Sri Lanka : The National Question and the Tamil Liberation Struggle – 7

8.2 Buddhism, Bhikkhus and the Sangha

Budllha received enlightenment (spiritual understanding) and preached an ethical philosophy. In his first sermon preached to the monks, he said that a mall who followed his eightfold path of moral and spiritual self development could become free of the “wheel of life”, and enter Nibbana Nirvana in Sanskrit), a state of union with the supreme spirit. Then he no longer had to be reborn to a life of suffering. “Where nothing is, where nothing is grasped, this is the isle of No Beyond. Nibbana I call it—the utter extinction of ageing and dying.”

The eightfold path consisted of: (1) right view, (2) right motive, (3) right speech (4) right action, (5) right pursuits, (6) right livelihood, (7) right mindfulness (8) right contemplation. Nibbana, therefore, is a state attainable this life by living according to the noble eightfold path and is the supreme goal of Buddhist endeavour. There are ten precepts in Buddhism, which bind Buddhists not to: (1) take life. (2) steal. (3) indulge in sensuality, (4) lie, (5) become intoxicated by drink or drugs, (6) eat at unreasonable times, (7) attend worldly amusements. (8) use perfumes or ornaments, (9) sleep on luxurious bed or (10) possess gold or silver.

The first five (Pansil) were originally binding on all who become bhikkhus; later the other five were added, the ten being binding on all bhikkhus. Later it became the custom for the pious Buddhist laity to take the five precepts, which are now considered the minimum moral code to be followed by all who call themselves Buddhists. The public recital of the “three refuges”—” I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dhamma, I take refuge in the Sangha”—and the “five precepts” is the outward form of becoming a Buddhist in Sri Lanka, as it is in Burma, Thailand and Kampuchea. The precepts are not commandments; they are aspirations or vows (to oneself).

The Buddha did not believe in gods, worshipping of gods or ceremonies in the Hindu temples performed by Brahmin priests. To follow Buddha, it was necessary to retire from the world completely. Buddha preached to the ascetic monks and not to the ordinary people. Buddhism changed after Buddha’s death. Missionaries carried his teachings to Tibet, Burma, Sri Lanka, China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan and south east Asia. The original teachings were changed a little in each of these countries to fit in with the existing religions or cultures. The Chinese mixed Buddhism with Confucianism, the Japanese mixed it with Shintoism, the Tibetans with Lamaism and the Sri Lankans with Hinduism. No one was content with only a “path of life”. In these places, there were temples with gods and goddesses and divinities as objects of worship. So, by 100 BC, Buddhists started to carve images of Buddha, which came to be worshipped, and in Sri Lanka they were worshipped along with the Hindu gods and goddesses.

There was never a Buddhist age in India, but, under Emperor Asoka’s patronage, Buddhism spread and was a contender for the spiritual leadership of India. The Hindu India of old was ruled by Rajas, of the warrior caste. The Raja’s court included ministers and advisers, who were Brahmin priests and pundits, who attended to the state ritual. Brahmin priestly influence was considerable in the king’s court. The Raja was not absolute but was limited by the Rajadharma, which was designed to preserve society and promote the welfare Of his subjects; its failure meant the subjects were under no duty of obedience .

In Sri Lanka during the period of the Sinhalese kings, there were no comparable relationships between the king and his subjects or between the king and the Buddhist Sangha. Although the Tamil Hindu and the Sinhalese Buddhist kings gave patronage to Buddhism and built vihares and dagabas, the Sangha was not closely associated with kingship. Buddhism was confined to the monasteries and, in accordance with the injunctions of the Buddha, the bhikkhus lived a life of asceticism in monastic seclusion. Buddhism was not social or even a religious force at any time in the historic past. Dr Mendis states: “The Brahmin priests were maintained by the kings . . . and their duties lay in carrying out for the people the domestic rites and sacraments which the bhikkllus did not consider it within their province to perform.”16

A new development began in 1739. with the accession of the Tamil Nayakkar kings of Madurai to the throne of the Sinhalese Kandyan kingdom. The bhikkhus from the ranks of the Kandyan “artistocratic” (Radala) families sought to become important in the king’s court because of the alien origin of the dynasty. The leading bhikkhu litterateur, Velivita Saranankara sponsored the Tamil Nayakkar royal accession, while the aristocratic faction opposed it. Then Saranankara and the tiny aristocratic faction, which was constantly divided, attempted to dominate the affairs of the king’s court. In 1760, in the reign of the second Tamil Nayakkar king Kirti Sri, there was a conspiracy by Saranankara and Tibbotuwawe, the chief prelate of the Malwatte temple, together with the aristocratic faction led by the second Adigar (minister) Samanakkodi, to replace king Kirti Sri with a prince from Siam(Thailand). The conspiracy was uncovered in time, Saranankara and others confessed, Samanakkodi was executed and the two bhikkhus were deported to remote villages.

