By Afreeha Jawad –
Constitutional drafting warrants an extra ordinarily unique mindset where personal prejudices, narrow chauvinistic outlook and playing to the gallery for electoral benefits are cast aside. A broader vision based on egalitarianism, justice and social development needs prioritization – of which was neatly avoided in past constitutional engagements. Towards this end the grassroots need to be educated – ideal benchmark for this being historical inspiration where people’s awareness is directed to a socio/ political history that once was in pre-colonial times when an all-inclusive system prevailed until the britisher’s unitary state. The study of history is to learn of the past, look at where we are in the present and locate ourselves in the future.
With all the complexities prevalent in pre-independence times of ethnic groups, and the multitude of castes ( discreetly operative now), there was a binding factor that glued these differences and brought about a complete, composite whole. The system’s restrictions in upward social mobility where the inheritance of cast based jobs is not writer concern in this article but despite that glaring social misgiving social diversity was upheld. None rose against the northern Tamil kingdom nor the sinhala kings that married Tamil women – the binding factor being royalty on both sides of the social dichotomy giving parity of status.
Nor was there any constitutional insistence that Buddhism should be prioritized over all other religions. Constitutions in fact were non – existent. What followed was absolute peace. The western sensitivity to Post-colonial systemic flaws of majority hegemony has led them into ground-breaking areas of sublime concepts such as egalitarianism or equality social justice and societal development directed at parity of status to efface high degree polarization.
However, Buddhism needs to be prioritized for the survival of socio/economic/ political / religious elite. Same applies to Islamic states – all of whom will be marooned if not for religious identity. It is the height of irony when national characteristics are lying, cunning, deceit, opportunism, hatred ,revenge and jealousy among other vices, how come that country calls itself a Buddhist, Muslim or Christian country? National characteristics contradict religious principles yet the ridiculous insistence on prioritizing religion! This proves that identity politics is the name of the game. Religion and politics are twin brothers and its dependence on one another is mutual that sustains the system. The essence of all religions is to bring out the best in man instead we see the worst. What remains is political Buddhism, political Islam and so be it with Christianity.
The Buddha is an embodiment of truth who preferred the beast infested wilderness over the palatial luxury and worldly kingdom of Dambadiva. He no doubt aligned himself with a higher purpose for the greater good of mankind sacrificing even family, kith and kin. Regrettably, politicization of this great personage consolidates him as being representative of only the Sinhalese! This was very much present during the infamous Rajapaksa era when the Buddha and the temple were played around with for racial stimulation and power consolidation. If ever Wigneswaran opposed to the Buddha statues in Jaffna, it is not because he loves the Buddha less but for certain his hate towards those statues being made use of as representative of Sinhala colonization in the north which in historical fact was a Tamil kingdom under kings like Pararajasingham and Sankili, which history risks effacement under Sinhala nationalism. So apart from the exposure of a cast based society ,the clarion call to relieve history from the school curriculum as was once done only to be re-introduced much sooner than later. The tendency towards emotionally driven arguments overlooking rationality on the subject of northern Tamil rule of the past and even Tamil kings that governed this country may not sit well on the Sinhala palate. Yet, fact over fiction prevails. Moreover, the pluralistic mindset and the graciousness of the ancient Sinhalese in accepting diversity is amply displayed. Federalism itself was nothing new to them. This very liberal mental elasticity, fast shrinking, is still an undying factor to this day in localities not very urban and a continuation of the Rajapaksa regime may have transformed this into a negative, racist, homogenous social whole. It is up to the present government to use this grand period in history for reconciliation – an attempt so far overlooked by those in power. Talking of reconciliatory measures, it brings to mind a prudent presidential pronouncement. Sirisena once asked, “how would we feel if our lands were taken over by the military and we had no home to call our own?” This unfortunately was not repeated though it is a strong point in reconciliation. President himself may have been unaware of reaching out to the hermeneutical experience inculcated into this writer’s mind during her post graduate studies at the Colombo university. To view the experience of the aggrieved party as being one’s own was philosopher Hermenes’ trusted ideal. If the Sinhalese were a minority under Tamil hegemony batting a reversal, a replica of Wigeneswaran in the sinhala camp is to be expected.
