An Open Letter to the Sinhalese

By Dr. Rajasingham Narendran


Dear Sinhalese,

I am addressing this letter to you – the Sinhala
people, directly, because your   leaders of the past
did not and the present do not, have the capacity or
intention to resolve the Sinhala-Tamil and the
majority-minority problems in Sri Lanka. You are their
excuse!  I am writing this letter firstly as a human
being, secondly as a Tamil and thirdly as a fellow Sri
Lankan.  I am addressing this letter to you as a
people with a proud culture and heritage; a people who
are compassionate and decent; a people who are largely
Buddhist and practice a compassionate religion
grounded in the principles of dhamma and karma.  I am
also addressing you as a people who are the closest to
me as a Tamil, in appearance, culture and beliefs.

I am a Tamil with roots in the north, who was born
among Sinhalese, grew among Sinhalese, played with
Sinhalese, was educated among and taught by Sinhalese,
worked among Sinhalese, taught the Sinhalese, lived a
large part of my life among Sinhalese and speaks the
Sinhala language fairly well. My home is yet Sri Lanka
and my family lives there, although I work abroad.  I
am proud of my Sri Lankan nationality and like to see
Sri Lanka prosper.  I have also suffered as a result
of the Tamil militancy and its aftermath.  I know that
the Tamils have no alternative but to support the
militancy and the LTTE because an acceptable political
solution has not been offered to them yet. I also know
that the LTTE in particular has committed acts of
terror against innocent Sinhala and Muslim civilians,
and fellow Tamils.  I am also aware that the LTTE is
cynically and violently manipulating the Tamils to
achieve their ends.  I also believe that the LTTE
should reform and change their approach and thinking
to accommodate current realities in the Tamil areas in
particular and Sri Lanka and the world in general.  I
am no less a Tamil on account of these.

I am proud of my rich mother tongue-Tamil, my
heritage as a Tamil, my cultural identity as a
Tamil-Hindu and my mixed Hindu-Christian parentage.  I
yet feel most at home in Jaffna, my land and that of
my ancestors, although I have been fortunate to have
had the opportunity to travel widely both within Sri
Lanka and other countries, and live in the west and
the Middle East.  I firmly believe that the Tamils
have been mistreated in independent Sri Lanka and by
design made to suffer at the hands of the Sinhala
rabble. I know that the Sri Lankan armed forces have
committed serious acts of violence and terror against
innocent Tamil civilians.  I also believe that the
responsibility for the Tamil militancy and the
resulting civil war has to be borne by the Sinhala
political leadership.  I am aware of the Machiavellian
tactics and, the ‘divide and rule’ and
‘bribe and rule’ policies adopted by the
Sinhala political establishment throughout the
post-independence period, until the present times,
when dealing with the Sinhala-Tamil problem in Sri
Lanka. I am also aware of the ‘friend of the
enemy is my foe and the foe of the enemy is my
friend’ ploy adopted by your leaders at various
times in our recent history.  I also believe the Tamil
militancy or terrorism as many of you would call it,
was a reflection of the impotence, frustration and
anger that the Tamils felt in the face of repeated
transgressions by the Sinhala political establishment.
I also believe the LTTE has played a crucial
historical role in the Tamil liberation struggle, as
many Tamils do.  I am no less a Sri Lankan on account
of these.

I think I am what a typical Sri Lankan is and if not,
should be in many ways, whether Sinhalese, Tamil,
Muslim or any other.  This letter is being addressed
on the basis of this legitimacy and with the fervent,
some may call it misplaced and naïve, hope that you
are capable of responding reasonably, if matters are
presented truthfully and objectively.   Better
communication, awareness and sincere debate, I am sure
can yet resolve our problems sensibly and silence the
guns permanently.  It is about time we truly get to
know each other after several decades of relative
separation and mutual suspicions, begin to celebrate
our commonalities and accept as normal our
differences. There can be unity in diversity.  This is
how this world is made. If not for its diversity,
there will not be any beauty in this world. Uniformity
is quite unnatural and very undesirable.  If we are
continuously indoctrinated to believe that we are
somehow superior to every one else in Sri Lanka and in
this planet, there can only be continued conflict and
war.  We can be proud of who we are, while conceding
the right of others to be proud of themselves.

