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Photo by Nazly Ahmed (@nazly)

I walk at Independence Square a couple of evenings a week. A friend who walks with me, asked why the Buddhist Flag was hoisted on the flag pole. To tell you the truth, I had not noticed the large rectangle of blue, yellow, red, white and orange fluttering in the wind. On my walks at the newly landscaped area, I admire  the root balled trees, appreciate the lights that come on automatically at 6pm, and in the fading light, take care not to trip on the granite paving squares that define the walkers’ route. With my floppy hat jammed on my head, I do not get the chance to look at the sky often. So, while I knew there was a flag flying I believed it was the national flag and did not give it too much thought, after all we were at Independence Square, what other flag would be there?

The two flags – the Buddhist flag and the National flag – have very different connotations. The Buddhist flag is made up of five colours denoting, loving kindness, peace and universal compassion with the blue stripe; the middle path of avoiding extremes and emptiness with the yellow stripe; blessings of achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity with the red stripe; the purity of Dharma, leading to liberation outside of time and space in the white stripe; and finally, the Buddha’s teachings and wisdom with the orange stripe. It stands for values that all of us, whatever our belief systems are, would treasure. Our National flag is also made of stripes and colours in addition to a sword saluting lion, but it means other things. For instance, the maroon background represents the majority Sinhalese people, the gold lion represents bravery and courage; the orange stripe represents the Tamil minority, the green stripe the Muslim minority. Finally, the four Bo leaves stand for the core principles of Buddhism: Metta, Karuna, Muditha and Upeksha. In theory both flags embody wonderful ideals, but in practice, they have become symbols of unease, oppression, tyranny, domination, injustice and inequality. It is not the fault of the flags – it is the fault of the people.

Writing at this time, July 2013, when I see the Buddhist flag flying at Independence Square, I am filled with a sense of foreboding. I find it hard to believe that those who fought hard for our independence would have wished any Sri Lankan citizen to have such a thought at any point of time. But these days, with seemingly perpetual unrest, many of us do.  I had three chances to give up my Sri Lankan citizenship and become a citizen of three different countries – one American, one European and one on the Pacific Rim. I did not entertain that thought for even a minute. It is a matter of pride that my mother chose to give birth to me in Sri Lanka rather than England where she lived through her pregnancy, rushing back home for her confinement and thus continuing the line of my family being born in this country for many generations and many hundreds if not at least a thousand  years. I was determined to remain a Sri Lankan at any cost. Through peacetimes and war times, like the Christian marriage vows, I was dedicated to my country in spirit even if not in service.

Post 1983, many of our Tamil brothers and sisters fled their birth-land in panic and terror. They felt quite clearly, and in many instances quite rightly, that this was no longer their home. It was no longer a place where they could live in peace and security. While I could empathize with them, I would never ever know what it really felt like. I could not even begin to guess because unless one has been there and gone through the suffering they did, one cannot know. For twenty-six years while the war fought on, the other minorities lived beneath the radar. If I am truly honest, perhaps there were even times when I was grateful the negative spotlight was on them and not on us. But I remember so clearly being told by one Tamil or another: Just wait and see, you will be next. At that time I did not believe it. I would not believe it. I didn’t want to believe it.

Today, there is another kind of war. It is fought on different battle grounds, but it is still a war. It is a war for the concept of home, and minorities don’t seem to be anywhere in the blueprint.

If you look at our recent history, Sri Lanka has not been good to her minorities. A radical difference from how her ancient Kings treated visitors and residents of the island. Ibn Batuta, Marco Polo, Fa Hien, Marignolli and Odoric, are just some of those who have come to this ancient island. They all speak of the hospitality and graciousness, generosity and prosperity of the country and its people. Colonialism brought us no choice. We were all under the white man, equal before his eyes as being his inferior. There was no difference between ethnicities, faith, colour or language, the colonizers saw us as one homogenous people who were there only to be exploited and ruled. The fight for independence was by all Sri Lankans. There was a hope that they could create a land, where no-one would be a second class citizen, where all citizens had a say in the destiny of the country and its people. Oh how wrong we were. How short-sighted, how naïve we would be proven in that belief. After colonialism, when Sri Lankans were in charge of their country and their affairs, one of the first responses was against the minorities. First the Burghers, then the Tamils, then Sinhalese Christians, Malays and Muslims began the slow exodus to other lands. Included in this trickle, flow, flood and deluge were a fair number of Sinhalese Buddhists.

In the today and now of Sri Lanka I wonder what I should do now? I am certain it is a question that a Tamil citizen would have had to face since 1983 if not earlier . Now it is the turn of the Muslims and soon it will be the turn of all other minorities to ask and wonder what they do now?

It is not a comforting thought and forces me to ask another question. One directed at my fellow citizens who are Sinhalese and more specifically who are Sinhalese Buddhists. What is it you want from us – your minorities?  Do you want us to be perpetual second class citizens? To cower down and bow whenever a member of the majority come close to us? To be grateful that we are allowed to live in this country and never forget it? To forget our own heritage and culture that has contributed so much to the collective culture, to remove our food from the menu, to change our names, to tape over our music and songs, to erase our books from the national libraries, to paint over our art, to dress differently and speak in only one tongue? Would that be enough? And if we cannot do that or more accurately if we do not want to do that, would you like us to disappear and where would you like us to go? Do the Tamils leave for Tamil Nadu, the Muslims for any other Muslim country, the Burgers for white Western countries and the Christians for any Christian country? Would you be happier then? I doubt it. Left with a homogenous country, infighting between classes, castes, professions, regions, towns and villages will continue. Of that I am certain.

Last weekend I went to Puttalam where I have my small piece of heaven. Where my Sinhala Catholic cook jokes and jostles with my Muslim labourer whom she has known since childhood. Where the bulldozer I have hired for the day is owned and driven by a Hindu Tamil who after a short chat invites me to his little cultivated plot of land and gifts me two kilos of freshly harvested peanuts. When I am there, I am at the receiving end of innumerable little gestures that make me feel welcome and wanted and loved on a daily basis. I wonder am I making this up? Am I romanticizing and reading too much into encounters that don’t really mean anything. Are they just being polite?

Almost daily, there is something in the news that makes me ask the question: where is my home? Is it where a Buddhist flag flies and where am I in it? Is it in Puttlam or any other small town or village where people live fairly amicably with each other despite their varying faiths, political affiliations and income levels. Or is it somewhere else? Is it with people who don’t understand when I speak of being given a dead-rope by some-one or call my friend machaan? Is it eating bread and cheese which, whilst I love, makes me dream of kade paan, pol sambol and fried eggs? Is it trying my tongue around another language and accent desperate to be understood? Is it smiling at a brown skinned girl at the farmers market and wondering where she is from? Of seeing a television advertisement for a sun bleached beach and grey green sea while I shiver at a snow covered railway station, waiting for the train? Is it always somewhere else and never here?

I lay the blame of where we are now, squarely on the shoulders of the state. Not just the state we have today, but the state from the time of independence. We have always had a political culture of vengeance and pettiness that can only feel good about itself only if they and only they alone are top dog. A position which has resulted in the building up of one community at the expense of all others. A state that does not represent all its people equally and impartially is not a true democracy. Sri Lanka does not do that for all its people. Simple logic then says: Sri Lanka is not a true democracy. Someone tell me differently for me to have hope.

Please.

  • Manjula

    Ameena,

    While I feel very sorry about how you felt, may be with anxiety, or may be with jealousy, or may be with patriotism, I think, it is part of human nature. I don’t surprise about it at all. In case if you instead saw some sort of a “Muslim flag or symbol” you probably felt differently, perhaps proudly, happily, inclusively etc etc. If that has happened I am sure you would not write this type of article subtly attacking your Muslim brothers and sisters for initiating a Muslim flag or symbol at the Independence Square, just like you in a subtle way excluded your blame for everyone else other than the Sinhalese Buddhists. You might find a good reason for that, be it Ramadan or anything else. That is exactly humans behave, that is they will always find something to be “mine” and other things to be “not mine” or “other’s”. Whenever there was something of “other’s”, they feel uncomfortable about it.

    I guess, the root cause for minorities to feel that they are 2nd class is the “democracy”. That is why I think in a country where democracy doesn’t exist, like in Saudi Arabia, minorities or non-Muslims are supposed to not to ask in their mind “To cower down and bow whenever a member of the majority come close to us? To be grateful that we are allowed to live in this country and never forget it?”. They are supposed to live there without thinking “What is it you want from us – your minorities? Do you want us to be perpetual second class citizens?”, but not a single Muslim person inside or outside of that country, not a single human rights champion in the world who are looking for avenues to survive etc will question or complain about it. That is strange isn’t it? Didn’t the two policies in the mind came to play just because the word “democracy”? People will argue, “if we are in a democracy, we have to be this and that”. Fine, so what is wrong if we go back to what we had in governance before the white man came and changed our system we had in Sri Lanka? A king and a monarchy and a dictatorship like in many Muslim countries. No one will complain and all the king had to do is to have some “powerful friends” around.

