11 February 2016

Reconciliation and hallucination

"LLRC representations and R.M.B. Senanayake’s hallucinations" is the title of an article I wrote for the Sunday Island in February 2011.  It was a response to what I thought was a wayward and malicious comment on my representations to the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission).  The mischief however is not specific to the preoccupations of Senanayake.  We have seen a lot of it and sure, from all sections of the spectrum pertaining to ethnic politics.  [See The text of my representations to the LLRC (and responses to questions). Related articles include 'LLRC Proposals: let there be no foot-dragging!' and 'The LLRC, devolution and the politics of skipping caveats'.  

A few weeks ago I made representations to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), the transcript of which the Sunday Island graciously carried in the past three issues of the newspaper.  Subsequently some of the commissioners raised questions in the interest of covering more ground and obtaining clarification.  Transcripts of the question-answer session were not sent to the Sunday Island of course but the entire proceedings are available on youtube.  I do not assume that people who read the Sunday Island also checked out youtube.  I do expect however that any comment on whatever is there in the public domain sticks to what’s been said or implied. That’s basic courtesy.

It is against this backdrop that I find some comments made by R.M.B. Senanayake (‘Response to Malinda Seneviratne, January 29, 2011) surprising.  Senanayake (RMBS henceforth) concedes grudgingly (going by his word-choice) that the traditional homeland claim is indefensible.  He then goes off at a tangent.

He asks whether I think an individual Tamil family should be allowed to own and possess land they own.  In my submissions I never argued for the abolition of private property or for denying such rights to anyone, Tamil or otherwise. Where RMBS got this idea, I have no clue.  His subsequent questions regarding the enactment of laws to deny land ownership to Tamils do not arise as far as my submissions go.  If he needed to rant and rave about it he need not have dragged me into the picture.

He asks a series of questions about Army camps and lands formerly robbed and used by the LTTE.  They seem to imply insensitivity on the part of relevant state authorities about the plight of Tamil civilians. These are certainly important details but they were external to my submissions, which focused on resolving conflicting claims and the importance of regulatory mechanisms to ensure good governance, the rule of law and inter-communal harmony in ways that are sustainable. 

At no point did I assert or even imply that the ownership of lands and properties forcibly annexed by the LTTE should not revert back to the robbed.  There is nothing to indicate that the Government has no intention of facilitating such reversion.  One would expect however that there be system in the matter of submitting claim, reasonable evidence of ownership, for instance.  Wars, like tsunamis, take away a lot and while sympathy must abound, laxity in procedure is never warranted for it engenders other vexing problems.   

RMBS asks whether the Government should take over a ‘Tamil village’ (that’s a weak and careless categorization by the way for it implies a limiting of property rights to a particular community).  While noting that this man frequently got tongue-twisted in acknowledging the land-theft perpetrated by the LTTE, RMBS seems to have lost his address book.  Nowhere in my submissions did I argue for similar taking over villages.  I am yet to hear the Government issuing any statement that implies intention to secure real estate in this manner. 

The question of colonization/settlement was put to me by the Commission and framed in the thesis that every blade of grass, every grain of sand belongs to every citizen.  In my response I observed that while this is theoretically defensible, sensitivity should be exercised given histories when large scale relocations are planned and executed.  RMBS claims, ‘The Sinhalese nationalists wanted to deprive the Tamil majority in the north & east so as to undermine their claim to these lands as their homelands.’  Well, that claim is untenable in the first place given history, geography and demography (RMBS should unpack ‘North and East’ along these lines but he won’t for reasons not too hard to understand) and so indefensible that there is nothing to undermine!  In any event, even if there was such a move, I don’t see why RMBS drags me into it, for I have not argued for enforced mixing of population, not at the LLRC nor elsewhere. 

When he asks what the value of creating mixing populations is, he slips.  He is arguing for ethnic enclaves and the logic of that particular argument calls for enforced ‘enclaving’.  So we would have Sinhala Buddhist enclaves, Sinhala Christian ones, Tamil Hindu ones, Tamil Christian ones, Sinhal Govigama Buddhist ones, Sinhala Govigama Karawa ones, Sinhala Govigama Buddhist Professionals separated from Sinhala Buddhist Unskilled Labour and so on.  Life moves despite the fantasies of people like RMBS, fortunately. Today, more than half the Tamil population in the island lives outside the North and East and in reasonable harmony with other communities.  The fact is that provincial and other regional boundaries are porous.  Even villages are not exactly gated communities where outsiders don’t come in and from which residents never leave. 

