11 August, 2022


Bridgebuilding By Civil Society At Two Levels

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

It was past 11 pm when the conference at a community hall in Kattankudy ended. The last three speakers were restricted to two minutes each, much to their discomfiture, as some of them had traveled as far as from Colombo and Matara to be present. One of them had even prepared a forty minute presentation which had to be whittled down to enable the conference to end before the witching hour of midnight. According to the local organisers the conference was the first ever inter-religious one to be held in the Muslim town of Kattankudy in the east of the country.

The conference in Kattankudy took place in the context of the continuing inter-religious and ethnic tensions following the Easter Sunday attacks that claimed the lives of over 250 persons and targeted Christian churches and luxury hotels. There is concern once again about the possibility of similar incidents as crucial presidential elections approach. Apart from the taking of innocent lives, such attacks can also be made to influence the course of the elections. Issues of ethnic and religious nationalism, national security and the importance of strong leadership to deal with terrorism will take centre stage.

11 Buddhist monks, 1 Buddhist nun, 4 Hindu kurukkals, 10 Christian priests and 9 Muslim Moulavis participated from 17 districts. 58 Muslim moulavis participated from Kattankudy Jamiyyathul Ulama.

The inter-religious conference in Kattankudy followed an exchange visit organized by the National Peace Council that involved members of inter-religious committees set up in 22 districts in the country as civil society formations with organic links to the larger community. The main area of the exchange was the volatile Eastern Province in which each of the three main communities is almost equally represented with consequent rivalries and tensions. The choice of Kattankudy for the conference was especially significant as it was the hometown of the leader of the now-banned National Thowheed Jamaat, Zahran Hashim, who led the suicide bombers on Easter Sunday.

Two Levels 

As the conference was to share experiences it was scheduled from 6-9 pm at the conclusion of the exchange visit, where the members of inter religious committees from the other districts met with fishing communities, women headed households, families of missing persons, among others. However, there were two factors that delayed the conference which the organisers from Colombo had not foreseen. The first was the need of the participants from Kattankudy to take a prayer break shortly after the conference began, in which they went to a nearby mosque. Getting the more than hundred participants back into their seats after the prayer break took up some time.

Second, a further delay arose over the issue of musical accompaniment to the peace songs of Jayatilaka Bandara of Saadu Janaravaya. There were some from Kattankudy who were apprehensive that the controversy over whether music should accompany the songs would derail the harmony of the inter religious conference. However, the intervention of Abdullah Alim, a moulavi from Puttalam, was useful in resolving the problem. He said that Saadu Janaravaya was not the music of a rock band, but more akin to the sweetness of a rose that is accompanied by thorns. The songs and music of Jayatilaka Bandara thereafter provided a welcome interlude to the many speeches that followed.

The bigger source of delay was the interest of the more than 20 speakers to add a few minutes each to their allocated time which eventually added up. However, despite the delays, the conference was useful in helping the participants to break down the preconceived notions they had of one another. The Muslim participants saw the quality of the Buddhist monks present who believed in the promotion of inter-religious harmony. They saw them as so very different to the nationalist monks whom they have encountered either in media reports or in violent confrontations and who see the Muslims as a threat to Buddhism and to the Sinhala nation in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist monks who attended the conference spoke in term of the Buddhism that upholds loving kindness and universal values.

Even as civil society was creating unity in Kattankudy among the local communities drawn from different parts of the country, in the capital city of Colombo another group of civil society organisations from the March 12 Movement were engaged in a unique exercise to bring together 12 presidential candidates on to one common platform before the people. This was on account of the trust that those who led this civil society initiative, most notably Rohana Hettiarachchi of PAFFREL have gained, through long years of independent election observation that has mobilized tens of thousands of ordinary citizens to uphold the need for free and fair elections.

Future Hope

At the present time there is a large measure of disillusionment among the people with the political parties and politicians in general. The hopes for good governance, anti-corruption and economic development that were raised high during the last presidential and general elections of 2015 have not come to fruition in the manner that was expected. Today those who were once accused of corruption are campaigning as if they were innocent, and those who pledged to bring about anti-corruption measures have themselves been tarnished by corruption. Economic growth rates today are less than during most of the war period.

The situation is so bad that even religious prelates have called for a strongman of the nature of Hitler to redeem the nation. It is in this unhappy situation that civil society has emerged as an institution that has the confidence and credibility to bring together the those who are divided by communal sentiment and by party politics on to one common platform, at the grassroots levels and also nationally. The 12 presidential candidates who appeared on the common platform set up for them by civil society included two of the three main presidential candidates, Sajith Premadasa of the UNP and Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the JVP.

