Ever since the appointment of our President, his excellency Gotabhaya Rajapaksha the word “Sinhala Buddhist Nation” has been passed around a lot and I understand as a minority you might be wondering if this is the rise of another Nazi party and the Sinhalese are out to get you. I myself am a Ceylonese Moor and these three words used to scare me a little, made me feel excluded. Thankfully Sinhala is my mother tongue and my childhood was filled with wonderful Sinhalese friends, so I was able to understand the meaning behind this term.
Sinhala refers to an ethnicity, a language, a culture, an art (literature, dance, paintings, architecture etc.), an area of medicine, engineering and it’s something that makes Sri Lanka unique from the rest of the world. When someone says “this is a Sinhala Buddhist Nation” it does not mean the country belongs to the Sinhalese who are Buddhists. Our Sinhalese friends don’t have special privileges compared to us. As a matter of fact, Tamils and Muslims have special privileges compared to them when it comes to laws concerning marriage and land ownership (I hope they will be resolved soon). There are no restrictions when it comes to access to healthcare, education, seeking for justice. The Tamil language is given equal status in the Government and in schools. Buddhism is more than a religion and has been providing Sri Lanka with a value system which has helped our country flourish for centuries. It has helped other religions to coexist freely from their arrival to Sri Lanka.
Sinhala is more of a civilization that is native to this country and we are all connected in this fabric together. We are not an Anglo sphere like USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand where a western civilization committed cultural genocide and established its “Western Anglo-Saxon Protestant” civilization. But ever since we were colonized by the British, we have been engrained with this inferiority complex – to make us feel we are slaves and we need to please our White masters. Not being able to speak English was “godey”, wearing a sarong or saree was third class, eating with fingers was savage like. And this mindset is there in many Sinhalese I know personally. They are very talented people, but they don’t have the confidence to take pride in what they do. When you have a majority population that thinks like this it stagnates progress, it prevents creativity. For all ethnicities to prosper, the numerical majority needs to lead the way. There is so much potential in Sinhala medicine, science, engineering, agriculture if we tap into it. Buddhist meditation techniques can be used to cure mental problems. There is so much we can offer to this world.
The reason why we felt scared when people used the word “Sinhala Buddhist Nation” is because certain groups have used that term to spread hate, to give us the feeling that we don’t belong here and another extreme group uses this as a way to spread fear and make us feel that we are third class citizens (this is what minority parties are doing to us). Both motives are wrong and should be dealt with from all ethnicities. If you noticed this year’s election – there are candidates from all ethnicities who were contesting for the position of Presidency. What more can you ask for in a country like this? The Senior Monks of the Asgiriya and Malwathu chapters have said, “We need to include all ethnicities in our journey. We need to show them that they too are part of this”. If you replace “Sinhala Buddhistness” (Sinhala Bauddhakama) with “Ourness” (Apekama) you will realize they project a compassionate feeling, a sense of belonging. And that is exactly what it means. Regardless of ethnicity, any child born in Sri Lanka should be able to able to stand in front of the Ruwanweliseya and say: “This is mine – and it is my duty to protect it”. Thereby be being a Muslim in Sri Lanka can confidently say that there is nothing wrong in living in a Sinhala Buddhist Nation.
Picture Taken by – Pasindu Liyanagama in front of the Ruwanweliseya