Reconciliation in Sri Lanka – Some significant issues


– by Shenali D. Waduge –

Unless and until anyone can prove that ethnic animosities between the Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus had prevailed throughout Sri Lanka’s history there is no compelling need to use uncritically western concepts such as ‘reconciliation’.

Genesis of Reconciliation

The Government and people of Sri Lanka must be warned of embracing ideas that have had origin in western settler countries to meet contingencies that were peculiar to their societies and irrelevant to older countries with rich civilizations such as India and Sri Lanka which have been built on Hindu and Buddhist religious foundations which place a heavy emphasis on ‘Ahimsa’ (Non –violence) to all living beings. It is these ethical foundations that have prevented Buddhist and Hindu civilizations from going on the offensive, conquering other people’s lands and plundering and robbing their resources without any qualms of conscience, as vividly displayed by followers of Abrahamic religions in the west and middle east even to this day in their immoral quest for world domination.

More specifically the idea of ‘Reconciliation’ grew out of contexts such as the genocide, mass murder, liquidation and extermination of indigenous people in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, parts of Africa including South Africa, North and South America.  These were crimes against humanity similar in magnitude to the ‘holocaust’ of the Jews in the Second World War, all of which were committed by European Christians.

Hidden objective of Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

We must not lose sight of the strategies and ploys used by foreigners in Sri Lanka  during the period of western colonial domination (1505 – 1948) under three Christian powers i.e. Portuguese, Dutch and British  to disunite the  two ethnic communities  and create new communities of people with allegiance to a foreign sovereign instead of the local sovereign and to ensure disunity prevailed to divert  public attention from the plunder of resources and transformation of the country into a vassal state  dependent on the colonial West.

The process of ‘Reconciliation’ is subtly meant to make the majority community i.e. Sinhalese Buddhists, feel guilty and inferior with the thought that we are not measuring up to other peoples’ (in the West) expectations and standards in respect to inter – communal relations and other areas. This is a form of psychological domination, practiced by the western countries through their heavily prejudiced state apparatus and jingoist mass media full of lies and euro – centric propaganda and meant to instil in the minds of non – Europeans a defeated mind set weak in spirit and lacking backbone to overcome challenges and achieve victories. Sri Lanka’s inestimable victory in the Cricket World Cup (1996) under the able captaincy of Arjuna Ranatunga and the comprehensive and resounding victory over terrorism achieved in May, 2009 under the guidance and leadership of President Mahinda Rajapakse provides mettle and grit to stand up and call a spade a spade and accept the challenge of de-colonising our minds.

If ‘reconciliation’ is the chosen path then there cannot be a time bar to ‘reconciliation’ more so when major issues that the country faces today are very much part of the problems created with cunning and craftiness by the western colonial countries during their period of governance of this country. ‘Divide and Rule’ was a central plank of colonial administration. Therefore, it is incumbent on the people now to insist that the country’s government demand that reconciliation bogeys cannot be accepted unless and until the injustices meted out by the colonial rulers upon Sri Lanka be addressed first. It is also important to bear in mind that any genuine reconciliation cannot restrict its scope. The grievances, injustices and the persecution of the Sinhalese Buddhists during 450 years of colonial rule cannot be simply brushed aside from the scope of efforts at Reconciliation by concentrating solely on the claims of minorities.

Colonial Injustices await international inquiry

Let us now look at why reconciliation needs to start with the injustices and inequities committed by the colonials commencing from the unsolicited entry of the Portuguese to this country in 1505.

Fact 1: There was NO institutional Christianity nor indigenous Christians in Sri Lanka when the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka.

Fact 2: The Portuguese came in the guise of Traders, but with an ominous plan to conquer Territory and to Proselytize (Commerce, Conquest and Conversion).

Fact 3: Christianity was introduced to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese and imposed by force using violence and sometimes reward unethically going so far as to destroy Buddhist temples e.g. Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara in 1578, and Hindu kovils and building Churches over destroyed sites and killing those who were defending their places of worship including Buddhist monks. If Buddhist temples along maritime coast are not older than 150 years it is because the Portuguese destroyed them  with the blessings  of the Roman Catholic emperor of Portugal, his Viceroy in Goa, the Pope in the Vatican  and Roman Catholic Church in Sri Lanka. Moreover, there can be no worse crime than foreign invaders supported by local accomplices wiping out the historical evidence of a nation.

