Sinhalese and Tamils are becoming increasingly polarised.
The level of discrimination against Tamils during peacetime (as was manifested in the years 2002-2005) does not justify the LTTE’s resumption of hostilities. However, during wartime, being a Tamil in Sri Lanka appears to be a terrible experience.
Talking is good. It helps you come closer to understanding all the sh*t that is going on now. I had a long argument with Aadhavan on my previous blog post, and then again on Indi’s blog, and finally, we are starting to see each other’s point of view. http://www.indi.ca/2006/06/for-a-united-sri-lanka/ I have also been finding more and more about the Tamil experience from colleagues in the North and East and acquaintances in Wellawatte.
I am starting to wonder whether racism in this country is just underneath the surface. The majority of people in Sri Lanka are willing to live and let live, but as soon as there is a provocative trigger, it all comes out.
I believe this happens because Sri Lankan society is culturally collectivist, as opposed to individualistic. We see the group as much larger than the individual, and we give its best interest a lot more attention than many other societies. Whether it is affiliation to a school, religion, caste, neighbourhood or race, Sri Lankans tend to see themselves as far more a part of the group that they belong to than Westerners do.Consequently, anyone who is not part of the group is treated as an outsider. They may not treat them badly, Sri Lankans are very hospitable people, and are very nice to outsiders generally. That is, until, they feel threatened.
Remember the Royal-Ananda feuds a few years ago? Didn’t people get killed over a cricket match? Also, when Soma Thero’s funeral was intentionally scheduled on Christmas Eve, you could see division within the Sinhalese along religious lines. People who had been living together for years suddenly went berserk over the building of a temple or a mosque in Maradana a couple of years ago. It only takes provocative triggers to divide people in this country, along any line that demarcates one group from another. It is not just about race.
I think this time is one of those times that division is starting to show its ugliest face. The Sinhalese people feel that the LTTE are being the aggressors. And, the Tamils are feeling alienated by the government and discriminated against. Both communities feel threatened and becoming increasing polarised.
Despite what I said earlier about the 1983 riots having been a long time ago, I am no longer sure that this situation cannot occur in modern-day Sri Lanka. I think the LTTE want it to occur because their strategy rests on separating the two communities. And, I also do not think the government is doing enough to prevent this division from happening.
In order for the general population to be more sympathetic and sensitive to the experience of Tamil civilians at a time like this, they must be able to visualise Tamils as separate from the LTTE. After the death of Lakshman Kadirgamar, there is no Tamil icon who occupies this moderate space in the Sinhalese conciousness at the moment.
For this reason, I wish more Tamils would distance and differentiate themselves from the LTTE. I think this would go a long way in bringing the communities closer together. However, is it fair to expect them to differentiate themselves? To many Tamils, the scars of the July 1983 riots are reopened at every check point, every house-check and every air-raid. Perhaps July 1983 was not that long ago after all.
July 1983 – the memory that just won’t go away.