History

Sri Lanka: Is recolonisation the final solution?- II

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This is the second part of this series. Click here to read the part one

To assert, as Mr Sirimanne does, that “From ancient times the Northern region in the island was a kingdom occupied by Tamils due to its closeness to South India…….. during the reign of King Elara, a Tamil, there was a war between the Sinhalese and Tamil kingdoms…..” is completely wrong. It is a very irresponsible statement. The factual situation is that the young prince Dutugemunu of Magama in the south, after a long military campaign involving a series of hardwon battles, defeated usurper king Elara who had come from India as an invader. There had been no Tamil kingdom in the north or a permanent Tamil population in the north before the 13th century CE, as Professor Kingsley de Silva argues with evidence in his ‘A History of Sri Lanka’ (Penguin Books, London, 2005). Magha of Kalinga’s cataclysmic invasion with a massive army of twenty thousand Kerala and Tamil mercenaries and his ruinous occupation of Lanka for twenty-one years (‘moved thereto by the lust of wealth and power’ as the Mahavansa puts it), laid waste to the kingdom and the religion, and put an end to the achievements of the dry zone- based hydraulic civilization that the Sinhalese kings had built over the centuries. But during Magha’s reign ‘… there dwelt, scattered in the beautiful cities and hamlets that they had built for themselves in the great strongholds and mountainous parts of the country, some great and good men who defended the people and the religion from the disturber’ (Chapter 81 of the Mahavansa). This means that the Magha invasion caused the disintegration of the Lankan kingdom into a number of regional strongholds from which ‘great and good men’ (such as Subha Senadhipathi of Yapahuwa, a general, Sankha of Gangadoni, another military chief, and Bhuvaneka Bahu on the top of the Govinda rock) defended the rest of the country, until king Vijayabahu III of Dambabeniya’s son and successor, Parakrabahu II, was finally able to drive away the despoilers. In earlier times, South Indian invaders, when defeated and driven away, sailed back to India, but this time, Magha with his retreating army made a permanent Tamil settlement in the north.

Since a millennium before that time, the interactions between the island and the southern and eastern regions of the subcontinent were almost exclusively at the trade and cultural or religious levels, and the island’s sovereignty was not challenged. But occasionally, right from the earliest times, traders became invaders. Thus, as the Mahavansa (Ch.11 ) records, ‘Two damila (malabar) youths powerful in cavalry and navy, named Sena and Guttika’ (Sena and Guttika were horse traders with a fleet of ships.), after killing the reigning monarch Suratissa, who must have been very old by that time, ‘righteously reigned for twenty-two years’ from 237 to 215 BCE. But Suratissa’s youngest brother (most probably nephew) Asela defeated and put to death the usurpers, and restored Sinhalese sovereignty, and ruled at Anuradhapura for ten years. Then, another powerful trader (as recently concluded by historians) from South India named Elara killed king Asela, and ruled the country for forty-four years. But see how the Mahavansa (Ch. 11) records this event: ‘A damila named Elara of the illustrious “Uju” tribe, invading this island from the Cola country, for the purpose of usurping the sovereignty, and putting to death the reigning king Asela, ruled the kingdom for forty-four years, – administering justice with impartiality to friends and to foe.’

Following is how king Dutugemunu treated his fallen enemy king Elara, fully recognizing the latter’s noble reputation as a righteous ruler, though a usurper, as recorded in the Mahavansa Ch. 25: (Mr Sirimanne alludes to this episode in a rather offhand manner.)

‘Summoning within the town the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, within the distance of a yojana, he held a festival in honour of king Elara. Consuming the corpse in a funeral pile on the spot where he fell, he built a tomb there; and ordained that it should receive honours (like unto those conferred on a Cakkavatti). Even unto this day, the monarchs who have succeeded to the kingdom of Lanka, on reaching that quarter of the city, whatever the procession may be, they silence their musical band.’

(This royal decree is honoured by the Sinhalese Buddhists even today, after over two thousand years.)

Isn’t this something hard to come by in the history of war in the world, war being an ever present necessary evil, as it were, in human affairs? King Dutugemunu’s magnanimity in victory came from his Buddhist upbringing. At the beginning of his campaign against Elara, prince Dutugemunu declared: ‘This enterprise of mine is not for the purpose of acquiring the pomp and advantages of royalty. This undertaking has always had for its object the re-establishment of the religion of the Supreme Buddha…..’. (The country’s ancient Buddhist culture is a world heritage that must be protected.) The same compassionate and generous spirit was alive in the hearts of the young soldiers and their commanders who took part in the humanitarian operation in the north that put an end to the armed separatist terrorism in 2009. They could have brought the war to a quicker end and suffered a lot fewer casualties among themselves than they did, had they chosen to defy what was inherent in their cultural DNA. Unfortunately, the geo-poiltics driven superpowers have not recognized this fact, and have visited punitive afflictions on Sri Lanka for alleged violation of human rights that make life miserable for all Sri Lankans.

To return to my subject, geographical proximity no doubt was a factor in the stimulation of interactions between the two countries, but mass movements of population to and fro were not so easy as to be a usual occurrence. The fact that Sinhala kings sometimes brought queen consorts from South India (due to complicated succession problems that had nothing to do with the then existing demography of the country) is not something unique to them. Just look at the Wikipedia: The recently deceased queen Elizabeth II’s family tree has ancient roots in Germany, Denmark, Russia, etc.; but citizens of those countries do not seem to think of claiming that she was of their ethnicity or of assuming that the fact had any political significance.

Of course, as a result of these interactions, the Sinhalese acquired a great deal of Indian culture. But the important thing to remember while appreciating that fact is that over the past twenty-three centuries the Sinhalese have cherished their own language, their own distinct spiritual doctrine (Buddhism), and their island home with its rich abundance of recorded and unrecorded evidence of their prehistoric insular ancestry and their ancient Buddhist heritage. When it comes to sharing the natural resources of the land with minorities with different religious cultures, languages, ethnicities, etc. that joined them later in different contexts, there is no other race of people who are more humanely accommodating than the Sinhalese Buddhists in spite of the fact that they were the most persecuted community during the past half a millennium under the jackboot of three European colonial powers. Why were they singled out for such suppressive treatment? It was because the colonialists correctly identified the Sinhalese (under the benign sway of their spiritual masters, the Buddhist monks) as their only implacable enemy.

Traditionally, whenever the country and the Buddha Sasanaya were in jeopardy, the monks have come forward as defenders, on rare occasions even as armed soldiers. Warrior king Dhatusena who ruled at Anuradhapura from 455 to 473 CE, having defeated six Dravidian usurpers, was a Buddhist monk in his youth. King Senerath of Kandy (who reigned from 1604 to 1635 CE) was originally a monk. He disrobed to become king in order to try to rid the country of invading foreign powers. He fought against the occupying Portuguese and expanded the territory of his kingdom. The Sinhalese only thought of the country, the Buddha Sasanaya, and the commonality of people, not so much about their race. In modern times, sometimes Buddhist monks have cause to feel threatened by non-Buddhist extremists who forcibly enter the Buddhists’ religious space or when they vandalize or lay claim to ancient Buddhist archaeological sites (even violating the antiquities ordinances established in British times). It is natural that they try to raise awareness among the citizens about these things and to get the political authorities to set things right according to the law. People who have political or sectarian or religious axes to grind have no qualms about excoriating the monks and lay Buddhists for alleged racism, chauvinism, extremism, xenophobia, and so on, simply because they raise their voice against the covert and overt excesses of extremists that go undetected or unrecognized by local political authorities and the hostile foreign NGO brigade. Of course, it must be remembered that Tamil Hindus face the same threats from religious fundamentalists. Actually, Tamil Hindu and Sinhala Buddhist solidarity is indispensable for mutual protection from the proselytizing zealotry of mindless fundamentalists. Certain foreign funded NGOs and their local allies do everything possible to prevent the Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus from uniting for making common cause against unethical conversion projects.

Mr Sirimanne seems to imply that colonizing of Sri Lanka by three European nations happened as a matter of course, apparently unopposed by the native Sinhalese and Tamils, and that they somehow benefited from the experience. The truth is otherwise. Our people were massacred, our places of worship were vandalized, desecrated, burned down, or alienated to strangers or converts, while the country’s natural resources were plundered, and the sons of the soil were oppressed, downtrodden, and exploited. Because of this historical reality, for all the missionaries’ efforts of four and a half centuries, only about six percent of the local population had embraced Christianity/Catholicism by 1947, and the rest 94% had willingly forfeited all claims to possible material rewards by refusing to abandon their no less humanizing hereditary faiths.

At first, under the Portuguese, Sinhalese Buddhists in coastal areas embraced Christianity under duress, but later, as Mr Sirimanne says ‘Many Sinhalese in towns and cities for favors changed their religion and acquired Portuguese names’. Serving or saving the Sinhalese was not the real concern of the Portuguese. They thought of their own people back home, just as the foreign powers involved in our internal affairs currently do. Portugal at that time was not as resource-rich as Sri Lanka, its people were enjoying a far lower standard of living than the contemporary Sinhalese. Provocation for plunder was high. And it didn’t go unheeded. (See Dr Susantha Goonatilake’s ‘A 16th Century Clash of Civilisations: Portuguese Presence in Sri Lanka’, Vijitha Yapa, 2010) The Dutch who followed them introduced a network of canals for transport of local products for export for their own revenue, and introduced Roman Dutch Law for ease of administering the provinces they were occupying. It is true that in the course of time, these innovations became useful to the descendants of the people that they had indifferently robbed.

On February 4, 1948, Sri Lanka was granted dominion status (within the British Commonwealth) which was short of full independence. It was not something remarkable or memorable by any means. India was given the same status on August 15, 1947. But the wiser and more dignified Indian leaders implicitly eschewed the ‘benefits’ of membership of that body, and officially quit it on January 26, 1950, and asserted their country’s full independence, worthy of their many millennia of glorious civilization, which produced the great Buddhist emperor Ashoka, who introduced Buddhism to our country, and about whom H.G. Wells said: “……..amid tens of thousands of names of monarchs, “Ashoka shines, shines almost alone, a star” .

The patriotic progressive people of Sri Lanka under the leadership of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike declared Sri Lanka a republic on May 22, 1972. Now that was a momentous occasion for the whole nation to celebrate. But it was less than an ideal choice to remain a member of the Commonwealth. Probably the choice was made for us by the powers that be. Has any special benefit accrued to Sri Lanka as a result? Has it done anything to relieve the suffering inflicted on the peaceful citizens for having defeated terrorism and saved democracy? Has it ever intervened on our behalf in such situations?

