"..The biggest single obstacle to peace is
the ideology of
Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-supremacy and the hold that this
ideology has on the Sri Lankan State... The historical
imperative that confronts us, Sinhalayo, then is not merely
'constitutional reform'. We must look forward to building a
new Republic or Republics. We, Sinhalayo, need no longer
feel so alone, so besieged and under threat of dissolution -
because we will be part of a larger, encompassing, regional
society. Secession, then, will no longer be a 'threat' but
merely a new configuring of our State with new forms and
structures that enable inter-relationships between groups
and sub-groups. Indeed, 'secession' will lose its meaning...
Surely, with all our modern technology and tightly connected
market economies, could we not envisage a complex of
inter-dependent polities that is as complex as those highly
complex and successful polities that configured our lands in
the past centuries? Is this not 'good news' for The Good
Comment by tamilnation.org
Mr.Lakshman Gunasekera's Sivaram Memorial Lecture
comes as a breath of fresh air from a Sinhala intellectual, and
if his lecture encourages more and more
Sinhala people and Tamil
people to have an honest conversation with one another, on
the way forward in the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka, the
talk would have served an useful and helpful role.
is whether the Sinhala people and the Tamil people sitting
together as equals can honestly discuss political
structures which secure the equality and freedom of each as a
people and which address not only the aspirations but also
the concerns, the fears, and the apprehensions of each people.
In the end, it is for the Tamil people and the
Sinhala people to be unafraid (yes, unafraid) to have an open
and honest conversation with each other and in this way help
mobilise a critical mass of people committed to secure justice
and democracy - a democracy where no one people rule another. An
independent Tamil Eelam may not be negotiable but an independent
Tamil Eelam can and will negotiate. Tamils who today live
in many lands and across distant seas know only too well that
sovereignty after all, is not virginity.
But they also know that it is only the independent who
may negotiate the terms on which they may become
Admittedly, the negotiating process may be
complex but if Germany and France were able to put in place such
'associate' structures despite the suspicions and confrontations
of two world wars, it should not be beyond the capacity of Tamil
Eelam and Sri Lanka to work out structures, within which
each independent state may remain free and prosper, but at the
same time pool sovereignty in certain agreed
areas. Mr.Gunasekera is right to ask - " Surely, with all our
modern technology and tightly connected market economies, could
we not envisage a complex of inter-dependent polities that is as
complex as those highly complex and successful polities that
configured our lands in the past centuries? " [see also
Comment on Marxism
& Nationalism and
Comment on Scots and British]
must thank my colleagues, comrades and friends in the Free Media
Movement and the allied journalists' and media professionals'
organisations for the honour they have bestowed me by asking me to
deliver this First Memorial Lecture commemorating the life and
untimely death of journalist/ social activist and,
Tamil nationalist liberation fighter Dharmaratnam Sivaram. The
invitation to lecture came with just over a month's notice - not the
kind of time period one would expect to be given to prepare for
something as formal and significant as a Memorial Lecture in honour
of a distinguished citizen. But, given the exigencies within which
we must live today, I understood the difficulties of the organisers
and accepted, despite the short notice.
Some in this country
and elsewhere will balk at describing Dharmaratnam Sivaram as a
"distinguished citizen", given his long involvement in rebellion and
guerrilla warfare. Others, more fanatical about citizenship and
nationality issues, would argue over the 'nation' to which Siva
might owe citizenship. Knowing the man as I did/I know that Siva
would have enjoyed the multiple controversy. To me, Sivaram is a
Good Citizen: That is, a useful member of human society who
contributed something of creative significance to that society.
Again, some may be repelled by the application of the adjectives
'good' and 'creative' to someone who had enthusiastically engaged in
war. I choose to argue my case for such usage by means of a Lecture
that explores some of the dimensions of the social conflict in which
Sivaram found himself/ the immense compulsions that overwhelmed him.
and continue to overwhelm us in that conflict/ and the enormous
challenges that confronted him and continue to confront us.
