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Reconciliation: Sinhalese attitude, Buddhist perspective and Indian solution


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The tragedy of Sri Lanka is the extension of the mindset created during the struggle against the suppression in the colonial period into the era of independent Sri Lanka 

- Pic by Shehan Gunasekara 

 

 

 

Through the entire period of independence Sri Lanka experienced ethnic conflicts. The majority Sinhalese had conflicts with Tamils of Indian origin, Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims. After the independence, especially after 1956, the Burgher community of Sri Lanka started migrating to various countries mainly to Australia. Sri Lankan Tamils also started migrating later and created an influential diaspora now. A large number of Tamils of Indian origin were sent back to India under Sirima-Shastri pact. 

There were a number of violent conflicts with the Muslims, the major one being in the pre-independence era in 1915. The conflict between Singhalese and Tamils paved the way for a 30-year-long civil war and damaged a considerable extent of national resources along with a large number of human lives. In addition to that there were two armed conflicts in the south destroying property and taking human lives. The country goes on in the same manner.

It appears to be that the people and the leaders of this country do not think seriously of the situation of the country. People blame the leaders and the leaders blame one another. 

Successive Sri Lankan governments were not hesitant in applying force against ethnic groups. Soon after the independence, the Senanayake government deprived the voting rights of the Tamils of Indian origin with the help of the Sri Lankan Tamils as well. Peaceful requests of the Sri Lankan Tamils were suppressed by successive governments in many an occasion pushing them towards an armed struggle.

 

This thinking of the Sinhalese acts as an obstacle to have a reconciliation among various ethnicities in Sri Lanka. Opportunist politicians arouse this feeling of the Sinhalese for petty political gains and in turn the leaders are reluctant to take decisive steps towards reconciliation. It is quite evident throughout the history of independent Sri Lanka. It is evident today as well more prominently.

 



Israel

Israel was established soon after World War II as a result of the holocaust and Jews did not have a state of their own. This request was initially made in the 19th century. To create Israel around 50% of the area of Palestine was acquired. Thereafter Israel expanded the boundaries by force. Recently the President of USA unilaterally accepted the right of Israel to keep Golan Heights which was forcibly taken over from Syria, ensuring that there will be no peace in Middle East in time to come. 

In the Israeli declaration of independence, it was stated as follows: ‘Accordingly we, members of the people’s council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel…hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the state of Israel.”

In July 2018 Israel passed a basic law; Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people of which the basic principles are, (a) The Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established. (b) The State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People, in which it realises its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination. (c) The exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.

Therefore Israel is predominantly a Jewish state. However as a democratic state they have accepted the civil liberties of all of the Israeli citizens irrespective of their ethnicities under Basic Laws of Human Dignity and Liberty and Freedom of Occupation. There was a Supreme Court decision in 1996 that there was no contradiction between Israel’s identity as a Jewish state and a state of all its citizens.

With all this background when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recently that Israel is a nation state of Jewish people and of it alone in response to a TV presenter’s claim that Israel was a country for all its citizens, there was a huge public outcry not only in Israel but also world-wide.

Sinhalese attitude

Most of the educated Sinhalese think in the line of Netanyahu in relation to the Sri Lankan situation. This would be the thinking pattern of educated Tamils as well. In rural Sri Lanka where different ethnicities are mixed, they coexisted for centuries or millennia. In the distant past wars were fought among kings and princes. There were no wars among ethnic groups. 

Even Elara’s army was comprising of large number of Sinhalese although Mahavamsa tried to portray it as a conflict of Sinhalese and Tamils. Sinhalese kings of cause fought against the invaders. They were mostly Cholas. Sinhala kings had agreements with Pandyan kings against Cholas. Sinhalese kings when they were powerful invaded South India and went up to Burma. Except for very few instances, at any given time the country was ruled by different kings who were based in different areas of the country.

Therefore Netanyahu’s thinking is not applicable in Sri Lanka since Sri Lanka is not solely a Sinhala Buddhist country. The country belongs to all its citizens. Even in Israel they have passed basic laws to protect the dignity of their citizens. With all this there is a public outcry against the status quo of Israel. These are present day democratic values of the world.

This thinking of the Sinhalese acts as an obstacle to have a reconciliation among various ethnicities in Sri Lanka. Opportunist politicians arouse this feeling of the Sinhalese for petty political gains and in turn the leaders are reluctant to take decisive steps towards reconciliation. It is quite evident throughout the history of independent Sri Lanka. It is evident today as well more prominently.

We are a democratic country and democracy is not only to go with the majority view but also to safeguard minority interests as well. Otherwise it will be a dictatorship of the majority.

 

We are a democratic country and democracy is not only to go with the majority view but also to safeguard minority interests as well. Otherwise it will be a dictatorship of the majority.

 



Buddhist perspective

Buddhism is the predominant religion in Sri Lanka which is having age old roots in the country. Buddhist approach to the life is quite different to established norms. It is centred around understanding of the entity called self which is a misconception. Nyanaponika Thero, a renowned Theravada Buddhist monk of German origin stated as follows in his book, ‘The Power of Mindfulness’: “The Buddha points out four basic misconceptions that result from distorted perceptions and unmethodical attention: taking the impure for pure, the impermanent for lasting, the painful and pain-bringing for pleasant and the impersonal for a self or something belonging to the self. When the seal of self-reference is thus stamped again and again upon the world of everyday experience, the basic misconception, ‘this belongs to me’ will steadily put forth roots into all the bodily and mental factors of our being…..These grave consequences issue from the fundamental perceptual situation: our rush into hasty or habitual reactions after receiving the first few signals from our perceptions. But if we muster the retraining forces of mindfulness and pause for bear attention, the material and mental processes that form the objects of mind at the given moment will reveal themselves more fully and more truly.”

