15 May 2012

Listen to the professionals

The debate on conflict resolution and the sentiments associated with the 13th Amendment (full implementation, the need for or otherwise of devolving land and police powers, demands for going beyond the 13th etc) has largely been devoid of addressing some key questions. 

The 13th Amendment was illegal.  It was thrust down Sri Lanka’s throat by the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.  It was a proposal that treated myth as fact, and took inflated grievance as ‘true-dimensional’.  It was a territorial ‘solution’ to a non-territorial problem.  It ignored demographic realities. It footnoted history.  The provincial councils it spawned turned out to be white elephants.  It generated an additional set of parasitic politician and added to citizen disenfranchisement. 

Twenty five years after the 13th Amendment was passed, it is high time its efficacy was reassessed.  It is time to correct the error.  It is time to revisit grievance and be scientific about resolution.  It is time to weed out myth and focus on fact.

It is in this context that the recent call by the Organization of Professional Associations (OPA) to abolish the 13th Amendment should be applauded.  The OPA has pointed out that the 13th impedes national reconciliation.  It is a distraction and one based on highly verbalized but nevertheless patently obvious fictions. 

On the other hand, the 13th Amendment is admittedly a too-hot-to handle matter.  That’s all the more reason not to ignore it.  It calls for courage and statesmanship on the part of the President.  It calls for humility on the part of its advocates to acknowledge the pernicious politics that birthed it and its abject failure to deliver.  Since it is politically charged, it is incumbent that the error be taken apart piece by piece.  Such an exercise can only begin with a serious discussion on ‘grievances’.  It is time now for Tamil politicians to make a list and put it up for all to see, without frills.  It is time for advocates of devolution to open themselves to query on pertinent factors that rebel against devolution, such as history, demography, economic viability and probably political fallout.  

Most importantly, it is time for the Government to initiate that process of re-visitation and reflection.  It has listened to politicians and propagandists.  Listened to ill-intentioned big-name nations with dark objectives.  It would not be inappropriate to listen to the Sri Lankan professional community. For a change.  Hopefully, for the better.

[Editorial II, The Nation, May 13, 2012]



John said...

Totally agree that the the 13th amendment pushed down Sri Lanka's throat to satisfy Indian expansionism and Tamil chauvinism will not promote reconciliation. It will lead to diagreement and chronic conflict along ethnic territorial lines.Even at present our borders are porous and thousands of illegal immigrants have and are arriving. Conclusion is all these people from India still think Sri Lanka is better than India. Just imajine what would happen if full powers were given to provincial councils.

If Colombo, Kandy and other regions in Sri Lanka can manage with all the different ethnicities why is Jaffna and the North so special that it should only be for Tamils and for Tamils to administer. There should be new policies. The main aim been to make all of Sri Lankas citizens have a sense of belonging and have hope for a future together. The start would be to purge corrupt and/or racist politicians from all parties (this should include politicians who like babies go to India and the west for purely internal problems)
Provincial councils does nothing for peoples genuine grievances. As mentioned previosly on numerous occasions it will please corrupt and megalomaniac politicians and their henchmen. It will satisfy India if they have puppets in the North and East. It would also be very pleasing to some with vey sinister agendas as a start for further ethnic division and ultimate separatism.

Shaik Anwar Ahamath said...

As a multicultural society, no one area should have been allowed to concentrate on a single culture, be it on religion, race or even age. As a Muslim child I remember being boarded at Jaffna Central College and encouragingly several of my dorm mates too were from Colombo.

Our then politicians had been wise because there never was a single area designated as Tamil, Sinhalese or whatever. We were all Sri Lankans and should be forever.

Anonymous said...

I agree that areas should not be singled out re culture, ethnicity or religion. But schools in Jaffna always accommodated students from other parts of the country. The area remained Tamil in culture, however. Politicians had nothing to do with it.

Rory Winter said...

Yes, Lanka is a multi-cultural society though there are plenty of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists who will vehemently deny that. If ethnocentric devolution is irrelevant just how do you propose to end a situation where the tyranny of the majority seeks to secure the entire island --as witness MR's current 'cultural cleansing' of Jaffna-- as its own?