In 1815, because the last Nayakkar king Sri Wickrema would not accord the aristocratic faction and the bhikkhus the privileged position they sought tor themselves, they joined together, conspired against and deposed him and sealed the kingdom to the British. Thus, between the Nayakkar Tamil kings and the Kandyan Sinhalese aristocratic faction, there was historic conflict and hostility. A Kandyan Sinhalese friend of mine has suggested to me that this was the root cause of Mrs Bandaranaike’s hostility towards the Tamils from 1960. It is a point well worth further examination since relations between the ordinaryTamil people and the Kandyan Sinhalese peasants and lower middle classes have been good.

During the colonial period, the Sangha and the Buddhist propagandists did nothing to assert political liberation in the sense of national independence Buddhism had no ideology apart from strictly monastic this worldly asceticism. The propagandists’ attack on Christianity, with a call to return to a falsified and romanticised Buddhist past, failed to carry any conviction anlong the Western oriented Buddhist elite. The English educated Buddhist elite were no respecters of the Sinhala and Pali educated bhikkus.. This reached its height when Sir John Kotelawala was prime minister. Thus there was  a conflict between the Sinhalese ruling upper class and the bhikkhus mainly of the low country Sinhalese Ramayana sect, the majority of whom  were of the Karava caste . Consequently, when the Karava lower middle class agitators started the “Sinhala only” cry, they came to be supported by the Ramyanya sect,  Karava caste bhikkhus. We have seen the role that they played in the 1956 election and thereafter. The conservative and wealthy Siam Nikaya confined to the highest Sinhalese Goyigama caste bhikkhus, played no part in the “Sinhala only” agitation and became involved in politics only when their own interests were threatened.

Although, ostensibly, “Sinhala only” was made out to be an attack on privilege, in reality it was the route to secure privileges for the Sinhalese Buddhists and to win bhikkhu dominance in affairs of state. The excessive demands of the bhikkhus could not be conceded and hence Bandaranaike  was murdered. Then, with Mrs Bandaranaike, they secured their ascendancy, with Buddhism becoming the de facto state religion and Sinhalese Buddhist culture being held out as the only national culture. Sinhalese and Buddhism, Tamils and Hinduism—each were placed at opposite and contrary poles. Religious, political and social pressures were exerted to produce a state structure beneficial only to the Sinhalese Buddhists. Buddhism was really a cloak for the material advancement of the Sinhalese Buddhists, at the expense of everyone else.

Yet the chauvinist Sinhalese politicians expected the Tamil people to owe loyalty to a “racist” theocratic state run solely for their own benefit. They were so myopic as not to realize that the political realm in a multi nation state must be secular and must be the sphere of the people and not of the clergy. They harnessed the divisive loyalties of religion, not the integrative powers of democracy.

What is the relevance of Buddhism in politics? Does it have an ideology in the secular realm? Does it cater to a constituency other than its religious constituency? For the bhikkus to dominate the state and for the Sinhalese Buddhists to advance materially and reap the benefits, the Tamils have to be subjugated, oppressed and kept down by torture, genocide and state terrorism. The Tamils were even told that they must accept the new status quo of subjugation and oppression.

Before we conclude this discussion, it may be instructive to see how in Turkey Kemal Ataturk proceeded to build a modern secular nation state by not only abandoning Islam but actively suppressing it. In 1924 he abolished the Caliphate, the supreme spiritual authority in Islam vested for centuries in the Sultan of Turkey. The following year, he forcibly dissolved the Muslim religious courts and the religious sects and orders and closed their meeting places. In 1937 the constitution was amended to include “laicism” (secularism) as one of the six cardinal principles of the state. In 1938 a law prohibited political parties from using religion for political propaganda. A 1949 law prescribed punishment for propaganda against the secular state.

Ataturk’s revolutionary goal of a secular state inspired the Indian nationalists like Jawaharlal Nehru, who became passionately committed to the building up of the secular nation state of India.

