Ethnic Categories in Sri Lanka: Issues

Chandre Dharmawardana — in a response directed at Michael Roberts’s Comment**

When we make a blood test, we don’t specify all the items found in blood. Depending on the objective, we may list sugar, triglycerides, Heavy cholesterol and light cholesterol. If our objectives were different, we may list ALT, ALP, AST, bilirubin, albumin and total protein. So, what one lists is based on the purpose.

In discussing UNHRC issues, we consider what has been raised in the UN press release: viz The Daily News report: shows that the UN does not mention all minorities.

It says: “that despite the Government’s stated commitment to the 2030 Agenda, Tamil and Muslim minorities are being increasingly marginalized and excluded in statements about the national vision and Government policy. Divisive and discriminatory rhetoric from the highest State officials risks generating further polarization and violence. Sri Lanka’s Muslim community is increasingly scapegoated, both in the context of COVID-19 and in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks of April 2019.” <..>The report notes that Sri Lanka’s armed conflict emerged against the backdrop of progressively deepening discrimination and marginalization of the country’s minorities, particularly the Tamils?

So the UN report does not mention any other minorities. So it would be meaningless for us discussing the UNHRC to make a list of all minorities in Sri Lanka.

Michael’s list is also incomplete. What about Malays, Ethnics of Chinese origin, Maldivians, Dual citizens of various countries etc., domiciled in Sri Lanka?

In Sri Lanka even the census does not include some of the groups that Michael may want to see “recognized”. The following ethnic groups are officially recognized. The 2012 census recognized Sinhalese, Indian Tamils (4.2 per cent), Sri Lankan Moors (9.3 per cent), Malays (0.2 per cent), Burghers (0.2 per cent), Sri Lankan Chetty (5,600), Bharatha (1,700) and Wanniyala-Aetto (also known as Veddhas) (estimated to be around 2,000, though not included in the official census).

As for what Michael calls “achcharu, or Thuppahi”, I think if the word means genetically mixed, then ALL these groups as well as the majority are Thuppahi to various degrees, but even the least mixed is probably over 80% mixed.

If the word means, something cultural, based on assumed identities, then it is just a belief. I think everyone is an “achchaaru”.

But the painful thing is, these “Ethnic” labels simply hide popular or naive beliefs about race – Sinhala race, Tamil race, Arab or Semitic race, European mixed (Burgher) race etc. But, If separate racial or ethnic groups or thuppahis actually existed, one may expect “brand defining” alleles and other genetic features that characterize a single ethnic group but not present in any others, and mixture. But the 2002 Stanford study found that only 7% of some 4000 alleles were specific to a given geographic region (e.g., Tamil North versus Sinhala South in the Lankan context).

Also, even when region-specific alleles occurred, they only occurred in about 1% of the people from that region. That is hardly enough to be any kind of brand mark. So, there is no evidence that the groups we commonly call “races” in the context of the Identity Politics of the Sinhalese, Tamils, or in between people, have distinct, unifying genetic identities. In fact, Identity Politics and history re-writing seem to be mostly about justifying land grabs (Eelamists) or justifying exceptionalism – as practiced by the US with its doctrine of Manifest destiny.”

** These exchanges are part of the item  ….. Chandre’s Comment is too important and wide-ranging to be buried therein. Hence a new ‘thread   is opened up here with the focus on Sri Lankan practices rather than the vocabulary of the UNHRC and UN.
Enjoy …the thuppahi …achchaaru…. baila …. all things syncretic!

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