    The most surprising part in your article is that while the upper part paints a bleak picture of Sinhalese Buddhists as monstrous, cruel, rude, oppressive, dictatorial, unforgiving etc etc, the later part when you arrive at Puttalam (which is just another part of this cruel Buddhist Sri Lanka), you feel like gone to haven. See, you felt comfortable as soon as you saw that “mine” area and conveniently forgot that Sinhalese Buddhists have not oppressed, suppressed, chased, discriminated etc etc those so called “minorities” in Puttalam. When a Sinhalese Buddhist goes to Puttalam, he/she may feel pretty uncomfortable something they feel like not their “own”. That is the difference.

    I guess, the Buddhist flag at the independence square was raised recently for some Buddhist event like Vesak or Poson etc and may be forgotten to put away by some lousy lazy official responsible for that. I am pretty sure it was not raised to insult minorities who didn’t actively fought for Sri Lanka’s independence anyway.

    If you were hurt by seeing the Buddhist flag at a memorial in a country where more than 75% of the population are Buddhists, I can humbly apologize from you as a Sinhalese Buddhist if you feel good from my apology. I am a Buddhist and Buddhism does not live in books, buildings, or flags. It lives in people’s mind. Contrary to some other faiths you are very familiar with, Lord Buddha never said Buddhism will one day dominate the whole world, never said everybody in the world will be Buddhist (voluntarily or because because all the other people were killed). Instead he said Buddhism will vanish from this world in time to come, proving his theory that everything, absolutely everything in this world is impermanent.

    Ameena, at least that day is something you can look forwards to. Be patient.

    • Manjula – Interesting response!

      You also say that “..People will argue, “if we are in a democracy, we have to be this and that”. Fine, so what is wrong if we go back to what we had in governance before the white man came and changed our system we had in Sri Lanka?”

      The point is that we ARE in a democracy and by its definition, “Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination. …Democracy contrasts with forms of government where power is either held by one person, as in a monarchy, or where power is held by a small number of individuals, as in an oligarchy.”

      And then you say, “Buddhism does not live in books, buildings, or flags. It lives in people’s mind”. I absolutely agree with you there, so how do you see the extremist BBS and other similar groups? Do you think they are fit to be “Buddhist” priests in a so-called Theravada Buddhist society?

      • Off the Cuff

        Java Jones, thought provoking observation

        As you point out, we are in a Democracy and citizens participate equally in govt. As you observed, it “enables the free and equal practice of political self-determination” but in a Democracy, all decisions are taken by a majority consensus, whatever the composition of that majority is.

        Your views please.

        You ask a pertinent question “so how do you see the extremist BBS and other similar groups? Do you think they are fit to be “Buddhist” priests in a so-called Theravada Buddhist society?

        The BBS is extremist and so are the Religious Conversion Zealots that give an excuse for BBS to operate. As Manjula correctly observed Buddhism lives in the minds of people. People have failings whatever the religion they profess.

        Sri Lanka as a whole is 70.2% Buddhist but she as a whole is not a Buddhist society, Theravada or otherwise. She is Roman Catholic and Islamic on the coast. Hindu and Catholic in the North. Islamic and Hindu in the East and Hindu, Islamic, Christian and Buddhist elsewhere (including parts of East).

        Extremists have no place within Buddhist Clergy as the Clergy has to abide by a set of disciplinary guidelines called the “Vinaya”. Any person that does not abide by them is not a priest just because they wear the yellow robe, a symbol of the Buddhist Clergy.

        As you observed, Lanka is a Democracy and there are no rules preventing anyone wearing anything in public as long as it does not contravene indecent exposure laws.

        • Off the Cuff – “…but in a Democracy, all decisions are taken by a majority consensus, whatever the composition of that majority is.” I thought everyone knew that!

          Regarding “..Buddhist society..” – you’re right – my mistake. I should have said “…so-called ‘Buddhist’ country”. Sorry!

          I would also hope that your assertion that “Extremists have no place within Buddhist Clergy as the Clergy has to abide by a set of disciplinary guidelines called the Vinaya” is correct. But wonder if you mean that the BBS (and other like-minded groups in robes) are not considered priests by the “clergy”, and if they do, why they have not taken any action to discipline or dismiss them following their violence and aggression towards the Muslims and others.

          • Off the Cuff

            How did it become a Buddhist country when the society within is not solely Buddhist? True the majority are Buddhists (70.2% of them).

            You would then be calling it a Sinhala Country as the population is 75% Sinhala not withstanding the diversity within!

            You say ” I thought everyone knew that!”

            I also thought so until I saw the “enables the free and equal practice of political self-determination” part of your comment. Hence please explain who or what you were referring to, as the majority has shown their “self determination” is to remain as a single country.

            If you have a doubt about the “Vinaya” you can easily verify that by visiting the Wiki which says “The Vinaya Pitaka is a Buddhist scripture, one of the three parts that make up the Tripitaka. Its primary subject matter is the monastic rules for monks and nuns”

            Unlike in some other organised Clergy, the Buddhist Clergy has no power to disrobe a person even when the rules are not adhered to. Even you can put on a Yellow robe, do whatever you want within the law of the country, with complete disregard to the Vinaya Pitaka and still remain in the robe while the Buddhist Clergy looks on at your antics, powerless.

        • “but in a Democracy, all decisions are taken by a majority consensus, whatever the composition of that majority”

          But with safeguards to avoid majoritarianism, which is different to democracy.

          • Off the Cuff – you ask, “How did it become a Buddhist country when the society within is not solely Buddhist? True the majority are Buddhists (70.2% of them).You would then be calling it a Sinhala Country as the population is 75% Sinhala not withstanding the diversity within!”

            I thought that (in general) most folk here think of this as a ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ country – given relevant clauses in the constitution.

            “You say ” I thought everyone knew that!”I also thought so until I saw the “enables the free and equal practice of political self-determination” part of your comment. Hence please explain who or what you were referring to, as the majority has shown their “self determination” is to remain as a single country.”

            That quote came from Wiki’s definition of ‘Democracy’. I’m really not in the mood right now to engage in this sort of debate. You are welcome to your view – whatever it may be.

            “Unlike in some other organised Clergy, the Buddhist Clergy has no power to disrobe a person even when the rules are not adhered to. Even you can put on a Yellow robe, do whatever you want within the law of the country, with complete disregard to the Vinaya Pitaka and still remain in the robe while the Buddhist Clergy looks on at your antics, powerless.”

            Would they not have (at least) the good sense to distance themselves and Buddhism from the antics of these thugs in robes? Because, unlike you, a lot of people I know are not aware that the Sangha “has no power” to discipline or dismiss these and others of their kind who are obviously using Buddhism for their own insidious purposes.

          • Off the Cuff

            Agreed.

            I am interested in Java Jones’s argument for “the free and equal practice of political self-determination” and who or what he was referring to.

          • Off the Cuff

            Java Jones,

            You wrote “I thought that (in general) most folk here think of this as a ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ country – given relevant clauses in the constitution.”

            I do hope you can make good on that claim and prove that you are truthful.

            Please quote the clauses in the Constitution that states Lanka is a “Sinhala Buddhist” Country.

            You wrote You say ” I thought everyone knew that!”

            I quoted you from your 07/23/2013 • 5:25 pm comment. I did not author it as you falsely indicate.

            You wrote “That quote came from Wiki’s definition of ‘Democracy’.”

            Does that mean you will quote from anywhere without an understanding of what you quote?
            That figures.

            You wrote “I’m really not in the mood right now to engage in this sort of debate.”

            I am questioning what you have written, especially your statement about self determination. Are you unable to clarify because you are clueless about what you parroted from the Wiki?

            To my knowledge there is no power to prohibit a person from wearing the Yellow Robe. If you have such knowledge please quote an authoritative source.

            A ‘parajika’ offence causes automatic disrobing under Rule 31 though the errant monk could continue to pretend to be a monk. In the case of the BBS, they have a following (of thousands) who accepts them as monks though that following is still an insignificant minority amongst the 14 million Buddhists. You are right, the Sangha should have distanced themselves from the extremists.

            BTW you have posted your reply under David Blacker’s comment. Hence I have responded under it.

          • OTC, the reference to political self-determination is one of the same clauses I was referring to which are there to prevent majoritarianism, or the power of a ethnic majority to action policies that might be favourable only to them or detrimental to the minorities. This could take many forms, from federalism to a fixed percentage of representation in government, to a right of appeal to some higher body, etc.

      • Off the Cuff

        Yes David I agree. But it is not a blank cheque that can be used to force a Minority Aspiration over a Majority Aspiration. It cannot be used to unfairly dominate a majority by a minority.

