Internationalising Lanka

The title of this piece purposely uses the word Lanka and not Sri Lanka. The name and concept of 'Sri Lanka' was reified in the country's republican Constitution of 1972, at a time when the prefix Sri was problematic for the minority communities because it symbolised Sinhala Buddhist majoritarianism. Indeed only a decade earlier, there had been a major 'anti-Sri campaign' in the North in effacing the number plates of vehicles with the Sinhala character 'Sri', particularly since it came soon after the 'Sinhala Only' language polices of 1956. During the much-needed shift from the colonial legacy, the colonial name Ceylon was abandoned as was the Soulbury Constitution in 1948 when a republican Constitution was created.

These changes, however, came with the tragic move to entrench majoritarianism and centralisation of power with a unitary structure of the state as guaranteed by the Constitution. Buddhism was given a privileged place in the country and there was little protection for minorities. This would polarise communities, provide room for Sinhala nationalist mobilisation and fuel the conflict that was to come. This article also uses the concept of 'Southasia'. This is not the 'South Asia' of SAARC and its state-centred notion; nor is it that of the 'area studies' of academia, which attempts to produce a regional 'object' for analysis. Neither is it borrowed from the neoliberal reference to regional security and emerging markets. Rather, I am thinking of a Southasia of shared histories, movements and struggles of the peoples that have inhabited our region.

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Himal Southasian