Burgher Emigration - a Clarification

by J. B. Muller, Daily News, Colombo, August 24, 2005

The person who referred to the Burghers as "so-called Burghers' is still with us and he has a theory why the Burghers emigrated from as far back as 1942.

Adverting to the reason for the mass emigration of the Burghers to other parts of the world he quotes one D.L.G. Silva (another person with an Iberian surname) and agrees with him that it was not solely due to the utterly disastrous language policy introduced in 1956 and implemented from 1961.  He is correct in fact, but in grave error in the implications he attempts to insinuate.

After the Donoughmore constitution was introduced in 1931 Southern majoritarianism raised its head, marginalizing all the other communities on the Island.  Democracy does not mean the domination by one ethnic and religio-cultural community; it means equality and mutual respect for all.

In 1931 what was instituted instead of a broadly representative democracy was rule by a small coterie who formed a new ruling clique.  This clique kept out the members of all other communities-indulging in a bit of window dressing by taking in two to three Tamils, Moors, and Malays to give themselves a patina of decorum and recognition.

No genuine Burgher could countenance racism in any form and, those who were able, surmounted the 'White Australia' policy erected by the Government of Australia and emigrated there.  Others who couldn't meet such stringent requirements went to other English-speaking countries such as Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.  Today, the Burghers are domiciled in those countries as well as in Brazil, Israel, the United States, and elsewhere.

Our misguided, misinformed, and obviously prejudiced writer goes on to state that the Burghers felt that they had lost their 'dubious' prestige.  Any Burgher employed in the Public Services was so employed not because he or she was a Burgher and a Christian but purely on merit.

Such Burghers rose to the highest echelons of the Public Service (even after independence) purely on the basis of worth and many excelled in the official language, Sinhala, beating Sinhalese at the public service examinations.  It is a well known fact that they never went after either Ministers or MPs in order to obtain promotions, transfers, increments or other favours and in departments run by them there was never even a whisper of bribery, corruption or nepotism.

If Burghers enjoyed some prestige it was due entirely to their unassailable integrity, decency, and trustworthiness.

The writer goes on to discuss the second or third class status of the Burghers overseas.  Is this because they enjoy first class status in Sri Lanka?  If they saw no future for themselves in their motherland, so did a good many Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors, Malays, Bharathas, Chetties, Sindhis and Borahs who also emigrated and form considerable communities in the countries mentioned.

What about the thousands of people who leave these shores illegally for Italy, Australia, Britain, and Canada--generally if not exclusively Sinhalese?  They are also going seeking better economic prospects and more abundant futures for their children.

Many of these writers do not appear to acknowledge the overwhelming streak of racial and religious bigotry that they subscribe to.  Those are things absolutely repugnant to Burghers.  If the question is asked: "Why did Burghers emigrate?" the answer would have to be sought within the consciousness of the majority and not amongst the Burghers and other communities that call this Island their Motherland.

Buddhism in its pristine purity does not recognize 'race' or 'ethnic purity' as a factor of any importance amongst human beings.

The teaching of Siddhartha Gautama, Lord Buddha, are universal and for all mankind, not just the Sinhala people.  To claim that the Buddha-dhamma was exclusively for the Sinhala people is another fallacy, another myth, another factor that divides rather than unites and the sooner intelligent Sinhala Buddhists recognize this, the sooner Sri Lanka and her peoples would be able to function as 'SRI LANKANS.'

The Burgher community, despite the vicissitudes of time and circumstance, are always proud to call Sri Lanka their motherland-home and they have never felt otherwise.

To those who made the choice to settle here voluntarily, Sri Lanka meant a land free of oppression, coercion, the threat of force, religious intolerance, and all the other factors that impelled them to leave hearth and home and traverse perilous seas to land here.  That's what Sri Lanka is to the Burghers: HOME!


Posted August 25, 2005