Ideological Cancers within the Sinhala Universe: Roadblocks in the Path of Reconciliation

Photo by REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte via Channel 4

Way back in the 1970s the manner in which Anagārika Dharmapāla conflated the concepts of “Ceylonese” and “Sinhalese” in one of his public exhortations (Guruge 1965) led me to argue that this was a powerful tendency in Sinhalese nationalist thinking and that this unexamined tendency was a major problem in securing political accommodation that would assuage the growing dissent among the Sri Lankan Tamils (Roberts 1978). The problem remains and has been marked in the theme motif for my thuppahi site, viz., “the Sinhala Mindset” (2009a).

It was highlighted once again in my article “Pillars for the Future” in Frontline on 22 May 2009 immediately after the Government of Sri Lanka, marshalled by the Rajapaksas and UPFA, defeated the LTTE military machine (Roberts 2009b). I argued here for a multi-faceted approach directed towards dismantling the practices which encouraged the majoritarian Sinhala part to elide itself as the whole of Lanka in ways that naturalized domination.

This issue, to be sure, is a secondary aspect of the political structures and processes that have placed the Sinhala forces, spearheaded now by the Rajapaksas, in the commanding heights of the island’s political economy. Today, the Rajapaksa brothers oversee a vast conglomerate that dominates the island.

There are, it is said, internal currents and counter-currents within this cabal.[1]The more benign — seemingly benign — ideological currents have at times been embodied in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s pontifical public addresses, sermons from the mount. There are analysts who would take a transactionalist position and dismiss these expressions as typical political camouflage that attempts to appease both critics and masses. There are friends of mine, analysts too, who see the Rajapaksas as the epitome of evil power-mongers who are beyond the pale. As such, these friends become one part of the Sri Lankan dispensation whose readings and actions are guided by visceral Rajapaksa hatred. Many of these personnel are Sinhalese — Sinhalese, mind you, who hated Pirahākaran (Prabākaran) and the LTTE too. Such a fact makes for a political scenario that is as complex as cavernous. Such reactions also, arguably, complicate the process of reconciliation and exacerbate the developing problems.

Is there no hope then? Is Sinhala domination entrenched in the Rajapaksa cabal? I prefer to align with Jehan Perera and see some glimmers of reconciliatory possibility in President Rajapaksa’s gestures and pronouncements at symbolic moments. Let me delineate some examples.

  1. At the Independence Day Speech at Trincomalee on 4th February 2013 President Mahinda Rajapaksa affirmed that “as much as racism, religious differences too can be a cause for the destruction of a country. If anyone is trying to build religious rivalry in Sri Lanka again, they do not serve their religion, but serve the interests of separatism in the country. We cannot leave room for what could not be achieved through terrorism to be gained by this.”
  2. … and followed this up by stating that “when the people live together in unity there are no racial or religious [disputes].[2]Therefore, it is not practical for this country to be divided based on ethnicity. The solution is to live together in this country with equal rights for all communities.”

Significantly, he presented both these pronouncements in Tamil as well as Sinhalese. Likewise, more recently at the gathering to launch the launch the National Unity Convention at the BMICH in Colombo on 7th April 2014, he spoke in Tamil at some moments and attracted a spontaneous round of clapping when he first did so — a response that is surely a hopeful sign of some import.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has a penchant for selective excursions into the island’s history in order to bolster his homilies. In 2013 at Trincomalee he alluded to the Dutch fort in Trincomalee as one aspect of their colonial domination and the fact that Trincomalee was the entry-point for Siamese monks tasked with restoring higher ordination inthe Kingdom of Kandy (i.e. Sīhalē) during the mid-18th century. Likewise, at the gathering at the BMICH he referred (a) to the manner in which the kings of Sīhalē at Mahānuvara (Kandy) provided refuge to Muslims subject to Portuguese persecution and (b), how, subsequently in Dutch times, they enabled Catholics fleeing Dutch persecution to settle at Wahacotte. In this manner he marked the importance of religious tolerance of diversity.

