To be treated by all citizens
Ethnic Conflict is a Disease
‘Sri Lanka’s economy is yet to recover from a protracted thirty-year war, and this year Sri Lanka has suffered further setback by the Easter Sunday Attack. Hence, irrespective of whether they belong to minority or majority communities, it is the people who must decide,’ says Journalist and Writer, Murugabupathi. His work is based on unity and harmony and is used to support the ‘Sri Lanka Student Fund’, created to assist in the educational development of affected students in the country. In this exclusive with The Catamaran, Murugabathi presents his experiences and observations in building the future of Sri Lanka.
THE CATAMARAN: How should current Sri Lankan communities presently function?
While we have Tamil leaderships in the North speaking on Tamil Nationalism and losing the support of the Muslims, the people of the East and the hill country, we also have former President Mahinda Rajapakse, boasting of a ‘war victory’ that ravaged the country for nearly three decades claiming ‘There is no discrimination based on community in this country anymore! Everyone is a Sri Lankan!’
Only ten years after the war, Gnanasara Thero, a Buddhist Monk, gathered support to back his statement that “This country belongs to Sinhala Buddhist only”.
When the Dudley-Selva Pact was signed as a resolve to the ethnic problem, J.R. Jayawardana opposed to it and initiated a ‘protest walk’ to the Dalada Maligawa temple in Kandy, which resulted in the pact dissolving. In this same temple a Buddhist monk demanded the resignation of Muslim ministers and governors from their positions and succeeded after through his ‘fast unto death’ campaign.
All the Sinhala Buddhist leaders in the Parliament visit the ‘Dalada Maligawa’ to get the blessings of Mahananayaka Thero, the Buddhist High Priest. Any legislation brought to the parliament in regard to solving ethnic issues are based on the final decision of the Dalada Maligawa and other Buddhist influences.
These are not ordinary happenings.
This is the unwritten rule of Sri Lanka.
The leaders of Tamil and Muslim communities, as well as the people of the North, East, Wes,t and the Upcountry Tamils must understand this reality.
These are the experiences of Sri Lankan communities, especially Tamil-speaking communities, even after the war. It is the leaders of the Tamil and Muslim communities who must take the unified decision on how to move forward.
Sri Lanka’s economy is yet to recover from a protracted thirty-year war, and this year, Sri Lanka has suffered a further setback by the events that took place on Easter Sunday. Hence, irrespective of whether they belong to minority or majority communities, it is the people who must decide.
THE CATAMARAN: What role do you think the Diaspora Sri Lankan communities should have played?
In Sri Lankan politics, the contribution of Diaspora communities is limited. Those who have obtained permanent citizenship abroad cannot interfere in Sri Lanka’s political affairs. The only way to pressure the state is through negotiation.
More than five Sinhala magazines are being published in Australia, however, there is only one Tamil Monthly, called “Ethiroli” (Echo). The Sinhalese are also aiding the less fortunate in their respective areas and supporting the livelihood of the families of those who perished in the war. The human rights activists among the Diaspora community conduct seminars and activities whenever Sri Lanka faces an ethnic conflict which shows their loyalty to their homeland.
THE CATAMARAN: Why do you think ethnic conflict is prevalent to date?
Sri Lanka is the only country where politicians believe they can hold office only if ethnic issues are present. They have enacted legislation that results in ethnic conflict, with the knowledge that it would have a negative impact on the nation’s economic resources. As a result, mere communal issues become permanent conflicts.
This country has been experiencing ethnic riots since 1915. While enough has been spoken of racial harmony, in practice nothing tangible is apparent. The assets of the minority were burnt and ransacked while the Emergency Laws and curfews were in force. Has anyone been convicted before the law for this?
THE CATAMARAN: Can foreign powers help to resolve these ethnic conflicts?
“Foreign powers do not interfere in the domestic problems of another country without gain.”
Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict is caught in geo-politics. international relations as influenced by geographical factors. This country is a close neighbor of India, a country clamoring for the dominion of South Asia. During the Mullivaikal tragedy of 2009, no foreign country came forward in assistance of the people trapped in the war due to Indian involvement. Since the end of the war, there have been two presidential elections in Sri Lanka. Governments have also changed, and foreign powers were well positioned in Sri Lanka during this period.
“Two leaders signed the Sri Lanka-India agreement. What finally happened to that deal?”
Since India’s dominance would be established through such a deal, some foreign elements intervened indirectly. Any meaningful solution to the ethnic conflict would first be gauged on how beneficial they would be to these foreign powers.
THE CATAMARAN: What roles should political leaders, intellectuals, writers, artists, journalists and social activists play?
“Communication is essential. These people are already doing everything possible when ethnic problems escalate in Sri Lanka, but the law and order situation must be healthy and just,”
We held the National Unity Conference in 1974. In 1977, riots broke out. Tamils in the South sailed as refugees and landed in Kankesanthurai. The people you are talking about stood at one end and the extremists stood on the other end.
What has the law done so far for those who have incited racial violence, committed murder and robbery in Sri Lanka? Behind those evil forces are politicians. However, the right thinking forces of good continue to do their best.
THE CATAMARAN: What role should arts and literature play in nurturing the internal and external environment necessary for the solution of these ethnic problems?
“Exchange of communication is very important. Two languages are the mainstay in Sri Lanka. English is the link language. There should be frequent meetings and discussions of Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim writers, artists and journalists throughout Sri Lanka,”
All nine provincial councils in Sri Lanka must facilitate negotiations and coordinate programs that create racial understanding. The introduction of Tamil and Sinhala art and literature among students, which expresses the mindsets of people of different ethnicities, can be introduced which will result in culture and cultural values can be mutually understood.
Professors, lecturers and students in universities should shed any racial, religious and linguistic thinking and nurture the attitude that we are all Sri Lankans.
THE CATAMARAN: As a person who maintains good relationships with Sinhala-Muslim public figures, how feasible is a country that can live in harmony, and how far away do you suppose we are from achieving it?
Unlike our closest neighbor, India, we do not have as many ethnic communities. Although we have three communities, only two languages are mainly spoken. Many of my short stories have emphasized communal unity and harmony. Some of these stories have been selected and published in Sinhala under the title ‘Mathaka Seweneli’ (Shadows of Memories).
I have dedicated the publication to Late Ven. Ratnawansa Thero, a lover of the Tamil language who learnt the language from me. The releasing ceremony of this book was held in the village of Korasa in Minuwangoda, a Sinhalese area he lived in. a large number of the community attended and spoke at the ceremony.
“I have been a heart patient and chronic diabetic fir many years. I am dependent on insulin and being treated for many side effects. My family doctor is a Muslim from Bangladesh. The doctor who treats me is a Sinhalese from Sri Lanka. I am a Tamil. What does this mean?”
There are no politics – language – ethnicity – caste for disease and illness. Ethnic, religious, linguistic and caste differences are not found in physicians who care for the patient. That is why they take the Hippocratic Oath. Ethnic conflict is also a disease in Sri Lanka, a serious condition disease and needs to be treated by all three communities.
In many parts of Sri Lanka, people still live in mud houses lacking proper sanitation facilities. While the minority are living like this, the leaders are looking for places for lifeless idols. The Diaspora is wasting lot of money to build more temples, renovate and consecrate them. Political parties in our country have increased, therefore, the possibilities for peace in the country are decreasing and the time limit is extended.
We have a long way to go.