        There is no universally accepted agreement as to the scope of the right to self-determination according to the Australian AG. I am not aware of any Immigrant dominated Nation (USA, Canada, Australia etc) allowing secession or partitioning of their countries with the original inhabitants claiming a major/disparate share of the Land resources of those countries, under the guise of political self determination. There is however, a general agreement as to the minimum. It is about the right of a people to have control over their destiny and to be treated respectfully.

        The Right to Self determination is bandied about often. Java Jones did so in his comment. I would await Java Jones’s vision of the political self determination before elaborating further.

        • I think you are assuming many things here, OTC. Java simply gave you the accepted definition of democracy, and I answered your question on the clause. You have now assumed that this is part of an argument on defining self-determination. It is not.

          What the acceptable model of self-determination is must be a separate discussion, and must be tailored according to the individual nation. To assume that Tamil self-determination based on geographic lines will be according to the Tiger-defined Eelam borders (I presume this is what you’re getting at) is to jump to conclusions. However, in the case of Quebec in Canada and Scotland in the UK, the plebiscite on separation was confined to the residents of those territories and not the entire population of the country.

          Self-determination doesn’t apply to immigrants; ie immigrants don’t necessarily have the right to demand self-determination. In the Case of SL, none of the communities involved are immigrant.

          • Thanks David – saved me the hassle of responding to OTC’s challenges. Actually I’m much too laid back to have to indulge in exercises of this type – it takes far too much energy for such little gratification. All I wanted to do was provide a more realistic view to Manjula’s “If” argument – and the provision of Wiki’s (partial) definition of ‘democracy’ was in order to clarify that it isn’t possible to “..go back to what we had in governance before the white man came and changed our system we had in Sri Lanka”.

            That’s all!

          • Off the Cuff

            David, no assumptions are made.

            Java stated that “It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination” I requested for Java’s views in my very first response because there is no universally accepted definition of that. It means many things to many people. Hence Java needs to clarify what he intended to convey by his statement. Minimally, it is generally understood to mean the right of a people to have control over their destiny and to be treated respectfully. That is an easily understood and a justifiable concept.
            It is a human right.
            Did Java imply anything more?
            I don’t know the answer. Only Java knows that.
            The direction the discussion moves will depend on his answer.

            Java Jones,

            I note that you have avoided providing references from the SL Constitution in support of your claim that “most folk here think of this as a ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ country – given relevant clauses in the constitution.”

            It is not a surprise because there is no such clause in existence.
            Please don’t make such inflammatory and FALSE claims in the future.
            Sri Lanka is NOT a Sinhala Buddhist Country.
            The “Sinhala Buddhist” epithet is used derogatorily by separatists and religious extremists.

            You now claim “provision of Wiki’s (partial) definition of ‘democracy’ was in order to clarify that it isn’t possible to “..go back to what we had in governance before the white man came and changed our system we had in Sri Lanka”

            No sane person would have thought it was even remotely possible to return to a Monarchy for you or anyone to make an argument against it. Was Manjula advocating it? I think it was hypothetical rhetoric meant to show up what he saw as a fallacy in Ameena’s article.

            David, USA, Australia and Canada are a few examples of countries which are controlled by western immigrants whose domicile history does not reach beyond 1600AD for USA and 1800AD for Canada and 1780AD for Australia. All of us in SL are immigrant (except the Veddhas) but our domicile history is much deeper than the three countries I mentioned.

            Quebec is an enigma. Human domicile did not commence with the French. The people who are today called First Nation (original inhabitants) does not have an option to govern the resources they owned before colonisation, just about 200 years ago. Hence the boundary of Quebec (or whatever it was called by the original inhabitants) is not what it is today.

            If we ignore the above, both Quebec and Scotland have defined and accepted boundaries. That is not the case in SL, where only historical claims (pseudo and otherwise) and counter claims exist.

        • OTC, you’re assuming that Java has an opinion on self-determination that or is interested in defining it. On the face of what he has written he is basically saying that such a clause is necessary. I explained to you that the makeup of the clause must be tailored to the country in question. What isn’t up for debate is that the clause must be there. You seem to be badgering Java into debating you by making provocative insinuations as to his motives, and he’s clearly uninterested in your bait.

          The clause in the constitution that requires the President to give Buddhism the foremost place would lead many people to assume this is a Buddhist country since one religion is given special attention. The fact that we have a constitutional history of favouring the Sinhalese language will lead many people to make the assumption that it is a Sinhalese country.

          The USA, Australia and Canada may have been originally created as nations by immigrants, but they no longer consider themselves to be thus. So domicile history is relative to the communities within a nation rather than internationally. Anglo-Saxons in the US feel as native as as they do in the UK.

          Defined boundaries in the UK and Canada have been mutually agreed upon, as they have been in SL. In the latter case the current provincial borders of the Northern and Eastern Provinces is accepted by all who agree on a united SL. There is a disagreement on pre-colonial borders — as there are on many pre-colonial things — and I think, like everything else pre-colonial, it should be left aside. Too much time has been spent under colonial rule to really return to any concepts of governance before that.

          Beyond that, I’m not sure what your point is in bringing up immigrants.

          • Off the Cuff

            David,

            Instead of making assumptions I asked what Java Jones meant.
            He has not stated his view to date, hence we are sill in the dark.

            Java Jones stated that “… (in general) most folk here think of this as a ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ country – given relevant clauses in the constitution”

            I asked him to quote the relevant clauses from the constitution that supports his claim but that has not been forthcoming. Please note that he was trying to give credibility to bigotry by claiming it is entrenched in the SL Constitution when it is not.

            There are no clauses in the Constitution that supports a “Sinhala Buddhist Country” claim.

            “The fact that we have a constitutional history of favouring the Sinhalese language will lead many people to make the assumption that it is a Sinhalese country.”

            But that Constitutional history cannot be used to insinuate the present.

            US Constitutional history of segregation and favoured status of the whites have no relevance today as is the language issue of SL.

            Making assumptions is one thing David, but claiming those assumptions have validity within the Constitution is quite another. That’s what Java did.

            “…..Buddhism the foremost place would lead many people to assume this is a Buddhist country since one religion is given special attention.”

            True. But that does not translate to a Sinhalese Buddhist combination within the Constitution.

            How about Tamil Buddhist, Eurasian Buddhist etc. Religion is given special attention but not in combination with a singular ethnicity as Java claimed. I too do not agree with that clause but I cannot see the justification of attaching an ethnicity to it, can you?

            I will respond to the rest later.

            BTW. I noticed your reply only today (did you see it earlier?). Sorry for the delayed response.

          • “Instead of making assumptions I asked what Java Jones meant.
            He has not stated his view to date, hence we are sill in the dark.”

            Perhaps he has no opinion on it, beyond what he has stated.

            “I asked him to quote the relevant clauses from the constitution that supports his claim but that has not been forthcoming. Please note that he was trying to give credibility to bigotry by claiming it is entrenched in the SL Constitution when it is not.”

            That isn’t my understanding of what JJ said. He said that certain constitutional clauses have led people to believe that this is a Sinhalese Buddhist country.

            “There are no clauses in the Constitution that supports a “Sinhala Buddhist Country” claim.”

            I quoted for you the clause on the executive president’s duties and the history of favouring the Sinhalese language.

            “But that Constitutional history cannot be used to insinuate the present.”

            Opinion or perception is formed because of historical precedents and the present is a result of history, so we can.

            “US Constitutional history of segregation and favoured status of the whites have no relevance today as is the language issue of SL.”

            US constitutional history certainly is relevant today, as we can see even the US president being subjected to racial prejudice. Anyone who thinks historical events have no relevance to the presence is basically establishing the huge problem Sri Lanka faces, ie of being unable to learn from history or apply those learnings.

            “Making assumptions is one thing David, but claiming those assumptions have validity within the Constitution is quite another. That’s what Java did.”

            Which part of JJ’s comment do you believe to be an assumption; that many people believe this to be a Sinhalese Buddhist country, or that our constitutional history has contributed to that belief? I believe that the first point is fact, and that there are prejudicial clauses in our constitutional history. That the latter has led to the former is JJ’s deduction, and I agree with him.

            “True. But that does not translate to a Sinhalese Buddhist combination within the Constitution.How about Tamil Buddhist, Eurasian Buddhist etc. Religion is given special attention but not in combination with a singular ethnicity as Java claimed. I too do not agree with that clause but I cannot see the justification of attaching an ethnicity to it, can you?”

            Given that 99.9% of Buddhists in SL are Sinhalese, and given the clauses on language in the past do in fact contribute to that very combination.

          • Off the Cuff

            David,

            “Perhaps he has no opinion on it, beyond what he has stated”

            Perhaps or perhaps he was caught out in a lie.