The latter examples are acts of cherry-picking from a more complex history of the Kingdom of Sīhalē (as the Kingdom of Kandy should be more properly called) that includes parallel and significant instances of intolerance.[3] But it is the contemporary purpose, the advocacy of tolerance and accommodation by President Rajapaksa, embodied within these selections that one must heed … and possibly applaud.

Possibly applaud? There are cynics who will dismiss such excursions as pious platitudes from on high that have no solid practical groundings or policy pursuits. When my Frontline article asked whether President Rajapaksa’s “sweet words [would] be matched substantial reforms in the political dispensation,” a similar scepticism was signalled (2009). Today, four years later, the government’s failure to curtail the chauvinism, religious intolerance and political thuggery of the Bodu Bala Sena indicates a failure to align practice with homily. The government’s particular failure to curb hate speech or act is not an isolated instance. Civil rights advocates will be able to present many instances where the rule of law has not been administered.

Today’s sceptics may go further and deeper: they may even adopt my characterisation of Mahinda Rajapaksa as an Asokan Persona and cakravarti figure who is not only sustained by cohorts pirivarāgena, but one who dispenses largesse in ways that encourage him to take away with the left hand what the right hand has dispensed.

In this form of political order, therefore, benefits, if any, are delivered from above. Thus, beneficial actions are not rights established on political principle in the vocabulary of the French Enlightenment. The political culture has a different grounding that is deeply hierarchical and capricious in its implications and applications.

This foundation within Sri Lankan politics, therefore, is a debilitating force, a hidden tumour. This tumour, I suggest, sits alongside, and is further aggravated by, another cancer: one that I have alluded to within another article (in Groundviews no less) entitled “Mixed Messages” (Roberts 2011a). This cancerous problem is nothing less than the replication of one pillar in Dharmapala’s thinking, namely, the conflation of “Sinhalese” with “Ceylonese;” or “Sinhala” with Sri Lankan.”

“Mixed Messages” focused on the (a) oversimplifications within President Rajapaksa’s Independence Day Speech at Trincomalee in 2013 and (b) his inattention to this particular cancer lying concealed within his presentation. For one take his assertion then in 2013: “jātheen samīdānayen ekata jeevathwena kota, jāthī āgam bēdha äthi wenne nä” — rendered as “when nations/racial groups/peoples[4] live together in unity, racial and religious schisms/disputes will not arise.” President Rajapaksa may have thought it meaningful and profound. However, it is nothing but a tautology; well-intentioned no doubt and a plea for religious tolerance; but hardly a practical step towards religious amity.

For another, in “Mixed Messages” I raised the issue of the Sinhala part-being-equal-to-the Lanka-whole in President Rajapaksa’s Victory Day speech of 22 May 2009 when he alluded to jātika kodiya, sinha kodiya. My interpretation on this point has since been challenged by Gerald Peiris who contended/contends[5]that the reference is to the flag of Sri Lanka and that its usage in recent times is similar to American references to the Stars and Stripes and British references to the Union Jack.[6]

Peiris was/is scathing and unequivocal on this point (see Appendix I). However, it would seem that we are in contested terrain on this issue. Other educated Sinhalese interpreted the terminology, taken in association with the lion emblem, to mark the conjunction of land/state with the Sinhala people. Let me begin with two examples.

Example A is the reading presented by Nishan de Mel, a professional researcher in his early 40s: “when someone says Sinha Kodiya, I tend to, and other Sinhalese might too, think of the term “Sinha” as a reference to the LION and not the Sinhalese. But the Sinha Flag as an entity tends to evoke a sense of representing the Sinhalese (not because of the term ‘sinha’).”

Example B is a young Sinhalese female researcher in her ‘twenties whose proficiency is weighted towards Sinhala literacy. She said,

“I haven’t [thought] about this before. When I heard someone speaks Sinha kodiya, what suddenly come in to my mind is, it is our Jathika kodiya. When I heard it, I’ll make a picture of a lion in my mind, but it is about Jathika kodiya. Jathika kodiya is “our” flag. I now only started thinking of what I meant by “our”. I think it probably will be the Sinhala!

