Thursday, July 16, 2009

Towards a Peaceful, Equitable and Sustainable Sri Lanka - Arular Arudpragasam

Part 1

Dismantling the Chauvinist Foundation of Sri Lankan State

The Impossible Idea of Unitary State

The achievement of the objective of a unitary polity encompassing the whole island of Sri Lanka has been the prime interest of various monarchs and rulers throughout history. This idea, in spite of its noble nature, has brought more misery and suffering to the people of the island than any actual benefit. The process of achieving a unitary state has always led to the alienation and suppression of section of people of the island, leading to perpetual war.

Very often the ambitions of the monarchs to wield power over the whole island brought in foreign powers causing great harm to the sovereign rights of the people of the island and eventually five hundred years of colonialism.

In latter days, the aspiration of seeing Sri Lanka under one umbrella was achieved under the British rule. Since the subjugation and annexation of the Kandyan Kingdom to the maritime areas in 1815, the whole island of Ceylon became one colonial outpost under the British Crown. This lasted until February 1948, when Ceylon became an independent nation and ever since has suffered a constitutional crisis unable to stabilise itself as a democratic polity.

Can this problem be resolved through dialogue between the various conflicting interests? Can stability be brought through external mediation? In spite of all earnest efforts, the attempts to find an answer to these questions and establish peace and harmony to the island, which gave meaning to the word serendipity, has not seen the light of the day for the last hundred years.

The idea of unitary state with a strong centre, under a supreme Parliament claiming to articulate the will of the entire people of Sri Lanka, though inspires a seeming rationality, both in the minds of natives and foreigners has cast a substantial section of the population outside the constitutional and political process. This has brought the Tamils to a state of revolt seeking self determination and independent statehood.

The unitarist idea was traditionally a dream of monarchs and colonisers. It became a dream to establish a Sinhala Buddhist hegemonic state in the independent Sri Lanka. Initially, this was to be established through the abuse of the parliamentary democracy and people’s earnest desire to establish a united country. This latter became a military project that is to be achieved through occupation and annexation.

The proposition of a unitary Sri Lanka has definitely favoured the fortunes of the more numerous community, the Sinhala Buddhists, said to number about 74% (69 at independence) of the whole population. The majoritarian democracy left behind by the British has facilitated the imposition of their will over the others. The repercussion of this, where the Parliament imposed permanent disabilities on the Tamil people and other minorities, Hence Tamil people rejected the idea of unitary state vehemently and demanded a different political arrangement for the articulation of their free will, so as to fulfil their desire for a democratic and just governance over their affairs.

The Jathiya and the Sinhalese.

To a Sinhalese, the word ‘Jathiya’ means the Sinhala Nation, its identity, and the expression of its collective will. The evolution of the concept of Sinhala Jathiya brought about with it’s the Sinhalese claim for the whole island along with the idea of unitary state of Sri Lanka to establish a Sinhala Buddhist country. This led to the domination of the whole island by the Sinhala Buddhists and the use of the Sinhala language and Buddhist Religion in all walks of state life. The others, as minorities and second class citizens, somehow have to find their way through the uncertainties and insecurity thus imposed while the Sinhalese made every effort to push their frontiers using every possibility available at the expense of other communities.

The identity of a Sinhalese has been cast in such a way during the last hundred years, drawing from historical myths and falsification and misrepresentation, providing a 'Jathiya' mind set, seeking continuity with past history of the island and the right of domination over the whole island as a historical birthright.

An average Sinhalese often alternates the meaning of such terms as ‘Jathiya’, Ratta (country) , Mathrubhumi ( motherland) between his exclusive claim over the whole island through his alliance to Sinhala Buddhist identity and the Sri Lankan Nation by which he carefully excludes the rights of Tamil people over their homeland. The subscription of average Sinhalese to the idea of exclusivity, relieves him from any compulsion and need to seek out and subscribe to a value system that accommodates the mutual rights of all people in a federally structured or any other type of polity.

This situation is no different from the situation that prevailed in Nazi Germany in the early thirties, and the term ‘Jathiya’ shares a common experience with the German word Volk during the time of Nazis. The term, which was a harmless word meaning people, was imbued by the Nazis with Aryan race myths and was turned into a most potent racist slogan which devastated Europe during World War II. The case in Sri Lanka is no different. The Sinhalese , using LTTE as pretext have over run a civilisation in the North East of the country.

The Aryan tag of the Sinhala race is more a work of the British who saw Sri Lanka as a jewel in their colonial possessions and who by seeking a kinship with the Sinhalese by identifying them as Aryans hoped for their permanent stay as rulers of Sri Lanka. In reality it was the Tamil Kingdom of Jaffna that carried the tag Aryan historically, as Arya Chakaravarthy and Sinhgai Aryan due to the Kalinga origin of its Royalty. The totemic symbol of lion too belonged to the earlier Kingdom of Jaffna that was swallowed by the sea during early part of Christian era. No Sinhalese kingdom ever had the totem of lion. The latter Kingdom of Jaffna had the cockrel as its totem which is to be found in every Sinhalese home that has a traditional lamp on top of which the cockerel stands proclaiming their once alliance to the Kingdom of Jaffna. Traditionally the Sinhalese have opposed the Aryan influences in their religion and culture.

The difficulty Sinhala people have in understanding and accommodating the Tamil aspirations is due to the overwhelming inculcation of Jathiya ideal as a unifying ideal of the Sinhala race. This might have been a necessary unifying slogan at the time of resistance against the colonial powers. The Sinhala Jathiya ideal has been articulated as the love of motherland (Mathrubhumi) or claim of whole country ‘Our country’ (Appe Ratta) and this expression of patriotism underlies their illegal claim for the whole island.

The articulation of the Sinhala Jathiya ideal as a patriotic mission of the Sinhala race transcends all party political divide and one could see the Sinhalese intellectuals, journalists, politicians, administrators and militarists are united in serving it and actively engaged in its sustenance, perpetuation and realisation. Every Sri Lankan government or leader has to subscribe to it and is under siege of its dictate and this inevitability has lead to the moral and intellectual degeneration that affects all walks of Sri Lankan life. This has led to the perpetual inability of the state to arrive at a just and peaceful solution to the ethnic problem.

The inability of Sinhala rulers to provide a peaceful and democratic government for the whole country and for the Tamil people and their virtual dependency on the military rule to handle the affairs of state in the Tamil North East, is the result of usurpation of the constitution and state of Sri Lanka by the Sinhala Jathiya ideal. The persistence with which it has opted to subordinate the democratic institutions of Parliament, Judiciary, Public Service, the Armed Services and the Police, and the immense suffering it has opted to inflict on the Tamil people in the name of unity, integrity and sovereignty, has left a sense of helplessness and despondence among the Tamil people. The militaristic ideas of peace that have found passionate acceptance among the Sinhala ruling classes, have come into existence through the continued denial of the democratic rights and aspirations of Tamil people.

In reality, as the ‘nation’ concept based on peoples sovereignty is only about 300 years old, so is the concept of Sinhala nation that evolved later. In spite of its historical projection that there has been a Sinhala nation on the island for the last 2500 years, the founder of the modern Sinhala nation concept is Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike (frequently referred to as S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike; January 8, 1899September 26, 1959) who founded the Sinhala Maha Saba in 1935 that subsequently became the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (1951).

To be continue....tomorrow

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