Sri Lanka: Neither Anti-Tamil Nationalism Nor Anti-Sinhala Nationalism Would Solve The Convolution


It was yet another period of dark days in the history of Jamaica, where gobbled and devoured political parties along with other interest groups were instigating and fueling brutal civil war. The people in the country had no escape but to pray for their last moments of life to be lived in peace. Both political parties were using gangsters to spread their violence throughout the country. Similar situation erupted in Guatemala and many other countries in Latin America, in many contrivances attempting to destabilize the countries towards securing hegemony.

There were two prisoners who happened to represent the rival gangs but sharing the same cell, struggling to find a solution to the brutality. Consequently, they thought music would heal the wounds, and bring harmony. None better than, Bob Marley, the legendary, who was then exiled in London, could help in this, they thought. It was the beginning of what later became a historic and outstanding “One love Peace Concert”, held in April 1978 at the national stadium in Kingston, Jamaica.

Both political party leaders, Michael Manley (PNP) and Edward Seaga (JLP), were invited to the stage by Marley to hold their hands together. The path-breaking scene delighted many around the world. The wave of the moment had reached the deepest of the deep in human life and urged for true peace. After he had infused his feelings into the words, “none but ourselves can free our minds.” Marley left us with gigantic collection of records of healing through music and open discourse.

Is there any possibility for our countrymen and women to organize such a concert? Can it strengthen the bridge of peace? Will our university students take a lead in reconciliation discourse to re-design the student- movements? Will those true assets of this country work towards the erasing of impulse of disunity? Will all student leaders get together to take the pathway of performance for solidarity?

The discourse after the affray at the University of Jaffna is alarming and threatening the future of this country. The danger in this kind of situation is that it can easily diffuse among others if there is inadequacy in action by the officials and the people in general. The Eastern University is one of those where such elements can easily wreck the fragile peace.

Hence, it is time to re-engineer the student movements before they are high- jacked by political parties. The strategical political ethos played by the Tamil National Alliance is indicating that they are seizing this opportunity towards political advantage. This was very similar to what their predecessors did by moments before the birth of Tamil New Tigers and other armed movements in the area.

Spoiling the student mind is the fundamental requirement to plant the seeds of extremism. This is what, we have been experiencing at least since the 1970s in this country.

Just seven years after the end of conflict, what we are observing about our politicians is similar to their predecessors’ actions and attitudes. Both, Sinhala and Tamil political parties rushed to comment on the situation at the university without even knowing the exact details of the event nor more importantly the root cause.

The science of it is very simple here. Sri Lanka finished the ground battle seven years ago. That meant we have a generation which is just seven years old, who have not experienced the war. The harvest of the long term plan of re-engineering the nation will be theirs if we as Sri Lankans work together.

Unfortunately, Mr Gajendrakumar and Mr Premachandran, both hailing from Jaffna, have been describing the situation in the University by bringing up the cultural issues into the fore. Therefore, they argued that North and East, have their own culture which must be respected and there is no need in adding the Sinhala cultural values. The question here is not what they are attempting to establish through this vicious argument, but what induces them to think so, and how it can be negatively affect our students.

Fortunately, most of the university academics think and talk rationally and they don’t want the bloody conflict to return. It is learned, that one of professors of Tamil origin was insisting to fellow colleagues to consider the demand of the Sinhala students to have the Kandyan Dance. None of the politicians were highlighted such measures to bring about commonness but are rather indulging in stoking the flames of extremism.

What we are witnessing is extremism disguised as “nationalism”. It has further evolved as Anti-Tamil Nationalism or Anti-Sinhala Nationalism. None of them will untangle the convolution, but this has further distorted the complexity. Later some parts of this has been decorated as “cultural nationalism”.

In their recent book, On Nationalism, Romila Thapar, A. G. Noorani and Sadanand Menon, comparative historians and distinguished thinkers, have grasped the nationalism concept in the context of Bharat which can be a useful account to understand the rhetoric of nationalism in Sri Lanka. Like in many other countries, in Sri Lanka, religion has played significant role in constructing and de-constructing the perception of politics.

Our yesteryear discourse on “nationalism” is based on political vulgarism which has filled us with distorted deceptive opinions on the events rather than infuse the true principles of nationalism. It has been either systematically or incautiously erasing the core notions of the original concept and replacing it with what late Elie Wiesel called, the ‘perils of indifference’. It has been deeply divisive. It has led our countrymen to kill each other in the name of “liberation”.

It is time to take out the mask, in which the students can play a remarkable role. Public education system is the key to achieving this shedding of lies and infusing true values.

Be united! Take responsibility for this land and make sure that the safety of each citizen is protected! Demand for individual freedom collectively! Develop the discourse that can win the hearts and minds of all, because we are a deeply wounded nation. Find a way to eradicate the seeds of doubt and mistrust. Then all of us would definitely find the way to change the corrupted system which screwed and cynically manipulated the power of the powerless.

Nilantha Ilangamuwa edits the Sri Lanka Guardian, an online daily newspaper, and he also an editor of the Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives, bi-monthly print magazine. He is the author of the just released non-fictions, “Nagna Balaya” (The Naked Power), in Sinhalese and “The Conflation”, in English. He can be reached at [email protected]


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