The problems have grown more complex over the years
and more difficult to resolve, because of your short
sighted, visionless, vicious and self- seeking
leaders.  If these problem are not resolved even at
this stage, however difficult it may be, indications
are that the situation would get far worse than
anything we have experienced this far.  The Tamil
resistance that started with  eloquent speeches,
sit-ins and walk-outs in parliament, satyagrahas and
sale of Ealam stamps, and progressed through simple
pistols (sometimes wooden imitations!) to machine
guns, suicide bombers, gun boats and multi-barrel
rocket launchers, is now acquiring the skills to
operate and capability to acquire helicopters and
fixed wing aircraft. This is a fact that is staring in
our face and which your leaders are unable to sense
and sensibly respond to.  Your leaders are yet
fiddling like Nero did when Rome was burning! Do you
believe that what could not be achieved over the past
twenty years to suppress and eliminate the Tamil
rebellion, during most of which time the advantage was
stacked in favour of the Sri Lankan armed forces, can
be achieved now by military means, without a
calamitous cost to the average Sinhala people and Sri
Lanka? Had the money spent by the Sri Lankan
government (and the LTTE) on the war over twenty
years, been invested in infra-structure and human
resource development, our per capita income now would
have likely been U.S $ 10,000/= or more instead of the
paltry U.S $ 1000/= we are gloating over.  It is also
a tragedy that a government that is unable to mobilize
finances to reconstruct the tsunami affected areas,
was able in the past to find ingenious ways to finance
an unnecessary, prolonged, futile, expensive and
destructive war. What was simple and easily solvable
problem in the 1950’s, has been permitted to
escalate to the present level of complexity by the
incredible stupidity, to use the mildest term, of your
political leaders.  All this was done in your name and
in the name of democracy!

I am  a Tamil, who was a witness to the 1958 riots as
a child and was directly affected by the riots of 1977
and 1983 in the south, and by the Tamil militancy,
IPKF operations and the civil war in the north. I am a
Tamil who never aspired to leave Sri Lanka for
employment, but was forced to do so, as a consequence
of the 1977 riots, which left me destitute.  I am also
a Tamil, whose mother and brother were killed in 1987,
quite unnecessarily by the IPKF in Jaffna. I am also a
Tamil who was looted of material possessions in 1977
by the Sinhala mob and in 1990 in Jaffna by the LTTE.
I am also a Tamil who is very apprehensive of the
negative impact of the militancy on the Tamils, their
culture, values and way of life.  In effect, I am an
average Tamil of Sri Lanka.

I know what it feels like when informed in the middle
of a lecture at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya
that a Sinhala mob had attacked my home, where I had
left my wife and child. I know what it feels like to
run over mountains, pursued by a Sinhala mob, to save
my life and limb.  I know what it feels like to lose
everything I possessed and worked hard for.  I know
what it feels like to live in a refugee camp with all
its misery and squalor. I know what it feels like to
be destitute and dependent on charity. I know what it
feels like to experience a beloved maternal uncle,
later an Archdeacon of the Anglican church, who chose
to live amongst his people in Vavuniya, being arrested
by the police and kept for a month in the fourth floor
of the police headquarters in Colombo, for the sole
reason that there were audio cassettes with Tamil
liberation music among the large collection of books
on various topics in his library.  I know what it
feels like to have a child caught in the middle of a
riot and not know what happened to him for several
days. I know what it feels like to see the rotting
remains of a mother and brother killed by the IPKF,
crawling with maggots, being eaten by crows and dogs.
I know what it feels like to cremate a mother’s
and a brother’s remains in the scrub with old
tyres and petrol, sans any ceremony.  I know what it
feels like to be surrounded by IPKF soldiers with
pointed rifles and every intention to shoot. I know
what it feels like to see IPKF soldiers, brutally beat
ordinary middle aged and old folk who were tied to
trees for the only reason that they breached a
thoughtless and prolonged curfew to search for their
near and dear.  I know what it feels like to see only
the skull of a person I had known, who was shot and
killed by the IPKF.  I know what it feels like to face
the wife and young children of a brother who was
killed by the IPKF. I know what it feels like to see a
fellow human being shot and ‘Lamp posted’
for public display by the LTTE.  I know what it feels
like to be helpless and paralyzed, when a brother is
held captive in the Vanni by the LTTE, with all the
possibility that he may be hurt or even killed.  I am
a Tamil who has experienced the brutality and the
horrors of the Sinhala-Tamil conflict in all its
facets and during all its phases.   It is fortunate
that despite being deeply touched by these unfortunate
events, I have been able to retain my sanity and
objectivity.  I am indeed an average Tamil in Sri
Lanka.

