22 April, 2019

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Pluralist Ethos Is More Relevant To National Identity 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

One of the fallouts of the political crisis that occurred towards the end of last year in October was the mobilization of civil society groups that engaged in discussion and debate about the constitutional propriety of the president’s decision to sack the prime minister and dissolve parliament. As the new prime minister and his government took swift action to take control and oust their rivals from all official positions, the president’s decision seemed irreversible in political terms, but was reversed by the judiciary through reference to the constitution. This created a new interest in the constitution and its importance in the governance of the country. This interest continues four months later.  

The Civil Society and Trade Union Collective last week held a national symposium on the issue of constitutional reform that attracted its members from all parts of the country. The greatest driver of constitutional reform since the last constitution was formulated in 1978 has been the country’s ethnic conflict which resulted in three decades of internal war. Two of the most landmark constitutional amendments have been the 6th Amendment that banned the espousing of separatism and the 13th Amendment which established the devolution of powers through provincial councils. The constitutional reform initiatives of 1995, 2000 and the present time have had the ethnic conflict as one of their central features.

Invariably at the civil society and trade union discussion the key issue dicussed was the question of the unitary state, devolution of powers and the threat of separatism.  The issue of the unitary state has been the dividing line between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority.  The conflict point is the fear of the ethnic Sinhalese majority who wish to prevent separatism by centralizing powers at the level of the central government and the aspirations of the ethnic Tamil minority who wish to have self-determination powers to decide for themselves regarding what the priorities in the areas in which they live as a majority. However, this has turned out be a Sisyphean task as the solutions that one side has presented has floundered on the rocks set by the other side.

Majoritarian Democracy 

Since receiving Independence in 1948 Sri Lanka has been struggling to achieve a unifying national identity on the basis of ethnic, religious and cultural identities that are divisive.  This has led to contestation on the basis of hierarchy in which the weight of numbers predominates through the principle of majority rule. This reflects the popular belief is that majority rule is the primary element of democracy. The political crisis that erupted in October 2018 when the President sacked the Prime Minister and dissolved Parliament was again a contestation on the basis of hierarchy. Until the Supreme Court stepped in to solve the conflict on the basis of constitutional law, the popular discourse was that the problem should be resolved through a majority vote at elections.    

With an understanding of democracy that is majoritarian, both the national Sinhalese majority and regional Tamil and Muslim minorities who are majorities in some parts of the country have a sense of special entitlement. This creates a lacuna with respect for minority rights in all parts of the country. Therefore what is needed is a unifying political value system that accommodates the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious reality. Those citizens of minority communities will feel a greater sense of protection on account of this value system. Sri Lankan society at large which continues to search for a unifying Sri Lanka identity will find that the Sri Lankan identity is one that needs to be underpinned by pluralistic values. The minimum conditions necessary for the development of a pluralist ethos in which diversity is respected, is that there should be no attempt made to force some to give up their religion, culture or identity and there is non-discrimination. 

The task of instilling a pluralist ethos needs to be taken up by civil society groups such as the one that organized the national symposium. In the coming year Sri Lanka will witness multiple nationwide elections for different tiers of government. With competing ethnic nationalisms on the upsurge, the compulsion on the contesting political parties and leaderships will be to obtain bloc votes from the electorate which will reduce their willingness to champion unpopular causes. One of the lacunae at the present time is the paucity of political champions with regard to promoting the acceptance and practice of universal values which includes the protections of minority rights and cultures within an overarching framework of pluralism.

Pluralistic Values 

Even though the space for the free discussion of ideas opened up with the election of the present government in 2015, the space has been dominated by nationalist voices. The mainstream polity and media has failed to play a positive role in regard to promoting and supporting pluralist values. This can be seen in the current debate of constitutional reform. One of the key and emotive issues that has arisen is the treatment of Buddhism as having the foremost place in the county’s constitution (Article 9).  The inclusion of a non-discrimination clause to this article has become subject to polarized debate on the grounds that it seeks to undermine the foremost place given to Buddhism. Government leaders are taking great pains to assuage sentiment by promising not to change anything in the constitution that relates to Buddhism. 

As this is an election year, the political contestants are more likely to fan ethnic and religious sentiments, as this is their surest way of getting the people’s vote by proclaiming that they are the national patriots and others are traitors. However, in multi ethnic, multi religious and plural societies, issues that pit one community against another cannot be resolved through the principle of majority vote. Sri Lanka’s long term challenges in maintaining relations between its communities were manifested in increasing inter-religious tension that boiled to the surface during the anti-Muslim riots that took place in the country in March 2018 and in the inter religious and inter-ethnic tensions that continue to simmer beneath the surface.    

Last month a national inter religious symposium on the theme of Religions to Reconcile organized by the National Peace Council brought together over 200 religious clergy, local politician, journalists, women, youth and persons with disabilities who comprise the plurality of the population.  They met at the BMICH and passed a resolution that contains a vision of a plural society.  They stated that political leaders and state officials have a key role to play in building a pluralistic society in which there is equal voice irrespective of number and in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain and develop their traditional culture or special interest within the sphere of a common citizenship.  

The symposium also called for the establishment of a Pluralism Commission on the lines of the Independent Commissions, whose members would be appointed by the Constitutional Council, and whose mandate would be aligned to the observations and recommendations sketched out above. The Minister of National Integration, Official Languages, Social Progress and Hindu Religious Affairs Mano Ganesan delivering the keynote speech said “When extremists from the North and South speak they score marks. They are trying to break the country; we are trying to mend it.” He too stressed that the pluralistic nature of the country needs to be recognized.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    10

    This is all a load of bullshit.

    Can you name a single successful nation that practice pluralist ethos? Now don’t tell the world that US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are good examples of the bloody pluralist ethos you are selling.

    They are white Anglo-Saxon, English speaking countries who import small numbers of black, brown and other Asian peoples to claim their multiculturalism, but keep them under the thumb with no rights of language and informal control of religions other than Christianity (you may not mind that!)

    India is rightly Hindutwa, Singapore is Chinese, Malaysia is Muslim, Malay Bumi Putra and Thailand is Buddhist. This is the reality behind any picture you might try to paint on these countries.

    But that is only right.

    Germany and Japan protect their racial and cultural exclusivity jealously and they develop economically despite US/UK Jewish undercutting of them economically and politically at every turn.

    So you are being selfishly irresponsible in pushing this unique multicultural model in our country, due to your personal circumstances.

    Reconciliation needs to happen under the Sinhala-Buddhist historical reality or we wouldn’t have it, take it from me.

    • 2
      2

      Yes but Illankai was never Chingkallam or Poutham only, it was also the ancient homeland of the Eezham Thamizh, just because the British united Tamil Eezham with Chingkallam in 1833 to create Ceylon and then give the entire island to the Chingkaalams on a platter , does not mean the island is only yours. It belongs to all of us. Understood Chingkalla kurangu.

      • 2
        0

        Jehan Perera: why are none of the Trumpland funded Colombo NGOs like National Peace Council questioning the massive Sri Lanka military budget ?
        Defense is the biggest budget item is this debt ridden country. Why?! drawn up by Washington’s puppet bondscam Ranil and his butterfly mafia?
        Why don’t you write a public letter to your ally Trumpland to prosecute and convict US citizen Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is under US Jurisdiction and had COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY for War Crimes in Sri Lanka. For NON RECURRENCE?
        US game in Lanka with its puppet Bondscam Ranil on one side and US citizen Gota on the other, is “Heads I win, Tails you loose”. Either way Sri Lankans are screwed by Trumpland which has brokered the bi-partisan UNP-SLFP-PP corruption racket in the name of (fake) reconciliation in the Cesspit Parliament

        Also, pathetic Brexit Britain that still clings pathetically to Colonialism and the Commonwealth of Raj racism is Trumpland’s proxy and Trumpland is promoting wars and militarization the world over to sell more arms and make America Great Again. The Cold War with China in the Indian ocean is the reason for Sri Lanka’s massive Military Budget 10 years after the military was defeated.

        • 1
          0

          The Human Rights Endgame in Sri Lanka is US military bases- to fight a Cold War with Asia’s rising giant, China in the Indian Ocean.
          Meanwhile, US citizen Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been at the forefront of militarising and weaponizing Buddhism in Sri Lanka during and after the war. BBS saffron thug Galaboda Gniyanasara went to Norway and USA and came back and started attacking Muslims in Sri Lanka.
          Is there some connection to the US setting up military bases in Trincomalee, at this time while the Fake New Constitution draft is being used to distract everyone with religious and ethnic tensions being re-started?
          Divide, Distract and Rule is part of an old colonial strategy made easy with face book and social media now.