            “That isn’t my understanding of what JJ said. He said that certain constitutional clauses have led people to believe that this is a Sinhalese Buddhist country”

            Yes. These are his words “given relevant clauses in the constitution”

            What are those Constitutional Clauses?
            It’s a plural that he used David.

            “I quoted for you the clause on the executive president’s duties”

            You are adducing to section 9, I believe.

            9. Buddhism.
            The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).

            The above relates to Religion and and I agreed with you.
            But I see no reference to ethnicity in it.

            Perhaps there is another clause within the constitution that ethnicity is referred to but I could not find any. Could you please quote the clauses that you are relying upon? James Jones refuses to do that.

            “and the history of favouring the Sinhalese language”

            This is like a beggars wound. Never allowed to heal.
            Section 18 and 19 of the Constitution deals with Language.

            18. Official Language.
            (1) The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala.
            (2) Tamil shall also be an official language.
            (3) English shall be the link language.
            (4) Parliament shall by law provide for the implementation of the provisions of this Chapter.

            19. National Languages.
            The National Languages of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala and Tamil.

            I cannot see the purported favouritism.
            May be I have overlooked the clauses that you and James Jones are relying on. Could you please quote them?

            “US constitutional history certainly is relevant today, as we can see even the US president being subjected to racial prejudice.”

            The purpose of quoting the US Constitution history as an example was to show that the Current US Constitution or Law does not propagate the Historical US constitution or Law that upheld Segregation.

            We are discussing a Constitution not prejudices in society. Does the US Constitution or Law support subjecting Obama to racial prejudice? If so quote them.

            “Given that 99.9% of Buddhists in SL are Sinhalese, and given the clauses on language in the past do in fact contribute to that very combination.”

            I am not sure about the numbers as you have not supported them. It is true that 70% are Buddhists and 30% are Non Buddhists. How many NON Buddhist Sinhalese do we have? 1 million? Non Buddhist Non Sinhalese? 6 million?

            Whatever that is, it has no relevance to the constitution. James Jones claimed that it was embedded in the constitution when it is not so. That’s why he is silent.

          • “Perhaps or perhaps he was caught out in a lie.”

            What lie? The clauses are there and the opinion is there. You just seem to be goading somebody to engage you by calling them names. You can’t force people to talk to you when they can’t be bothered. And being obnoxious about it will not get you anywhere.

            “What are those Constitutional Clauses?
            It’s a plural that he used David.”

            I have already answered this twice, OTC. What seems to be the problem?

            “The above relates to Religion and and I agreed with you.
            But I see no reference to ethnicity in it.”

            I have already explained to you my reasoning on this. Please read my previous comment before responding, thanks. It’ll save time.

            “This is like a beggars wound. Never allowed to heal.
            Section 18 and 19 of the Constitution deals with Language.”

            Again, I have already explained twice to you how historical events influence current opinion. Your refusal to actually read the responses made to you will eventually lead people to ignore you as JJ has already wisely done. If you want to discuss something you must be willing to listen to the other POV.

            “I cannot see the purported favouritism.
            May be I have overlooked the clauses that you and James Jones are relying on. Could you please quote them?”

            I have already dealt with this point in my last comment. Please read it.

            “The purpose of quoting the US Constitution history as an example was to show that the Current US Constitution or Law does not propagate the Historical US constitution or Law that upheld Segregation.”

            Has anyone claimed that it does? Again, I have clearly made my point about history influencing the present. Please read my last comment.

            “We are discussing a Constitution not prejudices in society. Does the US Constitution or Law support subjecting Obama to racial prejudice? If so quote them.”

            We are NOT discussing the constitution 😀 JJ was talking about public opinion and prejudices. He pointed out that the latter has been influenced by the constitution. But I can understand your preference to just deal with a part of the point exclusively since the whole would not be defensible.

            “I am not sure about the numbers as you have not supported them. It is true that 70% are Buddhists and 30% are Non Buddhists. How many NON Buddhist Sinhalese do we have? 1 million? Non Buddhist Non Sinhalese? 6 million?”

            But how many non-Sinhalese Buddhists are there in SL? Ten, a hundred? My point is that almost ALL Buddhists are Sinhalese, and the vast majority of Sinhalese are Buddhist, so a favouring of Buddhists is a favouring of Sinhalese. The fact that right wing groups have deeply entrenched their ideology as Sinhalese Buddhism therefore makes the connection beyond realistic debate. I’m sure that won’t stop you attempting to debate it, but just so you know what my POV is.

            “Whatever that is, it has no relevance to the constitution. James Jones claimed that it was embedded in the constitution when it is not so. That’s why he is silent.”

            He hasn’t made any such claim. Don’t make up stuff in your desperate attempt to bully a response out of him. He probably hasn’t even noticed all your hair-splitting semantics.

          • And i don’t believe James Jones has ever visited SL or made any comment on our country.

          • Off the Cuff

            David,

            “What lie? The clauses are there and the opinion is there.”

            The opinion is there but the CLAUSES are not there.
            If these MULTIPLE clauses are there, reproduce them.
            That will end this discussion in yours and JJ’s favour.

            This is Java’s statement (07/25/2013 • 5:24 pm)

            “I thought that (in general) most folk here think of this as a ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ country – given relevant clauses in the constitution”

            In making the above statement Java Jones claims that

            1. According to most folks SL is a ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ Country.
            2. There are at least TWO clauses in the SL Constitution that support that opinion.

            Please note he used the PLURAL ‘CLAUSES’ and not the Singular ‘CLAUSE’. Hence there should be more than one clause that supports JJ’s contention. Some may call this semantics when they cannot break an argument. But I raised this point (07/26/2013 • 3:22 am), the moment Java used the constitution.

            Number 1 is an opinion. Number 2 is a Lie. I am dealing with both, not a part of it.

            There are NO clauses within the SL Constitution that supports his claim, not even one. Java Jones could not produce it and you haven’t produced it yet.

            My POV is that no one should use the Constitution to justify their opinions unless they are prepared to prove what they say by quoting the Constitution.

            “I have already answered this twice, OTC. What seems to be the problem?”

            No you haven’t David, not even once.
            But you have tried to circumvent it.
            You used Section 9 (without naming it). I reproduced section 9. It proves SL is not secular. There is no argument there. I have accepted it. However your extended inference is not supported by the Constitution. 5% of the SL population are Sinhalese non Buddhist. Hence you cannot show ethnic favouritism towards the Sinhalese using Buddhism.

            What is this great difficulty of reproducing the Constitutional Clauses that is claimed to exist?

            I say it is not there because it simply does not exist.
            you say it is there and go on to explain an inference. But my call for you to reproduce these elusive ‘CLAUSES’ have drawn a blank.

            No explanation is needed David.
            Simply reproduce from the SL Constitution the CLAUSES that are claimed to exist. End of discussion.

            “I have already explained to you my reasoning on this”

            I have read them carefully and I respect your POV. The SL Constitution (which I quoted) contradicts your opinion about Language. But this is not about a POV (yours or mine). Its about hard facts. It’s about the existence or non existence of sectarianism, discrimination, racial bias (which constitute bigotry) in the SL Constitution. Java made this in to a discussion about the SL Constitution when he used the Constitution as evidence to give legitimacy to his opinion.

            I have reproduced the relevant CLAUSES that proves Java Jones was untruthful. He cannot counter them and that’s why he is silent.

            If you or Java or anyone else can quote from the SL Constitution in support of JJ’s stated opinion, then I stand corrected and I would extend my apologies to Java, you and the GV readership. But till then, though the SL Constitution is not Secular, it certainly is not bigoted.

            Java, my apologies for misaddressing you as James Jones. Thank you David for pointing out my error.

          • “The opinion is there but the CLAUSES are not there.
            If these MULTIPLE clauses are there, reproduce them.
            That will end this discussion in yours and JJ’s favour.”

            I have referred you to the clauses; namely the one on the Prez giving Buddhism the foremost place (I thibnk you’ve accepted it’s actually there though you seem bemused as to its relevance), and the clauses historically favouring Sinhalese as a language and as a people (Sinhala Only, etc). Now, do you deny that these clauses exist or have existed?

            “Number 1 is an opinion. Number 2 is a Lie. I am dealing with both, not a part of it. There are NO clauses within the SL Constitution that supports his claim, not even one. Java Jones could not produce it and you haven’t produced it yet.”

            I have referred you to it for the FIFTH time, OTC. If you can’t be bothered to read my comments I will have to stop responding to you.

            “My POV is that no one should use the Constitution to justify their opinions unless they are prepared to prove what they say by quoting the Constitution.”

            How can you prove an opinion? 😀

            “No you haven’t David, not even once. But you have tried to circumvent it.”

            That is your opinion, based on your misunderstanding of JJ’s point. I cannot help you with that.

            “You used Section 9 (without naming it). I reproduced section 9. It proves SL is not secular. There is no argument there. I have accepted it.”

