Many Faults in “What people say and what they really mean” by Prof. Ekanayaka
Posted on May 29th, 2019

Dilrook Kannangara

The following article by Prof. Ekanayaka contained many irrelevancies and faulty logic. Allow me to point them out. He has not touched sufficiently about the ‘Sinhala’ part and focused mostly on the Buddhist part. He is mostly wrong on both counts.

http://island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=204747

Arguments before main arguments

There are no Sinhala Buddhist rivers, forests, mountains, catchment areas, etc. but Sinhala Buddhists had a way about looking after them well. What is now termed sustainable environmental practices were followed by them for millennia.

Places considered sacred by Sinhala Buddhists and are governed by them are open to all others to perform their religious acts as they please. Examples include Kataragama, Sripada and a number of Buddhist temples with Hindu shrines. Muslims, Christians and Hindus are free to perform their rituals and even have their own constructions in the vicinity. However, the converse is not true. Can a Muslim perform his rituals in a Hindu shrine or a Christian shrine or vice versa?

Sinhala Buddhist identity may mean the difference between life and death for the nation given Sri Lanka’s geopolitical situation. Three powerful rival camps are vying for power over the region which is increasingly becoming a playground of Hindu and Islamic extremism. India plunges deeper into Hindu extremism against Muslims and Pakistan and its allies are going in the way of Islamic extremism. If Sri Lanka is seen as a Hindu-aligned nation, it will earn the violent wrath of the other camp. If seen as a pro-Muslim nation, India will retaliate violently. If Sri Lanka becomes a secular nation, it will be up for grabs by both camps which will scuttle violently to do so. Being/becoming a Buddhist nation eliminates all these associations and gives the vitally important neutrality.

Argument 1: A large majority of the Sri Lankan population identify themselves as Buddhist

Absolutely. However, it doesn’t end there. Sri Lanka is not just an island that floats aimlessly in the Indian Ocean. It is deeply rooted in history just as many other nations. In fact, most nations (apart from those that were forcibly colonized with replaced populations) identify themselves with a language and a religion. The land of the English is England, the land of the Germans is Germany, the land of the Russians is Russia, the land of the Thai is Thailand, the land of the Swiss majority is Switzerland and so on and so forth. Everyone learns and speaks in the language of the majority. Minorities can use their language (or whatever language they prefer) among them and not necessarily with the state.

The island nation was only once known as ‘Sri Lanka’ in an old Indian text. It was mostly known with the association of Sinhala (Sinhale, Silen-deep, Serendib, Sihala Dwipa, Ceylon, etc. – all derivatives of the Sinhala identity). A canine native to the island came to be known as ‘Sinhala dog’. Just to repeat, this is not unusual around the world as above examples indicate.

Similarly, a large number of nations are identified, directly or indirectly, by its religious majority. Examples include a large number of Muslim nations, India (secular on paper but Hindu in reality), Christian nations and others that ascribe to their specific majority religious values and beliefs (e.g. In God We Trust”, …So Help Me God”). The Soviet Union and China before Xi were the only significant nations that defied this but they have since ended their hard stand. Why should Sri Lanka be any different?

Argument 2: There is a distinctly precious Buddhist culture which characterises and pervades society, underlies the Sri Lankan way of life and in some sense defines Sri Lanka

Sadly, the writer has only looked at existing societal deficiencies which are commonplace in most developing countries and even to an extent in developed countries. Lawlessness has nothing to do with ethnicity, language or religion. People of all ethnicities and religions engage in crimes. The Holy Sea may be an exception but that defies the writer’s logic. He fails to see the potential. The statement Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country” is a call to uphold those precious values, take the nation from its current state of chaos, lawlessness, environmental destruction, narcotics, terrorism (strangely untouched in the long article), etc. Without stating an end point, one cannot go on a journey. The alternative is to remain chaotic as today.

Then the writer veers completely away from reality in trying to tie it up with 1956, 1958, 1971, 1983 and 1971. These events had nothing to do with the assertion Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country. Sinhala was made the only official language in 1956 very peacefully, following a huge mandate received democratically with the support of some minorities and adhering to the only Constitution (1947) which was agreed to by all ethnic groups! If it discriminated anyone, they could have petitioned the Privy Council of the UK and get redress. But nothing of the sort happened. If 1956 was bad, USA, Japan, Australia, the UK, Germany and most stable and prosperous nations are also bad. The 1958 riot had nothing to do with language. It was the result of reaction of the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act of 1957 that tried to iron-out caste based discrimination. A pact was signed between the PM and a Tamil politician to resolve the situation. The pact resolved to keep Sinhala language as the sole official language! It was mostly about devolution of power to Tamil majority provinces in the north and the east so Tamils could administer their own affairs. Therefore the problems were elsewhere. Please read it.

