21 September, 2018

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Secularism & Its Discontents

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

Going by the rhetoric and the text pertaining to constitutional reform currently being debated in Parliament, it is all about two things. 1) expunging of the clause supposedly privileging Buddhism, and 2) devolution of power. 

Tamil National Alliance MP, M. A. Sumanthiran, has stated the stand of his party and by and large the group of anti Sinhala, anti-Buddhist NGO lobby: “our stand is that there should be a secular constitution where there is no special identification for a single religion, and instead all religions should be given equal status in the country.”

The bone of contention is Article 9: “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).” These other assurances are as follows: 

Article 10: Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice. 

Article 14 (1) (e) the freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

Taken together, Article 9 stands in effect negated.  

What is not noted either in constitution or in rhetoric is the fact that certain religions are invasive simply because the relevant doctrines distinguish between adherent and non-adherent in ways that make for interpretations prompting aggression of one kind of another. So the ‘practice’ element in Article 14 (1) (e) can sanction acts that infringe upon freedoms and general co-existence and can be defended in the name of ‘religious freedom’.  

There are other things that the secularist lobby deliberately ignores.  If secular is the way to go, there cannot be half-way measures. You can’t take away the only ‘privilege’ that Buddhism has (and that too, as pointed out, a mere lip-servicing and nothing more) while being silent on the privileges enjoyed by other religious communities.  

Let’s begin with religious holidays. Back in the day, there were 49 ‘Buddhist’ holidays, 4 poyas every month and an extra holiday on the day following Vesak. That number was slashed to one-fourth plus one, i.e. 13.  Christians, on the other hand, have 54: Sundays, Easter and Christmas.  Hindus are grossly underrepresented in comparison, having just Pongal and Mahasivarathri. Muslims have three official holidays: Idul Fitr, Idul Adha and Milad-un-Nabi.  In addition, consider the following:

Muslims are given two hours of leave from 1 pm every Friday. That’s the equivalent of 13 work days if you want to me mathematically clinical about such things. During the Ramadan period, Muslims have the privilege of obtaining ‘special leave’ to take part in prayers. A Muslim woman is given leave of four months and ten days in the event her husband dies and three months following divorce.  

We can also add that school terms were arranged so that Christmas fell during a long holiday. We can note that Christian schools, although required to finance themselves from 1962, were subsequently accorded public grants (since 1978).  

There are other ‘special’ laws that are certainly at odds with the secularist vision, which would indicate a single legal system, for example the Tesavalamai Law and the Kandyan Marriage Law. More pernicious by way of contradicting constitutionally guaranteed freedoms would be the Muslim Marriage Law.  

Thus, if equality is the objective, then all these should be erased off the constitution along with Articles 9, 10 and 14 (1) (e). That is if we need to separate ‘state’ and ‘church’ (or ‘religion’). What is being proposed is to remove ‘Buddhism’ and allow other religions to entrench their already privileged position in the Constitution. That’s progressive? That makes for paceful co-existence and reconciliation?  

The easy answer is ‘Customary Law’. Well, if it is about custom then it is also about culture. If that is a factor important enough to be considered, then one needs to take note of two reailties: 1) no community, religious or otherwise, has had as overpowering an influence on the history, heritage and culture of this country as Buddhists, and 2) what Article 9 does is but a weak correction of a historical injustice done to Buddhists by the British who arbitrarily abrogated the clause in the Kandyan Convention related to the protection of Buddhism.  

As things stand, religion-wise, this state is chock-full of religion and it’s mostly non-Buddhist. And for those like Sumanthiran who are upset by a few innocuous words in a single article, they would do good to reflect on the the pervasive privileges enjoyed by Christians (and theists in general given the overwhelming presence of ‘God’ in constitutions) in officially ‘secular’ nations in Europe and of course the status of non-Islamic religions in Quranic states.  

A quick note on devolution is necessary. First, the lines (as pointed out by President Sirisena) were the work of British political cartographers and are not drawn from any substantiable historical narrative. Second, there’s no discussion on whether or not grievances stated warrant devolution (decentralization sorts many if not all issues). Third, demography rebels against devolution as mechanism to resolve grievances (even if they are not stripped of the frills of aspiration and myth-mongering); almost half the Tamils live outside the so-called ‘traditional homelands’ which, let us note, are also the regions which the archaeological record indicates is the heartland of Buddhism in this island.  Fourth, provincial councils as per the 13th Amendment, are veritable white elephants and do little more than groom thugs, miscreants and thieves for higher office. Throw in enduring Tamil chauvinism a la the mouthings of Northern Province Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran and devolution is a recipe for abiding conflict.  

