ASHRAFF, KALAMA SUTHRAYA AND RACISM
(1999 September 08)
The discussion between Rev. Gangodawila Soma Thero and the minister Mr. Ashraaf over the TNL, on the 30th of August has raised a number of questions. These days the Kalama Suthraya has come very handy not only for the Buddhists but for the non-Buddhists as well. Mr. Ashraaf, who admittedly spends a lot of time reading and contemplating on Buddhist texts, must be very familiar with the Kalama Suthraya. He took out a copy of the Kalama Suthraya from his pocket and spoke very authoritatively on the Suthraya. I must admit that I was baffled by the performance of Mr. Ashraaf. I am sure that he quoted the Kalama Suthraya as he was positive that it was preached by the Buddha and also because he follows the principle laid down there. Otherwise he would not have quoted the Suthraya. After all he was in the presence of a venerable thero. But the question is how did Mr. Ashraaf know that the Kalama Suthraya was preached by the Buddha?
I am asking this question because Kalama Suthraya was quoted by Mr. Ashraaf, as if according to it nobody should accept anything simply because somebody said so, it is in a book or a newspaper etc., in today's context. Going by that interpretation of the Kalama Suthraya Mr. Ashraaf would not have believed that the Suthraya was preached by the Buddha because he was told so by a Bhikku in Deeghavaapi or an ex Bhikku in Colombo or even if that little book he carried in his pocket said so. He himself must have heard the Suthraya from the Buddha. Either Mr. Ashraaf's age is more than the square of what I thought it to be, or he must have been one of the Kalamas or was with them in a previous birth, who can remember at least one incident in one of his past lives. It is interesting to note that the Kalamas were not Buddhists.
The problem is that the Kalama Suthraya is interpreted by many people, Buddhists as well as non-Buddhists, in a very simplistic way. According to the interpretation given by such people we cannot accept many things including that any one of the Suthras in the Thripitikaya was preached by the Buddha. I do not want to enter into a discussion of this paradox, which may be called the Ashraaf Paradox, but it is high time that an erudite Bhikku with Saddha and not the ex Bhikkus, the ex Catholic priests and the rationalist and scientific Buddhists who are in the process of taking control of higher education in Buddhist studies in the Dhammadveepa, gave a few lessons on the Kalama Suthraya to the other Prthagjanas like me, Buddhist as well as non-Buddhist.
Until recently it had been the prerogative of the peace mongers and the NGO and the other "scholars" to name the racists and the Chauvinists. Invariably the racists and the Chauvinists happened to be the Sinhala people. In the TNL discussion I thought there would be some clarification on this matter as some people had thought that Mr. Ashraaf had been accused of being a racist. However it was not to be the case and many people were left in the dark in respect of this very important subject. If there is Sinhala racism in this country then Tamils must be having grievances due to the fact that they are Tamils. However nobody has been able to define these grievances and similarly there is no Sinhala racism against the Muslims. On the otherhand there has been Tamil racism against the Muslim from the time of Mr. Ponnambalam Ramanathan, who in 1885 was against the appointment of a Muslim to represent that community in the Legislative Assembly. The Sinhala people from the days of the king Senerath have been protecting the Muslims and their culture.
Now the Sinhala people had been subjected to Tamil racism for more than hundred years and also to Muslim racism if we are to go by the words of Mr. Ashraaf, notwithstanding the Kalama Suthraya. Any racism against the Sinhala people can be identified by its aspiration to deny the rightful place being given to the Sinhala people, their culture, their history and their language. Take for example the case of the national flag. According to Mr. Ashraaf the ethnic communities, meaning the Tamils and the Muslims do not like the lion symbol in the national flag. Mr. Ashraaf said that the ethnic communities feel that they are threatened by the lion facing the stripes that represent the two communities, with a sword in one of his paws. Mr. Ashraaf did not tell the viewers what his personal views were on this all-important question of the direction that the lion should face. However as he represents the Muslims and as the Muslims according to him feel threatened, and as the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress he does not seem to have done anything to allay the fears of the Muslims it is not unreasonable to assume that Mr. Ashraaf also shares the same view. If that is not the case either he does not represent the Muslims in the sense that he does not share their views or as a leader he has not done anything to appease the community that he represents and thereby has failed in his duties. Mr. Ashraaf just cannot get away by saying the Muslim community does not like the lion in the national flag for the reason he gave in the discussion. As Rev. Soma Thero said, the lion could not face the other direction also, as then somebody will say that it is an insult to the ethnic communities to have the posterior of the lion facing the stripes.
This shows not only how silly the arguments of the ethnic communities but also the fact that they aspire not to give the rightful place to the Sinhala people and their culture. They are against the lion symbol not because of the direction he faces but due to the fact of giving prominence to the symbol that represents the Sinhala people who constitute more than 75% of the population, who have a history in the country going back to 2500 years and who built a unique culture in that country. If that is not racism what could it be?
The national anthem, Mr. Ashraaf said, is sung in both Sinhala and Tamil. Here again Mr. Ashraaf was careful enough not to express his personal views on this subject. But as before if he is for the national anthem to be sung legally, meaning in Sinhala only, then he has failed in his duties not only as the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress but as a minister of the government in not opposing anybody who sang any pirate versions. It must be pointed out that the constitution of the republic, as my good friend Dr. G. L. Peiris would say, has the words of the national anthem given only in Sinhala.