JVP insurrections had nothing to do with Sinhala or Buddhism. Most developing countries experienced some form of violent communist uprisings. The Cold War between capitalists and socialists played out around the world and Sri Lanka was no exception.

Incidents in 1983 had nothing to do with Sinhala or Buddhism. It was a riot that maliciously targeted some Tamils following the killing of 13 soldiers by Tamil terrorists a few days earlier and a series of Tamil terrorist attacks (1978 bombing of an Air Ceylon passenger plane, killing Tamil mayors, police officers, etc. and evicting Sinhala people from Jaffna in 1977). None of these acts can be justified and they were done by opportunistic criminals with no language or religion driven motive. Most affected Tamils also spoke Sinhala and made no protest against the Sinhala language or Buddhism. In fact, they had just voted for the party that introduced Article 9.

Argument 3: Sri Lanka ‘belongs’ to the Sinhala Buddhists

Sri Lanka belongs to Sinhala Buddhists and all other citizens of the nation. As each individual has equal rights, 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists and 70% of the owners of the island nation are Sinhala Buddhists. No one believes that Sri Lanka belongs to Sinhala Buddhists only. The two assertions are vastly different. Article 9 of the Constitution is the law and the same law guarantees religious freedom to all others (Article 10). As a Christian, I have never been restricted from practicing my religion and I was never compelled to follow Buddhism or Buddhist practices some of which I sharply disagree with. There is no sting in Article 9.

The argument that anybody other than a Sinhala Buddhist cannot become president or prime minister is simply wrong and is divorced from the rest of the world. It took over 200 years for USA to produce an African American president. No European or Oceanic nation has produced an Indian or Chinese Prime Minister. India is yet to produce a Muslim prime minister (the president is merely ceremonial). Kadirgamar may have been appointed the Prime Minister if he didn’t fall victim to Tamil terrorism in 2005. In fact, the JHU (a party of Sinhala Buddhist monks) and JVP (Sinhala Buddhist elected representatives and one Muslim lady) proposed his name in 2004 for PM! These are the most Sinhala Buddhist political parties in parliament then.

It gets better. Sri Lanka has produced Muslim, Tamil and Christian war heroes who earned the highest bravery award (the prestigious Parama Weera Vibhushana) fighting to defend the nation. May be they were fighting under the leadership of Sinhala Buddhists which is beside the point.

I must hasten to add that Sri Lanka must not be a Buddhist theocracy and the national interest must not be surrendered to Sinhala, Buddhist or anything else. The national interest must be upheld at all cost. Wars must be fought when needed, criminals must be punished, people’s food choices must be respected and laws need to be discussed objectively with the nation’s benefit in mind. There is no contradiction.

In conclusion, it is fair to say there is nothing wrong in Sri Lanka being/becoming a Sinhala Buddhist nation where citizens of any language, religion or caste have equal individual rights commensurate with the UN Charter of Human Rights. There is no comparable concept called equal community rights.

– Dilrook Kannangara

2 Responses to “Many Faults in “What people say and what they really mean” by Prof. Ekanayaka”

  1. Vaisrawana Says:

    Thank you Mr Dilrook Kannangara for this very convincing rejection of Prof. Ekanayake’s shallow arguments generally against Sinhala Buddhist nationalists. Frankly, I could not have managed to write anything comparable to this in quality, even if tried.

    ‘ In conclusion, it is fair to say there is nothing wrong in Sri Lanka being/becoming a Sinhala Buddhist nation where citizens of any language, religion or caste have equal individual rights commensurate with the UN Charter of Human Rights. There is no comparable concept called equal community rights”.

    Absolutely.

    However, you need not fear that Sri Lanka will ever become a Buddhist theocracy! When the age old unobtrusive, but inherently tolerant and inclusive, Sinhala Buddhist culture is allowed to survive without being trampled upon by religious fanatics and racist minority politicians, it will ensure that Sri Lanka emerge as a well governed democratic state that is even more righteous than the model Western democracies (such as UK, USA, Norway, etc.), which pride themselves on their Judeo-Christian cultural heritage. They are unashamedly nationalist (probably they will not admit this in public, though), and that religious-cultural character is the nucleus of their national identities. (There is nothing wrong with nationalism so long as it doesn’t degenerate into racism, and discriminate against other nations, something that, particularly USA and UK are guilty of.)

  2. Charles Says:

    Thank you Dilrook, Ekanayake the Professor needs no other reply to his absurd arguments against Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhala Buddhists.

    Charles

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