One of the important, and valid messages contained in Satheesan Kumaran’s message, published in the Midweek review if The Island of 20th February is that we need bridge-building among the different communities. But he observes it in the breach.
Hurling accusations does not help. He claims, “The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka between the Sinhalese and Tamil-speaking has been a creation by the Sinhala leaders”. Then Kumaran proceeds to attack Theravada Buddhism, and gives advice to Buddhist monks. He says “Irresponsible words of politicians in Colombo will only add fuel to the flames of destruction engulfing Sri Lanka politically, economically, militarily, culturally and socially, rather than educate communities on the importance of co-existence.” He goes onto claim “what Sri Lankan politicians really want is to create a society of voiceless citizens remote-controlled by a bunch of politicians.”
Surely, such voiceless citizens already live in the Vanni and how did that come about? We Tamils have not understood how we dug our own graves.
Kumaran says, “A national consensus can only be achieved when the Sinhalese embrace the minorities and win their hearts and minds”. Here again it seems that only the Sinhalese have to act. Don’t we Tamils have to also act to reassure the majority?
As an aging Tamil who has observed Tamil-Sinhala politics since the 1940s, I cringe to see the continued repetition of simplified and historically incorrect hurling of accusation, even by a man who recognizes the need for building bridges between communities. People of Kumaran’s generation do not know that politicians like D. S. Senanayake (DS) tried to create a “Ceylonese” nation.
Much false propaganda has been generated and good men like DS have been besmirched. People like Ponnambalam Ramanathan, in collusion with Governor Maitland introduced the principle of “communal representation” in the legislative process. Some Sinhala leaders rejected this (“Ramanathan’s deception”), and then came the Donoughmore commission which proposed Universal Franchise.
Surely, it was a defining moment when the Colombo Tamil leaders decided that their dominant position would be threatened, unless they separated themselves from the Sinhalese, and call for a separate identity. G. G. Ponnambalam (GGP) in the State Council in 1934 declared that he was “a proud Dravidian” and rejected the “Ceylonese” concept of a polity of a single people. Natesan and others followed suit, as a reading of the political history of the times will reveal. Ponnambalam lent his voice to a movement which began to attack Sinhala Buddhists, and the Mahavamsa, their famed historical chronicle. Should I remind Mr. Kumaran that the first Sinhala-Tamil Riot occurred in 1939, in Navalapitiya, and spread to Passara, Maskeliya and to many other towns, when the Colonial government stepped in and stamped it out?