Dharmaratnam Sivaram lived a relatively short life that was fuller
than that of most people in terms of the intensity with which he
lived his various roles and fulfilled the tasks that he took on.
Looking at his life in terms of the ancient social traditions that
he upheld - even as a Marxian social revolutionary - one can see the
dynamism of both the Khatriya as well as the Brahmana.
But, despite the more recent recognition given to him as a
journalist and "scribe" (to use a label favoured by mutual friend,
the late Ajith Samaranayake), I would argue that Siva was far more a
Khatriya and warrior than a Brahmana. Indeed, even in his second
great career as a journalist and writer, Siva not only continued the
same struggle he had previously engaged in militarily, but did so
exploiting much of the analytical skill and knowledge that he had
honed during his first career as a guerrilla fighter and strategist
of the People's Liberation Organisation of Thamileelam.
as guerrilla warrior and as writer, editor and analyst, Siva has
made a singular contribution to the great cause of a whole people, a
community, struggling - and yet struggling - to find human security,
dignity and fulfillment in new nationhood and political community.
Thanks to his endeavours (along with the endeavours of many other
Sri Lankans), that people may now be on the verge of a new political
community, while still undergoing immense pain and tragedy in the
process of achieving it.
Even if he has not seen the formal, institutional, achievement of
Tamil self-determination, Siva did see some of the early exciting
signs of it in
separate, militarily won and militarily administered, 'liberated'
territory with some vestiges of indigenously created
'national' institutions such as a judiciary and administration,
however imperfect that they might be.
Even as a 'journalist', Sivaram located himself firmly on one
side of the barricades he had already helped erect in defending his
community against the awesome odds of a legitimized,
ethno-centric State domination and a
community's social violence. With the relatively high standards
of journalism he met through Tamilnet.com, he helped bring to the
world the Tamil community's own counter-legitimacy; high standards
that he further distinguished by his individual contribution as
probably the most incisive analyst of the politico-military aspect
of the current war.
While I was never a close friend of
Siva's, I first knew of him as a PLOTE strategist and then got to
know him personally when he was astutely recruited by Editor Gamini
Weerakoon as a columnist for The Island - Sunday Edition newspaper
in which I worked at the time. Siva's 'Taraki' column made as much
waves, albeit in a shorter time, as D.B.S. Jeyaraj had previously
done through his 'Behind the Cadjan Curtain' column. If his
newspaper columns were brilliantly analytical; many of
papers and commentaries written for various seminars and
publications were even more brilliant.
Even if I had been
given adequate time, I doubt whether I could, in this Lecture, hope
to match the kind of intellectual depth and quality achieved by
Sivaram. Lacking the time for the build-up of specific references
and data for my contentions, I would rather describe my Lecture as
"some journalistic reflections".
In this Lecture I will reflect on my own experience and
perceptions of the functioning of the Sri Lankan mass media in the
context of the on-going ethnic conflict, the nature of this conflict
and the possible Sri Lankan futures arising from it. Sivaram lived
and gave his life for the future of his people. We can only take up
that same spirit of anticipation and envisioning.
Media, Community and Conflict
The Sinhala Marxist tradition is notable for its failure, unlike
most other Marxist movements, to firmly and authentically base
itself on the intellectual and spiritual wellsprings of its own
It is possible that this failure is due to the non-availability
of a coherent and full-bodied indigenous tradition following the
massive triage of five centuries of colonial domination.