Here’s the danger. The twin assaults on the majority community could have be deliberate for the simple reason that ‘compromise’ can be reached, dumping one for the other. For example, it could come to a point where one is thrust as bargaining chip to obtain the other, in the give-and-take spirit.  

What must be remembered is that these are two separate issues. Both reccomendations smack of subterfuge. Both are bombs, to use the word in the street. Bombs in Parliament which can precipitate much suffering outside. They need to be defused. 

*Malinda Senevirtatne is a freelance writer.  malindasenevi@gmail.com.  www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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  • 3
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    Dear seneviratne.
    Thank you very much for your clarification of some points.
    But you can not gauge equality like this ..due to different religious practices they all different types of holidays..and different type of concessions.
    Why not …? It is really meeting needs of people..
    People should enjoy freedom of faith and freedom of religious practices .
    Does it cost a lot if we have these festivals..
    What about poya days?
    What about Buddhist holidays.
    Festival days .
    It is part and parcel of Sri Lanka.
    No point in talking about this .
    What matters most is Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country .
    It is duty of Buddhists people to protect it ..
    Government could do its bit but it is people.who. should follow its teaching.

    • 6
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      ” the fact that certain religions are invasive simply because the relevant doctrines distinguish between adherent and non-adherent in ways that make for interpretations prompting aggression “
      In this country, Govt. schools are Buddhist by default. All children are forced to chant “gathas ‘ every morning, and all classrooms house a Buddha statue.
      What can be more “invasive” than that? Get a life, Malinda. You couldn’t convince a 5-year old with such arguments.

    • 4
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      Malinda Seneviratne

      RE:Secularism & Its Discontents

      “it is all about two things. 1) expunging of the clause supposedly privileging Buddhism, and 2) devolution of power. “

      1.) is about Separation of Religion, Church, Temple, Mosque and State.

      Religion is about belief, unproven beliefs, and a state should not be based on that.
      USA, France, Turkey, Russia, China, have all recognized that.

      2) devolution of power. This is local governance and management

      America and many others recognized that including India, the Homeland of the Paras in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho.

      So, how much of the stolen loot of Mahinda Rajapaksa is left for you to spend?

      MaRa MaRa ChaTu MaRa AmaNa MaRa HoRa DhushaNa MaRa….

      //1) expunging of the clause supposedly privileging Buddhism,?/

      Makes sense because,

      Para-Sinhala “Buddhism” is an Insult to Buddhism , and

      Mahawamsa is an Insult to The Buddha.

      Mahavamsa- An Insult To The Buddha!.By Sharmini Serasinghe
      Malinda Seneviratne an Insult to common sense.

      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/mahavamsa-an-insult-to-the-buddha/

      Wonder if ours might have been a wiser, and a more ‘humane’ society, had our ‘ancient’ history, been based on Aesop’s Fables, instead of the Mahavamsa. For if not for the Mahavamsa, the Sinhalese may not have been endowed, with the reputation, of “Sinhalaya Modaya (The Sinhalese are Fools)”!

      In this “wonderland” called Sri Lanka, and in this day and age, one still comes across ‘academically’ educated, and supposedly intelligent ‘Buddhists’, but sadly lacking in wisdom, who reverently believe, that the Buddha walked out of his mother’s womb, and walked seven steps, while lotuses blossomed, under his feet!

      • 1
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        Mr.Amarasir. A grand comment “Wonder if ours might have been a wiser, and a more ‘humane’ society, had our ‘ancient’ history, been based on Aesop’s Fables, instead of the Mahavamsa. For if not for the Mahavamsa, the Sinhalese may not have been endowed, with the reputation, of “Sinhalaya Modaya (The Sinhalese are Fools)”!
        In this “wonderland” called Sri Lanka, and in this day and age, one still comes across ‘academically’ educated, and supposedly intelligent ‘Buddhists’, but sadly lacking in wisdom, who reverently believe, that the Buddha walked out of his mother’s womb, and walked seven steps, while lotuses blossomed, under his feet!”

        What about the three great visions – old man, sick man and a dead man. Why was it not a women and secondly the PRINCE was 35 years old trained in the art of war!

        Amarasir, there are more things that had been coined by Mahawanse the Great book of lies.

