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Three quarters of the citizens in Sri Lanka are Sinhalese and Buddhist. When the religion started to disappear in the sub-continent, on the island the devotees decided that they must protect this cultural heritage as the most venerated treasure.

Whilst it is definitely a mission of merit to safeguard cultural values, there is a threshold of common sense. And that is when you start to harm others only because of their diversity. This is the root of violence in Sri Lanka. In fact the Sinhalese majority, or better the elite of the aristocratic families, decided to portray the mere existence of diversity as a threat to their mission. So they developed this narrative of being encircled and surrounded by the other minorities, which is pure fiction.

Muslims, Hindus and Christians are too few to represent a demographic menace for the mainstream religion. And the same applies to languages. Nonetheless, even today it is quite popular the myth of preserving the cultural heritage by any means. That includes the extermination of the other cultural identities on the island.

Ruins of the ancient Atadage at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka.

Essentially the Sinhalese majority,convinced by the leading feudal-families which control the country, developed a syndrome of being besieged. The necessity to protect the soil, to impose a dominance of its own language and religion, became the obsession of being threatened. Of course 30 years of civil war didn’t help. In particular the LTTE cultivated a sense of revenge, that escalated the atrocities committed by both sides. The Sri Lankan state permitted that deranged members of its security forces perpetrated horrendous crimes against the Tamil civilians. They weren’t isolated case of insanity. The long tradition of communal riots driven by personal interests of local chieftains and of the usual families, when the state was openly

A boy in the attire of a demon, goes on a collection drive in Tamil Nadu, India.
Courtesy of Hindustantimes/Perumal Venkatesan

confronted by an organized army, retuned itself with random attacks against Tamil villages. In response to that, the LTTE sent killing missions to slaughter Sinhalese people living within or too close to the Tamil areas. Finally the LTTE attacked the Temple of the Tooth, the most sacred Buddhist place in Sri Lanka. The delirious of being encircled found an uncanny impersonation.

Though the Tamil presence has never challenged the Sinhalese presence in the South, the paranoid conviction of nurturing enemies at home, became reality. The Sri Lankan ideology is obsessed by protection and defence against its own disappearance. And extremely coherent with its Buddhist philosophy, the biggest enemy of the Sri Lankan state, is itself.

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This a reply to  Why a Large Defence Budget is Highly Beneficial to the Nation” by Dilrook Kannagara

Here’s the original post.

 

The article itself is quite petty minded, but it is an important evidence of a mindset. The principles which inspired it, are a fundamental element of debate. It is impressive that Mr Kannagara has the guts to say them explicitly. The courage of course to speak without any spark of intelligence. Yet, his vision is a  a profound insight into the most deranged thoughts of a majoritarian, warmongering mindset.

Is he serious? No of course he is not. But he participates in the ideological mainstream which at the end drives the tragic destiny of Sri Lanka. So even these pathetic words, are actually responsible for the general climate of intolerance, violence and brutality.

I couldn’t resist to respond. 

The Singapore point: similar treat? What on earth has in common a city-State like Singapore with a country like Sri Lanka? If this is the argument then why not saying that Colombo has the same duty and responsibility of North Korea, so Sri Lanka could spend an entire 25% of its GDP. And why not trying to reach the military expenditure of the Soviet Union during Second World War?

The employment point: military expenditure to pay salary? Wouldn’t it be better to give those salaries to doctors and teachers, to improve the services for the citizens?

Handsome return point: maybe you are right and if you are, it is precisely because it was spent on an ongoing conflict, it could make sense. At that time. The argument against military expenditure now it is because that very conflict is over. 

Unvalued return: here you are definitely right: Sri Lanka is a regime, where people don’t feel free and in possess of their right. It is a country run by thugs and their arbitrary will. They wanted to kidnap the Secretary of Judiciary Commission in plain daylight. When there is a clash between executive and judiciary power. 

People are scared and want to flee. Only if you are part of the regime, you are happy and secure. So yes, the only place where loyalty is not in discussion is the army: this is a clear admission that Sri Lanka is an authoritarian State. Well done!

Sri Lankanisation of the North: that’s the most beautiful. Thanks, really because you say in plain words what is the secret mission: to occupy a territory and to destroy cultural identity. That was the reason for the armed struggle, that is the reason why unrest will always torment Sri Lanka. The problem is the military solution. Not the other way round. 

The Sri Lankan Government has a military mindset: it won a war, now it garrisons the peace. Simple as that.

The Sinhalese supremacist narrative told the story of a righteous war: the evil terrorists attacked the righteous Sri Lanka and the brave and peaceful (at the end of the day, aren’t they Buddhist?) Sinhalese were forced to react. 30 years of nightmare were a reaction to the insane plan of a mad leader and his followers. Indeed Prabhakaran was a bloody warrior, he had an obsessive idea and he committed atrocities. But this is only the reverse of what actually happened. The LTTE was a consequence, not the cause.

The ethnic Tamil,working in the plantations, were disenfranchised of the citizenship after independence.

After independence, the Tamils were systematically undermined in the legitimacy of their citizenship: cultural identity, historical heritage were a dangerous claim against the majority. The ideology of a Sinhalese state besieged and threatened in its existence by corrosive forces was the reason of the mandate for president Bandaranaike. The Sinhala Only Act, the decision to downgrade the Tamil culture, was taken on the basis that the simple fact of speaking Tamil is a menace for the entire Sinhalese culture. The Sinhala speaking, Buddhist majority at the time was around 66% of the popultion. The disfranchisement of Plantation Tamil (Tamil of more recent immigration from India: “only” 150 years), put the proportion at 75%. Three quarters of the island is culturally Sinhalese. Nonetheless any presence of difference, is considered a challenge to the majority. The Tamil has been indeed a very influential community. But you can see nowadays the animosity against the Muslim as a product,stemming from the same intolerance.

