29 November, 2022


Politics Of ‘One Country One Law’

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural society. Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors, Malays, Burghers and other communities, speak different languages with different dialects and follow different religious and cultural traditions. Their looks, mannerisms and lifestyles are different, their tastes are varied, and even expressions of joy and sadness are disparate. From the ancient past, although Buddhism remained the running thread, the cultural tapestry of this country has been woven with different colours and designs by multiple communities and cohabiters. No ruler, and not even British imperialists, ever thought of homogenizing this paradise of heterogeneity. Even today, foreign tourists flock to Sri Lanka partly because of its rich cultural diversity. 

Since very recently however, the idea of ‘one country one law’ has been mooted by an ultra-Buddhist nationalist avant-garde, which is aspiring to restructure the country’s polity, economy and society in their own image of Theravada Buddhism. Representatives from this avant-garde are part of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s “power cartel”, and they are on a mission to homogenize the nation’s diverse cultural landscape. ‘One country one law’ is an aphorism designed to add a veneer of rationality to an otherwise sinister agenda of Buddhist supremacist rule. 

After nearly four hundred and fifty years of Christian domination under three successive Western powers, it was legitimate for Buddhism to reclaim its pre-colonial supremacy in independent Sri Lanka. It was with that objective, the memorable scholar monk Walpola Rahula stamped Sri Lanka as a Buddhist country and warned others not to make a mistake of it. The influential Catholic Action movement led by Buddhist priests from Vidyalankara Pirivena in 1950s and 1960s was also motivated by Walpola’s aspiration. It was this yearning to bring back Buddhism to its historic status that ultimately saw Buddhism elevated to ‘foremost place’ in the 1972 Colvin Constitution. Although Colvin was a Trotskyite socialist he could not resist the pressure from his ardently Buddhist Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who, according to Colvin himself, “imposed the 1815 Kandyan Convention on that constitution”. However, never in these decades was there any call from any Buddhist leader, including Walpola Rahula to absorb other religious and cultural communities into the Buddhist fold and eliminate the cultural diversity of this nation. Not even JR and his successor presidents entertained that idea.  

It was only after the civil war amidst raging anti-Muslim violence spearheaded by mafia-like groups such as BBS, JHU, Sinha Le, Ravana Balaya and a few others, the idea of ‘one law one country’ began to receive currency within a circle of Buddhist supremacists. It became a convenient aphorism to cover preaching of hatred against the Muslim community which, after 1990s was asserting its religious and cultural identity in multiple forms. 

In 2019, during the last days of Yahapalanaya regime, when Muslim leaders were squabbling over the issue of amending the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act of 1951 (MMDA), Rev. Athureliye Rathana Thera, an unelected Member of Parliament representing JHU and an anti-Muslim campaigner, took the opportunity and moved a Private Bill in the House demanding the abolition of the entire Act. He argued that there should be only one set of laws in one country.  Although he did not specify which law that he wanted to promote, Roman Dutch Law, Kandyan Law, or Thesavalamai, his demand for doing away with the so called Sharia Laws governing MMDA was never in doubt.   

The same argument of ‘one country one law’ was invoked by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to justify his stand on cremating Muslim dead bodies caused by Covid-19. On the advice of a health expert from the establishment and contrary to all advice from other epidemiologists from different parts of the world and WHO, Gotabaya approved cremating Covid-19 killed Muslims. Several appeals, letters and statements from both local and international leaders and organizations to allow Muslims to bury their dead victims had fallen on deaf years. It was one country one law. Period. 

However, the political hypocrisy behind this argument was exposed a few days ago in the funeral procession of CWC leader, Arumugam Thondaman. Laws governing crowding and social distancing were openly flouted when thousands of Thondaman’s mourners, SLPP VIPs and members of Buddhist clergy were allowed to participate in that procession. Not only was that procession an occasion to pay last respects to a dead leader, but also was one to celebrate the entry of his progeny into CWC politics. The whole event was reduced to a pre-election tamasha by GR-MR regime to win over CWC supporters. The police remained onlookers. Now, the Public Health Inspectors Union threatens to take legal action against the funeral organisers if anyone from that crowd fell victim to Covid-19. A law has been broken and shouldn’t action be taken under one country one law? 

Contrast this incident with another funeral in the Muslim community. A couple of weeks before Thondaman’s death, a renowned Muslim scholar, Dr. Shukri, Director of Naleemiya Institute in Beruwela, passed away. Thousands of his admirers, students and Muslim intellectuals would have attended his funeral had it not been for the rules on crowd restriction. Instead, only his family members participated in the funeral rites. Muslims respected the principle of one country one law while GR-MR regime flouted it.

To the President and his “power cartel”, CWC vote bank is more precious than the death of its leader.  It looks that coronavirus had gone on a holiday allowing mourners and celebrities to throng the streets? Why did the police remain inactive? Were they under special instructions? In summary, there is one country one law with one purpose, i.e., to win the next election at any cost with two-third majority.   

