Tamil Buddhism and oldness of Sinhala lingo are beside the point
by Kumar David
Justice Wigneswaran is not laying traps to snare GR-MR or the TNA; that’s not the import of my title. I am suggesting is that wily old Wiggy is calculating that these worthies will snare themselves in traps of their own making, and then his line will pay off. His expectation is that the regime will turn explicitly anti-Tamil and his second calculation is that the TNA is too deeply mired in compromises to extricate itself. Of course, I am attributing motives to him; but in politics it’s okay for analysts to make assumptions about why leaders do this or that and I am within limits of fairness in imputing not unreasonable motives to Wiggy.
This of course is in addition to the fun he must be having watching Field Marshals and Rear Admirals frothing at the mouth. The more they froth the better it plays into his gambit. The old fox’s trick is to say incendiary stuff like: ‘Tamil was the original language of the island, the Sinhala tongue emerged only in the Sixth or Seventh Century AD’; ‘Tamils were the first Buddhists in Lanka and switched to Saivism in early BC’; ‘Dushata Kaamini was a Tamil Buddhist fighting Ellalan a Tamil Saivite’. Stuff like that, even if true, the mere utterance will make ‘hela, jathika, abimane’ blood boil.
Leaving to one side whether Wiggy is stirring things up for larks or for political gain, what’s the historical and anthropological evidence. The Wiggy-Fonny adipudi seemed at first a brawl between two ageing crack-pots and I thought experts would weigh in and sort out fact from fiction sans ethnic and ideological bias. But all experts have chickened out, which tells us how explosive the topic is. I have over the years done some amateur reading so fools need to drift in where angels are cowardly to tread. I don’t care whether Tamil, Sinhalese or Double-Dutch is older or whether the Tamils or the Sinhalese first sniffed religious opium. What I have learnt is from writings of Lanka’s best historian, Leslie (RALH) Gunawardena and anthropologist Sudarshan Seneviratne. I am also very familiar with Indrapala’s excellent Evolution of Ethnic Identity, portions of K.M. de Silva’s tome, what was readily available of Gananath, and Wikipedia level stuff. Let me blurt out this little learning till an expert picks up the courage to speak.
Yes, Tamil is one of the oldest living languages; living means it is still spoken. Chinese, Greek and Tamil may be the oldest. Second, many (most?) Tamils in South India and Lanka were Buddhists in ‘BC times’ before the onward march of Saivism inundated them in ‘AD times’, especially during the apogee of Chola power. There is evidence of widespread practice of Buddhism and Jainism in Southern India and the northern and eastern parts of this island before it was pushed out between the first century BC and the third century AD. The third point is what has got the experts into a funk; they don’t want to be lynched. Sinhala became the lingua franca of southern Lanka during the fifth to sixth centuries AD; that is quite recently. The language of the elite and the clergy prior to Mahavamsa times was Prakrit while a classical version called Pali was used by the learned. In olden times the mass of the people, a few thousand, lived in small tribes and communities and a collective name for their speech is Hela or Elu or Helu; hence the case made by certain pundits for going back to the original Hela stuff has a point.
Vijaya and his horde were a raiding band who spoke an Indian dialect and were assimilated by the tribes and communities who proliferated across the island. Only a few hundred strong they could not have made large sperm donations. The originals in the north were tribal groups but linguistically Tamilised by South Indian migration from BC times. Genetically, Tamil and Sinhalese folk are to a large extent, descendants of these tribal pools though these days all they want to do is gouge each other’s eyes out. Then the interesting bit follows. The difference between our warring idiots is not race – they are much the same gene pool – it is ethnic, that is language, religion and culture. After the high period of Chola conquest two separate cultures ossified in different portions of the island among racially similar peoples. These are the two mentally retarded communities we confront today; this comes across clearly in Leslie and Indrapala’s writings but they put it politely. However, propensity for conflict does not disappear; ethnicities can hate each other as much as races because friction is about material and social benefits. But hopefully, if the mass mind knows that the two are of racially the same stock in conflict over benefits and politics, visceral hatred of the ‘other’ may diminish.
Wiggy suspects that the GR-MR government will screw the Muslims first and then turn on the Tamils. He like the rest of us is anticipating tough times ahead for economy and at that time what is more profitable for the regime than the race-card? Many Venerables and State and Cabinet Ministers are merchants of death that GR-MR dare not leash, and that indicates where power lies. The TNA is too compromised. Its efforts were not unprincipled; it correctly judged that without a deal with the Sinhalese the Tamils will get nowhere. It picked on yahapalana because the UNP is liberal as opposed to the SLPP and SLFP which are of Sinhala-Buddhist ethos. The poor sods ended up as empty handed as Chelva and the FP but not quite as stone dead as Prabakaran. It seems unlikely that the TNA can rise again, but true, stranger things have happened.