Nevertheless, it is perhaps this immense theoretical lapse that has
contributed most to the waywardness and debility of the Left's
politico-organisational life, indeed its very failure, so far, as a
Sivaram is but one example of how
Tamil Marxian revolutionaries transcended this theoretical weakness
and nurtured a revolutionary movement that was and is largely
Marxian-inspired but socially revolutionary on the basis of both its
modernist ideological goals as well as its profoundly civilised
traditions and culturally derived community identity. The
liberation movement, whatever its failings in terms of military
brutality, patriarchy and authoritarianism (among others), has never
had difficulties in fusing its nationalist and social revolutionary
Thus, it has been extremely difficult, in our
Southern society (unlike in the North or much elsewhere in the
world), to intellectually draw out the complex strands that tie
ethno-cultural identity together with social class-based
differentiations, without facing accusations of obscurantism and
The intellectual debate among southern Marxists has preened
itself on the podium of
a culturally barren 'rationalism' thereby crucially failing to
negotiate, until it was almost too late, the vital nexus between
community and class. The first generation leadership of the JVP made
a valiant effort at this, but lacked the intellectual depth and
self-confidence to build a solid theoretical discourse. In any case,
the lack of a rich tradition itself undermined that effort.
Comment by tamilnation.org
Here, there may also be a
need to reflect on the views of those like Benedict Anderson and V.Kiernan -
(see also, generally - What is a
On Civic Nationalism & Ethno Nationalism)
"Nationalism has proved an uncomfortable anomaly for
and precisely for that reason, has been largely elided, rather than
confronted. How else to account for the use, for over a century of the
concept of the 'national bourgeoisie' without any serious attempt to
justify theoretically the relevance of the adjective? Why is this
segmentation of the bourgeoisie - a world class in so far as it is
defined in terms of the relations of productions - theoretically
Anderson: Imagined Communities - Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
"'A nation is not merely a historical category , but a
historical category belonging to a definite epoch, the epoch of rising
capitalism.' Stalin's formula appears in many ways close to the mark,
but it applies much better to the handful of original nation states in the
West than to their imitations further a field; it applies far less well
still to the majority of nationalist movements as distinct from nations.
Marxism has often slurred over the distinction between these two things,
and made modern nationalism, as well as the classical nation state, an alter
ego of capitalism... Like religion,.. or any other great emotive force,
nationalism is ambivalent, and can escape very completely from a prescribed
political channel. Even in its origins, it was a complex phenomenon,
deriving both from the solidarity and from the divisions of society. It
would have astonished Marx to see socialism owing so much to partnerships
with nationalism in Afro-Asia and in the Soviet Union during the second
world war... " (V.Kiernan - 'Nationalist Movements and Social Classes'
in Anthony D Smith (Ed): Nationalist Movements)
If the Southern Left failed to grasp the importance of culture
and community, then one cannot be surprised that the Southern elite
also similarly failed. In the context of such intellectual debility,
it is not surprising that the Sri Lankan understanding of the
specific subjects of communication and mass media also lacks an
appreciation of the subjective, cultural elements. To the Southern
Left as well as to the Southern mainstream, mass media continues to
be largely seen both as a didactic instrument and as a propaganda
Whether it is the bureaucracy, with its neo-colonial
command-and-control mentality, or social activist organisers and
animators or, politicians, the mass media is, to them, a useful
(seemingly) tool of public instruction, social guidance and reform,
Marshall Macluhan and mass communication theory reigns while
Stuart Hall and the Cultural Studies school remains esoteric.
If there was some appreciation of the political theorising of
Antonio Gramsci, his exploration of the power of consciousness
was less imbibed here.
Benedict Anderson may be toyed with in relation to 'ethnicity'
Michael Gurevitch and Lisbet Van Zoonen are virtually unnoticed.
While in more recent years there has been an increasing number of
academics and intellectuals who have transcended this theoretical
straitjacket, the Culturalist approach is yet a marginal and
maverick tendency in Sri Lanka.
Mass media professionals here
have even a less structured understanding of their societal function
although, at the level of industrial tactic and professional
instinct, most successful journalists are adept at navigating
cultural streams and symbolic markers in making effective connection
with audience and market.
