Freedom and bondage: Lankans, then and now

Introduction

There is a need to question the adequacy and suitability of current conceptions of both ‘human rights’ and ‘secularism’ to meet the challenges of unbridled majoritarianism, which seems perfectly at home within the institutions and procedures of the modern Sri Lankan state. In the first part of this article I propose an alternative vision of human rights. This leads us towards a comparative analysis of two historical periods. In the first period from the 5th to 3rd centuries BC when the ancient Lankan state was formed there is evidence of secular attitudes and beliefs providing a secure foundation for Buddhism itself to take root. In the second period from 1931-2011 we see how identity politics destroyed a carefully constructed balance of secularism to pave the way to a fragmented and dysfunctional society. A key proposition advanced is that identity formation remains incomplete until identity itself is renounced to merge within a broader collective identity. Such an act creates values that are not tied up with a particular race or religion but which belong to mankind as a whole.

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A human rights framework for human learning and growth

The struggle of Sinhala Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims to assert and maintain their separate identities under the British were carried out within the parameters of a globally dominant economic vision. Both colonization and the post World War II development project in the Third World shared a specific conception of the human being identified by economic rationalists as consumers driven by an insatiable craving for material possessions. Communal separation and competition thus found its place within an overarching ethic that pitted man against man in the economic sphere.

From 1981 the Chilean Economist Manfred Max Neef has been one of the powerful voices against this dominant paradigm, offering an alternative vision of human needs and human scale development. Human scale development is defined as “focused and based on the satisfaction of fundamental human needs, on the generation of growing levels of self-reliance, and on the construction of organic articulations of people with nature and technology, of global processes with local activity, of the personal with the social, of planning with autonomy, and of civil society with the state.”[1]

Fisher points out that:

The main contribution that Max-Neef makes to the understanding of needs is the distinction made between needs and satisfiers. Human needs are seen as few, finite and classifiable (as distinct from the conventional notion that “wants” are infinite and insatiable). Not only this, they are constant through all human cultures and across historical time periods. What changes over time and between cultures is the way these needs are satisfied.[2]

Max-Neef classifies the fundamental human needs as: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, recreation (in the sense of leisure, time to reflect, or idleness), creation, identity and freedom.[3]

These needs can be re-conceptualized for ease of application into four broad stages:

  • Survival
  • Growth and well being
  • Identity
  • Freedom

While all human beings are ‘born free and equal’ they ‘fit’ into society and have a place and role in that society based on their self-identification or identity. It is this identity that is recognized by others and defines the status and power of an individual, family or social group. While identities give the appearance of being fixed they are in fact dynamic and subject to constant affirmation or modification. The sense of self or identity is the product of patterns of interaction and this bears the characteristic imprint of each stage of human growth. The movement from survival o freedom is not linear but cyclical.

For example there are clearly identified stages within the life cycle of a human being that must be negotiated to reach the next level. Adolescence, marriage, loss of parents or loved ones, old age etc will all throw challenges which if met leads to growth, equanimity and a sense of confidence. Thus a teenager must experience new relationships and interactions with a variety of people including the opposite sex to be fulfilled and be competent emotionally and socially. In this process he or she will go through pain, doubts and anxiety (survival phase) which if placed in perspective will facilitate a more objective and detached view of that experience. A repetition of the same processes of socialization could thus provide what Max Neef referred to as a ‘growing level of self reliance.’ Now the sense of identity so gained remains provisional as there is a final stage of freedom where this definite sense of selfhood must interact and merge within a wider reality of a group to find a balance between individual autonomy and community. This is the balance between rights and relationships or between dualistic justice and holistic peace. A careful reading of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will reveal this important congruence between the individual and community.[4]

Conversely where an age appropriate competence is not acquired the teenager moves on to formal adulthood harbouring a hidden handicap. What the mature adult experiences as an ordinary and pleasant experience brings discomfort and anxiety to the immature adult and this would lead to reactions of ‘fight or flight.’ While the former negotiates life in freedom the latter perceives threats from ‘others’ and finds security in identity.

