By- Sharmini Serasinghe
A 2500 year-old Culture that was!
The current wave of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism/extremism/racism, and attempts to establish a ‘Sinhala-Buddhist Raj’ in Sri Lanka, if left unchecked will eventually lead, to fragmentation of Sri Lanka into separate states, of the minorities. It may not happen in the immediate future, but it’s a reality staring us in the face.
With the military defeat of the LTTE in 2009 Lankans as a people, were hardly afforded the chance to breathe a sigh of relief, before the Sinhala-Buddhist extremists, in the form of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), Sinhala Ravaya (SR) and Ravana Balaya (RB) emerged, waving the flag of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism/extremism/racism, in the faces of the others.
Instead of nipping this sociological scourge in the bud, the then political administration gave succor to it. The endgame was to be, to juxtapose the majority Buddhists and the minority communities of this land, and classify the latter, as inferior. This caused and continues to cause, irreparable damage to the process of peace and reconciliation in post-war Sri Lanka.
The well-orchestrated Aluthgama riots by these extremists against Muslims in June 2014 bore, all the hallmarks of the dark days of the July 1983 riots targeting Tamils, but, on a smaller scale. In both instances, the law enforcement authorities looked on, while the carnage took places under their very noses. Why?
With the change of political regimes in January 2015, many of us heaved a sigh of relief for different reasons. The minorities I’m sure did so, hoping for a final peace, under a more inclusive administration.
For a while, the saffron robed brigades like the BBS it seemed, had been reined in and silenced. But then, along came a new saffron robed player into the game, a clone of Gnanasara and his BBS; Yakkalamulle Pawara and his Sinhale Jathika Balamuluwa, claiming to “safeguard the identity of the Sinhala people, and to regenerate the supremacy and pride of the Sinhala people”.
The lower-middle class Sinhala-Buddhist is a vulnerable customer, in the marketplace of such supremacist politics today. This, underprivileged class of people who are alas in the majority, while struggling to make ends meet, amidst the spiraling cost of living, become easily convincible victims, of the saffron robed, fanning patriotic and supremacist fantasies, in their faces.
To excite these gullible, fantastic tales contained in the Mahavamsa, and the superiority of a 2500 year-old culture, the remnants of which today, stand as archeological ruins and edifices, (much like the morals of the heirs to this ‘culture’), are upheld as the iconic achievements of the ultimate human race- the Sinhala-Buddhists. How this supreme race has failed in recent times, to live up to this lofty ‘culture’ is never spoken of.
Hosannas on Sri Lanka’s 2500-year old culture, has been one man’s meat and another man’s poison, since independence. Whenever a Sinhalese with an inferiority complex coupled with a racist mindset finds himself stumped, this much hackneyed theme of a 2500-year old culture, and what our great kings of yore achieved, are brought to play. But, no reference is made to what the Sinhalese have achieved and contributed, to perpetuate this grandiose culture since independence.
While the early generations of this ‘lion-blooded race’, didn’t need foreign aid and assistance to build what they did, today, their descendants are unable to construct even a road, without crying out for foreign help.
Talk about empty vessels making the most noise!
I recall, as an impressionable teenager, when Sri Lanka’s first Executive President J.R. Jayawardene, made his first state visit to the USA, during Ronald Reagan’s tenure as President. In his televised address on the South Lawn of the White House, JRJ casting aside his noblesse oblige, referred to the United States as “a country with ‘only’ a 200-year old history, while Sri Lanka’s was over 2500 years old”!
This ‘casual’ or ‘calculated’ remark, (with JRJ one never knew) has remained with me to date. To me even as a child, this totally unsavoury remark, reeked of an acute inferiority complex, and I couldn’t help but feel, utterly embarrassed on his behalf. Was he, as the leader of a tiny drop in the Indian Ocean, which most Americans would not have known existed, trying to feel superior, to this superpower?
For most of us Sri Lankans, we have heard this old-hat too often, and therefore, holds no water. But to a foreigner hearing these words, “Sri Lanka’s 2500-year old culture” and seeing for themselves, how this great culture has shaped this country’s fortunes/misfortunes, it must be truly mind boggling!
Perhaps the moral lows we have sunk to, as a people of this ‘cultured land’, will not be so stark, if the trumpets of its glorious past, are not blown so loud!
What are those today, crowing about this glorious and ancient culture trying to prove, when the very heirs to this ‘culture’ stand, as beacons of miserable failure, in upholding the morals and ideals of such?
Or to them, does ‘culture’ mean mere, archeological ruins and edifices only?