By Sajeeva Samaranayake
Moving forward from 1815 required us to fulfil some mandatory developmental tasks – as a people, a society and a nation. Instead, the British helped us to bypass this stage and presented ‘us’ with the gift of ‘freedom’ and ‘self-government’ in 1948. By this time however, the concept of ‘us’ had changed drastically. Post-1948 politics has proved this.
Today we remain in self-destructive mode, at competition and war with ourselves. All our internal competitions have now rendered the national interest invisible. This competition cum hatred is not so much a Sinhala-Tamil or Sinhala-Muslim problem but runs deep within our own families and within our own selves. Psychologists refer to one of these deep conditions as ‘unresolved recent history’. It is precisely that stage that was bypassed before we came to terms with the ‘new order’ and became loyal subjects of a white monarchy which is the murkiest part.
This makes revisiting who we are, and our common story under the yoke of the coloniser, a priority.
If we go back to those developmental tasks that I mentioned at the beginning, it is absolutely essential for us to accept that we were colonised. We were reduced and degraded. Our bodies and minds were taken over and enslaved. This is a fact. It is a fact that remains with us today.
Honesty about the past was a foundation on which the two post-war economic miracles in Germany and Japan were based. We must acknowledge that we have been dishonest. And the price of dishonesty is immaturity. We remain an immature society, collectively unable to identify and resolve the most important questions we face; not as blues, greens and reds; not as separate communities but as human beings.
Living questions and answers
The answers that we have used – like ‘peace’, ‘democracy’ and ‘development’ have all been proven false. They all seem to be a cover for something else we have failed to clearly name. Our education must now generate more and more questions. And we must probe them, as children and adults, with great sincerity. The answers are not as important. The exploration is. We must become living questions in order to become living answers. We are important as these questions are about our ancestors and us. So, we are dealing with our own lives with these questions. Nothing less.
- What really happens when one nation colonises another?
- What are the ways that colonised people adapt and change to their new reality?
- What does this do to their self, their identity and their collective identification?
- How is their faculty of awareness shaped by this experience? For example, do they become selectively blind?
- How did we regroup after 1948?
- What was the nature of the consent that was used first by the British and then by the English- speaking elite class to set up their institutions for the people of this country?
- 200 years after 1815 what is our narrative or story and what will we present our future generations as our understanding of who we really are and our place within the larger human family?
As passengers in a train that drove into modernity with the British at the helm we have acquired a syndrome that is best described as forgetting the roots or in Sinhala – ‘mulaamathakaveema’. We need to reconnect not only with facts and figures or evidence but with those raw emotions of displacement, bewilderment and abandonment that accompanied the inexorable processes of forced colonisation, secularisation and westernisation for 450 years since 1505.
The outcome of this re-education, or shall we say unlearning, must be the inspiration of qualities of humility and compassion for all. This is an act of prostration before the truth.
This is a far cry from our conventional renderings of history that produced a false pride and many egos – Sinhalese egos, Tamil egos, Muslim and Burgher egos, etc. Naturally they all clashed. And so, while an elite segment of society clambered on to a position of false security the rest of the people continued to suffer displacement. Displacement in the name of national security, foreign employment and finally ‘development’. This pattern of displacement started with Kalinga Magha in the 13th Century and it was the direct result of ‘forgetting our roots’. Our ‘freedom years’ from 1948 is eloquent testimony to this.
Of course, when we talk of displacement we think of IDPs. That is the tip of the iceberg. It refers to a nation going wide off course without a pilot. In the famous words of the late Father Tissa Balasuriya: “We had mistaken buildings for communities, ownership for environment, management for motivation and instruction for education.”
Every nation must face up to its historical downside. We have wallowed in self-pity and sentimentality and gleefully accepted the second-class dependent status that went along with it. It is high time that we dusted ourselves and stood up as equally flawed (albeit in different ways) members of the community of nations.
This is a message I would initially direct – with much love to the English-speaking elite beneficiaries of this ‘democracy’ which is actually their grand pretence and make-believe world. And it is a pretence that seems to have guaranteed funding from our current imperial masters.
The creed of this elite we now know is preaching democracy and practicing elitism, preaching capitalism and practicing dependent rentier economics, preaching egalitarianism and practicing nepotism and preaching secularism and practicing expedient secularism. The game is up. As was said recently in our inimitable style –“sir, petrol ivarayi…danbahinna.” Sir the petrol has run out … you must now get down.
We know now, contrary to what we were taught in the ’80s that, under this system, the biggest rewards go to the biggest crooks. If sincerity, honesty and hard work is not going amount to much in this society why are we educating our children? How much longer will politicians need to boast about national schools in their electorates and examination results? Who are we going to fool with these actions? Despite mounting evidence all over the world that mankind is in for the beating of its life in this century from nature we seem to believe in this country that the ‘party’ (in more senses than one) goes on.
Nature will reclaim its due in this century in two ways. Its elemental forces will bring arrogant human beings to their knees and this has already started happening.
Much of what we build and collect and gather will be of little use then. Secondly, the emotions of oppressed human beings will also spill over with elemental fury to wreak havoc on people. When this happens, our 19th Century criminal definitions and 20th Century terrorist definitions will be of little avail. Apportioning blame will no longer suffice and only mature understanding will redeem us. And every man and woman of some weight knows that – maturity (or let us humbly say awareness of immaturity) unlike the things you buy – is hard won. Be prepared!