Thus identity formation, of an individual as well as of a group remains incomplete as long as the final threshold of freedom remains uncrossed and the group remains trapped within the subjective truth and dualistic freedom of its own narrow identity and existence. Such a process does not re-generate values. A value is not dependent and must stand alone to be tested by the scrutiny of unbiased mankind. This is how the nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were acclaimed by the global community. While it must naturally emerge from a specific cultural context its moral dimension must transcend it to be upheld as a universal value.[5]

Using this framework of Max Neef we can look at two decisive phases in the history of the island to gain an understanding of how the transition from identity to freedom was effectively negotiated consequent to Indian migrations from the 5th to the 3rd  Century BC and how this same object was frustrated during an extended decolonization phase from 1931-2011. In the former we see a value driven process culminating in an organic culture from which was derived a dynamic cultural and political identity. In the latter we see an identity driven process culminating in violence and the reinforcement of colonial structures of patronage, dependency and powerlessness. The distinction is between an identity that is functional/real based on social cohesion and a shared vision as opposed to one that is abstract/ symbolic and a mere enabling device for political mobilization in the context of electoral politics.

5th to 3rd century BC – the shift from late stone age to an integrated society

Bandaranayake[6] identifies the period between 1000 – 500 BC as the time when the islanders moved ‘from stone age food gathering to the making of pottery, sedentary farming, irrigation, wet rice cultivation and iron technology.’ From 500 BC up to the beginning of the Common Era there is a period of remarkable growth in which there is ‘complex social and political systems, adoption of a higher religion, the formation of a (relatively) centralized state and an advanced literate civilization – the latter, centuries earlier than similar developments in mainland or insular Southeast Asia or Japan.’

Despite the proximity of the island to Dravidian South India these changes were inspired by Aryans in the Ganges basin to the North East of India. Bullis cites Asokan edicts and also Megasthenes in support of the proposition that Gangetic society was ‘relatively cohesive and possessed of a strong cultural legacy’ and that the ‘Dravidian people were riven by petty local wars and the absence of a unifying identity.’[7]

The date and circumstances surrounding the arrival of Vijaya, the renegade prince from Kalinga (modern day Orissa) and his 700 followers is shrouded in legend. The author of Mahavamsa links this arrival with the Great Passing of the Buddha in 483 BC. After the death of Vijaya his ministers sent for his brother (Sumitta) in India. As he was too old his son came disguised as a pilgrim and was consecrated as Panduvasudeva. These two arrivals also carry the symbolism of two key figures in Vedic society – the Kshatriya warrior and Brahmin for the replication of the same social hierarchy in the island. While conventional treatment of historians has distinguished between Buddhism and Brahmanism (on account of the egalitarian ideals of early Buddhism) the practical manner in which politics, religion and land ownership came to be intertwined in Lanka proves that these archetypes have endured. At times the Buddhist monk rajagurus became royal advisors while at other times this place was taken by Brahmin purohitas. In both cases their constitutional function was the same. Strathern cites several authorities including Senarath Paranavithana to observe that:

From very early on Sinhalese kings had cultivated a ceremonial system that was drawn from Brahmanical texts and officiated by Brahmans.[8]

The endurance and resilience of this philosopher-king partnership at the apex of political power thus formed a common heritage on both sides of the Palk Straits.

This ideology underwent local modifications in its application to society. Thus while socio-economic organization in Lanka up to 1833 was based on occupational caste it had no religious sanction and did not exclude millions as untouchables as it did in India. As Rambukwelle put it:

The Sinhala State was the sum and result of a slow but steady settlement of Aryan migrants blending their experiences among themselves and the earlier peoples, not the messianic adventure of a mighty conqueror, a law giver, superman or plain bandit.[9]

Bullis refers to three waves of migration that constituted landmarks of a process by which foreigner and local blended to share their technical and spiritual know-how in building a sustainable way of life:[10]

