The dream planted in the minds of the Sinhala Buddhist people was that the path to utopian state of Sinhala Buddhists will successfully reach its peak following the victory of the 2019 presidential election and the 2020 parliamentary election. But, instead of the utopian state they aspired to, they ended up with a dystopia, a failed state that stinks, degenerates, corrupt and fails – Photo by Shehan Gunasekara
Any examination of the issues which have been widely debated in Sri Lanka since the advent of the modern era followed by the emergence of a literate society will reveal that most of them have been detrimental to national progress instead of producing benevolent results. The most debated topic in this context has been who the real owners of this country are.
Usually, a country under colonial rule tends to get agitated first for religious reforms before attempting to win political reforms. The agitation for religious reforms and political reforms can be seen as two main stages in shaping the thought of any country that was under colonial rule.
In general, the experience in many countries that were under colonial rule was that the political potential created as a result of agitations for religious renewal had been supplemented by subsequent agitations launched for political reform. In fact, there was an obvious interrelation between the two.
There was a unique correspondence between the independence movements and that of religious revival in India that preceded the first, in terms of ideology.
Rajram Mohan Roy and Syed Ahmed Khan were respectively considered the two main leaders of the Hindu and Muslim revival movement. But his movement for religious renewal was not limited to these two leaders only. Besides them, there were several other leaders involved.
It can be said that the religious renewal movement in India, taken as a whole, had a very progressive vision. So much so that all can be considered religious leaders who did not assume that all other religions, except their own, should be destroyed. On the contrary, they all accepted the need for religious tolerance and coexistence between different religions and strove to bring the ideological framework of religions into a progressive phase in order to remove the obsolete elements of religious norms and practices that have leads to persecute the people.
Thus, the ideology of the religious revival movement in India harmonized well with that of its independence movement. These two movements agreed that the feudal caste system should be abolished and the Indian nation should be built on a framework that guarantees equal rights and human dignity to all people living in India without discrimination.
The situation in Sri Lanka
The behavior of the religious revival movement in Sri Lanka took a completely different form. In particular, the Sinhalo-Buddhist renewal movement started by Anagarika Dharmapala has been continued as a campaign to incite hatred and anger against non-Buddhist religions and non-Sinhala communities.
According to Dharmapala, only Sinhala Buddhists can be considered the “Bhumiputhras” or sons of the soil in Sri Lanka. All other ethnic groups such as Tamils, Muslims and the bourgeoisie were not seen as natives of the country, but as foreigners. Dharmapala referred to those who ate beef as Vasalayas or people from lower castes.
Dharmapala can be considered as the thinker who had the strongest influence on the thought of the Sinhala Buddhist people in Sri Lanka. He is held in high regard as one of Sri Lanka’s foremost national heroes. His jarring and confrontational statements have been socialized without anyone questioning their validity. Most of the anointed heroes of the temperance movement led by Dharmapala were the children of the arack tenants of Sri Lanka at the time.
The divergent views socialized by Dharmapala about Sri Lanka and its people affected not only the political leaders of Sri Lanka, but the Sinhala Buddhist people as well. He used to call all those who lived in this country who were not Sinhala Buddhists as outcasts or outcasts or someone who should be despised and avoided. Even Sinhala Buddhists who did not belong to the Goyigama caste were considered low caste people with a lower birth. Dharmapala was a leader who tolerated caste discrimination in Sinhala society.
The divisive ideology socialized by Dharmapala was an important factor in creating problems and conflicts in the country after independence.
The Burghers were the first community group seen as outcasts at the start of the country’s march to independence. They were called sarcastically and with contempt the “Cockroaches Lansies”. The Bourgeois, realizing in advance that they had no future in an independent Sri Lanka, left the country in large numbers. Some of them who remained in Sri Lanka ended up being victims of racism.
At the time of the revolution of 56, David Paynter, who could be considered one of the greatest internationally renowned artists produced by Sri Lanka, was the director of the Government Institute of Arts. The following is a slogan that appeared in a poster displayed against this renowned artist: “David the Painter, go, get lost.
DS Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of independent Sri Lanka, enacted citizenship laws so that Indian plantation workers, who should have been entitled to citizenship, were deprived of these rights. Indian plantation workers won seven seats in parliament in the 1947 general election, but until the introduction of citizenship laws in 1977, they did not have a single seat in parliament.
Subsequently, in 1956, Bandaranaike enacted the Sinhala Official Languages Act, depriving Tamils of their reasonable language rights. The consequences of this decision for the country were extremely devastating. Bandaranaike chose this path because it was the easiest way for him to gain power.
Three decades after independence, the country was plunged into a land of violent conflict and large-scale bloodshed that persisted for another three decades due to the fact that rulers who came to power since independence openly manipulated ethnic, caste and religious divisions to seize power instead of pursuing a nation-building policy with contempt for the recognition given to ethnic, caste and religious differences. The horrific socio-political environment created has led to a complete degeneration of the country’s social and political system which is endemic with corruption.
The dream of announcing a utopian state
Even after the end of the internal civil war, the policy of oppressing minorities was not abandoned. Instead, the target of oppression has been shifted from Tamils to Muslims. The Easter Sunday attack on Christian churches in April 2019 shocked and confused the Sinhalo-Buddhist psyche. Subsequently, the Sinhala-Buddhist electorate were able to win both the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019 and 2020 respectively, on their own and without the support of minorities.
The dream planted in the minds of the Sinhala Buddhist people was that the path to utopian state of Sinhala Buddhists will successfully reach its peak following the victory of the 2019 presidential election and the 2020 parliamentary election. But, instead of the utopian state they aspired to, they ended up with a dystopia, a failed state that stinks, degenerates, corrupt and fails.
Although minorities have been persistently oppressed by the racist Sinhala rulers who have come to power from time to time, in the final analysis it is the Sinhala Buddhists who have been most deceived by them.