27 October, 2020

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Constitutional Reforms & Ethnic Coexistence: On The Kandy Forum’s Submission

By Mahendran Thiruvarangan

Mahendran Thiruvarangan

Mahendran Thiruvarangan

The government’s move to gather people’s proposals on constitutional reforms has created an opportunity for diverse social and political groups to present their vision for Sri Lanka’s future. The proposals made by the Kandy Forum on the status of the Eastern Province and the political concerns of the non-territorial minorities in Sri Lanka need special mention because they frame devolution as a creative project while acknowledging its limits. Unlike several other federalist proposals which call for a merged North-Eastern province with a non-contiguous Muslim unit or a separate Muslim province within it, the Kandy Forum’s proposals make the point that the separate, contiguous Eastern Province that exists today should be retained:

“The Eastern Province could be a model for co-existence of communities in Sri Lanka. It is the only Province in Sri Lanka that has a near equal ethnic balance, where the Tamils constitute 39.79%, Muslims constitute 36.72% and the Sinhalese constitute 23.15%. It is an ideal situation for the evolution of a model for ethnic pluralism, good governance and peaceful coexistence and this province could be equipped with special constitutional provisions to strengthen inter-ethnic relationships within and between other regions.”

Why is it that ethnicity should always be the framing logic of devolution everywhere in Sri Lanka? Why can’t we consider ethnic coexistence, rather than individuated ethnic identities, as the basis for power sharing when we think about regional autonomy for at least some parts of Sri Lanka like the Eastern Province or the Colombo municipal region? Sometimes it is important that we retain, as solutions to ethnic conflicts, existing territorial boundaries that produce culturally heterogeneous territories, instead of creating non-contiguous ethnic enclaves that cleanse territories of cultural differences, even if those boundaries are colonial in origin or imposed from the top. Because such boundaries underscore the importance of harmonious cohabitation across and despite differences at the local and regional levels, and prevent ethnicity, religion and culture from over-determining our political and social lives. And these boundaries which actively include rather than exclude differences remind us again and again, in our everyday lives, of the importance of acting with a sense of responsibility toward the Other, the ones who do not speak our language and the ones who do not worship our god(s). It is these boundaries that have the potential to create a vibrant cosmopolitical public culture and public space necessary for all the communities to co-inhabit the earth peacefully in the long-run, even as constitutions ought to recognize and territorialize ethnic identities time to time taking into consideration the historical contexts that produce them. In this respect, the Kandy Forum’s creative framing of the Eastern Province as a model for ethnic co-existence in Sri Lanka should be applauded.

I also appreciate the Kandy Forum for emphatically demanding the new constitution to address the political concerns of smaller ethnic minorities such as the Malays and Burghers and non-territorial minorities, the ones with homes but no homelands, as Sharika Thiranagama puts it in her book In My Mother’s House. The statistical data (see the submission for figures) pertaining to the geographic distribution of the non-territorial minorities are telling. They show that devolution at the provincial level alone would not solve the problems of the Tamil-speaking communities scattered outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces. They bring to the fore the limits to and limitations of the North-East centric Tamil politics and East-centric Muslim politics.

At a time when liberal pluralists on all sides supply us with the cliché that we speak only for our communities and only on behalf of our regions, it is refreshing to see a group that identifies itself as the Kandy Forum present a set of inclusive constitutional reforms that concern the people of the Eastern Province and all the non-territorial minorities in the country. These proposals show that history, politics and territorial claims link Tamils with Muslims and territorial minorities with non-territorial minorities as much as they produce us differently as ethnicized, territorialized political beings. By alerting us to the ramifications for the non-territorial minorities of constitutional reforms that focus exclusively on the political aspirations of the communities in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, these proposals tell us that addressing the national question should not be limited to fulfilling the Tamil and Muslim demands for regional autonomy emerging from the Northern and Eastern Provinces. To this end, the Kandy Forum’s call for special constitutional provisions and the establishment of an Independent Commission of Social Equality to protect the non-territorial minorities from discrimination and violence should be endorsed by all.

The proposals made by the Kandy Forum on the national question and devolution would have become even stronger had the writers also made a call for the abrogation of the constitutional clause that offers Buddhism the foremost place.

