By Rathindra Kuruwita
Last week one of my hate mailers, clearly the President of Sri Lankans for Hillary, called me ‘deplorable,’ if you don’t get the ‘basket of deplorables’ reference well Google it. However, what I found interesting was her email signature was accompanied by a quote by Gregory House MD: “Time changes everything. That’s what people say, it’s not true. Doing things changes things. Not doing things leaves things exactly as they were.”
That’s nice; at least we got our love for House MD in common. I also have a favourite quote by him and it goes like this ‘there’s an evolutionary imperative why we give a crap about our family and friends. And there’s an evolutionary imperative why we don’t give a crap about anybody else. If we loved all people indiscriminately, we couldn’t function.’ Why am I quoting Dr. House, is it because I have run out of things to say? Not quite, I am actually going to devote this week’s column to the Ezhuga Tamizh (Arise, Tamils) rally and general strike organized by the Tamil People’s Council (TPC), an organization led by Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran. To be precise, Wigneswaran’s call to remove ‘unauthorized Sinhala and Muslim settlements in the North and the East.’ While I will get to the direct link between the quote and subject of this week’s column, I want the readers to keep in mind the Gregory House quote while they read the column.
Ethnic purity of the North
The purpose of the Arise, Tamils rally, according to Wigneswaran, is to speedily address the needs of the Tamils in the North and the East. Among these needs of the people, according to Wigneswaran (a man who has lived in Colombo 95% of his life and whose child is married to MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s child) is to maintain the ethnic purity of the two provinces.
Let’s look at that Wigneswaran phrase ‘unauthorized Sinhala and Muslim settlements’. Why are these settlements ‘unauthorized’? The Constitution of Sri Lanka ensures ‘the freedom of movement (of a Sri Lankan) and of choosing his residence within Sri Lanka (article 14. 1. h). So, why can’t a Muslim or a Sinhalese settle in the North? And since the power over land is held by the Central Government, it is up to the government to determine if a settlement is ‘unlawful or unauthorized,’ Wigneswaran has no say in that matter.
Let’s turn once again to the 2012 census and look at some facts, yes those things that Wigneswaran or the Tamil National Alliance doesn’t like.
The Sinhalese population of the North is 32, 331 (3.06 of the population), it was 39, 511 in 1971 (4.50%). The Muslim population of the North is 32, 624 (3.06%) it was 37, 855 (4.31%) in 1971. The numbers show that there are a lot less Sinhalese and Muslims in the North compared to 1971, although the total population of those two ethnicities has grown quite a bit compared to 1971. So, what on earth is Wigneswaran talking about? Where are those ‘unauthorized’ Muslims and Sinhalese hiding?
Another important point to ponder is that, do we really want to give land and Police powers to the Provincial Councils? Especially, if this is the way Chief Ministers behave. What would Wigneswaran do if he actually had the power to declare Muslims and Sinhalese in the North live there unlawfully or in unauthorized settlements? Another pogrom akin to 1990, where Muslims were asked to leave the Northern Province, within 48 hours with only Rs 50? The slow dislodging of Sinhalese from the North, from 1971 onwards?
Let’s look at another set of data. According to the 2012 census, the population of the Northern Province was 1,058,762 and the population of the Eastern Province 1,551,381. Sri Lankan population was 20.33 million in 2012. So, one eighth of Sri Lankan population lives in an area that is one third the country’s geographical area. North and East has the largest volume of land vacant for settlement, agriculture and economic activities, so why shouldn’t there be an influx of Sri Lankans from other parts of the country towards the North and the East. Isn’t it up to the government to plan, what should be done with the land of the country, based on the 2011–2030 national physical plan?
The purity of the East
And why are we even talking about ‘ethnic purity’ of the East? It is the most ethnically and religiously diverse province in Sri Lanka. Muslims (569,738) comprise 36.72% of the Eastern population and Sinhalese (359,136) are 23.15% of the population, according to the 1971 Census. There were 148,572 Sinhalese in the East in 1971 (20.70%) and 247,178 Muslims (34.45%). What does Wigneswaran suggest we do with 60% of the eastern population? What per cent of those are ‘unauthorized’?
Blood and social constructs
I don’t believe that everything is a social construct. I believe that biology and evolutionary drives play a huge role in our decisions and how we feel about things. Remember what Gregory House said about caring for friends and family? About our evolutionary drives?
Members of your ethnicity and religion are an extension to your immediate family and the circle of friends. You care about them because they are ‘your people’. This does not mean that people can’t get along. I am just saying that people like Wigneswaran must realize that reconciliation involves giving as well as taking. A lot of Tamil nationalists insist that Sinhalese and Muslims keep accommodating their demands, without any compulsion to compromise on their part. But if they actually want a good deal, they should realize that the other side, at one point or another, gets really, really tired of continuous giving, because of our evolutionary impulses or human nature.
P.S. Wigneswaran reminds me quite a bit of Colin Kaepernick, the American NFL player who started this trend of refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance. More on that in another column. (I know I have been promising to write stuff on a latter day and had never got around to that. But really this is something I really like to write about. I said really twice in the last sentence, to show my sincerity, hope you noted that).
Rathindra can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org