Mr D.L. Sirimanne ends his interesting article “Celebrating 75th Anniversary of Independence” (The Island/Opinion/January 18, 2023) with the following paragraph, which prompted this response:

‘It is almost 75 years since Sri Lanka obtained Independence from Britain and unfortunately the country was misruled and ruined by ignorant avaricious unpatriotic Sinhalese leaders fighting for power. It is now a bankrupt nation and 80% of the population is starving without food, fuel and medicine. It a disgrace to plan celebrating 75 years of ‘misrule’ as ’75 years of Independence.’ The 4th February 2023 should be a day of repentance and religious prayers to God, Allah and all the Devas to make Sri Lanka a prosperous and happy nation, with freedom and equality to all its multinational and multireligious citizens in the very near future.’

That within the last seventy-five years since the end of British occupation there have been some ‘ignorant avaricious unpatriotic Sinhalese leaders fighting for power’ is undeniable. We have living examples in the highest places even today. But to say that the country has been misruled and ruined solely by these unpatriotic Sinhalese leaders is a crass generalization that arbitrarily transfers all blame to the leaders of the Sinhala majority, while exonerating the few communalists among the minority politicians, who are actually even more responsible for retarding the forward march of post-independence Sri Lanka by adopting hostile attitudes to nationally beneficial changes proposed by Sinhalese leaders.

The Sinhalese voters, whenever they have the chance to do so, democratically elect their parliamentary representatives, hoping or requiring that they make laws for governing the country for the good of all its citizens regardless of multifarious differences among them. On every occasion that they felt persuaded that the leader who would be able to bring in necessary changes to transform the country so that this goal could be fully realized, they elected him or her with tremendous majorities, which were augmented by at least some votes from the minorities as well, such as when they elected Mr Bandaranaike in 1956, Mrs Bandaranaike in 1970, Mr Jayawardane in 1977, Mrs Chandrika Bandaranaik Kumaratungae in 1994, Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010, and Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019. In all these cases, they were elected on a nationalist platform, not on a communalist basis. Although ordinary Tamil and Muslim voters are as fair-minded and as democratic as the ordinary Sinhalese voters, the ruling elite of each minority community rouse communal feelings among its polity against the majority for their own advantage, rather than for that of the community they claim to represent. The evil practice of political horse-trading between majority and minority politicians seems to have come to stay. Global and regional superpowers exploit this situation to push their geopolitical agendas at the expense of Sri Lanka.

Mr Sirimanne’s wish for ‘a prosperous and happy nation, with freedom and equality to all its multinational and multireligious citizens’ is what all right-minded Sri Lankans have shared and have been slowly but surely moving towards since 1948. The British adopted the infamous divide and rule imperial policy, which is still being used against us. The term ‘multinational’ is problematic for our small country in that it denotes a number of nations, which means it promotes division. To say that we are a multiethnic or multiracial and multicultural nation is better for establishing ‘freedom and equality’ for all Sri Lankans. They already enjoy these. If there are any lapses, they are common to all communities.

The solution is not to try to return to the alleged Utopia that the British are believed by some to have bequeathed to us at independence (for such wasn’t the reality), or to overlook the 1972 change as insignificant, but to make way for the young of the country today to make a correct assessment of what has been achieved and what has not been achieved by the previous generations since independence (who were no less patriotic, no less proactive than them) and forge ahead with new insights, new visions, and appropriate course corrections as our ancestors did during crises to ensure our survival for so long as one people in spite of manifold differences among us.

Concluded

Remembering The Holocaust – When Abuse of Power And Hatred Met

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4 mins read

“Of course, it was, under the law of all civilized peoples, a crime for a man with his bare knuckles to assault another. How did it come that multiplying this crime by a million, and adding firearms to bare knuckles, made it a legally innocent act?” Justice Robert Jackson at the Nuremberg Military Tribunal (1945)

International Holocaust Remembrance Day fell on 27th January, as it does every year, in commemoration of the day in 1945 when  the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp – where in excess of  one million people were sent to gas chambers  to meet their agonizing deaths during the Holocaust – was liberated. One commentary says: “The Holocaust was the state-sponsored persecution and mass murder of millions of European Jews, Romani people, the intellectually disabled, political dissidents and homosexuals by the German Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. The word “holocaust,” from the Greek words “holos” (whole) and “kaustos” (burned), was historically used to describe a sacrificial offering burned on an altar”.

One could not be blamed for thinking that the categories that the victims fell into –  as decided for extermination by the Nazis  – could have been described by the Nazi regime as “useless vermin” (particularly in the context of how they were disposed of)  although 78 years after the liberation of the camp we overwhelmingly recognize them as valuable and innocent human lives. The victims were persecuted, tortured, and killed based on their ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, or sexual orientation.  The Nazis  had been involved in annihilating, in the cruellest possible manner, not only Jews, but also Russians, Belarusians, Poles, Ukrainians and Serbs, Romanis (gypsies), LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender), the mentally or physically disabled, mentally ill; Soviet POWs, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, people of the Baháʼí Faith, among others.

It is arguable that the two pivotal words that impelled the unspeakably egregious and evil acts perpetrated in the Holocaust are “power” and hatred”. Recent results of test conducted have revealed that when people are given power they wield it in accordance with their mor a al and ethical values.  The question is, do good people perpetrate bad deeds when they have power over others, or is it only the bad and the evil who are guilty?  Smithsonian Magazine reports: ”  a study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that… people’s sense of “moral identity”—the degree to which they thought it was important to their sense of self to be “caring,” “compassionate,” “fair,” “generous” and so on—shaped their responses to feelings of power”.

In other words, Lord Acton’s famous words “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” may no longer ring true in all instances.  Good persons may exercise powers equitably, with empathy and  goodness while the evil may exercise their power iniquitously with egregious intent.  The bottom line seems to settle at Abraham Lincoln’s statement that   “nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The most evil use of power is fueled by hatred, which has been described as “the most destructive affective phenomenon in the history of human nature”.   The inevitable corollary to hatred  is hate propaganda which often ingrains itself in a social system where the social degradation of the subject occupies the forefront of political discourse. Hate propaganda, spawned by hate speech, dehumanizes and depersonalizes the subject, degrading him to an imaginary persona and relegating him to the lowest depths usually assigned to a sub human species.

The immediate reaction of a society to this phenomenon is the recognition of hate crimes which emerge from hate speech and propaganda as any other crime, thus obfuscating the hatred that inspired such crimes and trivializing their qualitatively different nature. The ultimate result is of course the social acceptability of hate crimes and their desirability. This odious conclusion to a parasitic process is almost ephemeral and pervades the intellectual consciousness of a society to its ultimate destruction.

The mission of our institutions should be defined by a new, more profound, awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race, religion, language or wealth of persons. This will require us to look beyond the framework of cultural nuances. States and their educational authorities must focus, as never before, on improving the conditions of the individual men and women who give the state or nation its richness and character. As former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan said, a genocide begins with the killing of one man – not for what he has done, but because of who he is. A campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ begins with one neighbour turning on another. Poverty begins when even one person is denied his or her fundamental right to education. What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all too often ends with a calamity.

We must therefore start from the understanding that peace belongs not only to states or peoples, but to each and every member of those communities. The power of seniority of status or particular immunity must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights, nor must the authorities concerned turn a blind eye to atrocities that may likely be committed on the young and the innocent. Peace must be made real and tangible in the daily existence of every individual in need. Peace must be sought, above all, because it is the condition for every member of the human family to live a life of dignity and security.

Truth and justice are unhappily mutually exclusive. While in legal terms, legislative parameters will define acts and qualitize their reprehensibility, in truth, speech and conduct that ingratiate themselves to a society have to be addressed politically. This is the dilemma that legislators will face in dealing with racial hatred. Hate speech and hate propaganda primarily erode ethical boundaries and convey an unequivocal message of contempt and degradation. The operative question then becomes ethical, as to whether societal mores would abnegate their vigil and tolerate some members of society inciting their fellow citizens to degrade, demean and cause indignity to other members of the very same society, with the ultimate aim of harming them? Conversely, is there any obligation on a society to actively protect all its members from indignity and physical harm caused by hatred?

The answer to both these questions lies in the fundamental issue of restrictions on racist speech, and the indignity that one would suffer in living in a society that might tolerate racist speech. Obviously, a society committed to protecting principles of social and political equality cannot look by and passively endorse such atrocities, and much would depend on the efficacy of a State’s coercive mechanisms. These mechanisms must not only be punitive, but should also be sufficiently compelling to ensure that members of a society not only respect a particular law but also internalize the effects of their proscribed acts.

Who Can and Who Will Save Democracy?

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5 mins read

Democracy has a dream-like character. It sweeps into the world, carried forward by an immense desire by humans to overcome the barriers of indignity and social suffering. When confronted by hunger or the death of their children, earlier communities might have reflexively blamed nature or divinity, and indeed those explanations remain with us today. But the ability of human beings to generate massive surpluses through social production, alongside the cruelty of the capitalist class to deny the vast majority of humankind access to that surplus, generates new kinds of ideas and new frustrations. This frustration, spurred by the awareness of plenty amidst a reality of deprivation, is the source of many movements for democracy.

Habits of colonial thought mislead many to assume that democracy originated in Europe, either in ancient Greece (which gives us the word ‘democracy’ from demos, ‘the people’, and kratos, ‘rule’) or through the emergence of a rights tradition, from the English Petition of Right in 1628 to the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789. But this is partly a retrospective fantasy of colonial Europe, which appropriated ancient Greece for itself, ignoring its strong connections to North Africa and the Middle East, and used its power to inflict intellectual inferiority on large parts of the world. In doing so, colonial Europe denied these important contributions to the history of democratic change. People’s often forgotten struggles to establish basic dignity against despicable hierarchies are as much the authors of democracy as those who preserved their aspirations in written texts still celebrated in our time. 

Over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, a range of struggles developed against dictatorial regimes in the Third World that had been put in place by anti-communist oligarchies and their allies in the West. These regimes were born out of coups (such as in Brazil, the Philippines, and Turkey) and given the latitude to maintain legal hierarchies (such as in South Africa). The large mass demonstrations that laid at the heart of these struggles were built up through a range of political forces, including trade unions – a side of history that is often ignored. The growing trade union movement in Turkey was, in fact, part of the reason for the military coups of 1971 and 1980. Knowing that their hold on power was vulnerable to working-class struggles, both military governments banned unions and strikes. This threat to their power had been evidenced, in particular, by a range of strikes across Anatolia developed by unions linked to the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), including a massive two-day demonstration in İstanbul known as the June 15–16 Events that drew in 100,000 workers. The confederation, established in February 1967, was more militant than the existing one (Türk İş), which had become a collaborator with capital. Not only did militaries move against socialist and non-socialist governments alike that attempted to exercise sovereignty and improve the dignity of their peoples (such as in the Congo in 1961, Brazil in 1964, Indonesia in 1965, Ghana in 1966, and Chile in 1973), but they also moved out of the barracks – with the bright green light from Washington – to quell the cycle of strikes and worker protests.