Perhaps the first such local
exploration came in the early 1980s/ even before
the cataclysm of July 1983, when a research project launched by
the Council for Communal Harmony through the Media (CCHM) used hard
data gained from the analysis of newspaper reportage to point to
explicit ethnic biases in the Sri Lankan news media (at the time
there was no television and only the single. State-owned radio
In a series of circulated newsletters titled Media Monitor and
Maadhya Nireekshaka, the CCHM tried to draw the attention of media
people as well as critical audiences to this clearly noticeable
phenomenon of newspapers catering to the perceived ethnic interests
and concerns of their readerships.
The media of the time as well as the intelligentsia gave little
attention to these arguments by that little band of
activist-researchers led by
Reggie Siriwardene. A CCHM study of the school curriculum
revealed an ideological content that alarmingly complemented the
media's ethnic duality of 'majority' identity and 'minority'
identity with its own powerful discourse of a similar duality and
privileging of the 'majority' culture.
Thus it was not surprising to those researchers that a subsequent
survey of a sample of high school students that was undertaken after
the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom had many Sinhala student respondents
describing that episode of mass violence as simply the period of
"jaathi-aalaya" ( = love of race).
If that pioneering work that predates but anticipates the
current ethnic hatreds and paranoia was largely ignored, the
subsequent violent upheavals prompted greater retrospection,
resulting in more and louder voices in a similar vein. Even though
relatively little study has still been done in this area, there are
& few works that have not only agreed with and legitimised CCHM's
early work (without reference to the CCHM, though) but have also
served to mainstream a critical understanding of the Sri Lankan mass
media's contribution to the conflict's dynamics.
as market and constituency
The cultural studies school has influenced my approach to
mass media and, consequently, I view the media as a system or
structure of social communication; indeed, as the modern, dominant
social communicational structure of our society. Traditional mass
communication theory views the media institutions as functioning
quite separately and independently of the public and, as having the
potential to influence public opinion in a direct, didactic manner.
The Cultural Studies School, which influences my perspective,
sees the mass media as representing the interests and views of the
public that constitute its audience. The mass media is ultimately
linked to the public which are its various audiences. The Sri Lankan
mass media, therefore, must be seen as a social communicational
structure involving media institutions (e.g. radio, TV, newspaper
companies) as well as media audiences in an intimate, mutually
The most significant aspect of this
intimate linkage is the fact that the audience of the media is not
only its market but also its constituency. That is, the ownership
and staff of a particular media organ (such as the editorial staff,
proprietors, managers etc.) are predominantly constituted by members
of the same social group or cluster of groups that comprise its
audience. It is this social linkage between media and audience that
prompts and enables the media producers to represent the interests
and concerns of their audience.
For example, the ownership of
the Sinhala language newspaper 'Divaina', which caters to the
Sinhala-speaking people of the country is, itself, ethnically
Sinhala. Almost the entirety of its editorial staff - that is, the
professional communicators working for that newspaper - are
ethnically Sinhalas. Thus the Sinhala community, which is the
principal, if not the sole, audience of the 'Divaina', also has
provided its editorial staff and its ownership.
A similar logic will apply to the major Tamil-language newspapers
such as the 'Veerakesari'
Even if the proprietors of a media institution do not solely
originate from a specific language and ethnic community to which
that media institution (be it radio, TV or the press) caters, the
professional staff will. In the case of the English language media,
there is only a slight modification to this logic.
Even if the owning people are not from the westernized
socio-cultural layers, their media content producers or editorial
staff are likely to originate from those layers. (Or, they become
very hybrid, multi-lingual product operations that cater to very
specific market segments.)
In fact, it is possible to argue
that a specific newspaper (or radio or TV channel for that matter)
would not successfully cater to its intended audience and retain
that audience as its market if that newspaper's editorial staff -
i.e. the producers of its editorial content - did not belong to and
culturally be immersed in the social group that constitutes that
audience. Indeed, the more socio-culturally immersed a media
practitioner is, the more successful will be her/his professional
contribution to the marketing success of that media institution.