But I asked about this from five people, three of them said that when they hear this, first thing come in to their mind is lion. Others said that IT IS THE JATHIKA KODIYA. I think if we questioned them further, they will probably talk about Sinhala. Therefore I think if someone hear Sinha kodiya, he or she connects it to Sinhala, not just for a lion. Because everyone knows the relationship of the lion to Sinhala.”

Example C: A third person, a female Sinhalese academic in her early 30s who has been studying abroad for quite a while but spent time recently on fieldwork in the island, presented a more complex reading by dissecting contexts of usage. Because her exercise is lengthy, it is presented as Appendix II. It leans towards the idea that in specific situations the association of the lion with the Sinhalese people is strong and concluded with her hunch that “a more distinct connotation between its iconography and the ethnic category is getting more hardened.”

In summary, therefore, we see that a fundamental iconographic symbol appears to encourage differing and controversial interpretations. In this background one must obviously attend to the considerations that guided the original inauguration of this flag.[7]

As “Ceylon” was on the verge of securing Independence from Britain in 1948, the MP for Batticaloa, A. Sinnalebbe, tabled a motion in the State Council on January 16th, 1948 advocating the adoption of the lion flag seized from the last King of Kandy (that is of Sīhalē) by the British — an emblem held as trophy at Chelsea in London. It appears that some version of this flag was deployed on the 4th February 1948 when the island’s independence was symbolically celebrated.

D. S. Senanayake appointed a Committee to finalize an appropriate flag. The composition was multi-ethnic and erudite: S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (Chairman), Sir John Kotalawela, Mr. J.R. Jayewardene, Mr. T.B. Jayah, Dr. L.A. Rajapakse, Mr. G.G. Ponnambalam and Senator S. Nadesan, with Dr. Senarath Paranavithana as Secretary. They developed the design that prevails now and this emblematic flag was hoisted for the first time on the 3rd March 1950.

There is a suite of meanings encoded in the flag. These remain hidden and unknown. So the official clarification is an eye-opener.[8]

“The design approved by the committee in February 1950 retained the symbol of the lion with the sword and the bo-leaves from the civil standard of the last king of Sri Lanka, with the inclusion of two vertical stripes green and orange in colour. The significance of each symbol of the national flag is as follows:

  • The lion in the flag represents the Sinhala race.
  • The sword of the lion represents the sovereignty of the country.
  • The noble eight fold path of Buddhism is signified by the lion’s tail.
  • Curly hair on the lion’s head indicates religious observance, wisdom and meditation.
  • The beard denotes purity of words.
  • The handle of the sword highlights the elements of water, fire, air and earth.
  •  The nose indicates intelligence.
  •  The two front paws purport to purity in handling wealth.
  • The vertical stripe of orange represent the minority Tamil race and the green vertical stripe the minority Muslim race.
  • The four virtues of kindness: KINDNESS, FRIENDLINESS, HAPPINESS, EQUANIMITY are also represented in the flag.
  • The border round the flag, which is yellow in colour, represents other minor races.
  • The bo-leaves at the four corners of the flag represent Buddhism and its influence on the nation. They also stand for the four virtues – Kindness, Friendliness, Happiness and Equanimity.
  • The maroon coloured portion of the flag manifests the other minor religions.”

It is unlikely that many Sri Lankans are familiar with most of the symbolic meanings encoded within the intricate details in the flag. But the meanings attached to the prominent green and orange stripes — recognising the Muslim (Moor) and Tamil peoples’ place in the island firmament — are widely known; and in their turn underline the original conception of the lion as an iconic marker for the Sinhalese. Indeed, for this reason Senator Nadesan appears to have voiced strong protests within the Committee couched in the spirit and language of Tamil nationalism in search of equal status. Ethirveerasingham’s subsequent web essay (n. d) in the same spirit of legalistic equality reveals that Nadesan objected to the design as one that rendered the Tamils and Muslims into “appendages outside the Sinhala Buddhist unit.”