Once in power, these wretched regimes, dressed in their khaki uniforms and the finest silk suits, drove austerity policies and cracked down on any movements of the working class and peasantry. But they could not break the human spirit. In much of the world (as in Brazil, the Philippines, and South Africa), it was trade unions that fired the early shot against barbarism. The cry in the Philippines ‘Tama Na! Sobra Na! Welga Na!’ (‘We’ve had enough! Things have gone too far! It’s time to strike!’) moved from La Tondeña distillery workers in 1975 to protests in the streets against Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, eventually culminating in the People Power Revolution of 1986. In Brazil, industrial workers paralysed the country through actions in Santo André, São Bernardo do Campo, and São Caetano do Sul (industrial towns in greater São Paulo) from 1978 to 1981, led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (now Brazil’s president). These actions inspired the country’s workers and peasants, raising their confidence to resist the military junta, which collapsed as a result in 1985.

Fifty years ago, in January 1973, the workers of Durban, South Africa, struck for a pay rise, but also for their dignity. They woke at 3 am on 9 January and marched to a football stadium, where they chanted ‘Ufil’ umuntu, ufile usadikiza, wamthint’ esweni, esweni usadikiza’ (‘A person is dead, but their spirit lives; if you poke the iris of their eye, they still come alive’). These workers led the way against entrenched forms of domination that not only exploited them, but also oppressed the people as a whole. They stood up against harsh labour conditions and reminded South Africa’s apartheid government that they would not sit down again until class lines and colour lines were broken. The strikes opened a new period of urban militancy that soon moved off the factory floors and into wider society. A year later, Sam Mhlongo, a medical doctor who had been imprisoned on Robben Island as a teenager, observed that ‘this strike, although settled, had a detonator effect’. The baton was passed to the children of Soweto in 1976.

From Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the Chris Hani Institute comes a memorable text, The 1973 Durban Strikes: Building Popular Democratic Power in South Africa (dossier no. 60, January 2023). It is memorable in two senses: it recovers an almost lost history of the role of the working class in the fight against apartheid, in particular the Black working class, whose struggle had a ‘detonator’ effect on society. The dossier, beautifully written by our colleagues in Johannesburg, makes it hard to forget these workers and harder still to forget that the working class – still so deeply marginalised in South Africa – deserves respect and a greater share of the country’s social wealth. They broke the back of apartheid but did not benefit from their own sacrifices.

The Chris Hani Institute was founded in 2003 by the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Chris Hani (1942–1993) was one of South Africa’s great freedom fighters, a communist who would have made an even greater impact than he did had he not been assassinated at the end of apartheid. We are grateful to Dr Sithembiso Bhengu, the director of the Chris Hani Institute, for this collaboration and look forward to the work that lies before us.

As this dossier went to press, we heard that our friend Thulani Maseko (1970–2023), chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholders Forum in Swaziland, was shot dead in front of his family on 21 January. He was one of the leaders of the fight to bring democracy to his country, where workers are at the forefront of the battle to end the monarchy.

When I reread our latest dossier, The 1973 Durban Strikes, to prepare for this newsletter, I was listening to Hugh Masekela’s ‘Stimela’ (‘Coal Train’), the 1974 song of migrant workers travelling on the coal train to work ‘deep, deep, deep down in the belly of the earth’ to bring up wealth for apartheid capital. I thought of the Durban industrial workers with the sound of Masekela’s train whistle in my ear, remembering Mongane Wally Serote’s long poem, Third World Express, a tribute to the workers of southern Africa and their struggles to establish a humane society.

– it is that wind
it is that voice buzzing
it is whispering and whistling in the wires
miles upon miles upon miles
on the wires in the wind
in the subway track
in the rolling road
in the not silent bush
it is the voice of the noise
here it comes
the Third World Express
they must say, here we go again.

‘Here we go again’, Serote wrote, as if to say that new contradictions produce new moments for struggle. The end of one crushing order – apartheid – did not end the class struggle, which has only deepened as South Africa is propelled through crisis upon crisis. It was the workers who brought us this democracy, and it will be workers who will fight to establish a deeper democracy yet. Here we go again.

Newsletter of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

Vietnam Syndrome and 50 years of Paris Peace Accords

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3 mins read

Friday, January 27th, marks 50 years since the signing of the Paris Peace Accords by representatives from the United States, North and South Vietnam effectively ending American participation in the Vietnamese civil conflict. What the Georgetown University international relations scholar Charles Kuphan calls an “isolationist impulse” made a “significant comeback in response to the Vietnam War, which severely strained the liberal internationalist consensus.”

As the Cold War historian John Lamberton Harper points out, President Jimmy Carter’s hawkish Polish-born national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski scorned his intra-administration rival, the cautious, gentlemanly secretary of state Cyrus Vance as “a nice man but burned by Vietnam.” Indeed, Vance and a number of his generation carried with them a profound disillusionment in the aftermath of Vietnam which shaped their approach to the world. And for a short time, the “Vietnam Syndrome,” (shorthand for a wariness and suspicion of unnecessary and unsupportable foreign interventions) occasionally informed policy at the highest levels and manifested itself in the promulgations of the Wienberger and Powell Doctrines which, in theory anyway, were set up as a kind of break on unnecessary military adventures.

But only hours after the successful conclusion of the First Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush declared, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”

And kick it Bush did: In the decades following his 1991 pronouncement, the United States has been at war in one form or another (either as a belligerent or unofficial co-belligerent as is the case with our involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen and in Ukraine) for all but 2 of the 32 years that have followed.

The political-media atmosphere that now prevails in Washington makes it exceedingly difficult to believe such a thing as a ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ ever existed. Indeed, President Joe Biden’s handling of the war in Ukraine has been met with rapturous approval from the Washington media establishment, winning plaudits from all the usual suspects.

But what kind of success is it really, when the entire thing might have been avoided by judicious diplomatic engagement? Are we really to believe that a war resulting, so far, in 200,000 dead and 8 million displaced, has been worth an empty promise of NATO membership?

While the war has currently ground to a stalemate, the legacy media and various and sundry think-tank-talking-heads issue regular assurances of steady progress in the field and victory soon to come.

  • Writing in the Journal of Democracy this past September, political scientist and author of the End of History and The Last Man Francis Fukuyama exulted: “Ukraine will win. Slava Ukraini!”
  • Washington Post reporter Liz Sly told readers in early January 2023 that “If 2023 continues as it began, there is a good chance Ukraine will be able to fulfill President Volodymyr Zelensky’s New Year’s pledge to retake all of Ukraine by the end of the year — or at least enough territory to definitively end Russia’s threat, Western officials and analysts say.”
  • Newsweek, reporting in October 2022, informed readers by way of activist Ilya Ponomarev, a former member of the Russian parliament, that “Russia is not yet on the brink of revolution…but is not far off.”
  • Rutgers University professor Alexander J. Motyl agrees. In a January 2023 article for Foreign Policy magazine titled ‘It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse’ Motyl decried as “stunning” what he believes is a “near-total absence of any discussion among politicians, policymakers, analysts, and journalists of the consequences of defeat for Russia. … considering the potential for Russia’s collapse and disintegration.”
  • Also in early January, the former head of the U.S. Army in Europe, Lt. General Ben Hodges told the Euromaidan Press that, “The decisive phase of the campaign…will be the liberation of Crimea. Ukrainian forces are going to spend a lot of time knocking out or disrupting the logistical networks that are important for Crimea…That is going to be a critical part that leads or sets the conditions for the liberation of Crimea, which I expect will be finished by the end of August.”

As Gore Vidal once quipped, “There is little respite for a people so routinely—so fiercely—disinformed.”

Conspicuous by its absence in what passes for foreign policy discourse in the American capital is the question of American interests: How does the allocation of vast sums to a wondrously corrupt regime in Kiev in any way materially benefit everyday Americans? Is the imposition of a narrow, sectarian Galician nationalism over the whole of Ukraine truly a core American interest? Does the prolongation of a proxy war between NATO and Russia further European and American security interests?

In truth, the lessons of Vietnam were forgotten long ago. The generation that now largely populates the ranks of the Washington media and political establishment came of age when Vietnam was already in the rearview. Today, the unabashed liberal interventionists who staff the Biden administration came up in the 1990s when it was commonly thought the United States didn’t do enough, notably in Bosnia and in Rwanda. As such, and almost without exception, they have supported every American mis-adventure abroad since 9/11.

The caution which, albeit all-too-temporarily, stemmed from the “Vietnam Syndrome” is today utterly absent in the corridors of power in Joe Biden’s Washington. The Vietnam Syndrome is indeed kicked: Dead and buried.

But we may soon regret its passing.

Sri Lanka: Is recolonisation the final solution?

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659 views
9 mins read

First of all, let me express my sincere respects to Mr D.L. Sirimanne, the writer of the interesting article entitled ‘Celebrating 75th Anniversary of Independence’ (The Island/Opinion/January 18, 2023). He struck me as a venerable old man, who, at 103 years of age, still thinks about the welfare of his fellow Sri Lankans. It is rare for a person of that age to be so clear-headed and lucid in his writing. His generous spirit and his literary activity may be one reason for his healthy longevity, I think. His mention of retired aviator turned writer Elmo Jayawardana, whom  I highly admire for the same altruistism of character and the same literary gifts that Mr Sirimanne displays, made me check out whatever other information is available about him online. Actually, I had never come across the name D.L. Sirimanne before I read his Sat Mag feature in The Island ‘An epic Air Ceylon charter flight…….’ on October 24, 2020, which I re-visited today and which enabled me to relive the delightful experience of reading it. I also watched an old TV interview uploaded to the You Tube, featuring him. We have very few unsung heroes like Mr Sirimanne. It was time well spent, I thought, although I do not share his views about the history of Sri Lanka, the hallowed and historic homeland of the Sinhalese, their inalienable Motherland, or his opinion about the primary cause of the economic mess that Sri Lanka is currently undergoing. But the old ghosts he recalls in the otherwise excellent essay that he’s written had better be exorcized once and for all, for denigrating the majority Sinhalese community and belittling their history which is synonymous with that of their island home, based entirely on wrong assumptions, will definitely undermine all attempts to bring political stability, economic prosperity, and intercommunal harmony to Sri Lanka.

Please rest assured, Mr Sirimanne, my writing this will not detract in the least from my deepest admiration for you. You are not wrong in holding the views that you are sharing with the readers, given the time that you spent your youth, the most vibrant years of your life. It is only that times have changed, new discoveries have been made in science leading to the emergence of new technologies, and corresponding advances in the ever expanding universe of human knowledge, including such domains as astronomy, psychology, social sciences, art, culture, politics, history and archaeology and so on, in the light of which we are developing a better, more accurate idea of our past among other things. Something that has not changed, though, as far as our country is concerned, is the interfering ghost of departed Western colonialism, that is largely responsible for our problems. 