*The writer is a member of the Collective for Economic Democratization in Sri Lanka

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  • 0
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    Mahendran Thiruvarangan

    RE:Constitutional Reforms & Ethnic Coexistence: On The Kandy Forum’s Submission

    “The government’s move to gather people’s proposals on constitutional reforms has created an opportunity for diverse social and political groups to present their vision for Sri Lanka’s future. The proposals made by the Kandy Forum on the status of the Eastern Province and the political concerns of the non-territorial minorities in Sri Lanka need special mention because they frame devolution as a creative project while acknowledging its limits. “

    These Issue must be addressed.

    The Sinhala “Buddhism” has a bad reputation, along with the Sinhala Buddhist leaders, that must be addressed and corrected and build a nation.

    • 1
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      amarasiri

      the sinhala “buddhism” has a bad reputation

      majority don’t think so.

      naturally people express their ideas in any matter as they enjoy democracy.

      as peoples representatives are in parliament; proposals can be gathered through them so government step is somewhat superfluous. it may pave the way for unimportant anti social and racial elements especially from minority groups to make a big row over small matters and destabilize our country.

  • 1
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    Mr.Thiruvarangan

    I shall tell you something. There won’t be anything substantial for the Tamils in the new constitution.

    • 0
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      Sell am

      “Tamils” in your definition is all Tamils irrespective of their religion or date of arrival?

      Soma

  • 6
    6

    The east is the ancient land of the Eelam Tamils just like the central province is recognised as the land of the Kandyan Sinhalese, despite large amounts of Tamil Muslims and Indian origin living there. No one disputes the Kandyan Sinhalese claim to the central Uva north central and Sabragamuwa provines, however every one wants to claim the Tamil east as their, as they feel that Tamils are defenceless and weak so can steal their land. Just because you killed and ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of indigenous Tamils from the east and then illegally settled large amount of Sinhalese using the might of the Sinhalese Sri Lankan government and armed forces in the last 50 years, does not make the east Sinhalese land. Even the Tamil Muslim presence there is only a few centuries old, when thousands of them were settled there as refugees, first fleeing Portuguese persecution in the west and then Sinhalese persecution in the central parts of the island. This does not make them indigenous or east their land. They also benefitted immensely by the marginalisation of the Tamils in the east by the Sri Lankan state. In fact they actively participated in the Sri Lankan armed forces in the ethnic cleansing of Tamil Hindu villages in the east. The wish of the real indigenous Eelam Tamils of the north and east is for a merged Tamil North East land and it is their wish that has to be accommodated. Not someone from Kandy or Colombo, who has another agenda, be they be Sinhalese or an Indian origin estate Tamil or Muslim. The Tamil Muslim majority areas can be given some protection status in this merged indigenous North East province. Other than religion there is no other difference in culture language between the Indigenous Hindu and Christian Eelam Tamils of the north and east and the Tamil Muslims.

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      Cool story, bro :D I was just looking for some fiction for a weekend read, keep it coming :D

  • 3
    3

    No where in the world this is happening.

    this is simply abusing sinhala peoples’ weaknesses.

    Even Arabs and indians and arabs want their part of country in Sinhale.

  • 1
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    Discussion is good since it prevents violence. Good Governance should prevent terrorism or violent agitation.

    There is a place called parliament for these things to be debated. We all have to be patient until this situation is resolved. A new constitution should not put the countrys security at risk. 2020 is about the time for change.

    So you can debate about east and west it does not really matter toomuch.

  • 1
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    Do we even need a new Constitution? How did this question of a new constitution arise? We know the answer. To solve the problems/issues facing the country/people, some amendments to the current constitution are more than enough.

    What is happening now is that the government and its key constituents want to divert the attention of the people towards the discussion of a new Constitution so that they forget about the current burning economic issues. Even if we assume that the government and its key constituents are serious about a new constitution, I believe they have already decided the contents and structure of the new constitution. The politicians will finally decide what will benefit for them but not necessarily for the people. This is the Sri Lankan history.

    What happened to the 1972 and 1978 constitutions? How were they drafted?

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