3rd February 2002

The Sunday Times on the Web















A Sri Lankan identity or different ethnic labels?

Tania Fernando and Esther Williams seek an answer
'Proud to be Sri Lankan' is what every Sri Lankan citizen, Sinhala, Tamil, Burgher or Muslim should ideally feel as we approach yet another Independence Day celebration. However, in this country that has been torn apart by the ethnic conflict and communal clashes for the past two decades, people do not consider themselves as having one identity.

We talk of the need to feel 'Sri Lankan' and shed our differences, but the separate identity which has wound itself tightly around each community seems increasingly difficult to shake off. Each would like to project his/her community, race and religion. Especially among those born after 1983 would this togetherness be difficult to bring about?

Fifty four years after Sri Lanka gained independence can we say we are truly free? Socially and economically we are far from free. How free are we politically? Refugee camps, restrictions on the freedom of movement within the country, security personnel wherever one goes are everyday realities. When can we be free of all this? Will there ever come a time when Sri Lankans would be happy to be united in one identity? As peace talks hover on the horizon, can we begin to think of ourselves as 'Sri Lankans?' 

n Rukman Senanayake, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources:

It is our country and we are all Sri Lankans first. We should be proud of who we are and identify ourselves with our country. When D.S. Senanayake made the first speech after independence, he said that this is Ceylon and we are Ceylonese. However, most of us have forgotten that.

n Lalith Kotelawela, Chairman, Ceylinco Group:

The only hope for this country is to identify ourselves as Sri Lankans. We have to accept that all people are equal and there is no majority or minority and take on a Sri Lankan identity, but still be free to have our own culture. Thinking as Sri Lankans is the only way to get peace and peace has to come from the heart. We have to take the hatred in our hearts out, then the pain of another can be felt. We have to first identify ourselves with the country and then, maybe, the ethnic group we belong to.

n Ms. Jezima Ismail, Chairperson, South Asia Partnership International:

Although we are free of colonial rule and have individual freedom, we have no real freedom, as there is so much insecurity and violence, especially with regard to women. There has been progress in governance, but I have no expectations. 

What I have is hope for a time when things will change. Every day brings different circumstances. Every citizen should work towards this and support all positive efforts.

n Fr. Felician Perera, Rector, St. Peter's College:

We are not spiritually free. We are all under the influence of materialism. Sri Lanka can only be free if we can have one identity. We are human beings first and Sri Lankans next. It is a unitarian state that we should go for and respect every person and his or her rights because everyone is made in the image of God. We can hope as long as there is trust between all the parties concerned.

n Pradeep, a student of computer science (Australia) :

There is so much insecurity and many restrictions everywhere we go. Freedom to me is when I don't have to show my ID card. This nation is for all of us and the distinction between the Sinhalese and Tamils should vanish.

n Valith and Ali, doctors:

The British are responsible for the discrimination amongst us. They may have left but they are still in control. We don't know if the peace efforts are genuine but if they are, we will extend our full support.

n Ven. Pallewela Vimala Dhaja, Moratuwella Buddhist Centre:

We are not yet independent; but hopefully after this Independence Day celebration we would be more free. It is time for all of us to shed our individual identities such as Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim etc. and talk as one country. I am hopeful that with Independence Day we will get more independence and can look forward to peace.

n D. Jayadevan, three wheeler driver

Everyone should be independent and treated as equals. Why should people of different races be treated differently? When we were fighting for independence, we did not fight for the Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims, only for the independence of the whole country and for all the people. If everyone thinks like that, we would have a better chance of solving the on-going problem. 

n Mohan Dharmakeerthi Asst. Manager:

Although we are all Sri Lankans, there are only a few people who are proud to say that they are Sri Lankans. There are times when you have to identify yourself as a Tamil, Sinhalese or Muslim, where saying you are Sri Lankan is not sufficient. Most often in Sri Lanka it is necessary to identify yourself by race and not just as a Sri Lankan.

n C. B. Mohamed, three-wheeler driver and businessman:

The time is right for us to start thinking of ourselves as Sri Lankans. We have a country that is split due to an ethnic problem. We need some intelligent people to start thinking on those lines. Then we could sort out the problem. 

Take the signboards on the roads. 

They are often in Sinhala and English and even if you go to an office they communicate in Sinhala. Is it fair by the Tamil speaking man? We have to look at it as our country.

n N. K. I. De Silva, pensioner:

We have to start at some stage and this could be the right time to think as a country and call ourselves Sri Lankans. There has to be a start to everything, there should be a give and take policy. It is too soon to think of peace, but if we start identifying ourselves as Sri Lankans, the solution should come from there.

n Raja Kudaliyanage, street painter:

The present problem began when we started identifying ourselves by race and not country. We should think as one nation and not as members of different races. We have to accept that we are Sri Lankans and talk about the race we belong to only if necessary. That should be a secondary matter.

n Maria, housewife:

I live in Colombo and I see no discrimination. All I want is peace and to call myself a Sri Lankan and be known as a Sri Lankan.

n Nadika Wickram-asinghe, student of International Relations:

If I have the right to travel to Jaffna and back then I am free. About the peace talks.... you can't trust the Tigers! But yes, we should identify ourselves as Sri Lankans and not by our race.

D. de Silva, housewife:

I think Ranil is on a good footing with regard to the peace talks. 

Judging by the progress so far, he will certainly be able to bring some peace and stability to the country. 

If we think of ourselves as Sri Lankans, that will help the process.

More Plus
Return to Plus Contents
Plus Archives


Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to
The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.