By Mass L. Usuf –
A fact is something that is proven to be true and is known to be the truth. When it is said that a person is in a state of denial, it would mean that the person knows the fact or truth of something but does not want to accept it. Such irrational behaviour in a person may sound very silly and stupid for an outsider. The reason why he would not accept the fact as it is, is because his thinking and decision-making ability are prejudiced by strong and complex emotions. These emotions can be based on a variety of reasons like idealisation, desire, shame etc.
There are two issues that need to be addressed by this nation at this crucial time. The outcome of which, history will record it either with unforgiving disapprobation or with generous laudation. Firstly, the constitutional absurdity between Article 9 of the Constitution where Buddhism is given the ‘foremost place’ and Article 12 which states about Right to Equality. Secondly, the idea amongst the populace that this is a Sinhala Buddhist country – a notion perpetuated by opportunistic politicians or politicians who are in a state of denial and, by those belonging to religious institutions, who have transformed the noble teachings of Buddha innovating it into a political, cultural and commercial institution. Very, very sadly, far astray from the teachings of Buddha.
Fear And Suspicion
When the absurdity of Article 9 is referred to, it is done with the objective of good constitution making for our country. After all that is the document that will tell the world who we are. In order to allay the fears and suspicions if any, of those who may have difficulties in interpreting and accepting facts in its true sense and living in a state of denial, it is necessary to unequivocally state that this writer is a great respecter of the true teachings of Buddha and, secondly, would never want this great country of ours to be divided.
Why Cannot We?
South Africa, we all know was at one time the most ostracised country in the world. They were in a permanent state of denial vis a vis apartheid. They are different today because they accepted the fact, as the fact. Acknowledged the truth, as the truth and shed their bigotry to understand, accommodate, reconcile and co-exist. In that pursuit, they formulated a new constitution which, today, may be named as the most modern constitution. The Preamble to the Constitution reads:
“We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
…….. Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to –
Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law; …”
South Africa recognises eleven languages as her official languages and also has provision to promote and ensure respect for languages commonly used by communities in South Africa, including Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu to name a few. Its Bill of Rights in Chapter 2, is an extensive formulation safeguarding, protecting and providing for the dignity of human rights.
If South Africa with a population of around 56 million people, with nearly nine ethnic groups practising a variety of religions can come together, why cannot we Sri Lankans come together?
On the issue of Article 9, it is necessary for the respected Sangha to come out of the mindset that Buddhism must be given the foremost place. Forget the opportunistic politicians. If the Sangha bravely and as the true followers of the Buddha and his noble teachings, comes forth, these opportunist politicians will also sing the same refrain that Article 9 must be removed.
To insist on having this Article is living in a state of denial. Can any Buddhist sincerely say that this great teaching requires for it to be given the foremost place in the Sri Lanka constitution? Is it not an insult to this teaching? Does Buddhism need to be incorporated into an Article of a constitution for its survival? It is contrary to the teachings of buddha, it is a constitutional absurdity and it will not serve the best interest of this country. (Please see my three-part analysis on the subject in the Colombo Telegraph ((1) Critical Evaluation & Democratisation Of Article (9) dated July 3, 2016, (2) New Constitution: State, Religion & Buddhism dated July 14, 2016 and (3) Does The Constitution Restrict Religious Freedom? dated August 6, 2016).
If the need is to promote Buddhism there is no objection in passing legislations to that effect but certainly not in the document which is supposed to represent every citizen of this country.
Sinhala Buddhist Country
With regard to the popular notion that this is a Sinhala Buddhist country and the rest are ‘others’, the constitution can be the starting point to tackle this state of denial. Sri Lanka is a country which is populated with multi ethnic, multi-cultural and multi religious communities. It would do well for her both locally and internationally, if she embraces this ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. Like South Africa, Sri Lanka can also model itself to be a light to the world. Here lies the true and actual propagation of Buddhism and Buddhistic values.
To make the statement to the ‘others’ that this is a Sinhala Buddhist country is an affront on them. For the bigots they can call whatever they want but the fact remains that this country belongs to all its citizens. And, the citizen would never want to derogate their status as equal citizens. So, then those who make such nonsensical claims are in that state of denial. They are in fact, creating a division amongst the communities. Little wonder that the Tamil community wants to take care of their own affairs in a land that they can call it theirs.
The proposals in the Report of the Sub Committee on Fundamental Rights is fairly extensive in securing the fundamental rights. With a view to forge closer unity, reconciliation, understanding and coexistence between all the peoples of Sri Lanka, an additional Article is suggested, to be suitably incorporated in the Constitution which reads:
“The people of Sri Lanka recognises the multi ethnic, multi-cultural and multi religious diversity of our people. We believe that Sri Lanka belongs to all who live in it, united in diversity. Every citizen of this country is a Sri Lankan. He/she shall be proud to call himself/herself as a Sri Lankan and that this country belongs to him/her. Every Sri Lankan irrespective of ethnicity or religion shall be equal citizens.”
It is high time that the Sinhala Buddhist people (not all of them) and the respected sangha (not all of them) who are in this state of denial, come out of their delusion and accept the fact. If not, they are the ones who will one day be the cause for this country to inevitably, be divided. This would be a costly price to be paid for parochiality and bigotry.