At the debate the candidates were presented with questions prepared in advance by the organisers after consultations with a wide swathe of civil society. The answers they gave on the public stage gives hope in the future of Sri Lanka. Where inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations were concerned, both the two main presidential candidates gave answers on similar lines that eschewed narrow nationalism and embraced the plurality of Sri Lankan society. Several of the first time candidates, most notably former army commander General Mahesh Senanayake spoke likewise in terms of addressing the national question. Faced with the more than 3000-strong multi ethnic and multi religious audience at the Sugathadasa Stadium the missing presidential candidate, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, might not have wished to disagree.

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Latest comments

  • 9

    I hope it Trickles Down (and Up) to all Levels of Society!

    • 9

      Dr JP, what will USAID funded civil society do on the 6 month anniversary of the Easter Carnage October 21? How will we remember the dead? Protest outside the US embassy and ask Alina to stop weaponizing Islam and Buddhism?
      Check this link out Dr JP:
      The fear that new attacks are planned comes from the setting up of another debt heavy, white elephant international airport in Batticaloa to fly Wahabi Salafi jihadis from Saudi on US war planes to disturb the peace in the Eastern Province where Trumpand is targeting Trinco harbour for a military base to turn Lanka into an unsinkable aircraft carrier – a project gathering steam as funded civil society distracts itself is the elections circus and US citizen Gota’s citizenship problems and US Puppet Bondscam Ranil and his butterfly network carry on..

      • 5

        Dr. JP How many international airports does a small island need? With the planned international airport in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka is all set to become an unsinkable aircraft carrier for USA.
        The US funded Islamic State (IS) Caliphate that Singapore Insecurity Xpert who is in the pay of the US military business industrial intelligence complex, Dr. Rohan Gunaratne, who knows Al Bagdadi personally, has been talking about will be set up in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka with Batticaloa airport and Trincomalee Sea port as head quarters.
        Meanwhile Sumanthiran’s off spring was given feee university education in the US and Hizbullaha and Batudeen are in the pay of Trumplands jihadi buddy Saudi’s MBS; so too the MCC land grab project for US bases is being advanced by “international airports!
        US puppet Bondscam Ranil and his TNA and SLMC buddies are using ethnic minorities for their dirty politics and in the end innocent Tamils and Muslims will be blamed and attacked by saffron thugs from Goon Gota’s BBS and Hinduthva Ravana Senai and R. Balaya

  • 11

    All must unite against extremism.
    including BBS hooliganism
    Security services should build close relationships with all peace loving people of all comunities.

    • 12

      US is using minorities – Muslims and Tamils – as cats paw to set up their military bases in northeast of Sri Lanka- Mannar, Willpattu coasts and Eastern Province.
      All the inter-religious dialogues in the world will not prevent another US Special Operations Forces (SOF), attack to get SOFA and the MCC land grab project though to set up US military bases after dividing the multi-religious coastal communities of Sri Lanka.
      The name of the game is Maritime Hybrid Warfare” and Economic Terrorism as we saw at Easter with the attacks on churches as a thin disguise of Superpower Terrorism in the Indian Ocean. Wake up Jehan and smell the toast!

  • 5

    I’m so sorry to hear about this mismanagement of time in this conference ..
    First of all; it is not good to have a conference like this at this time ..
    They should have done this morning time ..
    So no prayer will disrupt it ..
    Secondly; music matter ..
    Tell them go to Kerala and see how Islamic music is flourishing here ..
    A community that do not respect a sensitive feeling or artistic feeling of others ; how can we expect from them the harmony and co existence ..
    Let them learn a lesson from this ..
    Thank to Abudlla Alim who intervened on this matter ..
    Sorry to say we have a lot of literal clerics ..that is the part of all problems..
    Organisers of this conference must have done it in two days ..
    20 speakers in 3 hours ..
    They must be dreaming or living in utopian world

  • 2

    Diseases can be prevented , treated and cured and certain diseases can
    also be created and spread ! It is the same with peace and communal
    harmony . You can live in peace or break peace and continue living in
    disharmony creating nonstop troubles under various pretexts and then
    fish in troubled water ! Civil organisations must do their utmost to talk
    to the culprits to stop bridge demolishing than trying to win the victims !
    Victims are greater in numbers than the culprits who destroy centuries
    old bridges . Victims have no power to punish the culprits . All I have seen
    on hundreds of occasions is , approaching Victims have only strengthened
    the hands of wrong doers and episodes multiplied over time ! Evil minds
    are already in the eyes of the public , so , go to them and stop them at
    whatever cost ! That is the right exercise ! Didn’t anyone see hundreds of
    thousands of houses all over the country were searched in a matter of
    weeks and the country was announced safe ? The real trouble makers are
    not even in dozens , so why wait ? Catch them and go for permanent peace !
    Save your time and energy .

