Why I am Proud to be What I am : A Sinhala Buddhist

By H.L.D.Mahindapala, Asia Tribune, May 15, 2005

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- It is not fashionable to be identified as a Sinhala-Buddhist in the current climate where all blame is heaped on them for the north-south crisis that exploded in devastating proportions in the last decades of the 20th century. By and large, the pro-Tamil ideologues attribute the north-south conflict to the culture and history of the Sinhala-Buddhists.

<< H.L.D. Mahindapala: "I am writing this to express my pride in defending a people whose record deserves a more balanced and fair assessment in the eyes of the world."

Selectively picked quotes (sometimes a line or two) of Sinhala-Buddhist leaders, or picking on a lay or an ordained individual who had dared to revive Buddhism or Sinhala culture during and after the colonial period, or focusing derisively on a Buddhist shrine (example: Kalutara Maha Bodhiya), or Queen Victoria?s park renamed as Vihara Maha Devi Park in politically motivated papers sponsored by NGOs like the ICES led by noted anti-Sinhala-Buddhist Tamil intellectuals, or belittling a novelist who had thematically explored and extolled traditional values (example: Piyadasa Sirisena), or even attributing the sporadic mob violence that exploded in the later half of the 20th century to the serene paintings in the Buddhist temples as images that evoked evil in the minds of the devotees, have been the standard methodology of the pro-Tamil ideologues to portray the Sinhala-Buddhists as a demonic force that caused the north-south crisis.

Before going any further it is necessary to emphasize that this is not a crisis in which all the Tamil-speaking minorities have ganged up against the Sinhala-Buddhists, though that is generally the impression created by the active Tamil lobby. This crisis originated, developed and continues to be a conflict exclusively between the Tamils of the north and the majority Sinhalese of the south. Despite many attempts to woo the other Tamil-speaking communities by the northern Tamil leadership, or even to drag the Tamil-speaking Muslims through acts of ethnic cleansing and mass massacres of Muslims by the ?sole representative of the Tamils?*, the central issues of the crisis are confined mainly to the contentious and competing claims of the north and the south. The question that crops up then is: who is to be blamed for the ensuing violence? Is it the Sinhalese or the Tamils?

Though this may appear to be a vexed, or even a simplistic view, the issue of who is to be blamed for the north-south crisis has had serious ripple effects flowing backwards and forwards in time. Conventional opinion, popularized by those rewriting history, has come to the conclusion that those who were responsible for taking the nation down this track of violence should be blamed. This judgment in turn determines who should pay the price for it in order to redeem the guilty past. In the meantime, the crisis has gathered a violent momentum and turned brutal based primarily on blaming the party that is supposed to be guilty, though the accused is yet to be proven guilty by testable evidence. Even the proposed solutions are based on pressing charges against those who are deemed to be responsible for the north-south crisis and making them pay for it. Consequently, solutions are worked out on the judgment that it is the accused, right or wrong, who must pay and not the guilty. And the accused, of course, are the Sinhala-Buddhists. The conventional opinion that rules the thinking in most quarters claims that if the Sinhala-Buddhists had granted the demands of only one Tamil-speaking community, namely the Jaffna Tamils, at the time they asked and also kept on conceding their increasing demands, leading to the take over of the north and the east under their exclusive control, this north-south crisis would not have occurred.

The banality of this conclusion denies not only the complex historical forces behind the crisis but also the aspirations of all communities involved in the crisis. This conclusion assumes that only one community, i.e. Jaffna Tamils, deserves everything that it demands and that only their ?aspirations? must be given priority over the ?aspirations? of all other communities. This conclusion also assumes that there is justification only in the demands made by the north and that it is morally right for all other communities to sacrifice their interests and aspirations to appease the exclusive Jaffna-centric politics. It is as good as saying that neighbors would have no trouble in any locality if they give into the only neighbor who is making excessive and extremist demands that undermine or threaten the life, liberty and happiness of all the others in the neighborhood. Or, put another way, it as nave as saying that World War II would not have occurred if Hitler was given all what he wanted. Nevertheless, it represents the overall assumptions, opinions, conclusions and judgments of those who do not, or refuse to, see the other side of the story.