8.3 Language, Culture, Nation

Because of capitalism and the economic prosperity which imperialist exploitation of colonies brought to the Western state system, today it is forgotten that the language culture matrix and nationalism have been the most important factors in the organic development of each of the Western nation states. During the Middle Ages, Western civilization was regarded as being determined by religion Christian or Muslim and the respective language culture was Latin (or Greek) or Arabic (or Persian). The Renaissance continued this trend, for the ancient Greek and Roman civilisations and their languages were treated as the universal norm.

From the end of the 18th Century civilisation came to be considered to be determined by nationality The classical languages were abandoned and the language of each nationality became pre eminent in education and public life. Cultural nationalism led to the development of nation states which determined the territorial extent of the state and the political loyalties of the people according to ethnographic principles. The recognised principle was that each nationality should form its state and that each state should include ad members of its nationality. John Stuart Mill wrote: “It is in general a necessary condition of free institutions that the boundaries of government should coincide in the main with those of the nationalities.” It was implied that all who possessed a common nationality shared a common loyalty to the state .

In England and France, where state building preceded nation formation, a common nationalism developed out of different linguistic and culture groups loyalty was to the British monarch or to la France.

Nationalism was not determined in racial terms, but was secular, libertarian and humanitarian, and founded upon the ancient principle of jus Cheque (to each his own right). States became secular and centralized, to promote, protect, and safeguard the interests of those who comprised them. The nation state represented the public interest and from this jurists and political theorists developed the concept of popular sovereignty.

The old states so formed encapsulated and represented the language and culture of their people and evoked a singular loyalty to the state. In the USA, the product of great movements of mankind, the challenge was how to convert the different states and the different ethnic groups into a cohesive society, the American nation state. From independence, the task was seen 35 uniting the states and securing the loyalty of the people. This was done by the federation, the constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court. The Declaration of Independence stated: “. . . all men are created equal . . .”. “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one) is the legend in the official seal of the USA. “Equal justice under the law” is the inscription over the portico of the US Supreme Court. The solitary star of the Supreme Court symbolized the granting of judicial power to one Supreme Court. It is the duty of the Supreme Court to protect the federation and the rights of the US citizen. The federation, the constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court created unity out of diversity and engaged the loyalty of the American people to the state .

In Canada the task was even more formidable. Canada began as a collection of ten fragments and the objective, in Dicey’s phrase, was “union but not unity”. A country of truly heterogeneous people and cultures English speaking Christians wanting to remain under the British monarchy, and French speaking Catholics of Quebec regarding themselves as a part of metropolitan France and nourishing French culture came together in a confederation in 1867.

The constitution, similar in principle to that of the UK, vested a large range of functions in the Dominion parliament, with cultural autonomy in the provinces and enshrined bilingualism and biculturalism. The French speaking Canadians form one nation, have a common heritage, speak the same language, have their own political and social institutions, live in Quebec a reserve area for them and above all possess un vouloir vivre collectif (a will to live as distinct people). From the time of the confederation to date, the French speaking Canadians consistent demand has been: notre langue, nos institutions et nos lois (our language, our institutions and our laws). When the confederation was established, Lord Durham, its architect, optimistically believed that the French speaking Canadians would gradually become bilingual and eventually adopt English, the language of North America. Today, three out of four French speaking people of Quebec cannot read or write English.

In the 1960s, the French speaking Canadians accused the federal government of using the immense economic powers granted to it by the constitution for the benefit of the English speaking Canadians. They asserted that, socially, they were treated as second class citizens, living in what Quebec separatists called “ghetto contederatif”‘. They contended that, while French had ceased to be an official language outside Quebec, they were expected to be bilingual.

All these grievances exploded into French Canadian separatist nationalism, which threatened the edifice of the confederation. In 1963 young French Canadians kidnapped the British Trade Commissioner and Quebec’s “collaborationist” labour minister, who was subsequently murdered. Lester Pearson’s federal government appointed a royal commission to recommend “the steps to be taken to develop the Canadian confederation on the basis of equal partnership between the two founding races” The commission, in its preliminary report of 1965, stated that “Canada without being fully conscious of the fact is passing through the greatest crisis in its history. . . We believe that there is a crisis in the sense that Canada has come to a time when decisions must be taken and developments must occur which must lead to its break up or set new conditions for its existence. The signs of danger are many and serious.”

