violence. Of course, the BBS are not really Buddhist priests but thugs in robes.

    My point is that by generalizing with a statement such “large numbers have incited violence often and done so successfully” you are not highlighting how different the current status quo is to how it has been previously. Do you have definite examples to corroborate your “large numbers”? Until the unfortunate rise of the BBS, Buddhism was spared the ignominy of being used as a rallying point for racial hatred.

  • 1
    1

    The Sinhalese people never care about minorities.Although several anti ethnic riots were started by Buddhist monks and political leaders there is no objection to these perpetrators by the Sinhalese public. The Sinhalese press do not even mention about the anti-minority acts of their people. It is as if a natural disaster has occurred, they get on with their daily life. One day they will pay the price for their attitude.

  • 1
    4

    Srilanka is a unitary Sinhala Buddhist country as per the constitution.

    Take it or leave it.

  • 4
    1

    Dr.Rajasingham:

    From your name and glowing “Pottu Vaitha Mugam” I take it that you have happily embraced sharing your life with a member from the so called minority but that is a personal choice and there are many like you. Just to mention a few Dr.Shirani and the late Nadesan of LTTE . The label attached and the feeling by Tamils as a Minority is only in the mind of the Majority. But if you analyse it we are not a minority in the North & East where we have had our kingdom and by that I mean a Nation although ” Dayan” might not agree.
    As for the state of affairs and what the film depicts is endemic in Sri Lanka which boils down to pure hatred which is in the Sinhalese Gene who sadly are in the majority.
    What has happened since the end of the conflict is that this racist elements have become audacious and bold and are being courted by the likes of MR and Gotha so they are free to do what they want. In some instances they are encouraged by the same politicians who turn a blind eye to what is happening. It is laughable when MR orders an inquiry into the killing in Aluthgama ( the outcome is a forgone conclusion) but has resisted the call for an inquiry into the killing of thousands of innocent Tamils under his stewardship .
    The story of Krishanthi epitomises the Tamil struggle and what the film ( Selvi) tried to reveal is only a tip of the Iceberg.

    ACCOUNTABILITY is a Pre Requisite to RECONCILIATION and the Tamils cannot move on without those who are responsible for the Genocide are punished and MR is a born Racist cannot be part of Reconciliation.
    United under a Unitary State we “FALL” divided as a Nation within a Nation we STAND and the choice lies with the majority. If they don’t embrace it willingly it will be forced on them as we have everything in our favour and I like to say we are FREE at last.

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