Clearly, the debate then calls for careful scrutiny. This survey must extend to the discussions leading to the constitution of 1972 because it seems that “the flag was modified once more, with four stylized leaves of the Bo (Pipul) tree, a Buddhist symbol, [being] added to the four corners to replace the four pinnacles” (Funday Times 2010).[9]

The issue remains for us TODAY: does the term sinha kodiya, taken in conjunction with its iconic emblem, make jātika kodiya into a Sinhalese space in the thinking of some Sinhalese? … or among many Sinhalese? There is a research topic here. Gerald Peiris’s obiter dictum must be scrutinised and challenged.

Perhaps we should consider Indi Samarajiva’s iconoclastic thoughts after the TNA leader Sampanthan was criticised by his (constipated?) fellows for carrying the national flag at a political function in May 2012. Indi’s response is as follows: “The Sri Lankan flag is not an aesthetic triumph, but neither am I. I like it anyways. In [a] (random) graded review of flags Sri Lanka got 41/100 with demerits for weapons, bad colours, graven images and being too busy. Which I think is fair, but again, I like it anyways. It’s a flag, it’s our flag. I have one in the house in case there’s a big cricket match or something. What’s news is that a Tamil leader made news by simply holding the flag at all.”

Entwined within this field is the cultural minefield enveloping the translation of European concepts in the English language into everyday Sinhalese vocabulary within mundane conversations and news reportage. Where muladharmavādaya has recently confirmed its firm meaning as the translation of “fundamentalism,” there is simply no standardisation in the everyday understandings of the terms “race” and “nation” and the related concepts “racialism” and “nationalism.”[10]

Taking up four basic concepts that have taken root in the Western political discourse in the English language since the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the corpus was presented to six political activists (including three journalists) in 2013.[11] The answers varied, while yet displaying some commonality:

nation = vargaya/deshaya; jātiya (3); rate janathāva; rata/dheshaya

race = pelapatha/jātiya; vargaya (2); jaatiya/kula vargaya; jātiya; janavargaya;

racialism = vargavaadaya/jātivadaya; vargavādaya (3); jaativādaya (2)

nationalism = jātiālaya/jātivādaya; jātikathvavādaya; jātikavādaya (3); jātivādaya

Within this body of disagreement and commonality it appears that in some minds the word jātiya can be used interchangeably and refer to both race and nation. So, too, can vargaya (which also refers to “kind”).

These overlaps and conflations are of considerable import. They are reminders of the considerable confusion of terminology in England during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries before political and intellectual developments separated the concept of “nation” from its equivalences with “kind” and “tribe” (Roberts 2011).

I speculate that in the Sinhala-speaking world today these conflations encourage the reading of the past into the present and the present into the past. It is likely, therefore, that they encourage the entrenchment of primordialist notions of Sinhalaness amongst a significant segment of the Sinhalese populace.

By “primordialism” I refer here to thinking that understands the meaning of a collective label to be the same from its inception, its ursprüngliche moment, so that the interpretive stress is on constancy, durability and linear persistence. Ur in German refers to “original” or “ancient” as well as “primitive” and “prime.” It connects with the idea of Ursprung and Urprunglichkeit, viz, “origin” and “original.” It therefore conveys notions of essence of being or naturalness. It also connects with such political concepts as Herkunft (stock, descent)and Entstehung (emergence) and with a range of other German words with positive connotations. In brief, it cross-hatches German speech-forms in a manner that instils and grounds a powerful constellation of thought (Roberts 2001: 26-27).

My speculative suggestion is that a similar body of cross-hatching ideas has existed for centuries in Sinhala thinking supported further by a segmentary inside/outside language pattern that is integral to interpersonal factional relations generating hostility to those “ūn” or “gamen bähara” (beyond our village) or “pita” (outside) or those “un” in the sense alien (Roberts 2001: 26; 2004: 17, 30-33, 136ff).