  • 1000 pillared temples in Devundara and Trincomalee, Saman Devale Temple, Kelaniya temple were ransacked and burnt (Dr. Susantha Goonetilleke)
  • Kochikade Church in Colombo and Madhu Church in Mannar were originally Pattini Devales (Prof. Endagama). Also destroyed were Nallur Kandasamy Kovil, Kailasanathar Temple, Munneswaran Temple in 1575, Sri Vishnu Temple in Devinuwara in 1588, Tirukethieswaram Temple, Matota temple, Tiru Konesar Temple in 1622, Thirukonamalai temple in Trincomalee, among others
  • Buddhist schools ransacked and burnt and monk-scholars killed – Sunethra Devi Pirivena in Kotte, Vidagama Pirivena in Raigama, Tottagamuwe Pirivena in Hikkaduwa. Learning of these Buddhist monasteries were recorded in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam.
  • Vidagama Pirivena of Raigama originally a 400 acre complex has been turned into a Church and Church graveyard.
  • 1557 AD – Seven storied Kithsirimevanpaya built by Dambadeniya kings in Kelaniya was destroyed by Portuguese Capt Diego de Melo who drowned all defenders  in the Kelani river.
  • 5 storied Royal palace in Kelaniya converted to a St. Bartholomew Catholic church in 1557AD
  • 3 storied Dalada Maligawa of Kotte destroyed by Portuguese in 1557AD
  • 1624 – Portuguese demolish ancient Gokanna temple into the sea and built Fort Frederick from the stones and pillars of the temple.
  • Portuguese conquistador Fellipe de Oliveria is said to have destroyed 500 Temples in Jaffna the number of Buddhist temples that were destroyed in the rest of the country is unimaginable.
  • Papal Bulls of 1452, 1455, 1456 mandated Portugal to acquire territory and convert heathens. Coastal communities underwent mass conversion (Jaffna, Mannar, Negombo, Chilaw – fishing communities)

Fact 4:  Divide and rule began with the Portuguese for they found it easier to convert Tamils and made Jaffna Tamils compete with the Sinhalese. Prof. Endagama points that the existing family system along traditional framework and familial obligations was broken by Catholic conversions who were now told to worship only their Christian God. High class Sinhalese/Tamils were first converted on the assumption that the lower classes would automatically follow. It was often these converted Tamils and Sinhalese who changed their allegiance and went against their own and revolted against native monarchs in favour of the colonials. They became mercenaries (Lascoreens) and intelligence   gatherers for the Portuguese and later the Dutch and British.

From 1624-1626 the Franciscans had converted 52,000 Jaffna Tamils. In 1634 over 70,000 Christians headed by 25 parishes in Jaffna (Friar Paulo da Trinidade) while Antonio Boccaro that same year reported that ‘nearly all natives are Christians’ with Father Fernao de Queiros also describing Jaffna as being ‘wholly Christian’. Eventually 42 parishes divided among the Franciscans and the Jesuits.

The Portuguese had 115,000 Hindus converted to Christianity. But, many of them reverted to Hinduism when Dutch replaced the Portuguese in 1658.

Fact 5: Western names, rituals and western cultures, attire, eating habits, music introduced to the natives of Sri Lanka and spread by the new Sinhala / Tamil converts. (Fernando, Mendis, Fonseka, Rodrigo, Perera). The Portuguese introduced strong liquor manufacture,   cattle slaughter and beef eating in a country that banned the killing of all sentient beings and animals.