The fact that we are surrounded by the ocean has determined the nature of our evolution as an independent civilization, and the character of our commercial, cultural and political/diplomatic relations we have had with the outside world. As island dwellers, quite naturally, we have always been wary of foreigners though we have always treated them hospitably; we have been always independent spirited, and protective of our land, and our Buddhist culture. Before the depredations of European occupation, we, as an island nation had an extensive global reach on account of trade and our Buddhist spiritual culture. Groups of people and individuals travelled into as well as out of the island in connection with the last mentioned. The main body of the original inhabitants of the island were saved from being numerically overwhelmed by the influx of large numbers of immigrants from the relatively less hospitable or less inhabitable lands around, due to the sea barrier. Foreign commercial-cum-military powers that made incursions into the island from the legendary Vijaya to the British mercantile/imperial power at the end of the 18th century had first come as traders, attracted by the natural riches of the country. (According to new scientific findings in historiography and archaeology, the legendary Vijaya and the later invader Elara who ruled at Anuradhapura (205-161 BCE) were actually connected with trade.)

Mr Sirimanne seems to come from the minuscule Westernized,English speaking, Christian ‘elite’ society, the comprador class of the native population, that lived in relative comfort and  probably didn’t worry too much about independence from the British.They were akin to the ‘mimic men’ in Trinidad-born English novelist V.S. Naivpaul’s novel by that name, who tried to be what the imperial British did not allow them to be. But this was at the expense of the vast mass of the downtrodden  colonized ‘natives’, who were subjected to flagrant exploitation and relentless dehumanization, something that reminds me of what journalist and novelist Robert McCrum says about the lack of moral justification for the comfortable lifestyle of the rich upper crust of the Anglo-American society today: “No one dwelling in comfort on the higher ground of Anglo-American society should ever forget that a brutal trade in human lives was a motor of the British and American economies throughout the eighteenth and part of the nineteenth century….”. (Globish, Viking, 2010). McCrum, of course, is referring to the slave trade.

In the case of Sri Lanka and its large northern neighbour India, this period of European imperial exploitation became most virulent for the two centuries from around the mid-18th to the mid-20th century. (It looks as if, in the West dominated global media, this history is being fast sanitized.)  Former Indian diplomat and writer Dr Shashi Tharoor (who served at the UN for twenty-nine years, ending his stint there as Under Secretary General), in his ‘INGLORIOUS EMPIRE: What the British did to India’ (Scribe, Melbourne and London, 2018) tells the thoroughly researched true story of the British in India – from the arrival of the East India Company to the end of the Raj – and reveals how Britain’s rise was built upon its plunder of India. However, the careful reader understands that Tharoor’s purpose is not to narrate a sequence of events and tell a story as such, but to critically study the legacy the British left in India and to demolish arguments that try to support claims for alleged benefits of colonial rule. (However, Tharoor does not deny that the British did leave, incidentally though, a few treasures, such as a democratic form of government, and the English language.) Delhi-based historian William Dalrymple’s ‘THE ANARCHY: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company’ (Bloomsbury Publishing Company, London, 2019) is a riveting narrative that tells the story of how the (British) East India Company transformed itself from an international trading corporation into something quite different: an aggressive colonial power in the guise of a multinational business run by English merchants collecting taxes from the impoverished natives using a ruthless private army. 

Sri Lanka is very small compared to India in terms of area. India is roughly 46 times the size of Sri Lanka and its population roughly 64 times. But internationally, we are accepted as an independent sovereign state similar to India that enjoys full fledged membership of the United Nations. There is nothing unusual about this. There are dozens of countries with even smaller populations than ours, such as Burkino Faso, Chile, Malavi, Mali, Romania, Zambia, etc., that stand as independent sovereign states. We are not, by any means, inferior to India as a sovereign nation.     

To liken Ceylon (or Sri Lanka) to ‘a brilliant emerald on the beautiful pendant of Mother India’ is to imply that our country is/was an appendage of India! It never was, but present day Indian politicians appear to wish it was, and even to behave as if it already is, and some of our own worthless unpatriotic politicians seem to agree! How can a Sri Lankan celebrate a ‘Mother India’, instead of Mother Lanka? To be colonized by foreign invaders is not an experience that can be or should be forgotten with glib talk. No self-respecting nation in the world will relish that humiliating experience. We are a people with an honourable history. Our country has been called Sihele or Sivhela or Sinhale or Sinhaladipa (the europeanized ‘Ceylon’ is a derivative of Sihele), or Lanka, as it is often referred to in the 5th century CE Mahavansa or the Great Chronicle and as it is usually called in colloquial Sinhala even today, and Tamilized as Ilankei. (Incidentally, all the quotations from the Mahavansa and its continuation the Cuavansa found in this essay are from Mudaliyar L. C. Wijesinghe’s translation of 1889.) 

Sri Lanka had survived 17 invasions from South India before the European phase of colonization actually started at the beginning of the 17th century (1602), though the fortuitous arrival of the Portuguese happened almost a century earlier in 1505. The Portuguese were in Sri Lanka till they were driven away in 1658 by the Dutch, who in their turn gave way to the British in 1796. The British helped themselves to the maritime provinces of the country previously occupied by the other two European powers. All these invasions and occupations met with the fiercest resistance from the native Sinhalese  population. They did not bring Tamils from South India to fight these wars. Jayantha Somasundaram claimed in an article published in The Island a couple of months ago that the Sinhalese did not go to war against invaders because as Buddhists they did not want to kill. This is a deliberate falsehood. Of course, it is true that when there was internecine strife, Sinhalese kings sometimes brought in mercenaries from South India as when Mugalan did in order to challenge his half-brother Kasyapa of Sigiriya in the 5th century CE. Invader Magha of Kalinga brought an army of Kerala mercenaries (according to Chapter 80 of the Mahavansa (in the form of Culavansa written in the 13th century CE by a Buddhist Bhikkhu named Dhammakitti) to fight against the ruler of Lanka at the time Parakrama Pandyan of Polonnaruwa in 1215 CE. By the time of the British advent at the end of the 18th century, the interior part of the island formed the Kandyan kingdom or the diminished kingdom of Sinhale hemmed in all sides by occupied territories; but it had itself repeatedly and heroically foiled European military occupation. It was only through subtle diplomatic intrigue that it was annexed to the British Empire in 1815.  

Even my father (who was of Mr D.L. Sirimanne’s generation), though he was no historian, scoffed at the implausibility of the Mahavansa story about prince Vijaya. “How could we be descendants of a lion, an animal, and still be humans?” he used to say. He also ridiculed the Aryan claim in the Hitlerian sense. He only believed in the word ‘Arya’ as it is used in Buddhism, that is, to refer to a spiritually advanced person. But Mr Sirimanne seems to have no issue with the ‘Aryan’ identity of the Sinhalese, who had allegedly come from Sinhapura in North India.  Mr Sirimanne believes that the tribes that inhabited the place when prince Vijaya landed at Tambapanni, known as Yakkas and Nagas, were ‘probably Hindus from South India’. He has left out the Devas and the Rakshas, the other two of the four indigenous tribes who are believed to have inhabited the island then. 

However, the Vijaya legend must have a nucleus of historical truth in it. It might be based on an actual invasion by a north Indian prince, who initiated a dynasty that imported princes from the mythical Sinhapura to rule at Tambapanni. The subject Yakkas’ Sinhalese identity must have derived from the natural admixture at that stage of the native Yakkas with the members of the invading north indian ‘Aryan’ clan. There definitely had developed a struggle between the invaders and the local elite over sovereignty by the time of the death of king Panduvasudeva (who reigned at Tambapanni from 504 to 474 BCE). In fact, Pandukabhaya (born in 474 BCE, the year his grandfather died) who ascended the throne at Anuradhapura after a protracted military struggle against his uncles is considered the first truly Lankan monarch (but the 6th king overall) since Vijaya. The Mahavansa story (found in Ch. 10) about the emergence of Pandukabhaya features a number of real Yakkhas and Yakkhinis, who are shown to be as much human as those who had come from Sinhapura (though they are presented with a supernatural touch.) 

But today we know for sure that the Yakkas were the real ancestors of the Sinhalese (Kuveni was a Yakka princess), and that they were also contemporaneous with the Veddas. The fake classification of the Veddas as ‘aadivasin’ (aborigines) by Western anthropologists was probably meant to deny the Sinhalese their autochthonous origin in this island.  Yakka language inscriptions have been found and deciphered, one of which, according to archaeology Professor Raj Somadeva, declares “api yakku” we are yakkas. The Mahavansa says that the missionary Mahinda Thera preached Buddhism ‘in the language of the islanders’, which was undoubtedly, the Yakka language, the ancient version of Sinhala, that was in circulation then. 

The most powerful factor, next to genetics, that distinguishes one race from another is its language. In the case of the Sinhalese it is the Sinhala language with its unique vocal sound system, its own grammar and vocabulary. (Words like vatura for water, vee for rice paddy, haal/sahal for(rice, bath for cooked rice, kamata for threshing floor, gala  for rock, and so on are original Sinhala words, not borrowed from any other language; another original Sinhala word is ‘wewa’ (turned into Pali form in the chronicles as waapi)), meaning an artificial water reservoir constructed by building a dam across a valley for storing water for agricultural irrigation during rainless months. However, down the ages, contact with the North Indian languages of Pali or Magadi and Sanskrit has heavily hybridized the Sinhala vocabulary. This is the reason why Sanskrit-derived Hindi and Bengali languages sound more familiar and are more easily intelligible to the Sinhalese than the Dravidian languages of South India such as Tamil or Malayalam (a few elements from the last two can also be detected, particularly in spoken (non-formal, non-literary) Sinhala…

Continued   

Source: The Island

An Ancient Recipe for Social Success

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7 mins read

New evidence and understandings about the structure of successful early societies across Asia, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere are sweeping away the popular assumption that early societies tended toward autocracy and despotism.

Archaeology has a more valuable story to tell: Collective action and localized economic production are a recipe for sustainability and broader well-being. The Mesoamerican city of Monte Albán, which was a major regional urban center for 1,300 years, is a shining example. It is a powerful case study that early investments in public infrastructure and goods foster longer-term sustainability.

There is a rich vein of insight here for some of the most pressing challenges faced by humanity: billions of people living in poverty, and collapsing social structures in the developing world. And in the wealthy industrialized world, many are increasingly disillusioned by the flaws in our political and economic models.

But if we’re going to use the models from the ancient past, can we be confident about how early societies really operated?

Researchers have begun to identify archaeological evidence that works as indicators for political and social behaviors and institutions:

  • Is there evidence of extreme wealth disparity or equality in lifestyle or burial?
  • Does monumental architecture foster exclusivity (elite tombs, aggrandizing monuments, evidence of dynastic legitimation) or access (e.g., open plazas, wide access ways, community temples)?
  • Are palaces prominent or is it not clear where the leader resided?
  • Does art emphasize lineal descent, divine kingship, and royal patron deities or does it feature more abstract themes such as fertility or integrative cosmological principles?