All of a sudden, RMBS, a Sinhala Christian, believes he is the voice of Tamils and says that community fears ‘ethnic colonization’ and this fear can only be allayed by resettling IDPs in their original homes and villages.  Now which part of my submissions to the LLRC did I object to this kind of resettlement?  If someone is planning a different kind of resettlement pattern, then RMBS should take issue with that person.   

He is upset about some imagined plan (which I know nothing of and therefore had no reason to mention at the LLRC) to turn Tamils, Muslims and Christians into Sinhala Buddhists.  He must be hallucinating.  On the other hand, this same RMBS has openly defended unethical conversion of Buddhists and Hindus into Christians using the crazy logic of ‘free market of ideas’.  That logic can be applied in reverse as well.  If the free market of ideas (where someone uses whatever mechanisms at his/her disposal, including political sway) facilitates a Hindu or a Christian to convert to Buddhism, RMBS cannot object, unless of course he’s had a change of mind about conversion into Christianity.  I conclude that the man is so rabidly anti-Buddhist that he ties himself up in his own knots. 

All this is not surprising. RMBS has argued for asymmetrical devolution, with devolved police powers for the North and East but not for the rest of the country.  He has argued for demographical status-quo to be left alone, imagining that individuals and collectives can be frozen in geographies. He has vociferously argued for the constitutional splitting of sovereignty between the centre and the sub-units.  He has championed federalism and embedded in this project the legitimization of the traditional homelands claim.  He was and probably still is associated with the National Peace Council, an NGO notorious for numerous and substantial accommodations to the LTTE and a staunch backer of separatist ideologies and groups.  He was upset when the CFA was abrogated and issued dire projections about the future.  He used Eelam-speak liberally but perhaps more cutely than the likes of Jehan Perera, couching preferences in question rather than statement. 

Even in this comment, he quickly moves from mentioning my submissions (his rant has very little to do with what I told the commission) to raise the spectre of some Sinhala Buddhist Nationalist gonibilla.  On the one hand he wants ethnic enclaves, but he also wants one-ethnicity, one-vote and/or one-religion, one-vote type of secularism.  He just wants to undercut the Buddhists. This is very apparent when one considers his commentaries over the years.  He is ever ready to ridicule Buddhists and point out flaw in the Bikkhu, but is loathe to say anything critical of their Christian counterparts. 
While this country belongs to everyone, regardless of his/her religious convictions, RMBS would never venture into investigating who actually built this civilization, what the religious faiths of the key architects were, the faiths of which community that lost the most blood in defending this land and her people and so on.  He just wants ‘status quo’ without unpacking identity and without mentioning demographic breakdowns or referencing history.  He does not even want to acknowledge that resolving for ‘status-quo’ is a recipe for a need to resolve over and over again simply because status-quo is not something cast in stone.  

He can’t get enough of Buddhist bashing.  He is smart enough to tag ‘Sinhala’ to Buddhist so that his crass religious fundamentalism gets adequately camouflaged. It is not difficult to see why this Sinhala Christian seems so ready to vilify the Sinhalese and argue for the ceding of territories and for ‘enclaving’ to non-Sinhalese: when Sinhalese are robbed, by dint of numbers, Buddhists are the worst hit.  He would not argue for proselytizing zealots to stay within the precincts of their home-congregation. He should, following his own logic. 

Fortunately, the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others as well as Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians, in the main, are not fixated with the rubbish-notions that RMBS is fascinated with.  We have seen enough gonibillas to recognize the real item from the imagined.  There is room for everyone on this land, even RMBS.  He too serves a purpose.  He articulates the preposterous. As long as he rants and raves, those who to defer in favour of reason can take a cue about which direction they should avoid: the one he points to.  For this, we should salute this man, for he does this often enough, even when he hallucinates about what has been said and implied (as he has in the article referred to here). Thank you, Mr. Senanayake.        

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malindasenevi@gmail.com