Moody’s Investor Service last week dropped Lanka’s sovereign rating from B2 to Caa1, a two-tier drop bypassing B3. The agency defines Caa as “speculative, of poor standing and subject to very high credit risk”; that is junk! The corresponding grade in Standard & Poor and Fitch is CCC, CC or C. While rating agencies have responsibility to both lender and debtor the double whammy is harsh; a one tier downgrade was unavoidable since medium-term prospects for the economy are poor. Recent improvements (remittances rising to pre-COVID levels, sharp reduction in imports, fall in 2020 balance of payments deficit from a feared $8 billion to an expected $6 billion deficit, and enhanced activity in the domestic economy) though loudly touted by the Finance Ministry seem to have been dismissed by the agency as short-term gains. Sadly, the outlook is a looming fiscal (budget) deficit, deterioration of asset quality and a depressing employment picture. Not all of Cabraal’s rantings could have deflected a one-tier downgrade. Wiggy reckons that the regime will go after the minorities when troubles multiply. Maybe he reckons ‘Why would a post-20A regime not do just what autocrats do when cornered by a flailing economy?’
Wiggy is palpably mischievous and enjoys baiting the ‘hela, jathika, abimane’ fraternity. For proof peruse the hundreds of naïve, goofy and brain-dead comments following any Wiggy piece in the Colombo Telegraph. On the serious side I think he calculates that Tamil leadership will go next to the one who walks the talk; he who is most boldly Tamil! Though Tamil militancy was the outcome of Sinhala politics even a militant Wiggy will eventually have to cut a deal; there is no other option. The Tamil stand-off has no realisable solution other than cutting a deal with the Sinhalese state. Muslims have always been of this view. Wiggy is upper middle-class; a liberal intellectual who speaks and writes the Queen’s English like, well like a judge. He is a Royalist who must have just missed entry to S. Thomas’ by a few marks. But strangely he is also an obscurantist. I don’t know what to make of a man who is a devotee of the late Swami Premananda convicted on multiple counts of murder and rape in India in 1997. See-
[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._V._Vigneswaran and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami_Premananda_(guru)]
Though the infection rate is now declining the 1000+ that tested positive for COVID in the Gampaha District signal a ‘community outbreak’ described as spread by mechanisms that cannot be traced to contact with a ‘recently-returned person’ or foreign visitor. This is alarming; community outbreaks are very difficult to control; no one knows where this sneaky bug is hiding. If GR and team impose production and industry disrupting curfews again, damage to the economy will be devastating and follow hard on Moody’s downgrade of our credit rating to junk. In the wake of previous mutilation this will act as a geometric multiplier. The possible closure of BIA will further deflate business confidence. If the economy goes into a tailspin the regime will need some drama to distract attention: Dump 20A? Blame minorities for something? Discover ever more welcome crimes of the “previous regime”? The second possibility relates to today’s column.
Suppressing the struggle: Education and the Discourse of Class
By Anushka Kahandagamage
Protesters defeated the dictatorial Rajapaksa regime, making the Rajapaksas resign from their positions, premiership and presidency, of the government. After the collapse of the dynasty, Ranil Wickremesinghe, a Rajapaksa puppet, came to power with the support of a distorted majority in Parliament. Having got himself appointed as President, without a people’s mandate, Wickremesinghe began to suppress the struggle—the very struggle that led to his ascendency. Hours after Wickremesinghe took oath as President, at midnight, when the protesters were preparing to disband the major GotaGoGama (GGG) protest site, the military stormed in, violently assaulting some protesters, including women and people with disabilities. The military attacked media reporters, including BBC journalists, and destroyed the structures built on the location, prompting many to go to the GGG site in support of the protesters. A witch hunt would soon unfold, and, today, just weeks after Wickremesinghe came to power, arbitrary arrests are commonplace in Lanka, most recent and prominent, that of the trade union activist Joseph Stalin.
The Classed nature of the Discourse:
The Double Standard
National as well as international activists, academics, journalists, students, condemned the arbitrary violent attack on the GGG site. Social media was swamped with video footage of the attack, and posts, condemning the government’s moves. Many social media posts pointed fingers at the military, which was to be expected. But a notable and recurring theme was the link made between the military’s behaviour and its low education level – “Eighth grade passed Army”. Meanwhile, politicians from the ruling party (and others) publicly condemned the protesters’ actions, even calling them drug addicts (kuddo). The social media discourse targeting the military (low education) and the protesters (drug addicts), although coming from very different places, was steeped in a classed and classist language, and reduced their actions—whether of the protesters’ or of those suppressing the protest —to their level of education or social class.
