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.


  1. Dr Colvin R de Silva, Opposition Member of Parliament, Hansard, June 1956.



  • puniselva

    Oh, what a breathtaking and minelevating gift to 22/23 millions of Sri Lankans!
    Will our President, Prime Minister , cabinetministers and all parliamentarians read it, re-read it, re-re-read it and digest it – they can take a few days/weeks to discuss it in small/large groups inside and outside parliament!!

    Nothing better will we ever get to get over the crisis we’veplunged ourselves in !!!

    NO TIME TO LOSE !!!!

  • puniselva

    From the comments found in a variety of articles among a variety of websites one can see that many SriLankans believe that the ethnic conflict started in July 1983. If they are young they have not been told about the period 1948-1983. If they are older it’s the result of ”politics of ignorance and ignorance of politics”.
    So, resolution of the conflict and reconciliation should start with teaching post-independence history to all school schildren. AND all teacher trainees for a period of 10yrs.
    Those who take this seriously must also incorporate what Prof H.L.Seneviratne wrote in colombotelegraph.com on 30.01.2016. It’s really good if politicians and administrators underline/interlace their practice with Buddhist principles. But it is dangerous to say ”let me rule by the dictates of Mahasangha”.
    Resolution of conflict and reconciliation consists not only of adding positive matter but also of removing negative matter.
    This opportunity must not be missed at all.
    The more we delayed the harder it got.

  • puniselva

    ”We need to redefine education and transform it outside of the existing twisted system that is exam centered and economy oriented” is the case in almost all countries of the world today.

    But in countries like Sri lanka there is another need in education:
    ‘’Education must rise on the agenda of peace building. We know the wrong type of education can fuel conflict. The use of education systems to foster hatred has contributed to the underlying causes of conflicts, from Rwanda to Sri Lanka, but also in Guatemala and Sudan’’ – Why education matters for global security, Irina Bokova(Director General, UNESCO), 1 March 2011, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/about-us/who-we-are/director-general/singleview-dg/news/education_and_security_dawn_pakistan_why_education_matters_for_global_security_234nextcom_nigeria/#.U1oX3vldVqU
    ”Sri Lanka needs A UNESCO supervised revision of school text books by a panel of internationally renowned Sri Lankan scholars so as to minimize prejudice against communities and ‘build the defences of peace in the minds of men’.” – The Lalith Weeratunga Presentation, Dayan Jayatilleka, 28 January 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/01/28/the-lalith-weeratunga-presentation/

    • puniselva

      The following are cited for

      i.the sake of current and future policy-makers in education and for informing the public, esp when constitution-making is afoot and ii.arresting negative social upheavals and to promote positive social upheavals:

      a.“Millions of school children are taught, in the name of social studies, through text-books published by the state, the myths of divergent racial origins which will help to divide the Sinhalese and Tamils for more generations to come… What this lesson does is to evoke the child’s memories of being frightened by his parents with threats of the mysterious and fearful `billo’ to identify these bogeymen as Tamil agents, and thus to enlist the deep-seated irrational fears of early childhood for the purpose of creating apprehension and hatred of Tamils” – Reggie Siriwardene, a well-respected writer, in a well-­documented analysis of the effects of school textbooks on ethnic relations in Sri Lanka(1984)

