Point of View
Policy, Tamil ‘rights’ and validity of calling Buddhists extremist
To sufficiently address a global and local campaign that has as its
clear objective to project Buddhists in Sri Lanka as extremists,
chauvinistic and even militant is not easy, and impossible, given that
the gavel has concluded its verdict. Then there is also the notion that
the Sinhala Only was the root to Tamil discrimination. When Tamil was
never an administrative language used in governance during colonial rule
and even upon post-independence how can Tamils claim they had been
denied this right? The politicians that claimed ‘grievance’ in denial of
Tamil usage were studying and using English in employment along with
their Sinhala counterparts. Tamil language was never used on an official
basis. These Tamil leaders had taken the Sinhala politicians for a ride
– from no Tamil use, they got ‘reasonable use’ and then ‘official use’
after the Indian intervention in 1987. All through the entire process
Buddhists and Buddhism had been demonized and continue to be so.
No amount of theories placed by opponents has succeeded to nullify
the fact that the Sinhale race of Buddhists has an embedded and
historical lineage in the land of Sri Lanka. That centuries old
historical civilization collapsed only after the arrival of the European
colonials. The very exponents of human rights were responsible for the
murder, mayhem, looting and raping of thousands of natives in
territories that belong to the people of Africa and Asia. These very
nations that today demand ‘inquiries’ have failed to even say ‘sorry’
for their crimes. These very nations that speak of ‘equality’,
‘freedoms’, ‘rights’ came to take over by force nations, to plunder
their wealth and to convert the people to Christianity. That objective
remains and explains why the majority of humanitarian and charity
organizations describe themselves as ‘Christian/Catholic Organizations’.
It is these movements that use Tamil grievance as a ticket to create a
Catholic enclave like East Timor to eventually create a Christian base
in a geographically strategic location like Sri Lanka.
The European policy to marginalize Buddhists lasted for 500 years.
Their policy of divide and rule created the majority-minority gulf.
The process of pauperizing and eliminating the Buddhists took the form
of violence, murder and mayhem, acquisition of land, destruction of
Buddhist paddy fields and animal husbandry, addicting people to liquor,
importing Indian labour to bridge the Sinhala-Tamil gap and the denial
of education. Minorities were given the best of missionary education
once they converted and enjoyed employment and social status while
Buddhists who refused to give up their language or their religion were
confined to the village. With time Buddhists that converted also enjoyed
English education and it was these who became the politicians of
post-independence – the vernacular speaking Buddhists saw little change
to their status quo.
At post-independence both Sinhala and Tamil politicians were those
who had by conversion obtained English education and belonged to the
elite. It was the Vellala caste Jaffna Tamils who were to decide what
they thought was best for all Tamils in Sri Lanka and it was no
different for the Sinhalese elite. By independence in 1948, 80 percent
of public service jobs were secured by Christian Tamils (all from Jaffna
elite Vellala caste) and the rest by mostly elite Christian Sinhalese.
Both the army and navy were headed by Christian Tamils.
The situation that befell Sri Lanka no sooner independence was given
was the fact that no minority was willingly to accept a reversal in the
manner ‘they’ had been dominating the Buddhist majority for over 200
years. ‘They’ meant a handful of elite English speaking Christian
converted Tamils who belonged to the Vellala caste. While we cannot
blame the minorities for feeling arrogant and superior to the majority
natives who were confined to the village, we should also understand the
sense of loss the Buddhist natives would have felt by the injustice.
This was not how the ancient Buddhist kings had envisaged would happen
to Sri Lanka in the manner they ran the country over centuries.
Yet, this was the British legacy to Sri Lanka. All nations became
‘independent’ of colonial rule only after these nations became connected
to the international banking system and world markets. There is not much
difference in nations under colonials in the past and neo-colonials in
Unity in diversity
The Sinhala Only Bill
With the departure of the British and with Sri Lanka left to run its
own country – there was an imbalance that no one could ignore. Could a
country run with over 95 percent in the villages with only the knowledge
of Sinhalese and little education while a handful were enjoying English
education and automatic employment opportunities? The Tamil/Sinhalese
elite class was faced with a looming problem. Three percent English
educated elite Tamils and Sinhalese were in no position to run a country
on its own. Could Sri Lanka run a country with just 180,000 English
educated Tamils and Sinhalese, and treble the number of vernacular
educated youth who knew little or no English when the population stood
at 6.6 million?
Sinhala as a State language was not an injustice perpetrated against
the Tamils as is promoted but against the English educated elite of both
Tamils and Sinhalese who had been enjoying undue privileges over the
majority Buddhists. It was really a case of Non-speaking English
majority vs the handful of English speaking people who were Tamil and
Sinhalese Christians. The uprising of Sinhala youth in later years was
to show their dissatisfaction that even upon independence the injustices
prevailed for Buddhists. Reiterated again is that it was the Buddhists
who suffered discrimination.