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Latest comments

  • 11

    Sri Lanka is a failed state. When Coronavirus induced economic collapse hits home, there will be riots and rising racism.

    • 3

      Law of the country – Prevailed.
      Constitution of the country – Prevailed.
      Democracy – Prevailed.
      Will of the people – Prevailed.
      Honer the law of the land.
      Respect The People’s Mandate.

  • 10

    A great tragedy that a dead man was flaunted about, displayed like a prized scalp at various strategic locations flouting all norms of social distancing and the laws that apply to quarantine, for political expediency in one of its lowest and dirtiest forms. Yes, the author is justified in his lament of discrimination with Shukry and Thondaman. I wonder how it would have been, if the former’s funeral was also allowed open season like the latter’s? Would the author have still written this article in the name of “one country, one law”?

  • 9

    Even under normal laws the way the body was kept for days and the way the funeral was conducted would have been seen ugly spectacle.

    But under the lock down condition what can you say about it?

    The one country one law has undergone a natural death.

    No amount of effort could resurrect it

    One country one law is not practical in a country with diversity as in Sri Lanka .

    Nobody advocated until Gotabaya.

    Gotabaya has a lot in common with Donald Trump!

  • 9

    “It looks that coronavirus had gone on a holiday allowing mourners and celebrities to throng the streets? “

    Give it a few more days. We will know who is Stronger, whether it is the GR govt. or Corona virus. It is widely accepted that the Virus Lost the First Round. You can be sure that the Virus also knows that. Will the virus grab the chance for Revenge or will it be too scared to try? Lets wait and see.

  • 15

    How can one man be so deceitful?
    This time he writes, “Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural society. Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors, Malays, Burghers and other communities, speak different languages with different dialects and follow different religious and cultural traditions”.
    This is a bloody self-serving reading of what Sri Lanka is!
    How can you not acknowledge that before the Portuguese, Dutch and British Jews screwed us since the 15th century and left this unmanageable ‘achcharu’ for us to deal with, this country was flourishing hydrological civilisation ably managed by our kings?
    You are trying your level best to preserve the advantages you were given by the British Jews since 1815, and to capture this country wholesale.
    This simply can’t and won’t happen. We are on a journey to reverse those corrupting effects of foreign blood sucking by Muslims or others.

  • 0

    a] In Beruwela the Power Cartel has no vote Bank. Full Stop!

    b] In the central Highlands Thondamans have their own Vote Bank; This would have swelled after the patronage of the Power Cartel at the funeral; For this community they need support to survive; cant blame them.

    So for a] The law is applied with a vengeance.
    for b] The law has been asked to go to hell.

  • 0

    Mr Ali Thank you for your article.
    Fully understand the concerns raised.
    However I am thinking a bit differently……….SJV formed a Federal Party to protect the Indian workers rights even though what was discussed then was about the workers who were in the country in the past 10 years as immigrant workers? nor did he advocated they all be brought to Jaffna. This is in the back drop ion 450 years of colonial rule that has disenfranchised the Sinhala people in their heart land in every way possible. Then SJV brought his new causes to Jaffna (not standing as a candidate in the Upcountry areas where the workers in question were living) and lost the elections in Jaffna intially earning the wrath of the Sinhala people. Then FP/TULF sought the Tamil Nadu backing with (MGR with upcountry ties) to do the training of our children(not the Upcountry children/Tamil Nadu and Indian children nor children from Malaysia and Singapore) for the armed struggle. Now we had war and lost our Mother Lankan children for this folly (Sinhala/Tamil/Muslim….)
    This war is completed with the help of India and whilst TNA still making a living blaming the GOSL for all that went wrong??

  • 1

    Do we really think our President does not understand the importance of the same people and their votes (CWC is hardly ever identified themselves with the FP/TULF/TNA folly as it was irrelevant) then and is now than ever????
    In the process Jaffna Tamils and Muslims have no where to go if they were to continue their politics? Lessons leaned we need to remove all the lawyers making a living in politics.
    Hon Late Thondaman and his Father served their people very well and respect total contrary to what happened in North and East.
    Now the Indians overseas Singapore/Malaysia and SL are all in a better position than they were historically due to perseverance just what happened to most of us migrated to all around the world………..but the SL Tamils and Muslims are in a dire strait…….because of the FP/TUL;F Mafia and thuggery since 1970’s.
    We should also note the riots in Kandy with Muslims and Sinhalese were also was to do with the Indian Mamas moved to SL during colonial times as traders/businessmen and not from the SL Muslims historically. Tables are all turned now……we need to be honest to ourselves at some point as we have dragged all the innocent Sinhalese/Tamils/Muslims/Christians into the gutters…

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