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Academicians Latest With Slides

Academicians Latest With Slides

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Published by Sri Lanka Guardian

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Published by: Sri Lanka Guardian on Jul 01, 2011
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07/01/2011

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Academicians in making and unmaking of anation: relevance to Sri Lanka
S. Ratnajeevan H. HooleNaro Udeshi Commemoration Lecture,Mahatma Gandhi Centre, Colombo.Chairman Sir, Members of the Naro Udeshifamily, Nirupama my old friend from her days as the Hindu’s Colombo correspondent,distinguished ladies and gentlemen:Good evening. I am pleased to be here andhonored by the invitation to speak today.When the Gandhi foundation asked me if Iwould speak today on academics in themaking and unmaking of a nation, I readilyagreed; not least because as an academic Ifound the subject fascinating and this anoccasion, even an excuse, for me to think more deeply and formally on the subject.I soon came readily to recognize that I had stepped into a quagmire without quite realizingit. For as I thought more and more I came to the conclusion that it is a dangerous topic in SriLanka given the times and, further, academics have played a more negative than positiverole. Indeed this is a lecture that the army would not permit in Jaffna.But I had given my word. So here goes. Academics have failed at nation building rather thancontributed to it. When there is so much that binds us as Sri Lankans, we academics havewritten foul histories that distort our heritage.I am no specialist in history, but as a fairly well read layman who has lived through veryviolent times, I share with many others a deep sense of anxiety about how bad historywriting by academics furthers ethnic distrust and conflict. Fortunately in India a scholar like
 
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Abdul Kalam could be recognized with pride asamong the greatest living Indians. And yet theenormous Muslim contribution to the makingof modern India and the plural character of India are not adequately acknowledged byhistorians. Muslim rule of many parts of Indiais treated as a violent intrusion. Hinduism issomehow treated as the ancient religion of Indians.And yet a careful reading of the same historybooks would tell us that South India waslargely Jain and Buddhist before the 7
th
 Century AD and thereafter there wasconsiderable persecution of Jains andBuddhists with strong indications of severe violence in some instances. Is it a merecoincidence that conversion to Islam from about the thirteenth Century AD coincided withHindu pressure on Buddhists and Jains, and the growth of a more intolerant form of Buddhism in Lanka?We would also see that wars fought by Muslim conquerors were no more cruel than warsregularly fought by Indian rulers among themselves. In all these wars the winning factioncaptured loot and carried off women. Indeed the wars of Lankan Kings such as ParakramaBahu I in South India were no exception. YetLankan historians have reserved the terminvasions for the conquests of Indian kings inLanka (when indeed the Indian kings wereoften the blood relations of their Lankancounterparts).For a country supposedly fighting separatism,few scholars in this country have understood the middle ages. Local historians speak of the
 
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greatness of the reign of Parakramabahu who is credited with uniting the country. Likewisethirty years after his death in 1215 AD, the invasion of Kalinga Magha (identified by manySinhalese as an incarnation of evil) is associated with the division of the country, eventuallyto be made a cetralised administration by the British. Did Parakramabahu really unite thekingdom if it fell apart 30 years after him? The events cannot be understood without themilitaristic excesses of Parakramabahu giving rise to widespread insecurity and resentment,and after him, frequent changes of monarchs and instability. Very likely the country wasalready fragmented well before his death. The kingdoms of Southern India including Lankawere already in a state of decay, owing to corrupt administration, extortionate taxation andwasteful wars. Rebellion was incipient. Modern Lanka has learnt little from the middle ages.It is easier to blame Muslim and other invaders like European colonizers than ourselves.There has been a general failure among scholars to come to a rational understanding aboutrelations with India which appear inseparablefrom the ethnic conflict. We still do notunderstand the consequences of the grosslyiniquitous citizenship acts of 1948/49.Dissatisfaction among the minorities wasparallelled by official anti-Indian rhetoric andthe use of history as propaganda.Almost no scholarly reflection emerged from our universities after the 1977 and 1983communal violence, except a mob attack on Tamil students by fellow students at Peradeniyain May 1983. There were also two papers also from Peradeniya by leading professors of geography and history, supporting Sinhalese ideological claims to the North-East andindirectly justifying colonization by state-sponsored Sinhalese paramilitaries of land in theNorth-East from 1984, where many original Tamil inhabitants were massacred by the armedforces. This resulted in mainly LTTE massacres of Sinhalese. In the resulting embittermentthe latter were actively or mainly passively justified by Tamil scholars, several of whombecame experts at showing different faces to different actors.

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