By Prof. Susirith Mendis
I have been intrigued by the reactions to the slogan “Sinha-Le” used by some group or other. Gradually, it has become a point of intensive debate and controversy. I write this piece today because I saw a clip on TV News about a fracas that occurred between two groups. One group who claimed no political affiliations had a peaceful demonstration on the theme ‘Different yet Equal’ – “Ekama Le” recently. This group was led by the controversial politician Azad Sally who thrives on controversy and publicity. He is otherwise politically bankrupt. However controversial or bankrupt the group-leader is, he and his group had every democratic right to express their views to the public.
I believe that Azad Sally’s underlying motives were successfully realized. I believe that they were two-pronged: (i) to gain as much attention and publicity to himself as he is usually in search of; and (ii) to rile the ‘Sinha-Le’ group or any other Sinhala nationalist group who could be baited into a provoked reaction. Both were realized. There were others in that group who, I am sure, had altruistic and bona fide motives for a better Sri Lanka.They were demonstrating peacefully and that is to be admired and appreciated.
A group purportedly called the ‘Sinha Le Jathika Balamuluwa’ led by some monks, and also claiming no political affiliations, descended on the peaceful demonstration and created an unruly disturbance. Any discerning observer would have seen that Azad Sally’s group retained the moral high-ground. They were disciplined and kept their emotions under better control. And the message was further enhanced by a red shirted and bearded young man who was repeating loudly and with great solemnity – “Siyalusathwayo niduk wewa” to telling effect.In a previous avatar, he would have been definitively identified as a JVPer. But he is probably not, since today, true JVPers wear white long-sleeved tunics and most have no beards! And they recite a Sanskrit/Vedic Sloka or two once in a way in parliament and outside.The red shirted young man had his ‘few minutes upon the stage’ before he was ‘heard no more’. The police were rightly on the ‘right’-side. They tried to shut the disrupters and get them to move away. Ultimately, the disrupters took the fallback option that seemed to boil down to a copyright infringement. The disrupters insisted that some of Sally’s group carried posters with “Sinha-Le” on them which is their ‘trade mark’ (I am not sure whether they have registered it or not) and therefore those posters should be removed. An agreement was reached on that point and I presume that the whole thing ended there and peace reigned thereafter.
The above, was just a preamble to set the tone for what I really want to say. It is this whole thing about this relatively recent trend in the connotation of ‘blood’ in our political lexicon. Prior to this recent trend, ‘blood’ meant “30-years of a bloody war”. And we saw so much blood daily in our news programmes for so long, that it no longer elicited the expected reactions in us to see blood and body parts strewn on the roads.Blood in the battlefield, blood on streets and city centres and busy intersections, blood in buses and trains. It was blood, blood and more blood. This gradually developed in us an insensitivity to blood.
Then there was ‘blood’ that was shed in a more organized manner. And depending whether you were a proxy group for the LTTE like the TNA et al, or of the Sri Lanka Armed forces in their fight against fascistic terrorism, you would be deeply concerned by the ‘blood’ shed by “our” young men (and even children) in the battlefields of the North and East.
This brings me to the concept of blood that was shed in battlefields the world over. Whether it was blood that was shed in tribal wars to save one’s tribe from annihilation and slavery by other tribes from the earliest days of human civilization; or blood shed by people to save their societies and their culture and their life styles in the face of foreign colonial invasions; or internecine conflicts within nations, more often than not, manipulatively created by a global policy of ‘divide and rule’, it was still blood that was shed.
Blood legends are created to make them not just ordinary blood. The blood that was shed in those circumstances becomes ‘heroic blood’. They are great stories. Myths are built around them and legends told and retold. From the mythologies of the Iliad to the Ramayana, throughout the ages to the two World Wars (38 million casualties in WW I and 60 million dead in WW II – that is a lot of blood!), to our present times, we have had ‘heroic blood’ shed. All the battles in Europe and the Far East during WW II shed ‘heroic blood’. So was the blood that was shed in the ‘Great Patriotic War’ of the Soviet Union and the Battle of Stalingrad. Today, in Sri Lanka, we have ‘Rana Viruwo’ who fought a Long War and shed their ‘heroic’ blood for their country and we have also a ‘Suriya Thevan’ and his men who shed their ‘heroic’ blood for an ever receding mirage of Tamil nationhood.
Hollywood has made a ‘killing’ (pun intended). See this small sample of the movie titles: “Blood”, “Captain Blood”, “Flesh and Blood”, “First Blood”, “The Blood of Heroes” and all those “heroic” war movies that Hollywood churned out, ad nauseum. All had one thing in common – shedding of blood and more blood. Blood is a compulsion-driven common human fetish. Dracula and other vampire tales tell us that. Blood is money too! As I said Hollywood makes billions out of spilling celluloid blood. The more blood spilt, the more billions you can make. If you are a small-timer, you can sell a pint for cash – and that, not only in Blood Banks. You can buy it too for the right price.