It was J R Jayewardene who brought a resolution in 1944 to make
Sinhalese the official language in Ceylon. The resolution was amended by
JRJ making Sinhalese and Tamil official languages and passed though
Dudley Senanayake and four others voted against it. Incidentally, SWRD
voted in favour while in the UNP. However, everything was done in
English so it made little difference to non-elite Sinhalese or Tamils.
Nevertheless, tardiness of politicians since independence to
systematically introduce English to rural Sri Lanka whilst protecting
vernacular languages and cultures have failed. This remains a challenge
but one that has to be met.
In 1914, only 37,500 pupils attended English schools of a total
population of 4.1 m while 347,500 were registered in ‘vernacular
schools’ – for both Buddhists and Tamils.
In 1931, there were 84,000 pupils in English schools while 476,000
went to vernacular schools.
In 1948, 180,000 were in English schools while 720,000 attended
The choice was to either educate that 97 percent in English or to get
the 3 percent to learn and function in a language that the majority
spoke in order to congregate the entire populace. The 2nd choice made
Any shrewd politician would have done what SWRD Bandaranaike did – it
was the only practical thing to do. He gave up Christianity, left the
UNP and using the five power centres – he won a landslide victory.
However, it was not articulated properly and this opened doors for
the rift that ensued because elite Tamil politicians thought it the
perfect opportunity to make their demands. What elite Vellala Tamil
politicians wanted to do was to continue the privileges they had been
enjoying since colonial rule by using a bogus discrimination theme to
maintain their status quo above all Tamils. There was no real love for
the ordinary Tamil people or for the Tamil language.
Always hidden was that these Vellala’s did not want any low caste
Tamils getting education even in Tamil. The caste issue was not as rigid
in the Sinhalese as in the Tamils but it certainly did prevail in
education, employment and marriage. These are issues that the
international community cannot understand or link to political decision
What must be remembered at all times is that elite Vellala Tamils did
not want to give better opportunities to their own people – with or
without Sinhala Only. They wanted to remain rulers of all these
low-caste Tamils and that has not changed still.
No one seems to have asked at which time in governance,
administration was run in Tamil language for them to feel that making
Sinhala Only denied them a right – Tamil language was never used
administratively to claim denial? Elite Tamils and Sinhalese were
studying in English and employment was also in English – Sinhala Only
did not mean Tamil was prohibited from being spoken – vernacular schools
taught in both mediums upto Grade Five only!
The truth was that no one wished to admit that Tamils did not want a
reversal to what they had been unfairly enjoying for 200 years and
instead it worked well to create a notion of ethnic-discrimination and
language-discrimination – when in reality those creating these notions
were English educated and probably did not even speak in Tamil at home
or cared to uplift the lives of Tamils who studied in Tamil upto Grade
Permission had to be sought in Parliament to speak in Sinhala prior
to 1956! While parents had to sign that they did not mind their children
learning the Bible.
So what exactly were these elite Tamils missing to feel a ‘grievance’
when Tamil was never the language of governance in Sri Lanka until it
came to be ‘reasonably used’ after the Sinhala Only bill and thereafter
made an official language following the Indian intervention in 1987?
Obviously, even SWRD Bandaranaike fell for the ruse when politicians
could have easily nullified these unnecessary demands because all those
demanding for Tamil language rights studied in English – so what was
this new demand for Tamil language status? SWRD in an interview however
did say that there would be ‘reasonable-use’ of Tamil as a language of a
minority in education, examination, public service and correspondence.
However, situations like 1983 worked perfectly to nullify the truth.
Not many were willing to say that it was J R Jayewardena, a few UNP
goons and external hired forces that unleashed the riots – the Sinhalese
provided safe haven to their Tamil neighbours. JRJ was never a friend of
the Buddhists and many other leaders join that list.
Those that side with Tamils and their reasons to demand separation
may first like to provide answers to;
· Why in 1941 Tamils demanded a separate Tamil state from the British
· Why Tamils refused the British policy of one-man/one-vote system?
· Why Tamils created an ethnic-based political party (All Ceylon
Tamil Congress)in 1944 if they wanted to live in peaceful co-existence?
· Why Tamils demanded 50-50 representation in Parliament when Tamils
at independence were just 733,000 and Sinhalese population was
4.6million? Lord Soulsbury declared the request a ‘mockery of
democracy’. If the other Tamil-speaking communities can co-exist with
the majority without making extremist demands why is it that only the
Jaffna Tamils need special rights to live in peace and harmony?
· Why in 1949 an imported Chelvanayakam would establish the ‘Federal
Party’ – its English term hiding the Tamil meaning of ‘separate state’
in its party name?
· Why was it acceptable for LTTE to declare ‘Tamil Only’ in 1990 in a
defacto region in which LTTE had its own post offices, police,
currency/notes, stamps etc?
Lets now move on to the argument that promotes the notion that
BUDDHISTS run Sri Lanka?
Though Article 9 of the Sri Lanka Constitution makes special mention
of ‘Buddhism’, can we be happy that the State has fulfilled its duty of
‘protecting’ and ‘fostering’ the Buddha Sasana?