            It would have been truly amazing if you hadn’t.

            “However your extended inference is not supported by the Constitution. 5% of the SL population are Sinhalese non Buddhist. Hence you cannot show ethnic favouritism towards the Sinhalese using Buddhism.”

            If you believe that pointing out that a tiny portion of the population being not Buddhist Sinhalese justifies your claim that a favouring of Buddhism is not a favouring of Sinhalese, I will leave you to your delusions. I do not possess the necessary faculties to deal with your brand of logic 😀

            “What is this great difficulty of reproducing the Constitutional Clauses that is claimed to exist?”

            I have referred you to the existing well-known clause and you have done the unnecessary (but apparently self-satisfying) detail of reproducing it. The historical clauses (and I have quite clearly told you they are historical ones, not existent ones) cannot be reproduced because they do not exist anymore. The fact is that they DID exist and have influenced SL opinion. If you wish me to reproduce for you the Sinhala Only Act or point out the debates on the removal of minority right to privy council appeal in the 1971 constitution, I just can’t be bothered. If you believe that these never existed, I’m afraid I’ve run out of patience with your pretenses.

            “I have read them carefully and I respect your POV. The SL Constitution (which I quoted) contradicts your opinion about Language.”

            As has explained to you, the clauses on language are HISTORICAL ones (not current) which have LED to current opinion. Your inability to understand JJ is truly astounding.

            “But this is not about a POV (yours or mine). Its about hard facts. It’s about the existence or non existence of sectarianism, discrimination, racial bias (which constitute bigotry) in the SL Constitution.”

            No, it is not. It is about constitutional clauses having led to current opinion. It was to simplify this debate that I asked you a couple of points which you conveniently avoided answering. I suspect the latter is due to your unwillingness to have the wind taken out of your sails. Why not answer those questions since you are so indignant that JJ is not obliging you.

            “Java made this in to a discussion about the SL Constitution when he used the Constitution as evidence to give legitimacy to his opinion.”

            Only if you believe that someone claiming that the constitution is written on paper is opening a discussion about the constitution.

            “I have reproduced the relevant CLAUSES that proves Java Jones was untruthful. He cannot counter them and that’s why he is silent.”

            You haven’t proven anything, since you haven’t even understood what JJ is saying. He is silent because he thinks you’re an idiot who he can’t be bothered with. He more or less said that in his only response to you. You are looking like a drunk shouting outside an empty house, claiming that the landlord is a coward who won’t fight you 😀 Don’t you have anything better to do?

            “If you or Java or anyone else can quote from the SL Constitution in support of JJ’s stated opinion, then I stand corrected and I would extend my apologies to Java, you and the GV readership. But till then, though the SL Constitution is not Secular, it certainly is not bigoted.”

            You have been referred to the relevant clauses. If you claim that only quoting them verbatim will satisfy you, honestly I can’t be bothered. If you believe the clauses I have named do not and never have existed, you’re welcome to that opinion. Correcting you or receiving your apology are quite low on my priority list.

          • Burning_Issue

            “You haven’t proven anything, since you haven’t even understood what JJ is saying. He is silent because he thinks you’re an idiot who he can’t be bothered with. He more or less said that in his only response to you. You are looking like a drunk shouting outside an empty house, claiming that the landlord is a coward who won’t fight you Don’t you have anything better to do?”

            It is interesting; I would not class OTC as an “idiot” for from it. He is rather a calculated individual who is insidiously promoting Sinhala Buddhist Supremacy under the guise of democracy and equality. He wants the majority population proportionally distributed throughout the country; his disguised objectives are:

            1. The majority perpetuates power regardless of provincial based devolution
            2. The Sinhala language and Buddhism enshrined throughout the country.

            OTC is intellectually dishonest when he refuses to accept the fact that the Sinhala and Buddhism in Sri Lanka are inseparable though a good portion of it is Christians. The clause giving a foremost place for Buddhism in the Sri Lankan Constitution is not ill thought from the Sinhala Buddhist Chauvinistic perspective; it was brought in to supplement the Sinhala Only crystallising Sinhala Buddhist Hegemony. The likes of JHU and BBS believe that they have Constitutional backing when they attack the minorities. The real test will be at the court of law; so far, the courts have successfully avoided this situation. In the instance of Trinco Buddha statue, the Judge lent on certain people to avoid ruling! There are no two ways about it; giving Buddhism a foremost place in the constitution is a big hindrance to national reconciliation and building a common Sri Lankan identity.

          • Off the Cuff

            David,

            “You haven’t proven anything, since you haven’t even understood what JJ is saying. He is silent because he thinks you’re an idiot who he can’t be bothered with. He more or less said that in his only response to you. You are looking like a drunk shouting outside an empty house, claiming that the landlord is a coward who won’t fight you Don’t you have anything better to do?”

            Java Jones was making a statement about the present.

            “I thought that (in general) most folk here think of this as a ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ country – given relevant clauses in the constitution.” </b)

            If anyone thinks that the emphasised text refers to the past or that it refers to a singular clause, then his/her language skills and intelligence would be questionable.

            JJ wrote about the present.
            I questioned him about the present.
            You are harping about the past.
            Who is confused?

            The Constitution in sections 18 and 19 provides PARITY for Sinhala and Tamil as a National Language and as an Official Language. If you don't agree please QUOTE from the Constitution.

            You cannot use the Primacy status of Buddhism in section 9 to negate the very specific Parity status of Language given in Sections 18 & 19!

          • Off the Cuff

            Dear GV Moderator,

            I am glad to see an intellectually honest and proficient debater such as Burning Issue entering the debate.

            However he has opened subject matter which though very current and appropriate to the times, would take me far afield to respond effectively. It would require discussion of devolution, the 13A, primacy clause of the constitution, equality, equitable distribution of Lanka’s resources etc. All these matters have been discussed in the past but Burning Issue has been unsuccessful in defending his position.

            Though the subject matter that BI raises are outside the scope of the article in question I would appeal to the Groundviews moderators to allow the discussion to proceed to allow him another chance at defending his position. Please confirm your acquiescence.

            Burning Issue

            Please be patient with me. I have requested permission from GV to respond comprehensively to your comment. I will do so if they agree.

            However, I can respond to the following as it has already been discussed above.

            “2. The Sinhala language and Buddhism enshrined throughout the country.”

            Is Tamil Language not enshrined throughout the Country given the following clauses in the Constitution? I believe it is.

            Are you of the view that the constitutional PARITY status of the two languages is unjustified and that Tamil being the older language, should have a higher status than Sinhala? Please give your reasons.

            18. Official Language.
            (1) The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala.
            (2) Tamil shall also be an official language.
            (3) English shall be the link language.
            (4) Parliament shall by law provide for the implementation of the provisions of this Chapter.

            19. National Languages.
            The National Languages of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala and Tamil.

            Are you reading Constitutional clauses 18 and 19 for the FIRST time or are you feigning ignorance?

            Please read the complete debate between David and me for my POV on the primacy status of Buddhism.

          • Best you take up the points of contention bilaterally with ‘Burning Issue’.

          • OTC, I have nothing further to add to this debate beyond repeating myself. I have so far found no effective method to make a horse drink once I have led it to the water.

          • Burning_Issue

            “s Tamil Language not enshrined throughout the Country given the following clauses in the Constitution? I believe it is.”

            If the Tamil Language has parity with the Sinhala Language in Sri Lanka and it has been implemented with deeds, no right-thinking Tamil will vote for TNA! It is like trying to bury a whole pumpkin in a plate of rice trying to pretend that the Tamil language has parity status in Sri Lanka!

            Why not you come out clean and say that, by artificially manipulating the demography of Sri Lanka with the Sinhala distributed proportionally throughout, you intend to make the Tamils a minority group nation-wide thus enshrining the Sinhala language as a primary language; and by passage of time, the Tamil language will be limited to home use only by default!

          • Off the Cuff

            Burning Issue,

            “If the Tamil Language has parity with the Sinhala Language in Sri Lanka and it has been implemented with deeds, no right-thinking Tamil will vote for TNA!”

            Moving the goal posts?
            You were discussing the Constitution!
            Now you are talking about implementation.
            Yes there is a problem in the South due to a dearth of State officials competent in Tamil. Is that different to the problems of a Sinhalese in the Tamil speaking areas?

            A right thinking Tamil will use the Supreme Law to establish his/her rights instead of stirring the ethnic pot.

            Here is a TRUE story.

            Shanmugaratna Iyar was to be ejected from a premises in Kotahena. His lawyer filled answer in Tamil with an English copy. The Addl District judge of Colombo ordered the defendant to provide Sinhala translations. The case went up to the Supreme Court.

            At that time Article 18 and 19, of the Constitution declared that
            “The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala” and that “the National languages of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala and Tamil”.

