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16.02.2009 Feature Article

Sri Lanka: comeback of Sinhalese chauvinism

Sri Lank, one of the major SAARC members, is running through a chauvinistic attitude to the Tamil, largest ethnic minority group of the country. It is not very far past that government of Sri Lanka believed that Tamil issue should be resolved through political initiatives. Presently, as Army achieved a land mark military victory over LTTE, the Tamil guerrilla outfit, government of the country feels that northern conflict could be resolved by military offensive. It is the attitude contradictory to the rights of Tamil people and it could be said that it is a comeback of Sinhalese chauvinism of the era of “Sinhala Only Act“.

Despite low trend in world economic growth, the conflict trodden country has achieved a significant level of progress in terms of wealth accumulation. And Sinhalese, the majority of the nation, took the advantage of wealth accumulation processes as the minority Tamils are far away from the formal state activities. In these processes, Sinhalese are getting advantage because they have opportunity to access in all inter-country economic activities under the passive or active patronage of state. Besides these, political power system and state machinery are also mostly controlled by the majority community. As a result wealth and power make Sinhalese chauvinistic about the minority ethnic groups living Sri Lanka including Tamil.

Conflict between Sinhalese and Tamil is not a phenomenon of modern time. It had been started from 8th to 6th BCE as stated by history of South Asia. History told that one Bengali prince (other opinion Kalinga prince) conquered the island of Lanka and after that the conqueror prince married local princess that made the tow rival friends and it began a new era of civilization in that island. Historians said that Lanka always faced invasion of ethnic groups from southern India from that time. It should be mentioned that invasion of that period in Indian sub-continent from north to south, south to north and east to west, west to east was an overlapping process of races, groups and tribes among other, which made the way to establish a center-controlled state in south Asia.

Any way conflict came out in Sri Lanka (the then Ceylon) between Sinhalese and Tamils at British era. At that time language of administration was English. Maximum of English language schools were in the northern part of the island state and Tamil had the maximum accessibility to those schools. As a result, in British administration, Tamils were privileged for administrative posts; Sinhalese representatives in administration were form elite circle only.

After the independence of the country, as the majority community of country, Sinhalese emerged as the key political player and some of the Sinhalese representatives said that Tamils were privileged in the British administration, so in the independent country they might not be privileged again. This was the first chauvinistic attitude surfaced in Sri Lanka socio-political sphere of influence. And “Sinhala Only Act was the outcome of this chauvinism.

This act of politician pushed the country to a communal conflict in 1950s and finally communal conflict extended to a civil war. From 1983 Sri Lankan conflict recognized as civil war by international community.

In first phase of conflict, Tamil politicians were not in the play ground of armed conflict but the young armed Tamils were getting their moral support. In second phase LTTE and other Tamil armed groups were in the field for a separate state for Tamils. At that stage Tamil guerrilla outfits were engaged in internal war as well. At one stage of this process LTTE emerged as only politico-military organization of Tamil people living in Sri Lanka. When grouping and regrouping process was going on, India involved in the Lankan conflict for many reasons. Assassination of Indian Prime Minister was the most painful consequence of Indian involvement in Lankan crisis.

By mid-2000 many international rights group came forward to address the issue as more than one million people were displaced and thousands of other were died or wounded due to the civil war. By the end of 2001 a peace effort concluded by signing a ceasefire between government of Sri Lanka and Tamil Tigers. For many causes the ceasefire agreement has broken and finally government went for withdrawal from ceasefire.

Again Sri Lankan government and LTTE involved in military operations that caused agony for common people mainly who are living in northern Tamil populated area. On a point of time Lankan government feels that military offensive is the only solution of Tamil issue. And of course it is the reflection of majority Sinhalese community; the elites among Sinhalese are more chauvinistic on the issue.

As of the latest media reports, LTTE is in a cornered situation. Even this politico-military organization of Lankan Tamils has no more strength to face government military offensive. It could be told that LTTE is in the end of its existence. But Tamils could not be eliminated from their legitimate and historical homeland. So this issue must be addressed politically. Chauvinism is not the solution. As an expectation form a peace loving one, it should be said that no comebacks of chauvinism.

Mohoshin Abbas
Mohoshin Abbas, © 2009

This author has authored 26 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: MohoshinAbbas

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