17 November, 2017

Federal Fear & Fearlessness: Courageous, Compassionate & Caring Constitution

By Ratna Bala

Dr. Ratna Bala

Let us remember as we struggle, we must have love, compassion and understanding goodwill for those against we struggle” ~ Martin Luther King 

Our leaders are reluctantly recruiting open mindset and empathy to promote a common wavelength of courage to share political power. We all wish they could persuade each other to propel a caring constitution.

Several scholars have published many books and articles on devolution of powers in Sri Lanka. We have marvelled on many models of devolution in the world. We have endured ourselves to produce several proposals. In our deliberations and debates we had ebb and flow on quotas of powers to Tamil speaking people. In spite of all these swirling exercises we haven’t given up the hope of devolving powers to ensure equality among all communities.

If we accept to build decent democratic nation then politics of recognition with devolution of powers to different communities become paramount to guarantee their existence, growth and wellbeing. Devolution of powers is an evolving subject even in many developed countries. It doesn’t matter what form of devolution one wish for, even in a country with reasonable responsive democracy, you can only move in any direction depending on your negotiating and persuasive abilities with your resources. One can not overlook the fact that collective consciousness of responsibility to upheld genuine democracy is also a necessary prerequisite for devolution of powers.

I hope you all agree that when one ask a tamil speaking person “themalatha?” that have a dignity devaluing tone in our country. From that moment fear of discrimination engulf that person. If our moral and ethical consciousness willing to abdicate this tone and determined to live by human decency then a new constitution to guarantee justice, equality and freedom to all its citizens could be the correct beginning. We all could enthusiastically participate in this effort with hope and optimism.

Background

Ancient history has been quoted against devolution of political powers in Sri Lanka. Our colonial history since 1505 to 1948 and their manipulation of native population to exploit this nation have twisted our relationship and memories. Our past history can also be interpreted as we had devolution of governance in our island for many centuries.

British were expecting a peaceful transfer of powers. But in the backdrop of rising communism, emergence of powerful Malayan communist party and left labour movement in Ceylon have made our colonial masters to heighten the ethnic tension and promote ethnic rivalry to destroy the hope of communist ascendency in their strategic hot spot in South Asia.  Removal of citizenship and voting rights to upcountry Tamils were part of this agenda. Interplay of colonialism, capitalism and imperialism deluded our morality, rational thinking and unity. Our elite class continued their ethnic discriminatory politics to hold on to power and minimise mass protest against exploitation.

During cold war period in early 70s with establishment of naval base in Diego Garcia and changing dynamics in Indian Ocean culminated in explosion of ethnic war in Srilanka with Indian assistance and USSR endorsement. End of cold war and signing of nuclear disarmament treaties between USA and USSR brought dividends to Sri Lanka as Indo-Lanka agreement. Nevertheless Internationalisation of ethnic conflict combined with our Ignorance and arrogance made it an easy process for interested parties to promote continuation of the war. After 9/11, global security deterioration and improved relationship between US and India gave a peace another chance in our country. But LTTE’s reluctance for a peaceful settlement with international negotiation, war with LTTE was brought to an end.

Today our geographic location, culture and terrain could be viewed as valuable resources for security measures in the region. Any instability could be an excuse for foreign powers to intervene. Our history highlights the imminent danger looming over our nation. World largest military hardwires could land on our shores and soil in near future. As a country upholds Buddhist principles of rejecting violence and living with compassion, if we could strive to live by those principles, we can preserve peace and tranquillity.

Federal Fear

We must not permit ourselves lapse into pessimism.                    

Pessimism is a chronic disease that dries up the                                        

red corpuscles of hope and slows down the powerful                    

heartbeat of positive action.”  ~   Martin Luther King 

Tamil speaking people are concerned about their security, minority rights and equality. They have been seeking a federal solution to alleviate their grievances for long time. Even after thirty years of war they still believe that would give them reasonable control over their own future and make them feel as equal citizens. They believe only in the federal system the devolved powers won’t be taken away. Furthermore they are confident it will stop confrontation and encourage cooperation.

Majority Sinhalese people claim federal devolution could undermine their majority rights, would promote separation and fear losing foremost place for Buddhist religion. They strongly believe that unitary constitution provide better safety against separation.

Are there any genuine reasons to our fear? If so how can we overcome those fears? Isn’t that possible to find ways for features of both type of constitution to be incorporated into our new constitution? Couldn’t this bimodal nature resolve both communities’ concerns, fears and satisfy their interests. Couldn’t it this be further strengthened by additional guarantees if necessary?  Could this be the compromised way for a caring compassionate constitution for our difficulties to find peace and equality? Do we have the courage for this change?

