Colombo

119, Buddhism and being Sinhalese

Take it from me, being a responsible citizen in this country sucks, big time.

Take last Saturday for example. There I was, driving along with my parents when I saw this lorry which was being driven about like the driver’s pants were on fire. Not only was he driving fast, he was driving all over the road. Being the responsible citizen I am, I decided to do the only viable thing.

I got my gun out and shot him.

Well, not really. I don’t own a gun, and I don’t think I can muster up the nerve to do something like that.

I called 119.

After getting a busy signal for a while, I got through to them, gave details of the lorry, and then proceeded to video what was going on. I took a clip of about five minutes, and called 119 again since I couldn’t see anything happening.

The lorry turns into a side street, and I do the next most viable thing. I go to the nearest police station (Seeduwa) to lodge an entry. After waiting for 35 minutes (the person has gone to have breakfast), they took the complaint down. Apparently I need to state my race and religion when lodging a complaint.

What difference does it make? I’m lodging a complaint against a reckless driver whom I thought was a danger to society and the Police wants to record my race and religion? Silently blaming it on ignorance on their part, I blurted out that I’m a Sinhalese, and since I couldn’t be bothered to explain what (or who) an atheist is (I am one), I told him I’m a Buddhist.

They gave me an official acknowledgment thing, and thanked me. I came out, called my mother to tell her to come and pick me up, and waited outside.

After a short while, a police officer who was coming into the station asked me what I was doing, to which I said I’m waiting for someone to come and pick me up. He told me to move a bit further away, as I’ve been standing in front of a Judge’s place, and then asked me one of the most pointless questions someone has ever asked me.

Sinhalada?“? (Are you Sinhalese?)

How is it relevant? Remember how I spoke earlier about the sometimes automatic association of Tamil=Terrorist in the South? How in the world is my race or ethnicity relevant?

This however, is not the true shocker. The true shocker came when I went back to talk to the OIC of the said Police Station about the follow up action for the lorry. I told him what happened with the other police officer, and then he tells me,

That’s not a wrong question for a police officer to ask. We are empowered under the law to ask any question we want. You just think it’s wrong because your blood is young and your blood is hot. You need to think of the country situation.

Am I the only person who thinks the question “Sinhalada?” is wrong? So does one’s sense of right and wrong change depend on their age? My blood is hot? Are you for real?

Trust me, I know what the country situation is. I watch news just like the rest of you do, I talk to people just like the rest of you do, I see what’s going on just like the rest of you do. And unlike the real smart people who I’ve been talking to, I understand that questions, biases and prejudices like this do absolutely nothing to help the situation. It only worsens it.

This sucks, big time. It’s not even funny.

  • Firstly I agree with your point that it is of no relevance to ask whether you are Sinhaleese or not, but i guess there might be some sort of clerical value in jotting down your race and religion when lodging a complaint.

    Secondly its possible to be an atheist and a Buddhist at the same time, since Buddhism does not require any faith in god per se.

  • razor

    very rasist!!!!!..and they are getting more bold and open about it….still sinhalease think this is their country, thats why there will never be peace. until this is a purely sinhalease country.

  • No doubt the true Buddhism does not require faiuth in any God or Supreme being. However, whats practised on the ground is filled with Gods, Goddesses, Demons, Rituals and what not? You name it.

  • I think to typecast all Sinhalese as being racist is a form of hypocrisy, just like it is to assume that all Tamils are terrorists. They aren’t.

    As for views on Buddhism ..I agree. Much of what goes on in Sri Lanka is a savage hypocrisy …in direct conflict with so many core principles ..and of course the statues and gods and so forth…people emphasizing on celestial powers instead of looking inward

  • yeah.. i agree with yall

  • The Country situation is tht we have a majority Tamil group blowing up Sinhalese civilians.. If you cant understand that my deepest symphaties.. All Tamils aren’t terrorists…but almost all Terrorists are Tamil.. so it’s completely alright for a Police officer to ask that question… After all it is their job and they are the ppl who get’s the blame if some one blows up

    Granted the question is pretty useless because most Tamil Terrorists know and speak perfect Sinhalese..specially the sicide bombers.. so I really dont know what that police officer was doing taking your word for it.. he should have asked you to produce your ID card checked the place of birth/address…etc..