The accusatory finger-pointing at the Sinhala-Buddhists has reached such proportions that, for instance, the cross-bred left-wingers, foreign-funded NGOlogists, academics aligned to the foreign-funded NGOs consider it to be a reactionary and a narrow-minded stance for any human being to be identified with the Sinhala race or Buddhist religion. They have self-appointed themselves to the category of liberated individuals who are not tainted by petty identities though their own linear theories have failed to condemn extremist identity of Jaffna Tamils that bred the violent elements of the north. Their full time occupation, paid mainly by the foreign-funded NGOs, has been to manufacture theoretical excuses to justify the subhuman brutalities of the northern leadership by putting the entire blame on the Sinhala-Buddhists. Their mission so far has been to denigrate the identity of the Sinhala-Buddhists whilst legitimizing and reinforcing the identities of all other communities. They condemn Sinhala-Buddhism as ?majoritarian hegemony? while the authoritarian hegemony of one armed minority, even when pursued with brutal force over-riding the legitimate aspirations and concerns of all other communities, is prescribed, with minor adjustments, as the ideal for the future.

So it is time to look back and recollect and review, not with anger but with sober facts the reasons why the Sinhala-Buddhist community can hold their head up and be proud of their heritage.

Mark you -

I am writing this knowing that the Sinhala-Buddhists are guilty of myriad political sins.

I am writing this knowing that like any known state the Leviathan is capable of committing monstrosities of Hobbesian proportions.

I am writing this knowing that what the Tamils call the ?Sinhala-dominated government? has killed more Sinhalese than all the Tamils killed in mob-rioting or the four Eelam Wars.

I am writing this to express my pride in defending a people whose record deserves a more balanced and fair assessment in the eyes of the world.

I am writing this to say that I am proud to be a part of the heritage of my people, despite their human failure to be more exemplary.

* I am proud ? profoundly proud ? that our pioneering forefathers opened this land for all-comers to live and share the land as equals.

* I am proud that our Founding Fathers did not come as exploiters and agents of plundering foreign powers but as fiercely independent pioneers whose creative powers and energy matched, an even excelled at times, the achievements of some of their ancient and mediaeval contemporaries.

* I am proud that our ancestors gave the world a new language, new culture and a new heritage unlike most other migrants who tended to be imitative settlers basking in the glory of their forefathers abroad.

* I have well-founded reasons to be proud of our people who preserved the tolerant culture of the Buddha, dhamma and the sanghathat taught generations not only to respect human beings but even the dumb animals.

* Considering the power and the privileges we wielded from time to time over two millennia I am proud to say, that on any comparative scale of the history of the liberal states of the West, and within the human constraints of each phase in history, the Sinhala-Buddhist states have not abused their powers to exterminate the ?other?, or to go on sprees of ethnic cleansing, or to commit gross violations of human rights even when the state was threatened by external and internal violence.

* I am proud that our Sinhala-Buddhist leaders (as opposed to the mindless mob) did not march in front of pogroms to massacre human beings simply because they belonged to a different faith, or ethnic group.

* I am proud that our Sinhala-Buddhist leaders did not descend on pockets of other faiths and massacre them like Sankilli who slaughtered 600 Catholics simply because they owed allegiance to a foreign power, the Portuguese.

* I am proud that our kings gave security, protection and a haven to the persecuted Catholics and the Muslims by the invading colonial powers.

* I am proud that our rulers and leaders did not deliberately target the sacred sites of the Hindus or other religionists like ?the sole representative of the Tamils? who massacred unarmed pilgrims at the Sacred Bo-Tree, blasted the Sacred Temple of Tooth in Kandy in a transparent attempt to provoke the Sinhala masses to rise and revolt against the Tamils and slaughtered Muslims at prayer in the Mosques in the eastern province.

* I am ashamed, of course, that in the last century, under deliberate provocative acts of the northern Tamils ?to needle the lower-level ethnic leadership of the Sinhalese? (Prof. A. J. Wilson), the mindless Sinhala mobs went on the rampage and committed acts of unpardonable violence. I condemn them unreservedly and unhesitatingly.