Anti federalist fear that federal proposition in power devolution as giving in to separatist agenda of dividing the country. As we have seen in the world sentiments for separation have emerged in countries with both unitary and Federal constitutions based on their historical sensitivities and discriminatory experiences. Overall in general, federal devolution of powers have been proven to provide more stability, diffused tension, avoided conflict and strengthen coexistence between communities. All tamil political parties have categorically affirmed they are not for separation and want to resolve national problem in indivisible Sri Lanaka. Demonstrable trust in our people will unite them and eliminate any scope for separation. We need vision and leadership.

Some fear the genuine devolution of powers could undermine the Buddhist values in this country and would prefer to maintain the foremost place to Buddhist religion in the constitution. Devolution has nothing to do with this clause. But we have seen how government patronage could cultivate an abusive from of Buddhist clergy who were hindrance to promotion of Buddhism. If we prefer to give foremost place, as Sinhala Buddhism is unique in the world, state should have clear regulatory principles over their political involvement. It is worth remembering that we send nearly one million of our daughters to Middle East to work as housemaids to make a living and many more millions at home are struggling for their ends meet. Buddhist religious leaders should show their compassionate commitment to alleviate their sufferings.

It’s been said that Sinhalese are majority with minority mindset. They have been portrayed as people living with some form of fear. They have been told that Tamils have India and they have nobody. Existence of Tamil Nadu was projected to infuse fear in their mind for electoral gains. Here elections were never contested on real issues affecting ordinary people. Ethnic polarisation roused to create fear and anger to get votes and eventual violence.  If our national problem is resolved then our politicians have to talk about the real issues and people also can vote responsibly to elect a good leader who can promote a prosperous nation without prejudices.

Existence of India with its state of Tamil Nadu at our neighbourhood have been projected as threat to Srilanka, to Sinhalese in particular and entertained as a reason for not devolving power. If one can overcome their entrapped ethnic mindset they can see that India than being a threat is actually providing more security and stability to Srilanka from western military and cultural intervention. Tamilnadu never forced a threat to Srilanka. They have never helped LTTE. Few politicians used them for their local political advantage and financial gains. India not only gave Buddhism to Sri Lanka their own presence as our neighbour also a blessing for protection and prosperity of our nation. Our better future can be guaranteed if we can nurture our relationship with India responsibly. Tamil adu and their relationship with Sri Lankan Tamils could play a much greater role as a bridge and a pillar to protect our nation. If we fear India then could have a treaty to guarantee its unconditional support against any separation of Sri Lanka

Few claim that if power genuinely devolved people who become minorities within a province, especially in north and east, vulnerable to discrimination. By this claim they unknowingly reaffirm the fact that Tamils as minorities discriminated in Sri Lanka. As Tamils still remain as minorities in rest of the country all other provinces and central government have much more leverage to avoid discrimination. This opportunity and challenge give glimpse of hope to avoid discrimination in entire country. Contrary to the general believe, all provinces will remain as multi ethnic political entity and can be nurtured to promote unity and diversity to remain as colourful nation.

Fearlessness

There is limit to the development of intellect                                  

but none to that of heart”   ~  Mahatma Gandhi

If we strive for a decent democracy treating all nationalities equally, then our constitution should guarantees them their rights to look after their own future and promote them to engage equally in political life of the entire nation. We should address the genuine fears of all communities and devolve powers to achieve that goal. It is my humble hope our political and religious leaders would use this opportunity to draft a new constitution bimodal in nature, unitary by  being one indivisible and  inseparable  country and being federal by genuine devolution of powers as they remain devolved. Proclaiming Srilanka as multinational state and acknowledgement of all nationalities and their historical contribution to build this nation would encourage trust and unity.

If we still could not overcome our fear we could agree to this as a temporary constitution after 15-20 years. I am sure this would enable us with experience of cooperative coexistence to rewrite it with more friendship and trust devoid of suspicion and mistrust. All you need is courage, compassion, caring attitude and willingness to live as one nation in words and deeds. Federal form of devolution of powers empower the people belong to different historical, cultural and religious identities to have control over their own future to achieve their full potential to enrich the nation and participate fully and equally in political and social life of entire nation. We should be fearless in embracing it, at least partially, for posterity.

