This Land Belongs To All of Us
Divide and Rule. The great British policy which has seen countries the world over suffer for decades, is no stranger to the little isle we call home – Sri Lanka. Divide and Rule is the language we have understood since independence, since the 1956 Sinhala only policy, since the 30 year war and which is sadly raising its ugly head even today.
Let me take you through a quick historical and archaeological recap of Sri Lanka. We are a trading island – have been for over 2500 years and beyond. Traders came from Europe, the Mediterranean, East Asia, South Asia and settled and lived here. Anuradhapura had artisans from Persia, Greece, China selling their wares. Sri Lankan kings married wives from India – for centuries. Those wives did not come alone on a ship or a dandu monara – they came with entourages who settled in this country. The Indians kept invading us. The Portuguese were given directives to inter-marry into our communities. The Dutch and British though not directed, did inter-marry and procreate. We are a melting pot of many origins and nations now calling ourselves Sri Lankans. A good pol sambol as it were. The ethnic identities of Sinhala and Tamil as we know it today, are a post British creation – refer nation building by British imperialism.
In this context – how can anyone be foolish enough to call themselves ‘pure’ anything? You can’t be – it’s not possible and it is not accurate. To anyone claiming this – I would challenge you to do a DNA test. Unless you are from an isolated village in the Amazon that has not interacted with other communities for centuries, there is no way that you are ‘pure’. Embracing your culture and religion is one thing – using it to claim you are better than someone else is rubbish built on insecurity and ego.
The segmentation of people into religious and ethnic divisions is fraught with political intervention and political aim. No one gives a damn about their so called pure roots until it becomes a debate of ‘us’ vs. ‘them’. Why is it so? No two human beings are alike. This country has thrived in its multicultural, multi religious diversity for centuries. Suddenly it is majority Sri Lankans’ dear wish to claim they are ‘pure’ something.
A rather stinking result of politicization of ethnicity and religion is the ideology that if you are Sinhalese and a Buddhist, you are superior to the other citizens of the country. That is not so. It is an insult to the teachings of the Buddha to claim so – a philosophy that is built on tolerance and compassion. The constitution of Sri Lanka gives prominence to Buddhism to protect its teachings – not to propagate it as a weapon against its own citizens. Violence in the name of Buddhism is a travesty and an insult to the philosophy. Buddhism as a philosophy can be practiced by anyone of any religious faith. The teachings align with majority religions of the country. Sadly, today ritual is king and the teachings are practised by a precious few.
In this environment, many religious and ethnic communities have isolated themselves in a bid to protect themselves from the discrimination and violence meted out to them. Some have gone on to become their own extremes. This is not the answer either. Many have left Sri Lanka because they did not feel safe and wanted to give their children a better future. The brain drain from this country is tragic. It’s easy to build castles on foundations of dust by claiming our irrigation history, some Ravana mythology and our ancient kingdoms. Our ancient kingdoms thrived in a multicultural, multi religious setting. There were no pure anybodies at that time. That is why the civilization thrived. Today we are trying to purge ourselves to keep only those who are ‘pure’ majority. That is not acceptable.
This country is home to many people – and each citizen deserves their basic human rights. Just because someone is different from you, does not mean they are less than you. This ideology of one group being superior is what propagated the white- black divide in the Western world. We are fools if we are to resort to the same while claiming over 90% literacy.
Stop being a blind fool that follows the herd. Sri Lanka is home to many people of multi origins, ethnicities and religions. We are human first. We are all Sri Lankans. Then whatever we want to identify ourselves as. Sri Lanka belongs to all its citizens – not just the majority. Mutual respect, dignity for all and equality for all are things we need to practice. Humanity first. Starting with me, myself and I.