    Sadly The Sri Lankan ID card does not state the Race/Religion…we should start having tht in our ID cards to help the law enforcement authorities

  • Suren Raghavan

    Dear Duckei,
    Welcome to the realpolitik of SL. even after investing a lifetime studying Sinhala at leading Buddhist schools, mastering the different dialects from Matara to Kandy a non- Sinhalese cannot escape the racial identification at every state (especially security) apparatus of SL. Even worse is the mere acceptance and even encouragement of this status by the majority of the civil society (see the comments you have received)
    Sorry if you did not realize, SL is a deeply divided society bleeding and decomposing democracy. Institutional reform is far away because we have not agreed on our basic fundamental values. Even the question ‘Demalada?’ is often posed in Sinhala. If the victim happened to answer in Thamil I wonder whether the Ralahami would have understood? This is 40 years after declaring Thamil also as an official language. Perhaps you as an atheist may have some advice to reform our Theravada Buddhist Society?

  • Salami. While I agree with your reasoning, I think the reality of it all is rather different. How many cases of a policemen apprehending a terrorist at a checkpoint have you come across? Personally I’ve heard of none. I’ve been hassled plenty at checkpoints especially in the east with all sorts of ridiculous paperwork while working with refugees over there. Sure it’s important for security you’ll say but in reality…these checkpoints and supposed security measures have achieved little. So what, an ID says i’m Sinhala or Tamil, what then? What does it prove? If i’m Sinhala i’m a good guy?

    Colombo is still riddled with bombs. I can barely name a part of the city that has not been bombed or attacked in some form. What of the many Sinhalese that aid terrorism for money? Crooked cops? State involvement (you’ve got my sympathies if you think this Govt isn’t up to its own foul games in order to have a tight grip). Identification is essential but I find the race factor in this context to be far more damaging. We are all citizens and we ought to be entitled to the same dignities if we have the necessary paperwork (which in reality doesn’t mean much at all). It may sound ridiculous and counter productive to the war on terror to some but fueling segregation is fueling terrorism.

    I don’t question that the policemen and army men are just doing their jobs. They put their lives on the line for an often invisible enemy, often supported by elements within their own ranks. But all this race segregation only provides more fuel for extremists to justify their struggle through terror. How long can Sri Lanka run checkpoints and operate like a police state? At the cost of basic human liberties, not just for Tamils but for everyone.

    Open your eyes to the fact that these people don’t want the war to end. It’s the source of their power and its the ultimate distraction..especially for the GOSL. To plunder state funds, to pin economic problems on (oh and the precious oil prices..). Think hard about who stands to gain from the fear psychosis created by all these attacks. How much time do we get to think about the things in our country that are so foul and wrong….beyond the war? How much accountability is there for all the politicians who are known (by so many sections of the public) theives? Why hasn’t the President been impeached?

    It doesn’t take much to realize …I might sound like a conspiracy theorist or a “traitor” ..though my attempts to assure you that I have worked in so many parts of the island to strive for progress…that may not convince you still….all i’m apposed to is this savage leadership we’ve had running our country. A real commitment to end this war can only be in the form of tackling the roots of inequality and putting a halt to all this segregation in any form. We have argued, killed and hated one another….to what gain? To make a whole generation of politicians and rebels rich and powerful beyond their wildest dreams.

    Meanwhile we have refugees on our own soil and infrastructure even war ravaged African nations would be ashamed to call their own.

  • shan Wickremasinghe

    Do you live outside of Sri Lanka or did you just arrived not long time ago?

  • rohanana

    The biggest question is how and why all this started? It is very simple as it has never been like this 30 years ago. Ruthless LTTE killers created this situation and that is exactly what they wanted, so that they can show the world how racist “Sinhala Buddhists” are. Especially the armed forces are in constant danger from these psychopath killers and they have every right to take care of their lives.

    This writer is asking questions as many so call writers, but they never have answers to those questions. Before you talk about them yo must have solutions or suggestions. So please grow up and put yourself in that persons situation and think like a grown up man.