Moral fortitude should be a major concern of constitutional architects in deflating hegemony and majoritariansm. The negative aspects of the glaring presence of Intercommunal Hegemony is as bad as intra communal hegemony. To restrict hegemony as being the sole prerogative of only the Sinhalese is a misnomer. For instance we see this marauding curse from within communities as in the Muslim marriage and divorce act. The social construct of male domination is amply demonstrated here and is vehemently unrelated to Islam and the teachings of the Prophet. Article 16 ( 1978 constitutiin) is essentially a violation of women’ s rights. Calling for the rectification of the 1951 Muslim marriage and divorce act that treats women as second class citizens, The Women’s Action Network insists that constitutional supremacy is futile if it ignores discriminatory customary laws.
The sub par quasi courts system discriminates Muslim women. This system even though funded by the taxpayer prohibits women in authority as quasi marriage registrars and jurors on board of quazi courts. Discriminatory customary laws and constitutional guarantee to protect minorities apparently are strange bed fellows – the former being upheld to foster male domination. The Thesasavalamai law of the Tamils also fosters peripheral existence of women. The State overlooking recognition of unjust religio/ cultural rights at the expense of women’s rights in fact silently approves moral irregularities contained in so called religious laws. When gender based customary intra communal laws act in favour of discrimination against women, that community has none to turn to for redress other than intended constitutional provisions Another moral flaw in past constitutional enactments is the failure to give equal weight age to socio/cultural and political / civil liberties where accountability of legislators towards their electorate is maintained. The sovereignty of the people is functional only when constitutions are drawn in favour of the people bearing in mind their wellbeing. The moral conscience of people’ s representatives must be held accountable to their electorate and made to understand that public office is not their personal property to engage in wallet fattening even for unborn generations. It was the absence of such that the former regime invited so much hate . Whatever Rajapaksa may say in self- defence finds no social acceptance. For instance, loss of faith among the Muslims in him may not have necessarily been had he not tried to ride rough shod over that community. Passing the buck to another does not license his so called ignorance over the insecure state they were compelled into which is absent under Sirisena. Communalism in whatever community falls short of elegance in character and is surely the lot of lackluster personalities. Rajapaksa clearly failed in presidential accountability for the safety of Muslims that contributed to his crash landing – a bitter lesson for him no doubt – one that he bemoans day in and day out. He also sees the hopper party as a betrayal. Had those concerned been open about it, the last rites may have been Sirisena ‘s and some others fate that hatched the ground-breaking infamous plot.
Surely then it was the ’78 constitutional endeavours that facilitated Rajapaksa dominance. Yet ,the worst of constitutions in the best of hands where mental grandeur and elegant governance on the part of the state head are not found wanting, such constitutions take backstage and become mere mechanisms only. Men of character can transform even the crudest constitution into moral good. Clearly Rajapaksa and his appendages lacked this moral demeanour and whether Sirisena will live up to it fully in drawing an egalitarian, all-inclusive and comprehensive constitution only time will tell. Nevertheless, he has already shown signs that he does carry the potential. If he does succeed the Nobel Peace Prize awaits him.
Yet, in him we find a battered man confronted on all sides and his recent very explosive expression on the arrest of Gotabaya is not surprising. The green elites, the minority communities ,the blue cross overs, the Rajapakse camp, civil society and to top it all his biological leaning in his favourite pastime of night club fisticuffs drives presidential patience up the wall. Losing faith in him are those that deposited him in the presidential throne following his brash words that he should have been informed over Gotabhaya’s arrest which they see as the executive ‘s interference with the judiciary – certainly to be viewed with broader understanding considering the quagmire in which he is which repeat may not be welcome if Yahapalanaya is to become a reality. Despite the fact that he is not the perfect fit in presidential duty, certain characteristics place him above board when reminiscing a deadly past. Sirisena’s all-inclusiveness and Rajapaksa’s polarized exclusion are strikingly contrasting states. The Abayaramaya surely misses the latter, the Pottuvil grease men that sent shock waves among the Eastern Province Muslim women no more, the white vans are past occurrence, a vociferous BBS, now a silent entity. Yet, in Dayasiri Jayasekera’s recent manhandling of the press is a strong indicator that history could repeat unless a stern presidential eye is cast on would be miscreants within Sirisena’s fold likely to disrepute the man that turned tables not only on the unforgettable hopper party but Sri Lanka’s history as well !!