Parliamentarian C. V. Wigneswaran’s resent rhetorics have angered the Sinhalese community
There is a saying which goes ‘be aware of the invader from South India because he is here to loot’. In much later years there were Indian invaders who tried their best to destroy the Sinhala culture, writes Prof. Hector Alahakoon in his book ‘Janasammathawadaya’ (ISBN 978-955-98585-7-7).
Right now there is much rhetoric from Sinhala Buddhist monks and Cabinet Ministers. They are going through great pains to underscore the fact that this is a Sinhala Buddhist country and that the minorities must fall in line with the thinking of the majority.
Member of Parliament from Jaffna C.V Wigneswaran has said recently, at his swearing in speech, that Tamils in Sri Lanka must have the right for self determination. But what has angered the majority race is Wigneswaran hailing the new Speaker using Tamil and going on to state that this (Tamil) was the language used by the first inhabitants of this country.
Both communities had used Prakrit; a group of vernacular middle Indo-Aryan language used in India. Later both communities used Sinhala
These differences between the Sinhalese and the Tamils were caused by the lawmakers. It’s not that our historians haven’t contributed to this mess. Take for an example the story of Ravana stealing Rama’s consort Sita. Our Sinhalese literature states that Ravana defeated Rama in this battle. But Hindu literature states that Lord Rama had the support of Hanuman; hence his success or victory at this battle.
Now the Sinhalese don’t want to even entertain the thought of a debate and maintain that Sinhalese was the first official language spoken by the natives of this island. But Prof. Mahinda Somathilake has said in an interview with the Ravaya newspaper that the Sinhalese and Tamils initially used Brahmi letters and their only difference then could be seen culturally. Both communities had used Prakrit; a group of vernacular middle Indo-Aryan language used in India during the 3rd Century BCE to 8th Century CE. Later both communities used Sinhala.
Forget the richness or the status of the common language used then. What was most important is that people of that era communicated with each other. There was no misunderstanding and people loved the peace and prosperity that the country’s rulers promoted.
In the past there had been Tamil kings (Pandya) who donated to the welfare of the island’s Buddhist temples. There were even Tamil monks like Buddhagosha who, while residing in a temple in Anuradhapura, was instrumental in translating Sinhala Atuwa into Pali. Records show that there was a place for Tamils in Sri Lanka. A good example is the ‘Tamil House Holders’ Terrace Inscription’-a document which confirms that there were Tamil merchants doing business here.
Prof. Alahakoon opines in his book that the duty of the authorities always should be to keep the minorities happy.
But after Independence and well after the Constitution was drafted and system of monarchy was done and dusted we saw shrewed lawmakers emerging and serving themselves by entering parliament. Their tactic, whether they were Sinhala or Tamil lawmakers, was simple; divide and rule.
And in this system of divide and rule these lawmakers love it when history is distorted and there is conflict. This is what is happening right now. Going down memory lane when Dutugemunu took on King Elara the war that was staged was more a Buddhist-Hindu Political battle and certainly not a war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Though some Sinhala texts state that Elara was a religious King there is literature which suggests that the Tamil king was heartless and never had plans to uplift the living conditions of the people through social welfare projects.
Some of our historians underscore the fact that there were Tamil and Sinhala kings here in Sri Lanka and the standout difference between the two was that the latter carried out programmes like maintaining tanks for agriculture and medical clinics; all for the betterment of the civilians. The Tamil kings in general did nothing for the people.
And most of these historians also trace something interesting; stone inscriptions of yesteryear used the Sinhala and not the Tamil language. Does this suggest that though both these communities lived in harmony the Tamils living here accepted the Sinhalese as their big brother and Sinhala as the preferred language?
But that line of brotherhood is crossed by politicians like Wigneswaran. There was a time when all these Tamil politicians kept silent when LTTE Leader Prabakaran called the shots and made speeches on behalf of the Tamil community. It is on record that Prabakaran had said in a letter, to the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), that the regime had to focus on solving the economic issues brought about by the war and faced by Tamils in the north and the east before finding a solution to the ‘National Question’. But Wigneswaran prefers to deffer and reverse the order. Wigneswaran said in 2018 that the 16 TNA parliamentarians shouldn’t attend the ‘Task Force’ meeting organised by the regime because that would undermine the attempts made by Tamil politicians to seek a political solution to the ethnic problem if they gave priority to finding solutions to economic issues instead. Wigneswaran like many of his fellow Tamil lawmakers is skilled orator. But the way in which he is using language to carry the grievances of minority Tamils is questionable.
Much of his rhetoric is shared on social media. Such speeches are propaganda and help in the career of a politician.
However what also must be checked are events that are alleged to have taken place in Sinhala dominated areas like Kandy on the day the new Cabinet was sworn in. It was reported in the Tamil Guardian that ‘the Sinhala only flags-the lion flags-were pictured fluttering alongside the Buddhist flags in Kandy on the day of the swearing in of the new Cabinet. In these flags the stripes, which are the token representation of Tamils and Muslims, had been removed’. The website added that this was the work of a racist Sinhala movement.
The war taught us many lessons; all in the most painful manner. But just after the smoke from the gun shots, bombs and explosions cleared we saw reconciliation efforts and even marriages taking place in these two communities. They spoke different languages and when two people came together what matters was that they had communicated. This art of communicating is something that our lawmakers like Wigneswaran must learn or be forced to learn.