I also know what it feels like to have students
–Sinhalese and Tamils, rallying around me amidst
a raging riot.  I know what it feels like, when a
person like the late Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe,
amidst the attendant danger, using his influence to
help in my hour of need.  I know what it feels like
when Sinhala and Tamil friends rallied to help and
console, in the aftermath of a riot.  I know what it
feels like when Brig.’ Bull’ Weeratunge on
seeing the sorry plight of my wife and child after the
riot, giving me- a stranger, my first decent meal in
several days and offering to provide police and army
assistance to recover looted property. I know what it
feels like when personnel from the Sri Lankan army
ranging from Gen. Denzil Kobbekadduwa and Maj. Raja
Uyangoda to ordinary soldiers rallying to help a
helpless, but determined Tamil, whom they did not know
before, reach the site of murder of his mother and
brother in the midst of an IPKF imposed curfew, and
help cremate them.  I know what it feels like when a
Sinhalese army officer of the standing of Maj.
Uyangoda empathized with me as though his own mother
was killed! I know what it feels like to sleep in a
Sri Lankan army camp during an on-going war and be
treated with kindness, sympathy and respect.   I know
what it feels like to receive letters of sympathy from
ordinary Sinhalese who had read about what the IPKF
had done to my mother and brother.   I also know what
it feels like when persons affiliated to the LTTE- who
cannot be named, and others offered sympathy and help,
when my brother was recently incarcerated in the
Vanni.   These are spontaneous human responses that
transcend our affiliations and labels; demonstrate
that most of us are decent human beings with our
hearts in the right place; and affirm that we are yet
by and large a civilized people.

I am not writing my history- it can even be my epitaph
in what Sri Lanka has become today- to win sympathy or
favours from anyone, or to seek self aggrandizement,
but to highlight the plight of an average Tamil caught
in the Sri Lankan maelstrom.  There are easier ways to
seek personal gain or fame, if my intentions are that.
My experiences are real and have been the experiences
of most Tamils to a greater or lesser degree.   There
are also Sinhalese and Muslims, although much fewer,
who have had similar or worse experiences due to the
so-called Sinhala-Tamil problem in Sri Lanka.  I am
exposing my  feelings  as sincerely, honestly and
directly as possible, in the hope that the human
suffering entailed in this conflict is appreciated,
acknowledged and given over riding importance.   As
predominantly Buddhists, I am sure you will come
forward to do your best to resolve the underlying
cause of this suffering swiftly.  Only you have the
power to do it! You have already demonstrated your
humanity in the aftermath of the tsunami, with your
spontaneous responses that transcended the artificial
barriers of race, language and religion that were
erected by our politicians and militants, and are now
being fiercely defended by them.

I believe that it is yet possible for the Sinhalese,
Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays, Buddhists, Hindus
and Christians to share our island and her bounty
peacefully and equitably. We are all her children. I
also believe that we as a people, irrespective of our
labels and affiliations have been badly led by our
so-called leaders- politicians, academics, priests,
journalists, trade unionists, militants, etc,.  The
men and women who have assumed leadership roles in our
country have been our curse over the past fifty years
and will stand condemned by history for their perfidy.
It is time that we demanded better leadership and
got it.   At this juncture of our history, you- the
Sinhalese, as a people and the majority community,
should take a lead in demanding an immediate
resolution of the political issues underlying the
Sinhala- Tamil and majority- minority problems in Sri
Lanka. This is the single most important problem that
has hampered our development, retarded our progress
and deprived us of greater prosperity, while eroding
our decency and humanity as peoples of Sri Lanka.  If
these problems are satisfactorily resolved, we can
march hand in hand to becoming a proud and respected
nation, once again.   We have the potential to be
among the best in Asia, if not the world.  We have not
unleashed our potential as a people because we have
been kept trapped in the quagmire of racist,
intolerant and exclusive politics by our so- called
leaders.  It is time that we moved towards real
democracy, genuine meritocracy, pragmatic governance
and rule of law in Sri Lanka that will transcend the
parochialism, tribalism, criminality, corruption and
unaccountability that dominate our polity.