      b. ‘’The Two Faces of Education in Ethnic Conflict challenges a widely-held assumption – that education is inevitably a force for good. While stressing the many stabilizing aspects of good quality education, editors Kenneth Bush and Diana Saltarelli show how education can be manipulated to drive a wedge between people, rather than drawing them closer together. After analyzing the increasing importance of ethnicity in contemporary conflicts, this Innocenti Insight outlines the negative and positive faces of education in situations of tension or violence, including the denial of education as a weapon of war (negative) and the cultivation of inclusive citizenship (positive). It emphasizes the need for peacebuilding education that goes further than the ‘add good education and stir’ approach, aiming to transform the very foundations of intolerance. …….Ethnic intolerance makes it appearance in the classroom in many ways…… Textbooks have often been shown to contain negative ethnic stereotypes….. A review of the textbooks used in the segregated schools of Sri Lanka in the 1970s and 1980s, for example, found Sinhalese textbooks scattered with images of Tamils as the historical enemies of the Sinhalese, while celebrating ethnic heroes who had vanquished Tamils in ethnic wars. Ignoring historical fact, these textbooks tended to portray Sinhalese Buddhists as the only true Sri Lankans, with Tamils, Muslims and Christians as non- indigenous and extraneous to Sri Lankan history. This version of national history according to one commentator, has been deeply divisive in the context of the wider state’’ – The Two Faces of Education in Ethnic Conflict: Towards a Peacebuilding Education for Children, Kenneth D. Bush and Diana Saltarelli(2000), http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/insight4.pdf

      c.”The Government dominates the educational publications sector in Sri Lanka through its provision of free textbooks to all students from grade 1 to 11 …. Tamils not involved in writing the textbooks – Textbooks written in Sinhala, and then translated into Tamil …. full of spelling, grammatical and factual errors …. distortion of history …. the history of Sri Lanka is confined to a few selected Sinhala kings …. the textbooks do not educate the child about the various characteristics of a multi-religious and a multi- racial society; the majority of Sinhala medium textbooks emphasize Sinhalese Buddhist attitudes; …..distorted maps under-represent North and Eastern Provinces; “geographical, social, economical or cultural features” of Tamil communities (including the plantation sector) are not adequately discussed or presented; ….. in studying art, the Tamil student only studies Sinhalese Buddhist aspects of art; the textbooks encourage children to develop “apartheid attitudes” ….. War is shown as patriotic while peace is portrayed as cowardice’’ – Respect for Diversity in Educational Publication – The Sri Lankan Experience, Ariya Wickrema and Peter Colenso, 2003, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EDUCATION/Resources/278200-1121703274255/1439264-1126807073059/Paper_Final.pdf

  • puniselva

    ”Racial, ethnic and religious disharmony is as inevitable as death in a pluralist state …….”:

    ”Building a consciousness of nationhood is not a responsibility that can be left to politicians and constitutional lawyers. …. It is pre-eminently an educational task, to be initiated at the level of our schools. It requires a new way of looking at history, and helping young minds climb out of the constraints placed on their understanding by the sectarian myths, legends, and memories that are embedded in their ancient chronicles, whether they relate to their Aryan origins or to their Dravidian origins. This does not mean that children should be ignorant of, much less that they should reject, their rich historical inheritance, but that they should acquire a more global view of history and be equipped with a critical sense that will enable them to stand back and look at their respective narratives more objectively. …. Unless and until Sri Lanka can produce leaders who can realize that truth, and are willing to act on it, it will continue to be dismembered by conflict, long after the LTTE and Pirabhikaran have passed into history ” – Why Sirimavo refused to visit Jaffna after 1964 cyclone By Neville Jayaweera, 18 January 2009, transcurrents.com

    • FarweezImamudeen

      @ Puniselva
      Thanks for your valid inputs. I agree with you that a debate on all levels on education and the need to reform it is imperative. However to think of reforming education within the existing school system is like changing the windows on a building that is on the verge of collapse. For the ownership of the building has always been with our governments not the people and when we begin to talk about reforming the education system as it is we cannot think beyond a political solution and political solutions are designed primarily to serve the ruling elites. What we should change then is the entire building starting from its foundation. We need to TRANSFORM our education system based on universal ethics not ADAPT to the current corrupted mechanism which is run by our self centered policy makers.

  • Chinthana

    Nothing can be changed unless and until a true leader emerges to change all those so called systems,constitutions etc. and the minds of people should be changed. They are replete with all the negative attitudes, concepts and selfish motives. In Sri Lanka still we have people who spit everywhere and litter public places. The social reform should start at grassroots level.The best places are schools, religious places, police and parliament. In the case of Parliament, people should not send cattle,instead we should elect true human beings.