Since confederation in 1867, the people of Quebec have possessed a perennial desire for their own state, as in a sense they had from 1791 to 1841. In the 1960s, the demand was for Quebec separation. The provincial government of Quebec even established quasi-diplomatic relations with France. President de Gaulle visited Quebec in 1967 and encouraged Quebec separatism In a speech in Montreal de Gaulle repeated the slogan of the separatists, “Vive We Quebec Libre”

Though by the Act of Union of 1800 the Irish nation relinquished its nationhood and became an integral part of the UK, opposition to the union was there from the start and guerrilla war against the British military, to achieve independence and separation, was the main current of Irish history from the 19th Century until 1922, when it was finally achieved . Again, differences in language and religion were the basis of the assertion of Irish self determination The Irish Republican Brotherhood and Sinn Fein (“Ourselves Alone”), both secret organisations, fought the Irish war of national liberation. In Eire 95% are Roman Catholics. The Gaelic language was replaced by English during the period of the union. On separation in 1922 Gaelic was made the first official language and its teaching was introduced in all Irish schools. “An arsenal of words was built with stunning revival of the ancient tongue, so that Irishmen could draw strength, hope and pride from their past” 17

Irish resistance was organised from the beginning by young Irishmen who escaped to the US or France. They formed the Fenian Brotherhood as a secret organisation in the US in 1858. It soon extended to Great Britain and Ireland, while its central direction remained in America. At the end of the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson in his Fourteen Points advocated the right to self determination of nations. The Irish Americans pressed Wilson, who in turn pressed Lloyd George, reluctantly to concede Irish separation. Karl Marx, from the 1860s, advocated the separation of Ireland Lenin states:

It was from the standpoint of the revolutionary struggle of the English workers that Marx, in 1869, demanded the separation of Ireland from England . . . Only by putting forward this demand was Marx really educating the English workers in the spirit of internationalism. Only in this way could he counterpose the opportunists and bourgeois reformism which even to this day, half a century later, has not carried out the Irish “reform”—with a revolutionary solution of the given historical task …. Only in this way could Marx, in opposition to the merely verbal, and often hypocritical, recognition of the equality and self determination of nations, advocate the revolutionary action of the masses in the settlement of the national question as well. 18 (Emphasis in the original.)

In the colonial countries, many nations with multiple ties and loyalties to their own language, culture, ethnicity and nation existed. They were often brought together by the colonial rulers and a state structure was erected with new territorial boundaries. Political loyalty to the new nation state as the ultimate social group was demanded, and became possible under the common masters who was strong and impartial. There was, however, no nationbuilding, no free alliance of the different people to live under one central government, nor even a unified nation state whose citizens shared common patriotic values. The loyalties and boundaries of each nation continued to be !efined by ascriptive ethnic, linguistic and cultural bonds.

In India the British brought about political unification and the nationalists

timed at freedom on the basis of that unification. Gandhi made the struggle or India’s freedom and sovereignty a struggle for national liberation. The Indian bourgeoisie rallied around him to gain control of the economic future. There was mass action, but it was not revolutionary. The free India that was struggling to be born contained a great diversity of people; in the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, “India is a geographical and economic entity. a cultural unity amidst diversity, a bundle of contradictions held together by strong but invisible threads” 19 To the leaders of the Indian National Congress. freedom must come to India as a united nation: everything else was secondary. But M.A. Jinnah, the Muslim leader propounded a new theory—that India consisted of two nations Hindu and Muslim. He argued:

The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, literatures. They neither intermarry nor interdine together and, indeed they belong to two different civilisations…. To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state.20

This was manifestly wrong, for Muslims in British India were not a nation but only the followers of a religion. India consisted of many other nations, but not Hindu and Muslim nations. What Jinnah was asserting was Muslim nationality on the basis of Muslim religious unity. Such a religious nationality did not exist, as the secession of Bangladesh in 1971 showed. Muslim religious unity could easily be preserved in a united India, as happened with the millions of Muslims who stayed in India. What was necessary to preserve religious unity and identity was a secular state, which India became.

Nationality cannot be founded on religious distinction and separation; nor even on religio cultural unity. There must be a separate linguistic culture, separate territory as the exclusive homeland of the nation and political consciousness of separate nationhood, if a people is to be recognised as possessing the right to self determination. The Muslims, then and now, are spread throughout India, speak every Indian language and everywhere live near or among the Hindus. This is because the majority of the Muslims were converts from Hinduism during the period of the Moghul empire. The two way mass transfer of Hindus and Muslims on partition attests to this fact. The Muslims had no separate homeland of their own; hence partition was not really the separation of a distinct part but a painful excision from an integral whole. Even after partition and the creation of Pakistan, India remained a country with the second largest Muslim population in the world.