        • 0
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          Upali Wickramasinghe,

          “Why was it not a women “…….

          Ananda and Women:
          On one occasion Ananda approached the Buddha and asked Him:
          “How are we to conduct ourselves. Lord with regard to womenkind?”
          “As not seeing them,Ananda”
          “But if we should see them , Lord, what are we to do?”
          “Do not talk to them , Ananda”
          “but if they should speak to us, Lord, what are we to do?”
          “Be watchful, Ananda”

          From Buddha and His Teachings, Ven Narada, New Edition, 2012, page 147.

          “Amarasir, there are more things that had been coined by Mahawanse the Great book of lies.”

          Looks like the Ven. Monk Mahanama, did not like women either that much. He had to fill in the gaps, to make it interesting, like Sinhabahu…. and it was gobbled up by an academic, one Professor Ediriweera Sarathchandra, who produced a drama, Sinhabahu, that added fuel to the ethnic conflict, between the Paras.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=la-YgCabVlA

          Gallena bindala, breaking the stone cave…

  • 5
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    this chap Malinda should understand that Sri Lanka is not a secular country and the constitution is not a secular constitution. This is probably the only country run according to the wishes of priests – the so called religious leaders.

  • 5
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    Malinda Seneviratne types:

    “Here’s the danger. The twin assaults on the majority community could have be deliberate for the simple reason that ‘compromise’ can be reached, dumping one for the other.”
    .
    Malinda, Dayan, Nalin, Wimal, ………………………………. do suffer from paranoia. Poor souls.

    • 2
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      Well said Veddah
      As their brains are programmed with a defective DNA gene and so disabled within a demented limitation, they cannot comprehend anything beyond.
      Poor souls indeed.

    • 0
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      Simply they r educated dump sinhala modayas…

  • 2
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    rnalists are biased and dishonest. DEvolving power. What powers. IT is said, they won’t be devolved with Lands and police power. In that too Media is baised and dishonest. What is happening is fooling voters. when the election comes they all talk constitution, devolution, Tamil and muslim rights blah.blah.. they blame sinhala buddhists, buddhist monks, the rpevious govt. All lies and manipulation. So, the white collar thieves continue their high way robberies. Journal;ists live on those dead carcasses.

  • 4
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    Some good points. I think overall a secular state is best, given the make-up of our population.

    However, ignoring the role that buddhism (more than the Sinhalese) had in defining this island for millenia, we should retain the notion that Sri Lanka is a buddhist state, just like India is a hindu state and Germany a christian. I believe in Germany the government pays money to churches using people’s taxes, and in the US you have to take oaths using the judeo-christian model of swearing by God.

    In a secular state, there should be only ONE standard for everyone – be it marriage, work leave or religious education. Thus the special laws such as Kandyan, Thesavalami and MMDA should be abolished.

    Sri Lanka was instrumental in preserving the Buddha’s teaching (from 3rd BCE), as well as helping spread the religion to South-east Asia (Burma, Thailand, Cambodia etc.). Thus just like the Vatican, Israel, Saudi Arabia and India, we cannot ignore the importance of the religion to our nation.

    Standing up for the status of buddhism on the island, does not make one a chauvinist or a non-pragmatist. I believe we can have both true freedom of and from religion, as well as recognition of our country as a buddhist one. Power sharing is the only way to make it work, while not allowing different religions to treat Sri Lankans differently from one another.

    By this same token, the North should be considered the Tamil area of Sri Lanka. That does not mean that people of other ethnicities should not be able to live, work or build non-Hindu places of worship there.

    The sooner the elites of the UNP understand this, the closer we will be to true peace on this land.

    • 1
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      “ Standing up for Buddhism on the island does not make one chauvinist or non pragmatist”.
      Certainly when a numerical majority racial group are it’ s loyal adherents., why give It special constitutional prominence over the faiths of other minority racial sections who co-habit the island.
      After all they are also permitted to follow their believes in the same constitution?
      Why differentiate if they are supposed to equals?
      That is where the grit in the shoe irritates the minority foot.

  • 5
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    who saiid Sundays doe christians? who prevented selling meat and alcohol on paydays? if Buddhists cannot refrain from such things on their own what is the point? this chap Malinda is a racist, he is a confused chap. this country is in this mess because of people like this idiot Malinda. Myanmar and Sri Lanka are the only counties where the yellow robed thugs are having hay day thanks to idiots like Malinda. Muslims are driven by blind faith, even then their religious leaders are not in forefront.