Fact 6: Portuguese destroyed the self-sufficiency at village levels of the indigenous natives and introduced concept of import-export

Battles against Portuguese

  • 1593 Kadugannawa – 400 Kandyans led by Konappu Bandara battled to prevent 12 year old Dona Catherina from being married to a Portuguese army officer. If marriage had taken place under Roman law the principle ‘cujus regio, illius religio’ would have prevailed – he who rules the land determines the religion. If so Portuguese king would have used his legal authority to conquer Sri Lanka and declare Roman Catholicism as the official religion of Sri Lanka. The Buddhists would have had to baptise themselves or die. Konappu Bandara went on to marry Dona Catherina and became King Vimaladharmasuriya 1  He built a two storey building to deposit the tooth relic in Kandy. He died in 1604.
  • 1591 – Last Battle of Jaffna by Lankan army to defend Jaffna near a great Dagaba in Atchuveli killing scores of Sinhala soldiers. 5000 Sinhala troops including Mudaliar Atapattu were killed and Portuguese began ruling Jaffna thereafter with the Tamil Christian community of Jaffna becoming their strongest supporters.
  • 1598 – Kandy destroyed. 10th war against Portuguese. Local collaborators paid by Portuguese for allegiance
  • 1615 AD – 11th War against Portuguese. Orders from Goa to stop Sinhala merchants trading in Trinco, Batticaloa and Jaffna. Portuguese launched offensive with help of local collaborators capturing Gampola, Maturata, Badulla, Tumpane, Matale, Harispattuwa.
  • 1618 – Portuguese crush revolt of Kuruvitarala near Balangoda also with the help of local collaborators (Catholics and Moors and greedy Sinhalese). Portuguese and collaborators laughed as the local kings palaces, schools, temples, shops, horse and elephant sheds were all burnt and Buddhists temples destroyed. Over 1000s of surrendered Sinhala warriors (Prisoners of War) were beheaded while the commanders were chained and dragged to their deaths. Collaborator poet Dom Jeronimo Alagiyavanna Mukaveti wrote glorifying  the feats of the Portuguese over the Sinhala patriots in his eulogising poem ‘Kustantinu Hatana’ (a war ballad about the Portuguese General Constantino de Sá de Noronha).
  • 1630 AD – 13th War against Portuguese  Constantino de Sá de Noronha was the 6th and 8th Governor of the Portuguese controlled areas of Ceylon.   He destroyed villages and agriculture up to Badulla He was finally killed in the Battle of Randeniwala in 1630, when the Kandyan Armies led by King Senerath and his sons defeated the Portuguese in Randeniwala.
  • 14 major battles took place between Portuguese and the Sinhalese.

Reconciliation : Portuguese and the Catholic Church as their accomplices must first apologize for their crimes in Sri Lanka

  • Role of Catholic Church in colonization – policy to annihilate native religions,
  • Great buildings and infrastructure of an ancient civilization destroyed by Portuguese fire power primarily because even Lisbon Portugal’s capital city could not compare to the buildings, Temples  and other structures in Kotte, Sri Lanka.
  • Introducing sadism, barbaric forms of punishment and inhuman cruelty to animals to a peaceful society. South Indian rulers showed their cruelty to showcase their superiority the Portuguese and other colonials were simply enjoying watching natives suffer death.
  • Creating a new community of Catholics and Burghers – many from raping Sinhalese women and children born out of wedlock and women brought to the level of sex slaves.
  • Portuguese principle ‘Begin by Bible, if unsuccessful then use the Sword’ – implemented in 1522 AD and entered interior Sri Lanka for the next wave of conversions by denigrating Buddhism.
  • Robbing, raping, committing adultery and killing natives en masse (records of Faria Sousa), killing children for fun, killing a husband and eating his flesh in front of his wife (recorded by Portuguese observers and writers ) is really no different to Syrian rebels eating the heart of a Syrian soldier in 21st century!
  • Promising protection to ruling class in exchange for allowing Catholic missionaries to propagate Christianity, building of churches and to convert people – implemented by 1543AD
  • Memo from King of Portugal to Viceroy in India to destroy all local religions – 1546 “Use diligent officers to discover and reduce to fragments, all forms of idols. Apply rigorous penalties on locals who dare to engrave, cast, sculpture, or paint any figure in metal, bronze, wood or clay”.
  • Creating traitors and fifth columnists  – puppet king Don Juan Dharmapala hands over Kelaniya Rajamahaviharaya and Daladage at Kotte to Portuguese against Mayadunne
  • By 1597 Portuguese began using caste tactics and religion to dissent. Trade and its administration was given to converted Catholics of high caste families creating a new rich caste/class of converted Tamils and Sinhalese who abandoned their heritage and roots for worthlesss titles and various other material rewards. Patriotic Sinhalese and Tamils coined the derogatory term ‘Rice Christians’ to refer to such people.  
  • Portuguese soldiers were to throw live prisoners including Buddhist monks, to the crocodiles and women and children had their limbs chopped off while mothers had to hold their children and be tortured to death. Mothers and children were crushed between rocks. Portuguese were drinking, eating meat, laughing and cheering the Sinhalese being tortured.
  • Changing demography of the country – Portuguese bring South Indians to Jaffna for tobacco cultivation in 1630. This practice was continued on a more extensive scale by the Dutch.

