We have been split apart and torn asunder with hateful division, having to endure a brutal, protracted war simply because we have not found the way to embrace each other in solidarity, infused with a liberating humanity, to share and nurture this beloved Land and coexist peacefully as a human family. Whether Sinhala, Tamil, Moslem, Ja, or Burgher, whether Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic or Bahai, whether North, East, South, West or Hill Country, we have all paid the price. We have all been violated. Our collective humanity, our shared spirituality, our democratic freedom, along with our ancient civilized foundations have been relentlessly assaulted. We can never return to this dark era of tormented violent conflict again.
As throughout the centuries of direct colonial subjugation, internal division has paved the way for foreign powers to decide our future and control our destiny. The truth of the matter is that every effort taken towards addressing the National Question by every successive government had been sabotaged by chauvinist forces in the Opposition. Therefore, it is crucial that civil society, especially spiritual and religious leaders, take a principled stand and make their best contribution to get beyond the impasse. At this momentous hour, let us join hands so we may regain our dignity, independence, democratic freedom and our collective humanity by overcoming the barricades that divide us. . We owe this to our generations, living and yet to be born. We believe this is our sacred duty and responsibility.
Window of Opportunity
We believe that a rare window of opportunity has arisen to work towards solving the National Question on a democratic foundation. The great majority of the people do not ever wish to return to the dark, tormented era of division and war. The new government of ‘National Unity’ has pledged to seek a political solution and the international community has pledged to support such an effort. Constitutional proposals from the various constituencies, sectors and communities are being discussed and a new constitution is to be presented to the people in the form of a national referendum. Let us all try to grasp this opportunity and move forward. The alternative is unthinkable.
Mutually Exclusive Polarities
First, we must grasp the mutually exclusive, intractable polarities involved in solving the National Question that have stood as a major obstacle in achieving an era of peace, unity, freedom and prosperity. Then, we must design a new paradigm that could transcend these polarities, while giving legitimacy to the contending positions, and seek a principled compromise.
Essentially, on one side of the divide is the position that any solution must be framed within the prevailing Unitary State, which, by definition rejects a Federal framework. This position also rejects any notion of national self-determination. In essence, this position claims that any devolution of power based on self-rule and regional autonomy would lay the basis for separation.
On the other side of the divide is that any solution must be based on the right of national self-determination to be exercised internally within a united country in the form of effective self-governance and regional autonomy covering the areas of traditional habitation of the Tamil people in the North and East.
The challenge lies in positively transforming this rigid polarity, based on popular consensus, in accordance with the democratic aspirations of all citizens, nationalities and communities. This is so we may forge a shared and cherished common identity as one, indivisible Sri Lankan Nation. Instead of striving to construct fences that divide us, let us strive to build bridges that unite us. When we would have learnt to abide in one home as true brothers and sisters, whatever our differences, as members of one human family, and we sat together as respected equals at the table, there will be no more need to seek another shelter nor a separate table. Instead of violently suppressing any desire for separation, is it not more noble, humane, sustainable and liberating to cultivate true and lasting solidarity by sharing and caring with loving kindness and compassion? Is this not the all-conquering spiritual message that our religious doctrines teach us? Is this not the real challenge we confront today?
For this great historic enterprise to succeed, it is crucial that we strive to formulate a new vision of our society that truly transcends the divisions that have split us apart politically and bled us dry spiritually. We should believe that this Land of Lanka belongs equally to all those who consider it as their home and contribute with their blood, sweat and tears towards sustaining our people, and consider every citizen as an integral, equal and indivisible member of the one single family of our beloved Mother Lanka. Only such a transcending bond of solidarity could overcome the felt notions of separateness and exclusiveness. Distinctiveness is defined in diversity. The beauty and fragrance of a Rose is ever delighted in the midst of a garden of flowers.
We believe that the solution should be found in sharing State power at the Center as equal and integral partners, along with reasonable devolution that shall ensure equality, autonomy, security and democratic freedom to the various nationalities and ethnic-religious communities that together constitute the people of Lanka. This would invoke a commitment to the State by all concerned, and serve to allay fears of separation. Sharing power at the Center would serve to establish mutual trust, equality and parity of status, and a sense of ownership and partnership in governance for all concerned.
We suggest the formation of a Second Chamber to consist of Eminent Citizens from civil society and professional organizations, who have won the implicit trust of the people, representing all nationalities and religious communities, They shall not be partisan, nor subscribe to a particular political party or agenda. They shall rise above selfishness and narrow sectarian interests. They shall guide us towards building an indivisible and proud Sri Lankan Nation, bound together through voluntary union and democratic partnership, embraced in love, justice and solidarity. We propose that the Second Chamber shall be constitutionally empowered to review all legislation concerning the fundamental human and democratic rights of the various nationalities and religious communities and make revisions and recommendations, and a constitutionally entrenched form of deliberation be instituted whereby these fundamental rights shall never be denied, suppressed nor violated. This process, we believe, shall enhance the principle of popular sovereignty and enthrone it with a spirited democracy. This is a proven method of overcoming the ‘tyranny of the majority’ as evidenced throughout by international experience.
Step Towards a New Future
There can be no perfect solution, only principled compromise. We believe this will be a foundational step towards building an enduring peace and move towards voluntary national integration. It would be a step towards establishing a modern democratic-pluralist State that would honor the democratic aspirations of all the people, without any form of discrimination. Then, we would stand tall and proud, second to none, and gain honor among the community of nations of the world. We feel that this may be the only remaining path towards genuine national reconciliation to move beyond the era of violent division and internal civil conflict which has defiled and violated us all. Thus shall the noble spirit of the Dhamma and the liberating spiritual teachings of all religions be nourished in the Soil of Lanka, so that; “All Beings Shall Be Free of Sorrow”.