Groundviews’ series on Ethnic Identities in Sri Lanka

In its typical innovative fashion Groundviews has encouraged several authors toa ddress this topic. Pressure of work as a RETIREE  …!!!…  has meant that i have yet to read all of them but I recommend readers to dip seriosuly into these essays. Michael Roberts.

* “Back to Basics: The Need for an Honest Conversation About ‘Sri Lankanness’ and ‘Sri Lankan identity” by Aachcharya in

* “Our Sri Lankan Identity: Another Case of ‘Being Nobody, Going Nowhere’? by Kalana Senaratne in

At the risk of invidiousness let me whet your appetites by selecting come of the points made by SENARATNA and then inserting some choice comments by various bloggers in respnse to his article.

* [Sangakkara’s words in his Cowdrey Lecture] stem from a genuine and honest idealism [but] mean very little in practical terms” … Senaratne.

* “…. if the argument is that a problematic identity should be replaced by another, we need to quickly realize that by attempting to create a new identity what we are doing is actually the recreation of those very same problems of subjectivity we wish to resolve”.… Senaratne.

* “the answer – let’s approach the problem as Sri Lankans and resolve it as Sri Lankans – does not, unfortunately, mean anything substantive or useful, since you can do the same by approaching the problem as a Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim if necessary…. Senaratne.

*”My argument here is that you can think the way the late Lakshman Kadirgamar thought about it (and arrive at a pro-devolution based solution), or you can think from the perspective of a Sinhalese or Tamil who thinks power-sharing is absolutely essential – and still arrive at the same conclusion!” …. Senaratne.

* “Furthermore, it is perhaps important to remember that any Sri Lankan identity should fundamentally be one which celebrates the diversity of opinions, views and ideas that people genuinely and ardently hold on to in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural polity.” …. Senaratne.

* “Isn’t it wrong to say that what really or only matters is to arrive to a solution? This suggests that if X takes path A to get to a certain solution and Y takes path B to arrive to the same solution than the path one chooses does not really matter as long as the solution is reached. Yet, what matters is not merely to provide a solution but a “sustainable” solution?” … Kamaya, 17 July 2011.

* “Vijaya Kumaratunga was both rational and passionate. He once said at a public meeting inKandy that there was no such thing as ‘Sinhala blood’ (‘Sinhala ley’) and that he knew only of the blood types A , B, AB and O. He was outspokenly anti-racist and openly critical of Sinhala chauvinism. He was passionate about a Sri Lankan identity, but that was not an identity that ignored Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher identities, which he often referred to. He believed in dialogue and interaction between the communities and cultures. He was also a modernist and a cosmopolitan.”... Dayan Jayatilleka, 18 July 2011

* “…. 2. Affiliation with a higher, broader identity is to be commended and aspired to over narrower and ‘lower’ ones. The latter cannot be obliterated, only transcended. Transcendence may entail synthesis. 3. Thanks, most recently to Amartya Sen and Anthony Kwame Appiah, we are conscious that we have more than one identity. So far, so good, but how do these multiple identities operate? 4. What is the ‘shape’ of identity? Is it layered, with one identity as base? Or is it in concentric circles, with one identity at the core? Or is it conical, with one identity at the bottom and the others radiating outwards and upwards? 5. I suspect that identity is not static, but dynamic, even protean. This or that one of our various identities come to the fore depending on stumulus/response. In so far as one feels existentially threatened IN THAT IDENTITY or that dimension of one’s identity, e.g. one feels existentially threatened AS a Sinhalese or Tamil, or man or woman, that is the idemtity that is pushed to (re)assert itself. (Hence my last article to GV, entitled ‘Enough!’)”… Dayan Jayatilleka, 18 July 2011

* “Dayalan….So, simply put, these ideas, of a moderate, pluralist, inclusionary patriotism, willing and able to defend national sovereignty and the gains of our military victory over secessionist terrorism, while building a different and better Sri Lanka based on a New Social Contract and a more ethical politics, have to be elaborated, developed and popularised. They must take hold at a mass level. This is what Fidel Castro calls ‘the battle of ideas’.”… Dayan Jayatilleka, 19 July 2011.

ADDENDUM: “Thanks for the comments. I greatly enjoyed your article about Sanga.  What made me write that article was the attempt made by some individuals (NOT you or Asanga) to quote and endorse Sanga’s inspiring final para without  realizing the complexities surrounding the creation of an overarching Sri Lankan identity. To ask the people to ‘think’ like Sri Lankans (as one commenting under my article pointed out) I fear is easier said than done. One only has to go through your decades-long work to realize the complexity of the subject we are dealing with when we talk about ‘identities’. I think most of my generation (born in 1983) who are naturally inspired by Sanga’s speech, consider Sanga to have provided the magic formula! My intention was to perhaps make them realize that this is a far more complex issue than just stating that one is ‘Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim but ultimately Sri Lankan’ – even though the spirit captured in that statement should, no doubt, guide and inspire us.  I have also just published an article about the Govt-TNA talks here (a shorter version will be published in the Sunday Leader):“… Kalana Senaratne to Roberts, email, 12 August 2011.

Leave a comment

Filed under cultural transmission, Fascism, historical interpretation, Left politics, life stories, LTTE, power sharing, Rajapaksa regime, reconciliation, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, unusual people

Leave a Reply