It was not even clear which areas were to constitute Pakistan. From the 1940 Lahore resolution of the Muslim League, when the idea of “Muslim majority areas” was first ambiguously enunciated, to the eventual establishment of Pakistan, the principle of Muslim nationality, the basis on which partition was demanded, was never properly formulated. Rather, it was carefully avoided, and it became the root cause of the eventual disintegration of Pakistan. The Lahore resolution stated: “. . . the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority, as in the North Western and Eastern Zones of India. should be grouped to constitute ‘independent states’ in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign”

In 1941 this resolution was amended to read: “. . . the North Western and Eastern Zones of India shall be grouped together to constitute Independent States as Muslinl Free National Homelands in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign”. At the Delhi convention in 1946, the Muslim League resolution demanded a sovereign state of Pakistan comprising the north western areas and also Bengal. As originally conceived, “Pakistan” did not include Bengal. P stood for Pubjab, A for Afghan province, K for Kashmir. S for Sind, and Tan for Baluchistan. On 14 August 1947 Pakistan came into existence, divided into two parts, as the expression of the religious nationality of the Muslims of India. A quarter century later, the common faith on which it had been erected was found inadequate to sustain the nation state.

The “one nation” unity in Islam, the theory on which Pakistan was erected, began to flounder from the beginning for lack of common ethno linguistic culture and national solidarity between west and east Pakistan. There were profound differences between the two in regard to language culture, social structure and political legacies and traditions (somewhat resembling those between the Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka). The West Pakistani Muslims had their Urdu language culture and a dominant feudal landowning upper class. The West Pakistanis were heirs to the old aristocratic Islamic traditions and later to a strong authoritarian government under the British Viceroy. Their society, in no way cohesive, comprised exploited peasants with martial fervour. The East Pakistan Muslims had a Bengali language culture and had inherited a number of middle class constitutional politicians from the former Province of Bengal under British India. Their society consisted mainly of peasants, traders and professional men. The Bengali Muslims were the descendants of Hindu converts to Islam, and shared their Bengali language culture with the Bengali Hindus, as well as a shared Bengali nationalism and identity. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in 1946:

A Bengali Muslim is far nearer to a Bengali Hindu than he is to a Punjabi Muslim …. If a number of Hindu and Muslim Bengalis happen to meet anywhere, in India or elsewhere, they will immediately congregate together and feel at home with each other. Punjabis, whether Muslim or Hindu or Sikh, will do likewise.21

At independence, power was transferred to the Pakistan constituent assembly, which for years made a fruitless attempt to submerge or reconcile these differences in the cause of common loyalty to Islam. The West Pakistani politicians were bent on domination of the new state, and the protracted wrangling over power sharing in the constituent assembly led to the somewhat muted assertion of Bengali national identity in East Pakistan. The West Pakistani politicians asserted that Urdu should be the official language of Pakistan, which led to the 1952 language riots in East Pakistan. In 1954 the Past Pakistan Prime Minister went to Calcutta and called for the unity of the Bengalis. This led to the dismissal of his cabinet and the imposition of Governor’s rule. The seeds of the break up of the nation had been sowed

This sparked off a major constitutional crisis and the constituent assembly which since 1947 had failed to produce a constitution. was dismissed. The hastily prepared 1956 constitution, which theoretically accorded parity between the two sides, was doomed to failure because of the West Pakistani politicians’ desire for domination. No elections were held for fear of an East Pakistan majority. This constitution was abrogated in 1958. and General Ayub Khan took over the country and ruled by martial law. Ayub’s 1962 constitution proclaimed that sovereignty belonged to Allah. East Pakistan, in effect, came under the rule of the president in West Pakistan. Ayub Khan stated that his objective was: “a blending of democracy with discipline, the true prerequisite to running a free society with stable government and sound administration”—the usual rhetorical recipe of army rulers.

Ayub Khan’s “stable government”, in which the people were a cipher, evoked great confidence among the Western capitalist countries22 and massive foreign aid flowed in. West Pakistan “prospered” in the 1960s and the Western world rated Pakistan as the model for developing countries.23

These developments led to feelings of internal colonialism in East Pakistan. West Pakistan, in fact, became the metropolis, supplying industrial and consumer goods to the East and processing the East’s raw materials of jute and tea for export. By the end of the 1960s, East Pakistan had truly become a colony of West Pakistan, ruled from Islamabad.

