A Book Review – By Tilak S. Fernando in London.

Sri Lankan Ethnic Crisis - Towards a Resolution

By R. B. Herath


Publishers: Tafford Publishing, Victoria, Canada - ISBN 1-55369-793-6


The author, R. B. Herath qualifies perhaps as the first person outside social science academia and the journalist world to write a book on the Sri Lankan Crisis. His latest book, Sri Lankan Ethnic Crisis – Towards a Resolution, is the most timely publication on the subject at a time when the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE (Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam) are actively engaged in serious negotiations to work out a formula towards a permanent and everlasting peaceful settlement in the country.


Sri Lankan Ethnic Crisis – Towards a Resolution, running into 225 pages, narrates the hitherto story of the long dragging quandary (according to R.B., an ethnic crisis) bringing into focus what some other writers in the past have attempted to, but with a difference of an alternative proposal as a possible option.


R.B. Herath recognises the present conflict between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka as a somewhat exceptional case due to the prolonged civil war which has been raging in the country to the extent that it has become internationalised, thus his choice to call it an ‘ethnic crisis’.


This volume can be regarded as the most condensed historical text on the subject published so far encapsulating the widest possible chronological data and substantiated by a wide-ranging bibliography.


The author exhibits his modern journalistic skills with simple and palatable language aimed at getting through to a full spectrum of readership across the board and exhibits his profound knowledge on Sri Lankan politics, having himself been a co-founder and leader of a political party in Sri Lanka (Podu Jana Party) in the past, which had the vision of ‘one Lanka, one nation and one family concept.


Having authored three books in the past the author discusses what has taken place from pre-historic times where homosapiens landed on the Indian subcontinent about 500,000 B.C., pre-colonial era of Ceylon, the ‘Balangoda Cultures’ from 10,000 BC and many other subsequent theories.


The Author’s attempt to look at the situation with a bird’s eye view from abroad, having lived in Asia, Europe, Africa and North America, has helped him on his quest to come out with a textbook of historical importance which should appeal to all living in Sri Lanka and abroad.


R.B. Herath aided by his research on the subject takes the reader through a historical highway very effectively in a condensed but graphical, forceful and easy to read style discussing various accounts, situations, occurrences and actions taken by politicians at various intervals leaving the option for the reader to look at the totality of the Sri Lankan situation in proper historical and objective perspective.


He makes no bones about it when discussing the root cause of this evil war and nails down all those who were and are responsible, in a ruthless manner, for the chaotic situation in the country, which has been dragging for so long. Discussing the implications surrounding this ‘ethnic crisis,’ which has gone beyond its territorial boarders, the author highlights many phases, incidents and developments such as India initially getting involved and assisting in the training programmes of the LTTE military cadres, the violent phase since 1980s giving rise to the refugee problem, and subsequent support by the expatriate Tamil Diaspora towards the LTTE cause thus making the issue a contentious problem.


The author also discusses the divisive chauvinistic policies pursued by post –independent politicians of all political hues who have taken undue advantage of the shortcomings of the country at various phases.


The book discusses numerous reasons for the failure of the efforts so far made by the post independent governments and the non-existence of a cohesive program in the country for national consolidation and integration of its entire people to find a suitable solution to the ethnic crisis. In the absence of such a process politicians are blamed for turning innocent peace loving people in the country into political activists in support of their divisive, chauvinistic policies. The author points an accusing finger at all the leaders for interpreting Sinhala Buddhist nationalism as Sri Lankan nationalism thus ignoring the ethnic religious diversity of the country and thereby making federalism an anathema in the minds of the majority Sinhala Buddhists to turn them into political activists in pursuant of their cause.


In graphic detail the author discusses the ‘ present paranoia’ and the ‘unwinnable’ war which has claimed 65,000 lives so far and uprooted 670,000 from their homes, focussing on the fact how Sri Lanka has become one of major sources of refugees in the world today, while within the country thousands of Sinhalese and Muslims have become victims of the ‘ ethnic cleansing’ pursued by the LTTE. The root causes to such a catastrophe are discussed under the sub-headings such as ‘Colonial Inheritance, National Disintegration, Non-Secularism, Unreal Expectation, Marxists’ Role, Racism among Leaders, Escalation of Mistrust, Unbuddhist Influence of some Buddhist monks and updates the reader to the point of ‘ultimate awakening’.


The author also discusses widely the developments commencing after the consequences of the LTTE’s military success in early 2000, how President Chandrika Kumaratunge put the country on a war footing and proposed an unprecedented devolution package model on the Indian Federal system’.


Spotlighting the latest Memorandum of Understanding signed between the present Sri Lankan Administration with the LTTE, the author warns that “ cease-fires themselves are not the solutions to the ethnic crisis and they only help create an atmosphere conducive to talks among the warring parties on possible solutions. Any attempts by the government to implement a solution not acceptable to the general public by trying to take them unawares is both undemocratic and fraudulent”.


The author’s attempt in writing this book has been to examine in detail the different aspects of the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis, taking into account its historic context, factors that influence it, and alternative ways to find a peaceful, democratic means to end it.


The book clearly shows how and why the people of Sri Lanka are paying the price for the failures and misadventures of the post independent leaders, which have made a division among its people on the basis of ethnicity and language more than before.


R.B. Herath could not have found a better time to publish his book, Sri Lankan Ethnic Crisis – Towards a Resolution than at present to coincide with the prevailing peace negotiations. Perhaps this book will generate a much needed independent view point by a Sri Lankan looking at the issue from a completely different perspective from abroad – looking quite away from one’s nose! The book is sure to appeal to everyone, whether one is politically inclined or otherwise, as it makes easy reading like going through a novel. The website: http://www.rbherath.com has more information about this book and the author. Copies of the book can be ordered through the publisher’s website: http://www.trafford.com/robots/02-0606.html.


Tilak S. Fernando
Freelance Journalist
London, The United Kingdom

28 September 2002

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