  1. The settlement phase after Vijaya with establishment of small settlements further and further inland while agriculture became the mainstay
  2. The importation of Pandyan princesses as brides for Vijaya and his ministers. This brought with it highly skilled craftspeople and technical specialists in subjects such as town planning and irrigation management. These provided the infrastructure which enabled the settlements to become cities, a kingdom to grow out of their common identity, and vastly increased the fruits of the soil by year-round irrigation and long term water storage.
  3. The third wave of immigration was spread more thinly over time but added the final link. Hardly two centuries after Vijaya’s men learned how to subdue or co-exist with the Yakkhas (the record is unclear) and began to spread up the river valleys the mighty presence of Asoka entered the island in the form of his son Mahinda, who converted the island to Buddhism.

These people – the settlers and natives in their villages, caves, nooks and crannies all over the island had no shared history. Principles were found one by one, by which they would come to regard themselves as sharing common freedoms and a common destiny. One of these was the demarcation of village boundaries all over the island by King Pandukabhaya who also founded Anuradhapura as the capital. This recognized the village as a free and self sufficient community. It would in time grow to be the chief economic and (in the absence of a standing army) the chief defence arm of the state. According to Rambukwelle:

Although the community was consanguineous the effective agent of integration was the element of self help, the pooling of labour and resources which crossed over barriers of caste…  Economically village democracies formed units of manpower. When expanded on a national scale they constituted a massive source of energy. Built-up tradition made it available for national undertakings and in fact accounts for the stupendous constructional programmes in ancient times, especially of the huge irrigation systems and religious buildings. Community participation on such gigantic scale gave Thun-sinhale the character of a collectivist society and indeed therein lies the secret of its resilience and long survival. Arising out of a non monetary society the demand on this type of labour could not be enticed by offer of wages and therefore Sinhala society was wholly devoid of any proletarian predilection. There is no numismatic evidence to show the widespread use of money. Nor could any attempt to exploit such manpower resources by compulsion have borne fruit as it contained within it the strength to resist. And that strength lay precisely in its voluntary nature. It was far late in the ancient period when in fact the village democracies were overtly assailed that there is mention of the use of prisoner of war labour for national undertakings.[11]

The status of cultivation as a free occupation also fostered an atmosphere of openness and religious freedom. According to Bullis ‘Pandukabhaya gave no indication of his own religious beliefs, if any, but his open society certainly made it easy for any religious sect to set up a temple and a priest and attract believers.’[12]

The religion of the Yakkhas or natives was based on ancestor worship and shamanistic practices. In addition to local religions were the Indian religions such as Brahmanism, Jainism, Ajivikas and the secular religions Skepticism, Epicureanism and Stoicism. Astrology and soothsaying were also popular.[13]

Bullis[14] notes below the remarkable adaptation and continuity of religious symbolism and practices for the wider populace after the mission of Arahat Mahinda:

Ancestor worship

Both (India and Sri Lanka) have carried the belief in ancestor worship into the present. The Bandara cult is the veneration of deceased warriors or heroes who now guard their families or locales against the forces of evil. The deceased ancestor moves to the role of protector of person and place, harms enemies, rewards the right and punishes the wrong, and is in turn worshipped by the clan.

Royal shrines to departed souls reborn as Yakkhas or Yakkhinis were more elaborate. These were burial tumuli called cetiyas. …the word cetiya evolved into thupa and that into stupa and finally today’s dagoba, the white rounded dome that commemorates the death of the Buddha and is simply a Buddhistified symbol of the old cetiya and which performs the same function of ancestor worship and community guardian.

Worship of local gods

When Sinhalese individuals were converted to Buddhism they desired to continue worshipping their ancestral and family deities, which were mostly Yakkhas. As Buddhism is not a theistic religion but rather a method to achieve enlightenment and release from suffering there was no impediment to an individual believing in any or all the gods they liked – Buddhism even provided deities of its own. However, most people preferred not to worship a non Buddhist deity. So the people converted their personal Yakkha guardians to Buddhism and raised them to a higher plane; such was Sumana of Adam’s Peak.

