Sinhala Buddhism & Sinhala Majority Rule

Posted on 06/01/2012


With the departure of the British in 1948, the re emergence of a separate Tamil national identity was reinforced by the actions of a Sinhala majority which regarded the island of Sri Lanka as the exclusive home of Sinhala Buddhism and the Tamil people as `outsiders’ who were to be subjugated and assimilated within the confines of an unitary Sinhala Buddhist state.

“The history of Sri Lanka is the history of the Sinhalese race… The Sinhalese people were entrusted 2500 years ago, with a great and noble charge, the preservation… of Buddhism…” (The Revolt in the Temple, by D.C. Vijayawardhana, 1953)

It was a belligerent Sinhala chauvinism which laid claim to the island of Sri Lanka as a Sinhala Buddhist `Deepa’ and which often found open and shameless expression:

“…The time has come for the whole Sinhala race which has existed for 2500 years, jealously safeguarding their language and religion, to fight without giving any quarter to save their birthright… I will lead the campaign…”(J.R.Jayawardene, Sinhala Opposition Leader reported in Sri Lanka Tribune: 30th August 1957)

“I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people… now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion… the more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here… Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.” (President J.R.Jayawardene, Daily Telegraph, 11th July 1983)

Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga, speaking in July 1995, declared:

The Sinhalese Buddhist majority should merge with the Sinhala Christians, Tamil Hindus, Tamil Christians, Muslims and others to form one Lankan nation. This is the greatest task we are facing today’

President Kumaratunga buttressed her ‘assimilative’ approach by recourse to “history”. She declared:

‘Our ancestors succeeded in forging one nation. Even those communities who retained their separate identities lived with the Sinhala Buddhist majority as one nation.”

In claiming that her ancestors had succeeded in forging one nation, President Kumaratunga followed in the footsteps of ex President J.R.Jayawardene who too claimed in 1983 that the country had been a united nation for 2500 years. Here, the comments of the International Commission of Jurists in 1983 remain relevant:

“… (the President’s) statement that the country had been united for 2,500 years flies in the face of history. There was for some centuries an independent Tamil kingdom and the chronicles report frequent wars between Singhalese and Tamil kings. Separate Singhalese and Tamil communities existed on the island from the pre-colonial era until the administrative unification of the island by the British in 1833.” (Supplement to Professor Virginia Leary Report on a Mission to Sri Lanka 1981-83 published by the ICJ)

Be that as it may, the statements of Sinhala political leaders reflected the appeal that such statements have for the Sinhala electorate.

“…In the Sinhala language, the words for nation, race and people are practically synonymous, and a multiethnic or multicommunal nation or state is incomprehensible to the popular mind. The emphasis on Sri Lanka as the land of the Sinhala Buddhists carried an emotional popular appeal, compared with which the concept of a multiethnic polity was a meaningless abstraction…” (Sinhala Historian K. M. de Silva in Religion, Nationalism and the State, USF Monographs in Religion and Public Policy, No.1 (Tampa, FLA: University of South Florida 1986) at p31 quoted by David Little in Religion and Self Determination in Self Determination – International Perspectives, MacMillan Press, 1996)

The reality of ‘parliamentary democracy’ in Sri Lanka was that no Tamil was ever elected to a predominantly Sinhala electorate and no Sinhalese was ever elected to a predominantly Sinhala electorate. Majority rule within the confines of an unitary state and the constraints of a third world economy served to perpetuate the oppressive rule of a permanent Sinhala majority. It was a permanent Sinhala majority, which sought to consolidate its hegemony over the island of Sri Lanka, through a series of legislative and administrative acts, ranging from disenfranchisementstate sponsored colonisation of the Tamil homelanddiscriminatory language and employment policies to standardisation of University admissions.




Posted in: Tamil