‘Sinhala-tribalism’ and the 13-A
Posted on August 6th, 2009

C. Wijeyawickrema

Modernization theory 
Recently, professor Carlo Fonseka (CF), a “ƒ”¹…”Colombo intellectual,’ has introduced two new phrases to the 13-A-related vocabulary: (1) expatriate patriotism and (2) narrow tribalism (The Island, 7/23/2009). The “ƒ”¹…”modernization’ preachers who once vigorously promoted “this war is not winnable” thesis are back with new songs. White masters and western writers interpreted (projected) colonialism as an enterprise aimed at civilizing the barbarians and savages in Asia, America and Africa. Modernization thus meant westernization, Americanization and Christianization via a class of “ƒ”¹…”converted’ locals. In Ceylon/Sri Lanka they are identified as the Colombo class (black-whites). One who can pass the famous “Kamatha Test” alleged to have applied by the late president Premadasa would, however, not agree with such preaching aimed at promoting the 13-A balloon.

Unreasonableness of 13-A

Simply because Prabakaran made a blunder by not embracing the 13-A, does not suddenly make 13-A, a reasonable path to nirvana in Sri Lanka. Any language-based devolution method despite billions of rupees spent on reconstruction and army camps would not end the demand for an Eelam, five, ten or twenty years from now. Jane Russell, living in Peradeniya as a Commonwealth scholar (1973-76) wrote a doctoral dissertation on the subject of communal politics in Ceylon during 1931-1947. Anybody reading the printed version of her research (1982) could see that communalism has been a cancer that cannot be cured by feeding it. It began in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s and not in 1956. The Colombo class of English-speaking politicians of Sinhala and Tamil origin created it and it can be cured only if this non-Colombo president is willing to think out of the box and come out free of the influence of the remnants of the old Colombo class. The president has a duty to seek a mandate from people to come out of the separatist prison and to develop a new constitution with people-participation (not Colombo lawyers and vanishing Marxists), instead of adopting a policy of feeding a few Tamil politicians. The Hasalaka hero’s mother did not expect GOSL to placate Indian politicians or Hillary Clinton. 

The 13-A was unreasonable not just because it was humiliation brought upon the Sinhala Buddhists in the Island. It was “Legislation against geography” (The Island, 2/22/2006). Any event, incident or occurrence can be examined using the three-sided perspective of the legal doctrine of reasonableness, the Middle Path in Buddhism and the principles of geography (time and space context). Thus what is reasonable falls within the Middle Path and agrees with or shaped by the physical and human geography of a location. When the army general Sarath Fonseka said, “minorities should not make unreasonable demands,” he was right on target in this regard. To call this view tribal is not modernity but delusion. 

The purpose of 13-A was to give legal and constitutional recognition to a myth that there has been a traditional Tamil homeland in the Eastern Province. It was not to help the ordinary Tamil but to pacify a corrupt set of Tamil politicians. No amount balloon floating by a class of Colombo “ƒ”¹…”moderates’ cannot hide this basic fact. No Sinhala villager would oppose a Tamil being allowed to live as an equal in the island. This is because he or she is influenced by the Buddhist philosophy or the Buddhist way of life which is based on concepts such as the Middle Path, cyclical nature of life (birth-death-birth), impermanence of life and the consideration of humans as part of nature and not its master. These are so different from Christian and Islam way of thinking. A Buddhist cannot erase his or her sins by making a confession on a Sunday. Any harm done to another human being is harm done to himself/herself. The karmic force of a bad act comes behind him or her like the wheel of the cart that follows the bull.

Empower Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim people            

What Sri Lanka needs today is the empowerment of Tamil people and all other people at the village level on a systematic basis as India has been trying to do anew (Gandhi said it 70 years ago) with the 73rd Constitutional Amendment passed in 1993. The ideal solution is to transfer maximum possible legislative, executive and quasi-judicial functions to village level units and make these units ecologically-sound spatial units. The best approach is to follow the path of river basin-based boundaries as in New Zealand today. Sri Lanka’s heritage was a history based on the village water tank. With global warming, floods, droughts, dry river beds, landslides, deforestation, soil erosion and dam-clogging, lack of rain clouds, water and air pollution, congested dusty roads and groundwater depletion, we must look at administrative units based on natural boundaries. If during RPremadasa times the number of GSN units could increase from 4,000 to a mind-boggling number of 14,000, it cannot be difficult to reduce this number to 1000 village-urban spatial units.