* At the same time I am proud of the vast majority of Sinhala people who rushed to the aid of the Tamil victims and gave them protection at great risk to their own lives.

* I am justly proud of our Sinhala leaders openly offering apologies to the Tamils for whatever injustices they say was committed though none of the Tamil leaders have dared to come forward and apologize to the crimes committed by them against all other communities, most of all to their own community.

* I am proud that when the destructive tsunami hit the eastern coast on Boxing Day, 2004, it was the Sinhalese who rushed first ? long before the state or the NGOs began to think about it -- with food and aid to help the Tamil victims of the tsunami.

* I am proud that none of our Sinhala-Buddhist leaders organized violence, or directed violence, or financed violence, or trained and urged their youth to kill the innocent minorities as exhibited so nakedly by the Jaffna Tamil leadership.

* I am proud that none of the Sinhala-Buddhist leaders initiated or adopted resolutions officially declaring war against other communities like the Jaffna leadership which drafted, supervised the wording and passed the Vaddukoddai Resolution in 1976 endorsing violence against the Sinhalese. Prof. A. J. Wilson has stated, almost as a matter of pride that his father-in-law, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the father of Tamil separatism, went through every word of the Vaddukoddai Resolution, before it was ratified by the entire Tamil leadership at the Tamil United Liberation Front convention held in his electorate of Vaddukoddai.

* I am proud that none of our Sinhala-Buddhist leaders waged a ruthless terror campaign against all communities on a systematic basis for over three decades, starting from the assassination of Alfred Duraiyappah, by Velupillai Prabhakaran in 1975.

* I am proud that not a single Sinhala-Buddhist political leader had presided over a regime that tortured and massacred the Tamils as Velupillai Prabhakaran, the ?psychopathic serial killer ? (Prof. James Jupp, of the Australian National University) obsessed with the myth of being ?the sole representative of the Tamils?.

* I am proud that I can raise my head and proclaim that we Sinhala-Buddhist had never handed over ?sole power? to a ?psychopathic serial killer? who has been banned by the international community and is wanted by Indian and Sri Lankan courts.

* I am proud that we are not depended on the inhuman brutalities of a ?psychopathic serial killer? for our dignity or glory.

* I am proud our record is not bloodied by the politics of physically eliminating the entire Jaffna Tamil leadership, from Alfred Duraiyappah to Amirthalingam (et al). Instead I am proud that we gave them the democratic right, freedom and refuge when they were persecuted by their ?liberators?, even though their politics was directed against us.

* I am proud that ?the so-called Sinhala-dominated governments? has not liquidated a crop of intellectuals who had written, spoken and acted against successive states.

* I am entitled to be justifiably proud that we provided a democratic framework and the right of dissent for S. J. V. Chelvanayakam - to direct the Tamil community of Jaffna to separatist politics which led to his endorsing the Vaddukoddai Resolution (1976) that declared war against the Sinhalese.

* I am proud that Chelvanayakam had the best opportunity ever of becoming a Tamil leader directing his extreme mono-ethnic politics against the Sinhala majority only in the democratic state of Sri Lanka ? an opportunity he would never have had if he remained in Malaysia and never migrated to live, learn and practice his legal profession and rise to the highest levels in what he called the ?Sinhala-dominated? nation.

* I am glad that he was given the political freedom to declare war against the Sinhala people in the Vaddukoddai Resolution approved personally by him ? a freedom that would never have been available to him in Malaysia. He would neither have been seen nor heard in Malaysia if he went down that track of mono-ethnic extremism.

* I am proud that the Sinhala-Buddhist society had not denied the fundamental rights of all communities to exist wherever they want like the Jaffna-centric leadership that has consistently refused to recognize or tolerate any other cultures within the territories they claim to be their own.

* I am proud that even today the Tamils have the right and the freedom to live in the democracy of their so-called ?Sinhala-dominated? government and to pursue oppositional politics non-violently.

* I am proud that the Tamils of the north have voted with their feet to live among the Sinhala-Buddhists, shunning the terrors and horrors of their ?sole representative?.

* I am proud that I belong to a Sinhala-Buddhist society that has accepted the right of dissent as a living culture.

