(47) Was there really no caste problem in Sri Lanka - differences with India, civil war, and religion?

Sri Lanka Buddhist Columns & Dharma Talks

Travels to Buddhist sites in India and Sri Lanka (47)
Was there really no caste problem in Sri Lanka - differences with India, civil war, and religion?

Previous Article(46) "Reflecting on the 1971 armed uprising by Marxist students at the University of Peradeniya in Kandy."I spoke about the armed uprising by Marxist students in 1971 at

1971 Armed Uprising attack on Deniya police stationWikipedia.

This armed uprising was not simply motivated by Marxism. In fact, the deep-rooted caste problem in Sri Lanka was also a major factor in this uprising.

At that time, it was difficult for university graduates to find jobs in Sri Lanka. Although it was good that young people from villages outside the big cities were now able to go on to university, there were frequent cases of them returning to their villages without any job opportunities. Even though their parents had worked hard to raise the money for tuition fees, it was not paying off.

Even if one went to college and studied hard, well-paid jobs were already firmly reserved for the upper class. No matter how high one's ability was, it became the norm that one could not get a job without caste or nepotism. This was especially true in rural villages. No matter how much one studied at university, there was nothing one could do if one had no connections. Young people became increasingly dissatisfied with this situation, and this dissatisfaction exploded in the armed uprising of 1971.

The conflict in this area is exactly what Edirivila Sarachandra'sTomorrow won't be so dark."It is depicted in the following table.

In this article, I would like to talk a little about this caste problem in Sri Lanka. I believe that this is not only a Sri Lankan problem, but also a problem that concerns us Japanese.

This article is written by Koji KawashimaSri Lankan Politics and Caste: N.Q. Dayas and His Times 1956-1965.I would like to discuss this issue by looking at

So let's get started.

One of the defining characteristics of Sri Lankan society is the strong taboo against the very mention of caste. Caste is a sensitive topic that is avoided as much as possible in everyday conversation and rarely appears in public discussions.

In Sri Lankan politics, discussions of individual rights, women's rights, or the rights of ethnic minorities appear, but the concept of the rights of people belonging to marginalized castes is virtually non-existent.

Conversely, attempts to raise issues related to equality among castes are often met with condemnation, reprimand, or even contempt. Addressing caste is considered bad manners, unnecessary and outdated. It is even seen as a threat to social cohesion and a deliberate means of social division.

As a result, any caste-related problems are grossly underestimated.

With regard to caste, Sri Lankan society is sufficiently egalitarian that the "standard response across Sri Lanka" is that there is no point in identifying caste.

Indeed, very often one sees the assertion that "caste in Sri Lanka is not as much of a problem in India" or that "caste is not as serious in Sinhala society as it is in the Tamil community in the north."

Kannangara explains that these reactions arise because caste is backward, non-modern, and oppressive, and those who are perplexed by it prefer to ignore it.

Some line breaks have been made to make it easier to read on smartphones, etc.

Reed Shobo, Koji Kawashima, Sri Lankan Politics and Caste: N.Q. Dayas and His Times 1956-1965, P5-6

'In fact, very often one sees the claim that "caste in Sri Lanka is not as much of a problem in India" or that "caste is not as serious in Sinhala society as it is in the Tamil community in the north."'

It is precisely this point that I wanted to emphasize when I titled this article, "Did Sri Lanka Really Have a Caste Problem?

When one thinks of the caste issue, the first thing that comes to mind is probably India. Caste in India is also discussed in this blog by Aya IkegameIndia's Cruelest Tales: The World's Toughest Peopleand Tsuyoshi FujiiCaste in History: Self-Portrait in Modern India.Daisuke Sato, Ph.1.3 Billion Toilets.We have introduced various commentaries such as

The harshness of caste discrimination in India is well known even to us Japanese.

In contrast, however, caste discrimination is hardly an issue in Sri Lanka, which is also an Indian cultural sphere. In fact, I have never even heard the saying that "caste problems are not so big in Sri Lanka. Caste in Sri Lanka is so "invisible" to the outside world.

Let's continue to look at the explanation. It is a bit long, but it is an important part, so let's read it carefully.

However, this is by no means to say that caste-related problems do not exist. It is said that most people in Sri Lanka are caste-aware. It is seldom mentioned in everyday conversation, but it is sometimes mentioned in private conversations. It is also used as a term of abuse when a dispute arises.