Yet, there were surprisingly few discussions regarding the education level of the President, who commanded the attack on the protesters. There is no doubt that Wickremesinghe, whose past is linked with horrendous acts of violence, commanded the military to attack GGG. He is also behind the arbitrary arrests of protesters, the very people who placed him in power. While people are aware of Wickremesinghe’s violent tendencies, these inclinations are not discussed in relation to his education level. During the protest, when his house was set on fire, along with his personal library, many condemned the burning of the library, emphasizing the importance of ‘reading’ and ‘knowledge’. Ranil Wickremesinghe is seen as an ‘educated’ politician, well-read and knowledgeable about foreign policy and politics. A double standard manifests itself where the violent acts of the military (by no means am I trying to glorify the military) are criticized on the grounds of their ‘low’ education level, while the violence of Wickremesinghe garners little comment.
Violence and Education
There is no essential link between violence and education, rather capitalist structures have conditioned us to associate violence with under privileged groups and lower levels of education. Formal educational structures sustain hierarchies, power and, in our context, neo-liberal market economies. Education socialises the individual in such a way s/he/they come to embody dominant society’s values, beliefs, and attitudes. Educational institutions are particularly efficient in legitimising the current social order since they play a role not only in training workers in the strict sense of providing them with skills to be productive but also in the naturalization of social relations of production. Education thus entrenches the status quo, and, in that sense, is not an innocent space, rather a space where inequality and hierarchies are sustained and reproduced.
We associate ‘low’ educational levels, and underprivilege, with violence, as we are trained to do so by the political-economic structures which glorify the ‘learned’ and ‘wealthy’. While the military should not be glorified, under any circumstances, it should be understood that the soldiers, who attacked the protesters, on the ground, represent the disadvantaged classes, carrying out their ‘duty’ as commanded by a supposedly ‘educated’ President. It is an irony that society sees people who are directly involved in violence as the generators of violence, rather than the decision-makers who perpetrate violence.
Formal educational institutions, driven by capitalist values, serve to produce, reproduce and sustain such hegemonic narratives. Indeed, there is a link between our pathological social condition and our education system. While our mostly market driven education is trapped in narratives of employability, efficiency or productivity—needed to understand a phenomenon beyond what is given—human values and critical thinking remain neglected on the back burner. Under these circumstances, there is a great need for alternative education forms.
Counter narratives and alternative
forms of Education
Education has been crucial to the struggle to depose the dictatorial Rajapaksa regime. In this context, I am referring to the ‘education’ initiatives that have been a key element of the Aragalaya: education on democracy, the constitution, history of struggles, economy and so on. In the GGG site, groups connected to the protest as well as other initiatives organized debates and discussions to raise awareness about economic, political and social issues, to learn about how to utter the correct slogans and how to steer the struggle in the ‘right’ path. In doing so, hundreds of webinars were organized, numerous articles and posts written and videos uploaded. In the GGG main protest site, a library, university, college, and an IT centre were established to support ‘educating’ the people.
‘Education’ was a thread that wove the struggle together. There were (and are) different debates on education at various levels of the struggle where alternative forms of education were discussed, challenging hierarchy and institutionalized education. The protest has opened up a space for people to pursue alternative educational structures and build counter narratives. Unfortunately, most of these efforts ultimately fall, directly or indirectly, in to hegemonic educational structures, where hierarchy and Sinhala Buddhist hegemony are sustained in different forms. Similarly, the activists and academics, among the protesters, who tried to introduce alternative education forms and counter narratives often fell into capitalist hierarchical structures. The majority of the webinars and awareness raising forums were top-down in nature and were held in one language, discriminating against other language groups.
Furthermore, these forums were frequently clogged with ‘experts’ or the kind of academics who preach their opinions to the ‘uneducated.’
In conclusion, existing capitalist educational frameworks train one to discriminate, based on class and educational levels, normalizing certain ways of life and being. For example, it’s fascinating to see how Wickremesinghe was removed from the violence and education discourse while the military was at the centre of it. Alternative forms of education are needed to question and challenge these hierarchies.
(The author is a Doctoral Candidate in School of Social Sciences, University of Otago)
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.
Prioritising protection of Government over the people
by Jehan Perera
According to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the natural condition of mankind was a state of war in which life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” because individuals are in a “war of all against all.” Therefore, it was necessary for them to come to an agreement. The philosopher John Locke called this the social contract. Social contract arguments are that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights. Constitutions set out the rules by which societies are governed.
