Monday, October 15, 2012

Devolution choices; a common man’s dilemma

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

What does the common man want? He wants among other things to be fair; to keep up at least a semblance of fairness and fair play. When the CFA came into being in 2002, and it looked like they were finally going to wrench Sri Lanka free, from the pincer-like grip of the integrating dynamic it had been held in for millennia, and harness it to a segregating dynamic, how did the common man feel? Did his token sense of fair play cry out or lie quiescent?

I rather think the latter. For one thing, at this stage, the common man was bored and could not be bothered. For another, by this time, certain ideas had floated into the common man’s ideology-sphere, which let him think, maybe a segregating dynamic was not such a bad thing; perhaps, ‘the context’ even demanded it. Let me give an illustrative example. Back in 2009 August, when I was much less informed than I am now, I wrote a long comment to Indi Samarajeeva, the blog editor, gave a response, which was a text book illustration of the insidious inroads the segregating dynamic had made into the common man’s psyche;
“If you go to the North and East they speak Tamil and they have their own culture and ideas. They are not South Indian ‘invaders’. The Sinhalese people were invaders too at some point, and the borders have been pretty porous. Even the Kandyan kings generally married Indian Tamil brides. I don’t think there’s any genetic dominion the Sinhalese have over the whole island.

If there is a blueprint for the country it’s the Constitution, and that calls for significant autonomy in the North and East. I think it is a very different place, especially based on language. They should have a strong Chief Minister and be able to appoint their own police, etc.”
Indi probably did not know it (which makes it all the more sinister), but this response stemmed from and contained an almost a word for word rendition, in layman’s language, of the definition of the ‘Nation’ given in Josef Stalin’s pamphlet ‘Marxism and the National and Colonial Question’. “It is a historically evolved, stable community of people, living in a contiguous territory as their traditional homeland, speaking a common language, having a common psychological make-up, manifested in a community of culture

Nevertheless, in Sri Lanka certain factors undermined the common man’s belief in the autonomy justifying Otherness of the North and the East. A common man in Sri Lanka could get pretty dismissive of that particular Otherness. How?; “Indeed, if one goes further back in time to the era of the Rajarata civilisation in, say, the fifth to twelfth centuries CE, as Wilson and every Sri Lankan knows only too well, the eastern regions as well as the Jaffna Peninsula were ‘the traditional habitat’ of Sinhala speakers. ‘Tradition’ and ‘history’ constitute a cake that can be cut in many ways.”– (Michael Roberts, ‘Narrating Tamil Nationalism: Subjectivities and Issues’)

Indeed, it was possible, for a common man able to access higher frequencies of the Lankan ideology-sphere, to come out of it all saying; “Pah, Otherness, all smoke and mirrors!” Here’s how;
“…to the misintelligence among the Lisbon authorities that Jaffna was inhabited by the Sinhalese, the Jaffna mudaliyars owed their survival…Such misintelligence was not confined to Lisbon. The Count of Vidigueira, after serving as viceroy at Goa for 7 years (in two terms) and after a term as President of the India Council in Lisbon, still believed in 1626 that the inhabitants of Jaffna were Sinhalese. ...Even Fernão de Queiros’ work was not free from this error. See pp. 357, 361, 366, 371 etc” – (T.B.H Abeyasinghe, ‘Jaffna under the Portuguese’)

Something else was also floating around in the ideology-sphere, casting an inescapable shadow. This was a chronic, deep seated inability to see the north as Other. This finds the most striking expression in one of Ahalepola’s long, haranguing letters to D’oyly (27 November 1811, reproduced in Roberts: 2004);
“… the host of Seyde Malabars landing at Jaffna, having offered presents to the Gods and Lords, who at that time enjoyed the Sovereignty, and obtained Permission merely to remain trading on the Sea Coast, and (thus) residing, when a considerable time had elapsed, as the [sic: “they”?] displaying omens of their destruction, commenced War in hostility to the great Command, and capturing also a few Countries whilst they are residing, Dutugeymanu God and Lord Supreme, like the great Prince of Lions cleaving the Crowns of Elephants, as foreign Enemies attaining to the Sovereignty, having destroyed and expelled the Host of Seyde Malabars, like a gross Mass (?) before a gigantic Wind, increasing the Prosperity of the World and Religion in the happy Isle of Lanka…”