Tree worship

As ancestor worship and animism often go hand in hand, there was a generous portion of animism in some of the minds of the early populace, in particular tree worship. The ficus religiosa or Bodhi tree has been a sacred tree since Mesopotamian times. Akkadian seals depict Bodhi trees in connection with religious rites. Tree worship ranges from Ethiopia through Egypt all the way to Southeast Asia and is part of Europe’s pre-Christian heritage as well, e.g. the Druids and their oak trees.

In all this work we can observe a high degree of cultural fluency and a mature recognition of the need for organic growth as well as the availability of a plurality of religious practices and interpretations. Both Rambukwelle and Bullis use the word ‘Sinhalese’ to denote the Aryan settlers.  But in my humble view the sheer dynamism of society during this period makes this collective and racial definition somewhat pre-mature. The Indian cultural area provided religious sanction for caste but not for race. Both the migrants and natives possessed their pre-existing identities but these may have been exchanged for the pioneering collective venture of nation building that the Aryan migration required. The island-wide demarcation of villages would have also been a great leveller. It is possible to argue that the people as a whole united under the Buddha’s dispensation or Sasana at the conclusion of their grand effort of two centuries. The second consecration of Devanampiya Tissa with the full blessings of Emperor Asoka and the Third Estate – the Sangha would have all served to indicate unification under the Sasana.

Thus Obeysekere states:

Our conception of sasana is a “form of nationhood” constructed by the ethnographer on the basis of a phenomenological reality existing in Sri Lankan culture and consciousness. Not so with “identity” which is a conceptual invention of the analyst. There is no word that resembles “identity” in the Sinhala lexicon.[15] Sinhalas had no term that could be translated as “nation”; they had a term that belonged to the same polythetic class as nation, namely sasana.

And he draws attention to the tension between Buddhist doctrine and history – a paradox.

In the doctrinal tradition sasana refers to the universal Buddhist community or church that transcends ethnic and other boundaries. This meaning co-exists with another meaning that is found in post canonical historical texts: sasana is the Buddhist “church” that is particularized in the physical bounds of the land consecrated by Buddha – in the present instance, Sri Lanka.[16]

The 5th Century Mahavamsa of course occupies the foremost place among these historical texts. Just as writing a biography is an act of individual ‘self-affirmation’ writing of a collective story also becomes a powerful medium for collective self-affirmation. However it opened the door for an alternative conception of nationhood – based on a Sinhalese racial identity. This would become increasingly relevant as the influence of the dhamma and also sasana waned from the 13th century onwards to reach rock bottom in the 19th century as the island struggled to find its place within a changed and globalized economic order. Sri Lankans as a whole would lose sight of the critical skills of cultural fluency, organic growth and inclusive (as opposed to divisive) values within their new westernized paradigm.

Total colonization before and after 1948

From 1505 onwards the impact of colonization on every aspect of Lankan society was total. Religion, culture and society were not spared. As Bandaranayake noted,

In the final phase of its pre-modern history, from the 17th to the early 19th century, it is perhaps the Asian country, with the exception of Philippines, most heavily impacted by European colonial penetration.[17]

The British embarked on an ambitious programme of social engineering to make the island a viable part of an imperial economic order. Mendis sums up the Colebrooke Cameron Reforms of 1833:

The Colebrooke Reforms were historically important as they mark the transition in Ceylon from the medieval to the modern. The abolition of rajakariya (service tenure) corresponds to the break up of feudalism, and the abolition of monopolies made possible the development of commerce. The establishment of a unified form of government is similar to the developments that created nation states in Europe. The establishment of the rule of law and the use of the printing press introduced by the Dutch became effective only as a result of other changes produced by the Colebrooke Reforms. In Europe the changes from medieval to modern was a natural process resulting from a series of events which covered more than three centuries. The Colebrooke Reforms were a series of administrative reforms, each inter connected with the others that produced similar results. The normal process is for economic changes to lead to social changes and social changes to lead to institutional changes. In this case the process is almost reversed. Institutional changes led to economic and social changes more far reaching than any that had been experienced in Ceylon before. The Colebrooke Reforms are thus a dividing line in Ceylon history. From them we can look back to the past, to the ancient Sinhalese and Tamil System. From them we can also look forward to the development of modern Ceylon.[18] [Emphasis added.]

