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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Sinhala-Only National Anthem, Buddha Statues, Beheaded Images and Other Omens

Tisaranee Gunasekara
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa does not want the national anthem to be sung in Tamil. Two more Buddha statues are being erected Jaffna by the Lankan Armed Forces. The statues of two Tamils, one Indian and one Englishman, located in the Batticaloa town High Security Zone, have been beheaded.

Connect the seemingly disparate dots and a coherent picture emerges: that of a regime committed to a Sinhala supremacist peace in a Sinhala supremacist Sri Lanka.

 “They must be convinced that we are the victors”. Hitler (Nuremberg documents – PS 739)

According to a Wikileaks cable, “Basil Rajapaksa conceded to Ambassador that the pre-election contacts with the LTTE had taken place” (quoted in Colombo Telegraph – 6.4.2012). So, according to none other than Presidential Sibling Basil Rajapaksa, in the run up to the 2005 Presidential election, the super-patriot Mahinda Rajapaksa and his team were talking surreptitiously to the LTTE, even as they were publicly castigating Ranil Wickremesinghe for being pro-Tiger.

Obviously, the Rajapaksas would do absolutely anything for power.

Juxtapose the two together and the resultant picture is of a Family which is using Sinhala supremacism as the vehicle in the pursuit of absolute and limitless power.

The Rajapaksas are Sinhala supremacists out of conviction and convenience. Though in the pursuit of their dynastic project the Ruling Family follows a Sinhala supremacist-Rajapaksa supremacist path, whenever there is a conflict or contradiction between the two, Rajapaksa supremacism will take precedence over Sinhala supremacism. The Siblings are unarguably Sinhala supremacist, but only so long and so far as Sinhala supremacism serves the interests of Rajapaksa supremacism.

In the Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, nothing will be allowed to harm the interests of the Ruling Family – not even race, religion or patriotism.

The LLRC Recommendations will become Dead Letters

Reinstating the practice of singing the national anthem in Tamil was a key recommendation of the LLRC. The LLRC Report warned that banning the Tamil national anthem “create a major irritant which would not be conducive to fostering post-conflict reconciliation”. The Commission’s final recommendations argued that “the practice of the National Anthem being sung simultaneously in two languages in the same time must be maintained and supported…”

The singing of the national anthem in Tamil was banned by President Rajapaksa in December 2010, soon after he returned to Sri Lanka from his disastrous Oxford trip. He justified his ‘Sinhala Only National Anthem’ proposal with the factually incorrect argument that “in no other country was the national anthem used in more than one language”; he defined the practice of singing the national anthem in Tamil as a “shortcoming that must be rectified” (The Sunday Times – 12.12.2010).

Of all the recommendations of the LLRC, the revoking of the Sinhala Only national anthem is probably the easiest to implement, because it would require neither a parliamentary vote nor judicial sanction. The practice of singing the national anthem in Tamil was banned by a cabinet decision; therefore that ban can be lifted by another cabinet decision. In fact the regime could have done so in time for the Geneva vote, to prove to the world its bona fides.

But the Sinhala Only national anthem is likely to remain. If the media reports are correct, that particular recommendation of the LLRC, so simple, so harmless, so non-controversial, will not be implemented, because doing so is contradictory to Rajapaksa thinking: Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Presidential Sibling and Defence Secretary, believes that “singing the national anthem in Tamil…..is a ridiculous and unpractical idea” (Sri Lankan Mirror – 6.4.2012). And when a Presidential Sibling decries something with so much vehemence, that something will never see the light of day.

According to Sri Lanka Mirror, Mr. Rajapaksa also thinks that “the political proposals contained in the commission report too cannot be implemented”. In other words those proposals of the LLRC which are aimed at promoting national reconciliation and building a Lankan nation too will remain dead letters.

Mr. Rajapaksa must be commended for revealing what propagandists of and apologists for his brother’s administration try to hard to conceal – the real nature of the Rajapaksa regime and the Rajapaksa project.

The Rajapaksas do not believe in the ethnic problem; nor do they believe that Tamils have any specific grievances. The Siblings are wedded to the Hosts and Guests concept of Sri Lanka. They believe that Sinhalese are the only true and real owners of Sri Lanka and that all minorities are but guests in this Sinhala country. Consequently, only Sinhalese have inalienable rights; minorities will be treated well if they accept their status as second class citizens; if they do not, they will be seen as enemies and treated accordingly.