As a populist politician who is prone to present his homilies through excursions into the Sinhala past, it is likely that Mahinda Rajapaksa bears this baggage. It is not surprising, therefore, that he has resisted the long-term project that seeks to re-educate Sinhala generations into an appreciation of their Tamil neighbours by learning to sing the national anthem, “Sri Lankā Māthā,” in Tamil and Sinhala at momentous occasions. The LLRC’s recommendation on this score lies on the shelves.

Do consider the potential. Imagine the moment when the Sri Lankan cricketers face the Aussies or Indians at Premadasa Stadium in Colombo or Rajapaksa Stadium at Sooriyawewa ………….. and everybody stands at the pre-match ceremony ………….. and all belt out the NAMO NAMO anthem first in Sinhala and then in Tamil. Ponder, ponder: what chords of amity can be generated!

But then ponder: why has the idea been rejected. The Asokan man of homily is not willing to listen to the ecumenical messages of any sandēsa bird (messenger bird) or the calm admonitions of a lapwing seeking a bi-lingual expression of Sri Lankā Māthā. The lapwing returns home dejected. Reconciliation remains shredded. Even the thought of reconciliation evaporates.

End

APPENDIX I: Comment from Gerald Peiris, 24 April 2014

Both translations of jāthī āgam bēdha äthi wenne nä you have cited are definitely wrong, and one of them is misleading. The phrases jāthi bēda and āgam bēda in common Sinhala usage (even in Sinhala poetry and lyrics) mean, respectively, racial (or ethnic) disputes, and religious disputes.

Considered in the context of his speech, what MR has actually said in that passage is, in simple terms is: “(look), today in Colombo and the South, and in the East, the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are living together in peace. (So), when people live in peace, there are no racial (ethnic) or religious disputes.

Note: The official translator has made a mistake here, The term samīdānayen (the correct word is samādānayen) should be translated as ‘in peace’ (not ‘in unity’)

How can you or anyone else find anything “disturbing” or Prabhakaran-like in that statement? How on earth could you say that MR’s statement is tantamount to his saying that there are no racial and religious differences in Sri Lanka?

There could, of course, be no denial that MR and many others in this country (including me – though I am no Sinhala Prabhakaran) are against devolution (i.e. transfer of a wide range of critically important powers of government from the Center to regions demarcated ostensibly on the basis of ethnicity,** as distinct from power-sharing among all ethnic groups) as provided for by the 13th Amendment or as envisaged by those demanding a federation or a confederacy in SL, because we have no doubt that it would be disastrous for all the inhabitants of the island. I do not see anything hegemonic in that belief.

** Note also that there is no correspondence whatever between provincial demarcations and ‘ethnic regions’ in Sri Lanka.

The trouble with these Eelam fans (not you) is that any Tamil who has ventured into sharing powers of government at the Center is, for them, a ‘stooge’ of MR or a ‘lackey’ of the Sinhalese. I think they should just be ignored.

SL’s national flag has always been referred to as the ‘Sinha Kodiya’ a term just like ‘Union Jack’ or ‘Stars and Stripes’. The term Sinha refers to ‘lion’ and not the ‘Sinhala people’ The traditional Sinhalese flags (those that are displayed even today in the Kandy perahæra) have stylised depictions of various other animals as well.

APPENDIX II: Comment from a female Sinhalese postgraduate student[12]

Dear Michael,

…. I’m still not too sure about what “jathi/n” would mean – again context specific – and whether it means more than ethnicity (as was the case during pre-Dutch times when it was used as a broader umbrella term)…

B= going back to the etymology of the term ‘Seeha-la’ the symbolic link would be fairly strong (though we now looking at two entirely different contexts though, Seeha-la = not used as a racial category during antiquity as it was during colonialism and now). So the contexts are rather slippery.

I would then perhaps look at the wider context in which this quotation is embedded, and what it stands to mean today. However (going by popular culture, media representation), the iconography makes that clear link (rather as a connotation), between the metaphor and the ‘race.’ The question then would be whether there do exist exceptions (between the signifier and the signified), in which the lion is disembedded from any ethnic/racial context.