The lessons and choices for contemporary leaders and nationals

One can barter and sacrifice history, heritage and one’s religion like Don Juan Dharmapala , one can strike peace pacts like King Senerath of Kandy did in 1617 which Portuguese broke in 1628 by taking Trinco and Batticaloa (this was the same king who on compassionate grounds resettled Muslim traders whom the Portuguese under Constantino de Sá de Noronha were going to annihilate  under orders from the Portuguese King, in the Eastern region of the Kandyan Kingdom i.e.  Batticaloa), collaborators of the type of Alagiyavanna Mukavatiya who wrote even poems glorifying  the Portuguese or natives can collaborate with the enemy forsaking their own countrymen – do we see much difference in then and now?

Buddhist resurgence in 1956

From 1505 and following over 450 years of foreign colonial rule it took until 1956 to break away from the norms and usher a resurgence of Sinhala Buddhist awareness. That too was quickly branded as ‘ethnic’ and ‘extremist’ by the    subversive Catholic Action movement that even attempted to take over the country by a military coup in 1962, following the success of the Catholic Church in collaboration with USA, in installing Ngô Đình Diệm, a Catholic as the first President of South Vietnam, a pre-dominantly Buddhist country, through fraudulent elections.

The challenges have not changed. Evangelical groups continue to use unconventional methods to convert, they have exploited country laws and operate as registered companies or NGOs, they use inducements and lure people to convert giving privileges and incentives. The best example was King Bhuvanakabahu of Kotte whose grandson Dharmapala was appointed as heir in 1543 and placed under the protection of King of Portugal. Dharmapala was christened as Don Juan and upon his death in 1597 Portuguese claimed de jure title to the Kingdom of Kotte  on the basis of an invalid last will and testament left behind by Don Juan Dharmapala.   

Reconciliation must start with rectification of the injustices of the Colonial rulers

If the nation of Sri Lanka is reeling from one crisis to the other it must be accepted that the roots of these intractable conflicts go back in time to the arrival of the colonial power houses in the form of Portuguese, Dutch and the British who destroyed the cultural framework, destroyed native agriculture, the traditional economy and the social structure and forcefully implanted Western systems and methods in the best interest of their economies. If Sri Lanka’s engineers were sent overseas to teach how to construct canals and storage tanks prior to colonial arrival it speaks volumes of the capability of the Sinhalese. Therefore reconciliation must start from the point of time where the civilizational prestige of a nation and the rightful status and authority of its indigenous people were usurped and it is the usurpers who need to not only apologize but compensate for their crimes both tangible and intangible.

The Dutch have recently apologized to Indonesia for its crimes during colonial rule, Britain said almost the same to India – we look forward to British Prime Minister David Cameron making that much awaited apology to Sri Lanka prior to teaching Sri Lanka a lesson on human rights when he comes for the Commonwealth Heads of Meeting and Portugal too needs to also apologize to Sri Lanka. That is not all, for annihilating Sri Lanka’s ancient civilization, its cultural heritage, its artifacts and much of its history itself as well as the sadism and killings of indigenous people must be compensated. The demand for reparations by the victims cannot be wished away by the colonial perpetrators. A catharsis is required like in South Africa.

Quoting Mr. Philip Fernando

In a recent email exchange senior Journalist Mr. Philip Fernando made the following comment which provides food for thought for all those concerned with the ongoing developments and future of Sri Lanka, both in the short and long term.

“The majority community in Sri Lanka has to cautiously assess the rising presence among the minorities as well as their access to international resources with great care. Most cohesive ethno-cultural groups , with a firm sense of common purpose, will not voluntarily accept any nationalism other than its own.  Sri Lanka has so far avoided going overboard in their quest to preserve what they believe is their heritage.  Lessons from across the Palk strait even after the partition of India are quite relevant. 

