The Undisputed World Champions Of Communalism

Faraz Shauketaly, in The Sunday Leader, 29 October 2012

Sri Lanka has always fascinated me. Well it should. Born in what is now  the Kegalle district, the tiny hamlet is I think somewhat unique: about
25% of its residents work as migrant workers in the Middle-East and it  has apart from Sri Lankan, the nationalities of four other countries:
British, German, Kenyan and the United States of America. Diversity is as rife as Sri Lankan political dynasties. But Sri Lanka is a hotbed of
communalism. And the old boy network.
The name is of course a dead giveaway – as much as Rasiah, Sunderalingam and Shanmuganathan is or for that matter Ratnaweera, Galappathy and
Edirisuriya or even – albeit a rather threatened species – but with  names like Herft, Holsinger and Martyn one simply knows the general
background. In Britain it would be difficult to tell from a name alone  whether one is RC1, RC2 or RC3. Names like Smith, Knight and Williams do
not automatically denote the subjects’ ‘race code’. So quite often in Sri Lanka there is no need to ask for your particular communal
background, it is almost obvious. The only time I got confused was in  Colliers Wood: here a fluent Sinhalese speaker with Fernando as a tag,
turned out to be a fluent Tamil speaker. How come I wondered – perhaps like Martyn from Ealing he had spent time in the North as a child –
turned out he was from a small community in Kotahena who although they had a name like Fernando or Macmillan had their roots from a Tamil

Soon after the tsunami we found ourselves in Amparai with no place for the night. Thanks to a senior monk from Kelaniya we were introduced to a
Monastery and taken in by its Chief Monk. Polite conversation turned towards the serious when the monk possibly distracted by the lack of
fluency of the Sinhala language, gently I suppose, asked me from ‘where I was’. It was not gentle at all in fact it was a straightforward
question. I was not about to disclose my ‘achcharu’ pickle of a genetic makeup to this man in the middle of nowhere and more to the point in the
middle of the night when there was an acute shortage of board and lodging.

The monk was advised that I was Sri Lankan first and Sri Lankan last. I
really wished I had paid more attention to Leo De Silva: I wanted to
tell the monk that I was ‘Sri Lankan down to my big toe’ but the
translation was beyond me. Instead I volunteered in my personal Sinhala
best, “Hamuduruwo, mama honnda Lankika porak.” That elicited laughter –
possibly because of the delivery – but he persisted and I was not
letting on – in fact I refused to be drawn on this. It was to me the
single cause of communal disharmony in Sri Lanka: the need to always
check whether one was Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim. It was repulsive at
best. At the school by the sea although we had three ‘streams’ of
instruction – Sinhala, Tamil and English (in politically correct order) –
the friendships made then and maintained now, had absolutely nothing to
do with any form of communal connotation. And no we were not living in
some fancy utopia – in fact we were living in the dark ages of Sirimavo
Bandaranaike whose pogroms forced us to dig up our beloved Quadrangle
and plant manioc instead of the beautiful, awe-inspiring turf. By the
way, Sri Lanka is collectively (still) waiting for that elusive Utopia –
even though and in spite of the economy being ‘saved’ by JRJ but who
left us with a contentious, awesome Constitution which several years
later still haunts the people of Miraculous Sri Lanka.

Although Uganda learned very fast to its almost eternal detriment that
playing the nationalistic card and kicking out those of Asian origin,
the Ugandan experience has not had a sufficiently inspiring experience
in other nations. Zimbabwe did not quite expel the European settlers –
many of whom worked some of the best farms on the African continent for
the betterment of their adoptive country but engaged in outrageous land
grabs that saw many flee. Apart from the fleeing, the once successful
farms went to ruin and has impacted most significantly on the Zimbabwean
economy – a country where the Europeans and Asians are but an
insignificant minority. Those actions has caused untold suffering to the
indigenous peoples of Zimbabwe and only perhaps God knows what happened
to the hopes and aspirations envisaged by Joshua Nkomo, Robert Mugabe
and others whilst Ian Smith held the reins of apartheid-inspired power.

Some of these overt Nationalistic pronouncements have a divine,
boomerang, co-joining effect with what the Buddhist would call Thittha
Dhamma Wedaneeya Karmaya or in plain Queens English, ‘instant
retribution’. One need not traverse far and wide in search of an
example. No finer example than this exists: Green-card-holding, Fonnie,
perhaps drunk with the power he held at the time, was not shy to
pronounce his true feelings of Sinhala chauvinism. The minority, he
declared, only existed because of the largesse of the Sinhala majority.
Lasantha Wickremetunge wrote that almost iconic piece on “Fonnie and the
Green Card’ and Fonseka was behind bars for inciting violence not too
long afterwards. Instant retribution one would be right in thinking.
Unfortunately Lasantha was not around to witness those events but he
would not have basked in the discomfiture suffered by Fonnie. There is
more however to pay: the suffering that the killing of Lasantha
Wickremetunge has had is ongoing and divine retribution is all the hope
there is.

It is a strange paradox that in a much-hyped vibrant democracy the
people of that democracy have to rely and yield to ecclesiastical events
for justice. It is another sign – if any was needed – that the
requirement for a truly independent Police force is a non-negotiable
essential within the ambit of a functional democracy. Nothing and no
matter what anyone who is anybody says, this component of a democratic
society is unalienable. To meddle with that is to meddle with the heart
and soul of a free society. To believe in any dilution of that
independence and you might as well believe that it was indeed Father
Christmas that left you that iPad by the tree last Christmas.

Sri Lankans clearly have a sound training in being communal minded. The
large numbers of minority families who have taken refuge in the West for
instance are masters at the art of reputation damage and reputation
management. They work all the hours. He gives them to fund comprehensive
and constant attacks on the reputation of the sovereign government of
this nation. In breach of the United Kingdom laws on terrorist
organizations and their activities, the LTTE-supporting Diaspora have
publicly carried flags and placards espousing the LTTE cause on the
street of London. The Metropolitan Police in the interests of ‘keeping
the peace’ turned a Nelsonian and tolerant eye.

When it comes to Diaspora politics the world champions have no equal
anywhere near: Sri Lanka’s Diaspora have proved themselves to be the
world champions of Diaspora politics and have taken to the streets all
around the world. Accompanied by the latest in gadgetry and fat
chequebooks, they openly declare that their most immediate stop is
regime change.

They appear to forget that with Prabhakaran safely out of the way there
was a regime change and a permanent change to the wild possibility that a
separate state would exist within the territorial limits of Sri Lanka.
That regime change saw the comprehensive defeat of LTTE activity on the
island but has not stopped the overt and covert separatist hopes and
aspirations harboured by a few, who not content with earnings billions
of dollars including monies collected through extortion and other
patently unlawful methods and who maintain high-end lifestyles, have
sought to manipulate and fan the flames of communalism and racism in Sri

The Communal-minded Diaspora – who are in fact no better than their
counterparts in this country who also practice the art of communalism
locally – enjoy the discomfiture of their friends and relatives who
remain in this country and whose lifestyle has been significantly
reduced thanks almost entirely to the War years. They do so because if
their efforts were channeled at true reconciliation and enjoin
themselves with the administration in Sri Lanka, far more good would
accrue – where the ultimate beneficiaries would be the permanent
residents of the former conflict areas, for starters. The boomerang
effect would be an all encompassing ridding of the shameful shackles of
communalism prevalent in Sri Lanka.


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