It’s been a question I’ve mulled over, particularly in 2009 when it was most pervasive in popular mainstream media (Sinhala), and it would be interesting to trace the different meanings and contexts (if at all), in which the icon stands to symbolize. Off my head, I’ve listed down a few contexts I see it appearing here:

Context A: Clips of the national anthem appearing on Youtube in 2009, with an image superimposed with the camouflaged face of a solder which rapidly flips back and forth between a human and what seems like a lion’s face

Context B: symbols in the national cricket area / if you look at the costumes of fans e.g. lion-mane wigs etc. this seems much more disengaged from any ethnic connotations – the slippage is rather stark in this context as it would be look upon as a national symbol. It would be interesting to validate this by asking Muslim and Tamil fans how they place it in context;

Context C: Civic/media discourse over Ceylon Breweries’ award-winning Lion Lager advertisement that used Chitralal Somapala’s 80s’ classic (I believe), as its theme song – the debates were clearly framed around narratives of ethnic in/exclusion,

Context D: again civic debates over meanings of hoisting a national flag during the last Independence Day (having a flag = patriotism = support of present regime); again its framing was rooted in embattled notions of nationalism and ethno-majoritarian politics. I recall people relatively more critical this time around and clearly distinguished between those who had flags, not having a flag was often seen as sending a clear signal. Now take this at face value, because it’s been a while since I’ve stayed Sri Lankan during Independence Day, but a few remarked on the ease of commercially finding flags (of course the manufacture of flags themselves) were perhaps at its peak this year.

Context E: In the late 90s, I recall one of the Gajabaha Regiments (cannot recall which one, I could find out), in Mirigama having had a captive male lion in its camp – I was told for the sake of “uplifting troop morale.” We had a small coconut estate a mile or two from the camp, and I’d heard it from first-hand sources…

All in all, slippages do exist, and I think context of course would matter first of all. That being said, my hunch is that a more distinct connotation between its iconography and the ethnic category is getting more hardened.

REFERENCES

Ethirveerasingham, N. n. d. “The Sri Lankan National Flag: Symbol of Inequality and separation,” http://www.sangam.org/ANALYSIS/Ethir_02_23_01.htm

Daily Mirror 2012 “mixed reactions over hoisting National Flag,” http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/18429-mixed-reactions-over-hoisting-national-flag.html

Funday Times 2010 “The Sri Lankan National Flag,” http://www.sundaytimes.lk/100131/FunDay/fut_02.html.

Guruge, Ananda (ed) 1965 Return to Righteousness, Colombo: Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 1965: 501-44.

Roberts, Michael 1978 “Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka and Sinhalese Perspectives: Barriers to Accommodation,” Modern Asian Studies, 12, 353-376.

Roberts, Michael 1994.Exploring Confrontation, Reading: Harwood Academic Press.

Roberts, Michael 2001 Primordialist strands in contemporary Sinhala nationalism in Sri Lanka: Urumaya as Ur (Vol. 20). Colombo: Marga Institute.

Roberts, Michael 2004. Sinhala Consciousness in the Kandyan Period, 1590s-1818, Colombo: Yapa Publications.

Roberts, Michael2009b “Some Pillars for Lanka’s Future,” Frontline, 19 June 2009, 26: 24-27 …. http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2612/stories/20090619261202400.htm

Roberts, Michael2009a “Sinhala Mindset,” 9 Dec. 2009, http://thuppahi.wordpress.com/the-sinhala-mind-set/.