Now one can ask Mr. Ashraaf whether he knows of any country, including the Muslim countries, where the national anthem is sung in two languages or where they have an achcharu (pickle) of an anthem sung in two languages intermittently. What would happen if they try to sing the national anthem in Muslim Malaysia in Tamil, not to mention any Arabic country? What happens if the Sinhala people decide to follow the Malaysian concept of Bhumiputhra in this country? In the case of the national anthem too it is only a question of not giving the rightful place to the Sinhala language, which is spoken and understood by more than 85% of the people and which had been the official language of the country for more than two thousand years.
In the discussion it was also revealed that Mr. Ashraaf does not know the national anthem. He said that only the words "namo namo matha" are common to the national anthem and the pirate version sung in Tamil. Of course, he referred to them as the two versions of the national anthem sung in Sinhala and Tamil. Whether a minister who is also a President's Counsel can refer to the Sinhala and Tamil versions of the national anthem when the constitution is very clear on this question is something for the people to decide at the next elections. What is interesting to us, at the moment, is that the national anthem starts with the words "Sri Lanka matha" and not with "namo namo matha". May be that the pirate version starts with "namo namo matha" and that Mr. Ashraaf is only familiar with it and he thought that the national anthem also starts with the same words. Does not he sing the national anthem at the state functions?
Mr. Ashraaf, the PC had come prepared to argue the Deeghavaapi case. He produced plans and referred to gazette notifications to show that the Deeghavaapi temple is entitled to 585 acres. As one Bhikku had said the temple did not have any land some sixty seventy years ago, and it is probably due to the magnanimity of the British government and the ministers of the independent Sri Lanka (Ceylon) that the temple has 585 acres today. Now all these plans and the gazette notifications that Mr. Ashraaf referred to in the course of the discussion were made under the Roman Dutch law of the British and Sri Lankan governments. The Sinhala Buddhists in this country would not accept the "authority" of the gazettes and other such documents in this regard. The British deprived the Buddhist temples and the Sinhala people especially those who were living in the Sinhale of 1815, of their land. There is a "sannasa" by which the king Keerthi Shri Rajasingha had given more than three thousand acres, translated into units used by the British, to the Deeghavaapi vihara in the year 2300 in the Buddhist era, or around 1756 AD. Even if we confine ourselves to this acreage without referring to the land donated by the other kings such as the king Saddhatissa, the question arises as to how more than three thousand acres were reduced to 585 acres.
It has to be repeated over and over again that the British became the rulers of the Sinhale by an agreement signed by the British governor and the Sinhala chieftains as equal partners. This agreement, which is popularly known as the Kandyan convention of 1815, has the following important sections.
"The Dominion of the Kandyan Provinces is vested in the sovereign of the British Empire, and to be exercised thro the Governors or Lieut Governors for the time being, and their accredited Agents; Saving the Adikars, Dessaves, Mohottales, Coraals, Vidaans, and all other Chief and Subordinate Native Headmen, lawfully appointed by authority of the British Government, the Rights, Priviledges, and powers of their respective offices, and to all Classes of the people the safety of their Persons and Property, with their Civil Rights and immunities, according to the Laws, Institutions and Customs established and in force amongst them.
The religion of Boodhood professed by the Chiefs and Inhabitants of these Provinces, is declared inviolable, and its rites, Ministries, and Places of Worship are to be maintained and protected." (G. P. S. H. de Silva, Sri Lanka Archives, Vol. I, No. I, pages 79 & 80).
The British being the gentlemen they were (and are) violated the convention. The places of worship of the religion of Boodhood were not maintained and protected. They ignored the laws, institutions and customs of the Sinhale. When the people rose against the violations of the convention they were massacred by the British.
The Sinhala people expected that the governments after the independence would restore the conditions that existed before 1815. But as nothing happened from 1948 to 1956 they elected a different set of politicians thinking that the Sinhala language their history and culture would be recognised. However that did not happen due to various reasons that I do not want discuss in this article, except to mention that Tamil racism created by the British was one of the main obstacles in this regard. The British had left the country nominally having established all the instruments (including the Marxists, though they are a dying breed now) that were necessary to continue with their policies.
The position of the Sinhala Buddhists has not changed through 1817, 1848, Anagarika Dharmapala days and 1956, though the policies of the parties have changed since 1956. The violations of the 1815 convention by the British should be rectified and the rightful place should be given to the Sinhala nation, Sinhala language, Sinhala history and Sinhala culture.
As far as Deeghavaapi is concerned at least the "sannasa" of the king Keerthi Shri Rajasingha has to be honoured. The government of which Mr. Ashraaf is a minister has no option other than giving back the land amounting to more than three thousand acres to the Deeghavaapi or Nakha Vihara. The laws and customs of the land and not the deeds, plans and gazette notifications that were made under the Roman Dutch law, have to be honoured. Those who are opposed to that are only saying that the violations of the 1815 convention should be continued 50 years after independence. It may be that Mr. Ashraaf, though a Muslim is a President's Counsel in respect of a Christian law. However, that should not make him more allegiance to the Christian law than to the Buddhist law of the Sinhale that was violated by the British.
Incidentally the "Sannasa" of Keerthi Shri Rajasingha has a significant phrase. It refers to the Olanda (Dutch), the Javakas, the Dravidas as "na na deshavasi vyaparika janaya" (not the vyaparika prajava) or the business people (not the community) from different lands, who were residing in the coastal area close to Deeghavaapi temple. Now this is a very important historical document written only about 60 years before 1815 and goes a long way, with other historical facts, documents etc., in exploding the Tamil homeland myth. Surely "na na deshavasi janaya" whether business people or not could not have had homelands in other countries. If the present eastern province is a Tamil homeland one could even say that it is a Dutch homeland as well.