Yet constitutionalism and bourgeois politicking were the creed of the middle class politicians of East Pakistan. Pakistan, West and East, lived from one constitutional crisis to the next. In the l 970 elections, the first ever held by universal franchise, Sheikh Mujib Rahman’s Awami League won 167 of the 313 seats in the Pakistan National Assembly all of them in East Pakistan.24 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party won 85 seats, all in West Pakistan, mostly in Punjab and Sind. The Awami League’s victory was to the popular expression of Bengali nationalism, which, when threatened with  military repression, exploded as Bangladeshi separatism. West Pakistan units  of the army were increased to 40,000 in Bangladesh. Sheikh Mujib Rahman and the Awami League politicians faltered at every stage towards of Bangladesh’s national liberation. They were bent on using their landslide electoral majority to secure a favourable constitutional arrangement. But, to the people, the only acceptable constitutional formula was secession. On 23 March 1971 the day celebrated since 1947 as Pakistan Day, the people hoisted Bangladesh flags everywhere in Dacca and Chittagong, and proclaimed their independence.

Independent India was launched with a constitution framed by the Indian constituent assembly with a federation, with guaranteed individual and group fundamental rights, under a Nehru government committed to social justice. The real national problems arose only after independence. The constitution aimed at creating a strong centralized government with Hindi as the official language of the centre, English as the “link” language for an interim period, and 14 recognized state languages.

But pride in their historical linguistic and cultural achievements led the Dravidians in the south to demand linguistic states defied on the basis of  language culture and regional consciousness. Nehru who hated disunity hesitated The first militant movement for linguistic states arose among the Telegu people. Potti Sriramulu, an ascetic leader, fasted to death for an Andhra (Telugu speaking) state. Nehru in his pragmatism, realized that nation building had yet to begin. He conceded the demand, and in 1953 Andhra Pradesh came into being as the state of the Telugu people of the south.  Fourteen other linguistic states were soon created, and Indian unity on the basis of national diversity was established. Thereafter, political integration proceeded, making India a multi cultural mosaic and not a monolithic ethnocentric state

In Burma, for centuries a multi ethnic and multi lingual Buddhist country Aung San, the Burmese leader, realized that domination by the ethnically predominant Burmese over the smaller nations—the Karens, Kachins, Shans and Kaya would be contrary to the Buddhist ethic of equality. Aung San recognised  that statehood was not a gift but had to be built with courage and vision. In view of his goal of establishing a united Burmese nation state on a basis of equality for the different nations, Aung San, the revolutionary socialist leader, declared to his people on the eve of independence from the British in 1946:

A nation is a collective term applied to a people, irrespective of their ethnic origin, living in close contact with one another, having common interests and joys and sorrows together, for such historic periods, as have acquired a sense of oneness. Though race, religion and language are important factors, it is only traditional desire and the will to live in unity through weal and woe that binds a people together, that makes them a nation and their spirit of patriotism.25

Under the federal Union of Burma, the Kachins, Karens, Shans and Kaya people have four autonomous states, and the Chins another ethnic people, halve special status. In this way, the loyalty of all Burmese people to the new nation state was secured and national unity was preserved.

In Sri Lanka, as we have seen, the Sinhalese, both low country and Kandyan and the Tamils were brought together in a unified state by the British in 1833 for convenience of administration. Despite unification and a centralised administration. the separate ethnic and cultural loyalties of the people predominated. The nation state, in terms of political organization, was different from the two separate nations, in terms of loyalties and collective  identities.

The first assertion of this came with the events leading to the break up of the eylon National Congress in 1920. within a year of its formation. There was no free alliance of the Sinhalese and Tamil people to live under one nor did they share common patriotic values. As noted earlier, they were held together by a common master who was strong and impartial.  There was no Sri Lankan nationalism born of the common secular interests of the island’s different ethnic and linguistic communities.

Even before independence, it was domination, and hence nation breaking that the Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinists wanted. We have seen that caste differences predominated at the beginning and that, in the competitive politics of acquiring wealth, power and domination, the emerging Sinhalese comprador bourgeoisie drew the battlelines on the basis of caste. Before the advent of electoral politics, some Sinhalese politicians displayed an inter ethnic perspective. They acknowledged the Tamil people’s share in the national patrimony and accepted their equal participation in the political process. But from 1920, the Sinhalese politicians defined themselves, first and foremost, as Sinhalese. In turn, their Tamil counterparts defined themselves in similar terms, These bourgeois politicians wanted representative self government, in which they would be the principal actors and beneficiaries, but were opposed to an extended franchise which would have involved the participation of the people.