  • oh the ever holy, ever patriotic, armed forces and police heroes, the protectors of the ‘white vans’!

  • Ekcol

    rohanana,
    have you forgotten 1956 and 1958 pogroms? may be you were not born then. pirapakarnan was in kindegarten then. look inside your own mind first before you put the blame on others.
    Duckie,
    you sound like a person who has arrived in a time capsule from the 25th century. Keep questioning but not too much or the authorities will put you into those “places” where Tamils are kept for ever without a trial and tortured.

  • I agree with Ekcol, Rohanana …your contention that its a matter of the “Ruthless LTTE” painting “Sinhalese Buddhists” as being utter racists for their gain…is rather ironically.. childish in itself.

    No conflict exists without two sides and each side contributes to it in varying proportions. While I find the militant wing of the Tamil struggle for seperation deplorable, I find their political struggle for equality to be extremely valid. To view the GOSL’s state terror as being merely “reactionary” to the LTTE’s… is naivety. The truth is that over the decades, the Govt…who are sadly..representative of the majority (but not all) Sinhala Buddhists have manipulated politics in their favour and committed a string of ruthless acts.
    I guess I must be hard for anyone but the non-Sinhalese to realize this. I feel successive generations of politics, more so today than ever have been duping the masses through the same old justification in order to getaway with murder and corruption. The reality is that as long as the Govt. posits that they murder for a cause….the supports of the LTTE will do the very same…

    You only need to ask a few logical questions to realize that. There is no such thing as a good side or a bad side …not anymore at least. There’s much blood on the hands of both sides. Are Tamil lives less worthy than Sinhala lives? To me we are made of the same flesh and bone…the killing of either is equally tragic and equally wrong…especially with regard to unarmed civilians. The notion that the GOSL is acting in the interests of national security ..to me…is a fundamental hypocrisy…what security do citizens have? Their supposed “advances” have come at such a huge cost…basic civil liberties….one can barely step out of Colombo without putting a bomb into context. I don’t cast blame towards the armed men on both sides of the conflict…they are the biggest losers in all this….they sacrifice their lives….while leaders play political games for their gain. It is up to the masses to realize the treachery that is afoot and act on it.

    ….Look beyond who plants the bomb…into why the bomb exists

  • ethnichybrid

    Its not that Duckie just arrived in Sri Lanka, it is that most Sinhalese people have never been hassled on account of their ethnicity, so its kinda new to them when they are at the receiving end. But kudos to Duckie for realizing that this sort of behaviour is wrong, we need more Sinhala citizens like duckie. secondly, in response to Salami who profers the stupid solution of adding race and religion to the ID card, Tamils have ID cards that are also written in Tamil, so in an instant, any one can detect that they are tamil and in this country unlike in Indonesia names are a dead give away. If we are going to act fascist at least let us then force everyone to use Sri Lankan names (at least one) in their names and if it is Sinhalese so be it. I know I am going to get slammed on this last suggestion but hey I am a minority and I for one dont mind having a Nelum or a rohan in my name. It only adds to the achchaaru we are in any case!

  • Abuddassa

    It’s the divide-and-rule policies of the British Raj that we are continuing blindly in independence+60 Sri Lanka. The bureaucracy they introduced required everyone to provide these ethnic and religious labels each and every time we have to engage any part of the public services that we, ultimately, finance and maintain.

    I had a different experience last year when I took my kind to Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital in Colombo shortly after she was bitten by a friend’s pet puppy who had not yet been vaccinated against rabies. Medical friends had advised me to seek treatment there. One of the routine questions the nurse at reception asked me was my religion, to which I now gleefully answer: No religion, I am finally civilised, thank you.

    She was taken aback, and asked what religion I was born into. I said by random chance I was born into a family that practised Buddhism, and the matronly nurse publicly admonished me (as if I was a six year old, and in front of my daughter who was 10) for giving up such a fantastic religion! (‘Ehema puluvanda aagama wenas karanna oyata one hetiyata. Kochchara wasanawantha da Buddhagame upadinna.’)

    My choice of religion was none of her bloody business, and was totally irrelevant to her job and my need, but this is the typical arrogance of Sri Lankan public services to tell us what religion we practise!