Let bygones be bygones.  There should be only lessons
to be learnt from the past, if we are to be
progressive nation. Let us open a new chapter in our
lives as citizens of Sri Lanka. Let us push our
leaders, to truly represent us as a people and reflect
our aspirations.  They have been hitherto largely
rabble rousers who have appealed to our basest,
primitive and animal instincts, and thrived at our
expense. While, we Tamils have a contribution to make
towards resolving our problems, the larger burden is
on you, as the majority and politically dominating
segment of the population in Sri Lanka.  This
necessitates that you answer some questions after some
fact finding and soul searching:

1.Do you accept that the Tamils have a problem within
the Sri Lankan polity?

2.Do you accept that the Tamils have been treated
unjustly and have immensely suffered as a result?

3.Do you accept that all citizens of Sri Lanka have to
be treated equally and equitably by the state?

4.Do you accept that it is foolish and even primitive
in the  21st century- when national barriers are being
transcended- to argue and fight over who came to the
island first centuries ago or who did  what to whom
centuries back, to the detriment of our country?

5.Do you accept that the Tamil militancy and the
‘Tiger’ phenomenon are the result of the
failures of the Sri Lankan state?

6.Do you accept that the Sinhala- Tamil and
majority-minority problems have to be resolved
immediately?

7.Do you accept that these problems cannot be resolved
through ‘hot war’ as in the pre- ceasefire
period and ‘cold war’ as now in the post-
ceasefire period?

8.Do you accept that the system of governance in Sri
Lanka has to be changed from one that is highly
centralized to one that is  very decentralized?

9.Do you understand the differences between a
‘unitary state’ and a ‘federal
state’?

10.Do you know that Sri Lanka can be a federal state
and at the same time be a united state?

11.Do you accept that the Sinhalese, Tamils and
Muslims have a right to manage their internal affairs
in areas where they are a majority, if true democracy
is to prevail?

12.Do you accept that the federal system of governance
is best suited for a multi-ethnic and multi-religious
country like Sri-Lanka, that is being torn apart by
the politics in a majoritarian unitary state?

13.Do you know that the predominantly Sinhala
provinces will also benefit from federal system of
decentralized governance?

14.Do you know that the federal system of governance
is successfully working in diverse countries such as
India, Malaysia, Canada, Australia, Germany, France
and the United States of America (Confederal )?

15.Do you know that a federal status within Sri Lanka
to the predominantly Tamil provinces will not
automatically lead to the formation of an independent
Tamil Ealam?

16.Do you know that ‘Tamil Nadu’ is a
state with a chief minister, cabinet, state assembly
and administrative, law making and law enforcement
systems, among many in India?

17.Do you know that most Tamils, including the LTTE
are ready to accept a well structured and organized
federal system of governance as an alternative
to an independent Tamil Ealam, within Sri Lanka?

18.Can you pressurize your leaders to immediately
propose a plan for effective federalization of the Sri
Lankan polity?

19.Do you think that an ‘Constitutional
Commission’ of eminent men- Sinhala, Tamil and
Muslim, and with international representation should
be formed now to
propose a binding  federal constitution for Sri Lanka,
as  our politicians are incapable of bringing forth
one on their own, unless it serves their self
interests ?

20. Do you understand that Sri   Lanka will not be
able to develop and progress,unless the present
unitary system of governance is dumped as early as
possible?

Your answers to these questions will decide the fate
of Sri Lanka as a nation for centuries to come.  If
the proper answers are not found you will stand
condemned by history for having unconscionably failed
mother Lanka in her hour of need.  If you find the
right answers, we would be on the threshold of a
golden era, never before seen in our history.

May God bless you and give the guidance and wisdom
needed at the present time.

Yours sincerely,
Yet a Tamil Sri Lankan