When the Kandyan Sinhalese elite sounded a discordant note of separate nationality and demanded federalism, Sinhalese unity became the objective. It was not asked: unity for what? The eventual objective was domination and subjugation of the Tamil people. To establish that unity, and appease the dissident Kandyans, marriage alliances were made, their economic and educational backwardness was quickly alleviated and many avenues for their upward mobility were devised. In 1939, Bandaranaike stated:

My Hon. Friends who represent the Kandyan Province will bear witness to what I say, that the differences that existed between the two sections of the Sinhalese—the low country Sinhalese and the upcountry Sinhalese is now fast disappearing. Is it not a desirable thing that is being achieved? The other day it was my privilege to go to Rambukkana to attend . . a large meeting that was attended by thousands of people . . . those who were present at that meeting would have seen there was a new hope of Sinhalese unity.26

It was not a bid for national unity or nation building, but a bid for Sinhalese unity to establish Sinhalese domination over the Tamil people. Then, when the nascent Marxist movement and the early class struggle showed its boundless energy and threatened the interests of the upper class, the Sinhalese politicians let the national ethnic forces burst forth to divide the oppressed and the exploited.

We have seen that independence itself was hastened to save this collaborating upper class from political annihilation. Independence for whom? For the people of Sri Lanka? The Sinhalese politicians converted it into independence for the Sinhalese and subjugation for the Tamils. Let us clearly understand that the new position is one of internal colonialism, no different from external colonialism; in fact, far more pernicious and vicious than the latter.

Sinhalese chauvinism set its eyes on conquest and assimilation. not on nation building There was no attempt, as in other countries, to evolve a culturally neutral secular nation state to launch the new nation on the foundations of freedom, equal rights and social justice. embracing the various ethnic linguistic and religious communities. It was believed that ability to control and dominate the legislature was what was important.

Hence a plan is as devised to reduce the electoral power and representational strength of the Tamils. This plan involved disfranchisement and electoral gerrymandering. A million Tamils of Indian origin were denied citizenship and deprived of the franchise. At a stroke, two objectives were achieved. The political strength of the Tamils was decimated, and working class power was castrated. No redrawing of the electoral constituencies was undertaken, and hence eight additional Sinhalese MPs were returned from these electorates, which had earlier elected Tamil MPs.

Having thus bolstered their representational strength, the Sinhalese politicians reneged on the State Council resolution that Sinhala and Tamil should both be the official languages. It was this two languages resolution that had been the bedrock of the constitutional settlement between the Sinhalese and Tamils prior to independence.

This breach of faith occurred not merely to deny the Tamils their language rights, but also to prevent their access to jobs, business opportunities and all other avenues of acquiring wealth and influence in the country. What the Sinhalese could not achieve by open competition was sought through a system closed to the Tamils. Having thus excluded the Tamils, the Sinhalese sought to formalize the new closed stratification and allocate national resources solely for the benefit of the Sinhalese people. The Tamil areas were on the one hand colonized, and on the other, by a policy of “benign neglect”, turned into a backyard bantustan. Since nation states are established to promote and safeguard their citizens interests, the exclusion of the Tamils from the state, and their denial of citizenship, franchise, language and other basic rights, meant that there was no longer any raison d ‘etre for the Tamils to remain in the Sri Lankan state.

We have seen that, at the level of propaganda, false positions were taken. Sinhalese and Sinhala were said to be in danger of “inevitable shrinkage” and ”inexorable extinction”, and Buddhism was said to be in peril. Sinhalese myths, legends and folklore were retailed as history. The simple myth of the Vijaya legend was developed into a form of Sinhalese national faith, and the 2nd Century BC Ellalan Dutugemunu war was claimed as being “the beginning of Sinhalese nationalism”. Buddhism was bourgeoisified: salvation through nibbana was jettisoned; instead, acquisition of wealth became the new tenet and this aggressive Buddhism was held out as the new gospel of the rising Sinhalese bourgeoisie.

Eventually, the contorted claim came to be that Sri Lanka was the country of the Sinhalese and the 2,500 year old home of the Buddha, the dhamma and the Sangha. In the politics of manipulation, Buddha gods and priests were pressed into service. The ordinary Sinhalese were given an overdose of chauvinist fanaticism which intoxicated their minds and anaesthetized their spirits .