Roberts, Michael 2010 “Challenges Today: Weevils in the Mind,” 22 May 2010, http://groundviews.org/2010/05/22/challenges-today-weevils-in-the-mind/

Roberts, Michael 2011 “The Vocabulary of ‘nation’ in English in the Early Modern Period,” 10 July 2011, http://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/the-vocabulary-of-nation-in-english-in-the-early-modern-period/

Roberts, Michael 2011 “Mixed Messages and Bland Oversimplification in President Rajapaksa’s Independence Day Speech,” 11 February 2013, http://groundviews.org/2013/02/11/mixed-messages-and-bland-oversimplification-in-president-rajapaksas-independence-day-speech/

Roberts, Michael 2012 “Mahinda Rajapaksa: Cakravarti Imagery and Populist Processes,” 28 January 2012 http://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/mahinda-rajapaksa-cakravarti-imagery-and-populist-processes/

Samarajiva, Indi 2012 “the Flag Debate,” http://indi.ca/2012/05/the-flag-debate/

Wickremasinghe, Nira 2009 “After the War: A New Patriotism n Sri Lanka?” Journal of Asian Studies, 2009, 6: 1045-54.

Young, Richard & GSB Senanayake 1998 The Carpenter-Prētayā. A Collection of Buddhist Texts about Christianity from Sri Lanka, Colombo: Karunaratne and Sons.

FOOTNOTES

[1] From various circuits of gossip in Colombo.

[2]Unfortunately the Sinhala word “bēdha” was translated into English as “differences” in the official version of the President’s Speech, when it should have been rendered as “disputes” or “schisms.”

[3] Amidst the several examples and strands of religious tolerance in the Kingdom of Kandy in the period 1591-1815 and the evidence of hybridity and pluralism, one has to (A) carefully attend to the spatial and class locations of such instances and (B) note contrasting instances of intolerance and animosity. For instance in the 1740s the Catholics around Mahanuvara were called “parangi” and evicted; while palm-leaf texts from this period expressed sharp hostility to both Saivism and Christianity. See Young and Senanayake 1998 and Roberts 2004: 17, 132-36; 139-40.

[4] The word jāti in Sinhala can be translated as follows: ”kind,” “caste,” ‘race,” “ethnic group” or “nation.” In this particular context the last three meanings apply in overlapping ways. As far as I am aware, the concept “ethnic” is not commonly deployed in Sri Lanka; but it is not insignificant that the official translation chose “racial” rather than “nation’ (or its equivalent, “nationality”) as its rendering.

[5]Email from Gerald Peiris, February 2013. Professor Peiris is a pal and an academic from my generation; aged in his mid-70s and a geographer, he is one of the best social scientists that Sri Lanka has produced.

[6] In April this year (2014) I sought permission from Gerald Peiris to present his Memo. He sent me a shorter, sharper version for public view (Appendix I) via email 24 April 2014.

[7] There is clearly a requirement for dispassionate studies of the parliamentary debates and media commentary when the Lion Flag was adopted in the period 1948-50.

[8] See http://www.lankalibrary.com/pro/flag.html.

[9] This item also adds that “in 1978, the leaves were made more natural.”

[10] In his typical forthright manner a senior journalist of Leftist orientation, Lakshman Gunasekara ,conveyed a pithy note on the reasons why muladharmavādaya had secured standardization: “Ever since the Sinhala media began reporting (and deliberately highlighting what was initially a campaign by a small group) the Sinhala ultra-nationalist campaign against Muslims/Islam, they used the term ‘mooladharmavaadi’ which is constantly used by that group and it is now fairly widespread in use at least by the media attentive public …. In fact thanks to the Sinhala media and the BBS, ‘mooladharmavaadaya’ is a far more popularly known term than ‘vargaavaadaya’ or ‘jaathivaadaya’ – which, of course, these forces will NOT use because they full well know that it is self-descriptive!”

[11] Two of the journalists were tapped indirectly: by Dilky Wijeyekoon to whom I had sent the question.

[12] Email dated 13 February 2013.

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This article is part of a  larger collection of articles and content commemorating five years after the end of war in Sri Lanka. An introduction to this special edition by the Editor of Groundviews can be read here. This, and all other articles in the special edition, is published under a Creative Commons license that allows for republication with attribution.

  • Dependable

    Seriously, when is scholarship in Sri Lanka going to get real? They have been flogging the same paradigm for decades now, nothing new, nothing different. The Sinhala Buddhists are the most evil people on earth, and there will never be peace in Sri Lanka with them around. Anything new?