There is a lot we can determine from a society’s tendency toward the first or second option in each of these questions about whether it was more autocratic or associated with collective/good governance.

In a study of 26 early urban centers in Mesoamerica, Monte Albán was one of 12 that was characterized as a collectively organized city based on a series of indicators. Prior to the city’s abandonment, Monte Albán was not highly unequal: there were few, if any, lavish tombs, no great caches of household riches or other evidence of extreme wealth differences, and no large, ornate palace that was unequivocally the ruler’s residence.

From early in the site’s history, the city’s core was centered on a large plaza that could have accommodated a significant proportion of the site’s population. Flattening the hill’s rocky top and then defining and creating this large open space entailed planning, coordination, and cooperation. Until very late in the city’s history, material representations of rulers were relatively rare, and there is an overall lack of ruler aggrandizement. During the city’s first four centuries (500–100 BCE), there were few depictions of seemingly important individuals or leaders. Rule was largely faceless.

How did it happen?

In this light, let’s travel to the early sedentary villages (c. 1500–500 BCE) in the Valley of Oaxaca—the largest expanse of flat land in Mexico’s Southern Highlands. They were situated on or near well-watered land.

Around 500 BCE, however, a new hilltop center, Monte Albán, was established at the nexus of the valley’s three arms, where agriculture was far riskier due to unreliable rainfall and a dearth of permanent water sources. During the era of its establishment, not only was Monte Albán larger than any earlier community in the region, but many other settlers moved into the rural area around Monte Albán.

This marked shift in settlement patterns and the underlying processes associated with the foundation of Monte Albán have long been debated. How can we account for the immigration of people, some likely from beyond the region itself, to an area where they faced greater risks of crop failure?

One perspective, reliant on uniform models of premodern states as despotic, viewed the process from a basically top-down lens; leaders coerced their subjects to move near the capital to provide sustenance for the new center.

Yet more recent research has found that governance at Monte Albán was generally more collective than autocratic, and in its growth period, productive activities were collective, centered in domestic units and not managed from above.

By the time Monte Albán was established in the Valley of Oaxaca, more than a thousand years had passed since foragers transitioned from mobile lifeways to sedentary communities. Maize, beans, and squash, which had been domesticated prior to village formation, were key elements of an agricultural economy, with maize providing the bulk of calories. Early villagers also exploited a mosaic of other natural resources including clay for making ceramic vessels and figurines, stone for making tools and ornaments, and plant materials for processing into a range of woven products.

The shift to sedentary life was a long social process through which formerly dispersed populations not only adjusted but committed to living in larger communities and interacting with more people on a daily basis.

The Valley of Oaxaca has a climate that is semiarid, rainfall is unpredictable and spatially patchy across the region, and not all sectors of the valley floor receive the minimum annual precipitation necessary for reliable rainfall farming of maize, the region’s staple and culturally most important crop.

The prime factor that determines the productivity of maize is the availability of water, and a diversity of water management practices have been used since prehispanic times. These manipulations, which increase agricultural yields, include wells and pot irrigation, check dams, and small-scale canals, all of which were easily managed or implemented at the household level.

The Valley of Oaxaca was a core politico-economic region. Prior to Monte Albán’s founding, most of the populace resided in one of three clusters of settlements that were separated from the others by largely unoccupied areas, including the center of the valley where Monte Albán was later situated. In each arm, a cluster of smaller communities surrounded one larger settlement that had special functions and served as the “head towns” of small competing polities.

This millennial pattern was broken when Monte Albán was built on a steep hilltop in the center of the valley. The settlement’s establishment and rapid growth in size and monumentality set off a dynamic episode of innovation and change that included demographic, dietary, and other economic shifts. Populations grew rapidly not only at the new center, which became the largest and most monumental city in the valley’s early history, but also in the surrounding countryside. The center and rural communities were integrated through an emergent market network that provisioned the city.

This dramatic episode of change required the coordination of labor to build the new city. The rocky hilltop was flattened into a large main plaza with monumental buildings constructed along its edges. The scale and orientation of this central plaza represent a key transition from prior community plans in the region. Residences for the city’s burgeoning population were constructed on the steep slopes of the hill by creating flattened spaces, or terraces, shored up by stone and earthen retaining walls, each of which sustained a domestic unit.

The allocation of the hill’s apex for civic-ceremonial space and the lower slopes for commoner residences was a blueprint for a broad social accord. Built environments are not neutral, but political, and Monte Albán’s footprint with a large, relatively open central space and little display of hierarchical leaders points to a collective arrangement.

The city’s concentrated residential precincts comprised strings of artificially flattened terraces that shared long retaining walls. Construction of the terraces required allotments of domestic labor to clear trees, flatten steep inclinations, erect stone walls to retain flat spaces where houses would be built, and construct drainage channels to divert rainwater from living spaces. The construction, sharing, and maintenance of front retaining walls involved high degrees of interhousehold cooperation between neighbors.

Additionally, commoners adopted construction techniques and basic ceramic wares that previously were the domain of high-status families. In the early city, most houses included contiguous rooms with plaster floors, often constructed around a patio; they were built with adobe bricks on stone foundations instead of the mud and thatch typical of earlier commoner houses. The pottery wares that previously were largely used by higher-status families or as ceremonial vessels became more broadly distributed in the centuries after Monte Albán was established. This level of cooperation and coordination is evidence of a social charter or norms, in which a wider array of residents had access to what previously had been higher-status materials and goods.

No large-scale production has been uncovered, and there is no indication of central-governmental food storage at Monte Albán, as one might expect with top-down economic control or redistribution.

Economic production at Monte Albán was situated in domestic contexts. Instead of being coerced to move to Monte Albán, people were attracted to the city. Monte Albán was settled by a sizable group, possibly as large as 1,000 people, and rapidly grew to about 5,000 people within a few hundred years. Populations also increased in the rural areas around Monte Albán, and the annual rate of population growth in the valley exceeded what could have been maintained by natural increase alone. Populations expanded again in and around Monte Albán after c. 300 BCE. The threefold growth was too large to be accounted for by local, “natural growth,” so that people must have been drawn to Monte Albán and the valley from more distant, extra-regional locations.

Evidence indicates that the agricultural catchment for feeding Monte Albán likely extended 20 kilometers from the city. The market and exchange networks that moved food to the city created a high degree of interconnection among small settlements and Monte Albán. This interdependence required cooperation, infrastructure, and institutions that together provided the means of moving food and distributing seasonal surpluses.

Prior to Monte Albán, early “head towns” were generally positioned adjacent to good farmland. But the new city was located in an area of the valley where agriculture was riskier and largely dependent on unpredictable rainfall. Why would people move to a place where they faced a high risk of crop failure, where they could have been taxed more highly, and where, if governance were coercive, they had little voice? Such a scenario seems improbable, and it is far more likely that people moved to Monte Albán to take advantage of economic opportunities, a parallel to most migrants in the world today.

Credit Line: This article was produced by Human Bridges, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Rectifying history to vandalize it: Pujya K. Ariyamagga’s pain

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514 views
11 mins read

A Youtube video (uploaded December 27, 2022) with the alarmist caption බුදුන් ඉපදුණු මේ ලංකාවට සිදු වු අපරාදෙ අපිත් දැන ගනිමුද  (Let’s be aware of the enormity of the injustice perpetrated on Sri Lanka where the Buddha was born) captured my attention this morning (January 1, 2023), both because of the sensationalism of the title and its association with the popular youtuber Harindra Jayalal who presents its content as an important news bulletin from a so-called ‘We Rectify Our History’ organization (presumably based in the UK). Five days after uploading, the video has got about 8,500 views, and only 301 subscribers. Though Harindra Jayalal presents it as a newsflash under ‘Breaking News’, the maker of the video is someone who chooses to obscure their identity by describing it as a DANAPALA VIDEO. While watching the video, though, I felt that Harindra himself made this video as a strong believer in the controversial new hypothesis that the Buddha was born in Sri Lanka. But again, I thought ‘could a person like Harindra subscribe to such an improbable concoction’? In terms of my experience, Harindra is far too rational, educated, cultured and knowledgeable to embrace such a harebrained ideology. I believe that he is too honest to prostitute his journalism for mercenary ends.

Lucidity, idiomaticity, and precision of expression characterize Harindra Jayalal’s Sinhala. Such linguistic elegance is not common among ordinary Sinhala language Youtubers. His professionalism and sophistication as a journalist are hard to match. However, the emphatic positive tone of voice that he adopts right through to the end of the presentation cannot be due to any real personal commitment to the authenticity of the ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ claim. Instead, by lending his patronage to this video, he may be helping out a struggling new youtuber through his own established fame. Yet, Harindra seems to be here overdoing his generosity because, his apparent espousal of that extremely anti-national heresy, might only provide some justification for the insidious process of cultural genocide that is being carried out, unknown to most ordinary Sri Lankans of diverse ethnicities, against the country’s innocent Sinhala Buddhist majority, something that has been going for decades now. 

Be that as it may, according to this ‘news flash’, “…. The Ariya Kammattahna Sanvidhanaya/Ariya Kammattahna Organization led by a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk named Ariyamagga, resident in Europe, is going to sue the British government. He has taken steps to institute legal action against government officials who served during British colonial times. He charges that Britain has distorted historical information relating to the subcontinent of  India and that his fundamental rights are being violated by officials serving today in their place by intentionally failing to rectify those distortions. ……. The case names the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs, the State Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports, Secretary of State for Tourism Zones and National Heritage, and the Secretary of State for Education as respondents……the court action will go ahead as the violations are continuing……”. (This is from the opening of the spoken text of the video as roughly translated by me from Sinhala as other relevant parts of the same spoken script found in the rest of this essay;  details such as names of ministries may not exactly tally with the real ones. – RRW)

The ‘We Rectify Our History’ organization argues that Britain has violated provisions of various legal statutes that it cites such as Britain’s 1998 Human Rights Act, the 1988 Copyrights, Designs, and Patents Act, and the 1907 Hague Convention. It demands that at least certified photocopies of the ancient ola leaf books stashed away in British libraries and museums be made available (to it on behalf of Sri Lankans) free of charge without reserving copyrights and that steps be taken to provide funds for new archaeological excavations needed to correct those (deliberately introduced) errors in our country’s history. 

The plaintiff organization pleads that (the British government) acknowledge that the school education system established under the colonial administration disseminated for public consumption false information without any foundation in Sri Lankans’ (collective) national and religious identity, and also that (the British government) tender an apology to the general public of the world for the crimes committed.

