Posted on November 5th, 2009

Susira Edirisinghe Pagoda

Shani in her/his latest feature article on 31st October ( “ƒ”¹…”The Island’) states among other things, “”¦.chauvinists who claim that Sri Lanka is only home to a Sinhala Buddhist majority who have been in this in this country for 2300 years.”

 I do not know whether this is an accurate statement because it would not be correct to say that Sinhla Buddhists have ever claimed that Sri Lanka was the home to themselves ONLY, for the reasons stated by Shani. To my knowledge Sinhala Buddhists have made no such claim to the exclusion of other communities who have made Sri Lanka their home as much as themselves. The mere fact that they have stated that, they have lived in this country for 2300 years, does not imply that they have claimed that it is home ONLY for themselves.

 But the problem seems be that the other communities do not seem to acknowledge this fact; i.e. the Sinhala Buddhists were the people that inhabited this country for 2300 years. Not only did they live here continuously for 2300 years, but during that  time, they have developed a State, a total civilization unique to themselves comprising a language, literature, art and architecture, a technology, medical science and a  wonderful hydro-agricultural economy. They have built an identity for themselves as Sinhalas in this world. This country was known in this world by that name in different versions, till it was changed into “ƒ”¹…”Sri Lanka’ in1972. They have a recorded history of themselves corroborated by archeological evidence besides references in contemporary international records. Not only have they built all this, throughout all these years, it is they who defended this country and Buddhism all by themselves against all foreign intruders till 1818. So, do they not deserve some recognition for all this? Does it denigrate any body if this is acknowledged?

 Most other countries with long histories are known by the name of the people who are the dominant population in those countries, though many of them do have minorities there. Also the people in those countries are so named by the language they speak. Thus, people  who speak Chinese language are known as Chinese and the land they inhabit is known as China. There are so many different communities in China professing different religions. But the country is referred to as China and all the people as Chinese. This is the same with most countries such as France, Germany, Spain, Russia, Maldives, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt etc. The list is long. The people are identified by the language they speak so is the land they inhabit.

 Then there are the countries and people in the Middle East. They are all people who lived for ages in the vast desert, following the Mohammedan religion. They speak Arabic and espouse their religious beliefs so strongly that they do not tolerate even a Buddha statue to be brought into their countries as revealed by some of our people who go there as immigrant workers. 

 Only difference was the countries colonized by the British, like North America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Here too the dominant community i.e. British imposed their language and culture & religion, law and social systems, brushing aside that of the natives who were reduced to minorities in their own countries.

 My question is that are the peoples in all these different countries Chauvinists, for this reason?

How is it that the Sinhala Buddhists only are called Chauvinists?

 Instead have they not been patriots in the true sense of the word ? Despite being a small population, the Sinhala Buddhists held their country  for two millennia all by themselves. They held out  strongly against 3 European powers for over 300 years which is a feat that no Asian nation could claim. Are they not a unique people? So, is it chauvinism to talk of all this, to help the modern generations to re-discover their mite? 

 Shani states that in India, the great visionary leaders, unlike in our country, adopted the  concept of a secular state and a federal system of government, almost implying that for that reason there are no communal and religious conflicts and some communities agitating for Federal status there, unlike in Sri Lanka. We know that it is not so in India.

 I do not think Sri Lanka is comparable with India in any way. Apart from the enormity of  the size of that country, with the multiplicity of languages, communities, religions and casts, India was never a unified country in its entire history until the British made it into British India in mid 19th century, mainly by military force. Until then, down the ages, large parts of that country was held as empires at different times by different dynasties like, Mauryas, Gupthas, Chalukyas, Cholas and Pallawas to name a few and, finally the Moghuls.  Community-wise too, the Muslim minority in India is larger than the entire Muslim population in Pakistan. Therefore, in such complicated circumstances, perhaps secularism and Federalism may be a way out for that country if they were to hold it as one country after the British left. Despite that, they could not prevent the Partition of British India in 1947. So they had to prevent somehow further balkanization.  

 Yet, they have adopted Hindi as the official language and the one national anthem in Bengali and has one national flag.

  But Sri Lankan situation is very different. Sri Lanka has been one country and a single state all through recorded history with an unbroken line of Sinhala Buddhist kings. And this single state covered every corner of the land as revealed by the Buddhist ruins and edicts discovered in all corners. Even the Hindu royals who assumed kingship in the last stages of this line, were accepted as Kings of this country only after they had adopted Buddhist religion and undertook to govern the country according to Sinhala laws and traditions.

In fact, even when this country was ceded to the British in 1815 under an agreement,

two important conditions were that Buddhism, the religion of the Sinhala people should be upheld and that the country should be governed according to the administrative laws and traditions of the Sinhalese.

Under such circumstances, there would be some justification to think that secularism and federalism applicable in India may not be applicable in this country.                             

 So is this line of thinking Chauvinism? If so, how is it that the French, Spaniards, Germans, Thais, Japanese, Chinese and Arabs etc.etc. are not labeled chauvinist and only Sinhala Buddhists are?

 Susira Edirisinghe

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