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Interview + Sri Lankan Activist:
Sinhalese Need A ‘Revolutionary Change’ In Thinking

Local activist and politician Jeewani Kariyawasam talks about what she sees as the obstacles to true reconciliation.

07.03.2017  |  
Jeewani Kariyawasam in action.


Lawyer, activist, and politician Jeewani Kariyawasam has been working for Sri Lankan reconciliation for years. The Catamaran spoke with her about why, these days, she feels hopeless about it all.

The Catamaran: What are your thoughts on the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka at the moment?

Jeewani Kariyawasam: On the whole, fairly hopeless. There are always talks about reconciliation and reforms. But I have a negative view of that, to a certain extent. We are moving toward a number of bottlenecks and the time and space to resolve these ethnic problems is getting smaller.

It is simply a joke to think that this problem can be solved simply by making some changes to the Constitution.

For example, there are growing economic hardships. Based on people’s concerns about this, [former Sri Lankan president] Mahinda Rajapaksa is working to get power back by sowing the seeds of racism.

The Catamaran: Why do you feel so hopeless; can you explain further?

Kariyawasam: Many people talk about the devolution of power as a way to resolve our ethnic problems. But many Sinhalese only understand that as a way to divide the country up – and this after Tamils, who hated the Sinhalese, killed so many of them. The Tamils tried to grab a piece of the country, they think.

This is the opinion most average Sinhalese have had pumped into their ears over the decades. The history of the problem is not discussed in polite Sinhala society. Nobody can talk about it. And we maintain that silence.

I don’t think this problem can be solved until the Sinhalese become more self-critical and look at the history of this ethnic problem.

The Catamaran: Please explain?

Kariyawasam: This is a society that doesn’t even realise the kinds of problems Tamil Sri Lankans have to deal with. How can the country solve a problem when half of the country don’t even understand the problem in the first place?

Before solving any other problems, a revolutionary change of consciousness is needed among the Sinhalese.



On one hand, Tamils think they have suffered huge injustices and that, consciously or unconsciously, the Sinhalese support this. On the other hand, Sinhalese think the Tamils are coming to harm them and that if they give away even a little bit of their power, they will be disadvantaged. The Sinhala people don’t understand how much this damages them.

It is simply a joke to think that this problem can be solved simply by making some changes to the Constitution.

The Catamaran: How do you think the two leading Sri Lankan political parties are doing in this area?

Kariyawasam: The two parties have not done enough research on the complex problems facing society. The three major parties – the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, with its flower bud symbol – are in a complex power struggle. Each one of them wants to secure power.