The worm beginning to turn!

by Dr U. Pethiyagoda

A few letters in the recent past have begun to create hope that thirty years of indescribable torment have led to some "Lessons Learnt". The letters of the 68 Tamil speakers (Island, 6 Jan. 2012), Sebastian Rasalingam from Canada (Island, 7 Jan. 2012) and , the letter by several prominent Sinhala speakers (Island, 16. Jan 2012) did kindle some hope that certain antiquated views and entrenched fears are hopefully on the way out. Durand Appuhamy, who normally writes very reasonably and well, has disappointed by his piece (Island, 13 Jan. 2012). He perceives inadequacies, selectivity and a sinister plan. He certainly has a right to suspect so, but at the present juncture, this is unhelpful. A graciously extended hand is what is now needed - it costs little but will pay handsomely. We SriLankans have a tendency to be attracted to the more complicated and devious explanations in the mistaken notion that this is indicative of exceptionally shrewd perceptions. In some cases, they may well be so. But, in this instance it would be both prudent and pragmatic to suspend them for a moment and suppress any urge for smartness.

I am particularly impressed by the fact that there are no politicians among the signatories of either document of multiple signatures, for a very simple reason.

They are the ones who have contrived the so-called "ethnic problem" of which they are the sowers, husbanders, reapers and consumers! You cannot expect them to diminish such a lucrative and richly sustaining pretence! Why ever should they cut their "Kalpa Vrukshaya? It has sustained them well for 64 years since Independence (and a considerable number more before) There is no better example of a "political clay pigeon shoot" than the so-called ethnic problem. Punctuated by the dreadfully damaging "National Languages" Fiasco and a progressive entrenchment through creeping into religion and culture, our nation has succeeded in emphasising differences while diminishing our common humanity and shared problems. No further proof of deception is needed than the fact that the most "ardent" of Sinhala patriots adopted the sound investment of educating their children abroad! There is an evident scale of culpability! I suggest that the nascent, truly "Peoples’ Movement" keep aseptically clear of politicos (they have engendered such antagonism and disappointment that few will lament this omission). I believe this is possible and eminently desirable. Resignees able to establish unimpeachable repentance could be considered! Repentance being an esteemed virtue!

The reactions and actions from the TNA are profoundly disappointing. They have to remind themselves that as demonstrable apologists and proxies for the now defeated LTTE, they have a huge task to establish their credibility afresh. Stubborn, hackneyed, negative and confrontational attitudes are no help. They will only kindle equally illogical and extremist reactions The article by Dr Visvalingam (Island, 28 January) eloquently develops the need for the "minorities" to develop inclusivity with the majority. This is for the very good reason that the disabilities, deprivations and disadvantages suffered by the two groups have much in common. The most effective ways of building bridges, are the initiatives to promote reciprocal visits between youth from the North and South and the promotion of sporting events.

After nearly thirty years of effective separation and demonisation by vile forces, contacts to erase misconceptions are invaluable. Those who have watched the BBC’s "Mind Your Language" series would have appreciated how good humoured racial stereotyping can do much for inter-racial amity. In the local context, plays like "Well Mudaliyar" and "He comes from Jaffna" can help greatly in transforming communal foibles into endearing attributes!

The first step is to observe the convention that "Sinhala" and "Tamil" are only languages for communication and not "races". Thus there are "sinhala speakers" but no "Sinhala fears". There are "Tamil speakers" and no "Tamil aspirations". There are "Muslim adherents" but no "Muslim interests". If this is agreed, meticulously adhered to and shouted out of court, if ever it surfaces in a contextually inappropriate way, a good first step would have been taken. Racist (or linguistic "patriotism") is worse than the last refuge of scoundrels. Witness the dire distress and mayhem that this posturing has brought us. Can those who fear racial extinction honestly answer the question "So what?" The philosophies that taught us about "aeons", has certainly accommodated the passing into oblivion of many such formations similar to ours during the long history of the human race!.

Sinhala speakers being the majority, should magnanimously (and indicative of a bold confidence) take the initiative to erase establishment and other relics, indicative of racial identity. The "Sinhala Sports Club" (where the language is hardly spoken) would do fine as the "Maitland Club"!. Tamil Union and Moors may follow suit but the BRC (discriminatingly) may be allowed to remain as an endangered species sanctuary!

Similar gestures would be most salutary and what a revolutionary and enlightened approach this would be!

If only our bleeding hearts who wished to resurrect Sinhala culture (which had, thank you very much! survived 450 years of foreign domination) by teaching nuclear physics etc,. in the mother tongue, had only chosen German or Swahili as a common language, bereft of sentiment but endowed with utility, we would have done much better and perhaps cursed, with less vibrancy and vigour, the architects of this disastrous scheme and the consequent imprinting of racial/linguistic distinctions!.

Despite the need to continue creating imaginative (and imaginary) Ministries to accommodate "patriots" we may still remove certain abominations. To me, Culture, Sports and Religion are entirely personal matters. My private business and preferences which I could very well manage without the incursion of filthy, corrupt, incompetent and most unwelcome intruders! I say, get off our collective backs and thus help the Environment! National unity would thereby be also served Let us confront the problems that afflict all and not proffer unasked for only to cultivate patronage and ego construction. Privacy Laws should forbid interference with the aesthetic, recreational and spiritual aspects of our individual lives.

There are much more tangible opportunities for the exercise of governance.

The TNA is displaying amazing fossility (= stupidity + stubbornness) despite a few seemingly enlightened fellows in Parliament. Their cupidity and intransigence has killed too many tamil speakers and driven out of our country, so many talented Sri Lankans. Where were they when Lessons were being taught or the syllabus being designed? I believe that they can be bargained away and instead efforts directed towards enlightening the Diaspora about past follies and soliciting their help for nation building.

There is another simultaneous need. Last time round the State fiddled and prevaricated until the LTTE equipped itself into a nearly invincible and potent force. The ludicrous spectacle of urging (and blaming others for not), proscribing the LTTE while not doing so ourselves, on unconvincing pretexts while parading Peace

Talks in a series of enticing locations must not happen again. Some of the guerrillas who got out of combat fatigues to don lounge suits for the purpose, evidently continue to do so! Early detection of any signs of re-organising for armed insurrection should be firmly nipped in the bud. Much more explosives than needed for festive fire crackers are still reportedly being unearthed! It is insufficient to rant in postured fury after stamps have been printed, issued and an apology tendered by the careless states. Being mighty brave after a genuine apology is pointless

There are rumblings again of a PSC to seek a "political solution to the National Question"! Any bets that this will fail, after a great ramble through the woods of a bunch of politicos already resolved that no solution is within their capabilities or desires. It is simply a case of one brat saying "I want his toys" and the other saying "No! I won’t give them’!

I have pondered further the great dichotomy of "Patriots" and "Traitors". It seems to me that those who are neither sycophants nor chronic antagonists are the vast majority. They try to be objective and unbiassed, see much that is good and more that is bad, but choose to remain silent. Whether it is disinterest, frustration or fear, I do not know. The most I fear is that they display the syndrome of "Blow you! Jack - I am alright!" Moral conscience should bestow voice on them. After all, had we not an enviable Civil Service, Professionals second to none and a deep spiritual history - but yet we remain dumb? Shame on us that we have allowed apathy to subsume such a rich heritage! Or, am I just a starry-eyed fool?

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