TNA have much more to do in this Noble endeavour. They have responsibility to explain to all Sri Lankan people this endeavour is not only about Tamil speaking people but also about decent democratisation and devolution, to bring political power and resources close to people, for the benefit of entire nation. TNA have to make apologies for their failures to resolve this national problem in previous opportunities. Having faith in people is a formidable force for change. TNA have done bare minimum to have dialogue with other groups representing Tamil speaking people to minimise their differences and for their corporation. Without these crucial steps, to put the horse in front of the cart, collective effort may come down to zero.

It is difficult to please everybody. We need national leaders with vision and courage to implement whatever necessary. I am confident our people have the heart for this bold measure. Leaders should address the nation with more conviction and belief in their message. If the intention is genuine and the message is clear it will transcend all barriers to reach people. 

Acknowledging the apprehensions and genuine grievances of all communities and adapting a constitution to accommodate them need confidence. There should be commitment for compromise from all sides. If we empathised with the tragedy unfolded in our country we can be compassionate and courageous enough to provide a caring constitution. I strongly believe our beautiful Sri Lankan people’s sensibilities and sensitivities would accept these measures to make a new journey together for the prosperity of their nation. Way forward is possible by fearless appeal made by committed leaders with honesty and humility.

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Latest comments

  • 4
    3

    In a recent speech in the Parliament TNA leader Sampanthan states that
    “Recognizing that each ethnic group has a distinct cultural and linguistic identity which has to be carefully nurtured”

    This is where I fundamentally differ.
    My ambition is to see it replaced it with something to the effect:
    ” Derecognizing that each ethnic group has a distinct cultural and linguistic identity which has to be gradually phased out and recognizing that Culture, religion and ethnicity are a matter for the individual out side the purview of law.”
    How is our law going to recognize Wingeswaran’s grand children as belonging to which community I wonder.
    Would Samapanthan say the same thing in regard to the caste differences in the Tamil society and prevailing discrimination:
    “recognizing that each caste has a distinct social identity which has to be carefully nurtured and maintained”
    Or would he put his mouth into my expression:
    “” Derecognizing that each caste has a distinct social identity which has to be gradually phased out and discrimination on this basis punishable by law”
    Now language is altogether a different issue. Sri Lankans can be divided ONLY into two groups – those who use Tamil as their main medium of communication and those who use Sinhala as their main medium of communication. it must be acknowledged that at present those who use Tamil are handicapped in interacting with Administrative and Law enforcement machinery. No expense should be spared in alleviating this serious difficulty. At the police station, court of law or an administrative unit one should not be asked about the ethnicity or religion of the individual (as is the case at present) but asked ” what is the language you are most comfortable with?” with the view of organizing translation arrangements if necessary.
    Soma

    • 1
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      ‘If religion and ethnicity are matter for the individual out side the purview of the law’ the need to give Buddhism the foremost place in the constitution and Sinhala as the only official language will not arise.Good. But will that happen?. Unfortunately the numerical strength of the Tamils play a part when compared with the numerical strength the Sinhalese. Thus the state aided colonization of the Tamil areas will reduce the strength of the Tamils to microscopic minority all over Srilanka. Thereby with the passage of time, the Sinhales may turn around and say the need to have Tamil Language also as an official/national language is not necessary at all. Experience speaks louder.
      It will be fine if the whole world could be considered a single country and people could travel around with a Simple Identity Card. Is it practical? Going further we may refer to all citizens of Srilanka as Srilankans rather than by their community. In their application for employment race, religion and community should not be mentioned. But their names will indicate the community which cannot be avoided especially with the Muslims. If you really analyse, it is ones mind over matter. Knowing the human mind and the politicians thinking a federal solution will be more appropriate and practical for all communities live together without fear and suspicion…

    • 0
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      The soma version “Derecognising………………….” is ideal. This is the thinking of leaders of Bahu ilk. Will soma name a single person of substance in successive GoSL since independence saying such a thing? It will be political suicide.
      soma, why the hell do you have to bring in this ‘caste differences in Tamil society’. Are you trying to propagate the HLD M canard that Sinhalese society does not have this ill?

      • 0
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        Pillai
        I am sure Sampanthan is not at all caste’ minded and abhors any legal recognition of different castes. What I am asking is to extend that to ethnicity too.
        X
        As for the caste discrimination in Sinhala and Tamil societies if you are happy that both societies are the same I have no quarrel. If slaves defend slavery no one can help.
        Soma

    • 2
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      somass ji

      Let Chief Minister Wigneshwaran worry about his grant children and Vasu worry about his grant children. You should be worrying about your grant children.

      Your well known ambition is to convert each and every born and unborn child including Buddhist, Sinhalese, Tamils, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, ……. into Sinhala/Buddhists fascism.