India never solved others problems

13-A was the failed communal plan of the 1935 Government of India act imposed upon a helpless Sri Lankan president by the Indian RAW and the Indian bureaucracy. The 1987 Indo-SL agreement has no legal validity in civil law as it was signed under duress. Under the military law the conquering state can impose conditions on the vanquished, like what USA did to Japan after Hiroshima-Nagasaki or to Iraq more recently but the international contract law is a different animal. It is unfortunate that no one in Sri Lanka is thinking of petitioning the Supreme Court to revisit its 5-4 decision on 13-A. By empowering people at the village level, by allowing these village units to develop a hierarchical set up reaching to the level of the Seven River Basins in Sri Lanka (thus Yalpanam for the present Northern Province) along with a decision to teach Sinhala and Tamil to school children, Carlo Fonseka, Dayan Jayatilleke, and the Sinhala and Tamil concerned citizen groups in Colombo can avoid tribalism, narrow or broader, and the Sinhala Bushism or triumphalism. If people cannot celebrate the end of 30 years of Tamil terrorism then one could say the celebration of Christmas was also a kind of triumphalism.  The modernists or the moderates must come out of the separatist prison created in the 1920s and 1930s by GG Ponnambalam and SJV Chelvanayagam as baits for the consumption of the ruling elites in Colombo.

13-A and the Flat World

By reading the ACBC-sponsored unethical conversion of Buddhists report (page 192, item 833, 2009), one could see the hidden path opened via the 13-A set up allowing a kind of remote-controlled colonialism to operate within Sri Lanka’s many corruption triangles. At the village level the triangle consists of the NGO-local politician-AGA (GSN). At the national level NGO/INGO-ministers-officers. Some white politicians will work over-time to promote racial tensions not because they have Tamil block votes to be captured in Toronto, London, Paris  or New York electorates but because of the three inter-connected processes taking place in the Flat world (made flat by computer technology). They are: (1) Clash of civilization (superiority of western-European sets of values), (2) Christianization of Asia (to make them more civilized and ultimately religiously save them) and (3) exploitation of the Third world resources using free trade as a trade mark. The confusion created in the South by the PC white elephant opened up lucrative business deals for INGO-NGO agents. Buddhism is taught in some schools by Christian teachers!   Alfred Wegener and the continental drift (1912)

Unable to take a Kamatha-based approach, which is the reasonable path, professor Fonseka (CF) in his modernistic mind asked the wrong question and received the wrong answer. Thus he claimed a right to ask for a 13-A solution, because he did not (or could not) leave Sri Lanka. In his mind a person who does not live in Sri Lanka cannot oppose 13-A. Even the Englishman Paul Harris opposed it. CF forgets that 13-A, R2P, UN-HRC, INGO-NGO agencies obtain their power from Delhi, London, Oslo, Paris and New York and not from Colombo. It is the three-piece wearing politicos who beg for foreign intervention. The modernists previously supported the IPKF and later begged for a landing of UN forces.

When Alfred Wagner talked about moving continents his fellow geologists digging holes on the ground dismissed him. It was geographers who supported his theory using commonsense. If African and South American continents have shapes (coast outline) that fit well like in a jigsaw puzzle, and both lands have plant fossils which cannot survive in salt water, then the two lands must have been together some time ago as plants cannot walk, fly or swim thousands of miles! CF is thus like the geologists in holes digging, or a frog in the well. Surely he would not have funded his son’s education in USA if he really believed what he wrote. He was arguing for the argument’s shake.

Come and serve the motherland!

 When CF claims a higher right because he did not leave Sri Lanka it reminds me another story of a Chemist I met in Kent, Ohio. A geography student from Sri Lanka left Ohio to become the Samurdhi director in Colombo.  The Chemist was a U.S. immigrant. When he visited Sri Lanka he was confronted by the former, “Why are you not coming back to serve Sri Lanka (like me)?” The chemist later told me that he felt bad. Since I knew more information about the situation I tried to remove his feeling of guilt. To make a long story short the Samurdhi director later pled the country under suspicion of fraud. Why I mentioned this case is to show the inappropriateness of taking one individual case and then try to use that case to win an argument. This is neither rational nor professional. To give my own case I tried to serve the motherland for seven years after graduation and when I witnessed the madness spread in the country after JRJ came into power, decided to break all the chains and risked to swim against the current. I did not use a cent of Sri Lankan money. In my situation, all I can do is to use the pen instead of a sword to prevent my country of birth disintegrating. Can CF say that I am less patriotic than he? What did CF do with his WIDER contract money? CF and all of us humans are engaged in a game of (reasonable or unreasonable) survival. That is the truth. Charles Darwin pointed this out long time ago.