It was the institutionalization of a nation. Imagine an orphaned child who is separated from its natural environment and community and placed in an orphanage ‘for its welfare and protection’. Imagine the loss of identity, history, relationships and continuity. The bulk of the population were separated from nature, their natural economy, social conventions and institutions and placed within an artificial environment of alien customs and forms administered by a new officialdom.

Thus alienated from the old order and enslaved to the new, the people of Sri Lanka did not throw off their shackles to demand freedom. Instead the middle classes that emerged during the British period found ideas like ‘freedom, self – determination and democracy,’ useful concepts to strengthen their own power base in society. As Mendis observed:

The grant of the adult franchise did not lead to a sudden awakening of the masses as the privilege did not come to them as a result of agitation on their part. The English educated class thought out the grounds on which they could solicit the support of the people and put forward their programmes.[19]

The grant of dominion status in 1948 and final independence from the British crown in 1972 led to the second wave of colonization – this time by local political leaders who exploited the electoral system to come to power and then proceeded to politicize all public institutions[20] and every other aspect of society, culture and religion.

Identity politics and politics of warfare have extracted previously well integrated ethnic communities from their complex cultural and social milieu to adopt macro identifications which deny centuries of peaceful co-existence. The Sinhala Buddhists, Tamils and Muslims have all yielded to this pressure to conform to a doctrine of safety in collective identification. The result has been the virtual loss of an independent religious, cultural and social sphere, to leave a state without a society.[21]

This left doors wide open for the heavily militarized political regime that directed the last phase of the civil war to entrench itself in power after May 2009.

Today, a social vision, social solidarity and social cohesion resemble clearly abandoned projects. Just as it submitted to British imperial might two centuries ago in 1815 the island faces once more, the stark reality of overwhelming military force. Looking back, the people of today – like those in 1815 can see the shambles of a state that was – and is now no more. This parallel being drawn is controversial as I brush over the fact that the new rulers today – unlike the British are locals who are outwardly clothed in constitutional, legal and traditional garb. Appearances apart, the real question is, from what values and principles do they draw legitimacy?

Absent foundation

Together with most other colonized 3rd world societies, Sri Lanka faced the developmental task of re-establishing a value system that could bind all its citizens and communities. Unlike India which harnessed its considerable spiritual, intellectual, cultural and social resources for this task Sri Lanka failed to infuse these higher dimensions that people like Ram Mohan Roy, Vivekananda, Tagore, Gokhale, Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant and Gandhi embodied. With this failure the island lost touch with its ancient heritage of an integrated value system and was cast adrift in unchartered waters. Severed from its past, by a combination of colonial interference and native amnesia, continuity was not ensured.

Cut off from the past, confused about the present and uncertain about their future the colonized islanders faced an unprecedented identity crisis from 1815. As Erik Erikson observed, a stable sense of identity, power and autonomy required an individual to have a sense of continuity with the past, a meaningful present and clarity about the future. Over a period of 2000 years Lankans had learnt to survive and maintain their way of life amidst numerous invasions from South India. Common cultural and religious roots facilitated the adjustments and adaptations carried out to ensure a measure of co-existence with India.

But the western powers that sought to dominate and master the island (Portugese from 1505, Dutch from 1656 and British from 1796) were driven by a different worldview. Oswald Spengler in an influential work titled Decline of the West published in 1918[22] identifies this as the ‘moral imperative of command.’

