Politicising Archaeology, Militarising Virtue, Gaslighting The Electorate

By Tisaranee Gunasekara –

“From now until the elections, we will not know when, and where, and how the fireball will fall on us, and what the nature of that fireball will be.” ~ Arundathi Roy (Election Season in a Dangerous Democracy – The New York Review of Books – 3.9.2018)

The Eastern province is the most ethno-religiously pluralist slice of Sri Lanka. It is home to more Tamils and Muslims than Sinhalese; its predominant language is not Sinhala but Tamil; and it has more kovils, mosques and churches than temples. Homogenising the East has been – and remains – a dream of extremists of all stripes, from Sinhala-Buddhists supremacists through the LTTE to Wahabi fundamentalists. For anyone who wants to trade in ethno-religious strife, there’s no place richer with possibility than the East.

Now the East is in the political crosshairs again. Making good a promise he made to his Buddhist Advisory Council, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has set up a task force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province. There’s no argument that the island’s rich archaeological heritage needs to be protected and preserved. But why restrict that necessary endeavour to the East? Is the country’s archaeological heritage limited only to the East? Or is it just in the East this heritage is perceived to be in danger? 

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