            However Article 24(2) of the Constitution declared that
            “Any party or applicant or any person legally entitled to represent such party or applicant may initiate proceedings and submit to Court pleadings and other documents and participate in the proceedings in Court in either of the National languages.”

            The Supreme Court judges, Samarakoon CJ and Thamotheram J delivering order UPHELD the defendants Constitutional Rights and quashed the District Court Judge’s order.

            S.C. REFERENCE No. 1/80, C. A. (LA.) 85/79, C. A. (REVISION) 1920/79, JANUARY 27, 1980.

            Please note that then, unlike today, the Official Language was ONLY Sinhala. That did not prevent the Constitutional Rights of a Tamil to his Language being upheld.

            Do you see where you are going wrong?

            “Why not you come out clean and say that, by artificially manipulating the demography of Sri Lanka with the Sinhala distributed proportionally throughout, you intend to make the Tamils a minority group nation-wide thus enshrining the Sinhala language as a primary language; and by passage of time, the Tamil language will be limited to home use only by default!”

            On the contrary, I propose to preserve the demography by shedding the surplus Land. Not ALL land in the North or East is populated. Are you insisting on holding on to a disproportionate quantum of Land to deprive the rest?

            But the 13A envisages what you are adducing to and it is already part of the Supreme Law of the Land forced on Sri Lanka by India.

            It is wiser to educate yourself on the subject matter before deciding to write.

          • Off the Cuff

            “I have nothing further to add to this debate beyond repeating myself. I have so far found no effective method to make a horse drink once I have led it to the water”

            My sentiments exactly David. I don’t have any language confusions. Thank you for an interesting discussion.

  • Ramo

    Like Ameena even the Buddhists have uncomfortable with certain alien habits adopted by Muslims. Yes…the black clothed women who have adopted the Arab culture as part of the religion of Islam. The Muslim ladies of yesteryear wore a “Muslimized” version of the saree while the girls wore the Pakistani Shalwar kameez. All that changed after the ME opened its doors. Without sticking to time-worn Sri Lankan Muslim culture an alien culture (albeit from an Islamic country) was imbibed with gusto. It is time for local Muslim women to adhere to Islam and NOT cover their faces and get rid of the awful black cloth and replace them with coloured ones. The inter-communal camaraderie is flourishing in foreign countries as well as among young businessmen in Pettah, Thank God.
    Manjula: There are Buddhist places of worship in Oman and Bahrain as well as for other faiths. There’s even a Sri Lankan Omani who is still a Buddhist, I’m told. Let’s not point fingers. Sri Lanka is a blessed and unique country. We have to cherish and nourish “ape kama”. Let the “lokaya” do whatever they want, let’s mend fences here and now. We have to start afresh.

    • Ken

      Ramo,

      I presume you have lived in Oman from your comment. Thanks for emphasizing on tolerance and for giving us a perspective that we do not hear in the mainstream media.
      I must admit that I am no expert on Oman or the Middle east but I have read that the Omani’s do consider themselves as Ibadis and the Bahrainis are predominantly Shias. From what I have read these two sects have not been accepted by some in the greater Sunni community.
      I am curious to know if the Omani’s identify themselves as Ibadis first for a National identity or is this not an issue when they talk about identity and politics? Could this be the reason as to why they are more tolerant to accept other religions in their State?
      Thanks.

      • Ramo

        Dear Ken,
        I’m not resident in Oman but have been there. Ibadis, Sunni, Shias etc didn’t exist during the time of Pr. Muhammad. The Shias are a political offshoot that sprung just after his death (due to a disagreement on Pr. Muhammad’s successor)the Ibadis, Hmabalis et al are followers of certain Imams. But personally, most of us don’t give a damn what our fellow Muslims are. But in certain countries like Bahrain, Lebanon, Pakistan and Syria silver-tongued Mullahs spew fire and brimstone speeches that drive simple-minded people to a frenzy and thereafter create chaos. Bin Laden was that. Why the hell he couldn’t leave God’s business to Him and enjoy the millions his family make on a regular basis, is beyond me.Last night I was a schoolmate’s daughter’s wedding and many of my classmates (Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindu)were there. After the numerous bear hugs and telling the wives what rascals the other had been – one question that perplexed us was what had happened to the world that we knew during our schooldays (we are all in our mid-sixties. We had no answer to that!

  • Bo

    Dear Ameena,

    To start with, I am not a fan of Sri Lankan democracy. I do agree that SL democracy is only for namesake. For the simple reason of seemingly manipulated elections. Democracy may be described and analysed in thousand view points, but it starts with free and fair elections. Then the majority’s “will” will be in action. It is clear that your worry about SL not having democracy is not about not having fair elections. You got your point wrong their itself.

    I just can’t believe that “Groundviews” has now become the platform for impulsive writers who would get worked up by seeing a Buddhist flag at the Independence Square of Sri Lanka. However, you may enjoy the freedom of expression. Can you remember the times when Independence Square being surrounded by barricades, barbed wire and armed soldiers? I lived through my childhood in Colombo 7 and I saw by my own eyes when a bomb blasted right in front of BOC at the independence square. You have bluntly neglected the fact that it was the majority of Sinhala Buddhist youth who came forward to sacrifice their lives to end the war, to give you the luxury of running around to burn your calories. It was the Sinhala Buddhist culture that induced boiling blood of patriotism which the government exploited to use for the end of war, which you are now enjoying. It is clear that you have deliberately (or blindly) overseen the contribution of Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka. In fact, I believe that it is the Sinhala Buddhist Culture which enriched the very surrounding for you to feel a “1st class” citizen of Sri Lanka.

    The wartime must have been the time when you were offered to be “second-class citizens” in America, Europe etc. I would very responsibly say that you would be treated a 2nd class citizen in anywhere else in the world, especially where whites dominate. Your mother might know more about this situation in the UK because they treat browns as 3rd class! I am more than sure that you would not be more than your Muslim servant if you were in the UK or even in Saudi. You may be treated well just like you treat your servant, but the status? This is the bitter truth. I hail your choice for choosing to be a 1st class citizen in SL.

    You are factually and contextually wrong in your article. You can’t claim that Britons oppressed Sri Lankans equally. They followed the universal theory of divide and rule. You might not have read Sinhala-Muslim riots in 1915s. On SL flag, maroon is to represent the colour of blood we all share and it is the lion itself who represents Sinhalese. When were you forced to cower in the presence of a Sinhala Buddhist? Were you ever frowned upon by a Sinhala Buddhist while you were jogging around the Buddhist flag. Independence Square attracts a large crowd in evenings and I am sure that the majority are Sinhala Buddhists. Were you ever held back at any service point anywhere in SL because you are a non-Sinhala Buddhist? Were you even asked you were a Sinhala Buddhists or not? Were you ever forced to include pork in your menu? Why are you trying to pose something non-existent? You want to portray a wrong picture, globally, don’t you? Or you have an acute inferiority complex which you should take treatment for, very soon!

    I admit that SL is far behind in equality and accessibility. This is more of an economic problem rather than a racial problem. In my books, personality of the person who comes in front of me defines his/her class. For me your personality is of a 2nd class citizen. But mind you, I have many 1st class Muslim and Tamil friends. You can’t expect a plain white paper backdrop in the country you live in. It always is a tapestry drawn by the dominant cultural population in that country. Every citizen should appreciate that tapestry and live accordingly. This is far different than cowering!

    Let me conclude with a statement of a Tamil Professor I know, who had tears in her eyes on the day Prabhakaran was killed (her sentiments were acceptable) “Thank god for Buddhism in Sri Lanka, otherwise all these stray cats and dogs would have been killed”. You cannot underestimate the contribution of Sinhala Buddhists in the history and heritage of this country. You rather cannot find any fault with Sinhala Buddhist sentiments in SL.

    P.S: Political agendas like BBS and 83 riots are of a totally political context which an impulsive inferiority-complex-stricken soul like you would not understand.

    • Jayalath

      To BO
      Thank you BO . You have well said . We must not keep this any more , probably these people might think we are straw men . All we face now are political and economical which needs to understand without taking the piss from us .

    • Burning_Issue

      “You cannot underestimate the contribution of Sinhala Buddhists in the history and heritage of this country. You rather cannot find any fault with Sinhala Buddhist sentiments in SL.”

      This will depend on which way one views as “history and heritage”! If I were to view it in the Sri Lankan context, I see not just Buddhism but also Tamil and Muslim heritages too. I would call collectively as Sri Lankan history and heritage! If you were to isolate and project Sinhala Buddhism as superior then the Buddhist flag would project different connotations; this is the point.