Tamils and Sinhalese coexisted relatively peacefully until S.W.R.D Bandaranaike rode the nationalist tiger for purposes of electoral gain. His political opportunism lie at the roots of both Sinhala and Tamil chauvinism. It was only in desperation that the Tamils chose separatism. They were driven to it by the Sinhala chauvinists who would entertain no thought of federalism. It was a classic example of extremism breeding further extremism.

Now we have a lull during which the victor had a golden opportunity to extend his hand in magnanimity to the defeated. But did he hell! Instead, he's going all out for a kind of all-island supremacy, trampling all over Tamil culture.

The self-elected King of Ruhuna will, in time, come unstuck and the anti-police uprisings are an early sign of that. Nobody should expect this current regime to take the ethnic problem very seriously, No chance here of any attempt to settle the grievances you deride...

You claim that "It is time to weed out myth and focus on fact." Well, what exactly is it that's mythical here and what's factual? And quite how is it that you propose to change the existing status quo so that Tamils can be assured of equality and safety in a Lanka dominated by majoritarians in central power?

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog and comments! Yes definitely there are myths and lack of economic viability in the 13th amendment solution. But the question 'how can Tamils be assured of equality' i.e. not be subject to arbitrary regulations that favour the majority is also very relevant? Also, spare a thought for the concerns and need for justice of the Sinhala people and minorities other than Tamils.

Can the 13th amendment (or 13A+) bring peace to the country? I THINK NOT. At best the key variables may change but the conflict will go on.

John said...

In answer to Rory Winter
Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is a country where it's people were colonised for centuries and alien cultures were forced on them. In spite of all this the Budhist people have been very tolerant and welcomed other religions and cultures and as you say there was co-existence.
More recently this Budhist compassion and tolerence has been seen as a weakness to exploit and that is where your so called Sinhala Budhist chauvinists rose up, to fight fire with fire. Tamil chauvinism existed before SWRD and was mainly by the Tamil elite in Jaffna who wanted to preserve their privileges granted by the colonial masters.SWRD or someone like him was inevitable to correct historical injustice.
Can you truly say that in Ceylon other religions and cultures are not allowed to exist. Are you basing it on your own prejudice or following the anti Sinhala Budhist propaganda. There are not many countries in the world with so many structures of other religions(Churches, Hindu Kovils and Moslem mosques etc) existing in a country predominantly of one religion.
As you are aware there are so many mixed marriages (inter-ethnic, inter-religous) where 2 people get on and practice their own beliefs. Even the presidents wife is Catholic.
I will let Malinda answer the myth and the fact question.
In most countries the majority have more influence in what the country should be as long as they dont supress other cultures and beliefs. That is democracy. Most minorities living in Sri Lanka would vehemently deny that other beliefs and cultures are suppressed though everyones dreams and aspirations may not be met including the dreams of the majority.

Anonymous said...

Malinda is right in recommending that the 13th Amendment and reasons for it need to be re-visited. However there is the process of reconciliation that must go hand-in-hand if the re-visit is going to be done in a cordial atmosphere!

Reconciliation through arm twisting will not be real.

This website http://noelnadesan.com/2012/04/23/rwanda-reconciliation-process/
provides some insight into the concept of reconciliation.

The 'basic steps' spelled out by Bishop Alexis Bilindabagabo, Anglican bishop of Gahini near Kigali are very significant. Particularly steps 1,3 and 6.

Anonymous said...

John is right. Tamil chauvinism (against Tamils!) did exist before SWRD; but we have to admit that the culture of the North and East was predominantly Tamil because of invasions through the centuries, although there are definite indications of buddhist culture too.
Militant chauvinism was the direct result of discrimination against the minorities after independence.
The situation has now changed. The GOSL has decided to use all 3 languages, English, Sinhala and Tamil in administration; a wise decision which will take some time to accomplish, naturally. The North and East are still predominantly Tamil-speaking. Is it then wise, in the interest of reconciliation,peace and unity to have non-Tamil speaking military administrators in these areas?
anonymous 1

Rory Winter said...

John, I have no prejudice against either the Sinhala or Buddhism. It may interest you to know that both my grandmothers were Sinhala --one from Kandy the other from Ruhuna-- who were both devout Buddhists and from whom I have inherited both a respect for my Sinhala ancestry and Buddhism. If there is any religion which makes sense to me it is to be found in Buddhism.

