Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A never ending nightmare: will 2015 witness a recurrence of 1915?

"If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience." George Bernard Shaw

"The Buddhist-Muslim riots of 1915 are often depicted as an eruption of religious animosity and friction between Sinhalese Buddhists and a section of the Muslim population. According to this viewpoint, the riots were sparked by religious fanaticism as the Buddhists saw in the ‘intolerance and aggressiveness of the Muslims, a permanent danger to their religious practices and celebration of their national festivals.’ This interpretation of the riots, however, disregards several signficant economic and political developments which influenced the events of 1915 and leaves unanswered the important question of why, if the riots were merely a reflection of religious tensions, the British colonial officials took such drastic measures during the riots and exacted severe reprisals long after the rioting was over.
In the years before the riots, an awakening had taken place among the Sinhalese Buddhists which was not only a reaction to British political domination, but also an act of self-assetion against the economic power of minority groups in Ceylon. The rioteers of 1915 have often been portrayed as criminals and hooligans out for plunder; but there is evidence that in Colombo it was not the criminal and rootless elements who led the riots, but the skilled, better-paid, more militant segments of the working class. The government was aware of this potentially explosive facet of the Colombo rioting, which turned into an expression of revolt against economic exploitation. Furthermore, many British officials in Ceylon, alarmed by the spread of nationalism and industrial unrest in both India and Ceylon and perhaps apprehensive about the prospects of German intrigue in Asia during the First World War, were convinced that the rioting was directed against British rule…" Kumari Jayewardena (1970). Extracted from here.
The quote from Kumari Jayewardena is eerily reminiscent of sentiments being expressed today. DBS Jeyaraj's article on an incident in Kuliyapitiya one of a series that have taken place of late; sets a pattern that should alert the authorities to trouble brewing.

While a report from a commission to learn lessons lies mouldering in the grave, the promise of the appointment of yet another parliamentary select committee to investigate the problem gives little hope. They will produce yet another report that will be buried, assuming that they even get as far as producing a report, while the storm clouds continue to gather.

No comments: