Featured image courtesy Senaka Senanayake via patrimoniogallery
Racial, ethnic and religious disharmony is as inevitable as death in a pluralist state where more than one race, ethnicity or religion shares the same geographical boundaries and its resources among themselves. It is inevitable not because of the rich diversity that is natural in societies but because of blatant ignorance that is present collectively; The lack of knowledge and empathy to see the other as a fellow human being, made of the same flesh, blood, emotions and needs, differing naturally as human beings do due to a rather mysterious mind that naturally causes differences of ideas and opinions among different individuals and sometimes within the same individual himself; a reason why we differ from lesser animals whose behavior can be predicted and thus controlled. Srilanka too, despite its rich diversity of cultures, customs, languages and religions is a battered victim of social unrest that was caused by inadequate problem solving skills. We continue to be a divided nation. Despite our many futile attempts to find a political solution to the ethnic, racial and religious conflicts we continue to be deceived to believe that we can solve the dilemma while the people are still deeply steeped in ignorance.
We were granted independence by the British in 1948, without a fight, gift wrapped on a silver platter. The British equipped us with everything they knew were not, and we assumed were sufficient for a just governance – democracy, parliament, elections, constitutions – only to learn bitterly after living it – as we always do – that we were wrong. During the last 68 years since independence we have spent nearly 46 years of it grappling with two bloody conflicts that sprouted from within, due to biased political decisions which were driven by selfish motives, and the ignorance of the masses. Our self serving leaders lacked wisdom to understand what power and authority was for, and the people lacked wisdom to understand who a real leader was.
The case of Professor Colvin R.De Silva is a classic example of a nude display of ignorance by a political genius and its unequivocal acceptance by a people who lacked foresight. His lack of wisdom and an egocentric political agenda were to compound the fear, anxiety and suspicion of the Tamil minority, and set the ball rolling for the deadliest civil war in the history of Srilanka.
In 1956 when S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike proposed the Sinhala only act, Professor Colvin R.De Silva vehemently opposed it. “Do you want two languages and one nation or one language and two nations? Parity Mr. Speaker,” He argued “we believe is the road to freedom of our nation and the unity of its components. Otherwise two torn little bleeding states may arise from one little state.”(1) Prophetic indeed.
16 years later, in 1972 while serving as a Cabinet Minister in Mrs.Bandaranaike’s government he was appointed to draft the new constitution. He was no more in the opposition, the political climate had changed. It was a new stage, a new scene, and he had to assume a suitable role. So he ripped off his ‘former champion of equality’ mask, and put on the new one to suit the occasion- ‘Stalwart of Sinhala Buddhist extremism’. It was his proposals which were later constituted and became the legal prototype for Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism. Buddhism was enthroned and Sinhalese was made the official language. Racism was officially endorsed in our national constitution. The ignorance of the shepherd and the ignorance of the sheep led the entire nation through bright daylight to a devastating catastrophe that could have been avoided had we gambled with wisdom instead of ignorance.
To our politicians the racial, ethnic and religious divide is the goose that lays the golden eggs. They cannot afford to slaughter it. The process of conflict is an absolute necessity for their political survival for it is not only the stallion that would ride them into power but also their leash that would give them unrestricted command over the ignorant masses.
Bodu Bala Sena, Ravana Balaya and Sinha-le are not the beginning nor will they be the end. Racism will only grow by degrees, getting stronger, better organized and better prepared to counter its adversaries with every blow that slows it down for it feeds on collective ignorance to stay alive. Thus in as much as there is mass ignorance nothing will curtail its progress. Nor are groups like BBS and Sinha-le isolated, sprouting from no particular systematic agenda. In fact these have a clear political agenda. That is to distract the public from real concerns like unemployment, poverty and health issues, with superficial ones, like a fictional cultural invader, by manipulating their ignorance and fomenting fear and suspicion of the other.
Collective ignorance remains at the root of the crisis. We cannot prosper while the primary agent is still active and breeding. Any attempt to solve the racial, ethnic or religious problem without attempting to eliminate ignorance is counterproductive for we would be futilely trying to wipe out the effects while feeding the cause ad infinitum.
Eradicating ignorance and cultivating knowledge is an absolute necessity, and it is the ultimate goal of education. A real education should create independent, creative, challenging, curious, loving, compassionate, patient, empathetic, resilient, courageous and sincere citizens who are worthy of the name ‘good’. Instead our process of education prepares obedient, diligent and skilled workers who will accept hierarchy and authority, turn up on time, work hard, do what they are told, consume, and not expect to have control over their situation. Our education system provides the kind of minds that are necessary for exploitation. Our schools produce minds that function one dimensional. An education that is exam centered and economy oriented lies at the pinnacle of the crisis; an education that defines itself as a tool to attain a better and comfortable life.
We cannot begin to change the system while fueling the cause that breeds the crisis. As long as we keep funding and nurturing schools that compete with each other, vying endlessly to produce quality skilled labor that is required to serve the corporations and industries, the kind of change we may achieve will only be momentary and superficial. It will soon revert to its original crisis situation. The fact that our education is primarily economy oriented – personally and nationally – is the mother of all evils.
We tied the cart before the horse and still don’t seem to be able to figure out why the cart is not moving. First we need to realize that the problem is genuine. The horse needs to be retied in its rightful place to make any progress at all. We need to redefine education and transform it outside of the existing twisted system that is exam centered and economy oriented. We don’t need a foreign army to invade us and run riot in the country. We will do it ourselves; extremist factions that cash in on mass ignorance and the weak will do it, unless we create a new generation of truly good leaders. Our children deserve an education that would liberate their minds, purify their souls and nourish their health. They need real, liberal education, not school factories that produce mechanical and dysfunctional minds.
- Dr Colvin R de Silva, Opposition Member of Parliament, Hansard, June 1956.