In Sri Lanka’s ancient chronicles, Buddhist literature and even in colloquial parlance in Buddhist religious contexts today the name Jambudipa (Pali) or Dambadiva (Sinhala) refers to the subcontinent of India. But according to the ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ theorists, Jambudeepa was in the eastern part of Sri Lanka (if we imagine the map of the country as vertically divided with a line into east and west). A central claim made in the aforementioned plea for justice is that the true location of the Jambudipa where the founder of Theravada Buddhism, Gotama Samana, was born and lived and the locations of its cities and Buddhist holy sites were conspiratorially concealed from the world and that these venues were substituted by those in India by deliberately  altering the maps of Sri Lanka and India. This is alleged to have misled the Theravada Buddhist adherents and deprived them of their right to know the truth about their spiritual master. (By ‘Theravada Buddhists’ the petitioner ‘We Rectify Our History’ organization means Sinhalese Buddhists.) What does it aim to achieve for them by asserting the following harmful falsehood?  

“Having been misled (by false information) as explained above, the Buddhists of today mistake Hindu and Jain holy places to be Buddhist ones and go to worship at them. This is a tragic state of affairs” according to the plaint. But we know it is not. What is there tragic about it, even  if the alleged fraudulent deed actually happened? On the contrary, it would be a happy state of affairs. Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists have much in common (tolerance, nonviolence, compassion, humility, mind culture, inner search for truth, etc.) and have no problem visiting each other’s shrines without being challenged as impure infidels or non-believers. Community of basics makes for intercommunal peace and peaceful coexistence, as has always been the case in Sri Lanka between Hindus and Buddhists. However, this ludicrous complaint lets the cat out of the bag.

The ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ idea is obviously a piece of fiction carefully thought up by some evil minded individual or group to confuse the credulous unsophisticated, grievously ill informed (embarrassingly large) section of the Sinhalese Buddhist community about their religion as well as their history for some political and/or religious advantage. Those who stand to gain by this may be having a field day at present. They must be laughing their heads off in private at the silliness of those Buddhists who have swallowed this and other similar  fabrications (such as the mythical Ravana being their progenitor) hook line and sinker. 

 Believers in the ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ myth might be induced to sever even their sentimental links with places that they correctly believed to be historic Buddhist places of worship in Sri Lanka later built over by invaders. The misguided adherents of the fiction will forget the Sacred Buddha Gaya/Bodh Gaya in India, which our indefatigable Anagarika Dharmapala did much to reclaim for the world Buddhists as he knew it was his historic responsibility as a ‘Sinhale’ Buddhist to do so. (This is because after the missionary Mahinda Thera introduced Theravada Buddhism to Sri Lanka, its scriptures that had been until then transmitted orally was committed to writing there in the 1st century BCE and was preserved for posterity, making the island the repository of Theravada Buddhism. By the end of the 19th century CE, Buddhism had almost entirely disappeared from India due to Muslim invasions and anti-Buddhism Hinduist influence.) Dharmapala met with limited success, no doubt, but it was a great achievement, even an epoch making one, considering his smallness when pitted against the powerful opponents he had to face in that Hindu dominated religious environment during the British Raj at the turn of the 20th century. Anagarika Dharmapala, in association with activists like journalist and poet Sir Edwin Arnold from the British intelligentsia, laid the foundation for the current Buddhist revival in India. Today India is rediscovering and restoring its lost Buddhist heritage, for example in the form of rebuilding the ancient Buddhist monastic University of Nalanda (427-1197 CE) burned down by Muslim invaders in the 12th century. This made it possible for Prime Minister Modi to shout out to the world not long ago: “India gave to the world the Buddha, not yuddha (war)”. India honoured Anagarika Dharmapala by issuing a postage stamp commemorating him in 2014.  

I came across a book written in Sinhala about this ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ argument. Its title translates as “Evidence to prove that the land of the Buddhas is none other than this ‘Heladiva’ or Sri Lanka: Debunking myths” (2018) by a writer named S. Ariyaratne. It is full of information drawn from authentic sources, but garbled by him through misinterpretation. The book  contains a lot of interesting but, scientifically unauthenticated details both about the dhamma and history, but without any serious supporting evidence or rational elucidation. In some instances Ariyaratne quotes from the Mahavansa, which he seems to modify in his interpretation to suit his thesis that the Buddha was born, lived, and died in Sri Lanka. One example: in Mudaliyar L.C. Wijesinghe’s translation (1889) of the Mahavansa the last verse of Chapter VI is as follows: “This prince named Vijaya, who had then attained the wisdom of experience, landed in the division Tambapanni of this land Lanka, on the day that the successor (of former Buddhas) reclined in the arbour of the two delightful sal trees, to attain nibbana”. Ariyaratne interprets the same Pali verse in Sinhala; his version can be rendered into English thus: “Prince Vijaya of steady wisdom arrived the day that the Tathagata lay down to attain nibbana (in the shade) between two sal trees in Lanka or Tamraparni whose branches were intertwined” (Page 210 of Ariyaratne’s book). 

Between pages 112-132, Ariyaratne looks at Anagarika Dharmapala’s work in India from his own uninformed jaundiced point of view. His unconvincing, idiosyncratic argument is that the Lankan Buddhist  missionary, misled by the suddas (Whites/Europeans), mistakenly identified  Bodh Gaya in India as the birthplace of the Buddha, but  that towards the end of his life, he showed signs that he realized his mistake. But it is only an unsubstantiated assumption on Ariyaratne’s part. He points out that the Bodhi tree found there is not the Bodhi tree under which ascetic Gotama attained enlightenment, which should true for the original probably disappeared during foreign invasions. He thinks Alexander Cunningham (the pioneer of what later became the Archaeological Survey of India)  planted the extant Bodhi tree  in 1870. Concerning this he mentions ‘Relighting the Lamp’ by Australian monk Bhante S. Dhammika (no stranger to English language newspaper readers in Sri Lanka). But Ariyaratne doesn’t seem to have carefully read what he makes reference to. Actually, ‘Relighting the Lamp’ is only the last (or 4th) section of that monk’s 241 page book ‘The Navel of the Earth: The History and Significance of Bodh Gaya’ (BPS, Kandy, 1996)’ between pp. 119-171. In that part of the book, Bhante Dhammika  has included a fairly detailed account of Dharmapala’s legitimate heroic struggle to acquire the sacred place for Buddhists. Dharmapala played a key role in ‘relighting the lamp’ in India. 

Bhante Shravasti Dhammika outlines the historical importance of Bodh Gaya in his preface to ‘The Navel of the Earth…..’:

“…..Bodh Gayā’s historical significance is due to it having a longer and more complete history than almost any other place in the subcontinent, a history supplemented by epigraphical and literary sources from China and Tibet, Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Nor is this history merely an outline of events or a list of doubtful dates, as so often encountered in the study of India’s past. Rather, it includes detailed descriptions of Bodh Gayā’s now vanished temples and shrines, accounts of the elaborate ceremonies and doctrinal disputes that once took place there, and even details of how time was kept in its monasteries. This history is also made more interesting by the participation of some of Asia’s greatest personalities, from Asoka to Curzon, from Xuanzang to Anāgārika Dharmapāla…..” 

The book also supplies information about the conspicuous presence of Buddhist monks from Simhale (Sri Lanka) and the construction of religious buildings in Jambudipa including Bodh Gaya under Sinhalese royal patronage. In the 4th century, Sinhalese king Meghavanne (304-332 CE) built a special monastery at the place of Buddha’s Enlightenment – the Bodh Gaya Monastery. It survived there for a millennium, functioning as a major monastic university complex. It operated along with two other Buddhist universities,the famous  Nalanda and Vikramashila monastic universities, which came into existence later. 

The author of “The Navel of the Earth…” is an extremely more reliable authority on the history of the Buddha’s birthplace than Ariyaratne. In fact, the erudite Bhante S. Dhammika, who is additionally an alumnus of the Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, has devoted many years of his life for researching the subject, even traveling on foot where Buddha walked across that part of north India to and fro, preaching his message. He has written and published over a dozen books. A book by Bhante Dhammika published last year (2022) is ‘Lumbini’, which gives a short history of Lumbini “the first of the four major holy places of Buddhism, being where the person who was born to become Buddha was born”.

The truth is that, in my opinion, Ariyaratne is not at all worthy of comparison with Bhante Dhammika in this context. He has had no worthwhile academic training in either Buddhism or the history of Buddhism, not to speak about anything else that is ancillary such as the secular history of Sri Lanka and India. What may be taken as an autobiographical note on pp. 12-14 of Ariyaratne’s book mentioned above says that he was born in a small impoverished village in Nivitigala in 1972. At age 14, he was admitted to the Sangha order as a novice. He studied at a pirivena in Ratnapura, where he became a kind of loner allegedly trying to learn the dhamma in an unorthodox way, which meant  that he read material outside the prescribed syllabuses. Disgusted with the Sangha order at age 19 (i.e., before higher ordination), he disrobed, and became a layman again, reverting to his birth name Ariyaratne. But he claims that he continued his search in which he followed in the footsteps of such ‘Arya utuman’ (Arhants) as the infamous and totally ignorant  Waharaka (Abhayarathanalankara) and Meewanapalane (Siri Dhammalankara)!! Meewanapalane has been officially excommunicated by the Malwatte Nikaya, but he continues to preach to a dwindled audience. Waharaka died in 2017 and his death was described as ‘Parinibbana’!, a term used only in the case of the passing away of an Arhant, most usually in referring to the death of the Buddha. It is an abomination to abuse that terminology to apply to the death of a sinful fake Arhant. (There is a great possibility, nay probability, that these are plants intended to destroy the Buddha Sasanaya, which is the breath and being of our over 2500 year old Lankan/Heladiva civilization. Those who bristle at this, please listen to the advice of the Buddha in the Kalama Sutta, and independently find out  their hollowness by studying samples of their preachings.) 

Ariyamagga Thera who is the main motivator of the ‘We Rectify Our History’ project as well as  the leader of the so-called Ariya Kammattahna Organization may belong to the same group of rogues in robes. (I googled the name Ariyamagga Thero, but failed to find any monk by that name or an organization he heads, except the name in Sinhala characters ‘Pujya K. Ariyamagga’.) The theme ‘We Rectify Our History’ probably comes from Ariyaratne’s book, p. 116, where the author writes “Let’s rectify mistakes in our history by ourselves”. Isn’t it possible that some eccentric uneducated zealots have also been recruited or are simply being used as ownerless donkeys by the prime movers of a global conspiracy against the Sinhalese and their Buddhist culture? 

It is true that the British stole many archaeological treasures including ola leaf manuscripts of inestimable value from Sri Lanka. At least some of them are being preserved in British libraries and museums. They are waiting to be reclaimed by us through proper channels. This is not the time to get them, as we can understand, given the debilitating economic and political difficulties Sri Lanka is experiencing. This task should actually be left to present and future young generations. Ariyamagga’s silly move could be a preemptive strike meant to foil such an attempt being made by young Sri Lankans even before it is initiated.

Harindra’s video ends with a glowing eulogy to Ariyamagga: “The intrepid step that this monk has taken, daring Britain’s ‘White Crown’ is a courageous and heroic move made against the British Empire by a citizen of Sihale ever since the defeat of the (armed) liberation struggle of Uva Wellassa of 1818”. I hear the chuckle of the conspirators behind this mock tribute to Pujya K. Ariyamagga. (END)

Bangladesh in 1971: Genocide of Whom and by Whom?

