would be funny if it wasn't so disturbing
A long time ago, there was an Indian Prince. His name was Vijaya.
Later generations would practically worship the guy, but despite the
marketing, said Prince was a deeply disturbed individual.
His grandmother had been carried off and knocked up by a lion.
History tells us the lion is a metaphor; that's good, because the
alternative is a bit too weird to contemplate.
Vijaya, the descendant of a lion, had problems of his own; he had
just been kicked out of India.
In a nutshell: he then proceeded to ship himself to Lanka (no Amazon
one-day delivery back then), hooked up with a local girl, killed her
family, had two children by her and then cheated on her with an Indian
Vijaya's legacy, in addition to his rather stained resume, is Sri
Lanka: a beautiful island nation populated by an ancient race that,
despite there being no lions in the country, chooses to call itself 'Sinhayo'.
We take an enormous amount of pride in having Sinha-le - lion blood.
We are, if one may make so bold, the modern Lions (in true Lion
fashion, we've just pulled off 1,501 statutory rapes in 2015). Vijaya's
got nothing on this.
The anatomy of a cat
The modern Lion is a curious creature. Invariably two-legged, it is
comfortable in a range of classes - lower class, middle class, second
class, third class, it matters not. It may take the train, bus, bike or
car to work.
It may even be reasonably well-educated. All Lions, however, have a
curious chip on their shoulder: despite being the overwhelming majority
of Sri Lanka, and despite it being quite a while since the English
oppressed them, they have a deep-seated sense of insecurity about their
place in the world. Are the Tamils taking over? Are the Muslims? This
insecurity often erupts in remarkable ways. In the 80s, it led to Black
July. In more recent times, it led to the Bodu Bala Sena and their
What started out as a buzz about tainted toffees led to Aluthgama
being burned down. People were beaten up. Lives were lost.
latest incarnation is Sinha-le. How does one describe Sinha-le? Sinha-le
is a word. It is an idea. It is a mark, a divisor - we are Sinhala; you
are not. It is racist in a deep, fundamental - so racist that there is
almost no thought involved. The identification - and the accompanying
disgust - is automatic.
It is also a meticulously crafted campaign, built with the sole
intent of going viral. Look at that logo. The red, the black, the
curves. The beautiful design. The professionally printed vehicle
The writing on the walls. It is a meme, leapfrogging from mind to
mind. Nobody knows where it started. Nobody knows who's behind it. Even
those of us who hate it can't deny that it's brilliantly executed. It's
racism given wings and a Photoshop job.
And because of this, it's also a hell of a lot more dangerous than
anything the BBS could ever come up with. Those rabid monks, try as they
might, were a single source of racism and bigotry frothing at the mouth.
Sinha-le is quieter. Sinha-le is more insidious. Sinha-le is your friend
next door. Your uncle. The neighbour's car.
That guy who just etched the logo onto his hand with a ballpoint pen.
Any attempt to call them a racist can be sidestepped swiftly. "Why,
machang, it's just a sticker. It doesn't even mean anything. "
Oh, it does. When the logo on your car is the same thing
spray-painted across Muslim homes? Yes, it does. It's not Black July.
Not yet. But a second Black July seems like the ultimate end-game - in
fact, the only possible end-game. Juden Raus! The Nazis used to shout,
marching on the Jewish ghettos. Jews, come out! How long before we shout
Sinha-le? Thambis, come out? What do we do? Fight it. There is no
government body, nor a court of justice that will take this up. Ever.
This is a hydra, and until it comes to light, it must be fought in the
same way. Does your neighbour have a Sinha-le sticker? Argue with him.
Get him to take it off. Racists on the road? Name them. Shame them.
Do it gently at first, and then, as the lady said, do it harder.
After all, if you want to carry your banner in public, you have to be
ready for this kind of thing. It would be funny if it wasn't so
disturbing. Here we are, the metaphorical sons and daughters of a
convicted criminal and unfaithful wretch descended from rape, possibly
On an island where the only variant of lion (Panthera Leo Sinhalayus)
is debatable at best and in any case became extinct 37,000 years before
the arrival of humans. We might as well tattoo the Wali Kukula on our
buttocks: after all, that's the real national animal of Sri Lanka -
tiny, vain, and ever ready for a fight. Wali Kukul Le.