Archive for » July, 2014 «

Feeling entitled

People who have migrated to rich countries enjoy rather fewer rights than they do ‘at home’. Take a Sinhala speaking doctor and her family that have moved to Sidney and now have Australian citizenship. The good doctor will not feel upset that her mother cannot find her way around the city alone because there are no Sinhala equivalents in any of the street signs, ATMs or ticket machines. Although our doctor has now relinquished Sri Lankan citizenship and is a first class Australian, she does not think she should demand that official forms, that they are sometimes required to fill, should come with Sinhala translation.

Had she faced the same situation in Jaffna, the doctor would have been incensed. Let’s say she saw a street sign in Tamil, with smaller Sinhala lettering below. This would have led to her feeling aggrieved. She’d then consider the format of the street sign an infringement of her rights as a Sinhalese. Why should the Sinhala be written below the Tamil? And why in smaller letters, huh?

It’s worth pausing to consider whether this doctor is more comfortable in Australia, where she does not feel entitled to virtually any ‘language rights’, than when she visits Sri Lanka, where she finds even the slightest infringement of the status accorded to Sinhalese, relative to Tamil, a cause of dysphoria?



How indeed do we learn that such and such is rightfully mine – by virtue of being husband, daughter or citizen, for example? Why are some things that I consider to be my entitlements as a citizen of Sri Lanka not felt to be my due as a citizen of Australia, Canada or the UK? It cannot be because I am in a minority in Australia and therefore don’t deserve such rights. A Tamil-speaking British citizen will not feel deprived when Tamil is given no place by agencies in her country, Britain. But she may be annoyed that a customs officer at Katunayake airport is not fluent enough in Tamil to understand her, when she makes a tourist visit to Sri Lanka.

One reason for the difference may be that Tamil is spoken by too small a minority in Britain, compared to Sri Lanka. So also Sinhalese. Another, that our doctor was born in Sri Lanka, not UK, and so does not feel entitled to privileges in her new country of citizenship. My guess though is that her UK born daughter too will not feel entitled to demand that the rightful place be given to her mother tongue, Tamil (or Sinhalese) by authorities in Britain, her country of birth.

The size of the minority may have more to do with it. There may be a critical proportion that a minority must reach for it to feel entitled to concessions – and then for parity. The relative size of a minority may, on the other hand, have nothing to do with it. I am not aware of the proportion of people whose mother tongue is Tamil, in states bordering Tamil Nadu.  There may even be a state or states with higher proportions of Tamil speakers than Sri Lanka. But these minorities may not feel inclined to press for their language to be at least marginally respected or equally treated.

Relative proportion of a language or religious group may only be one factor among many, underlying the feeling of entitlement. Whatever the underlying factors, the more intensely we consider ourselves rightful holders of dues the more vigilantly we watch out for their slightest violation.

And sometimes we watch out for the rights of esteemed others even more than those of our own. A man from Tamil Nadu may not feel aggrieved if he did not get official forms to fill in Tamil, when in Mumbai or Delhi. But he’d be up in arms about a Tamil speaker from Jaffna not having her right to fill forms in Tamil respected in Kurunegala or Colombo. And, if he were abjectly poor, he may even have been riled to the point of immolating himself to draw attention to the plight of his victimized sister in Sri Lanka. (No such thoughts of noble sacrifice will occur to wealthy Tamil persons, of course, whether in Tamilnadu or in Sri Lanka.)



There is a global scheme afoot to make us all feel at constant threat of having our rights and entitlements violated. The world has been quietly guided, for instance, to think of providing the rights of children rather than old-fashioned needs. Even pre-schoolers are trained to stand up for these and demand them if they feel deprived. So, while children are trained to empower themselves, they are also trained to be confrontational. All to the good, the trainers may feel, especially if their agenda is also to foster conflict of every kind, everywhere.

‘Ethnic’ and religious minorities are trained either to accept uncomplainingly the violation of their rights or instead to campaign in national and international media and forums, protest, shoot and bomb. The choice between acceptance versus protest is rarely based on the degree of violation of rights. Since the training is done mostly by keepers of the world order, their whim as to what path a particular aggrieved population, or indeed person, should take is what mostly determines the response. The ‘aborigines’ of Australia or the ‘Indians’ (of the red hue, in this case, not brown) of Canada or the USA must not take up arms. They’d be imprisoned even for thinking about it.

Children gaining greater control over their lives is generally to be welcomed. But their being surreptitiously guided onto paths of conflict may not be entirely constructive. Disempowered women, ‘LGBT’ people, religious and ethnic minorities, smokers who pollute others’ air and individuals allergic to peanuts or intolerant of gluten are now guided to organize and fight – in the streets if in a poor country or in courts if in a rich – as the most appropriate route for creating the conditions they desire.

We’d do well to pause a minute to figure out who the varied beneficiaries are of this global training.



Nurturing a grievance has consequences for our wellbeing. So also does insensitivity to the needs, feelings and aspirations of those who have less power than us or feel they are deprived. People on either side of this divide need not only to converse with each other and compromise. They need even more to examine what they do to their own wellbeing, holding fast to the stance they now do.

Those who like to intervene to spread harmony and joy too may need to learn a few new tricks. The first is to examine honestly whether they’d feel happy to see genuine respect, mutual understanding and friendship break out, without any mediating role for them. This applies equally to international peacemakers as to those who intercede to create amity within the household of a friend.

Such helpers may also want to consider taking each party alone and questioning critically the basis of their feelings of entitlement or grievance, instead of seeking the status of mediator in negotiated compromises.

Widespread understanding negates the need for compromise. It also makes redundant specialist therapists or other helpers, referees and judges – however well meaning.