An appeal to the Sinhala community


(Following the appeal to the Tamil community made by the Group of 68)

As senior citizens (belonging to the majority Sinhala community) who have lived through decades of communal strife and dissension, which ultimately ended up in a bloody war that led this country to near destruction, we welcome the initiative taken by a group of 68 Tamil citizens to appeal to "all ethnic communities of Sri Lanka" to re-examine and re-evaluate the past to be able to reconfigure their collective future [The Island, 6th January, 2012]. It may be noted that we deliberately avoid the use of the word ‘ethnic’ in our own appeal as it tends to inspire thoughts of exclusivity and separation, and, instead, use the word ‘communal’ which we had been accustomed to use in the past.

The Group of 68 has appealed to the Tamil community to re-examine the politics of their own "actions, assertions and silences", and drawn their attention to the need to address the problems associated with the return and resettlement of Muslims evicted from their homelands which they describe as "one of the worst instances of the narrow, exclusivist thrust of the Tamil nationalist political campaign of the past thirty years". They have gone even further and pointed out that the failure of their civil and political leadership to understand and acknowledge this has prevented the Tamils from dealing with their own past, and with their moral and political responsibility towards minority communities that live amidst them. These words should surely ring a bell, loud and clear, in the minds of the Sinhala people who form the majority community in this country, and this appeal of ours is addressed to them to draw their attention to their own moral and political responsibility towards the Tamil and other minorities. The Sinhala community must ensure that the opportunity provided by the successful conclusion of the war for us to build a new society, leaving behind the old hobby horses that we have been flogging for too long, should not be lost.

The Group of 68 has pointed out that an examination of how the Tamils have contributed to the polarization of relations between communities (and that obviously includes their relations with the Sinhala community) has not been undertaken by their leadership even after the end of the war, and has underlined the need for them to formulate responses that are born out of dialogue with different communities as a sine qua non for seeking a just and democratic political solution. The group has concluded their appeal to the Tamil community with the following resonating words which all right thinking persons must hail as most welcome:

"Tamil society can no longer be isolationist and act on its own without paying heed to the concerns of other communities. We shall engage in questions of marginalization, discrimination and injustice touching upon any community. And we shall unreservedly pledge our support to promote the pluralist character of society at all levels in our midst, and embrace a politics of inclusivity in the interests of democracy, justice and equality".

Hot on the heels of this appeal, The Island carried in its columns the very next day (January 07) a piece sent by Sebastian Rasalingam (SR) from Toronto, Canada saluting the Group of 68 for writing the above appeal, and referring to a public memo addressed to the TNA by "seventy two individuals led by Bishop Rayappu Joseph" which had struck a totally different note. According to him, "Rev. Joseph and his collaborators are calling the TNA to re-assert that the Tamils are a nation, and that they are fighting for nothing less than self-determination". A key demand of their memo, it appears, is the re-merger of the North-East raising the ghost of separatism once again contrary to the saner counsel of the Group of 68. SR has warned the Tamil speaking people that this second group are "still frozen in the 1949 Maradana doctrine of the ITAK and the 1976 Vaddukodai doctrine that destroyed the Tamil society and reduced their numbers to a mere 8%, eliminating the next generation as cannon fodder". He has gone further and said that "the tapestry of multi-lingual, multi-cultural society that is Colombo today should be the model for all of Sri Lanka, avoiding exclusive ethnic enclaves or special devolved rights of any sort.

The Sinhala majority must openly appreciate the initiative taken by members of the Tamil community who desire to live in harmony with other communities that inhabit this land as sons and daughters of Mother Lanka. They must also ensure that they do not fail in their moral and political responsibility towards the Tamil community as well as other minority communities, and go the distance necessary and desirable to ensure that their rights are safeguarded and guaranteed by appropriate legal and other measures, while leaving no room for the re-kindling of separatist fires such as those being attempted in the memo addressed to the TNA by "Rev. Joseph and his collaborators".

[Eric J. de Silva; Dr. P.G. Punchihewa; A.B. Elkaduwe; Dr. W.M. K. Wijetunga; K.H.J.Wijayadasa; Tissa Devendra; Dhammike Amarasinghe; D.J. Bandaragoda; Chandra Wickramasinghe; Somapala Gunadheera; P. Weerasekara; Eymard de S. Wijeyeratne; Dick Perera; Wilfred Jayasuriya; Dr. Lloyd Fernando; Sugath Kulatunga; Austin Jayawardhana; Nimal Weralupitiya; P. Weerahandi; Newton Perera]

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