Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Divide and Rule

Lohan left a comment on my post about the Joint Mechanism where he said that when we leave space for discussions like 'ethnic composition in the High Level committee' we are actually adding to the divisions that already exist.

To a very large extent I agree with him. This is also why I'm not really sure whether we need a quota system in Parliament based on ethnicities or gender.

In an ideal Sri Lanka the Joint Mechanism would have an X number of seats and an X number of Sri Lankans would be chosen to fill them regardless of what ethnicity or religion they represented. But we have to face the fact that this is not an ideal situation. It is as about far from an ideal situation as possible.

After 40 years of discrimination and 20 years of armed conflict based solely on ethnicity, ethnic identities have become very important to Sri Lankans. Being the right ethnicity at the right time could open doors for you. Being the wrong ethnicity at the wrong time could get you killed. It means a lot to people right now. The entire power structure in Sri Lanka is spun around this exaggerated inflexible and concocted notion of ethnicity, and it is not easy to change that.

To keep ethnicity-based representation out of the Joint Mechansim, while ideal, is unrealistic. But this does not mean that I believe the importance of the ethnic identity needs to be fought. But it cannot be fought top down, by keeping ethnicity out of an agreement like the Joint Mechanism. The notion has become too entrenched in collective decision making and communal thought that to challenge it all at once, and to hope for success, is impossible. Also, political groups who use this notion to their benefit will not react favourably to any attempt to erode their enthnic-identity-based constituencies.

It needs to be fought up from the level of the individuals, and many Sri Lankans have been doing this.

It is sad that this country is so divided and that political groups have been maintaining these divisions for their own use, but right now the killing must end, and if we need to be divided to discuss peace, then so be it. Maybe whatever peace we achieve as a divided nation will not be a lasting peace, but once the killing has stopped, then we can think about erasing the divisions and taking steps towards a lasting peace.

I invite Lohan and Kevin and anyone else for more discussion on this.

Personally, I feel that this is all due to the basic sense of inferiority present in many of our fellow locals. After so many years as a colony, we have still not left that state of mind.

Politics so far have been based on trying to correct past "wrongs" (e.g. the Sinhala language farce) than considering any future direction,

It's a lot easier to garner support based on ethnicity, religion etc than on solid principles or policy.

It's like trying to be popular at the playground. The popular kid isn't the one who does the right thing - it's the one who does the popular thing.

What we really need is to *grow up* as individuals. Then, as you pointed out, we can start taking down the importance of this ethnic identity as a passport.

This requires working together. The war mongers fatten on the ignorance of the people. There needs to be more opportunity for ordinary people to work and talk with each other, irrespective of their ethnicity. Once we all get to an understanding that our basic needs are the same, that our dreams are so alike, the narrow minded Pirapaharan, Weerawansa etc will have no ammo.

Everyone wants to live in peace. That idea needs to be shared and understood.
Again Morq ... :- ( what's so special about kevin - why don't I get invited to comment .... not fair - sulking

Anon Anon
I guess you are talking about self-formation and identity, this is a loaded question. SL is a prime example of going down the road of Politics of Identity without safeguards and compromise.

As Kevin said the inferiority complex might be present but IMHO most of it stems from economic insecurity as well as the inability to rely an individual's freedoms (which are violated at the whim of any "leader" these days). As usually is the case, when individuals can let go of their fears (better yet, do not have much to fear) they can open their minds to new ideas.

I don't know if the silent majority in SL (and not just in colombo) see themselves primarily as Sri-Lankans first followed by their ethnic identity or vice versa. Any ideas guys?

IMHO, another way of overcoming this is via the solidarity gained by being able to empathize with those who suffer. The fact is, when a person expresses their feelings and questions about loosing a loved one to the ltte/jvp/sla/1983 most of us understand it. That feeling, I suspect, is much more powerful than ethnicity. This is why I would like to see some sort of outlet for the voices of those who have lost their beloved to this silliness. Common Morq, how about a half hour TV show dedicated to the "voices"...:)

As for the vision thing, I do not favour many top-down movements or social engineering projects. That's not saying that the abstract ideals and self-realization is what (should) individuals strive for. I just don't like it when it's forced on me. Who does?
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