The Old Testament of the Bible has this, among so many others, to say about blood: “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission – Hebrews 9:22). So blood, we must shed. That seems to be part of our common human destiny. I came across this in the internet: “Blood is life, and music is life, so songs about blood just make sense.” Bloody songs are endless. Here is a sample: “Let it Bleed” and “Too Much Blood” (Rolling Stones); “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (U2); “Blood on Blood” (Bon Jovi); “If You Want Blood” (AC/DC); “Raining Blood” (Slayer); “Power in Blood” (Dolly Parton) and “Pay in Blood” (Bob Dylan). So as you can see, there is blood everywhere there is human endeavour. Obvious, you might say. If so, is it that unexpected that we have a political organisation that calls themselves the ‘Sinha Le Jathika Balamuluwa’?
It is in the context of ‘heroic’ blood that ‘Sinha-Le’ as a slogan and political movement was born. In the context of ‘heroic’ blood shed for country. It has its obvious implications of ethnicity, language and religion. It was said to be an ‘ethnic war’, after all. And therefore, it is not surprising that derogatory epithets of chauvinism and majoritarian hegemony have been cast upon it.
It was even said that “Sinha-Le” movement was the “newest threat to the island’s integrity”. Contrary to this opinion, others argue that the “Sinha-Le” movement is an understandable response to a tangible threat to the national identity and thereby, national integration.
While the erudite will debate the connotation of the word “Sinhale” as against “Sinha-le” with its regional implications, and whether the reference is to ‘Sinhala blood’ or whether it emanates from a legendary sense of pride of being of ‘Lion blood’, some aspects of it is taking a turn for the ludicrous. I found this in the peaceful demonstration that I mentioned at the outset. There was a poster stating “B+ Le”. The political is turning into the biological. This “B+ Le” slogan was in direct contradiction to their theme – “Ekama Le”. If one claims, “B+ Le” then there is no “Ekama Le”. Others may be of a different ‘Le’ – A, AB or O and Rhesus positive or negative – giving rise to a minimum of 8 different types. Thereby, the “Ekama Le” slogan falls flat on its face by its own internal contradiction. We are so different in our “Le”s that if by accident we get somebody else’s incompatible “Le”, we could die of it! So by that count, we are certainly not “Ekama Le” at all.
Therefore, its best that we all take this ‘blood’ business for what it really is – a metaphor for a developing political divergence than going into hysterics of being ‘Sinhla-Le’ or ‘Ekama le’ or “B+ le’.Or being misled by our general dread or love of blood. Underlying this superficial, sloganized ‘blood battle’, a real crisis is in the making. Pasting labels on people or groups as being “jathiwadi” is not going to resolve issues. Having ‘anti-blood’ demonstrations is a waste of time, however good might be the intention. Actually, if the demonstrators wanted to be more biologically correct, they could have carried a poster saying “We are ‘anti-Sinha Le’ antibodies”! That would have been appropriate both politically and biologically.
We need to take, not what they are sloganizing, but what they are really trying to say. Take them on issue by issue and see whether a reasonable approach to resolve atavistic fears of a minority of 16 million people living in a small island with a language and a culture and a written history that makes them an infinitesimal % of the world’s people, is available. It has to be available. Theirs is a cry for survival in the massive wilderness of macro-scale global cultures. Their atavistic fears have been there for over 2000 years where the legend has it that Gamani of Magama lay in foetal position on the crumpled sheets of his Royal bed and exclaiming that he has no space to extend his legs in comfort.
But all that time ago, he said he was being restrained only from the North by the Indian invaders and in the South by the great ocean. But today, it seems worse. Sri Lanka is hemmed in geographically and politically due to its strategic location from all sides: The Indian behemoth on the one hand, and Chinese global interests and the urgency of US desires for the strategic extension of its 7th fleet in the face of Chinese expansionism on the other. Then, from another flank, there is the Islamic revival and resurgence and its rapid spread (which includes, unfortunately, its wing of horrific murderous extremism)with a global reach through the massive funds generated from Middle East oil resources at their disposal for expansion and influence. These are reflected in the increasing belligerence on the global stage and also of their fringe politicians in Sri Lanka. These are the local and global realities. Therefore, it should not be surprising that this miniscule global % of 16 million people who claim to be of “Sinha-Le” are seriously concerned and disturbed.
Our current government,for political expediency or other less known reasons, is playing in a big game of high stakes in which they are mere pawns and one that they don’t seem to fully understand. They are playing Russian roulette with our nation’s future with such utter disregard for informed, rational and consensual decision-making,that they indeed leave us with good enough reasons for doubt, uncertainty, misgivings, distrust and suspicion about their ulterior motives.
So let us leave different kinds of blood aside. It is time to stop quibbling with bloody slogans that, as Fanon said, are just “glutinous words that stick in our teeth”. Let us shed no more blood.
Let us leave BLOOD alone. Let us get real and get to the GUTS of it!