WESTERN mankind, without exception, is under the influence of an immense optical illusion. Everyone demands something of the rest. We say “thou shalt” in the conviction that so-and-so in fact will, can and must be changed or fashioned or arranged conformably to the order, and our belief both in the efficacy of, and in our title to give, such orders is unshakable. That, and nothing short of it, is for us, morale. In the ethics of the West everything is direction, claim to power, will to affect the distant. Here Luther is completely at one with Nietzsche, Popes with Darwinians, Socialists with Jesuits; for one and all, the beginning of morale is a claim to general and permanent validity… 

The moral imperative as the form of morale is Faustian and only Faustian. It is quite wrong to associate Christianity with the moral imperative. It was not Christianity that transformed Faustian man, but Faustian man who transformed Christianity–and he not only made it a new religion but also gave it a new moral direction. The “it” became “I,” the passion- charged centre of the world, the foundation of the great Sacrament of personal contrition. Will-to-power even in ethics, the passionate striving to set up a proper morale as a universal truth, and to enforce it upon humanity, to reinterpret or overcome or destroy everything otherwise constituted–nothing is more characteristically our own than this is.

We see our religion as requiring us to convert others. Our art has a perspective, a point of view and direction. Our music is directed toward a tonal center. Our science is about forces and changes. We apply it to change our world. Our mathematics goes beyond the static geometry of the Classical world to deal with the calculus of tendencies and averages.

Consequently a society constructed on a careful balance between being and becoming was tipped off balance. Lankans ceased to be grounded and were displaced within their own land – alienated from themselves. A restless philosophy of becoming became the point of unity, a destructive organizing principle for Lankans as they pursued a relentless agenda of becoming ‘somebody’ in their own land.

This was the natural consequence of becoming non-entities due to European style mastery, domination and ideological mystification. As Alexander writes on the themes of power and identity in three gothic novels:

In examining power struggles, Gothic novelists focus on many different individuals and institutions that for a variety of reasons deem it necessary to gain and maintain power over others to thrive. In order to do so, they must overpower their critics and any other individuals who threaten their existence or success. Although they each employ diverse and often unique methods, their methods all share one thing in common: they attempt to weaken their opponents by reducing them to non-beings, or, in other words, they undermine that which gives them a sense of identity.[23] (Emphasis added)

Reduced to non – beings the locals sought escapes into either tradition or modernity. Sinhala Buddhist nationalism revived Sinhalese forms of language, dress and behaviour. Others found truth in western forms. The middle way of seeing forms as forms and uncovering the unifying and universal substance beneath all forms was overlooked. Sri Lanka had no Ram Mohan Roy to negotiate and lay bare the deeper meanings underneath western and indigenous forms. As Lankans rushed to both extremes the mechanics of identity formation defeated the accomplishment of value formation.

The Buddhist led integrated value system was replaced in the public sphere with British values and institutions supported by the power of scientific technology and western culture. Local revivalism against this domination was split between the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims and this led to a victory of compromised communal identities. Multi-ethnic constitutionalism and liberal politics was championed by D.S. Senanayake but went into decline in the 1970’s. However this remains linked to the human rights ideology of a significant local intelligentsia. Leftism played a key role in the 1930’s and 40’s but was absorbed within Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. Radical leftist armed revolt also suffered the same fate once the Janatha Vimukthi Permuna (JVP) entered mainstream politics in the 1990’s. Post war nationalist ideology has hardened but globalized consumerism and materialism remain the driving economic forces. Liyanage observes citing the National Youth Survey of 2000:

Notwithstanding the pursuit of an explicitly market led development policy for almost 25 years now, it is significant that 62% of the samples youth continue to be committed to a socialist ideology. Only 10% expressed commitment to a capitalist ideology….the commitment to a socialist ideology is more widely prevalent among marginalized groups.[24]

A striking feature of the JVP and LTTE rebellions against the state was the belief in the capture of state power as the ultimate solution. Since the dawn of politics of confrontation in 1971 such an attitude has been shared within the polity in general. Political power is not the means for practical implementation of an ideology; a pseudo-ideology is simply the means for achieving power. The sacrifice of many thousands of precious youth for the prosecution of such misconceived causes has been described a monumental waste.[25] What is of concern is that youth continue to be indoctrinated and misled within a culture of short-sighted opportunistic politics to this day.