Thus one could say that the audience of a media organisation
also constitutes its staff and often its ownership, at least in
cultural and ethnic terms if not also in terms of its gender and
socio-economic class. If I may simplify this formula, it is possible
to say that media consumers also constitute the media producers.
Media as representing Ethnic interests
This interaction and relationship between audience and media
content producers will help explain the conclusions by analysts in
studies of the Sri Lankan media. What little studies that have been
done have found that the different linguistic sectors of the media
function differently and cater directly to the interests of their
Thus to quote a recent analysis
of the Tamil press: "... .the impact of the press was also seen in
........ the inculcation of a sense of pride among the
Tamil-speaking groups in their cultural and literary heritage.... ."
Similarly, "..... the private sector Sinhala dailies..... ..have
been ever mindful that they depend on a Sinhalese (predominantly
Buddhist) readership, and have shown sensitivity to the attitudes,
responses and interests of that segment of the population,
especially in respect of the ethnic conflict.
observes: "Sri Lankan newspapers of the three language media cater
to sets of individuals who inhabit different worlds and espouse
That same study concludes that
"Broadly speaking, the effect of the Sinhala-English coverage of the
North and the East is to create and nurture a war mentality.. ..
When combined with the findings that media reportage of the conflict
offers different perspectives to different audiences based on
ethnicity and language, these and other studies that have been done
have all gone to show that the content of the mass media's
production and the behaviour of the mass media institutions
themselves, in terms of owners' policy and media professionals'
behaviour and attitudes, have had a bearing on the ethnic conflict."
It is abundantly clear that more than the deliberate intentions of
the media content producers themselves; it is the compulsions of the
market that drives ethnically biased media content. This is why it
is wrong to simply 'blame' the mass media for 'bias'. Very often
media practitioners tilt their content emphasis quite unconsciously
in accordance with their instinctive reading of audience preferences
and sensibilities rather than in accordance with deliberate policy
or political motive. This "instinctive reading" is derived by these
media practitioners own affiliation to the social groups that
comprise their audience. This is not to downplay the degree of
influence of policy and human motive on media content.
studies referred to above, however, are primarily an assessment of
print media behaviour and impact and were done when the electronic
media was only just beginning to make its presence felt in Sri
Lanka. The past decade has seen the gradual market consolidation of
television and radio and, today, the sizeable impact of these media
must be seen as having a considerable influence on social attitudes
and social consciousness. The difference in the nature of
audio-visual media opens up new possibilities in terms of audience
In terms of ethno-cultural differentiations, the rise of the
audio-visual media has some significant outcomes. If the print
media, by its very logo-centricity, sharply divided audiences
linguistically, the audio-visual media/ by its very graphic
communication capacity, does the opposite.
The captivating power of the audio-visual breaks through the
linguistic divide to encompass a range of, otherwise separated/
audiences into a single, unified meta-audience that collectively
enjoys the visuals and the ambience within the aesthetic of a
regionally common culture.
Thus, Tamil and Hindi language films and teledramas gain the
largest audiences by far, bringing together the entirety of the
non-English speaking population – Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim - in a
collective aesthetic enjoyment that serves to bridge cultural
The constant trans-cultural identification can only help draw
together ethnic communities rather than distance them. The emergence
of indigenous fusion music on the platform of a multiplicity of
radio stations is also a new cultural bridge that is helping bring
Sinhala and Tamil speakers together in a single musical
Of course, the devastating trajectory
of the ethnic conflict has been such that the power of the
trans-cultural audio-visual media is wholly inadequate today to
overcome the rigid barriers of communal hatred and vengeance that
have arisen along with the sheer attrition of the war.
that, there has to be a comprehensive change across the canvas of
the Sri Lankan social configuration. This is something to which the
mass media can contribute, but ultimately it is up to the peoples of
this island to adjust their perspectives, make realistic choices
and/ to discard fantasies - both of hegemony as well of vengeance.