* I am proud that despite the hate campaigns mounted against the Sinhala-Buddhists abroad by most Tamil expatriates they still have the freedom to come and go without being incarcerated or tortured like R. Jeyadevan, one of the committed LTTE campaigners who had financed and worked tirelessly to strengthen the military capability of the very forces that tortured him.

* I am proud that even today the majority of the Tamil expatriates would opt to settle down and live with the Sinhalese ? a community they never fail to blame or continue to denigrate in the blackest terms ? rather than live in the terror of their ?liberated? LTTE control.

* I am proud that the persecuted Muslims of Jaffna -- 75,000 of them who were pillaged and thrown out Jaffna in the only known ethnic cleansing acts of any political regime in Sri Lanka -- were given protection and their right to take refuge in the ?Sinhala-dominated areas sharing whatever land there is in common with the Sinhala community.

* I am proud that no Sinhala-Buddhist leader has been indicted by the civil society of the world (including the UN) for abducting children from their parents? arms and forcing them to fight as soldiers in a needless war in the name of ?liberation war? that has debased the image of the Tamils in the world and enslaved them to the brutal politics of their ?sole representative?.

* I am proud that we did not reduce our people to subhuman slaves, denying them the sunlight because they were born into a low-caste like the turumbasof Jaffna who were permitted to walk about only in the night in case they polluted the pure eyes of the vellahlas if sighted.

* I am proud that even the casteism among the Sinhalese did not oppress and reduce our people to the level of pariahs, like vellahala Hindus and Christians of Jaffna.

* I am proud that our Buddhist temples were open for all ? the high as well as the low castes ? to enter and practice Buddhism without any hindrance or violence as seen in the history of the high-caste Hindus who owned the kovils in Jaffna.

* I am proud that the Sinhala Christians and their Churches did not segregate the low-castes by allocating pews to separate the high-castes from the low-castes.

* I am proud that the Sinhala Christians have not gone down the insane path of creating an exclusive theology for the Sinhalese.

* I am sad though that their studied political silence in the face of a fascist regime persecuting and decimating their fellow-human beings is almost identical to the consenting silence of their counter-parts who watched with folded arms the slaughter of innocent Jews in the heartlands of Christianity in Europe.

* I am proud that we did not establish a fascist authoritarian regime demanding obedience to a one-man rule and submitting meekly by blaming the ?other?.

* I am doubly proud that, so far, we have not embraced such cruel tyrants as our heroes.
,br> * I am proud that more Tamils live with our people in the south than with their ?liberator? in the north.

* I am proud that Arjuna Ranatunga, who was very conscious of the fact that Muthiah Muralidharan was the only Tamil in the team, stood up for him in a daring and dramatic scene watched by millions all over the world when the biased Australian umpires were attempting to ruin Murali?s career ? a career that would have come to an abrupt end if Arjuna did not stand up for justice and fair play on that historic day at Adelaide grounds.

. * I am proud of Parakarama Bahu VI, the King of Kotte, (1412 -1467) who erected the sacred Nallur Temple in Jaffna and donated lands for the construction of Munneswaram Temple.

* I am proud of the sangha who allotted a space to the Hindu Shrines next to their Budu-ge (the main shrine room preserved for offering obeisance to Buddha.)

* I am proud of our ancestors who created and nurtured a tolerant culture that has enabled visitors arriving at the Katunayake Airport and riding down to Colombo to think, as they pass the numerous Catholic saints and icons that line either sides of the road, that they are passing through the main highway of the state of Catholic Rome.

* I am proud that the last defender and ruler of the Jaffna people was Mudliyar Attapattu of the south who, with his 5,000 men, sacrificed their lives in defending Jaffna against the ruthless Portuguese.

* I am proud that it was only the Sinhalese who fought consistently against invaders occupying any part of the island ? north, south, east or west ? in defence of their unique heritage, their culture, their civilization, their language and their religion. No other community has placed on historical record any such fervour or commitment to fight back because they had no nation or a heritage that they had built on their own like the Sinhala-Buddhists. The non-Sinhala migrants were content to bask in the glories of their ancestors? heritage left behind in their respective homelands from which they migrated.

