Sunday 20 December 2020


Gajalakshmi Paramasivam

20 December  2020




Language and Religion have been used by different ethnicities in Sri Lanka, to impress their respective circles. A circle does not become a community merely by ‘looks’ which include the language spoken and the dress worn. Commonness of purpose bind us as a group. A group that is bound by commonness is a sovereign group. This commonness is developed through sacrifices of pleasures and benefits that please the individual. The deeper the sacrifice, the wider the circle. It is better to be part of a small sovereign circle than be a member of large circle that is driven more by the physical and therefore is far away from the goal of sovereignty.


The era of Sri Lanka’s political leadership led by language is now fast becoming our past. We need to learn from that past and take with us only the wisdom from that past experience. In terms of language policy, below is an excerpt from a communication shared by a fellow Sri Lankan:



[After years of painful negotiations the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1987. Inter alia it stated that Sinhala and Tamil will be the official languages of Sri Lanka and English will function as a link language. Thus President Jayewardene was a sadder but wiser leader. Therefore he was distressed at the intransigence of Lalith Athulathmudali a close friend of mine since our days at Royal, who was for Sinhala Only.


----T.D.S.A DISSANAYAKA War or Peace in Sri Lanka Vol IV (Colombo: Swastika (Private) Ltd 2003) page 622]


When our son was ready to start schooling, I was working at Prima Ceylon Ltd. A friend offered to get a letter of recommendation from Mr Lalith Athulathmudali for admission to Royal College. I was neutral about it but given that Royal College was a prestigious school – I was open to it. Our son did not get a seat there but instead got into D S Senanayake Primary School due to our proximity to the school. I thus learnt that Mr Lalith Athulathmudali was not valued that highly by Royal College and that we were blessed by Colombo 7 where D S Senanayake College was situated. I attributed the heritage to the home we lived in during 1977 civil riots and continued to consider Colombo 7 as our home – thereby sharing our positive Sri Lankan values with that area.  Relatively speaking Royal College was further away from our home area. We successfully placed our daughters at St Bridget’s Convent at the other end of the road, due to the world of Mr Huzam Cadre -  former employer and a family friend. All I know is that I did not pay any ‘donation’ towards these admissions and yet they ‘happened’. That is the way with ‘home areas’ and ‘home groups’ including home workplaces - with whom we are bound more through our forbearance in difficult times than through collective enjoyments of pleasures.


Sinhala only Nationalists and Tamil only Nationalists have to take their lower positions in these Common Sri Lankan areas. That is when Natural Governance happens.


The above was followed by the following observations by an unnamed author:


[All blame Bandaranayake for Sinhala only and ethnic discord, but he was only touting with these as an opportunist. When he realised that he had made a mistake and tried to correct it, he was not allowed, and subsequently assassinated. The first  person who brought Sinhala only was JR in the state council in 1943, which when opposed by Tamil members, a consensus was reached that English will continue as the official language and if Sinhala is to be made the official language, Tamil will also be given the same. But in 1956 this policy was thrown away for political expediency. ]


It was on this ‘home-language’ basis that I communicated recently with Dr Gehan Gunatilleke, on the subject matter of English being a National Language of Sri Lanka. Dr Gunatilleke concluded on the following note:


[I've suggested to another group (that's using our proposals as a template) to explicitly include English as a national language.]

Eventually, this may not be included in the Constitution. But the group to whom English is ‘home-language’ will be empowered by this ‘inclusiveness’ which would then spread through to the groups and individuals in Sri Lanka – to whom we are seniors. A big part of this group is in Colombo and the younger Diaspora members to whom English is a home-language’.

The above group would naturally place Sinhala only and Tamil only nationalists – as distant relations within this English home group.


In his recent article headed ‘Countering Harmful Speech: Why Trust the State?Dr Gunatilleke presents the following:

[The Sri Lankan state has targeted outspoken journalists, political opponents, and writers. For example, in 2009, it convicted journalist J.S. Tissainayagam under section 2(1)(h) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979 for writing an article that accused the armed forces of committing war crimes. The section in question criminalises causing ‘communal disharmony’ through words. Prosecutors advanced the peculiar argument that a Tamil journalist criticising a predominantly Sinhalese military of committing war crimes would cause ‘disharmony’ between Sinhalese and Tamils.]

This is not untrue of some sections of the Tamil community that is dependent on the Government or was/is against armed rebellion to which some sections of the Tamil community also contributed and which brought about internal divisions within the Tamil Community.


Dr Gunatilleke continues as follows:


[ Then, in 2010, the Sri Lankan state punished political opponent Sarath Fonseka, who contested and lost the presidential election that year. He was convicted under regulation 28 of the 2005 Emergency Regulations for an allegedly false statement that certain members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were executed while surrendering to the armed forces. The specific regulation criminalised causing ‘public alarm’ through a false statement. More recently, writer Shakthika Sathkumara was arrested for writing a short story that allegedly offended certain members of the Buddhist clergy. He was arrested under section 3 of Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act of 2007, which criminalises the advocacy of ‘national, racial and religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’.]

Dr Gunatilleke concludes as follows:

[None of these cases appear to warrant criminal sanctions. In each case, the speech did not involve the conveyance of hatred, nor did it involve incitement of any kind. Instead, the speech entailed expressions of dissent, criticism, or provocative literature – all within the domain of an individual’s freedom of expression. The Sri Lankan state appears to have wantonly used criminal sanctions to curb speech that undermines its own interests. The military, the political establishment, and the clergy often define and dictate those interests. The state has been quick to prohibit speech that criticises or offends those specific actors. By contrast, at least in the recent past, the Sri Lankan state has not prosecuted a single person for inciting violence against a minority community. For example, in the thirteen years since its enactment, the ICCPR Act is yet to be used to actually convict any of the instigators of violence against Muslims or Christians in Sri Lanka. This experience suggests that there are good reasons to distrust the state when it seeks to impose criminal sanctions for harmful speech. It makes political sense to constrain the authority of the state to impose such sanctions. If the state is permitted a wide terrain of authority to punish harmful speech, it is likely – as evident in the Sri Lankan case – to target critical speech and political dissent, which are genuinely within the domain of the freedom of expression.]


The legal game played during ‘normal’ times has to be regulated by the above logic of the intellect. But during war times one is entitled to use her/his conscience and the Universal Power of the Soul will support one who acts as per her/his conscience in a war zone. Hence the saying that all is fair in love and war.

There are many example in the Hindu Epic Mahabharatham where as per the guidance of Divine Charioteer  Krishna, minority side overrode the rules to uphold Dharma. One was in the last stages of the war – in a fight using the big mace/gada. The fight was one to one between Thuriyothanan  - the majority side leader and Bheeman of the minority side.

According to the rules of the sport – one was not allowed to hit the opponent below the belt . But Bheeman had vowed to split the thigh of Thuriyothanan  who had publicly invited Bheeman’s wife to sit on his thigh. As that was the last battle, Bheeman would not have had other opportunities to fulfil his vow. Hence he upheld Dharma by punishing Thuriyothanan  who disrespected all married women.

LTTE openly separated them from the path of law. Even though most Tamils did not openly oppose them, those who were committed to the path of law, were naturally separated from the LTTE. Intuitively Tamils who preferred the political path rejected the LTTE – the same way a good proportion of  Sinhalese rejected the JVP which also separated from the path of law. Hence the rule of law that applies during ‘legal-sports’ would not apply in the case of war. Hence there are no winners in a war. The wrong is the celebration of war-victory as if it were a Sport.  

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