It is from that background that I feel obliged to speak out against the growth of what threatens to be a new kind of fundamentalism in the Theravada buddhism that the Sinhala majority of Sri Lanka has elevated to a nationalist and cultural cause. Nationalism and Buddhism cannot exist comfortably together. One has to give way to the other and from all the evidence before us it appears that nationalism is undermining buddhism in Lanka.

When I hear Theros, such as the one in Dambulla, reject multi-culturalism in favour of some nonsensical racial-cultural purism, the alarm bells start ringing loudly. And the events in Dambulla underscore that concern. But it's not only in Dambulla. Witness the spate of buddhist monuments built along the A9 and in the Jaffna area where the population is predominantly Hindu or Christian? King Mahinda seems to think he is another Asoka in his missionary zeal to convert the natives!

You have rightly observed that Lanka is traditionally a multi-ethnic country. I am a living example of that multi-ethnicity. But that is a legacy we inherit from the past. It is events in the present that are of such deep concern. King Mahinda (the tin-pot Raja of Ruhuna) in his nationalist supremacist zeal to commit a 'cultural cleansing' in the Tamil homeland is already implementing an Amendment 13+ all of his own making, a programme that has not only buried the possibility of any reconciliation but which is piling up a heap of karmic blowback for the future after he is long gone...

John said...

Apologies for my earlier comment about you. I too am against all aspects of fundamentalism and the violece associated with it.

I in a similar manner to you, find that Budhism makes a lot of sense in this crazy world. We are all human and insignificant grains of sand in the vastness of space and time.

Playing the devil's advocate If someone does not defend Budhism it can be wiped out over time. In todays world, might has become right. The rich and powerful sell the message via their sophisticated media, praising or demonising entire categories of people or ideas. Budhists have never gone to war or invaded countries or destroyed other religions throughout history. I think they have the right to defend themselves from all the sinister plots,unethical conversions etc. against them from more aggresive religions. Some of the western media and the local counterparts are all too obvious. I think you know what I am talking about.
I am not a fan of Mahinda and I am against some of the things he and his regime are doing but reconciliation is two sided. The minorities should not be there to fulfil the agenda of people who have ill will towards the country. They should only be speaking on behalf of the people in the country, who want to stay in the country with others. Fully agree with you that the country should be multi-cultural. In that set up how can you justify mono-ethnic enclaves. Some sepratists will argue that others are allowed to live in the North but we all remember the recent ethnic cleansing of Singhalese and Muslims when Tamil racists had power.

Anonymous said...

John, you are wrong I think.Playing devil's advocate to buddhism as it should be practised is not necessary. It can hold its own anywhere, in any country, in any thinking mind. I am a christian; I think buddhism is a great philosophy.
Playing devil's advocate to fundamentalists however is dangerous. Sri Lanka has a vast majority of 'thinking' buddhists. A few rabid nationalists can ruin its image.
anon 1

Rory Winter said...

No problem, John. My western name may have pressed the wrong buttons!

I would agree with Anon about the dangers of playing devil's advocate to fundamentalists, be they Buddhist, Christian, Muslim or whatever. And I agree with you about the need to defend but with this proviso: when asked by his monks how they were to defend themselves if attacked by brigands, the Buddha replied that, indeed, they were entitled to defend themselves but without taking life. My understanding is that the doctrine of Ahimsa is very clear on that: defence becomes offence when the decision is made to go beyond simple self-protection. Many eastern martial arts, for example, have grown out of that tradition of controlled self-defence where the taking of life is simply not necessary.

Extending that analogy to Buddhism's need to defend itself against the more aggressive evangelistic incursions of other religions it should be perfectly able to do so without going into attack mode. Dambulla was very much a case of Buddism going over the top.

Similarly, the sudden building of scores of Buddhist monuments in a non-Buddhist area of the island will inevitably be seen as an agressive form of cultural colonization.

And when I hear monks like the Ven. Inamaluwe Sumangala Thera, Chief Priest at Rangiri Dambulla Vihara, ranting about Sinhala 'racial purity' I see the spectre of Sinhala Buddhist fundamentalism stalking the land! This Thera it was who led the protests at Dambulla which led to such disgraceful acts of violence.

As Anon 1 has observed, Buddhism in Sri Lanka should be perfectly capable of protecting its heritage without resorting to violence and aggression. Once it has fallen so low as to resort to those measures it will effectively have destroyed itself, its very raison d'etre of non-harm. For no external enemy is necessary when one has to deal first with our own projections!