June 16, 2019
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    Who are the people of Sri Lanka? Featured

    June 10, 2019

    In the normal course of events our citizens Birth certificates, Identity Cards and Passports are issued by the Government of Sri Lanka. They are free to seek employment in state or private sector, own property and practice their religion. State sector education and health care is afforded without distinction. Those who can afford purchase land and property or inherit property.

    Our Constitution has the following sections:

    Sovereignty of the people

    3. In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable.

    Right to equality

    12. (1) All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law.

    (2) No citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds.

    It seems no one needs to fear any form of distinction nor discrimination. Is that true?

    Terrorizing citizens

    Why do we then have provocative material on social media calling for the boycott of Muslim owned or operated commercial establishments? Why did we have the two Muslim Governors resign with Muslim Ministers also resigning en-masse? Why is that everything possible was done to provoke a communal riot against Muslims? Do we not have past experiences of communal riots and its impact on the country? Can we with conviction say no mobs on motor cycles would come unhindered, vandalise property belonging to some? It’s in an age of CCTV cameras which pick up literally everything, where communication towers can identify locations of phone conversations and record what is dangerous. Hence are mobs fearful of the consequences if they broke the law? Can the law enforcement authorities guarantee the safety of limb and life of every citizen from violence and that of his or her properties? Can we say that clergy or mobs would not pronounce guilt on citizens outside of Courts? Can we say that key political decision makers will not be held hostage by those fasting and marching on the streets? The truth is all what we hold sacred as guarantee of equality for citizens is shaken once more and it will take a very long time to erase the damage.

    The words on India are applicable to us. We have and are seeing the gradual escalation of religious discord and estrangement with divisive consequences. We are at a cross road struggling to recognize all our people are actually all our people! We have a struggle to accept secularism as not merely managing politics and religion or a matter of an institutional framework, important though that is. Secularism represents in a true sense the synthesis of reason and compassion. A spirit of tolerance, universalism and freedom seems essential to secularism.

    We see a drift of clergy hobnobbing with politics. It’s a dangerous drift which lead ultimately to the death of religion as we know and hold dear in our sacred scriptures. The words of Rev. Duleep Chickera assume great importance now when we are challenged by followers of at least three religions. Suffice to say the clergy must take a step back, reflect and those with the aptitude should with all earnestness attempt to do what has recommended back in 2013.

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    As a comparison let’s look at India as their founding fathers saw it.

    India does not belong to any one party or a group of people

    At a time when we are on the threshold of freedom, we should remember that India does not belong to any one party or group of people or caste. It does not belong to the followers of any particular religion. It is the country of all, every religion and creed. We have repeatedly defined the type of freedom we desire. In the first resolution, which I moved earlier, it has been said that our freedom is to be shared equally by every Indian.

    All Indians shall have equal rights, and each one of them is to partake equally in that freedom. We shall proceed like that and whosoever tries to be aggressive will be checked by us. If anyone is oppressed we shall stand by his side. If we follow this path then we shall be able to solve big problems, but if we become narrow-minded we shall not be able to solve them.

    (Pandit Jawaharlal on the midnight of August 14, 1947).

    One of India’s greatest Judges Krishna Iyer quoted this passage and went on thereafter to say,

    “These great words gain sombre meaning now when we are gripped by a grim crisis because secularism, the cornerstone of our nation, is confused with and propagated by bigoted extremists as the tombstone of the body politic — a terrible outrage. If secularism ceases to be the bedrock of our Republic, Swaraj becomes a mirage. If we, as a people, do not belong to a single nation, politically cemented by a strong sense of human solidarity, we will splinter and founder. What is protected are the basic structure and fundamental features, consistent with the civilised ethos of society — these values form the soul of a religion and enjoy inviolability, not as a tolerance of a necessary evil but as a magnanimous fellowship of faiths warmly welcomed into the spiritual-temporal treasury of culture about which we collectively feel happy without rivalry. The arrogance of a majority community may drive to despair a minority and breed obnoxious minority communalism, even terrorism. Our national campaign is not pampering majority malignancy or minority prejudices. Indian secularism, without borrowing from Western rationalism or Marxian materialism, must go to its roots of comity of religions, camaraderie of faiths, beautiful blend of divine light and cross-fertilisation of divergent teachings which made for a vibrant fellowship of church, mosque, temple and other shrines. Two thousand years ago, Christianity came to India (St. Thomas). As fresh as when Prophet Mohammad preached his divine Revelations came the universal message to Kerala shores. The Buddha, Mahavira, Saint Tukaram, Shirdi Baba, Guru Nanak, Shri Narayana Guru, and Sufi Saints taught the very quintessence of advaita and promoted a rare and lively unity in diversity.”

    Our Constitution speaks of freedom of expression, of liberty and thought, belief, faith and worship. The law may be glorious, the court may be sentinel and the rights may be large, but society, in its actuality, must impart viability to secularity by breathing life and light into the law and investing confidence in each person whose freedom of conscience is his precious paramount and private right. How far has the social history of our country, in the recent decade, lived up to the great promises of the Constitution and the other provisions?

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    Religions speaking as one voice

    In 2013, after another about communal rioting against Muslims Rev. Duleep Chickera spoke on reconciliation. These are excerpts of what he said at the Press Institute in Colombo. “Now that’s the best way a civilized society moves forward. For instance, if there are extremists within the Christian church it becomes the primary responsibility of moderates within the Christian church to address them. And to address them in terms of Christian doctrine and teachings of Christ, and so on. Similarly in Islam, similarly in Buddhism and all other religions, Hinduism included.

    Now when this happens you see, you find that the gap of distrust gradually shrinks. And when that happens, something that this country needs very urgently will then fall into place, and that is cross border solidarity building with other communities. For too long we have had one community only speak and when that community is affected. So we got to cross these borders. Buddhists must speak on behalf of Muslims. Christians must speak on behalf of Hindus. And similar the ethnic border-crossing.

    It is then that religions contribute towards becoming a family. And when that strength is displayed in any democratic society, the state, no matter what its intention maybe, has to take note. And the only way that religions can speak with one voice, is if the moderates come to their senses, build trust, stand together, protect each other when the other is subject to harm. And then declare to the nation, that religions speak with one voice.”

    Last modified on Monday, 10 June 2019 16:50

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