The evolution of constitutional thinking since the 17th century that Hobbes and Locke lived in has been to find ways to regulate the powers of the rulers and protect the people from the rulers. Those who have power need to have checks placed on them. They need to be held accountable. If those who are rulers are not checked or held accountable, they invariably abuse their powers. That power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely has been a truism. Over the past 74 years we have seen that the rulers have used their power indiscriminately some more than others. PTA is an example of a law which was instituted to deal with the Tamil separatist insurgency over 40 years ago, but it still remains-to protect power of the rulers. In the past three years when the rulers of Sri Lanka held virtually absolute power by virtue of the 20th Amendment to the constitution, the situation in the country deteriorated. The country became bankrupt for the first time ever.
The current debate over the 22nd Amendment is to ensure and enlarge the role of civil society to mitigate the powers of the politicians who are rulers. A key question now is with regard to the three civil society representatives who will be in the Constitutional Council. The present formulation of the amendment is that the civil society representatives will have to be acceptable to the majority in parliament (thereby giving the government final say). Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s experience with constitutional reform has been in the direction of further strengthening of the powers of the rulers against the people. The so-called reforms have invariably strengthened the hands of the rulers against the people and justified that it is being done for the sake of the people.
The 1972 Constitution replaced the constitution that the country had inherited from the British colonial rulers. It ensured the independence of the judiciary and of the civil service and also had special protections for human rights and non-discrimination between ethnic communities. However, these protections were removed from the 1972 constitution that sought to empower the ruling politicians on the justification that they embodied the will of the sovereign people. It was argued that the elected politicians were closer to the people than unelected judges and civil servants. But being away from the people makes them non partisan, a value less understood. Judges were sacked when the new constitution came into operation and treated shamefully. The 1978 constitution repeated the activities of the 1972 constitutions. Judges were once again sacked and treated shamefully. At a later point they were even stoned.
It is these cultures we developed that have led to the present crisis of lack of values beyond the economy itself and formed the base for Aragalaya. The 1978 constitution took the centralisation of power in the 1972 constitution even further and centralized it in the office of one person, the executive president. He could now be even above the law, like the kings of old before parliaments that represented the people came into being. The first executive president of Sri Lanka, J R Jayewardene, said that the only power he did not possess was the power to turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man. It is not surprising that with this power going into the hands of the elected rulers, that the abuse of power and corruption should grow without limit. From being a country near the top of Asia at the time of independence, Sri Lanka is today nearer the bottom. The life savings of its people have been halved in half a year and not a single politician has faced a legal accountability process.
The 22nd Amendment belongs to the family of constitutional amendments that began with the 17th Amendment of 2001. This amendment was agreed to by the then president due to the weakening of the government at that time. The JVP then, as now, the party of the disadvantaged in society, gave the lead. The amendment resulted in the reduction of the power of the president and sharing those powers with parliament, state institutions and with civil society. The idea behind the 17th Amendment was to strengthen the system of checks and balances and thereby promote good governance in the national interest. The 19th Amendment that resembles it was the work of a coalition of parties that had opposed the abuse of power of the rulers they had just deposed through an electoral mandate.
However, the limitation on the powers of the rulers has never been acquiesced by those who would be rulers or belong to their party. The 17th Amendment was overturned in 2010 by the 18th Amendment that gave back to the presidency the powers it had lost plus some more. When this led to an increase in the abuse of powers by the rulers, the successor government brought in the 19th amendment to once again reduce the powers of the presidency. This was in pursuance of the mandate sought at the presidential election of 2015. But once again in 2019, those who formed the next government overruled the 19th Amendment and with the 20th Amendment and gave back to the presidency its lost powers plus some more.
It is under the 20th Amendment which is about to be repealed that the corruption and abuse of power in the country reached its zenith and plunged the people into unprecedented economic hardship and poverty. It is these hardships that gave rise to the Aragalaya, or protest movement, that culminated with the physical storming of government buildings and the forced resignations of the president, prime minister and cabinet of ministers. The shrinking of the middle class who have toiled a lifetime are now falling between the cracks and joining the poor and vulnerable created by the government in less than three years. Yet highlighting the priorities of the rulers, no one of the seem to be thinking of compensating those who have lost their savings, only of compensation of what happened to a few of the rulers and their henchmen during the 2015-2019 period or the Aragalaya period in which the houses of the rulers, much beyond their known sources of wealth and income were burned down.
