By P. Soma Palan –
I refer to the article captioned “Secularism and Its Discontents” by, Mr. Malinda Seneviratne (MS), in Colombo Telegraph of 2nd November. I state my point of view regarding the views expressed
therein. Mr. MS has compared, metaphorically, the two issues in the Constitutional project as two bombs(a) Expunging the Clause relating to Buddhism and (b) Devolution of Power.
Clause Foremost Place for Buddhism-its inclusion or exclusion
Mr. MS states that “the Tamil National Alliance M.P. Mr. Sumanthiran has stated the stand of his Party, and by and large, the group of anti-Sinhala, anti Buddhist NGO lobby”. To say those who express the principle of equity and justice are anti-Sinhala and anti- Buddhist, is an erroneous idea. Indirectly, Mr. MS is saying, even Mr. Sumanthiran ‘s statement reaffirming the stand of the TNA, is also anti-Sinhala and anti-Buddhist.
Mr. MS cites Articles (9) (10) and (14(1) (c). Article (9) relates to ‘foremost place for Buddhism”, and’ to protect and foster Buddhism’. Articles (10) & 14(1) (c) guaranteeing the rights of other religions.The Articles (10) & 14 (1)(c) are negated by Article (9) is admitted by Mr. MS, when he says “taken together Article (9) stands in effect negated”. If so, what is the use of the guarantees provided in (10) & 14(a) (c). If the latter Articles are contradicted by the former, it is of no value. If one knows there is inequity and injustice, why embody them in the Constitution?
The concept of a Secular State is a complete divorce between State and Religion in the Constitution. A Constitution has no gender, race or religion. It is an abstract, Impersonal document- the Fundamental Law of the Country. Mr. MS states that “if Secular is the way to go, there cannot be half-way measures. You can’t take away the only privilege that Buddhism has, while being silent on the privileges enjoyed by other religious communities.” Mr. MS enumerates a list of religious Holidays enjoyed by other religions, which he claims violates the Secular concept. As if Buddhists don’t have religious Holidays. The Buddhists have more religious Holidays than other religions. They have every month a Holidays and extra holiday for Wesak. Other religions only have few holidays. Sundays is a statutory week-end holiday for all, irrespective of religion. Moreover, holidays are not embodied in the Constitution of the Country. Holidays are governed by separate enactment of the Law, the Holidays Act. Further, other privileges or concessions are governed by other Enactments as the Labour Statute, Shop & Office Employees Act etc. Mr. MS confused by associating Holidays granted by other Laws, as non-secular privileges. These laws/ concessions given to different religious faiths do not take away the Secular character of the Constitution. Mr, MS states “these are other special laws that are certainly at ‘odds’ with the secular vision”. These do not violate the secular vision as he believes, because these do not emerge from the Constitution. This miss-apprehension is due to a misconception of a Secular State. The State has no religion, hence the Constitution of the State does not recognize any one religion.
The State is apart and beyond religion. Mr. MS cites the Personal Laws of the Northern Tamils, the Thesavalamai, and the Kandyan Law of the Kandyans and Muslim Law of the Muslims, as incompatible with the Secular concept of the Constitution. The Constitution has nothing to do with these Personal Laws of a particular community based on customary practices.These have no Constitutional sanction, and does not erode the secularism of the Constitution. These are similar to other Laws of the Country, like the Criminal, Civil and the Common Law .These do not spring from the Constitution. Due to the failure to discriminate the difference between Constitution and the other Laws of the country, Mr. MS comes to the ludicrous conclusion stating that “ if equality is the objective, then all these should be erased off the Constitution, along with Articles (9) (10) and (14(1) c- relating to Buddhism. That is, if we need to separate State and Religion. What is being proposed is to remove Buddhism and allow other religions to entrench their already privileged position in the Constitution.”Mr.MS will discover the fallacy of his argument, whilst citing the specific Articles relating to Buddhism, he does not cite the specific Articles in the Constitution relating to the privileged position entrenched in the Constitution to other religions, which need to be erased off. This is simply because no such Articles exist in the Constitution. What is entrenched in the Constitution is an omnibus Article 14(1) C guaranteeing the freedom for all religions to profess, practice and manifest their respective religions. This is inclusive, all embracing and equal fundamental right available to all citizens of the country. This has to be retained. It is the essence of a Secular State. No particular religion has a place in the Constitution.
Mr. MS laments about the abrogation of the Kandyan Convention of 1815 by the British, relating to Buddhism. This is a Convention between the King of the Kandyan Kingdom, a residual of the three kingdoms that existed in 1505, and the British. It is restrictive and not to the whole country. Mr. MS states that “as things stand, religion-wise, this state is chock-full of religion and it’s mostly non-Buddhist”. This is an untruth. On the contrary, it is chock-full of Buddhist, with the pre-eminent place for Buddhism, making the State a de-facto Theocracy. The State and Buddhism have become synonymous. Since Buddhism has entered the Constitution, it has also entered the Sinhala Government. The Government had got Buddhisized and Buddhism ( Sangha) has got politicized. The Government governs the Country on all fronts, from a Buddhist mind-set, and the concern of the Buddha Sasana is to control politics than follow the Buddha Dhamma, as evidenced by the ultimatum issued by the Two Mahanayake Theros, to stop the Constitution making process immediately.
Devolution of Power
Mr. MS states that “first lines were the work of British Cartographers and are not drawn from any substantiable historic narrative”. He is not specific here. What is left unsaid is that the Provincial lines drawn by the British of the North Eastern Province only is false, and not in accord with historic narrative, while all of other Provinces are in accord with the historic narrative. The objection is only in respect of the North Eastern province. Others are acceptable. Firstly, the British are not that stupid to draw lines in the air, without any rationale and ground reality relating to demography of the region, racial composition, Culture, and place names etc, which unmistakably had all the characteristics of a distinct homogeneity as to constitute a region. Mr. MS and others of same leanings, fault British cartographers with contempt only with Provincial line of North East, not with lines of other Provinces. Strangely, those who oppose the Provincial lines of the British, are amorously fanatical about the “ Unitary” State, which is a creation of the British, despite the fact that the country was ruled for an aggregate period of about 800 years by South Indian Kings, from Polonaruwa and Anuradhapura, from the time of King Devanambiya tissa. The descendant Tamils continued to inhabit the Northern and Eastern region, whilst the Sinhala kingdoms drifted to the South, in stages, due to the threat of invasion from South India.
The stage of Tamil of grievances has now passed, although discrimination persists. Now, it is self-determination, that is the right to rule themselves in the region they are a majority. The fact of a sizable percentage of Tamils living in the capital city is irrelevant to the issue. It is thrown in to deflect the issue. They have valid reasons for living in the capital city, like job opportunities, the neglected state of North/East in the economic development of the country, education, wartime insecurity etc. Mr. MS says Provincial Councils are white elephants. Who made it so? The Government, by not devolving full powers to them. If this had been done, North East would have been a self-thriving Unit, along with others.
Coming back to the subject, Mr. MS compares the twin issues, Foremost place for Buddhism and Devolution of Power, as Bombs. He says “they need to be defused, otherwise, it can precipitate much suffering outside”. What he means is that if the Government goes against these two issues, the so-called ‘bombs’ will explode outside Parliament, in violence. Is it a call or a prediction?