  • 7

    Here goes NGO peace building. Did the peace council bring peace to SL?

  • 3

    Why is the Cardinal going public with his letter to the President re new attack? Is he trying to do politics or is he creating communal disharmony?

  • 4

    To be honest, I was very worried whether GoRa led SLPP would, following Trump tactics, use the race card as his main campaign theme using the post-Easter violence as a springboard along with a premeditated wave of strikes. If that happened, many efforts by various interest groups to raise the level of election campaign to decent level would have failed. It appears that, at least for the moment, the threat has largely subsided.

    Perhaps, three factors helped to disrupt SLPP plans: 1. Rise of Sajith’s candidacy; 2. bickering within the SLPP camp; and 3. the candidacy of Mahesh Senanayake. I think that many SLPP friendly union leaders lost the enthusiasm of engaging in strikes after seeing unexpected bickering within their camp, particularly by the inability get full backing of SLFP and Kumara Welgama. This made it easy for Sajith’s team to come to behind-the-door negotiated settlements before strikes began. I also believe that the candidacy of Mahesh Senanayake also became huge blow to GoRa b’cos he has much higher military credentials & vocal skills. Now, with Mahesh also in the race competing directly against GoRa, it is extremely difficult for SLPP to depend on unrest.

    If the country can keep this trend for the whole election cycle, it will be a great achievement to stabilize the 2015 democratic win. But, this only shaky beginning. That is b’cos as long as a majority of voters depend on politicians on their day to day matters, things could go south at any moment!

    • 3

      I hope the observations in yr second para. hold true.

    • 0

      Yes, indeed. If Sajith is not careful with his comments and Ravi K and Sarath F openly state that they would have preferred RW, things can go south as you put it.

  • 7

    Mr. Perera

    Think of 1947 and thereafter about Sri Lanka. How many racial and religious riots took place in Sri lanka. Between the Sinhalese and the Muslims then among the Sinhalese and Tamils.. The deaths and destruction took place over long periods of time. Your bridgebuilding conference is only a humbug. The hatred between communities will never ,ever end. Individually men and women of all three communities and happy and well. It is the mindset of the hard-line Sinhala politicians who are uneducated encourage violence, Even educated politicians like SWRD and JR encouraged violence between communities because to seek power and because the Sinhalese are in the majority they could do anything they liked.
    Peace will prevail in Sri Lanka only if the minorities are given their right place. Educated , decent academics should take control of the government . When corruption and ill will is the norm of the land then there cannot be good government and no peace of development in the land.

    • 1

      “Peace will prevail in Sri Lanka only if the minorities are given their right place.”

      Can you please tell ‘What is the Right Place’?

      ‘What is it that the Sinhalayo are enjoying that the other communities are not enjoying because they are not Sinhala?’

      Peace will not prevail as long as racist Wellala Malabari bigots are there and Muslim extremist politicians are there. These two groups are responsible for destroying harmony between communities for their political survival.

    • 4

      We must think as “Sri Lankan from Sri Lanka”. Leave racial demarcations for our celebrations etc. Let’s celebrate the diversity within united Sri Lanka.

    • 2


      Main reason is corruption.
      If the resources are invested on people
      without corruption and wastage all communities could be content and happy.
      Now what happens is the lion share is taken by the politicians as commissions and bribes.
      Only 25% goes to the project.
      even IMF doesn’t want to give money to this corrupted lot.

      Some people in power see racial and communal tension as a means of diverting the attention of the masses away from the real problem of corruption and inefficiency of government.

      I see that politicians representing the minorities are also not immune to this scourge.

      One day the whole nation will realise this and rise against the parasites who are in parliament.

  • 3

    What is this Bridge Building with Sinhala Buddhists in Kaththakuddy?.

    All I know about Kthathankuddy is ,it is a Town shared by Muslims and Tamils in the East.
    And Mr Pirahaparan and his boys killed 300 odd Muslim Worshippers there in the main Mosque..

    Since then Kaththankuddy I believe has become a little Mecca with even Palm Trees along the Main Drag..
    And a few Muslim Boys from Kaththankuddy were alleged to be involved in the other Mass massacre in the Bible Belt on last tEaster Sunday..

