Imagining a Homogenous Sinhala-Buddhist Sri Lanka in the Post Independent Era

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Vidura MUNASINGHE, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka
When the independent Sri Lankan (then Ceylon) nation state was created it was intended to become a secular state. British took steps to introduce a secular constitution. By that time civil administration institutions had the experience of functioning almost half a century as pure secular institutions. As the secular thesis assumed, privatization of religion and restricting it to the private sphere as a mere spiritual matter was seemed inevitable. But after the independence overwhelming majority of the Buddhist population continuously demanded for the state recognition of Buddhist supremacy. Constitution, other legislations, governmental practices and policies were changed with the peoples’ demand. Any policy change, claims for rights or even the demands for social justice could not be successfully legitimized in this new context, if it is not framed as something for the benefit for the newly coined Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-religious identity. Ultimately this led to a situation where all the non-Buddhist people have been treated as ‘Homo sacer’ in ancient Rome.

This paper examines the reasons behind this anti-secularist approach of Sri Lankan state by analyzing the nation building process of Sri Lanka in the light of Partha Charterjee’s concepts on the post-colonial nation building. Accordingly Sri Lankan nation state is understood as a Sinhala-Buddhist homogeneous imagined community which was created through the process of inner domain nationalism of Buddhist revival movement in the late 19th and early 20th century which later transferred into outer domain nationalism of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy politics in the post-independent era. Accordingly any claim to be convinced in today’s context has to be framed as something in accordance with the Sinhala-Buddhism. Thus the post independent Sri Lankan state has gradually shifted from the secular norms and become a religious state although it is still reluctant to accept the label of ‘religious state’.