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Two US Congressmen, Mr. Chabot from Ohio (Republican) and Mr. Khanna from California (Democrat), have moved a resolution entitled “Recognizing the Bangladesh Genocide of 1971” in the House of Representative on October 14, 2022 calling that the House “recognizes that such atrocities against ethnic Bengalis and Hindus constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.” Genocide is a serious crime and genocide was definitely committed during this fateful year but the question that one needs to ask is genocide of whom and by whom. There existed at least three communities at the time, but the resolution mentions only two – Bengalis (Muslims) and Hindus. It ignores Urdu-speaking non-Bengali Muslims known as Biharis because most of them migrated there in 1947 from the neighboring Indian state Bihar. More than fifty years later, one needs to analyze conditions of all three communities to find the truth behind this genocide claim.

An Extraordinary Year

The year 1971 was an extraordinary year, but explanation for events of this year demands some reference to the history of the whole region. The area (Bengal, Bihar and Orissa), rich both agriculturally and industrially, attracted immigrants and colonizers throughout the medieval period. In 1757, the English East India Company (EIC) occupied the territory and introduced a discriminatory policy to eliminate Muslims from socio-economic power by promoting Hindus, although in pre-British Bengal Hindus enjoyed equal opportunities. The British white supremacist Islamophobic approach well matched with the Hindu upper caste outlook. The Hindu rise in economic and political superiority soon resulted into Hindu cultural domination – a phenomenon that came to be known as the Bengal Renaissance. During the century long EIC rule, Muslims and Hindu lower caste suffered heavily. William Hunter, an EIC civil servant, described the condition of Muslims as “‘the Musalmans’ as ‘in all respects…a race ruined under British rule’.” The colonizers, however, seemed to have learned a lesson through this experience: after 1857, they did not destroy a whole community; they only created loyal native aristocrats. Muslims of Bengal, on their part, secured the separate electorate system – a system that safeguarded Muslim voting Muslim members of legislative assemblies in an environment where the Hindu majoritarian approach had threatened Muslim interests. This system eventually helped establishing Pakistan as a separate nation in 1947. However, due to the British discriminatory policy, Bengali Muslims hardly had any representation in top civil and military bureaucratic cadre in the newly established government in Pakistan. The 1971 catastrophe must be understood in this context.

United Pakistan Years

The twenty-four years history of Pakistan (1947-1971) is a tragic history for Muslims of the sub-continent. Pakistan’s idealism was lost and within a decade, elites in Pakistan fulfilled the objective of the former EIC official Lord Macaulay’s desire of creating agents of English taste (brown sahib) in colonial territories. They hardly recognized contributions of Bengali Muslims to the Pakistan Movement and made no gesture to create equal opportunities for East Pakistanis to catch up with their legitimate share in the country’s civil and military bureaucracy and in its economic growth. In fact, the only handful of those East Pakistani officials who had held higher positions in the British-Indian administration, were also deprived of further promotion. Justice Abu Saleh Muhammad Akram, the senior most serving judge to succeed the first chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court did not do so. Instead, Justice Muhammad Munir became the second Chief Justice of Pakistan’s apex court. Justice Munir soon came up with a new term – the doctrine of necessity – to validate an executive action justifying the dissolution of Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly. East Pakistan was also deprived of their fair share in central government’s assets while the main source of foreign currency income came from an East Pakistani product, namely jute. This created a huge tension between the two regions of Pakistan. East Pakistani demands for justice and equal rights went to deaf ears. In Pakistan today there is a common tendency to blame India for what happened in 1971, although both the Qur’an and history has taught us that whatever befalls a community, it happens due to its internal weaknesses. More than half a century later, one needs to reflect and look back and identify its causes. Aside from historical causes noted above, one finds plenty of immediate weaknesses. We will highlight only a few here.

Moving toward Conflict

Faced with protests against his dictatorial rule, President Ayub Khan handed over power to the chief of armed forces, although under the constitution formulated under his own patronage, he was supposed to hand over power to the Speaker of the National Assembly. The Speaker happened to have been from East Pakistan. The new military general turned president, Yahya Khan, conducted a general election in 1970 but did not ensure a free and fair process. In East Pakistan, the Awami League (AL) – the party that secured most seats in the parliament – made a mockery of the system. It began with a huge propaganda campaign by publishing pamphlets with fake information about discrepancies between the two wings of Pakistan. Then they made sure that none of its political rivals could hold large public rallies anywhere in East Pakistan. On January 18, 1970 they attacked an opposition public rally (since January 1 public political activities were allowed) killing two and injuring hundreds in the open daylight in the capital city Dhaka. Neither the martial law administration, nor the civilian authorities took any action for exaggerating and spreading fake information about provincial inequalities. They also began fascist type attacks on political opponents. The AL had already a reputation of having a fascist approach to politics: In 1957, some of its leaders were involved in killing the Deputy Speaker of East Pakistan provincial Assembly during an ongoing session. Its student’s wing, East Pakistan Chhttra League, was also known for campus violence all over East Pakistan. By the end of Ayub regime, they began to receive support from International Islamophobic forces. A former KGB agent, Yuri Bezmenov, in an interview has revealed mechanisms of Soviet assistance to breakup Pakistan.

Years later, I found more information about how India was assisting secessionist elements in East Pakistan. In a casual discussion, an Indian friend of mine told me that he had received an offer from one of his neighbors that he could assist settling a personal dispute by supplying him with grenades. How he could have a military weapon in his personal possession, my friend wondered. His neighbor explained that when he was posted in East Pakistan during the last days of Ayub regime to work for Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of the Indian armed forces, he officially received those weapons. Since there was no accountability, he kept some when he retired. Many academic works on RAW would later confirm this claim. Nevertheless, as soon as the election results were out in late 1970, a drama of negotiations began between the military and political leaders. While these negotiations were still going on, extremist elements of AL began to target non-Bengalis all over East Pakistan; not only looting and vandalizing their properties but also sporadically killing them extremely cruelly. Both the martial law and civilian authorities maintained complete silence on these atrocities.

Beginning of the Carnage

The government of Yahya Khan decided to take the fatal military action on March 25, 1971. Reporting on their first night’s operation in a Dhaka University hostel, a Pakistani army officer describes in a recently self-published book:

In another room of the hostel, twenty stark naked young girls of West Pakistan and Bihari origin were found locked up, some since as long as fifteen days. In Jul 1971, I had the opportunity to speak to one of the NCOs of this unit, who was a part of the party, which recovered these unfortunate girls. This tough and hardy soldier shuddered at the memory and said that what they saw at that time would neither be forgotten nor forgiven by anyone present there. The young and innocent girls had been kept naked throughout their captivity and were sadistically tortured and brutally raped beyond all conceivable limits. The last addition to this group was a fifteen-year-old daughter of a Bihari businessman, who had been forcibly lifted from her house on 23 Mar, and during the last two days had been raped by at least 50 hoodlums. Five of these girls later expired due to internal injuries. It was only on witnessing such barbaric and inhuman episodes that some soldiers went berserk too and it became difficult for their officers to maintain the traditional control and discipline of the Army. In some instances, even some officers lost control over themselves. The intent here is to present some idea of the inherent stress of the situation and the extreme emotional trauma the troops were exposed to. Suffice it to say that for many soldiers as well as some officers, the spirit of revenge coupled with the opportunity to exact it proved too strong to be curbed merely by platitudes of the traditional Army discipline. [The Creation of Bangladesh: Witness to Carnage 1971 (p 217)]

Killings and rape of non-Bengali communities outside of Dhaka continued after March 25. A Bangladeshi academic, Taj Hashmi, has recently narrated his personal experience and developments in Bangladesh in the “Preface” of his book Fifty Years of Bangladesh, 1971-2021: Crisis of Culture, Development, Governance and Identity (Palgrave, MacMillan, 2022) as:

“At Sirajganj, a small town in northern Bangladesh before the Pakistani Army entered the town on 27 April 1971, I lost many Bihari school friends, who were burned alive or brutally killed by Bengali lynching mobs. Fazlul Haq Qureshi was one of them. He saved my life the day before he was killed along with all of his immediate family members. Almost 700 Bihari men, women and children met the same fate at Sirajganj alone, where I grew up.”

He has devoted one chapter in the book about the merciless massacre of Bihari Muslims in 1971. The Indian-American academic Sarmila Bose has perhaps conducted the most extensive and painstaking research on the subject. In 2006, in an article in The Telegraph (India) she captioned a picture as “The massacre may have been genocide, but it wasn’t committed by the Pakistan army. The dead men were non-Bengali residents of Jessore, butchered in broad daylight by in Bengali nationalists.” Bose has partially answered the question that we have asked in the title of this article. And yet the Congressmen have failed even to mention massacre of non-Bengalis in 1971. In an article writing for Aljazeera in 2011 after the publication of her major work on the subject she wrote:

As soon as I started to do systematic research on the 1971 war, I found that there was a problem with the story which I had grown up believing: from the evidence that emanated from the memories of all sides at the ground level, significant parts of the “dominant narrative” seem not to have been true. Many “facts” had been exaggerated, fabricated, distorted or concealed. Many people in responsible positions had repeated unsupported assertions without a thought; some people seemed to know that the nationalist mythologies were false and yet had done nothing to inform the public. I had thought I would be chronicling the details of the story of 1971 with which I had been brought up, but I found instead that there was a different story to be told.

The different story that is missing regarding events of 1971 is the story of the treatment of non-Bengalis. Why are these stories missing? Not only the Yahya regime – the regime that imposed a war on the total population of East Pakistan with its Operation Searchlight on March 25; it also made non-Bengalis and pro-Pakistani Bengalis vulnerable to aggression of the secessionist elements. By then most Bengali members of Pakistan armed forces either had revolted or were eliminated by Pakistan armed forces themselves. Only a handful remained loyal to Pakistan. Indiscriminate killings continued by all sides. The Yahya regime foolishly kicked out all foreign journalists from East Pakistan and heavily censored internal press. Subsequent governments in Pakistan seemed to have been shy to speak about it. Brig Karrar Ali Agha failed find a reputed Pakistani publisher for his work. Even to this day, the government of Pakistan has not released findings of its own appointed commission on the subject. The Hamoodur Rahman Commission report came into the public eye only when an Indian news channel leaked it.

I have always wondered about reports of non-Bengali massacres in various parts of then East Pakistan. Were these reports exaggerating the situation? As a college student at the time, I participated in many protest marches during the last days of Ayub Khan, and I witnessed growing tension but I could not have imagined such behavior against non-Bengalis. However, knowing the character of AL student wing, Chhattra League, I could not rule out the possibility of such atrocious behavior. Yet, reports of organized massacres all over East Pakistan struck me as extremely shocking. This reminds of many unknown faces participating in anti-Ayub rallies and my Indian friend’s assertion of the presence of RAW agents in East Pakistan makes sense to me now.

