A line in the sand of Sri Lanka’s constitutional history was drawn in 2005 with the election of President Mahinda Rajapakse, providing the moment in time for Griffith Law School lecturer, Dr Roshan de Silva-Wijeyeratne, to start work on his first book.
The conclusion of a long-running civil war with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009 consolidated the conceptual framework for Nation, Constitutionalism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka, now published as part of the Routledge Contemporary South Asia Series.
The book does not directly address why boats full of Sri Lankan refugees have continued to arrive on Australian shores since the end of the war but Dr de Silva-Wijeyeratne says that it “indirectly speaks to what drives Sri Lankan Tamils and other minorities to potentially seek a different life in a country that at least, overtly, is not beholden to either ethno-religious or sectarian interests”.
Nation, Constitutionalism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka offers a new perspective on contemporary debates about Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism, and how it has shaped the constitutional history of this former British colony.
“My book positions Sri Lanka’s constitutional history within a cultural framework that has informed Sri Lanka’s pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial history.” Dr de Silva Wijeyeratne says.
He revisits and reinterprets the role and influence of Buddhism, challenging the widely accepted western image of Buddhism as one which is intrinsically eirenic. “It was Sri Lanka’s initial incorporation into imperial networks that facilitated the reinvention of Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) Buddhism in the late 19th century within a modernist frame.
“From the late 19th century on Sinhalese Buddhism and its nationalist manifestation has remained beholden to this modernist moment, even though the textual tradition of Sinhalese Buddhism speaks eloquently to ways of being in the world that are non-hierarchical.”
The latter, Dr. de Silva-Wijeyeratne suggests, may offer Sri Lanka a way for reimagining the post-war institutional framework that brings majorities and minorities together.
“I am not optimistic, however, given the manner in which President Rajapakse has successfully marginalised the old Anglicised elites who to some extent were able to moderate the worst excesses of Sinhalese nationalist hegemony.”
Dr. de Silva-Wijeyeratne notes that “given the intensification of the Sinhalese nationalist project following the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009, this book will be of interest to comparative constitutional lawyers and scholars of nationalism in South Asia”.
Dr de Silva-Wijeyeratne joined Griffith Law School in 2002. He is currently undertaking research on indentured labor with respect to the imperial networks that brought the Australian colonies into an intimate relation with British South Asia in the 19th century.
He completed his undergraduate law degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), and undertook his Masters in the University of London and completed his doctorate at the University of Kent.