Lack of an effort to shape up a nationalism a la India since
independence from the British colonial rule in late 1940s may be said to be at the root of the tragic events that the Island Nation has been undergoing for decades. That is, first in the shape of Tamil separatism and recently the Muslim lash backs.
It is well known that the Sri Lankan society is broadly divided into
three streams: Simhala, Tamil and Muslim. Also there are a few
marginal groups comprising aborigines to the island who are in small numbers and very poor who were suppressed by different forces during the middle ages. They do not count today.
The three major streams did not have good relations during the British rule and they carried their respective prejudices against one another into post-1948 independence phase.
The contrast between the Indian leadership and that of the majority Sri Lankan leadership could be seen right from the beginning. In india no doubt the majority leadership hailed from the Hindu stream. Still, and despite the horrendous riots of partition time, that majority leadership with a vision of future ‘Indian Nation’ building, made every effort to take all communities, religions and regions along.
A suitable constitution and also plans for balanced, decentralized development of all regions were announced. It was an inclusive approach for ‘Nation Building’. It had its share of failures in practice not withstanding, nevertheless the very vision with resultant positive results held India together for all these long decades.
This is where exactly the Sri Lankan leadership miserably failed to
draw its lessons from its larger neighbour. Curiously enough the
Srilankans looked towards India for inspiration and guidance during the anti-colonial movement but there ended the bond.
Post- independence the majority Simhala/ Budhist leadership , while continuing its majoritarian dominant attitude, tried its best to beat the minority Tamils and Muslims into submission — economically, socially and politically. As this happened right from the beginning it caused reactions over a period of time, yielding bitter experiences to both the sides.
Coming to the April 21 bomb blasts in four of the Sri Lankan cities, it may be noted three of them are towards the western coast and on the western coast (Batticaloa), all having enough Muslim population.
A look at the past decades show that the Simhalese- Tamils and Muslims always had three- way tensions at one level or the other, for a variety of reasons. While the Simhala/ Budhist segment looked for a total domination over the other two in its quest to establish a ‘pure simhalese nationalism and simhalese nation’, the Tamils who are in sizable numbers in the Northern and Eastern parts resented such approach.
First they asked for a federal arrangement and later waged a war for separate Eelam, which of course failed.
On the other the minority Muslims, smaller in numbers, engaged mainly in business and peace-loving, always tried to adjust with the other two communities.But, interestingly both the Simhalese and the Tamil militants wanted them to submit them to their respective diktats. This is what this author observed during his month long visit to almost all the areas of Sri Lanka sometime ago.
To cut the long story short, once the LTTE was finished the majority stream pusuing its unitarist agenda, thought now it was the ‘turn’ of the Muslims. Thus the subsequent years had witnessed a number of policy measures and incidents against the latter. Much violence also followed. Quite a few small militant groups sprouted on Muslim side.
On their behalf now we witness even this utterly senseless terrorist acts victimizing totally innocent people. What all sides, particularly the majority Simhalese/ Budhists need to realize is that the only answer to this lies in building an inclusive Sri Lankan nationalism and certainly not a sectarian Simhalese nation. It may not be out of place to note that the island Tamils continue to be sulking lot.
(Ashok Tankasala is a veteran journalist from Hyderabad)