      Not many young people are going to buy that. You could try the already converted ones, Jimsofty the dimwit, Champa, max, Ravi Perera, Hela, Nuisance, sach, Shenali, Eagle Blind Eye, …………………… Dayan, Wimal, ………………

    • 3
      1

      Soma, did you hear what Singapore government told north Indian racists. These fellows have demanded Singapore government to delete Tamil as an official language and make Hindi instead, as the official language of India is Hindi. They received a beating from Singapore government who refused to accede to their demand and stated, “As far as we are concerned India means Tamil as most of Indians here speak Tamil. Also it was Tamils who fought for independence with us and not you, and therefore we have to honour them.”. Because Singapore government was forthright without considering the trade benefit with India that Tamils received justice. This is how Srilanka government should treat Sinhala racists by doing what is right and not what is politically right.

      • 1
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        How stupid to demand Hindi instead of Tamil to be the official language of Singapore, when the vast majority of the Indian population in the area are Tamils and it is Tamils who have a very ancient history in this region and not north Indians. The Tamil Chola and Pallavas ruled this area and spread the Hindu and Buddhist cultures and gave many of its place names . Malayu( Malai Ur) Kedah and even the name Singapur. Look at Angkor Wat Borobudur . All typical South Indian Dravidian architecture. Tamil is an ancient rich classical language that has enriched and given birth to many languages. Whereas Hindi is the least Indian of all the Indian languages . It is a hotchpotch of many languages. Sankskrit, Prakrit, Arabic, Persian , Turkish and even Tamil and an artificial creation , largely based on the KariBholi Hindustani dialect that is spoken around Delhi and has no rich literature or nothing. It has now been imposed around north Indian killing many other ancient languages and dialects, that have all been incorporated as Hindi and not recognised as separate languages. Eg. Bojpuri Maithili, Rajasthani Etc. These so called dialects of Hindi are far more divergent from what is now standard Hindi , than what is Tamil and its recent daughter language Malayalam are to each other. Most of these North Indians in Malayasia and Singapore are not even native Hindi speakers but speak Punjabi Sindhi Guajarati.

      • 0
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        I believe this is one of Sankkaralingam’s concoctions. If you are to be believed on your statement, would you please state(a) who the North Indian racists are.? Name of organisation will be helpful(b)who sent the alleged letter from the Singapore Govt. Copy of letter will help.
        Doing what is right also means being truthful!

        • 1
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          Percy

          When did the state, its institutions, governments, rulers, politicians, armed forces, state functionaries, grant dukes of Mahasangha, …………………. do the right thing which also meant truthful?

          The above has been doing all the wrong things, wrong reasons, for wrong motives, ………………… yet claimed to be truthful.

          Truthful also means
          Honest, Sincere, Trustworthy, Genuine, ……………………………

          Please let me know how justice is related to ‘Doing what is right’ and truthfulness.

          • 0
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            Native Veddas
            It is quite obvious that you are in a confused state of mind. Do you require a treatise on understanding what”justice” is? It will make you even more rabid. Go back and munch on your vaddai. Trying to understand simple concepts is apparently too stressful for you.

            • 1
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              Percy
              If you haven’t got any idea It “is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt – Abraham Lincoln”

    • 1
      1

      soma,

      It is rich coming from you , a Sinhala Buddhist Chauvinist, such a nonsense! The 1948 Constitution was devised in order to build a nation of subjects! Who bastardised it by using their majority numeric advantage to their whim and fancy? Please grow up and understand the accept the international protocols that governs ethnicity in diversity.

      • 2
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        Burning Issue

        I am sorry somass is a card carrying member of Sinhala/Buddhist fascist circle and a practicing racist who chose not to remember the sequence of events, the relationship of cause and effect. However somass being a racist timelines, morality, right from wrong, suffering of ordinary people ……………. do not matter

        He still believes when his wife and daughters are being arrested for soliciting prostitution and selling drugs, he expects the police to pardon them before being charged for both offences.

        • 0
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          Dear Native
          I am being vilified as a racist all the time by you for pleading with the Tamils ( Tamil speaking people ) to live in one country, equal in all respects with the right to live anywhere. Suggesting let us not create ethnic and religious hell holes. Federalism will only benefit the politicians. Tamils presently living within Sinhala majority will definitely face severe discrimination if land and police powers are granted to local politicos. Let Wingeshwaran or a future Perumal move one pawn and see how it will be checkmated by other provinces while the Centre looking on as a powerless bystander. I would have reserved a modicum of respect to you if only you took one minute to explain how +50% of Tamil speakers living in Sinhala majority provinces are benefited by creating a separate federal unit for the remaining -50%.
          Soma

          • 1
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            somass

            You are vilified not for pleading for Tamil rights but for your failed attempts being a clever dick, smart ass, attention whore, bull artist, smarty-pants, ………………………………………………….
            Crocodiles do shed tears.

