Colombo, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Last comment on Sri Lanka: Is the war really over?

[Editors note: This is Lionel Bopage’s second detailed response to the points brought up in his article Sri Lanka: Is the war really over? The first response and resulting comments can be read here.]

I doubt that a solution to Sri Lanka’s national question can be discussed in detail on a forum such as Groundviews without using up too much valuable space. However, if I may, I’d like to respond to the latest comments made about my original posting of Sri Lanka: Is the war really over?

I believe that the Sri Lanka diaspora cannot and should not prescribe a solution to the national question. Yet, the diaspora could make a positive contribution to assist the people of Sri Lanka, its government (GoSL) and others in the development of a solution to the national question.

However, I will try to briefly explain what I believe to be the principles that need to guide the development of a broad framework to address the major issues relating to the national question. I believe that it is essential to develop and implement a basic legal framework and other appropriate policy and procedural frameworks to ensure that every citizen of Sri Lanka, irrespective of his/her social, cultural, economic and political background, has access to fairness, justice, security, dignity, inclusivity and equity

In a basic sense, citizenship is exclusive in terms of entitlements and rights in a certain country in relation to other countries. However, the citizens of a country are considered equals if proclamations of equality in the Constitution, the laws, the human rights codes etc. ensure their formal equality. Typically, in a democracy, there are many freedoms associated with citizenship. In this sense, social inclusion goes beyond formal equality. It begins with the responsibility of society and government to work towards developing the talents and capacities of all its citizens in an equitable manner.

The root cause of national, socio-economic, political and cultural crises in Sri Lanka emanates from its national, economic, social, cultural and psychological servility. These crises are intricate, interwoven and inter-dependent. Some crises undoubtedly lead to others. National, social, cultural and political crises deepen when economic crises grow.

Policy development in Sri Lanka was and is forged in political opportunism, discrimination and exclusion based on politics of difference and identity. Policies of exclusion and disadvantage mutually reinforce each other. The major aspect of governance that led to the current circumstances was the extension of the feudal and neo-colonial policy of social exclusion to the days after 1948. This continues to date.

In a nutshell, by social exclusion I mean expropriation from a person or a community the fundamental rights of citizenship; i.e., right to a basic standard of living and to participate in social and economic opportunities in society. Such exclusion is achieved by trapping them to a vicious cycle of discrimination and disadvantage.

If we can understand the crux of all the youth insurrections in Sri Lanka, it is easy to comprehend that the basis for such struggles was to look for legitimacy as citizens of the country, to look for their place as equals to the rest of the society. The groups who have been marginalized developed their own sense of cohesion for contesting socio-economic oppression, discrimination and exclusion; factors that created a situation of economic, social, political and cultural disadvantage to many. Hence we need a new kind of politics leading to a different breed of social, economic and cultural attitudes that takes into account the issues of inclusivity and social justice.

To do this,, we need a fulsome discussion of poverty, racism and sexism and a holistic analysis of exclusion. Such a discussion needs to exceed the boundaries set by ‘marketable political products that are acceptable only to the majority’ – as some bourgeois and socialist bureaucrats tend to argue.
Such a discussion needs to rise above the limits set by essentialism and critically look at the hierarchies of oppression. It needs to promote an agenda of transformation of disrespectful, disparaging, oppressive, unjust and intolerant social and cultural attitudes towards one another.

The measure of success of social inclusion will be the extent to which such a policy promotes social cohesion in a society like ours, which is already fragmented along numerous fault lines. For example, as visible in many other developing countries, many streams of racist, religious and other fragmentations are also manifested in our society. Many governments do not allow such manifestations of faulty lines to grow and totally fragment and destroy their societies.

The corner stone for social policy development and the associated institutional policies and practices should be based on a policy framework that would bind socially and culturally diverse social movements together within a more inclusive, more just and equitable society. In such a conceptualisation, social inclusion can provide a coherent critique of the multiple forms of social injustices.

As I said at the beginning, the process of reconciliation and harmony has to begin with the responsibility of the society and its government to work towards developing the talents and capacities of all its citizens in an equitable manner. For this to become realpolitik, we need a new kind of politics leading to a different breed of social, economic and cultural attitudes that takes into account the issues of inclusivity and social justice.

With regard to other commentators I would like to add that they have not laid out any objective bases or evidence for their allegations. Regarding the bankruptcy of political programs of successive governments, one has only to look at the failure of implementation of any worthwhile initiatives over the last few decades.

  • Atheist

    Lionel Bopage

    I fully agree with your comments on the Sri Lankan Diaspora. Yes, and if they want to put their two cents it has to be constructive. The people living in the country should be the ultimate decision makers because of their continuous contribution to the local economy. The working poor – including women working in the Middle East and the young women in the free trade zone – are the economic backbone of Sri-Lanka. It is sad to say that no government is yet to acknowledge their contributions to society. Once in awhile we hear some politician paying lip service to this invisible segment come election time. Many of the activists have also neglected these hard working women, perhaps, because taking up their cause is not too fashionable these days.

