by Gnana Moonesinghe
Sometimes the fear is that large numbers of the people are blind and deaf; blind and deaf by intent that they neither see nor hear or do so selectively. That will have to be another study, another investigation.
But for now this short paper is confined to describe what has been seen and heard by those keen to be acquainted with information available around them. Yet let’s be aware that the unraveling of the facts around us is not always pleasant; what is seen and heard will be disturbing to the mind and spirit of those who are receptive.
Yes, the two references will upset many amongst us, both liberals and conservatives, who have a keen desire to unite the nation and actively subscribe to Martin Luther King’s exhortation – to live like brothers or perish together as fools. What will it be?
It’s time to spell out what I have SEEN for quite some time – the words SinhalaLE – the words SinhaLE with Le written in the Sinhala alphabet in red on the back of vehicles and mostly on the back of three wheelers is a potential bomb ready to explode. What have I HEARD? The most unacceptable racist action by a group of auto drivers who refused to pick up the hire of an ethnic group visiting this country for a religious ceremony. This happened outside a reputed hotel in the city.
There have been many combinations of the SinhaLE slogans; one with the lion symbol from the flag followed by Sinha in Sinhalese characters in white and LE in red. Whatever the combination, whatever the graphics, however clever some may see the pun as, its intent is simple and RACIST.
How parochial, shortsighted and divisive can we get? This to put it contextually is to recognize that for such action by a group of racially biased men, there were many who taxied visitors to their destinations. It must be noted that the Bohra Muslims conference has as its theme ” We Believe in Sri Lanka” had an attendance of 2 3 thousand people and estimated to bring in $31 million as foreign exchange within the short period of their stay in this country; not an amount to be ignored by a debt burdened economy.
These two matters are highlighted to capture the attention of the presidential hopefuls who are now strutting on centre stage, themselves not clear if they will eventually feature as candidates at the presidential election. It is the aspiration that the mandate of the presidential hopefuls will give emphasis to eradicate the prevalence of racial bias among the people of this country.
Have you seen the words Sinha LE?
The SinhaLE writing on the back of vehicles is not a recent happening. This has been there for a while with not a word spoken by the powerful individuals elected and or appointed to keep the peace within the nation.
This perhaps is the best time to catch those in power and demand their response. Their inaction to date over this matter is unpardonable. Will they speak out even now? I am afraid not. If up to now they have desisted from speaking out on this very racial, divisive, words deadly provocative in its brevity, why would the powerful speak now when they are lining up to collect votes at the parliamentary or presidential elections largely on the divisive platform.
To date I have heard of only one single individual who on observing the writing on the vehicle he had ordered, went into action. Totally provoked by the provocative display of SinhaLe he phoned the agent and demanded a replacement to be sent minus the scripted writing on the vehicle. The vehicle was withdrawn and a replacement sent without the offending words. The silent one man protest was indeed successful. He is, it must be noted, not a politician!
Sinha LE means Sinhala blood. Nothing wrong in this. But the connotations can be dangerously inciteful; given this, the very fact that blood is written in the Sinhala script and in red is self explanatory as to intent. It is a frightening stand, assertion of Sinhala presence and their emergence as central figures if blood is not to be spilt. To the wary it can also mean ‘beware’, a posturing that is threatening.
Isn’t it better to get to the source and clear the fears of non Sinhalese? Why indeed not?
Interpreted thus there arises the question as to why they do not see the contradiction in the constitutional averments of equality for all and this posturing of SinhaLEY? Today there are several statements calling for accommodation within the reality of a plural society. But this citation is pregnant with potential for disharmony and violent reaction. We have had the thirty year war between the State and the Tamil militants. The cost to the country in terms of destruction to life and property is shocking that one would think any future hostile posturing on divisive lines should be considered prohibitive; thoughts to be abandoned immediately. Instead, the tolerance level is mind boggling particularly because this happens in an atmosphere where there are many voices raised for reconciliation so vital for cohabitation among the different ethnic and religious communities, for national development and for long term strategic planning. Double speak? Are we a nation working towards peace or hostility?
Should we not enlist civil society as partners with political leaders to ensure that civil society that has experienced destabilization and stunted growth consequent to the violence they encountered earlier will be assured a peaceful environment. Having heard and seen the mayhem on Easter Sunday, this must help us to get our strategies for the future in perspective. Many feel it was a delayed response to the various incidents that happened in Alutgama, Digana etc. Who did what and the why and the wherefore is immaterial.
What we require is leadership with a peace mission, in the interests of humanity. The powers that be and civil society have equal responsibility to matters of national cohesiveness and national stability.
Let us hope that even at this late stage the word ‘HALT’ will be called out to prevent divisions and hate. Otherwise we are on the way to perish as fools in the words of Martin Luther King.