Sri Lanka Is Staring Us In The Face

By Yin, Ward 5, Tanjong Rambutan.

There are broad similarities between the situation in Sri Lanka and Malaysia which we should not ignore.

  1. The majority Sinhalese imposed racial policies which disadvantaged the Tamils and other races. Ostensibly this was done to balance the socio-economic situation where the more motivated and farsighted Tamils were holding important positions in government and commerce.

 The Jaffna Tamils are hardworking, are more educated, entrepreneurial and resourceful. The Sinhalese are more laid back.

  • The Sinhalese government made Sinhalese the official language and Sinhalese educated officers soon took over all government departments.
  • Although the constitution provided for “the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to change religion’ there was systematic discrimination and persecution of religious minorities. Mobs, encouraged by Sinhalese nationalist politicians affiliated to the ruling party and egged on by religious extremists, attacked and vandalised mosques and Muslim owned businesses. Muslims were not the only ones who suffered from this religious discrimination and persecution. There were nearly a hundred documented cases of churches and Christians being attacked by mobs. A senior Buddhist monk (GnanasaraThero) called for the stoning to death of Muslims over an unfounded incident. These are but two cases of many incidents.

(Ref. U.S. Dept of State – 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom – Sri Lanka)

  • Tamils and other non-Sinhalese became in effect second class citizens.
  • Many emigrated to escape the racial discrimination in Sri Lanka.
  • At first the Sinhalese stood by because the changes did not affect them. The racial division between them and the Tamils meant that they did not concern themselves what happened to the Tamils. They also closed their eyes to the abuse of power and corruption as it was by their own people and own religion.
  • Large scale corruption became endemic. The ruling politicians looted the country. Today Sri Lanka is bankrupt.

The effect of decades of civil war followed by mismanagement and kleptocracy has tested ordinary Sri Lankans (both Sinhalese and Tamils) beyond endurance. As one people (not Sinhalese and Tamil) Sri Lankans descended on their leaders. Ordinary Sinhalese have come to realise that being the ‘superior’ race does not mean they share the same benefits as their political leaders and the rich Sinhalese. They also realised that their apathy to the abuse of power, corruption and injustice done to the Tamils had finally come home to roost. 

Anyone observing Sri Lanka can see the broad parallels with Malaysia.

  1. The country is divided into two – the majority Malays with special privileges and the rest who are ‘second class’. Not much different between the Sinhalese and the Tamils.
  2. The Malay government (other races are only tokens) introduced racially discriminatory policies. This is similar to what happened in Sri Lanka.
  3. We have religious discrimination with rules and regulations which stifle the freedom of worship guaranteed by the constitution. Muslim extremists threaten the others (cow head incident etc). Increasingly, the authorities have imposed Islamic rules which affect the social and cultural lives of non-Muslims. This also happened in Sri Lanka. While Sri Lanka have extremist priests who spread hatred and discrimination we have muftis and a fugitive Indian Muslim preacher who make incendiary remarks about Hindus and about non-Muslim festivals.
  4. Malays overwhelmingly dominate all government departments as well as the armed forces. Sinhalese dominated the Sri Lanka government.
  5. Many are calling for “Malay only” language just like Sinhalese is the only language in government.
  6. Those in power abuse their positions. Large scale looting of public funds take place. The ruling party politicians in Sri Lanka have bankrupted the country. Same in Malaysia. Only difference is we have not declared bankruptcy (yet) but we have lumbered the future generation with a debt they may be unable to repay.
  7. The majority of Malays remain poor despite being the favoured race – just like being Sinhalese has not brought the majority much benefits.

Malaysia has not reached the nadir Sri Lanka hasbut we are heading in that direction.

Sri Lanka is on its knees, the whole corrupt edifice has collapsed.  Perhaps that’s for the best. It certainly cannot go on the way it has – a country divided, where leaders abuse their power and corruption is endemic, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Looking on the positive side, Sri Lanka can rebuild on a new foundation – without institutional racism or religious discrimination, where all races are Sri Lankans and not Sinhalese and Tamils. It will take time but as good men and women show themselves, the country will rise again and prosper.The racial divide will heal. They say it’s darkest before dawn. A new dawn beckons Sri Lanka.

Malaysia meanwhile continue patching up the cracks and papering over the holes of the crumbling tempurong we are under. We still throw around meaningless slogans like Keluarga Malaysia. A “Malaysia Family” where the parents play favourites with the children. The favoured child is given everything and gets away with stealing and bullying the other siblings. The other children who behave and work hard are treated like step children.

No edifice will stand for long on a rotten foundation. Malaysia cannot continue as a “them and us” country.

Will we become another Sri Lanka?  Much as I hope we will not, I sometimes wonder if it is not better that we start from scratch again. There is enough goodwill among Malaysians, there are millions of good MALAYSIANS. We need them to stand up and be counted.

We have a chance to change course peacefully in GE15, we must grab it with both hands.

(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)

By Yin, 
Letters from Ward 5, Tanjong Rambutan
Rebuilding Malaysia
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