    And Dr Jehan goes on about how our Village Monks are less Bad and easy to reconcile with than the National Monks.
    And Dr Jehan seems to spend a lot of time to do reconciliation on them..

    Is the reconciliation among the Tamils , Muslims and the Catholics all Hunky Dory Now?..

    • 1

      But to maintain NGO funding flow Jehan MUST do something to please the NGO masters. After all he is the Peace Council. Now that war is over he MUST find other avenues to please his NGO masters.

      He has a nice job with a very good perks.

  • 7

    How can you build bridges on thin air , ?

    The very earth that is needed even to begin a suspension bridge was totally destroyed by certain politicians only to hold onto power to continue to subjugate the masses.
    Without first changing the present constitution completely by first abolishing the executive Presidency , returning complete powers to parliment and power sharing similar similar to SR 10 , where people trully become a party to personally engage in decision making in the rule,development and protection of the land, forests, rivers, oceans ,religous heritages( our real wealth) and the rest of our resources, the protection of its people and voting on the rights to approve or disapprove any new cultral changes while protecting everyone’s right to believe and practice a religion or way of life that does not in anyway hinder others freedom, ultimately making The entire public shareholders of The Gaurdionship of Sri Lanka .
    Without this nothing will ever change .
    We will only see the color on the top of the creast of the bread change while the inside will remain half baked forever.
    Again another criminal waste of money on a anti peoples Election,
    which could have been used to feed somany hungry people , pay for the terminally ill who are struggling in Maharagama to find few rupees to pay for medication , a bed , a few thousand to do a scan report, buys shoes for poor school children , pay for their breakfast .the list can go on , but when we the people have no concerns , even when we are humilatated and made to suffer by the workers who run our transport to whom we pay salaries .
    why should Politicians care but to take care of themselves , their famalies and close associates .
    Such hypocrisy is unbearablelly heart breaking .

  • 7

    No matter who becomes President nothing will benefit the common folks unless the above monetioned constitution is enacted and honestly only JVP will do it and no one else because the peoples power is a nerve of their political ideology .
    But JVPthe one and only common man’s hope have failed the people by not abolishing the excutive Presidency and forcing a General Election
    Dissapointed with JVP and AKD.

  • 5

    However all hopes are not lost .
    The General Election is our Final Hope.
    The JVP has a duty to do all they can to form political partnership of alliance even with parties they consider as arch political enimies as long as they are willing to abolish the Excutive Presidency , change racial and religous affliated political ideological parties, give unlimited power to parliment and bring every single politician from province to electrol to village council to Urban to City under one parliment with one Election, also the protection of resources & enviorment , lands seas ,heritage sites,forests&wild life to all government tenders accountable in parliment and make The Police and Judiciory 100% independent , permit self armed protection by providing training of safe use of fire arms to all Journalists or provide them with armed security .the later ofcause would be more affordable and practical.
    People in this Country need to wakeup to reality , every pebble , every drop of water and its life and resources in in our ocean, rivers, lakes&pounds,the ancient remains of our history are the only wealth we have , every single citizen must wakeup to protect it ,from tiny pebbles to ancient statutes to caves, no matter what your religous affliations are , its your duty to first protect the treasures of the land , failing to do so the future generations curse will not let any of us rest in peace in our graves

  • 6

    Its time to put an end to politicians, their families and close associate pilfering .
    They have made enough to last at least 20 generations.
    They not only pilfered from loans , Aid funds , Mega Projects , religous donations and other charities , they robbed mercilessly the natural resources with no regalutations placing the country’s future with inevitable natural disasters and what is even worse ? Brought in garbage of other countries at the cost of the health risk of the people mainly children and the aged population and systematically destroying our Villages , all to fill their pockets.

    Do The people still want to handover the Country with the same system? where politicians can just get majority votes in parliment and bring in any amendment and patchwork the system and continue to be parasites on people and Country , ?

    Lets See what JVP has up their Sleeves for General Election.
    If they do not abolish the Executive Presidency and change the system to people power sharing confedration controlled by one single Parliment then ,Sorry people you and your children can kiss goodbye to all future dreams.
    If you blunder with your votes, there will never ever be a next time, Trust me.
    Ranil Spilled the beans , he said we will be sabjugated for 20 years , but I assure you that if the system is not changed we will be slaves forever , when a future politician said he regrets his past mistakes and promise to recitify , what is to be read in between the lines is consollidating all the powers to remain in power eternally and its not meant to rectifying the dues to people.

    Make the wrong choices in voting and most of us will suffer etetnally, this time if the people cast the wrong vote , especially during general election , then never will we ever be able to turn around .