In order to understand the reality one has to engage in a noble and scientific research on oneself carried out through pure observation. Nyanaponika Thero explained the process to overcome the obstacles as follows: “The antagonistic forces that appear in meditation and that are liable to upset its smooth course are of three kinds: external disturbances, such as noise; mental defilements such as lust, anger, restlessness, dissatisfaction or sloth, which may arise at any time during meditation; and various incidental stray thoughts, or surrender to day- dreaming…When faced by inner and outer disturbances, the inexperienced or uninstructed beginner will generally react in two ways. He will first try to shove them away lightly, and if he fails in that, he will try to suppress them by sheer force or will.”

He explained that it would be a futile effort since those obstacles will come over and over again with an additional force. 

“But by observing carefully their nature and behaviour when they arise in one’s own mind, one will be able to meet them well prepared often to forestall them and finally to banish them fully.”

This is called non-coercive approach. This will be applied even towards defilements. This is the Buddhist approach to understand the self and eventually understand the life.

As a result of this non-coercive approach Roman Catholics were safeguarded from the Protectants by Sinhala Buddhists during the Dutch period and before that Muslims were settled in Kandyan areas by Sinhala kings to safeguard them from European invaders. This approach was changed after the introduction of ‘Protestant Buddhism’ to Sri Lanka in the late 19th century as a result of Buddhist revival. It was essential due to the socio-economic and political factors prevailed at that time but the continuation of the same in the independent Sri Lanka was detrimental to the wellbeing of the Sri Lankan nation. Therefore, the age-old Buddhist approach should be revived to meet current challenges.

Indian solution

Concept of separate Dravidian State in India received political patronage after Justice Party came in to power in Madras Presidency in 1921. Not only the Tamils but also the users of other Dravidian languages such as Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada were part and parcel of this Dravidian State. The origin of this concept was in the movement against the Brahmins and their authority in Madras Presidency in the latter part of the 19th century.

At the time of independence Indian states predominantly divided based on the demarcations of British rulers and the areas acquired from the former Maharajas. South India was divided as Madras Presidency which was under the British and the states acquired from Maharajas namely Mysore, Hyderabad and Travancore-Cochin. These divisions were not done based on ethnicity. 

Subsequent to the political pressure to demarcate the states based on the languages used, in 1953 sixteen provinces using Telugu language in Madras Presidency were clustered and a new state called Andrastate was created. The States Reorganization Act was enacted on 31 August 1956 and based on that all the states in India were re-demarcated in line of the languages used. Hyderabad state and Andra state were combined and Telugu speaking Andra Pradesh was created. Travancore-Cochin state and Malabar provinces of Madras Presidency were combined and Malayalam speaking Kerala state was created. Tamil speaking Southern provinces were amalgamated with Madras Presidency which was renamed as Tamil Nadu in 1968. Kannada speaking provinces of Hyderabad state and western Bombay state were combined with Mysore state which was renamed as Karnataka in 1973.

These changes were carried out with the blessing of leaders of the Dravida Nadu movement as well. After these re-demarcations the demand for a separate Dravida Nadu was diminished in the States of Andra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. At that time, Annadurai who was in power in Tamil Nadu brought the slogan Dravida Nadu is for Dravidians and Tamil Nadu is for Tamils. Subsequently Tamil leaders abandoned the idea of Dravida Nadu as a result of war with China in 1962 and the 16th amendment to the Indian constitution in 1963 which prohibited demands for separate states. In 1962 while Indian National Congress won majority seats in Madras Presidency, DMK party won only 50 seats. In 1967 after the abundance of separatism, DMK party won 138 seats while Congress won only 50 seats.

Therefore, it was proved in India that demarcating of provinces based on the language and ethnicity would run down the demands for separate states. This is quite contrary to the popular belief in the south of Sri Lanka.

 

As the main ethnic group of the county it is the duty of the Singhalese to initiate the process of reconciliation in order to ensure the peaceful coexistence which would eventually result in the economic progress of the country. Democracy would function smoothly if and only if the main participants are content and happy.

 



Conclusion

As the main ethnic group of the county it is the duty of the Singhalese to initiate the process of reconciliation in order to ensure the peaceful coexistence which would eventually result in the economic progress of the country. Democracy would function smoothly if and only if the main participants are content and happy. 

The tragedy of Sri Lanka is the extension of the mindset created during the struggle against the suppression in the colonial period into the era of independent Sri Lanka. This was the result of the wrong and myopic mindset imposed on them by the leaders of the freedom struggle in the early stages. This myopic mindset is quite in contrast to the inclusive mindset created in the Indian population by their leaders of the freedom struggle. Sri Lanka should get over this mass myopic mindset of its majority community as soon as possible for the prosperity of the country.

(The writer is a chartered accountant and holds a MBA degree from PIM.)


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