Consensus among Sinhalese essential for a solution
By Satheesan Kumaaran
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
In regard to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, Sinhala politicians, community leaders, businessmen, NGOs, as well as Buddhist monks, need to arrive at a national consensus. The battle between the government and the LTTE has raged for more than three decades, taken the lives of over 80,000 and driven the country into a mire of economic and political disaster. All signs are that it may never return to normalcy. A lot of work and a bi-partisan approach are called for if any improvement of the situation is to be expected.

In the recent past, with the escalation of Tamil Tigers' retaliatory guerrilla attacks against the Sri Lankan armed forces within the Tamil-dominated North and the resulting in heavy casualties, the Sinhalese in the south have begun to feel the consequences and the impact of the conflict. They are being condemned by many peace-lovers because of the disrespect for the value of human life.

The prospect of true peace is nearly totally shattered now in the island nation because of the regular clashes between the government forces and the LTTE. Irrespective of religion, nationality or creed, people have become utterly helpless. The obstinate and arrogant attitude of the government that the ethnic crisis could be tackled militarily, instead of through negotiations, worsens the situation day by day.

Instead of spending their time and energy on empty talk, it would do well for politicians to invest their time and energy in creating a peaceful atmosphere and building relations that would gradually instill confidence among the ethnic communities. 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. Both sides blame each other for violating the truce agreement, creating a sense of fear and apprehension amongst themselves. President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has led the country to a catastrophe exacerbated by the abrogation of the ceasefire agreement in January 2008. Now, both parties are in direct military confrontation resulting in heavy civilians casualties on both sides.

Sri Lankans need to take a leaf out of the books of other civilized countries, such as those in Europe, Australasia and North America who are dedicating their time, energy and other resources to the development of their countries to keep pace with the changing world. These countries have turned their attention to finding ways and means of saving themselves from global warming and in developing technologies to protect themselves and coming generations from natural disasters. As an island country, isolated in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka should be particularly interested in this phenomenon, but sadly enough, being engrossed in the obsession of fighting with each other, no one in Sri Lanka seems to be taking the real threats seriously.

India, where the average literacy rate is much less than Sri Lanka, is surpassing Sri Lanka in science and technology. China, even with the ideology of communism, has become a major economic player in the international arena. Advances that Japan and Singapore have made in almost every sphere are out of reach for Sri Lanka. Ironically, Singapore once aspired to become a Sri Lanka in the late 1940s, when Sri Lanka produced great intellectuals; the people were politically and economically conscious, and excelled in many spheres. But, that has all changed and, as a result, Sri Lanka has lost out on being a popular destination of outsourcing by industrialised countries and in the area of information technology. Brain drain on a rapid scale is making Sri Lanka poorer by the day. It is tragic that the economy has come to be propped up by remittances from blue collar workers-maids and domestics slaving in West Asia and some European countries.

During the past 50 years, the older generations of Sri Lankans have produced new generations with totally different perspectives and perceptions of the other ethnic communities and this has stood in the way of understanding and appreciation of each other.

Instead of looking outwards, studying and acquiring knowledge of western philosophies and scientific knowledge, young Sri Lankans are only allowed to look inwards, focusing on their own Theravada Buddhist philosophy, ignoring the works of others and shutting out any fresh air and light of knowledge from external sources.

Home made systems and remedies will not always work. Sri Lankan young people are often brain-washed into believing that any system representing European imperialist legacies should not be touched. The only exception seems to be cricket, which they have embraced.

In contrast, Indians are receptive to new knowledge. Schools in India are more or less westernized. India is keeping their states united by offering them political rights through a system of quasi-federalism.

One could argue, on the other hand, that Sri Lanka is declining and heading towards disaster. All politicians have their share of responsibility for this because Sri Lankan politicians have been interested only in their own political and/or financial agendas. They are capitalising on and exacerbating ethnic tensions and the resultant animosity to gain mileage. People in Sri Lanka, by and large, do not realise that what Sri Lankan politicians really want is to create a society of voiceless citizens remote-controlled by a bunch of politicians.

The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka between the Sinhalese and Tamil-speaking has been a creation by the Sinhala leaders. Sons and daughters are perishing in the battlegrounds after being forced to join the armed forces to make a living and support their families. The real casualty figures are hidden from the public. Although military and political bigwigs deny these reports, it has been happening not only in very recent times but also in the past. But, the truth cannot be concealed so easily.

Will Sri Lanka be able to adopt liberal-thinking and achieve near normalcy and progression rather than destruction? The answer is a cautious yes and no. Integrity based on the foundation of respect is essential. Yes, if those in power and influence change their attitudes. This is a big task in the current culture that they are used to. Buddhist monks should perform their legitimate functions in disseminating the message of peace and co-existence among the communities. Community leaders should offer proper and responsible leadership. NGOs should create awareness among the different communities. Politicians need to sink their differences in the national interest. Political consensus must be reached to offer autonomy for all the minorities in the island and to reach out to them. Each community has unique demands and those demands should be met through peaceful means and through discussion. Tell the truth to the people and let freedom of speech and the media freedom prevail. A national consensus can only be achieved when the Sinhalese embrace the minorities and win their hearts and minds. This can only be done through fulfilling the demands of each of these communities.

(The author can be reached at e-mail:

Source: The Midweek Review (The Island - February 20, 2008)