Conclusion

Identity is dependent on values. When values change, so does our identity. To realize this requires honesty and a practice of seeing things from inside rather than outside; something that comes naturally to inward Buddhism. To believe in a stable and fixed identity is simply a developmental need for children and other vulnerable people who need protection when stuck within a realm of uncertainty and doubt when their sense of self and worldview is threatened. True adults on the other hand are expected to experience and understand the law of change and grow with this.

Communalism and the division of Lankans became part of the structure of colonization. That structure originated with the Portuguese from 1505 and then acquired great solidity under the British. To retain this structure is an indication that we prefer to remain colonized (by whatever powers that be) and that we are really not ready for a transformed consciousness that would shred the remnants of colonization to pieces. Our brethren who continue to hold on to their self deception and the existence of a static and unchanging macro identity (and this may be Sinhala Buddhist, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher or whatever), are simply eroding and undermining our collective identity, heritage and destiny. They would rather privilege their vested interests and insecurity over the larger interests of national solidarity andnational security.

The true citizens of this island – both then and now were Lankans – a slightly broader category than ‘Sinhalese’. If a historical survey is to be made we will see that some of our greatest kings and ministers were not pure blooded Sinhalese; and this was truer of the trans-Lankan dynasties of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva. A rigid Sinhalese identity was more an expression of the trauma of the abandonment of Rajarata in the 13th century and the subsequent threats and insecurities to which the Lankan polity became subject. The drift to the South West prepared the ground for colonization by western powers and a narrow Sinhala consciousness became an addictive and self destructive defensive posture that sacrificed ‘our essential liberties for a little temporary safety.’  It contributed to the plot to kill King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe, the disunity among Kandyan chiefs and the final capitulation to British in 1815. This tale of woe did not end there but persisted through the British period and beyond right down to the present day.  To become secure in our own land once more is to lay this ‘imperfect generalization’ about an unchanging ethnic identity to rest and embrace a broader Lankan identity as an expression of our willingness to share this land and take responsibility for all the citizens of this country.


[2] Id

[3] Id

[4] “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

[5] Cf. Wilber, Ken (2000). A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality. Gateway South Asia Edition New Delhi pp 33-36 on integral transformation

[6] Bandaranayake, Senaka (2012) Continuities and Transformations: Studies in Sri Lankan Archaeology and History, Social Scientists Association, Colombo pp 15/16

[7] Bullis, Douglas (2005) The Mahavamsa: The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka by Mahanama Thera; Modern Text and Historical Commentary, p 113

[8] Op cit supra n 16 p 128

[9] P.B. Rambukwelle (1993) Study of Sinhala Kingship from Vijaya to Kalinga Magha, Sridevi Dehiwala pp 51, 52

[10] Op cit supra n 32 pp 113/114

[11] Op cit supra n 34 pp 38/39

[12] Op cit supra n 32 p 143

[13] Id pp 143/45

[14] Id

[15] Obeysekere, Gananath (2004) Buddhism, nationhood and cultural identity: The pre-modern and pre-colonial formations, International Centre for Ethnic Studies Colombo p 37

[16] Id p 22

[17] Op cit supra n 31 pp 15/16

[18]Op cit supra n 2 p 70

[19] Id p 118, 119

[20] International Crisis Group (2009) Sri Lanka’s Judiciary: Politicized Courts, Compromised Rights, http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/south-asia/sri-lanka/172-sri-lankas-judiciary-politicised-courts-compromised-rights.aspx

[21] Op cit supra n 22 pp 100/101

[22] Spengler Oswald (1918) The Decline of the West, An abridged edition by Helmut Werner. English abridged edition prepared by Arthur Helps from the translation by Charles Francis Atkinson. New York: Oxford University Press c199 [1926, 1928, 1932]. Cf. http://people.duke.edu/~aparks/Spengler.html

[23] Alexander, Jerry Jennings, (2011) “Power and Identity in Three Gothic Novels: The Mysteries of Udolpho, Caleb Williams, and Melmoth the Wanderer” PhD diss., University of Tennessee, pp 20/21 http://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_graddiss/1164

[24] Liyanage, Uditha (2003) Profiling the Sri Lankan Consumer, Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayawardenapura p 41