      Do not forget that there were Tamils who were Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

      • Bo

        Dear Burning_Issue,

        I did not deny that there aren’t any Tamil or Muslim heritage in SL. And also there isn’t anything called Sinhala Buddhism. There are only Sinhala Buddhists. Their heritage is the most significant. Its a lifestyle heritage. Hospitality, love to animals, respect and care to parents and adults, worshiping parents and adults equal to gods are a few to name. I am not saying that other creeds don’t have these. Especially Tamils have these in their heritage lifestyle, in a different “colour” though.

        This heritage is what makes even a Sinhala Catholic say “this is a KARUMAYA” in their day to day language. Of course, in this tapestry there are brush strokes of all races. One should not paint over it. One should not point at the Sinhala brush stroke and shout “racist”. Anyone should only fill in the blanks and add ornamental additions. Without spoiling the painting, add something matching and nice, step back and look at the “Sri Lankan Picture” and appreciate it!

  • The Woman She Is

    Dear Ramo,

    The Buddhist flag referred to by Ameena is a part of the hegemonic politics of inclusion and exclusion so well naturalized that most people, Buddhist or otherwise, don’t recognize its implications. It is a part of the public domain . It’s cultural politics.

    A Muslim woman’s code of dress is a personal choice pertaining to her personal, spiritual beliefs and devotion. The fact that not all Muslim women dress in black is evidence of their own diverse principals. It is not a part of cultural politics unless the reaction of another community makes it so. How would you react if someone asked you to take your shirt off because its colour makes them uncomfortable.

    As far as I have noticed the colour nor shape of a Muslim woman’s dress has not impeded her educational, professional or social progress within their communities nor between ethnicities.

    • sarojini

      Ameena . could you let us know why you have this “2nd class ” mentality in SL .Have you ever being denied the freedom of worship? or denied free education ? or denied free health care ? I am just curious to know the rationale behind your outburst, just by seeing a Buddhist flag in Independence square. According to you seem to have property in Puttalam . Does this make you feel 2 nd class ? It is the inalienable right of SL to hoist the Buddhist flag wherever and when ever . Why is that such a problem for you ? Do you feel more comfortable in a Muslim country like Saudi Arabia ? Most minorities have a chip on their shoulder . Many in the UK know that it is a English Christian country . Tough if the Asians in those countries feel marginalised or 2 nd class citizens . It is not their country . Anyone has a right to live where they choose to be comfortable . No one is forcing them to live as 2 nd class citizens anywhere . There are limitations to ones expectations . Malaysia is a muslim country They advocate the Buhumiputhra policy , where people born in Malaysia have the right to study in University , or to buy property at massive discounts . Does SL ever advocate this policy? The Chinese or the Indians in Malaysia do feel 2ND class but do not complain as they resort to opting out to educate their children abroad, and get along with their lives .

  • The Woman She Is

    A brief lesson in cultural politics

    Dear Manjula,

    Do not be bitter. Ameena has nowhere in her article reflected badly on Sinhala Bhuddists. In fact I’m certain a majority of her friends are Sinhala Bhudists. What she is talking about is state politics. Politics that has chosen to empower one community at the cost of all of the others. You see, the state has the power to define its subject and prescribe an identity. In the case of Sri Lanka it is Sinhala Bhudhist. It could have chosen to implement more inclusive policies, but it didn’t. Such identity is spread to the masses through media, state educational curriculum, public symbols, state policies, language policies , public administration etc. To put it very simply it is insensitive to other communities. In consideration towards others a part of Buddhist philosophy?

    This trend is not an isolated occurrence limited to Sinhala Buddhists and Ameena does not imply that it is. She is merely relating the effect of state politics to her personal life. It is prevalent in any state that chooses to side with one community be it Buddhist, Muslim , Christian, Jewish or Other. Powerful nations, poor nations… they all deal with the same issues.

    Look up these political theories and educate yourself because we are a part of a bigger picture. Look up the various forms of political power and the various shapes discrimination takes when its at home, and abroad, within a community and between communities. What are the dynamics of the concept of the “other”. Not just in terms of ethnicity, but as a woman or a child in a male context.

    At the end of the war there was much hope (or wishful thinking) that the state would adopt more inclusive policies, but we all know that’s not going to happen. So like Ameena, the rest of the minorities and those individuals from the majority who want a better SL can only heave a deep sigh.

    I hope I have done critical theory justice. I am rather rusty. I have been living in an arab country for about two years. I am a Muslim living in an arab country. I am deeply hurt when people assume I am Indian. I miss the natural beauty of my home. The spicy food. The avurudu kavum from my neighbours. Vesak. My ethnically diverse friends. I miss speaking Sinhala. I miss the wedding biryanis. I miss the watallappan and pongol laddu. I can recognize a Sri Lankan on the streets anywhere. I can’t wait for my vacations, to come home. What I’m trying to say is that it only hurts us so much when the state tries to exclude us because we are Sri Lankan by definition, its our home. It is even more painful to see educated individuals adopt shallow state policies and defend them.

    NB: Ameena Puttalam is not as harmonious as you think.

    • Jayalath

      To
      The woman she is ,
      Hello madam , We can easily blame the state , it’s true and even my argument is that state and who ever the other politicians have created this situation just to fulfill their benifits , and who is the state and who are the politicians ? We elected them , we are to be blamed as well .
      Have you ever thought in your life when you elect them what they would have been up to ? I’m not talking only sbout state politicians in general whole of them , have you ever heard of any one you voted thought about country or had any idea of how should the country can go forward ?

      Bu the way . Dear , takes this message to community , tell them about the need of defeating the politics behind the crisis .rather sticking into further distancing Ourselves .if you carefully scrutinised Ameena’s issues that any body would go upset , because she tries to raise up what we never imagined or thought about . (do you want us to cower down and bow when a person from majority present )It was a serious thought of allegation .Don’t you think so ?

  • Dev

    The Buddhist flag has been there for ages ! Well more than 2 years at least, the first time I saw it -yes it shocked me too to see it there but now I don’t notice it anymore (though I hardly pass by there). Its NOT something new as Manjula has suggested……

    “I guess, the Buddhist flag at the independence square was raised recently for some Buddhist event like Vesak or Poson etc and may be forgotten to put away by some lousy lazy official responsible for that. I am pretty sure it was not raised to insult minorities who didn’t actively fought for Sri Lanka’s independence anyway.”

    I think the minorities have bigger issues than the flag right now……

    • Manjula

      Dev,

      I never said “it is something new” and I clearly said “I guess”.

      But, if you have actually seen through your naked eyes day-in, day-out, without a break, the same flag flying at the Independence Square for last 2 years, then you must be right. Thanks for the update.

      • Dev

        I didn’t mean to offend- my use of the word “suggested” was meant to imply the explanation you had suggested for the flag was not correct.
        I had seen it many times over the past 2 years or so passing by (as a frequent visitor to SLAAS and ITI around the corner from the square)

  • dananjay

    Did you notice the Moon & star in a green background on the Pakistan flag? Thats Just ONE example to evoke your thoughts against flag-o-phobia!

  • Velu Balendran

    I am an Eezham Tamil, born of Hindu parentage, presently unshakably set in a path following the yogic tradition expounded by Pathajali. Yet, this time around I am also observing Ramadan by fasting as prescribed (with success so far). The Hindu view that asserts the validity of other true faiths and practices enables me to act and experiment without any conflict. After all if we can’t at least think – let alone truly see – ourselves in others, the first step to which must be spontaneous tolerance, we may be many miles from our spiritual goal.

  • Jayalath

    I can see how the singhala buddhism has become a head ache to many people in the country and outside . I guess the foreign colonisers could have felt the same way back in days. Because our ancestors may have nagged them constantly for 550 years and Now we must apologise for them doing that . . Will the people happy if it culminates in that way ?

    As far as I know that singhala Buddhist people did not concern about their religion or race as much as others people do . It may be the way we brought up . We were a nation had been getting on with own business for centuries AND Did not bother to heed what other people are doing and talking about . However , since last few decades , there are lot of fuss going about the singhala and Buddhism in Sri Lanka among the in and out people . so I hope it is worth to speculate and speak few words about those who think we are barbarians .whether people agree or not we were well polite and righteous few decades ago , as a result of our humanity we live side by side with others for centuries and now seeming all has been turning upside down .

    Where did things go wrong ? Did the things begin to change since the day began to RUN the religion by politics ? Or is it the way the world turn out to be ?

    OR,
    ARE the people of ALMIGHTY GODS or the Son of gods nagging the Buddhist people in Sri Lanka .OR the Buddhist singhala people are Insane ? or should we ask other people to none of your business and go away leaving us alone . I’m confused and furious.
    I’m inherited Buddhist and born in Colombo, later moved to Kandy . And has been always moving and associating with Mulims , burgers ,Tamils , and every one else , therefore I never ever felt in my life like that I’m one of majority and I should have had upper position in any level of society ,or other peoples are second class citizens , unless her or his mentality is matched to STONE AGE.
    This is the mentality of some people today which has planted in minds of people by various religions with venomous religious purposes . So , I see this statement as a heinous crime .