The economic conditions of Buddhists remain dismal in comparison to
that of minorities even after the open economy in 1977. So, when media,
organizations and individuals take pains to promote the theory of
Buddhist chauvinism – why is it that Buddhists remain paupers compared
to the other ethnic groups? Can anyone give valid points as to what
Sinhalese enjoy over Tamils?
· In a ‘Sinhala’ state – how is it that Muslims and Tamils make up
more than 2/3 the population in Colombo?
· In a ‘Sinhala’ state – how is it that the main wholesale trading is
virtually run by either Muslims or Tamils?
· If Buddhists run Sri Lanka why is the commercial activity of Sri
Lanka in the hands of non-Buddhists and in the capital itself the
Sinhalese remain the minority populace?
· In a ‘Sinhala’ state – how is it that Tamils and Muslims can
purchase property, land and live wherever they like but when a Sinhalese
want to live in the North it is termed as ‘colonization’?
· In a ‘Sinhala’ state – how is it that no Tamil, Muslim child is
denied education in any school be it national, international,
· In a ‘Sinhala’ state – where does it deny Tamils or Muslims
employment in either Public or Private sector because of their
ethnicity? Yet, do Tamils and Muslims not openly declare they do not
sell to Sinhalese (Buddhists), they do not employ Sinhalese (Buddhists)
Is it wrong for Buddhists to reclaim their rightful heritage? Those
that promote the notion that Buddhists discriminates against
non-Buddhists because the government is Buddhist are mistaken. The
government is not Buddhist and no one can give a single example as to
how any government has given special privileges to Buddhists over
non-Buddhists except to grace events and cultural programmes. This was
not so in ancient times – Kings ran the state for a) protection and b)
prosperity of its citizens following the dasa rajya dharma providing for
all the needs of the citizens within a fair and pure administration.
Even the enemy Elara was certainly not like Prabhakaran as the Mahavamsa
refers to Elara as a noble man who rules “with even justice towards
friend and foe, on occasions of dispute at law”.
Cultural and religious heritage
All that the Buddhists wanted at independence and especially through
the Sinhala-Only bill was for Buddhists to reclaim their cultural and
religious heritage that had been targeted for elimination. Have
Buddhists significantly gained anything post-independence apart from an
internationalized continuation of what they suffered from during
colonial rule? Is there really a place given to the Temple, Tank and
Paddy that characterized Buddhist rule of yonder years?
Therefore repeated again is the question what do the Buddhists have
that a Tamil does not have – the question is never answered? Instead
Buddhists are accused of chauvinism, Mahavansa mentality and
discriminating Tamils simply because Buddhists realize the dangers of
extremism and are now exerting pressures to stop extremism that would
lead to a scenario that Europe is now experiencing.
However, minorities have made it a habit to use sporadic events as
‘grievances’ to create a scenario of state oppression and thereafter to
exert undue pressure and force politicians to officially provide them
legal rights when there is little to substantiate their claims. As such
Buddhist opinion has subtly been excluded from discussions between GOSL
and Tamil leaders and whatever opinions expressed on behalf of the
Buddhists has been by mostly Christians. At no point in time however the
land rights of the Buddhists that had been acquired by force ever come
into discussion or inquiry. It is on these grounds that Buddhists have a
greater reason to accuse the Church of attempting to undermine Buddhism
in Sri Lanka and the Catholic Action movement cannot deny this.
If unbiased coverage is what media promises can media claim to
provide Buddhists the same place it gives to non-Buddhists when
publishing critiques of religions? Buddhism is not about division of
nikayas, stone stupas, idol worship, monks living in luxury, similarly
Christianity is also not about conversions, paedophiles, homosexualism
and Islam is not about Wahhabism or vandalism. Politicians have not
helped in the least as power and money often ends up determining their
actions. The truth is priests belonging to all religions are not without
their vices but that cannot change the message propagated by the leaders
of these faiths.
Certainly we have come to another phase of extremism. It was elite
Vellala Jaffna Tamils that first started making extremist demands which
turned into terrorist demands with time. Now, Wahhabism and Sharia laws
have come to take the newest phase of extremism. If majority of Tamils
did not party with the firstst extremism and the new extremism is not
shared by Muslims, it is time to take proper actions instead of
diverting the issue by promoting Buddhist extremism to hide the truth.
If the people of Poland could recover their culture and language
despite it being governed by Germany, Russia, Hungary and Austria – what
is wrong with the Buddhists recovering their culture and language – it
was that which the colonials denied?
Are these arguments abusing Buddhists and Buddhism all coming down to
promote the notion that everyone would be happy if we go back to
colonial rule where minorities enjoyed all the privileges and the
Buddhists remained confined to the villages?
Sri Lanka does not belong to any individual, group or even the State.
It belongs to all those who are committed to act as trustees, sharing it
in common, protecting each other and the environment which includes all
the animals as well. Both man and animal have a right to life.