Is Sri Lanka facing ethnic tensions? Yes, we have been for decades now. “But the war is finished! The LTTE is gone!” Yes, the war is over. But you can’t uproot a plant by cutting off its leaves. And now, the hand that is supposed to nurture the garden, and guide all the plants so that they can grow to be a beautiful garden together, seems to be misled here, and forced to act against the best interests of the plants, by both plants within his own garden, and gardens beyond it too!
I will use this metaphor in this article to illustrate my points. The hand, is the government of Sri Lanka. The plants are the different groups within our land. The extremist could be likened to weeds, useful in some context, but overall, not what you need at the end of the day. The other gardens? Other countries, with their own groups, and governments.
Let’s take first the problem of Sinha-le. Many people seem to think that this is legitimate, simply because it speaks to the heart, about injustices carried out against a community who are endowed with privileges due to their blood, something precious and inherited from their fathers, and their fathers before them, and carried on for thousands of years. But is this true? Why does it seem so appealing day by day? How is it not true? Which parts are legitimate? Which FEARS are legitimate? Which are false?
Now I see Sinha-le as a weed. This is a weed, however, that tends to imitate another plant, that of the Sinhala and largely Buddhist community. Strongly nationalistic, intensely religious, both the weed and the true plant seems to have a common ideology in mind. That of justice and equality, for their ethnicity. However, what I see as the key difference between the two is this, while the moderate nationalist Sinhala Buddhists want equality and justice for their ethnicity, the extremist Sinha-le want equality and justice ONLY for their ethnicity. And in the under outlining of this, lies a problem. The lines between the two are blurred, and the blurring is intensifying. This weed, is not only mimicking the true bloom, but also parasitically taking over where it used to grow. And by restricting equality to themselves, and in some instances even directly harming the other plants, this weed seems to explicitly attack the cohesion within this garden.
I mean, if Sri Lanka’s Muslims start pasting stickers going “Allahu Akbar” on temple walls, or Sri Lanka’s Tamils start spray painting “#EELAM” on a government office, I don’t think Sri Lanka’s Sinhala Buddhists will stand for that. This is just the same, it’s just that it’s carried out by one group against another, versus the other group against the first. And like them all, while the reasons for what every plants cries out for, what they think they need, might not be legitimate or correct in itself, they are ROOTED in legitimacy, they have a kernel of truth to what they call out for. A plant might be calling for a heat wave or a tsunami, but in reality this might just be a plea for a little more sunlight, and a little more water. Thereby I see Sinha-le, not merely as a weed, but a weed with a little bit of use. How the use itself relates is an entirely different matter, and too long for the scope of THIS article.
Second, let’s look at the Tamil community, or more specifically those in the North and the East. One issue that most of the Eastern and Northern Tamils seem to have is the lack of being represented, not quantitatively, but qualitatively, not being understood, and thereby they cry out for self-determination. Now the Sinhala community can easily disregard this, and say no, we won’t let Sri Lanka’s unitary state be questioned. And that’s all very well, Sri Lanka’s size does not allow a federalist or even a highly decentralized model. But let’s leave the political call for federalism aside, and look at another aspect. What about the causes? What about the reaction? How are they justified? CAN they be justified?
When you look at these communities, they are a valid and absolutely essential part of the garden that is Sri Lanka, and is completely legitimate. This is a plant, not a weed. The thing is, in the past, the utter destruction that the LTTE raged upon the land, left not only physical scars, but social scars as well. Enough Tamils in the North and the East aren’t happy with the police and the armed forces shadowing them. Enough Tamils in the North and East aren’t happy with the fact that many men, women, and children died in the civil war as collateral casualty, or direct casualty. Enough Tamils in the North and East aren’t happy with the fact that the South and the West seemingly increased secularizing them. One plant can cast a shadow on another. And these are valid points. But the reason to which these happen? Again valid. Take it from the point of the government, and the other part of society.
While the leaders of the LTTE are no more, an entire insurgence won’t die down at the death of a leader. From the point of view of the state, having a military presence isn’t wholly bad. Yes, there were Tamil casualties in the war. Mostly by the LTTE themselves, yes, but also of the forced conscription. Now this, coupled with the collateral fatalities that might have occurred, isn’t something that we can change now. Maybe the army could’ve used BB guns, to incapacitate the soldiers, but honestly, that’s not practical. From the point of view of the state, as well as society, maybe this isn’t a valid reason to be worried about NOW. When a shadow is upon a plant, it can grow to counter that. Rumours are abound and the North and the East are chidingly being called the cradle of the LTTE. Each day, rumours are being spread of how all Tamils are secret LTTE agents. Each day, stories are told of how all Tamil teens organise anti Sri Lanka rallies. Each day, yarns are spun of how every Tamil school is secretly preparing for a new war. Yes, the people are afraid.
They remember a war that broke not just the Tamil community but the Sinhala community apart. Do they feel scared when a rumour that it might start again is spread? Yes, and it is a wholly legitimate fear. But what do the Tamil communities feel? They who had families broken apart by racial extremists with guns? Those who had their children raped in front of their eyes by terrorists? They who had their parents hacked into pieces by a radicalist with a knife? This is unfair and utterly unjust by them too. But when a plant tries to grow over another, to take over where the other grows, then we have the same problem as we did with Sinha-le. What will a person feel when after all they went through, they’re ousted as that which broke them apart? Rage. And this fuels the other side. Which fuels the other side. And on and on. A vicious cycle. Two plants, instead of living symbiotically, both helping each other, trying to undercut and destroy the other, and one day, neither will be able to contain themselves. Both will fall.
So, yes. Sri Lanka does have ethnic tensions. Yes the war is over. Yes, terrorist extremists are still among us. And yes, we still have a lot to do. But above all, we need to understand why. Why these things happened as they did. And hope, that we see that which divides us, and we close the gaps. So that all the plants grow together and bloom together, and one day, this garden shall be the brightest, greenest, most beautiful garden ever.