            • 0
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              NV
              Those are the names reserved by Tamil racist donkeys for anyone who dares to expose their hypocrisy.
              Soma

              • 1
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                somass ji

                Why do those names fit you well then?

                You are a typical Sinhala speaking Demela aren’t you?

                • 0
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                  Which is more repugnant to you – speaking Sinhala or being a Demala? Sinhala speaking Demalas are the final solution to the problem.

                  Soma

                  • 1
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                    somass

                    Sinhala speaking Demelas the recent converts to Sinhala/Buddhism are the main problem. They strive to fit in with the rest of the people by being zealous adherent of Sinhala/Buddhism.

                    By any chance your ancestors were trained by zealous Jehovah’s Witnesses in speedy conversion?

  • 0
    0

    Excellent.

  • 0
    0

    ‘Committed leaders who have honesty and humility…?’7

    Keep on dreaming, pal!

  • 0
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    Dr. Ratna Bala.

    After reading your essay, I have a hazy feeling that I am living in UTOPIA!

  • 0
    0

    Dear Dr. Ratna Bala,
    Thank you for your thoughtful and the most right political thinking. But alas! please understand Sri Lankan politics and who are at the top level and how they keep Sri Lanka going down the precipice. First of all if there is anybody responsible to do the least to improve the living standard of all Sri Lankans, they wouldn’t have missed the golden opportunity to bring some intergrity to the Country soon after the war and eliminating LTTE. It is the same old politicians and the same old unchanged politics with a twist. The world is full of opportunists depending on Countries like Sri Lanka to take advantage and that is exactly what is happening to Sri Lanka. Sorry yours is a dream not come true!

  • 1
    0

    soma, ‘Culture, religion, and ethnicity are a matter for the individual, outside the purview of law’, you say. This interesting statement, though seemingly valid, has its flaws.
    Firstly, there is nothing called culture of an individual. They are called practices- – broadly habits.
    Practices followed by groups of individuals -called ethnic- is called culture. Although Sinhalese and Tamils are culturally compatible communities.
    _________________________________________________________________________________________

    Our nationality should be our basic identity.
    Our Birth Certificates must avoid classification by language.
    Our national flag ought to have identical strips to represent each ethnic group or preferably, no strips at all.

    • 0
      0

      Correction: stripe, stripes (not, strip, strips)

  • 0
    0

    Your e-mail is long but thought provoking. Hence it needs careful study. These are my immediate comments.(1) All citizens in a country should enjoy the most important fundamental viz. the Freedom from Fear. (2) Ethnic research by Dr. John Mitchell and Richard Leaky ethnic researchers in Australia have proved that all humans originated in the sub Saharan basin in Africa, 200,000 yrs ago and therefore we all have the same blood and there are no Race distinctions unless resulting from geographical/ environmental situations. ( 3) I believe that all Religions are hypocritical and that religion has been more divisive than unifying. ( 4) There should be severe punitive deterrents in in the Constitution to ensure that everyone regardless of race religion etc can enjoy all rights. The call for federalism has been caused by idiotic policies of the Sinhalese politicians

  • 0
    0

    Where do you live Sir? LTTE LOST. NEVER AGAIN should you raise the ugly spectre of Eelam. How ma many more low caste tamils do you want to kill in the name of Eelam?

  • 0
    0

    Matham Gandhi ji was killed by Hindu-RSS religion extremist. The daughter of Indian’s first Primer of Indian that Indira Gandhi-Primer-Minster was killed by Shick extremist .

    And Rajiv Gandhi KILLED by Tamil National of LTTE politically an aim of Tamil Homeland of that back gun-rule politics by blessing of TNA???
    The world largest democratic Nation and its Republic of Indian has been that face by pathetic politics of Extremism by current of Southern tip of Tamil Nadu?

    The well organized Tamil Nationalism having blood in their hand which beyond territory of an Island of
    Sri Lanka, by it has extended to People of Indians of killed Rajive by LTTE gunmen .

    You can realized that all Tamil Nationalist extremism are in agenda of division of our Island by TNA proxies forces by LTTE and Tamil diaspora political agenda of Homeland?
    This is a Tamil nationalist World -wide by advocating land -in Sri lanka for Tamil speaking Race in Global road map.

    • 0
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      Saman Adikari

      Could you translate whatever you have typed above into human readable form.

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