    • 4
      1

      L.P..
      You do not belong this planet .
      Go and live somewhere outside this world.
      You and Trump are same..
      In this global village people interaction is unavoidable..
      It is Hindu cast system that created this division along people..
      You may be born out of Hindu cast system that is why you speak like that or do your DNA ..you will find it back in bay of Bengal.
      If you claim that you are pure Sinhalese..then you must have come from bay of Bengal.
      Today all Sri Ianks want to live peace but you are exceptional racist to claim you superiority..evil feeling you have.
      Let all live as one family

    • 3
      1

      Lanka Putra

      “Can you name a single successful nation that practice pluralist ethos?”

      Sinhala/Buddhist Lanka is being sold as miracle of Asia, why cannot the people set an example of being the first practitioners of pluralist ethos.
      Being the first to construct irrigation, being the first to be thrice blessed by Buddha, being the first country to appoint a female prime minister, being the first and only country to destroy or wipe out terrorism, being the only country to have 100 % literate population, …………………… why can’t you set an example of whatever your country wants to be?

      Are you too lazy to even consider and contemplate the idea?

  • 1
    0

    This is a good start. The Civic societies in SL need to advance their ideas of promoting Plurality of our country and value all Sri Lankan be they Sinhala/Tamil/Muslim/Burgher/ Malays/Veddha of different religions. Politicians and clergy should join this bandwagon and bring peace and prosperity ti the entire country. At present the CORRUPT are enjoying and others are struggling with meeting the ends meet.

  • 1
    0

    L.P..
    You do not belong this planet .
    Go and live somewhere outside this world.
    You and Trump are same..
    In this global village people interaction is unavoidable..
    It is Hindu cast system that created this division along people..
    You may be born out of Hindu cast system that is why you speak like that or do your DNA ..you will find it back in bay of Bengal.
    If you claim that you are pure Sinhalese..then you must have come from bay of Bengal.
    Today all Sri Ianks want to live peace but you are exceptional racist to claim you superiority..evil feeling you have.
    Let all live as one family

  • 2
    0

    you may be having these meetings to satisfy your donors but there is no chance of a new constituition being passed by this or a future parliament

  • 0
    4

    In an election year? Who’d run the risk and why?

    Why waste the public’s and the readers’ time with this topic, instead of returning to it after this year’s Presidential AND next year’s parliamentary election?

    • 0
      0

      Dear Dr Dayan
      What is in it for me?

    • 4
      0

      Dayan you Mahintha lover.

      What risk are you talking about. Are you talking about alienating the Racist Majority
      by granting federalism. There is a much bigger risk facing the Nation. I know you whisper ( along with the pretender Laksri) into the year of MR. Can yo whisper the following.

      1) There is no point going to India to speak at a meeting paid ( Millions) for and arranged by a fixer in down South. What is he going to talk about. His Tamil Daughter in Law a slouch or how he betrayed India.
      2) Whenever the Election is it is going to be between a Pro Indian Party headed by RW and Pro China party headed by MR. The winner will seal Sri Lankas SOVEREIGNTY which has already been eroded and washed down River Kelani by MR.

      Make no mistake if MR is reelected it will be a disaster for Sinhala Lanka as the takeover wil be complete. Just look at Maldives. 2200 miles away. Sri Lanka is just 22 miles away.

  • 1
    1

    Lanka Puthra,

    I some what agree with your comments. The Aussies, in officially, they say, when you come here (Australia) or migrate here, behave as an Aussie. Otherwise go back to the place where you come from.

    There is an implied meaning for the above saying.

  • 0
    0

    you said it dayan

  • 0
    0

    Jihad armed men have given a guard of honour to the eastern province Governor when he attended sports meet at Kathankudi central college, as chief guest. Photographs of this event is available in Tamil lankasri website of today.

    Jehan, what is going on in Eastern Province ?

  • 0
    1

    Jehan Perera’s “Pluralist Ethos Is More Relevant To National Identity” might well be a Theorem in ‘Nationhood101’.
    Our politicians do not want to appreciate this. Is this causing our slide towards Failed-State-Cliff?

  • 4
    0

    Jehan

    We are a divided society histotrically along ethnic lines. To sum up I would say DIVIDED we stand UNITED we fall. After all the atrocities committed by the Majority on the Minority we can never live together . Our security must be in our hands to avoid the Horrors of Krishanthi which haunts even to this day.

  • 0
    0

    First of all Sri Lanka has to eliminate corruption .None of the politicians have clean hands.

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