The Rajapaksas fought and won the Fourth Eelam War premised on this Sinhala supremacist vision. The peace resulting from that victory too is informed by Sinhala supremacism and maintained by force. It is a peace without politico-psychological reconciliation, a take-it-or-leave-it peace offered by the victor to the vanquished. In this peace there is no room for justice or equality; the vanquished cannot even mourn its dead or talk about its suffering – because anything but total acceptance of the status quo is seen as treachery.

With such an administration in place, it is not surprising that disturbing developments are becoming ubiquitous in the North and the East. One of the latest is the coordinated beheading of four statues in Batticaloa: those of Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vipulananda, Pulavarma’ni Periyathambi Pillai and Robert Baden-Powell. All four statues are said to be located within the HSZ and their desecration could not have taken place without the knowledge – if not approval – of the Security Forces. After all, beheading four statues would require more time and effort than beheading four human beings!

According to other media reports, a massive Buddha statue is being constructed near the Jaffna Harbour on Beach Road and another one is being set up in front of the Jaffna Railway Station. The state-mandated and aided habit of erecting Buddha statues and Buddhist temples in Northern and Eastern localities without a single Sinhala or Buddhist resident is expressive not of religious freedom but of religio-cultural dominance of the minorities by the majority. Such measures are not conducive to peace and reconciliation. On the contrary, they are likely to breed suspicion, anger and resentment. But such considerations are unlikely to work with the Rajapaksas; winning over the Tamils/minorities is no more a priority now than it was during the war. If the Tamils oppose these or any other measure the regime sees fit to implement, that opposition will be dealt with legally if possible, extra-legally if necessary. After all, that is what the Armed Forces are there for, in such huge numbers.

White Vans and the Rajapaksas

Last week another man was abducted in Grandpass. Since he is unlikely to be the brother-in-law of a government minister who can lobby the Rajapaksa Siblings on his behalf, he may not escape a heinous fate, as Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga’s brother-in-law was fortunate to do the previous week.

Sagara Senaratne, businessman and former provincial councillor, was abducted on March 26th. His abductors assaulted him, demanding Rs. 50 million. Fortunately for Mr. Senaratne, his brother-in-law is a person of some consequence: Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga. Informed of the abduction, Minister Kumaratunga reportedly contacted the President and the Defence Secretary. It was the right move; “…the driver of the white van received a phone call, after which he said, ‘let’s dump him’” (Sri Lanka Mirror – 28.3.2012). Mr. Senaratne was ‘dumped’ unharmed and ordered to pay the money to a bank account.

Mr. Senaratne, in a fit of gratitude, hastened to name and thank his saviours. According him, “….he owes his life to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa….. If not for the mediation by Kumaratunga and the two Rajapaksas, he told ‘Divaina’ that he would not have been alive today, adding that he was immensely grateful for them for having saved his life” (ibid).

If Mr. Senaratne’s grateful assertions are accurate, the Rajapaksa Siblings knew the identity of the abductors, were able to contact them while they were on the job and had absolute control over them. The consequent context cannot but give rise to several questions of public import. How did President Rajapaksa and/or Defence Secretary Rajapaksa know who to contact in order to save Mr. Senaratne? How did they know the contact details of the abductors? Why have they withheld this vital information from the police? Why did the abductors obey them? If they could save Mr. Senaratne why did they not save other white van victims?

If they have both knowledge of and control over the white vans, why are they permitting this monstrosity to continue?

If the Siblings’ intervention made the abductors release their prey immediately, does it not demonstrate that the Rajapaksas are the masters of this Hydra? And if so, can we (reasonably or intelligently) expect the Rajapaksas to rein in their own forces of murder, rapine and pillage or to implement the LLRC Report, voluntarily?

Was a close relative of a senior minister abducted to warn all non-Rajapaksa UPFA leaders that the Siblings have the power of life and death over every single one of them plus their kith and kin? Or did the white van squad, in between ‘official’ duties, engage in a bit of moonlighting, to augment their incomes. If so, will they extend their extramural activities from extortion to robbery, rape, murder or child abuse, with time?

Do we refrain from asking these obvious questions because we know the answers already? And hope that hiding our collective head in the sands is the only way to keep the horror out?

Last month’s blotched abduction of Kolonnawa UC Chairman revealed that some (if not all) abductors are serving soldiers. Armed with weapons and impunity, with absolute power over their victims and unreachable by law, would these veterans of the Eelam War see much of a difference between the North then and the South now? Unless remedial measures are taken, can Sri Lanka be prevented from degenerating into a mire of lawlessness, at the mercy of tyrannical rulers and their armed and dangerous acolytes?


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