Charles Darwin and the survival of the fittest (1859)

People develop survival strategies depending on their life stage and status. In Sri Lanka some women undergo caesarian operations to make sure that the child was born before December. This way the child will be age-qualified not to lose so many months to go to grade one. Some parents, I heard, try to make a child a doctor so that their family health issues are out of the health care mess in Sri Lanka. Another person I knew could not utilize the scholarship he received to go overseas for training because his mother would not eat her dinner until the son comes home from work. The son did not want to think that by leaving the country he would indirectly cause the death of his mother. Several persons I knew went back to Sri Lanka to take care of their aging mothers. Why CF did not leave Sri Lanka but sent his child or children out for education are matters upon which one cannot make generalizations. Even the VLSSP rebel Dr. Wickramabahu wanted to migrate to Canada, finally!

The hopeless and helpless nature of the public services in Sri Lanka is also a result of this survival instinct. A head of an important state agency once told me how he survived in a world of stupid politicians. He said when it was time to whitewash the ministry office walls he would first ask the minister which color the minister preferred. If the minister said I like black, he said he would use black and not white.  Charles Darwin had a hard time in developing his theory, until he realized the survival of the fittest“In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic inquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population [Thomas Malthus (1766-1834)] and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long- continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The results of this would be the formation of a new species. Here, then I had at last got a theory by which to work” Charles Darwin, from his autobiography (1876).   Sri Lanka’s Seventh Great Force   What I see in most expats is a phenomenon that could be identified as Sri Lanka’s Seventh Great Force. Most of those who received a university education in the Sinhala medium (most Tamils donated money to Prabakaran) left Sri Lanka physically and not mentally (the Sixth force was the Sri Lankan villagers who toil in Arab hot climate and suffering in servile conditions in Arab kitchens sending foreign exchange to cover one-third of the Sri Lankan budget, until the soldiers (Rana Viru) are identified as the Sixth Force by President Rajapakse).  They used their brain and not their heart, but out of sight was not out of mind.  This group, unlike the temporary workers in the Middle East, lives as permanent residents in western countries gainfully employed in professional fields. Unfortunately, those who toil in Arab lands sending money to GOSL have no right to vote. Was it not tribalism to deny them the right to vote? Which NGO-R2P people are fighting for their HR?

The rich countries open up their borders as a supply route to meet the low skill and unskilled labor needs of their own economies. They, even a country like Israel, obtain cheap labor this way. Thus, in Norway Tamil immigrants do jobs which are not in demand (Life on the Outside: the Tamil diaspora and long distance nationalism, Oivind Fuglerud, 1999, p. 95). I hated the idea of a young woman from a village going to an Arab kitchen and give up her self-respect and dignity. This money is used to import Benz cars, and chicken from Holland, and send not so intelligent kids to study abroad.  My only consolation was to see a few of them somehow collected enough money to buy a house in the vicinity of Colombo Seven and thus destroy the class distinction found in the neighborhood! As the saying “ƒ”¹…”Dukes Don’t Travel,’ tells us rich people generally do not migrate. Instead they send their children abroad for higher education (when they cannot pass local G.C.E. – O.L or A.L).

Looking for greener pastures

The village boys and girls who went to universities in the Sinhala medium had a different problem. Those who found jobs faced a corrupt system which does not recognize merit and which is based on nepotism, class and caste tribalism. The destruction of public service by cheap politicians was so saturated even in the 1960s and 1970s. I can imagine the situation in the 1990s or later. Random killing and planned killing became an added factor.  What Ronney de Mel said about his wife’s advice to him reflected the situation: his wife did not want him to give up his CCS job because it was much better “ƒ”¹…”status’ than becoming an MP. But then subsequently she agreed with him on his decision to quit and join in the political game. So many people left Sri Lanka in disgust of a socio-political system and not because they did not like their country of birth. It was like Jinadasa in the movie Gamperaliya going to Sinhale looking for work. Those who took risks and left Sri Lanka had no pastures in Sri Lanka in the first place, to look for greener pastures outside. This was a phrase coined by the rich ruling establishment to hide a corrupt system and try to blame the victim. Of all the countries, the USA opened up its borders for educated immigrants without asking property ownership or high class connections as requirements for a visa.