The Tamils were murdered, butchered and beaten up; Tamil women were raped; Hindu Brahmin priests were even burnt alive; Tamil houses and shops were looted and set on fire. The Tamils assembled as refugees, not once but several times, and were driven to the north and east. All these disorders were planned and carried out by the Sinhalese politicians who in the words of Professor Howard Wriggins, “found issues of language. religion, job, etc. the best ways of arousing a popular followings in brief as strategies to assist their own rise in influence”.

The Tamils were required to submit to Sinhalese rule. The aim was the destruction of the ethnic identity of the Sri Lanka Tamils, the repatriation of the Tamils of Indian origin, the emigration of the Burghers and the Sinhalization of the Muslims—so that Sri Lanka should become the country of the Sinhalese. Racialism, therefore, was the acknowledged creed and was intensified by the fact that the Sinhalese “majority” had secured both political and economic power, Sri Lankan society has become one in which inequality, injustice, repression, violence, torture and genocide are pivotal instruments of the basic ideology of Tamilsubjugation. These are what the Sri Lanka state and government offers the Tamil people.

The Tamil people are without a state and government to promote, protect and safeguard their interests of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The situation is as Gramsci stated: “The old is dying, and the new is struggling to be born; in this interregnum there arises a great diversity of morbid symptorns.” The old state must, therefore, be ended, and the new state of Tamil Eelam must be created so that the Tamil people can safeguard their interests of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.


1. James Jupp, supra, p.27.

2. Sir Ivor Jennings, The  British Commonwealth of Nations, 1963, p.209.

3. Gananath Obeyesekere, supra, p. 305.

4. The ancient Pandya included Madurai and Tinnavelly, and its early eapital was Kolkai on the river Tamaraparani, and later Madurai.

5. The Chola kingdom extended along the east coast from Penner river to Cauvery river, and as far as Coorg in the west. its early capital was Uraiyur (old Tirichinopoly) and later Kaveripattinam.

6. The Chera kingdom consisted of Travancore, Cochin and Malabar. Its early capital was Vanchi (now Thirukarur on the Periyar river) and later Thiruvanchikalam.

7. G.C. Mendis, supra, p.31.

8. Ibid, p.49.

9. Robert Paul Jordan, “Time of Testing for an Ancient Land Sri Lanka”. in National Geographic, Vol. 155. No.1 January 1979.

l 0 G.C. Mendis, supra, p.39.

11. Ibid, p.61.

12. Ibid, p.64.

 13. An interesting Tamil inscription of 1088 refers to a “Corporation of the Fifteen Hundred”. Jawaharlal Nehru refers to this and states: “This was apparently a union of traders who were described in it as “brave men, horn to wander over many countries ever since the beginning of the Krita age, penetrating the regions of the six continents by land and water routes, and dealing in various articles such as horses, elephants, precious stones, perfumes, and drugs, either wholesale or in retail.” Discovery of India, p.203.

14 Gananath Obeyesekere,supra, p.291.

15 Michael Roberts, supra, p.79.

16. Supra, p.7 5.

17. Jill and Leon Uris, Ireland A Terrible Beauty, New York,1978, p.67.

18.Lenin, Selected Works, Moscow,1975, p.162.

19. Discovery of India, 1946, p.562.

20. Quoted in William T. de Barry (ed.), Sources of Indian Tradition, New York, p.285.

21. Supra, p.334.

22.Samuel Huntington, the US analyst of military regimes, wrote of Ayub Khan’s military rule: “more than any other political leader in a modernising country after World War II, Ayub Khan came close to filling the role of a Solon or Lycurgus or ‘Great Legislator’ on the Platonic or Rousseauian model”.

23. Pakistan’s Second Five Year Plan (1960 65), produced by the Planning Commission with Gustav F. Papanek, a Harvard University adviser, stated that the government should allow “some initial growth in income in equalities to reach high levels of savings and investment”. As a result of this policy, 22 families, including Bhutto’s, came to control 66% of the industrial assets, 70% of insurance and 80% of banking.

24. It was expected that elections would give an inconclusive result. But the effects of East Pakistan flood and cyclone disasters and the last minute withdrawal from the election of Maulana Bashani’s National Awami Party the principal rival party brought about the Awami League’s unexpected landslide victory.

25.  Burmese Way to Socialism, Rangoon.

26. From a 1939 speech reproduced in S.W.R.D Bandaranaike, Towards a A New Era, Colombo, 1961,pp.50 51.

About editor 2667 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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