Genocide of Whom?

Does this mean we are suggesting that Pakistan armed forces did not commit genocidal crimes? Definitely not. However, genocide by definition demands evidences of organized killings and elimination of a community. Therefore, one should examine whether Pakistan army’s actions were in response to some of the atrocities committed by AL thugs earlier, as reported by Brig Karrar Ali. I have discussed the subject with Dr. Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, explained the situation in Bangladesh during the period, but he was insisting on Hindu genocide at the time. Referring to his Bangladeshi and Indian colleagues, he told me that any recognition of Bihari genocide would only undermine the genocide committed by the Pakistani troops. He also expressed his reluctance to conduct further inquiry on the subject. Are the interest groups politicizing the issue? Only a thorough examination of all three communities today has the potential of finding the answer. Such undertaking, however, may jeopardize India’s image as a “magnanimous power.”

Magnanimous India

The resolution placed at the US Congress wants us to recognize India’s “magnanimous role” in creating Bangladesh. Hundreds and thousands of Bangladeshis, particularly in the diaspora, are crying foul today because of India’s hegemonic control over their country. They forget that the geography of their country is the main factor that their leaders in 1947 opted for fighting for a homeland jointly with what became Pakistan. More than half a century later one should also seriously examine India’s role in the whole episode.

Views expressed are personal

All we have of freedom; all we use or know – Our Victory Day

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Today is 16 December. It is our Victory Day. This is a day of celebration for us all in Bangladesh!In memory of our Victory Day of 16 December 1971, our fallen heroes who left us in the heart and in the lungs, this round ember of pure love, that I try to rekindle with my poor means, with each breath. We will one day disappear, but let’s swing like feathers before we merge into the ground.

Today, as we should every day, we remember those who volunteered, sacrificed, served, fought, and died, for our freedom. We thank you, and we salute you as we salute those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. We will never forget it. We will remember you.

Bangladesh is a land of countless festivals, in stride with the cycle of the seasons. These proceed with sowing and harvesting and around them have grown legends, most of them portraying the victory of good over evil. Joy Bangla (meaning victory to Bengal). Joy Bangabandhu. Joy Bangladesh, we love you. Joy our valiant and patriotic people who fought with the cruel Pakistani military junta and their local henchmen for establishing Bangladesh in the 1971 war. We salute those heroic people of Bangladesh who were brutally murdered by the evil forces of the Pakistani establishment.

We have lost in nostalgia for those horrible months of 1971 and are now enjoying the sunshine of our independence on this bright morning. Victory Day is Bangladesh’s most important secular holiday and a key element of the national identity, reflecting the nation’s enormous sufferings and honouring millions of victims of the bloody hell 1971 war, but we also wish to speak about the need today to fight global terrorism and cooperate with other nations to do that.

Victory Day is a public holiday in Bangladesh. In a remarkable feat of historical memory, today it is a vast torrent that fills the streets of every Bangladesh city. Yet, it is hard to deny the sheer weight of public enthusiasm on display, with whole families walking together to honour their ancestors, generating a mood that seems both sombre and festive. It is something for parents to do with their children, generation after generation. About three million Bangladesh people died and much of the country was devastated, leaving almost no family untouched. The anti-Pakistani victory is a great source of pride for our people, and legitimacy for our state, at a time when there is quite a lot of uncertainty. So, the idea is to take every opportunity to celebrate it.

This year’s Victory Day will commemorate the 49th anniversary of the capitulation of the Pakistani regime. Victory Day is comparable is like to Memorial Day in Bangladesh, and dedicated to the commemoration of all who died during our glorious Liberation War in 1971. Both are typically marked with parades and the visiting of memorials and cemeteries. For us, it can be canonised as the “Great Patriotic War” in Bangladesh — can in terms of mythological importance be compared to D-Day for Americans? Both events have left unforgettable imprints in the psyches of the respective societies.

While paying dues to fallen heroes is commended around the world, Victory Day in Bangladesh has increasingly become a manifestation of our people’s supreme sacrifices in 1971. Victory Day marks the decisive battle during the 1971 War of Independence in which our people defeated Pakistani forces who sought to re-assert control over our sacred land. Although it marks an important historical battle, the annual military parade also commemorates and recognises the contributions of all our people in their fight to gain and retain our independence.

Victory Day is celebrated all over the country. We hope the people of Bangladesh celebrate the end of Pakistani domination on us and remember those who stood by us in those times when Pakistan’s Army and their local accomplices were knocking at our doors, bombing our places into oblivion and killing millions of our people with no mercy in their hearts. The veterans also say that even though those horrible days are long gone, they should never be forgotten, adding that unfortunately, our world has changed from true patriotism to mollification.

The people bring together people whose near and dear ones fought for the independence of Bangladesh. Thus, we are honouring the memory of heroes who earned this hard-won victory 49 years ago, the war, the deadliest conflict in human history, came to an end as Pakistan’s Instrument of Surrender came into force on 16 December 1971. Almost all people of Bangladesh’s population were caught up in this 9-month-long war. Fireworks will conclude the day of commemoration. The observance of Victory Day is carried annually out to pay respects to the victims and fallen heroes of the war and to give laurels to the surviving veterans.

Long live the cause of freedom! Being a landmark event, people commemorate the patriots who gallantly fought the then-fascist Pakistani troops. It was the shared arduous experience of defending our beloved country that shaped and formed Bangladesh’s modern nation. The memory of the war has become sacred, and, for most people, it is as important as their own birthday. The emergence of Bangladesh has always had a significant place in Bangladesh’s ideology and its importance to its people can be magnified.

With some three million deaths in the fight against the Pakistani military junta and its local confederates, most of Bangladesh’s families experienced personal loss. Victory Day is a public holiday to mark the defeat of the Pakistani enemies by our freedom-loving forces in accompaniment of the Indian people and the Indian Army. The Pakistan Army ceded to the joint command forces of Bangladesh and India on this day 49 years ago. Victory Day is the festival of hope and togetherness. May our life be illuminated with endless prosperity, sparkling happiness and glowing health and that should be our prayers on this gracious occasion. We wish all parts of light in our lives and our dreams come true for a golden Bangladesh.

It is rejoicing that will be when we all see the green and red flag flying atop. We will sing and shout the victory because life is a highway. Righteousness was restored driving away wrongful-nesses; those were the days of great trials of fierce battles, darkness, tanks, bombs, guns and bayonets; still, we were the voice in the desert crying to behold the victorious freedom fighters were coming, riding on the clouds shining like the sun, at the trumpet’s call.

Lift our voices because it is the day of remembrance out of the harrowing hill, salvation will then come to our golden garden.

And those were the days of hell, but our dry bones became as flesh as living, and the time came for rebuilding the devastated country of praise. Bangladesh’s beauty is a merited gift; her departure is unnecessary, and her lips without speaking can write history. Bangabandhu’s call is the one we want to answer for eternity; to speak until no words remain; give until there is nothing to defeat to his submission is life’s greatest victory. The night flower of this heart was like a rainbow, our presence brightened the horizons, but just like the stars disappeared with the daylight.

Our eyes were full of tears once we discovered the beasts ramped on us. The news of the black night of 26 March 1971 blew like a missile in the heat with a fire shooting out from the dark sweltering us, blazing us, leaving the world of our land, all ribbon tied. Dimples and pretty lips, we dropped our world with beauty and tissues fighting back the enemies in full force. Filled with pink ivory issues, this is the way that we felt, we were real… They were killers, they were a disease!  They sat there and shattered our lives. With many of people, you will discover we did not break like glass. Still, we walked in high heels strolling through pink valley skies. With a charm called a Pink Ribbon; – we wore.

Melodic lullabies echo as heartstrings strum secret chords as transcendental images appear. Stargazers are lost for words kaleidoscopic Illuminations paint the sky in an optimistic light. Hope descends in serene silence floating through shadows of the night dancing spirits move to dulcet tunes. Shadows can be seen against the moon. Do you hear our call? To the hallowed ground, we trip hand in hand with a new chapter to embrace in its splendour. Ring out voices on notes sweet and clear. To the universe, our souls will surrender, and fragments of the past spun into flags of freedom. Our Victory March erased from strife away with the racing winds ever so bold singing Golden Bangladesh to hail a new Life on this Victory Day; the lighter the air the higher we climb.

No more the fetid chitterlings to the fading strains of a repetitive tune. Not broken -We rise – We matter. Victory Day celebrations spell a victory for Bangladesh. Joy Bangla and Joy Bangabandhu. Joy Four National Leaders. Joy all Freedom Fighters.

U.S. funds preservation of South Asia’s oldest shipwreck

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On December 13, U.S. Ambassador Julie Chung, Secretary to the Ministry of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs Somaratne Vidanapathirana, Director General of Central Cultural Fund Professor Gamini Ranasinghe, and Senior Archaeology Officer Rasika Muthucumarana celebrated the announcement of a U.S. grant of $82,192 to document and conserve the Godawaya shipwreck and its artifacts.

The grant to Sri Lanka’s Central Cultural Fund comes from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation. 

“By documenting the important role that Sri Lanka has played as a hub for the Indo-Pacific region’s travelers and traders from its earliest days, the United States hopes to help preserve and promote Sri Lanka’s magnificent cultural heritage,” Ambassador Chung stated at the ceremony inside the Maritime Archeological Museum inside the Dutch Fort.

The Godawaya, originally discovered by two Sri Lankan divers, is the oldest known shipwreck in the Asia-Pacific region and one of the oldest sunken vessels to be discovered in the world.  Located near Hambantota port, it includes a mound of corroded metal bars and a scattering of other ancient cargo, including glass ingots and pottery.

The documentation and conservation funded through the grant will be undertaken by the Central Cultural Fund’s Maritime Archeology Unit.  Documentation of the site and engagement with U.S. experts on Indo-Pacific trade routes and shipwrecks will increase global understanding trade in the Indo-Pacific and especially Sri Lanka’s role in this rich history. The recording of the internationally recognized site and preservation of objects already exposed on the seabed floor will be shared with Sri Lankan scholars as well as secondary and university-aged students by the Maritime Archeology Unit’s Galle and Colombo lab.  Once the project has been completed, artifacts will also be on display to the public in the Maritime Archeological Museum in Galle.  

Since 2001, the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation has funded 15 projects in Sri Lanka, totaling assistance of $1,387,294.  These include documentation of the Western monasteries at the World Heritage Site of Anuradhapura, the conservation of the Rajagala Buddhist forest monastery, the preservation of Buddhist, Hindu, and other collections in the Anuradhapura Archaeological Museum, the restoration of the Batticaloa Dutch Fort, the preservation of the ritual music and dance forms of the Adivasi, Tamil, and Buddhist communities and the conservation of a 17th century Kandyan Kings’ Palace in Kandy. 

Statement issued by the US Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka

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