Here are things to ponder–Gandhi pleaded with Jinnah, “you can cut me in two if you wish, but don’t cut India in two.” Yet in the end Muslim intransigence and militancy received their reward in the form of Pakistan, a separate homeland for Indian Muslims, replete with a constitution that irrevocably enshrines Muslim dominance; Indian Hindus, still suffering today from a restive Muslim minority, received their reward in a secularist (“multicultural”) India, which denies the Hindu majority any institutional expression of their ethno-cultural character. Hindu leaders may have profited from secularism, but the Hindu masses they nominally represented did not.  

The lesson of Gandhi’s failure is clear: In interracial relations a group that defines itself by its tolerance will lose against a group that doggedly pursues its own self-interest. Shrewd ethnocentrism is more politically powerful than compromising tolerance. We could call that a sociological law, if it were not so obvious. “India,” as Godse complained at his trial, “was vivisected and one-third of the Indian Territory became foreign land to us…. This is what Gandhi had achieved after thirty years of indisputably powerful activism. Sri Lanka won the war but the TNA may not have learnt anything–not when you read their manifesto”

Buddhism which brought so much prestige, honour and international recognition to India since the enlightenment of the Buddha 2600 years ago lost its place and was disowned by India for over a period of 800 years.  Hinduism in India is facing a similar decline thanks to the foolishness of Indian leaders for their uncritical acceptance of ideas born and bred in the western Christian traditions rather than their own. Today the national leaders of India particularly the Government of India no longer sees itself as the protector of the glorious Buddhist – Hindu civilization. Secularism, Pluralism, Multi-culturalism and the like being foreign doctrines make sure that the Indian state abandons any form of association or allegiance to its much vaunted spiritual and religious heritage.

Sri Lanka must not fall for the trap India has fallen into

India no longer gives moral voice or defend deep seated traditions rooted in Indian culture and heritage such as ‘Ahimsa’ (non – violence) to all living beings, speak highly of its sages like the Buddha, Mahavira and chakravarti Kings like Asoka, Buddhist missionaries like Arahant Mahinda and Sangamitta, all of whom contributed to bestowing the respect and influence that India still enjoys today in the wider world.

In contrast Muslim countries will never abandon their Islamic heritage. In fact they are proud and deeply committed to its growth and spread universally.

Sri Lanka must never fall for the trap that India has fallen into whose public voice and national conscience is now being heavy manipulated by a mass media owned and controlled by foreign funded groups that are hostile to even the retention of its indigenous spiritual symbols as part of India’s identity.

Balancing the LLRC Report

Those putting pressures upon Sri Lanka dictating the demarcation of the periods to be investigated do so to omit scrutiny of their crimes and wrong doings. What needs to be reiterated is that while the Report of the LLRC under the Chairmanship of C. R. de Silva, P.C. addresses the grievances of the minorities through a variety of recommendations to correct the inequities it leaves out altogether from its Report any reference to the historical injustices suffered by the Sinhalese Buddhists under 450 years of foreign domination, despite eloquent submissions made to that effect by a number of individuals and organisations with nationalist credentials. These historical wrongs had to be rectified by any post – independence Government of Sri Lanka. The revolution of 1956 through the ballot was meant to redress the justifiable grievances of the majority community who suffered the most under colonial rule.

The Report of the Press Commission (1964) under the Chairmanship of Justice K. D. de Silva (father of C.R. de Silva) deals with some of these issues in a sensible manner and calls on the national press to be  fair and more balanced in its reportage and analysis of issues including editorial comment.  Much of the historical injustices committed by the western powers and the insidious role of the Press were referred to at length in the 1964 report. In contrast the LLRC has side stepped the issue of the grievances of the majority in the immediate post – independence period presented in the submissions by nationalist groups, associations and individuals and not even a reference to their submissions has been made.  This itself shows that the LLRC Report lacks objectivity, complete representation and a balance for any concrete reconciliation to take place. The Government of Sri Lanka must seriously consider re- publishing the K. D. de Silva Press Commission Report of 1964 to provide the balance that the LLRC Report seriously lacks but also take upon itself to make available in a published printed form all the submissions made to the LLRC.