  • 6

    The prospect of Gotha at the helm must be sending cgil down the spines of everyone not just the minorities. The only Ciuntry that can put a lid the fames about to bun woud be India or in the alternative the majority exercising caution and electing Sajith. We are about to see a clamp on Freedom of speech and errosion of civil liberties . God help Sri Lanka

    • 0

      Kali, too much of freedom is also not good for our lot.

    • 3

      @Kali , with due respect to your opinion,

      how come most people do not get it right ?

      It has nothing to do with Gota or Sajith or any man becoming the next President .

      It is the complete outdated ineffcient and corrupt system with easy to to amend loopholes that must go.

      If only JVP had managed a perfect and trully peoples mandate Constitution ennacted before the election,we would not have had somany candidates ,believe me .

      So no point praising or cursing any Candidates they are all puppetts on strings .

      If The Excutive Presidency is abolished and a peoples power parliment is introduced we the people can take over the strings amd the puppets will sing , dance and work for the benefit of all the people.
      Wonder if we will ever wake up

      • 4


        I dont know what your Ethnic origin is . Without wishing to offend you with a first name Fahim you might be Muslim and then again with a name Knight be Christian or it might be an assumed name to get the bestb of both worlds. That aside the real problem in Sri Lanka is the Ethnic Divide which has fanned the flame for many centuries causing death and destruction.
        The nation has to grow up and sort out the Ethnic problem by devolution of power otherwise we will be killing each other for centuries to come.
        We have to remove the causes of this confilct and no Sinhalase will willingly devolve power unless pressure exerted fom outside.

        Sajith might do it but that is not guaranteed and if he attempts to do it he might be bumped off.
        I dont hold out much hope.

        • 2

          Greetings @kali,
          Thank you for your response, .That is exactly what I been eating my heart out about , sharing power,but with the control buttons centralized in one Single parliment , you can call the house level whatever you desire , but end of the day , provisional Premiers( like Canada ) Palath saba , pradesaba or anyones baba, must be held accountable by the parliment some what like North Ireland is with British parliment, but a Swiss fedaration is the best.
          then the politicians and others concerned will not like that .
          After all, as long as the loot can be taken from.one pot there is no accountability , Tom will blame dick and dick wil blame Harry and the story will go on like a hole in the bucket.
          And ofcause most politicitians really will never want to unite the people,
          Religion and racial hate are the best nacrotics to get the mass hooked on to.
          while they are busy subotaging , hating each other and sometimes killing each over fake FB post , the parasites will fatten itselves .

          I only can trust JVP to change the Constitution , no one else will dare do it.

  • 3


    What happened here. Is it Plagiarism

  • 2

    Pretending to be non racist, people like Kali talk of the different ethnicity and religious differences of people, calling for devolution of power. Solving the ethnic strife would be quite easy if the minorities do not call for separation. All people of Sri Lanka are subject to equal treatment under the laws without discrimination. Tamils live in every village and city in Sri Lanka. They do business and their customers are from every ethnic group including Sinhalese. Yet the complaining Tamils do not want any Sinhalese or Muslims in the North, and that is racism and discrimination. If Sinhalese and Muslims are allowed to live in the North just like the Tamils live in other parts of the country there would be no conflict. Sinhalese and Muslims living in the North will then be voting for Tamil representatives at elections and ethnic conflicts will come to an end. All minorities and the majority will live anywhere they prefer and we may even have a Tamil or Muslim Prime Minister.

  • 0

    Every action has it own reaction in equal magnitude & very opposite direction. If one religion or doctrine preaches all the other religions worshipers are vile animals (Koran 8;55) You have to expect reaction from the others in same magnitude & opposite direction. As such existence of Islamism among the other religions is a bullshit. If you try it violence will be the order of the day.. That is what happening all over the world including here in Lanka. As such all the Islamist live here should be exported to Any Islamic republic or Saudi Arabia. Otherwise Violence can not be eradicated from this country. As Islamist population Going up & up , We will have violence like last April every hour in daily basis . Banning of Islamism in land will be only solution.

  • 0

    The first was the need of the participants from Kattankudy to take a prayer break shortly after the conference began, in which they went to a nearby mosque. Getting the more than hundred participants back into their seats after the prayer break took up some time.

    Second, a further delay arose over the issue of musical accompaniment to the peace songs of Jayatilaka Bandara of Saadu Janaravaya. There were some from Kattankudy who were apprehensive that the controversy over whether music should accompany the songs would derail the harmony of the inter religious conference
    /////// This is where the prob is

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