Each time I hear the term “Sinhala Buddhist”
uttered in today’s context I can’t help but feel an uneasy sense of foreboding
tingle up my back. To me it sounds like a time-bomb waiting to explode. As a
Sinhalese and a Buddhist by faith I have every right to ask “What on earth is a
Sinhala Buddhist anyway? Is it a branch of the Sinhala race? Is it another
nationality in Sri Lanka under the Buddhist flag?” For I’m confused!
We are today nothing but a nation
of dysfunctional lab-rats used by myopic and selfish politicians over the
years. In their laboratory of politics they carried out their deadly political
experiments by injecting us with various sociologically toxic viruses that
generations of us have been carrying around and spreading, oblivious of its
long term repercussions. These deadly political experiments commenced soon
after we gained independence from the British and go on unabated even today!
Intentionally or otherwise these
virulent viruses have today contaminated our society almost in its entirety.
This is a legacy passed down to us by our political forefathers which we are
now blindly passing down to future generations, very much to their detriment.
As a result of these virulent
experiments many amongst us lab-rats are now confusing their nationality,
ethnicity and religion. Our national identity has become further obscured with
the virus of religious extremism infecting the gullible. Today we are not just
straightforward Sri Lankans. Today we are Sinhala Buddhists, Sinhala Christians, Sinhala
Other, Tamil Hindu, Tamil Christian, Tamil Other, Muslim Extremist or Muslim
Other. What comes next?
Take a country such as Singapore
for instance with a multitude of ethnic groups far diverse than in Sri Lanka
who have made the country their home. Do they identify themselves by their
ethnicity and religion? No. They all call themselves Singaporeans. Do the
politicians of that country favour one ethnic group over the other? No. Do they
favour one religion over the other? No.
To think that the iconic Lee Kuan Yewhad once wished for Singapore to be
like Sri Lanka! That was at a time when our country was an example
to follow not what it has become now. Thank God they didn’t take after Sri
Lanka. Look where they and we are now! They got it all right while we got it
I remember a time way back in
school, when we didn’t know what an ethnic group was. We were all Sri Lankans
in one class- Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays and others. I only
wish it had stayed that way but politicians at the time had other ideas.
One of them was segregation by
ethnicity when we were too young to understand. All we knew was that we were,
as young children, pulled apart and shoved into classes segregated, based on
our ethnicity. We were emotionally shattered as our friends had been taken away
and before long we grew apart from each other.
I for one and others like myself
were in a quandary. As the offspring of those who had straddled the latter
colonial period and thereafter that of independence, the language we had heard
and used from birth was English. Therefore our common first language was
From there onwards still as young
children we became conscious of our ethnicity.We started to feel ‘different’ from each
other. We no longer regarded ourselves as just Sri Lankans. We either became
Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim.Not satisfied with only segregating us by
ethnic groups, our leaders then went on to brainwash us into regarding each
other with suspicion and therefore to feel threatened by the other.
Today some of those of my generation, with
whom I was one as a Sri Lankan, are either aspiring for a separate state, or
are concealed beneath an abaya or are committing sacrilege by making a mockery
of the Dhamma.
So here I am today a Sri Lankan of the Sinhala ethnic group, half
Southern half Kandyan, a Buddhist by faith, mistaken for a Burgher or a North
Indian, with English as my first language. Therefore according to the status
quo do I identify myself as a cross-country, Burgher, North Indian-looking,
English-speaking, Sinhala Buddhist? No thank you. I prefer to call myself a Sri
Lankan because that sits better on my conscience and is easier on the
There are people I know, products of the
identity confusion, who have written their ethnicity instead of their
nationality in official documents. Such is their confusion!
What I foresee is that eventually we will all
end up having to do a Google search to find out who we really are, unless we
are given a new national identity card with our ethnicity and religion
included, until someone gets a brainwave and includes ‘caste’ as well.
I for one believe and I’m sure many of you out
there would agree that one’s ethnicity and religious faith should remain
private. Religion, ethnicity or both combined cannot and should not be made to
hang like the Sword of Damocles over the heads of others.
Extremism in all its ugly forms was propagated
and continues to be propagated by our politicians for their own selfish gains
instead of squashing it in its infancy. Do they ever look at the bigger picture
and foresee what is to come or don’t they care? Do they ever think of the
sacred responsibility of their leadership of our country? Are they so blinded by
their greed to cling on to power and the spoils that go with it at any cost?
Don’t they have a conscience? Are they not patriots?
Is it too much to ask of them to cast aside their
selfish motives and even at this late stage unite all our citizens as Sri Lankans
under one flag?