From Cultural to Political Community: the problem of
Such a scale of transformation at a
socio-cultural level must necessarily involve the Sinhala community
in a very central way. In order to do justice to the commemoration
of an anti-hegemonist fighter such as Sivaram, I will, in this final
section of my Lecture, focus on the complex issue of Sinhala
hegemonism. This is a subject that I have focussed on often in the
past, especially in my
'Observations' column in the Sunday Observer.
biggest single obstacle to peace is the ideology of
Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-supremacy and the hold that this ideology
has on the Sri Lankan State. To put it simply, peace can come to Sri
Lanka only with the defeat of Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-supremacism.
True, there are several other major elements in the Sri Lankan
crisis that also need resolution, especially the question of a
democratic self-rule for the Tamils, but Sinhala-Buddhist
supremacism is at the core of the problem.
In exploring this problematic, it is imperative that I do so
from the point of view of the interests of the Sinhalas themselves.
This requires an examination of the Sinhala collective mindset - the
mass psychology of supremacism (to paraphrase
After all, the very intent of Sinhala supremacism is the
perceived survival and future of the 'Sinhala jaathiya' (or, race).
The object of this ideology is the supremacy of a defined 'Sinhala
jaathiya' over the Sri Lankan State and the maintenance of a State
with a configuration that enables the continuity of this ethnic
The rationale for this hegemony is the threat perception and
presumed survival need for this defined "sinhala jaathiya'. What I
will examine is the
self-understanding of the Sinhalas as to their identity
which would include narratives of their social evolution
(history) as well as the contours of their ethnic description or
Most significant is the fact that the
modern definitions of 'Sinhala' attribute a central role to a purely
(or largely) internal or indigenous socio-cultural evolution without
sufficient acknowledgement of the continuous other (i.e. 'external')
influences in a way that would expose the composite nature of the
Sinhalayo. Rather than giving an equal weight to the obviously very
powerful influences from outside the island, the modern practise of
Sinhala identity emphasises primarily an isolated, island-exclusive
This historiographical logic then results in a
major difficulty experienced by the Sinhalas in recognising the
co-existence today of (a) various sub-Sinhala demographic groups as
well as (b) other non-'Sinhala' ethnic groups, mainly the Tamils and
This lack of a pluralist or, composite,
perspective of communal Self (as comprising several closely linked
sub groups) and related Others is in stark contrast to a similar
island society that is the 'nation' of Great Britain. The Sri Lankan
social evolutionary experience is similar to that of Britain and not
of Japan or Taiwan or other off-continental island societies which
are far more homogenous.
Just as Britain and its earliest indigenous population of Picts
suffered successively or simultaneously very dislocative and
powerful external influences via the Saxon, Angle, and Norse
invasions, the Roman invasions and the Norman invasion, the Sri
Lankan island and its population also underwent similar major
Given this historical memory, today's
'British" people simultaneously also identify themselves as being a
composite of, firstly Scots, English and Welsh, and secondly, of
mixtures of Nordic, Germanic and Norman (Norse-French) peoples.
Here, there may be a need
to reflect carefully on the views of those like Alex Salmond and
Sean Connery -
"The 18th-century Union (of England and Scotland) is past its
sell-by date. It's gone stale for both our nations. What we both
need now are the political and economic powers to make our
nations work, to tailor policies to suit our different
circumstances, and to speak for ourselves in Europe and the
wider world -while acting together where our interests
converge... As our world has become more complex
and inter-connected, the need for nations to be independent with
a direct say in regional and global affairs has become more
important - not less. In 1945, there were only 51 members of
the new United Nations. In our new century, there are nearly 200
independent UN members - and more than 30 of these have emerged
since the end of the Cold War. Thus in the modern
world, the processes of independence and interdependence are
mutually supportive and reinforcing. The political
imperative to share the same state for reasons of building a
large domestic market, or great power projection, is a
fundamentally outdated 19th-and 20th-century concept. In the
self-determination stakes, the people of Scotland are ahead of
the game both in thought and deed. But I suspect that the people
of England are beginning to catch up. .."
