7/22/2010

Sri Lanka indigenous people's struggle for identity

(July 22, 2010, Colombo - Lanka PolitySri Lanka government led by the majority community Sinhalese and all the other major ethnic communities may like to have negligible minority Vedda People in this country. Vedda people never have posed a threat to any other community in the post-independence Sri Lanka. On the other hand, they have primitive living conditions with no heritage of owning private property like in so called modern societies. After all, Vedda people are a pride to Sri Lanka since we can boast about a heritage of indigenous people and they are a very good show piece in tourism market.

But, the modernized communities lack at least one thing the Vedda people still have whilst losing many other things. That is the leadership. Vedda leadership had no match in the leading figures of the other communities. Late Uruwarige Thisahami had the courage to tell the one time powerful Minister of Mahaweli Development Gamini Disanayaka who wanted the Vedda Chieftain to come to meet him that the big townsman's law is not valid in Vedda homeland. Disanayaka eventually went on foot to meet Thisahami.

Uruwarige Wanniayaleththo, the present Vedda leader is a very intelligent personality unlike many of the leaders of the so called civilized communities. He definitely needs to be a wise man who can apprehend the subtlety and the complexity of the internal and external conflicts related to the needs to safeguard cultural heritage without losing the pace of social development with the other communities.

The Chieftain of Sri Lanka's aborigine Vedda community Uruwarige Wanniyalaththo demands state recognition for the Vedda language. Vedda language is a unique lingual unit with its own characteristics like being only a verbal language without scripts.

He also requests the national recognition of the aborigine community so that they can use 'Vedda' as their nationality. This is a very progressive demand in the present context of Sri Lanka in which all minority identities should have due respect in the Lankan nation building process.

He submitted a list of 20 demands at a special discussion that was held this week in the Ministry of National Heritages and Cultural Affairs aiming to have an ordinary symbolic celebration to mark the World Indigenous People's Day that falls on August 09. The unexpected and probably unwelcome demands included issues such as water, sanitation, food security, housing, land, priority for Vedda community in employments related to forests, education, health and heritage centers as well.

The Minister of National Heritages and Cultural Affairs Pavithra Wanniarachchi promised the aboriginal Chief to establish a Vedda Secretariat and a Committee of Scholars to advise on the issues of the Vedda community.

Vedda community has a complex struggle to define and achieve the rights of the people. They need a wise leadership in this regard. The leader should be able to lead his community to struggle through accord. A very important struggle to win rights and not to lose any they already have. First and foremost, the Vedda community needs to maintain the unity of their people especially before a ruling regime that is so ill-famous for creating divisions among peoples.

Read: The Vanishing Aborigines: Sri Lanka's Veddas in Transition (I C E S Sri Lanka Studies Series)

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