"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
 
- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

On Getting Along

21 February 2001

A visitor to the website commented: " It's very difficult to decide what exactly to say to you. I do not, in any way, want whoever reads this to interpret it as any kind of hate mail. This is not hate mail.. I certainly agree that it was the 'Sinhalaya Jayaveva' attitude that was/is the root cause of this problem (if I may be so bold as to use such a  trivial word to describe what has and is obviously still going on).

However, does the answer lie in total separation from the Sri Lankan mainland? To make more sense of what may seem like bullshit rambling, take into account the Israel - Palestine conflict which, as I come to understand, has been going on for as long as the two countries have existed and shows no signs of stopping. One side hits another and the other retaliates, and knowing the average Sinhalese thug (as with any over patriotic, uneducated lout of any race) it would be safe to say that the only way he is going to react to the sudden surrender of a third of 'his country' is through violence. Unless you are willing to promise that the average Tamil man or woman has an almost inhuman power of foresight and restraint in his reaction to the death of his or her family at the hand of a Sinhalese mob (a situation  which would drive any human, including me, to violence), I cannot see the  logic in the solution the LTTE put forward.

Another danger we, as a nation may face is that, like post First World War, Germany, a loss in the war would leave Sri Lanka with a badly bruised national ego, and an atmosphere highly conducive to the rise of an extreme nationalist regime, like Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany. A situation like this, as you may well agree would be immensely dangerous to all minorities, but especially to the Tamils. 

Belonging to a minority myself, I have felt the effects of the policies of the chauvinistic Sinhala politicians, namely the Sinhala only act, forcing my family to have to be educated both in international schools and abroad. Although this doesn't give me even the slightest idea of the kind of persecution the Tamils faced at the hands of the Sinhalese, it has given me a sense of cultural and racial alienation as well as a lack of a national identity. In other words I have been made to feel that I'm not Sri Lankan coz I'm not Sinhalese.

Perhaps I am being the naive teenager that everyone expects me to be when I say in more words than is necessary, why can't we all just get along. In my defence however, the Nation of Islam wanted a separate living space for the black people in the United States itself. That was at a time when racial conflict was at its highest in America the 1960's, today however the situation is much improved, although it is not perfect, the call for a separate home land has subsided, something viewed by most to be a good thing. As a person who views religion and race as the worst enemies of peace, the only answer I can see is the separation of religion from politics and government and the implementation of a neutral common language (English). 

I am really looking forward to hearing what you have to say. .. as I plan to incorporate your feedback in an upcoming seminar I am conducting at the Stratford upon Avon College.


Response: Why can't we all just get along? Of course, we can - and we should.

But 'getting along' does not mean the subservience of one people to the rule of another alien people. 'Getting along' means that each people recognise the existence of the other as a people.  'Getting along' means agreeing the terms on which two independent peoples may associate with one another in equality and in freedom.

It is true that the German defeat in the first World War coupled with the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles led to the rise of Hitler. But it is also true that German defeat in the Second World War, did not have the same consequences, but led to the creation of the European Economic Community and later the European Union, where a political framework was created for the free association of independent nations. The lessons of the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles had been learnt by both the defeated and by the victors. It is said that the wise learn from the experience of others and that the foolish do not learn even by their own experience.

The question which faces the peoples of the Indian region, including those in the island of Sri Lanka, is whether they too have to go through the pain and suffering of cataclysmic conflict before learning the lessons that Europe learnt albeit after two world wars. 

Again, it is true that the Nation of Islam wanted a separate living space for the black people in the United States. But, several factors may have, together, contributed to the failure of that effort. One factor was that the black people in the United States are dispersed and do not live in a contiguous territory. They live interspersed with the whites, in the same way as the plantations Tamils live in the central parts of the island of Sri Lanka. 

Again, though the Nation of Islam sought to build a togetherness around the Islamic religion, the majority of blacks in the United States continued to retain their Christian faith. Nations cannot be created to order. They grow through a process of opposition and differentiation. It is nature and nurture - it is not either or but both.

The common language that the blacks in the USA share with the non blacks has also helped to bridge to some extent the divisions amongst the different ethnic groups. But in the case of the peoples of the Indian region, with their separate (and rich) literary traditions, it will be futile to believe that a togetherness can be built by English speaking Indians (constituting less than 10% of the total population) speaking to each other in English. The togetherness of the one world of the future, with Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, and Tamil (to mention a few of the world languages) will be built by recognising the rich contribution that each language makes to that togetherness - it will not come by recourse to an English strait jacket.

In the case of  the US, conflict has also been reduced (some may say, postponed) by the continuing growth of  its GNP - a larger cake reduces acrimony concerning questions of how the cake should be shared. If the GNP becomes static, or if there is a serious depression, ethnic conflicts have a way of coming to the forefront.

The Indian region, with a 'third world economy', may not have a large enough cake to share without the emergence of destabilising violence. There may be a need to secure an equitable political framework in order that the peoples of the region may then be energised to secure economic growth.

We cannot go forward by denying our separateness. But we can go forward by recognising our separateness and by associating  in equality and in freedom.  We take the view that the political framework of the emerging Indian Union will need to promote the free association of the separate peoples of the Indian region - and here, the European Union serves as a pointer to that which we may need to achieve.

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