[25] Samarasekera, Mark Indika (2004) Maubima Udesa Unvahanse – (Sinhala – a note on the spiritual mission of Ven. Dr. Gnanasumana) p 125

  • Jayalath

    I praise the profound idea of the article and the emphasised message . It further proclaims the value of need of being Sri Lankan and protecting and promoting the identity of Sri Lankan regardless the differences of religious and racial .as we live together in organic culture for centuries .
    I would mind to ask mr. Samaranayaka that what mechanism would you believe or that you suggest to revive the lost identities among us which we have lost at present day as a result of colonial rule and second wave of colonisation under local politicians .

    • Fitzpatrick

      This idea of blaming all our problems on the “colonialists” has to end. It is time we took responsibility for our destiny.

    • sajeeva samaranayake

      We should not assume that we know who we are. An identity is a matter of dynamic and constant construction and this work is done using available resources. The most powerful identity would be an informed one – and one that is informed by the widest and most eclectic considerations including the situation in which we find ourselves today – as an island nation and as human beings. When the consciousness is liberated it can travel far beyond man-made, political boundaries and categorizations – but without discounting their situational relevance either. When we rise above animal status under the civilizing influence of any religion this search for self and collective definition must go on and on. The men of violence (Kshatriyas) and their legitimizers (Brahmins) will always seek to close this search and trap people within a solidified culture or religion. Every human being worth his salt has refused to be so tied down and rebelled against it. This is how societies refresh and regenerate from time to time.

    • sajeeva samaranayake

      I think we must de-link human rights from those static identities that led to the war in the first place. Geneva has failed to do this. As we talk to each other we must seek a different logic. The logic of war and injustice is not the same as the logic of peace and justice…..This is what the criminal law and ICC will fail to do – and what the people of this country must do by themselves….

      • Jayalath

        I didn’t get your point , kindly could you explain in pragmatically and easily graspable manner . Thanks .

  • sajeeva samaranayake

    Ok let me have another go.
    Just 2 ideas – human growth and the identity trap.
    Individuals and communities have to grow and mature and the ideal process is the organic or natural one. This is where we learn, understand and work things out by ourselves and in relation with others without being forced or pressurized too much to fit into somebody’s ideal of how we should live.
    In real life things get awkward and complicated. One of the major complications is what I have mentioned as the identity trap.
    You see initially we struggle for security and to get established – we try hard to become somebody – get a qualification, a car, phone, family, tiled floor and I pad – may be write a few books etc etc. Once we feel we have arrived we put our legs up and then enjoy the rest of the journey in comfort. Because we have ‘earned’ it.
    Some people never achieve this – but those who do tend to lord it over the rest. This is basically the name of the game in this country. It happens to all our leaders – especially the politicians…. (I restrain myself from mentioning names)
    Till you become somebody you give a damn. After that you don’t. This can be either negative or positive. It is negative when you stop learning and growing and keep the rest of society also in stagnation. It is positive if you push forward putting your ‘achievements’ to a side without clinging to them and experience true freedom by continuous engagement with life without simply going round and round the same groove.
    When we are all hooked on a culture of becoming – rather than being; this is a slightly more technical way of putting it – then we are collectively stuck in a huge traffic jam – where ‘my journey’ is paramount and to hell with the rest.
    So we need to find ways and means of going beyond stuck identities and pushing forward as individuals first – and then collectively. We have to find the route from identity to freedom –
    seek and you shall find!

    • Jayalath

      Thank you for the response . the cut it short , that I understand what is your article is asserting . The identity can be defined to some one as human being with a sense of SELF. also a process by which people distinguish themselves from others and present themselves to the world . But this could be answered from many perspective . We also can concern the necessity of maintaining the individuals identities . Therefore , we are in a society of having MULTIPLE IDENTITIES .which needs to be well preserved and recognised by individuals.

      • sajeeva samaranayake

        Two questions we must ask – 1. Who am I? 2. What are my values? The best way of answering (1) is by answering (2). If we leave out (2) we can get lost.