On Scotland and the "English Question" - Alex Salmond, Scottish
National Party Leader, 20 March 2007
"..My politics come from a simple belief: that my country,
Scotland, should have equal status with the nearly 200 other
independent countries around the world."
Sean Connery, in Making History in Scotland, Dawn
28 May 2007
For the Sinhalayo, however, a linear, very simple and singular
composition of 'Sinhala' alone and none other is accepted as the
civilisational identity of this island population.
The successive or parallel intrusions over millennia from the
-sub-continent as well as from Arabia and from South East Asia have
not been accommodated in the self-definition of 'Sinhala' even
though some of the very ancient texts that are referred to for
founding myths explicitly indicate variety in demographic origins.
There is no practice of identifying 'Sinhala' with a composite mix
of Veddahs, Prakrit speaking northern sub-continentals,
Prakrit-Tamil speaking southern sub-continentals, Keralites, Tamils,
Arabs, Burmans, and Javanese.
Mahaavangsa and the
Our community's very self-naming as "Sinhala" is a
contemporary, lived, practice of a selective interpretation of
especially the Mahaavangsa text, in, fact of its most mythic
section, and of other texts that derive from it (the Teeka,
Saamanthapaasadikaa, Raajaavaliya, Poojaavaliya, etc).
Even if an individual Sinhalayaa has not read or does not read
the Vangsa Kathaa, that Sinhalayaa's life practices are explained
through the interpretation of these texts by other Sinhalayaas and,
indeed by whole social institutions, including the State, social
scientific professions, education, the Sangha, other processes of
ideological production which derive their moral justifications from
this corpus of texts and, finally, the mass media.
whole experience of self-identification via these ancient texts is
further sanctified by that thread of justification that runs through
the Mahaavangsa: "Sujanappasaada-sangvegaththaaya". And the
Mahaavangsa declares this at the end of every chapter as this maha
kaavya that we treasure inspires us with its imagery, metaphor,
narrative, and direct moral instruction giving meaning to numerous
currents of our lives here and now.
In our act of possessing
the Vangsa Kathaa as "our" history, we, Sinhalas, then take
possession of all its norms and definitions. Hence, the "Sujana" (in
'Sujanappasaada-sangvegaththaaya') that is, "the good people", are
we, the Sinhalayo and defined today in accordance with the
simplistic historical interpretations described above. And, the
telling of our history is done for our further "pasaadaya"
(prasaadaya) and "sangvegaya". That is, the telling of this history
to ourselves, the "Good people", then makes us feel good (or
All the Vangsa Kathaa taken together enable us, Sinhalayo, to
call ourselves many other beautiful things as well, including being
the race of people that protected and nurtured a 'pure' form of
humanity's 'most enlightening' philosophy (i.e. Buddhism) - 'most
enlightening' as defined by these texts and the interpretations of
In short, we Sinhalayo, love ourselves and our
ethnic community (as ideologically denned), and regard ourselves as
being the 'best' (or greatest) community of humans in the world, and
insist that we must have our own nation-state - which we already
possess today in the form of the Democratic Socialist Republic of
Sri Lanka. In these living acts of self-definition, both
individually and communally, as well as living acts of the self-love
that is a part of that self-definition, we are no different from
many other ethnic groups, be they the Americans, English, Indian, or
Japanese in their own concrete affirmations of nationhood.
And, in a world where political relations are defined systems of
relationships between political entities based on ethno-political
communities, be they nation-states/ kingdoms or provinces, we,
Sinhalayo too, are under the compulsion to fit into the dominant
world system by 'being' a nation-state – Sri Lanka/
Heladiva/Sihaladiva/Hela/Lanka. Given this compulsion, the
aspiration for, and retention of nationhood could be seen as
perfectly justifiable and a viable practice of political community.
