What does it mean to be Sri Lankan?
70 years after independence, our identity is defined mostly along majoritarian lines, which can be traced back to the divisions created under British rule. These divisions have contributed to violence and war, in the years since 1948.
To this day, there are communities who feel that what is commonly projected and defined as the Sri Lankan identity does not reflect their reality, or themselves. Looking at this, Groundviews produced a series of videos exploring identity and belonging in a country emerging from war, but not yet out of conflict.
Yamini Ravindran is the Legal and Advocacy Coordinator of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) She comments on the often-overlooked discrimination against the Christian community. She addresses the relationship between religion and politics, and the problems that arise when the State attempts to control or channel religious practice.
M Pradeepan is a Field Researcher and activist with the Capacity Building and Outreach Arm of the Centre for Policy Alternatives. He addresses the historic discrimination against the Upcountry Tamils, which remain one of the most marginalised communities in the country.
Vicky Shahjahan is a visual artist from Kompanna Veediya. In this interview, Vicky talks about the stigma that persists towards gender non-conforming individuals and highlights the need to make them feel included in workplaces and society at large.
Founder of the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts (VAFA) Dr Chandragupta Thenuwara stresses the importance of a better, more inclusive education system in order to move forward from the violence of the past and nurture a future generation that is socially-conscious and appreciative of diversity.
- Krystle Reid: “A Welcoming Nation?” Groundviews 12/2/18
- Pon Kulendiren: “Where Music transcends Ethnic Divisions: Sinhala Nona,” 21 March 2017, https://thuppahis.com/2017/03/21/where-music-transcends-ethnic-divisions-sinhala-nona/#more-24614
- Ordinary Perera, Nadarajah and Bandara: Hands, Feet and Donations across the Length and Breadth of Sri Lanka,” October 5, 2015, https://thuppahis.com/2015/10/05/ordinary-perera-nadarajah-and-bandara-hands-feet-and-donations-across-the-length-and-breadth-of-sri-lanka/
- Kumar Sangakkara’s Reconciliatory Outreach across the Ethnic Divide: A Bibliography,” 15 September 2017, https://thuppahis.com/2017/09/15/kumar-sangakkaras-reconciliatory-outreach-across-the-ethnic-divide-a-bibliography/
- Michael Roberts: “Cricketing Outreach: Building Amity among Lanka’s Ethnic Groups?” 25 September 2017, https://thuppahis.com/2017/09/19/cricketing-outreach-building-amity-among-lankas-ethnic-groups/
- Michael Roberts: “Where Majoritarian Part subsumes the Whole: The Ideological Foundation of Sinhala Extremism,” 28 July 2016, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/where-majoritarian-part-subsumes-the-whole-the-ideological-foundation-of-sinhala-extremism/
- Michael Roberts: “The National Anthem as Spearhead in Steps towards Reconciliation,” 24 January 2017, https://thuppahis.com/2017/01/24/the-national-anthem-as-spearhead-in-steps-towards-reconciliation/
A NOTE from The Editor, Thuppahi
The issues raised here are important, but the first caution is to consider measures of generalization: that is, the methodological issue of reaching for broad historical assessments on the foundations provided by individual experiences with their base in subjectivity. The same issue dwells within anthropological studies of village life in Society X or Y.
I may address this at greater length but as further caution I ask: (A) where does class position an caste background figure in the tales presented recently in February 2017 within Groundviews? (B) where does the operation of acts of vengeance among all segments of Sri Lankan society in all manner of situations fit into the surveys of the Sri Lankan world of human interaction.
A reading of these two works should be mandatory for all those kinterested in the sort of issues raised in GV:
- Gananath Obeyesekere: “Sorcery, Premeditated Murder and the Canalization of Aggression in Sri Lanka,” Ethnology, 1975, Vol 14: 1-25
- Bruce Kapferer, A Celebration of Demons, 1983
- Bruce Kapferer: Legends of People, Myths of State 1988 … with new extensions in http://www.berghahnbooks.com/title/KapfererLegends
- Michael Roberts: “People Inbetween: Ethnic and Class Prejudices in British Ceylon,” 3 August 2015, https://thuppahis.com/2015/08/03/people-inbetween-ethnic-and-class-prejudices-in-british-ceylon/#more-17244
One response to “Individual Subjectivity in the Appraisal of 70 Years of Independence: Explorations in Groundviews”
A COMMENT from TONY DONALDSON in Melbourne that embraces both the GV project and the essay by Wilfred Jayasuriya:
Politicians often make sweet promises to seduce the masses. We’ve witnessed this in the rise of populist leaders of recent times from Dutere to Le Pen, but at the end of the day, a politician is still a politician and we shouldn’t put them on a pedestal. Pause to consider Aung San Suu Kyi. Once hailed as the goddess of democracy and human rights when it suited her, she has now chosen a different path. But it is not something that happens only in a country like Myanmar. Political leaders in the best democracies tend to be constricted by what is going on in their own party, and in the case of SL by having to always watch out for the constant threat of the previous leader making a come-back. Building a united country in which all groups feel a sense of belonging is the “ideal” but at the other end of the continuum is a “realist view” which is about how things actually work. That requires us to keep monitoring what is happening. Nothing is for certain. So let’s see how it goes…. In the case of SL, that process towards a united country that serves all people is fragile and the line between achieving success or failure extremely thin. Words alone are not enough.
On the matter of economic prosperity, it is important, but the Singapore model is not necessarily the best model for Sri Lanka. Singapore has peculiar conditions being just a pimple dot on the world map one could easily miss it, and due to its particular circumstances, it has worked out a way to survive economically – though that does not mean all Singaporeans are well off. SL is not a pimple dot. Its situation is quite different in many ways and thus the Singapore model may not be the right one for it.