“Affluent society and matters in our poor harassed country”

Professor Carlo Foseka cannot escape by stating that those live in affluent societies cannot talk about a poor mother country (The Island, 7/23/2009). The reality is, under the new remote-controlled colonialism the old game of a tiny class of rich white people exploiting the rest has now become a new game of tiny rich classes in poor countries joining hands with rich white people under a “Flat World” concept of liberal globalization for smart-exploitation. In such an arrangement the million rupees a month salary plus perks to hire richly paid assistants that Kumar Rupasinghe receives is better than living in an affluent country. The poverty and suffering that we see within the “ƒ”¹…”affluent societies’ makes us think that there is more lasting happiness in a Sri Lankan village than in New York, London, Paris or Tokyo. How many people in USA can get $10,000 per month salary for doing nothing except talking peace? At least Kumar Rupasinghe had the courage to disclose this. But what is the level of affluence of CF? Lal Bahadur Shastri and Dudley Senanayake had no money in the bank when they died. The recent disclosures of who deposited how much in Lalith Kotalawala’s golden banks was just the tip of the iceberg of the rich (exploitation) side of the “ƒ”¹…”our-poor-harassed country’!

Ecotones and human life-cycle stage theory

“An ecotone is a transition area between two adjacent but different plant communities, such as forest and grassland. It may appear on the ground as a gradual blending of the two communities across a broad area, or it may manifest itself as a sharp boundary line. The word was coined from a combination of eco (logy) plus -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension – in other words, a place where ecologies are in tension. The theory is that human civilizations grew (cradles of civilization) in places where two contrasting environmental conditions met-Mesopotamia, where arid zone met with water, India, where mountains (Himalaya) met with river plains (Indus/Ganges), the rift valley in Africa, mountains and valleys in Central America (Incas).  I have no doubt that the seasonal temperature change with winter and summer makes some change in human brain reaction compared to uniform temperatures in a tropical island. The ecotone idea affects expats who live away from the home country. They appreciate more the value of the village they were born in Sri Lanka after decades of modern life in a western industrial concrete and tire dust.

In his national bestseller, True North, Bill George (pages 43-45, 2007) explains how and when a person transforms from “I” to “We.” When a person realizes that leading was not about his or her success but the success that person could create by empowering others to lead, a transformation takes place in his or her life. This happens during ages 30-60. Before that it was a matter of rubbing up against the world. When a person is above the age of 60 he says generativity: wisdom and giving back, sets in. The Seventh Great Force is full of people at this third stage. In USA there is no limit on retirement age, yet expats are willing to return and serve their motherland if it is not going to be a waste of time and effort. All the talents and skills Sri Lanka need are readily available if President Rajapakse acts with wisdom to change the system. In a way it is easy to organize an army but it is a difficult task to get a fifteen-member office team to do an honest and efficient civilian job. Bangladesh is mostly a river delta six months under water and six month in drought. It has almost half the population of USA in an area of the size of Illinois. The Grameen Bank-fame Muhammad Yunus wanted to take the country out of misery but politicians did not want it happen. So the misery and the suffering will continue. 
Who wants tribalism?

After denying a right to talk about Sri Lanka to expats, professor Fonseka brands them as tribal minded. This is again a modernist peeping at primitive societies. Democratic capitalism or brutal capitalism is tribalism but modernists cannot see it just like the “eye cannot see the eye.”  All humans are tribal minded. The dictionary meaning of it is “strong loyalty to one’s own tribe, party, or group; strong feeling of identity with and loyalty to one’s tribe or group.”  The word was first used during 1885-90. Empire-building, the scramble for Africa, the subjugation of the Native Americans in America all used tribalism as a scapegoat.  A Judea-Christian mind set wanted to civilize the primitive tribes and barbarians. The universe functions like a great mechanical clock and secrets of nature are all there for the scientists to uncover tried to make the white man above all other living things and the ruler of nature.

One could say the Pasmaha Balum mentioned in Buddhist literature (time, country, region, social status and mother) aims at tribalism. Humans are not opapathikas, (gods). They are not andaja (from eggs) or anshedaja (bacteria associated with moisture) but they are jalabujas (born in a mother’s womb). Coming from mothers people become part of history. We cannot forget we have the Sri Maha Bodhi or the Ruwan Veli Maha Saaya. Hence, the rational approach is not to try to hide history, but to look at history with critical thinking so that we can learn and benefit from history’s lessons. Human nature is to concentrate on today and tomorrow and near and neighborhood and not 100 years ahead or faraway lands. The tribal approach was one like that. The modern enlightened approach is to value what the tribal society offered. The family, village, family farm and neighborhoods are becoming important ways of saving the decline of individual-centered non-tribal societies in the affluent countries. It is not just pollution of air, water and land. It is pollution and degradation of human life. The non-tribal society promoted the devil inside the human and not the saint.

