14 Jul Sri Lanka, Pakistan, South Asia
A Pakistani journalist has recorded his observations from a visit to Sri Lanka. He has asked a lot of questions but not provided too many answers; and some of the answers can be debated. I am extracting parts of the article that are of interest to us and hoping that readers would enrich the arguments and fill in the gaps.
On the regional bond: Everything told me this was still South Asia, that Colombo was not very different from Lahore, that somehow our regional bond held. Yet, something was very different, and I was struggling to pinpoint it.
Note: Why do we feel this regional bond in Colombo but not in Bangkok or Teheran?
On literacy – a question asked by a Sri Lankan: Why were so many Pakistanis illiterate, when Sri Lankans were so educated, when Sri Lanka boasted a literacy rate above 90 per cent? How could a democracy work with so many illiterate people?
Journalist’s anwer: It was not because Sri Lankans ate so much fish, but because of Pakistan’s feudal history, because of its unstable dictatorships and its ingrained class system.
Note: We have speculated in an earlier post that we may be what we eat. Any thoughts on that? Also, we cannot stop at the journalist’s answer. We have to explain where the engrained class system in Pakistan comes from and why it differs from the one in Sri Lanka.
Cricket – Journalist’s question: Why did I see no games of street cricket?
Sri Lankan’s answer (on not comprehending the question): Children played cricket in schools. Or in grounds. Why would they play in the street?
Cricket – Journalist’s observation: School matches [in Sri Lanka] are regularly played in the national stadium, several schools end their season with a match there, giving schoolboys the opportunity to dream. I don’t know of a similar practice in Pakistan.
On child labor: I had not seen any child labor in Sri Lanka.
Civic services: Why there was no rubbish on Colombo streets. Of course there was rubbish on the streets, but the small piles of human discard did not compare to the mountains of refuse in Pakistani cities, towns and villages.
Media: But “illiterate” Pakistan has an aggressive media, and the high literacy rate in Sri Lanka has not translated to a free and aggressive media.
On the origin of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict: the tyranny of democracy meant that a group that had felt marginalized in colonial days now had the power of numbers… the Sinhala had felt marginalized by Tamils on the island, who made up approximately 20 per cent of the population, but held 60 per cent of government jobs – a legacy of missionary education… In 1956 Sinhala was made the national language, forcing Tamils out of jobs. In 1983, the civil war started.
Note: For reference see our earlier post on democracy in Sri Lanka.
On the explanation for differences in literacy: Pakistan, a country with little feel for grassroots democracy, declared Urdu as its national language, foretelling disaster when half the country spoke Bengali, and when the ruling classes had no incentive to educate or compromise with the masses. Why cut deals with the masses if your families, your clans, will lose their grip on power?
Could it be that Sri Lanka’s Sinhala majority was proportionately large enough to impose its culture on the rest of the country? Did this, coupled with a populist, democratic culture and ethnic nationalism provide the incentive to educate? Was this the reason for Sri Lanka’s high literacy rate compared to its neighbors and why its ruling elite made education a priority?
Do you agree or disagree with the writer’s explanations? Do you have any answers for the questions that the writer has asked but not answered?
The complete article is here.