When in the ’70s the pressure to minimize the Tamil identity started to become unbearable, moderate elements of the Tamil society decided that it was a better idea to second the Sinhalese ideology: if you want a state that is completely Sinhalese, then you can have it. We well retreat to our land of origin, the Northern and Eastern Provinces and secede. Of course the Sinhalese extremists consider this an act of rebellion and used an iron fist to put the Tamils in their place. After that, came the LTTE, a violent, brutal and blind force of reaction against a racist repression.

Note that the decision of living separately and seconding the Sinhalese myth has been considered an act of rebellion. You are a good Tamil citizen if you give up language and culture and embrace the Sinhalisation.

Then it was war, a fight for survival driven crazy by decades of oppression and humiliation. It is ideological to call this conflict a war on terror, a legitimate act of policing against terrorism. It was a civil war, the eruption of ethnic tension provoked by the intransigence of Sinhalese supremacy. The end of the war brought the victory on the Sinhalese side and it is up the victors to write history. Now they can state that any dissent is aligned with the terrorist insurgency. The militarization in the Northern provinces is only the prosecution of the same Sinhalese supremacy: to repress diversity with violence.

The LTTE was a natural consequence of such oppression and the actual exercise of power is the same majoritarian force that caused the reaction. The roots of violence haven’t been eliminated with the annihilation of the LTTE. On the contrary they prosper with under the warmongering regime of Rajapaksa. Nobody but Sinhalese people. This is the brutal, effective message, after the Eelam War. No country for Tamils, no country for Muslims. That implies also: no country for free man (see Lasantha Wickrematunge).

Sri Lanka Buddhist monks destroy Muslim shrine

In Septmber 2011 a mob destroyed the Muslim shrine in the city of Anuradhapura. In April 2012, thugs stormed the mosque of Dambulla. We have already talked about the strange ‘spontaneous mob’ in the history of Sri Lanka and as in previous cases, police officers were present but they didn’t intervene. The peculiarity about these incidents is that they were led by Buddhist monks.

At present they are focusing on the Muslim community ,so Rauff Hakeem, a Muslim politician, asked president Rajapaksa to suppress the ‘yellow robe terrorism’. It seems as the Sinhala Buddhist extremists are tolerating less and less the simple presence of the Muslim community(and now they come for the Muslims!).

Victim of a white van abduction

The message is that the Muslim are the new undesired guest, even if they always maintained a very low profile. This is particularly striking, given that the country just ended a bloody civil war with another minority. Sri Lanka has been characterized by various forms of “terrorism”. The government made a point of its identity in the so called “counter-terrorism”( instead it was a civil war). But the state itself committed act of terrorism, torture and abuse against citizens, like the case of the “white van” abductions are very well recorded. And of course all the atrocities that targeted the Tamil people. So what is the position of the state about the “yellow robe” one?

The answer is that Buddhism is at the core of the Sinhala supremacy. Sri Lanka in its constitution of the 1972 clearly defined itself as Sinhalese and Buddhist. The first victims of this intransigence were the Tamils. In fact the state made any possible gesture to undermine the identity and the position of the Tamil. The Sinhala Act of the 1956, the pogroms of the 1958 and 1983 are all example of majoritarian violence against the Tamils. This absolute intolerance lies in the specific religious tradition of the island. You could find a bit odd that a religion that is professing the impermanence of everything, would be so concerned in affirming it’s mundane presence. But there is a reason behind this. The Sri Lankan school of Buddhism is founded on the ‘Mahavamsa’, a poem of the 5th century CE narrating the early history of the religion on the island. The essential context of these chronicles is the falling of Buddhism in India. Devotees were clearly scared by the eclipse of their religion in the very place of origin, so their reaction was to ground their tradition as a firm stronghold for the doctrine.

Therefore the Mahavamsa itself must be contextualized in a period of profound concern for the survival of Buddhism. But the Buddhist clergy took this mandate in a totalitarian acceptation: any diversity must be considered as a direct opposition. No matter how marginal, any sign of not-alignment with the mainstream, must be viewed as the seed for future destruction. Hence it must be eliminated.

The problem is that after the Mahavamsa (or even before actually), other communities came to Sri Lanka. The Tamils can indeed trace their presence on the island back for millennia. And yet, this presence after independence was never completely tolerated. The necessity to assimilate the North by the Sinhalese ideology has always been present and fed by the pretext of Mahavamsa (see the very insightful article of Dr. Dewasiri). So the Buddhist clergy actually is the backbone of the movement to subjugate the Tamils before and now the Muslims.

We can see now a very clear trajectory of a supremacist ideology, that wants to eliminate any diversity.

The reaction of the LTTE masked this very simple fact: that the Sinhalese extremists don’t accept any other presence on the island, no matter how small or marginal this difference can be. The Sinhalese supremacy will always consider any difference as a direct opposition (here the hypothesis of a “Buddhist fascism”). The idea of reconciliation cannot exist until the “yellow robe” terrorism is dominant. Sri Lanka will never be pacified with this totalitarian violence of majority: the civil war was not caused by the LTTE; the roots of that virulent reaction are all still present and quite active now. It must be faced the simple fact that the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka is an element of disturbance and violence. I still don’t get how people who profess impermanence and mindfulness can so storm the lives of the others. Really I don’t get it.