The Sunday Leader

“People are Strange”

  • A peek into alternate forms of racism

By Natalie Soysa

Racism in Sri Lanka has been honed into such a finely perfected art over the years that it has paved way for the formation of some rather peculiar sub-genres to manifest in the process.
Internal racism may not be a new concept, but we don’t tend to look at our actions in terms of a behavioural genre and in that sense may even be ignorant of our own behaviour at times. As much as we like to fit into dusty boxes, we don’t open them up and air them out once in a while. So close upon ‘V day’ celebrations, with Galle Face Green turning a distinct shade of militia green, it maybe time to clean out our closets, open up the cobwebbed shoe boxes on the top shelf and sift through our lives as a result of the war, the newly born post-war syndrome and general Sri Lankan ignorance in most other spheres as well.
Internal Racism as a concept can be divided into subsections based on how we basically think of ourselves vis-à-vis our own kind.
Sometimes we hold people who speak with accents in much higher esteem irrespective of what actually comes out of their mouths. “If you use a foreign accent, I think it’s easier to get things done in some places” says Pradeep. Coming straight from the horse’s mouth, Ganga, a Sri Lankan Sinhalese living overseas, vehemently rejects this behaviour. “Even if you’re Sri Lankan, people notice you and treat you better if you have a British accent. Even though this is kind of matter-of-fact for some people, they just sit there and take it and I don’t get that”. A hotel I was staying at recently refused to offer something as mere as butter to paying locals, but didn’t think twice about offering tubs of it to those who were white-skinned or spoke with an accent. The tendency to treat your own kind on a lower scale is a tad ridiculous sometimes because it amounts to the old axiom of looking up and spitting.
Other types include the homes that speak English as a first language and tend to look down on people who don’t do the same, even if they belong to the same race. This racial uppishness turns some of us into believing that our own race is split into levels from the English speaking Sinhalese to the primarily Sinhalese speaking households. Aren’t we segregated enough without having to turn into bigots in the process? On a completely different note, there are the Sinhalese, the Tamils and even at times, the Muslims and Burghers who literally hate themselves and their accident of birth. A very Sinhalese, Buddhist acquaintance is ready to condemn the race and religion she was born into with regular statements like ‘typical Sinhalese Buddhist behaviour’ and she didn’t mean it in the nice way either. She, like the newly forming species of internal racists, hates the attitudinal actions of her race although she embraces the heritage and culture.
Irrespective of the many legislative add-ons, our penal code still essentially remains arcane and is a result of colonialism but we still embrace the virtues passed on by our previous ‘owners’ as though they are our very own. Women can’t sell alcohol in a country that has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the world for instance, but that it another topic altogether.
Another person has similar views and sites an example. He said that ‘typical Sinhalese’ behaviour could be observed by how we think the whole world is our backyard – and in this case our bathroom. “Have you noticed how women walk out of their homes early morning in their nightdresses, with toothbrushes stuck in their mouths and walk about the neighbourhood as though it were the most natural thing in the world?”
Irrespective of whether these opinions are right or wrong, they still exist. Many have long drawn out near-justifiable reasons for their attitudes towards their own race that stem from years of disgust, a history book of facts that started long before 1983 and their own eye witnessed events over the years. Some others have no explanations, simply believing that their own race is an inferior species to certain others’.
In essence, if we don’t respect ourselves, how do we then respect each other’s differences in a unified Sri Lanka when we are on the verge of celebrating a year of that supposed state of being? And on the flip side, how do we not look at ourselves to discover the mistakes of our individual races and the silent propaganda that we have left to manifest and breed in our systems over the years without bothering to give it a second thought?
Jim Morrison put it simply and perfectly: “People are strange.” Indeed, Mr. Morrison, indeed.

17 Comments for ““People are Strange””

  1. Kalag

    It was the Tamils who brought this on to Sri Lanka. They were/are the coolies to the white British. To certain extent, they are successful in material terms. Obviously they would be. But there is no honour in it.

    It is pathetic that some Singhalese see the Tamil success and want to imitate that. If this is not nipped in the bud – don’t know we are at the “bud” state or “well grown” state – this will destroy the Buddhist Singhala culture.
    If we find that it is well grown state, another war to “regain Buddhist Singhala” is inevitable.

    • Viraj

      Hey Mister, where did you get your Buddhist Singhala culture? Buddha from India, culture from South India, is there anything pure in you? You have blood fom the South Indian Tamils, Nayakkar Kings and what not! What an acharu race and culture! And you are proud of it?

      • Kalag

        Now You Tamils have a greater Acharu culture. Your Tamil genes have lot of contributions from western countries. Soon you will have Chinese genes in north and east of Sri Lanka.
        Again, see what your “pure” Tamil culture took you to. May be it is a good idea to mix with others. So that you guys will see some sense.

        • Tamils and Singhalase are offshoot of South Indian Culture and religion when people migrated to Lanka, they droven away the local veddas, a dravidiann stock and took the Island. It is noted when Sri Lanka is colonised it was Buddhism major religion in South India. Very Singhalase hasnot got any unique culture but developed and adopted from South Indian. Very first proper king of Lanka Vijaya, was came from Tulu Nadu of Karnataka and married to a Tamil princess of Madurai. I wonder why Singhalase hate Tamils, very own Singhalase are Tamil blood and write the ancient Tamil grantha script…..