    I have witnessed people who are struggling with just one meal a day. To earn this scant meal, these men and women have to toil in the sun and rain for minimum wage often under hazardous work conditions.

    If the Diaspora can make a meaningful contribution, it would be along the lines of eliminating poverty. Also, by investing in education through outreach work, the youth of Sri-Lanka – especially the rural and inner city youth – can gain long term benefits from such efforts by the Diaspora.

    The government must be sincere in bringing about strict laws that will deter racism and bigotry from gaining widespread dominance. Of course laws cannot prevent the average, ignorant Joe from harbouring racism and religious bigotry – this is even true of advanced, liberal western societies -however, even such a Joe will be too scared to act out on his/her chauvinism if the government truly means business.

    Human rights apply to all individuals regardless of ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation etc…It is up to us to stand up against all forms of violence in order to make Sri-Lanka a true home for humanity.

    Regards from the land of the Maple Leaf.

  • Pragmatist

    Me. Bopage is absolutely right in saying that “we need a new kind of politics leading to a different breed of social, economic and cultural attitudes that takes into account the issues of inclusivity and social justice”. The problem is in imagining that such a change is possible in a society where race and caste continues to play a huge role. The first myth that needs to be discarded is that the origin of sinhala and tamil people are different . The names, language and religion are all human adaptations. In fact it has been shown by reputed anthropologists that the two main races are mixed to the point that no one can really say who is a sinhalese and who is a tamil (I know this is a controversial issue to our cultural egos). Add to that the genetic contributions by the Portugese, Dutch and Brit colonial masters who enjoyed the women in the island. Once this myth is shattered, all others will crumble. But how do we accomplish this?

  • jan

    This is a holistic means of solving all the problems of society. For this one internal discussion not external pressure from India or the west. will be the vehicle. The politiciaans will have to shed their ethnic bias be it minority or majority and think in terms of a sri lankan identity.

  • dum

    Pragmatist said: Lionel Bopage played games with every government to suit his whim and fancies. LB wasnt sure of himself. He wrote books/articles to ensure his family will have a safe life.

  • Raf

    Basically Mr Lional Bopage’s contains nothing more than motherhood statements and will not help to resolve the national question. He is saying everything the former and present leaders have said in the past, such as equal value of citizenship, equality of opportunity, security for all. These statements while being true cannot in themselves help solve the issues we face today. What we need is concrete proposals that will help achieve these ideals. Mr Bopage does not suggest how this can be done. In my view the country needs fundermental reform.
    1. Change the system of education so that we can get rid of Sinhala , Tamil and Muslim schools. Our schooling system is the breeding ground of racism. Public schools should be national institutions and should never be clasified identified by race, religion or language.
    2. Teach the values of equal opportunity perticularly in the employment market. Establish laws to govern this without political interference.
    3. Establish a police force that is independant of the political masters so that they can provide equal protection and security to all citizens irrespective of race, religion and caste.
    4. Stop all forms of colanisation that are designed to change the demography of the areas as have been so successfully done in the past. This could be called Ethnic dilution of the minorities.
    I can suggest more items to be done but don’t intend to do so due to lack of time.

  • Pragmatist

    To dum:
    Please quote with accuracy. You seem typical of a vocal minority of my fellow countrymen who’d always jump at a chance to criticize someone. but they never have anything to contribute in ideas or in substance towards creating a better future. Have you heard the wise saying that, “if you have nothing good to say about someone, it is better to say nothing”.

  • Those who support the implementation of the 13th Amendment say that whatever its limitations it is a good basis for further improvement. On the contrary, the 13th Amendment is a recipe for disaster; it’ll be a breeding ground of disharmony and conflict.

    A “two-state solution” also will not bring peace either to the Tamil people or to the country as a whole. It’ll merely open a Pandora’s Box of a different form that would bring more war & misery to all communities.

    Those who want durable peace in Sri Lanka should turn towards the toxic Centre; and, tackle the real culprit of disharmony – i.e. the state-structures as a whole. All progressive political parties – Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim – should come together to form a united front to take the bull by the horns.

    As long as the Centre remains undemocratic, lop-sided & unequal, no amount of regional patchwork is going to work. In other words, regional democracy should be part of a radical transformation of the Centre. In particular, the central structures should be equipped with mechanisms to enable democratic representatives of all major communities to participate effectively – as equal partners – in the economic planning & development of the country.

    [There are many other significant aspects of democratization of the centre that have been widely discussed. But, none of them would effectively work unless there’s a fundamental change at the central structures that would physically institutionalize major communities’ central role in governance as equal partners.]

  • VeroJ

    Did someone say civil-society think-tank?