The American Medical Association is the most tribal organization in the world. It is a selfish trade union which controls the number of medical doctors produced. A severe shortage of doctors created by AMA actions generated misery to people in America. So much so people go to Cuba or India for treatment. The healthcare industry, health insurance and pharmaceutical industry, is one huge tribe sucking the blood of both poor and rich people. If CF starts to think on these lines he will see tribes all around him in Colombo. The 9/11 incident was a good example of this tribal instinct. Firefighters and policemen both did and dig looking for survivors and later dead bodies until they reached the basement where gold bullions were stored, 500 million dollars worth. Suddenly the order came from the big tribe to stop digging. Apparently, digging was allowed not because of a desire to find dead bodies but to reach the gold basement.  What happened next was a fight between the firefighters and the police, as the police had orders now to stop digging and prevent firefighters’ digging! Was this not tribal war?

The Indian tribes were so advanced in thinking that they saved trees by just slicing only a vertical portion of the tree for wood rather than cutting down the whole tree. Now that was environmental science. How about political science?  Benjamin Franklin told the quarreling 13 American states to look at the Native American tribal way of government. Thus, the Iroquois nations’ (in the 1740s) ideas of liberty, fraternity, and equality found their way to Europe to influence social philosophers such as Thomas More, Locke, Montaigne, Montesquieu and Rousseau. These European thinkers in turn influenced American such as Franklin, Jefferson, and Madison, the authors of the U.S. constitution (Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen, 1995, p. 111).  

Professor Loewen also cites another amazing case of tribal behavior. During wars between the Native Americans and the European whites they took women and children as prisoners. Once when an agreement was reached to exchange prisoners, Indian children ran into their relatives while white children did not want to leave their Indian families! (page 109). I wonder if there was any physiology or micro-biology explanation for this. Dr. James Watson won a Nobel Prize for his part of research in discovering the structure of DNA. Recently, he got into trouble by telling that in his “scientific opinion” blacks are less intelligent than the whites. The fact was that if science is the job of uncovering the secrets of nature, Dr. Watson did not have sufficient understanding of the society, an artificial creation by humans. He spent a life time on human genetics but did not learn the ABC of Civics or human social or economic history.  “Scientists” who come to preach to society can learn from the embarrassment Dr. Watson faced if they realize they do not know everything.

This reminds me the tribal behavior of Sir Isaac Newton that I saw in the book, “The Discoverers” by Daniel J. Boorstin (Random House, 1983, pages 408-417).  As an administrator Isaac Newton abused everything was like a wild boar full of dishonesty. I had experience with the science tribes in Sri Lanka when I was working at the then National Science Council. There were tribes and sub-tribes based on caste connections, and nepotism were the name of the game.  To allege tribalism when a person writes opposing 13-A is no different from counting the number of kings in the Mahavamsa, who killed a father or a brother.  The Anuradhapura seat was represented by an Englishman twice and the Kelaniya seat was represented by Catholics. There was a time that temple monks in remote areas provided lodging and dinner for Christian priests when they went on circuit looking for possible converts. Before talking about Sinhala (Buddhist?) tribalism CF should have done his home work first. 

One Response to “‘Sinhala-tribalism’ and the 13-A”

  1. cassandra Says:

    This is a wide ranging article, and I wish only to comment on the reference to Carlo Fonseka and his recent observations on 13A and the discussions of it involving Dayan Jayatileke, Malinda Seneviratne and Mahes Laduwahetty. Firstly, I found it most unfortunate that CF saw fit to belittle Malinda as, for instance, in saying “I find it hard to believe that he had been to Harvard University, even as a tourist, as I have”. This was both insulting and irrelevant. The whole point of CF’s comment seemed to be to contrive some means to inform us that he himself has visited Harvard and met Professor Galbraith! It was equally belittling and patronising to say “A village school education would have amply sufficed to generate MS’s political thoughts”. This ranked of sheer snobbery. And when ML sought to enter the discussions, CF suggested ML had no right to a view as ML was an ‘expatriate’. Pray, tell me why ‘expatriate’ Sri Lankans cannot validly and usefully comment on these matters. It is a mistake that the likes of CF make, to imagine that intellectuals and political sophisticates have a monopoly of correct thinking. It surprised me that someone ostensibly educated as CF could not be objective in his writing without resorting to attack the person – rather than the argument – or as we say, ‘hitting below the belt’.

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