  2. Orpheus

    I agree with Natalie.
    This is the attitude of our people, inherited from British. Our grand fathers were thought white men were generous, honest and a clean lot. If you lived in England for sometime you will learn that this was all baseless.
    This kind of attitude of our people is one reason that the country to have a slow progress since independence. We were thought to appreciate anything foreign instead of helping made in Sri Lanka goods to improve the quality. In nineteen fifties, “Made inn Japan” goods were considered as inferior. At lease they kept on pushing their sales in Japan in America using the profits to research and improve the products. in sixties and seventies as children all we hard from our elders were made in Sri Lanka goods are no good. Killed our industries in their infancy. We did not have a leader like Mahatma Gandhi who paved the way to the present technological boom of India. India was far behind of Sri Lanka economically in the fifties. Indian’s all over the country appreciated, made in India goods for the sake of their country. But we didn’t, we still don’t. If you are a foreigner you can get more than extra butter in a hotel (I leave you to imagine the other things).

    • Orpheus

      Zee! This is not an opportunity spread Islam ideology. Islam is good if you practice it correctly. We already have Buddhism, which shows us the universal truths. If we practice Buddhism we will have know suffering and wars. Buddha has preached to Kings how to rule a country(Dhasa Raja Dharma). Has thought us how to live happily (real happiness). Majority in Sri Lanka don’t practice it because of the western influences, materialism and other religions. Problem with Buddhism is, it gives you too much freedom. Believe me! Buddhism exist well in many other planets in many other solar systems in and out side our galaxy. A person like Prince Siddhartha will come and be born as a human baby again once the Buddhism is lost and the new human beings are looking for the meaning of life.

  3. How apt to see that the very first comment made on an article about ‘racism’ feels the need to blame a particular minority for being the ‘root of all evil’…!

    Sadly, racism doesn’t always manifest itself by dancing around burning crosses and wearing white bedsheets. We all need to be aware of our attitudes towards others at all times.

    How many of us are guilty of uttering the words ‘moda Sinhalaya’ or ‘Balu Demala’ or ‘Thambiya’ and ‘Karapoththa’ when we lose our tempers?

    We need to be able to pass on something better to our sons and daughters than an inheritance of racial intolerance.

  4. From where have you borrow this picture? Is it from the present day Ku Klux Klan, the white Christian supremacists group in the US or from a Christian cleric who has a painting of a victim of a Franciscan or a Dominican monks during the dark ages. Wherever you have borrowed it, that picture does not match with your your write-up.

    I’ll tell you a little bit about that picture. In 1232 Christians started killing Christians. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed because their Christianity did not agree with official dogma of the Pope. At the Council of Lérida in 1237 said killings were named inquisitions and were formally placed under the authority of the Dominicans and the Franciscans clerics. It is a Franciscan that came to Sri Lanka with the Portuguese pirates to start their killings here.

    In 1252, Pope Innocent IV had decreed that all secular rulers must arrest and execute all non-Catholic Christians. Those victims that were condemned to death by burning had to dress in a special cloak. Victims hat resemble a bishop’s miter in shape. It’s called heresy cloak.

    The picture you placed here looks just like that heresy cloak. It gives the wrong impression when you ascribe that picture to your write-up. I’ll tell you; Sinhalese are not racist by any standard. It is the white Christian Europeans that are racists. I know it because I studied, taught, worked and did business there for eighteen years.

    Let me give you an example. Have we prevented Muslim girls wearing hijab to schools? No; but the Europeans did. Sixty percent of all Tamils in Sri Lanka live among Sinhalese. Do they face prejudices? No. You have mentioned words like ‘para demala’, ‘thambiya’, etc as degrading remarks made by Sinhalese on minorities. Come on Natalie, those words do not carry any hatred. ‘Thambige thoppiya bambuwa waage’ is that biela is to degrade Muslims. I wonder.

    See what our presidential aspirant Fonseka uttered repeatedly in his campaign trail; ‘kalawedda’, ‘paraya’, ‘balla’. We were just amused, weren’t we. And you voted for him as well, didn’t you. I feel beneath this article The Leader had its usual ulterior motive: to discredit the Sinhala Buddhist.

    • Suresh

      @ Leela, Where in this article has the author mentioned the words ‘Para Demala’ or ‘Thambiya’…?? You seem to have got your knickers in a twist in your rush to heap scorn on General Fonseka.

      Of course that is nothing new coming from you!


  5. chandika

    Human kind is one irrespective of skin colour or the language speak. The problem is people tend to look down on others. Western or Eastern that is the truth. People tend to think they know every thing and they are the best. All problems start from that narrow minded thinking. That happened in the past, is happening in the present and will remain same in the future as well. The whole world is running into a destructive path which is proved by the chaos around us. Human race is blinded by pride. The root for that is foolishness.

    • Chandika: An Englishman named Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was a writer who had prepared manifestos in the form of pamphlets to win the American war of Independence. In his book, ‘Age of Reason’ he asked; “… for what can be grater blasphemy than to ascribe the wickedness of man to the orders of almighty,”

      In the opinion of Paine, the God that created us should be blamed for creating each of us with a wicked mind – in this case to look down upon others.

      • Suresh

        @ Leela, once again you have got your knickers twisted up in a right royal manner. Maybe you should start weraing an ‘Amude’ instead?

        You have failed to understand the quote that you yourself have posted here. Thomas Paine is saying the exact opposite of what your interpretation says.

        Maybe you didn’t understand the word ‘blasphemy’.

        Please don’t write rubbish and assume people will fall for it. Not all of us are as silly as you are! :)

  6. Cren

    Leela practice the pansil and some meditation,don’t blame the Gods they’ll do crazy.The universe moves on positive and negative factors.Blow your mouthorgan wearing pampers instead of Thomas Paine manifesto in pamphlet form!!

  7. Chandika

    I would like to see a world without any divisions.Race, Colour, Religion, Education, Rich or Poor, etc. Very positive but a dream! Yet, I would love to live in that dream as it deceives myself. Not in this world, may be in another.

  8. [...] Leave a Comment » A peek into alternate forms of racism. First published in The Sunday Leader, 16th May 2010 – [...]

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