Although marriage is no longer as strict as it once was, the tendency to avoid inter-caste marriages as much as possible still exists. Newspaper advertisements for marriage proposals still carry caste names, and there are only a few cases in which caste considerations are not relevant. For example, there are many marriage ads that introduce themselves as "Bodhu Govi" or "BG," or "Buddhist Goigama," along with their educational background.

It is also an open fact that caste plays a certain role in the group of Buddhist monks known as the Nikāyas. There is certainly a movement within the Shamu Nikaya to grant ordination to lower castes as well, but it is only a minority view.

Discrimination and exclusion of people from supposedly lower castes is also clearly a problem. In Sri Lanka, about 30% of the population is said to suffer from some form of caste discrimination.

Those belonging to very low castes in particular have often been subjected to discrimination, prohibition, and exclusion. Even if they are educated, they face difficulties in finding employment, and they are generally very poor.

There have been instances, at least until recently, of high caste Buddhist monks refusing to accept cooked food from low caste villagers and children being discriminated against by high caste teachers in schools.

Many children found out that they belonged to a lower caste when they entered the school. Even among the middle castes, such as Wakhmpura and Batugama, there were complaints about educational and employment opportunities.

In addition to this caste discrimination among the economically disadvantaged, the caste problem among the economically wealthy and politically influential elite was also an important issue, at least in the mid-20th century.

In the private sector, many high-ranking positions tended to follow the caste of the manager, and caste was sometimes involved in inter-company cooperation. In the political realm, elite castes tended to be homogeneous, and the higher the position, the more important caste became. In government appointments, caste may have been irrelevant in low-level positions, but among the powerful elite, Goigama were predominant. This led to dissatisfaction among non-Goigamas that their caste was disadvantageous to their own advancement.

In fact, caste was an important factor in Sri Lankan politics. Caste itself was never a political issue, and candidates for any political party seldom declared their caste.

In informal political conversations, however, caste became a crucial theme. Intra-caste cohesion and inter-caste conflict were evident at election time, as were caste considerations in the allocation of government positions and settlements. Thus, political parties were supposed to nominate candidates from the dominant caste in their constituencies.

As a result, the southwest coastal region from Chirau to Tangalla basically elected non-Goigamas. Caste considerations in the electoral districts continue to this day.

However, except in these coastal areas, Goigama was extremely favored in most regions. In fact, the overwhelming majority of Sinhalese legislators were from Goigama. For example, Goigama MPs accounted for 57.6% of all MPs elected in the July 1956 elections and 72% of Sinhalese MPs.

Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, caste is said to have the quality of increasing in importance as one's position increases. It is true that there have been ministers of various castes. However, the prime minister and most of the important ministers were Goigamas. It was generally considered an "unspoken prerequisite" for a prime minister to be a Goigama, even if a non-Goigama leader was at the center of the political party. In fact, to this day, almost all of Sri Lanka's highest authorities - the Prime Minister and the President - have been Goigamas.

Some line breaks have been made to make it easier to read on smartphones, etc.

Reed Shobo, Koji Kawashima, Sri Lankan Politics and Caste: N.Q. Dayas and His Times 1956-1965, P6-8

What do you think? Sri Lanka has a far more deeply rooted view of caste than we can imagine. Moreover, compared to India, it is clearly difficult for outsiders to visualize the caste structure.

To learn more about the sensitive caste issues in this area, see Martin Wickramasinghe'sThe Changing Village.I would highly recommend a novel called

The book depicts this subtle caste discrimination in many ways. As was mentioned in the commentary above, caste is especially in-your-face in the issues surrounding marriage, which Wickramasinghe symbolically depicts with the term "caste conceit."

The great thing about the novel is that the story allows us to know the raw reality of the country in a way that we cannot get a feel for it from reference books alone. The novel is a gratifying opportunity to feel more of Sri Lanka on a daily life level.

And I have told you about Sri Lanka's invisible caste discrimination in this article because, among other things, it is a problem that can occur anywhere in the world. This is a problem that can occur anywhere in the world. Caste discrimination may remind you of the harsh social problems in India, but if you think about it, such a hierarchical class system exists to a greater or lesser extent. Of course, this is also true in Japan.

And the armed uprising of 1971 was rooted precisely in such caste issues. Marxism puts class struggle at the forefront, but it is persuasive only because there were already social conditions that made people want to support it. This may give us a slightly different perspective on the Marxist riots that took place around the world. We must consider not only ideology and ideology, but also the social conditions peculiar to a particular region.

In this article, I discussed the caste problem in Sri Lanka. Due to the volume of the article, I could not discuss it in detail, but I hope that it gave you an idea of the problem.

Next Article.

Click here to read the previous article.

Related Articles

HOME