12 December, 2019

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‘Rally For Unity’, A March Towards Reconciliation

By Kamaya Jayatissa

Kamaya Jayatissa

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” –  Nelson Mandela

It is often the case that a nation which experienced a protracted war will tend to look forward rather than backward. For Sri Lankans, over the years, the war became a part of their lives, and survival a part of their routine. In such a context, healing becomes a lengthy and culturally-bound process. Though some may find it difficult to achieve, such process cannot be understated or underestimated when it comes to building a deeper unity, thus a sustainable peace for Sri Lanka. But how many of us really took the time and space to actually forgive and heal from a war that scattered a whole nation for over three decades, leaving behind scars that are still visible from the outside. How many of us actually grasped the opportunity to make a change?

Last Sunday, April 28th, marked a turning point in building such unity when a “voluntary movement of concerned Sri Lankans from various institutions, professions and industries” organized ‘Rally for Unity – Hate has no place in Sri Lanka’, a non-partisan anti-racism march for the promotion of ethno-religious harmony. Hundreds of people gathered for the occasion near the Nelum Pokona, in Colombo, irrespective of their political affiliation, ethnicity or religion. Holding banners in all three languages they began a peaceful protest, which in only two hours, brought together protestors from various backgrounds and affiliations. From politicians to members of the Clergy or diverse faiths, from students to civic society; they all gathered as one.

These peaceful protestors reminded us that although some may believe that it is their right to freely express themselves without any restraint whatsoever, one should always keep in mind that one’s freedom stops where someone else’s freedom begins (from the French proverb “La liberté des uns s’arrête là où commence celle des autres”). This means that freedom is being able to do anything that does not harm other members of a society who have the same rights. This was expressed in Article 4 of the French Declaration of Human Rights (1789):

Liberty consists in being able to do anything that does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of every man has no bounds other than those that ensure to the other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights. These bounds may be determined only by Law.”

This was later on confirmed in Article 29 II of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which states that:

In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”

This awareness campaign against hate-speech and against the marginalization of minority communities in general was the opportunity for all communities, both the majority and the minorities, to peacefully express themselves as one voice, the voice of unity and of diversity. But most importantly, it was the opportunity for the younger generation to stand up for what they believe was right and say out loud, as could be seen on their banners, that ‘Racism stops with me’. Such campaigns are not only inspiring but they also give back hope by showing that the moderates will not remain silent any further when witnessing talks or acts of hate speech against a members or a member of any community.

This Sunday’s ‘Rally for Unity’ was not merely a march against racism. It is indeed the starting point of a march towards reconciliation, a march for equality, freedom and co-existence between communities that are still healing from decades of war. It is thereby a response to some of the long standing challenges faced by the country in its post-war era and mostly a response to the recent incidents promoted by ethno-religious fundamentalists. By starting this movement, which hopefully will inspire many and generate similar events island-wide, the Sri Lankan youth successfully opened an alternative space for a peaceful ethno-religious dialogue; a space which is both independent and inclusive enough to be in its own way disconnected from the State apparatus. Developing such a creative and critical thinking is an achievement that needs to be taken into account in times of crises. So far, such a space was barely available for people to express themselves freely, without any fear.

The challenge for the younger generation now remains in maintaining this space by strengthening, on a long term basis, their commitment to values such as pluralism and equality; enlightened values that will help forge a more united Sri Lanka.

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Latest comments

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    What a load of lies…. the BBC reported it was against the Buddhists… so what Peace ///UNity …

    You’ll had planned this all along….

    Actually even I was expecting something really fruitful but when it was targeted at one group… i thought what the hell… this is not how Colombo should be doing..

    its a bad show and unfair too… you guys are really bad… and racists too… and you blame others for racism and hate…

    you know why that is so… bcos u have been so used to calling others and bullying them … now you are taken by surprise when the retaliations are coming…

    really bad show…

    • 0
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      Boo hoo, Shiva

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      “…the BBC reported it was against the Buddhists… “

      No, that is simply untrue, i.e. it is a falsehood; a lie. The BBC video is on this website and can be repeatedly checked. It used the term ‘anti-racism’ to describe the rally and criticized the government for ‘turning a blind eye’ on ‘extremist Buddhism’.