* I am proud that we alone fought to defend our heritage and in doing so we also, like Mudliyar Attapattu, fought to protect those who came to share it with us.

* I am proud that one of the biggest Hindu festivals is held annually in the heart of Colombo with the participation of the Sinhala-Buddhists.

* I am proud that we did not have to concoct a mythical history to claim exclusive rights to any part of the island which we believe, as did our ancestors, belongs to all those who want to share it in common with us.

* I am proud that S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike introduced the Sinhala Only Bill, recognizing the fact that it is the inalienable right of the people to communicate with their elected government in their own language ? a right granted in all democratic (examples: German, French, English, Russian, Japanese, etc).

* I am also proud that, on the same principle, he introduced the Tamil Language Special Provisions Act giving all three Tamil-speaking communities ? the Muslims, the Indian Tamils and the Jaffna Tamils ? the right to conduct their affairs in their own language.

* I am proud that Bandaranaike gave the Tamil public servants the option of retiring, with full pension rights, if they did not want to serve the public by learning the languages of the public.

* I am also proud that since it is universally recognized that public servants can serve efficiently and caringly only if they know the language of the people they serve, the so-called ?Sinhala dominated government? ensured that the Sinhala public servants too should learn Tamil with no Sinhala leader going round urging them not to learn to Tamil.

* I am sad that S. J. V. Chelvanayakam went round the government kachcheris (centres of government administration set by the British) urging Tamil public servants not to learn Sinhala though as public servants they could function effectively and perform their duties fairly only if they knew both Sinhala and Tamil.

* I am glad that in a transferable public service, where public servants had to serve in both Tamil-speaking and in Sinhala-speaking areas, the public servants were required by law to learn both languages, thus removing the colonial practice of forcing the public to inter-act with the government in an alien language.

* I am proud that tutors and time-off were provided by what they call the ?Sinhala-dominated government? for Tamil public servants to learn the languages of the public.

* I am proud that Bandaranaikes?s policy was to dethrone the English language ? one of the main instruments of colonial power since it was made the official language in 1833.

* I am proud that the dethroning the English language (a language familiar to only 6% of the population when the colonial masters left in 1948) was a primary means of restoring equality to all citizens ? a principle which even the left-wingers accepted later based on their Marxist doctrines. The Marxists realized later that the hostile reaction to the restoration of the languages of the people was a rearguard action of the privileged elite in all communities to preserve their colonial and feudal privileges.

* I am proud that it was meant to redress the grievances of the non-English-speaking majority of all communities who were deprived of their right to communicate with their elected government, though the Westernized ruling elite of all communities ? Sinhalese, Tamils, Burghers, Muslims etc ? argued that it was an act aimed at the Tamil-speaking people. As events proved, it did eventually help the vast majority of Tamil-speaking and Sinhala-speaking peoples, though it was interpreted and propagated as an act that favoured only the Sinhala-speaking people.

* I am proud that Tamil leaders like S. M. Rasamanickam, the President of the Federal Party, after cooperating with a Sinhala leader, Dudley Senanayake in the National Government of 1965-1970, declared publicly under the watchful eye of S. J. V. Chelvanayakam who was the dynamic force behind the FP: ?During the last four years we were able to gain some rights, if not all of what we expected, through the method of cooperation.? (Prof. A. J. Wilson, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism? p. 111)

* I am proud when I read Prof. Wilson statement that ?this period of Dudley Senanayake?s ?National Government?, 1965 ? 1970, marked the golden years of Sinhala-Tamil reconciliation.? (ibid ? p.111).

* I am sad that the Tamil leadership consisted only those ?who believed in the use of incremental methods of raising the temperature? (ibid - p.96) which has resulted today in this blood bath.

* I am proud when living Tamil leaders like V. Anandasangaree, the president of the TULF, saying that they had freedom of dissent to protest in Jaffna when Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike came to open the Jaffna University.

* I am proud when knowledgeable and senior Tamil leaders refer to the pre-Prabhakaran days when they had the freedom, however ever limited or flawed it may have been, to dissent without being eliminated, or to vote without a Stalinist gun being pointed at them at the polling booths.

