Ethnicity and religion and their Ideological and political influences - II



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by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha


Continued from Midweek Review of June 19


Having noted how there was a genuine problem about language, where the vast majority of people in this country felt discriminated against, and where remedial action was essential, I have shown how the remedy actually applied created further problems. The Council for Liberal Democracy has in fact explored this phenomenon, how actions meant to solve a problem create further problems, in a volume called 'Causes and Consequences', the first book to be published in this country in all three languages. In addition to other matters, we look also at electoral reform, and I believe it can be shown that many problems in Sri Lanka arise from a lack of planning, with ad hoc responses to particular crises leading to further and more serious crises later.


But the salient factor now, with regard to ethnicity and religion, is that there is in fact no crisis based on these issues, except in a few minor areas that can readily be addressed. And the problems there are affect only the minorities, whereas now we have a situation where drums are being beaten, as it were, on behalf of the majority ethnicity and the majority religion, which have, on any statistical analysis, never had it so good.


If we take ethnicity, while earlier it was noted that the Sinhalese had a smaller proportion of government jobs than their numbers warranted, the opposite has happened now. The failure of successive politicians to address this issue suggests that in fact the initial response was based, not on principles, but simply on getting votes. The disgraceful manner in which government employment is seen as a tool of politics, with no regard for either efficiency or effectiveness, is clear from the manner in which those who get ministerial office promptly provide jobs for people in their own electorates.


I cannot enough draw attention to this phenomenon, exemplified for me by the response of the security guard at Oluvil University who came from Galle, at a time when Richard Pathirana was Minister of Education and Higher Education. The Galle Port, he said, was full of people from Oluvil, which came within the electorate of Mr Ashraff, who was Minister of Ports and Shipping. Unfortunately neither this phenomenon, nor what makes it worse, the expansion of the area in which Ministers have to seek votes because of the District based Preferential System, has been analysed by the political scientists in our university, which indicates how such institutions have no idea about the advisory role intellectuals are meant to play in society.


Given that the vast majority of the Cabinet are Sinhalese, and that government feels its majorities depend on Sinhalese, what I would call the artificial spurs with regard to government jobs are designed to benefit only the Sinhalese. When you add to that the natural reasons, namely the language policy that means most government business is conducted in Sinhalese, you can understand why there are comparatively few Tamils and Muslims in government jobs.


Unfortunately the Tamil politicians who see this problem probably do not want a solution, since it adds to their argument that equity for Tamils is only possible through at least full scale autonomy, if not a separate state. But sadly those government politicians who wish to eradicate separatist tendencies do nothing about the problem themselves. The failure of government to ensure adequate development of Human Resources in the North, to accompany the successful programme of infrastructural development it has implemented, makes clear the incapacity to plan of government in general, and its continuing insensitivity to the actual needs of the people. Content with pursuing its own vision of development - which as always with government activity in the world involves much construction, for financial reasons as well as the ready publicity such work can command - government ignores the actual needs of people on the ground.


An example of the sheer absurdity of the way government proceeds came home to me through complaints of those who attended the Vavuniya South Divisional Reconciliation Meeting I was at last month, when they claimed that the forthcoming intake of Samurdhi Development Officers would be entirely from Anuradhapura. Vavuniya South, I should note, is a Sinhalese area, but in addition to asserting that their youngsters should be given priority for government appointments in Vavuniya, they noted the absurdity of appointing youngsters from Anuradhapura to Vavuniya North, where they would not be able to communicate with the Tamil people of the area.


They also mentioned another example of positive discrimination in favour of the ethnic majority, in saying that there was a colonization scheme for Vavuniya North, which brought in people from the south of the country who had had no previous connection with the area. Their point was that such schemes should first benefit people from the area like themselves, given their natural increase since the time when terrorism prevented developmental measures in the North.


Two days later the same point was made at a seminar by a speaker from Jaffna, who also drew attention to what he saw as excessive acquisition of land by the forces in the North. In that case I have always believed that government has a right to acquire what it thinks necessary, but it must make sure that this is decided on grounds that are objectively justifiable and which must be communicated to those who are affected. I believe there has not been enough of this in Jaffna, and this will contribute to unnecessary tensions - whereas I believe that, both in Mullaitivu and Mannar, the adjustments made by the forces to the area they originally planned to acquire, and the rapid and relatively generous compensation provided has helped to reduce tensions.


To be continued tomorrow


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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