      How can the term ‘anti-racism’ be against the Buddhists? Surely the Buddhists are not racists, so the cap doesn’t fit.

      How is the term ‘extremist Buddhism’ against the Buddhists?

      This is not the case, anymore than the terms ‘extremist Christianity’ and ‘extremist Islam’ are against the Christians or the Muslims, or ‘extremist Tamil/Sinhala nationalism’ is against the Tamils or Sinhalese.

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    Goood to hear that these Moderate Vigilantes are marching towards Reconciliation.

    The only obstacle or rather should we say the barricade for this “Reconciliation” is the TNA head Sambandan.

    For thirty years Mr Sambnadan and his cohorts were happy to live in leafy parts of Colombo well protected by our brave but poor rural youth in uniform.

    The 30% plus Tamil population inn Colombo didn’t seem to have any problems with reconciliation either.

    Isn’t it better in Colombo now for these Moderate Vigilantes with Night Clubs open 7 days, Irish Bars, Pommy Bars and Tapas joints in every 5 Star Dig and International Fine Dining Rooms fully booked even on Monday nights?.

    Even Sanga’s Crab House dishing out Jumbo crabs,at bargain basement prices to Colombosiders,

    By the way did anyone see Mr Sambandan or any of his supporters like Sengutuan at this Rally?.

  • 0
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    Siva, sad that you try to twist a good action in to a macabre plot. Hope your heart heals and your eyes open to see and new emerging diverse movement. I was there and saw representatives of several religions: Buddhis, Christian and Muslim, at least. Many of us didn’t even subscribe to a specific religion but have only good faith and positive convictions that a change is possible. Leave your anger, join a peaceful movement!

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    It takes courage and sheer guts to speak out in a garrison state against those who sow the seeds of Hatred and Disrespect are consumed with the objective to destroy communal harmony. We Hope Intellectuals such as Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Dr. Rifai Naleemi, Dr. Laksiri Fernando, Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara, Dr. Rajasingham Narendran, Mr. David Blacker and others join and pool their knowledge and experience to work out a solution to the country before a severe social and economic meltdown.

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    Intellectuals! Hmm. From one set of butchers to another what an abattoir you seem to run.The known is better than unknown.

    Aren’t folk using this unity to become economic refugees in the west?

    You reap what you sow Live with it- raja and the clan Apey Lankawa

  • 0
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    Dayan,

    Accept the sad truth. The world sees the Budhist of Sri Lanka – as racist. As much as many saw the Tamil Freedom fighters as Terrorist.

    Wishing you good luck in re-educating the world.

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    As the writer says, what began as a reaction to hate talk by BBS should become rallying point for unity in Sri Lanka. BBS is only one obstacle in the journey, there are many more. These can be demolished by the simple act of joining hands and participating in activities of this nature.

    Thus far it has been the old bigots who set the tone for society to act. Their vision is coloured by the negative aspects of ancient history long past. Now our youth must come forward with their vibrant ideas and broad mindedness. The movement for unity has the potential to spread throughout the country and unite the entire country. Use of social media for positive thinking and inclusiveness is very welcome.

  • 0
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    Dayan…Dr.. are you not the person who included in Geneva that Sri Lanka was ready for separation without asking the the Government and you included that clause.. on your own….

    your credibility is much on the line…the colombo telegraph opening lines were clear…

  • 0
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    “Rally for unity” is the need of the hour.
    Sri Lanka’s Governing body is on a Divide and Rule path.

    While giving all the comforts to it’s vandibattayas, it deprive the rest who are against their dictatorial selfish policy.

    Therefore to rally everybody on equal rights, freedom, liberty and justice is the most important issue and this is another Great work done by Dr.Jayatillake and the organisers. Keep it up.

  • 0
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    I commend you Kamaya Jayatissa. The rally for unity was definitely a good initiative. Let us hope that it will grow and become a major force. The government will do it’s utmost to disrupt it but it is up to us to withstand such pressures and spread the message to the rural people. There will be people who will call us Colombians, Night Clubbers, Crab Eaters, and all sorts of derogatory names because they experience pleasure in name calling, but that does not matter. Believe that the moral authority endowed in good people is sufficient to convince the rural masses more than the corrupt politician.

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