Saturday, November 11, 2006

My Motherland Serendib

I’ve been getting a lot of mail recently from my fellow Serendibians inquiring as to why I only write on issues pertaining to the Western culture. Some have even gone to the extent of telling me that I am a disgrace to my country of birth.

As a writer, it is not unusual to be criticized by your readers, but when criticism is based on ignorance, then we have a serious problem.

My reason for focusing on issues related to the Western culture has to do with the fact that I grew up in the Western culture and spent a great deal of my life in Western countries. Another reason, I never took the time to do research on issues faced by the people of my motherland. When I say research……………. I mean from books……………. and not from the opinions of individuals who live in Serendib. I did some serious digging in the library and almost gave up until I came across “Searching for Peace in Central and South Asia” by Monique Menkencamp, Paul van Tongeren, and Hans van de Veen. The following excerpts taken from this book is what I tend to agree with wholeheartedly as a Serendibian living in the country of my origin for the past 16 years.

1) The Ethnic War in Serendib -

The type of democracy introduced by the British led to a majority system in which the Sinhalese would always control the country’s parliament. Subsequent policies, especially with regard to language and access to education by successive Sri Lankan (Sinhalese-dominated) governments, and the reactions to these by the Tamil people, sowed the seeds of what has become a protracted and violent conflict that has particularly exacerbated by anti-Tamil rots in 1958, 1977-1978, and 1983.

The conflict, which has been raging at varying intensities since the 1983 attacks against the Tamil population, can be described as being between the largest, and most militarily effective Tamil militant group, the LTTE and the Sinhalese government of Sri Lanka.

The situation has been further inflamed by two violent insurrections in 1971 and 1987-1989 by the JVP, a group made up mostly from disaffected Sinhalese youth which combined a potent mixture of Marxism and nationalism. The second JVP insurrection was in part triggered by the arrival of an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in 1987.

Although many analysts describe the current situation as an “ethnic war” it is also a crisis of the state in that the LTTE and JVP conflicts are both symptomatic of broader issues concerning the identity, policies, and legitimacy of the state. The legitimacy of the state itself is questioned by some because of corruption and abuses of power, and the disputed and flawed nature of elections in past years.

Denial of justice and abuse of police power in Sri Lanka is often justified by reference to the ongoing civil war and in relation to human-rights abuses committed by the LTTE insurgents. It should be noted that human rights cases against members of the security forces, including the police, rarely result in a successful prosecution. This climate of impunity encourages local politicians, members of the security forces, and other armed groups to pursue personal agendas and engage in corrupt practices. This connection between military and civil “war economy” interests contribute to the tensions in the conflict affected areas of the island.

2) Peace –

How Sri Lankans perceive peacefulness differs between the north, east, central, and southern parts of the country. Polarization of communities continues with little contact with one another, beginning from preschool through to university education. Disparities in access to employment provide little scope for communities to come together. Grievances felt by all sides are heavily loaded by history and, it would seem, manipulated by ethnically motivated interests to keep theses grievances alive and to maintain the polarized and vindictive narrative.

3) NGOs –

Relations between the government and NGOs have been difficult at times, a relationship that has been described as one of “suspicious cooperation.” It seems that some sections of the government and the general population have the view that international NGOs are pro-LTTE, and the LTTE exploits naïve NGOs, and that the LTTE uses humanitarian aid to support their military efforts. This perception is supported by media often hostile towards NGOs.

NGOs, especially international NGOs, can themselves only be part of the overall process of creating a peaceful and just society. The bottom line is that the people and their government themselves must ultimately be responsible for sustainable peace and development.

Most of my earlier postings have been based on the atrocities that prevail when another civilization invades and dominates another culture in a foreign land, but in this posting you can clearly see what happens to a civilization when they are divided (irrespective of the fact that they originate from the same country) solely on the grounds that some of its people feel they are far more superior than the rest.

It’s also sad to note that my ancestor and the other warriors who fought the British, shed their blood in vain. They fought for our country’s independence so that the future generations may live in unification, while respecting our culture as well as each other, and, at the same time work together to develop our land of Serendib.

Unfortunately, we, have failed in fullfilling their vision.


The Australian Aborigines

Those who have property will do anything to defend it, conversely, that in the Western world those who don’t will do almost anything to get it; whilst the Australian Aborigines, who had no sense of property at all, had no place in a world where property rights counted above all else.

But it would be wrong to put all the blame for what was cultivated in a way completely alien to white understanding on the shoulders of the white invaders without an appreciation of the manner of life and thinking of those invaders. For they were the products of the brutal age and it is very unlikely that they were much more brutal to the blacks, whom they rarely considered to be human beings, than they had been to the convicts who had preceded the Aborigines as beasts of burden.

The early settlers were ignorant concerning the Aborigines and their beliefs and equally ignorant about the land they were ravaging. Unfortunately, there were schools and scholars who were able to teach husbandry long before there were any people of truly Christian attitudes or trained in anthropology who could teach the white man enough about the Aborigines. When there were signs of enlightenment amongst the settlers, greed got in the way and those who would have treated their Aborigines properly, those who trained them to become good stockmen and their women as other than a source of sexual gratification, were soon ostracized.

First, there was the use of hard footed animals killing the native grasses, then over-stocking and destruction of the trees and the waterways in which the spirits of the Aborigines dwelt. At first, some of the squatters treated the Aborigines with decency, mostly because they needed them as shepherds and general laborers. But soon misunderstandings arose. As sheep and cattle drove away the natural inhabitants upon whom the Aborigines depended for food, the Aborigines started to take some of the invader’s cattle for sustenance; this led to slaughter of Aborigines, who retaliated. Then came native troopers, always from other tribes or groupings, who carried out the white man’s wish to destroy the local inhabitants.

When judging the behavior of the whites it must be remembered that they were acting under the pressure of fear and ignorance, two very hard taskmasters.

(Quoted from the book review of “The Cry For The Dead” by A.W. Sheppard)


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