Making SL, rootless 'multicultural' society
A few years ago during a radio discussion on the topic of history and
culture, a participant recalled an incident in Anuradhapura where a
group of local youths were consuming arrack while seated on an ancient
beheth oruwa (medicinal trough), having come to the sacred city on a
picnic. They had no idea on what they were sitting on and could not care
less. To them it was merely a piece of carved stone.
Their attitude is hardly surprising in a country where history and
culture have been the least priority of post-independence governments.
In fact it was only eight years after the British left our shores that
we felt the need to establish a Cultural Affairs Ministry!
A country's most distinguishing feature is the national identity of
the majority of her people - their culture, religion and language.
Highlighting them is essential to define or classify a nation. Those who
ignore or distort this fact in the name of multiculturalism are
intellectual frauds to say the least.
This recalls the observations of several leading Japanese novelists
and critics at an international literary conference held in San
Francisco, USA in June 1990. They said that Japan's post-World War II
mistake was to sell its soul to the West along with its cars and
Novelist Kenzaburo Oe, told his American dinner companions, "You know
why Honda is great. But we don't care about Honda. We care that our
cultural life is unknown to you.'' Today, Sri Lanka is becoming a
society without a sense of identity or dignity - a community of
imitators. Most of them are even unaware of their cultural roots
according to Prof. Anuradha Seneviratne, retired Professor of Sinhala at
This development however is strongly welcomed by the dubious `peace'
crusaders who have given a mischievous and hypocritical twist to Sri
Lanka's multicultural status. To them this country is nothing but a land
of immigrants all having equal rights to establish ethnic enclaves.
Their criteria of Sri Lankan society if applied to other nations, 90
percent of the countries in the world will be seen as only multicultural
and nothing else.
Admittedly Sri Lanka underwent vast and complex socio-cultural,
political and economic changes during 133 years of British Colonial
rule. The land that the British gave back to us in 1948 was not the same
country that they fully occupied in 1815. But does it mean we have to
ignore the island's pre-colonial cultural and religious roots in the
name of so-called peace and ethnic harmony? Should we start our history
from the date on which the European powers left us, in order to appease
the forces that are threatening to bisect this country?
On June 1, 1994, the then Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka in his
message to Professor S.G.M. Weerasinghe's A History of the Cultural
Relations Between Sri Lanka and China - An Aspect of the Silk Route -
"Seng-Kia-lo (=Simhala=The Kingdom of Lions) or Seih-lan (Simhale)
has been known to China right from about 1st century BC. It was
undoubtedly Buddhism that laid the foundation for the great friendship
between the two countries. ...I congratulate the learned scholar for
producing this rare and unique work for which he deserves the gratitude
of the Sinhalese and Chinese''
Among the many unsavoury features of Sri Lanka's post-colonial
history is the emergence of ideological freebooters who have had as
their chief aim the disruption of the forces that contribute to the
formation of a Sinhala Buddhist consensus on matters of national
importance. No other document illustrates this fact better than The
Betrayal of Buddhism - The Report of the Buddhist Committee of Inquiry
States the report: "By a flagrant disregard of historical fact and
contemporary reality, the Buddhists are made to appear in the light of
Any attempt to speak on behalf of Sinhala Buddhists was stopped on
its tracks, calling it a disruptive move by those seeking a majoritarian
primacy in a long-established multicultural society. In brief they were
"given a bad name and hanged'' as soon as the term Sinhala Buddhism
formed part of the argumentative discourse. Since 1948 these people have
been relentlessly accused of being racists and failing to accommodate
the minorities, thus causing the country to become a "failed State." Yet
no amount of intellectual gymnastics can erase the fact Sri Lankan
society is primarily and predominantly Buddhist and secondarily Hindu.
All other cultures and religions here exist under this umbrella, which
is the right way and only way to define Sri Lanka's multicultural
Article 5 of the Kandyan Convention of 1815 states: "The Religion of
the Buddhoo professed by the Chiefs and inhabitants of these Provinces
is declared inviolable and its Rites and Ministers and Places of Worship
are to be maintained and protected."
The place of Buddhism in the Constitution cannot be negotiable under
any circumstance unless ruling circles want Mother Lanka to be reduced
to the level of a 'multicultural' street walker with whom all kinds of
dubious political and religious forces can play around and have fun. We
do not need that kind of 'peace' and ethno-religious 'harmony.'
Sri Lanka's historical evolution cannot be likened to that of India
which saw through the centuries the rise and fall of several
civilizations that resulted in the country ending up as a secular State.
Yet even her government has recognized India's predominant culture as
Hindu. In addition, the Buddhist Dharma Chakra is prominently displayed
on its national flag. Secular USA considers itself as a nation 'under
God' though there are many atheists in that country. The U.S. dollar
note has the words "IN GOD WE TRUST.'' The true cultural identity of a
nation is deep rooted, having evolved through many centuries.
It is utterly absurd and provocative to insist that cultural and
religious forms that have little to do with the historical foundation of
a country's civilization to be given equal status as that of the land's
predominant culture and ancestral faith.
In Europe it is the Western Christian culture and values that form
the basis of social life, regardless of whether or not the majority of
Europeans are practicing Christians or church goers. In Eastern Europe,
especially in Russia, and Greece the Orthodox Christian Church does not
permit other Christian denominations to enjoy equal status.
Even in Singapore, which has no history worth talking about, the
predominant culture is Confucian and Buddhist because the majority of
Singaporeans are Chinese. In Britain last year Prime Minister Tony Blair
warned ethnic minorities that they must integrate into British society
or stay out of the country. He said that various faith groups must
conform to British values of democracy and respect the country's
Education Authorities have to make it clear at the very outset to
every Sri Lankan school child that all countries each have an overall
and predominant cultural and national identity no matter they are
secular or religious or multicultural.
It would do well for Sri Lanka's Constitutional experts to remember
this when proposing reforms to solve the National Question.