However, the shape of this political
community of nationhood is one that also derives from historical
realities that are somewhat beyond the control of the Sinhalayaas.
We have inherited, today, a structure of a State that was defined,
in its immediate past not so much by us as by our European colonial
After half a millennium of European colonial domination and
manipulation, this island and its communities of people has been
subverted, exploited, re-ordered and traumatised to a degree that
with withdrawal of the British after the Second World War, we could
do little but accept the half-baked, inorganically designed
political structure that we were happy to call in 1948 the
independent State of 'Lankaava' (Ceylon). The fact that we have,
since then, tried to reform that State twice already (1972,1978)
indicates the inadequacies of that State in effectively managing the
various aspirations for social community on this island of ours.
The simplistic form of 'nation-state' left behind by the hurriedly
departing British, was convenient to the simplistic self-conception
of the Sinhalayo themselves. Given that our self-image is that of a
'pure', island-exclusive 'race' (ethnic group) which refuses to
acknowledge the composite nature of our 'Sinhala-ness', the Sinhala
defined 'nation-state' also fails to institutionally and
symbolically accommodate the extremely composite 'nation'
of people with several different identities that live within the
boundaries of that nation-state.
Hence, the crucial failure of the successive post-colonial Sri
Lankan polities (the Dominion State, First and Second Republics) to
acknowledge the equal national-cultural significance of Tamils,
Veddas, Burghers, Moors, Malays, and others, including the various
Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim castes.
In fact, all three efforts
at conceiving a 'State' were efforts and processes manipulated by
the Sinhalayo without adequate regard not only for their own
sub-Sinhala complexity, but also for other co-existing ethnic
Consequently, the polities that emerged, including
the current Second Republic, reflect that simplistic exclusivism.
This exclusivism, however, today has the respectability of a vision
of supremacy over the island 'State' - in short, a fantasy of
empire. When Sinhala ultra-nationalist politicians today insist on
something called 'unitary' (further revealing their English colonial
subservience!), they are doing nothing more than clinging to that
fantasy of empire.
But such polities cannot survive for long
without making adjustments to accommodate those previously ignored
complexities. Thus, we have been experiencing the pangs of the
internal crisis in all three successive polities - since 1948.
Today, since the succeeding polities have not only failed to remedy
the problem but worsened it, the crisis is so severe as to bring the
very survival of the Sinhala-dominated State itself into question.
Towards a New Republic: 'Good news' for The Good
The historical imperative that confronts us, Sinhalayo, then
is not merely 'constitutional reform'. We must look forward to
building a new Republic or Republics. Our self-identification has to
undergo a radical transformation so that our very practice of
identity will begin to be more inclusive and cognizant of the
composite nature of our collectivity. In fact, if we become less
singular in our self-identification, we will gain greater
self-confidence in ourselves as being 'related' via our various
composite elements to our neighbouring ethnic communities.
In short, we, Sinhalayo, need no longer feel so alone, so besieged
and under threat of dissolution - because we will be part of a
larger, encompassing, regional society. Secession, then, will no
longer be a 'threat' but merely a new configuring of our State with
new forms and structures that enable inter-relationships between
groups and sub-groups. Indeed, 'secession' will lose its meaning.
Such a re-configuring of our 'national' identity enables us to
aspire to a new range of political communities,
perhaps a series of republics, ranging from the local to the
regional and even sub-continental, where 'nation' is not necessarily
bound by a geographical island and our islands are, once more, the
inviting, beautiful, safe havens to the many 'sujana' who arrive and
depart from these shores.
We could then envision not only a composite nationhood but also a
composite statehood not restricted by western colonial borders but
inspired by our own centuries-old sub continental political
traditions that have supported powerful polities and wonderful
Surely, with all our modern technology and tightly connected
market economies, could we not envisage a complex of
inter-dependent polities that is as complex as those highly
complex and successful polities that configured our lands in the
past centuries? Is this not 'good news' for The Good (sujana)?