    The writer of this artical needs to grow up and write some thing could widely benifit the whole society rather of issuing statement could further aggravate the problems . Can you tell me if the singhala Buddhists did not allow you to build the Mosques around the all cities in sri lanka who did ? Have those people imported the land and businessess when they move in? I’m furious with your inferior statement . This type of people and articals can do priceless damage to a country or society . If you think the problem is in singhala Buddhist people , then I would mine to convert all singhala Buddhists to Muslim and Catholic and then we can pray ten time instead five tims a day to see whether we can be better than we are now .Or the world can be changed for a better tomorrow . Don’t you think it is an advisable ? I suppose we should not let the world to laugh at us .

    We need to realise where the real threats come from and how can we avoid them . I do not Believe also there are answers to our burning problems in the worthless write ups , or the gods and religions . those who cannot save us from the miseries we face now .as our life is acrimonious than we spelling it . I believe , those only can perpetuate our time of finding the right enemy of causing all the problems we face today .
    Therefore It would be great if you can issue widely acknowledgable articals in the future rather petty crap once .
    Thank you .

  • Boy! There is one well written article about a symbol that excludes rather than includes. And the responses have attacked the religion, the dress and made unfortunate connections to nations which have actually helped fight the war for the state, rather than listen to the heart of the person writing. This is called prejudice.Oh yes! you are going to give me a definition of what prejudice means.

    What If one schools at Ananda College and the flag that flies at the entrance is not the College flag but the flag of one of the houses. Okay! It is the biggest house. Yes! they won the events. Would that make it right? Would it include or exclude? Would it not motivate a boy from another house to work towards getting his house to rise up rather than the College. What if the boy who walks into school is one who has actually won many awards for the school. Yet walking in every morning he is reminded that what he has achieved on behalf of the school is useless. He just does not belong to the right house.

    Friends! Not only are you’re eyes blind that you do not see a flag representing 60 percent of the population flying on a monument remembering an independence that was won by 100 percent of the population.The souls are blind.No Metta and no Karuna is possible if the soul is blind. No wonder that we are maintaining unity at the butt end of a rifle, with bullying tactics and with the control of media. When one is only physically blind he can still hold hands maybe with the help of another. When the soul is blind you cannot hold hands you only hold necks. Yes ! The minorities are being strangled.

    Ammena, thank you for a beautiful article article void of hatred and anger.

    • The Woman She Is

      Kumar I’m relieved to see your comment. The vehemence of the “Prejudices” above was starting to distress me.

      But its good to know that such prejudices and sentiments are very much alive in Sri Lanka instead of being deluded by naive sense of security. Its also good to note that a lot of people are not aware of the nuances of identity politics and that a natural reaction to supposed religious criticism is aggressively emotional and defensive. its a volatile state of events.

  • A nostalgic

    I read the above comments with interest; how easy it is to select aspects of the original article and over analyse. We have changed as a nation and somehow, today, a system of ethnic segregation seems to exist.

    I am able to think back to times when there was mutual respect between the diverse cultures and religions in Sri Lanka. A time when we knew about the rituals of the others and were willing participants. Rather than focus on the differences of each we would look for what was common to all and so discovered that ultimately the message was the same. I am sure others would be able to relate to this memory of mine.

    It was an inclusive system where we all felt very Sri Lankan although this could not have been the case for everybody. The recent Civil War is proof of that.

    Kumar makes a relevant analogy when he makes us think about whether it is more impportant to honour Ananda College or an individual house within the school. When Ameena asks the state to represent all its citizens equally and impartially I believe she wants us all to be recognised as Sri Lankans. Hopefully this can be a reality.

    • Jayalath

      To nostalgic .

      There is not a good situation in a country where people feel not secure and dignity . This feeling of paranoia Of some people needs to be addressed as soon as possible . It is not good . Not at all . What people need to understand the politics all behind rather than hatred .so realising that we must ready to defeat the political objective hiding behind , if not it can lead to chaos where will no one benifit . Therefore I would require you to get it clear before various justifications and applications .

  • georgethebushpig

    Dear Ameena,

    Many thanks for a thoughtful piece although from the vitriol that has ensued it seems that your conclusion maybe somewhat misplaced. It is not the “state” and absence of “true democracy” but the strong undercurrent of ethnic discrimination that pervades this land that seems to be the problem. I appreciate the comments Manjula, Ramo, Bo and Sarojini have made because they have given voice to that discriminatory undercurrent; it gives us an opportunity to examine how asymmetric power is used to discriminate against the “other”.

    I believe that you are aware of the following, but it needs to be said anyway: the reason the state can conduct itself in the brazen manner that it does, stems from it being buoyed by a significant group that is discriminatory in its outlook.

    The fact that the commentators that I have referred to above do not even see that there’s a problem of ethnic discrimination in Sri Lanka speaks volumes. They are unable to see that the post-colonial history of Sri Lanka is one of conflating the nation state with Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. There appears to be an incredible propensity to amnesia in Sri Lanka; this is in the wake of remembering Black July (1983) and the recent skinhead attacks on Muslims and their businesses. And people wonder why ethnic minorities do not feel completely at home in Sri Lanka!

    Once we accept that there’s a problem we just might be able to find a solution.

    Peace
    GTBP

  • Sathya

    Dear All,
    I think Ameena is provoking us to think differently. To a Muslim the Buddhist flag that is fluttering at Independence square is like a black Abaya a Muslim woman wears to profess her faith to a Buddhist. It is this “fear” that we have to come to terms with. Politics has played into this fear but then again it is “us” who elect the politicians and our politicians are a reflection of “us”.
    It is easy to blame the politicians the media and our colonial masters for instigating hate but we never come up with simple solutions to bridge our differences. There are many scholarly responses to this article with definitions to democracy and so on..
    I’d like to suggest this:
    Since this is the month of Ramadan it would be a good start for the Muslim community to open their houses and mosques for non-Muslims to come and partake in the breaking of the fast. Can this simple act be achieved? Will “The Woman she is” invite “Manjula for her next ifthar?
    Likewise our Buddhist brothers and sisters should also open their temples and homes for Muslims to partake in their celebrations with open arms. Manjula would you be comfortable if “The Woman she is” enters your temple with her Nikab or Abaya?
    I think this is what Ameena is provoking us to think about. After all flags are only symbols for”us” to define!

  • The Woman She Is

    Dear Sathya,

    Please note that Bhudhist, Tamil and Muslim neighbours and friends are in and out of my house on a casual basis; for meals, gossip and simply to see each other. Some, whenever they come to town, have made it a habit of staying over at my place.

    Im only saying this because your comment implies that both Manjula and I speak from homogeneous, segregated worlds.

    These friends and neighbours above have come up with simple solutions: ie. We see each other as people. With many of them I can have a constructive conversation about the irony of the Buddhist flag flying above INDEPENDENCE square, without any of them taking it as a personal insult. Why? Because these people want a country that gives equal recognition to all of its citizens and they would be personally offended by any denial of it, to any group. Their own or other.

    I think the simplest solution is to first want that. To recognize each other as PEOPLE. People who worship different Gods yes, but essentially human. Its such common sense, I feel stupid for having to spell it out.

    How are we going to fight the government or media if we are too busy fighting each other? Or fight for the things that really matter like the cost of living, unemployment,laws that protect women from domestic violence, equal pay etc. Egypt is currently fighting for a better governance, better living conditions. We would never be able to do that because one community would be afraid that another would get too much.

    This frame of mind isn’t coincidental. This ideology is fed to the people as it keeps them in a state of disempowerment.

    Also on a seperate note I would like to remind you that a flag and an abaya cannot be equals in comparison. One a public symbol, the other a personal choice (like your kibs sarong for example).

    Sathya, my tone of expression is not meant to be harsh, merely conversational, perhaps a little impassioned. Very interesting how the reaction to Ameena’s article has spiraled out. Drop in for a meal and we can talk more! Maybe I will tell you the story of how I am never allowed to enter the Dalada Maligawa because of my hijab (and Ive always wanted to go and see the paintings I’ve heard so much about). Cheers.

  • Secondly, there has been a further distortion concerning comments the High Commissioner made to the President concerning a flag in Independence Square. The High Commissioner discussed with the President her concerns with rising inter-communal tensions and incitement to violence on the basis of religion in Sri Lanka. In this context, she asked why the only flag flying, other than the national flag, in such a symbolic location was that of one religious community, and suggested it might be more inclusive to fly only the national flag which is a symbol that unites the nation, no matter who they are or what religion they adhere to. At no time did she request any flag to be removed.

    We consider it deeply regrettable that government officials and other commentators continue what appears to be a coordinated campaign of disinformation in an attempt to discredit the High Commissioner or to distract from the core messages of her visit.

    Via http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13756&LangID=E