An Indian political analyst Dr Maya John, has written, “Although the Aragalaya targeted not only individual politicians like the Rajapaksas but also the wider ambit of corrupt political forces – as evident in the parallel slogans of “GotaGoHome” and “225GoHome” – the bulk of people’s energy was overtly focused on dislodging certain individuals from political power; indicating the tendency for the ruling establishment to still hold sway with the ouster of particular politicians. As the well-known Sinhalese proverb goes: inguru deela miris gaththa wage (exchanging ginger for chilli), we have simply got rid of something bad and got something worse in return. So, the Rajapksas have been replaced but the same ruling clique and political system remain intact; in fact, in a more offensive reincarnation.”
The protest movement was a reaction to the social tolerance limits, economic hardships, shortages, queues and steep price rises that in effect halved the general income of the people, with some suffering more than others. But the crackdown on them by the rulers has been both subtle and harsh in the present period. Those who gave it leadership are being picked off one by one, put into jail or being put on bail so that they dare not protest again. The unequal and discriminatory treatment of the protest movement is given the veneer of law which the government would he hoping would get it through the monitoring of the UN Human Rights Council next month and preserve the economic rewards of the EU’s GSP Plus, which is given to country’s that are making a genuine effort to improve the lot of their people, poor people not only the rich.
In 2018, parliamentarians who attempted to stage a constitutional coup (which failed because the judiciary stood firm) sat on the chair of the Speaker of parliament whom they had forcibly chased off. They flung chairs and wrenched microphones out of their sockets. But none of them were punished even when the coup failed. However, those who joined the protest movement and sat in the chair of the president are being houndeds one by one and arrested. A protester who took the beer mug of the deposed president has been arrested. But ministers who are accused of corruption, accused reportedly even by diplomats accredited to the country, and ministers who have been convicted by the courts, sit on, in government. Such unequal and discriminatory treatment is likely to cause the sense of grievance to grow especially when the people are faced with price rises and shortages. They form the basis to cause another Aragalaya.
The current version of the 22nd Amendment which gives the rulers the power to pick the civil society members who will be in the constitutional council is not a sign that the government will heed the voice of the people. In this reluctance to be held accountable and to use power in a just manner, is a recipe for confrontation between the rulers and people in the future in which repression will be the response of the rulers who disregard the people. It may explain why the military budget continues to take first place despite the economic collapse. Unless the people’s voices are represented truly in the parliament and the political processes, which can only come through a fresh set of elections, it is difficult to expect accountability in the system which is a formula for disaster sooner or later.
Doing it…dad’s way
Yes, of course, the older folks would all remember Edward Joseph; the young ones may find the name unfamiliar as Edward now lives in Germany and does his thing in that part of the world.
Better known as Eddy, he was with the leader of the group Steelers and they were big in the local showbiz scene…many, many years ago.
While Eddy is now busy, operating as a singer/guitarist/songwriter, in Germany, his daughter, Samantha, has decided to follow in her dad’s footsteps…as a singer/guitarist.
According to Eddy, Samantha decided to get actively involved, this year, and started performing with him, at various gigs,
A few weeks ago, she had the opportunity to perform with dad, to a huge crowd, on big stage, and after her impressive performance, she was asked to come for a casting by the State Jazz band of Frankfurt, whose conductor was in the audience.
She was also discovered by another promoter of a big TV Channel, in Germany, called RTL.
Says Eddy: “So, hopefully, things will work out for her. I never pushed her to do music because I know how hard and competitive, and dangerous, the industry has become.”
The proud dad went on to say that he only gave her the tools of advice, and tips, in singing and playing instruments.
“From that point, onwards, it was all her effort,” he added.
Samantha, originally, was keen to become a Music Teacher, says Eddy, rather than a performer, but now she is gradually getting the taste of the crowds.
“I am grooming her and supporting her in every way I can and hope that she will get better opportunities, in this business, than I had.”
Eddy says that if he was born and bred, in Germany, he, probably, would have come a long way, by now.
“But I am very happy with my life, the way it is.
“I still have my loving mom and dad, a fantastic daughter, a caring partner, my friends and family, and God, on my side, and I am now totally at peace with myself.
“I can proudly say that God has given me the path to be one of the most booked musicians, in my region.”
Most musicians, over there (born and bred in that region), according to Eddy, do find the going pretty tough, where work is concerned, due to the pandemic, and the Ukraine-Russia war, resulting in a food and fuel crisis.
Hopefully, if the scene brightens up, we may see father and daughter, in action, here!
Jugglery alleged in Constitution making process: SJB, Gevindu make strong case against jumbo Cabinet
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Suppressing the struggle: Education and the Discourse of Class
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