* I am sad that the Tamil leadership, in their hurry to appease extremist politics they had nurtured in their northern electorate, did not pursue non-violently and patiently the opportunities available to them in the inherently slow democratic processes, despite their loud boast of being non-violent Gandhians.

* I am sad that the Jaffna Tamil leadership led their people into a hell created by their own violent policies (example: distributing wooden pistols at non-violent satyagrahas).,

* I am glad that leaders like Dudley Senanayake and S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike stood for and showed the way for all communities to co-exist by reaching out to the Tamils and paving the path for sharing the land as the common property of all, with respect and dignity to all.

* I am proud that S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike is the only political leader who had the courage to challenge the all-powerful vellahla caste in Jaffna with his Prevention of the Social Disabilities Act of 1959 in which he laid the foundations for the dismantling the vellahla caste system which ruled Jaffna from the feudal times with an iron fist, suppressing the rights of nearly 46 per cent of low-caste Jaffna Tamils.

* I am proud of the fact that he had the vision and the courage to address the historical imbalances left behind by five centuries of colonialism.

* I am proud that of the 191 flags flying at the UN that our Sri Lankan flag is the only one that has given the Tamils a dignity and a place in the international community.

* I am proud that of all the currencies in the world only the ?Sinhala-dominated government? has recognized it as a language that should be restored to its rightful place.

* I am proud that on stamps, air letters, passports, officials forms Tamil language has been given a dignified place which no other state has bothered to recognize, though there are 70 million Tamils spread out in the Tamil diaspora, including India, their only historical homeland.

* I am proud that all the Tamils who fanned out to various parts of the globe and are denigrating their Sinhala compatriots with whom they have shared their lives non-violently as friends, neighbours and partners down the ages, came out of the free education provided by what they call, the ?Sinhala-dominated governments? and they enjoy the comforts of their new found land not because they were victims of discrimination but because they were given equal opportunities to advance with all the other communities. If they were victims of discrimination they would not be holding such high positions in the various professions they shine so proudly.

* I am proud that the ?Sinhala-dominated government? has funded and established two Tamil universities.

* I am sad that they do not have the courage to say that all communities have suffered under the Sri Lankan states and that the first community to take up arms against the state was the Sinhala community on cries of discrimination.

* I am sad that the hatred of their Sinhala compatriots, fired by their vaulting political ambitions and refusal to share the land and its resources as in the ?golden years? experienced in the period of Sinhala-Tamil cooperation, have clouded their vision and blinded them to the realities of addressing the aspirations of all communities and not just theirs.

* I am proud that we did not impose a Bhumiputra policy of giving jobs to the Sinhala-Buddhist first and then handing the leftovers to the minorities.

* I am proud of the history recorded in the Mahavamsa. I am proud that the Mahavamsa contains the quintessence of our historical inheritance, our zeitgeist. It taught me that a culture is created not to trample our opponents, even if they come to destroy us, but to give them their due respect. It taught me that even in victory our moral duty is to honour our defeated enemies and never forget to silence the drums as we pass their burial grounds. It is a value that ran in the bloodstream of the Sinhala-Buddhist culture. It is something that I learnt in my childhood from my humble grandmother when I was a part of the procession led by her, one mid-morning, carrying alms to monks in Anuradhapura. I will always be proud to be a part of this heritage. I wouldn?t want to change it for anything else even though its detractors continue to degrade and rewrite its history as an evil force -- all because one minority community in the north, which was the most privileged and the most oppressive, was not given all what they demanded, at the time demanded and at expense of all the other communities.

* I am proud that the list does not end here and it could go on and on. But in ending this list here, I salute my people for their heroic efforts to preserve this humane tradition of respecting all individuals and communities and sharing our land, our liberalism, our democracy, our neighborliness and friendship and our resources, with all others who claim to be our fellow-citizens.

And may our people?s efforts to preserve this island as an undivided multi-ethnic nation, protected by democratic liberalism and pluralism, with respect for rule of law and human rights, never fail.

May the Buddha, dhamma and sangha which gifted these values to the nation guide us, protect us and bless us all and lead us to the noble tradition in which all communities lived and shared this land with respect for each other as human beings.

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