An interesting chat with Mark LaBrooy in Melbourne on the phoe today induced me to re-visit my old SIGNATURE PIECE on “The Sinhala Mindset” in my Thuppahi site ….. Some of the commentary is as enlightening today as refreshing. That inserted by Jane Russell on 1 March 2012 and Chandre Dharmawardena’s response should continue to stimulate our thinking TODAY.
The problems of YESTERDAY still persist today.
Note that Jane is an Oxford graduate who secured her Ph.D in History at Peradeniya under KM de Silva’s supervision in Peradeniya in the 1970s. She has lived for lengthy spells in Sri Lanka since then because of her deep commitment to individuals and places within the land.
Thanks for your thoughtful and reasoned comments on the Sinhala mind-set with which I totally agree. However, it takes two to tango… the Jaffna (and to a lesser extent East coast) Tamils also have a similar mind-set. At their back they feel the power of 60 million or so south Indian Tamils who give them assurance that they too can turn a part of Sri Lanka (the north-east) into a whole — a Tamil whole. Thus we had the claims of 50-50 before independence (which many Sinhalese and Tamils understood to be 50% of Sri Lanka for Tamils and 50% for Sinhalese — it was not this at all but the slogan carried the idea that it might be). And later so many of the Eelamists produced maps showing almost half the land mass and even more of the coastline to be “Tamil homelands”. Even now so many Tamil fundamental nationalists claim that Negombo is a Tamil town. This is all just a fruitless foray into a political cul-de-sac down unresearchable paths of forgotten and probably bloody history: I personally and idiosyncratically believe that domesticated winged dinosaurs were used by Sri Lankan kings as virtual spy planes (launched from the huge cave at Ella) to fight off an army of gigantic dinosaur gorillas from south Indian invaders — which led to the whole Ravanna myth. But I’d never expect to turn such eccentric crankiness into a theory on which to build a modern nation-state… but both the Sinhala Buddhist fundamentalists and Tamil fundamental nationalists seem to dwell in the fields of fantasy best left to JR Tolkein and JK Rowling!!
(Once, while waiting for a CTB bus at Kurumbacciddy Junction in 1974, I saw a blackboard advertising a lecture by the then proto-LTTE which showed speedboats pulling the Jaffna peninsula across the Palk Straits and joining it to Tamil Nadu… )
Meanwhile, the real nation-building (including proper historical research) is kicked off the field by the loonies who can shout louder and sloganise more easily ….
with best wishes and much sadness at so much blood having flowed under the bridge and still so few recognising what a waste of lives it has all been….
- Pingback: Jane Russell on Nationalist Extremism on Both Sides in the 1970s et seq | Thuppahi’s BlogEditOnce, while waiting for a CTB bus at Kurumbacciddy Junction in 1974, I saw a blackboard advertising a lecture by the then proto-LTTE which showed speedboats pulling the Jaffna peninsula across the Palk Straits and joining it to Tamil Nadu…
There have been articles on the Federal option for Sri Lanka, published not too long ago. On reading some of them carefully, one realizes that the Federalism envisaged is federating with Tamil Nadu. This is a perfectly logical proposition, already followed by some sections of the Christian church.
- Jane Russell (Dr.)
Thanks for your comment and the chance to further explain.
What I was trying to say in my overall comment, of which you have extracted a small portion, is that there are absurdly unrealisable and positively dangerous options posited by extremists within the Sinhala Buddhist warrior camp as well as by the Tamil warriors of the LTTE et al which each camp then takes seriously and thereby can justify their equally crazy antithetical position. It is “50-50” in terms of who can out-trump the other in going more and more into the realms of political fantasy. However, the victims of this assault on the rational instinct are the political moderates who understand that mediation and compromise is the only the way forward and also the civilians who are sacrificed to this warrior mentality.
The example you use is typical of the kind of impossible scenario sketched out by the LTTE to their less worldly followers as something that could be achieved. Equally, the Sinhalese who talked (and still do) of “sending back to south India” Tamils who refuse to “Sinhalise” — an attitude which played nicely into the hands of the warrior Tamil nationalists who were able to introduce the label of “ethnic cleansing” into the global debate and thereby gain useful support among the human rights lobby and media in the west – are either shooting themselves in the foot or deliberately provoking the Tamils to adopt an even more extreme position. Whether cock-up or conspiracy, it is bad for peace and reconciliation and that is what is required now.
Two generations of Sri Lankans have endured thirty plus years of civil war plus a nasty backhander from nature with the tsunami: at least the man-inspired misery can be ameliorated … but not if the Sinhala and Tamil warriors continue to dominate intellectual debate.
TO ADD TO JANEs Latest NOTE — a friend in London with links across all ethnicites had this to say: “I am aware however that even onetime moderate or liberal Tamils, as distinct from the pure LTTE rump, have of recent become quite paranoid and look on anyone trying to maintain some sanity as being opposed to them, or as being apologists for the government. “Anyone who is not with us is against us” is what they are saying. However, given the hardening pro-Sinhala line within the South, and the apologetic stance taken by many onetime liberal Sinhala intellectuals in the South, such an extreme countervailing reaction from the Tamils is understandable. ….. what is happening now is that the confrontation is widening and the middle ground is fast disappearing.”
A few months back my sentiments were similar in that I felt that within the middle class strata and politcoes on both sides in Sri Lanka the situation is reminscent of the 1960s and 1970s [when i lost hope].