  • 4
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    MS you are Beating a dead horse, this is all intellectually bankrupt grand standing!
    Sigmund Freud wrote about the “Narcissism of Minor differences”. This applies to your confused grand stand about secularism and culture here.
    Counting religious holidays to talk about discrimination is a JOKE – a Category mistake Logicians call it.
    Get a brain and a life MS and focus on the real story – bi-partisan UNP-SLFP Corruption.
    Lankan Media, civil society and citizens should all unite to make the fight against Corruption of UNP and SLFP politicians the first and top National Development Priority, instead of being distracted by corrupt politicians and pseudo intellectuals like MS who play religious and ethnic hate speech games and whip up hatred to distract the masses from their corruption.
    Now in an era of Fake news and post facts we have a Fake New Constitution which is being used to distract people from the Corruption of the Politicians in the Diyawenna Parliament of morons who only travel in Duty free SUVs.
    Corruption is the main cause for the lack of equitable regional development and discrimination against people of all communities. Sooner that civil society realizes this the better. Bond scam Ranil and Avant Guard scam Marapona must be impeached and share a prison cell with Mahinda Jarapassa and his brothers and sons. Marapona’s brother is Namal Baba’s lawyer – the bi-partisan UNP-SLFP cozy CORRUPTION is so clear.

  • 4
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    Word games about unitary or unity are useless. All religions, particularly, Buddhism, preach tolerance and have been violated by their protectors. leaders and Saffron Thugs
    Bond Scam Ranil Wickramasinghe’s New constitution is a Red Herring and diversion from the rotten political culture and corruption of Jarapalanaya Govt.
    .Divide, Distract and Rule the moda masses with the Fake new constitutions is Ranil’s latest game. What Lanka needs today is New Politicians, and multiculural policies and the political will to implement them.Privacy should be a Fundamental Right in the Constitution.

    BTW. The recently introduced national Bio-metic identity card is a violation of the Fundamental Right to Privacy, which the Indian Supreme Court ruled on recently when the same question came up there and the Adhar card was challenged by citizens groups.
    The right to Life, liberty and Privacy should be in chapter on Fundamental Rights.

  • 5
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    Malinda is back to his usual intellectual dishonesty when he writes”Taken together, Article 9 stands in effect negated. “
    Actually, # 10 and #14 are negated by 9.

    ” Back in the day, there were 49 ‘Buddhist’ holidays, Christians, on the other hand, have 54: Sundays, Easter and Christmas. “
    Yes, the idiotic UNP govt of the time removed the Sunday weekend, but ironically the”Sinhala Buddhist ” Sirimavo had to reinstate it due to plain economics.
    Sunday may be a Christian “holiday”, but it is so all over the world except in some rich Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia.. Christians actually have only 2 holidays. Buddhists have 14. As for Muslims being given time off, why not talk about Buddhists disappearing from workplaces on April 12th and reappearing only after Wesak?

    ‘You can’t take away the only ‘privilege’ that Buddhism has (and that too, as pointed out, a mere lip-servicing and nothing more) ‘

    Malinda, go to the so-called “Buddhist and Pali University” in Kelaniya and check out the huge new building being done with PUBLIC funds. Is there a similar Christian or Muslim/ Hindu establishment, and if so, where?

    “pervasive privileges enjoyed by Christians (and theists in general given the overwhelming presence of ‘God’ in constitutions) in officially ‘secular’ nations “

    What “privileges”? In the UK, US, and most of Europe, it is illegal to display ANY religious symbol in State schools.
    In this country, Govt. schools are Buddhist by default. All children are forced to chant “gathas ‘ every morning, and all classrooms house a Buddha statue.
    In addition, most Government buildings from hospitals to garbage depots have a prominent Buddhist shrine in front.
    Good try, but SHAME ON YOU, MALINDA.

    • 2
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      old codger

      I don’t understand, is this Mahinda’s …. carrier demanding more holidays for Sinhala/Buddhists in a year.

      If that is the case, I suggest the state should consider paying these lazy Sinhala/Buddhist racists a “guaranteed minimum income” to keep them at home in order to keep the working environment clean.

      • 1
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        ” I suggest the state should consider paying these lazy Sinhala/Buddhist racists a “guaranteed minimum income”
        They do already. It is known as Samurdhi.

  • 2
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    Malinda,
    You identify only two assaults in the Interim report, one on “Buddhism” and the other on “Devolution”.
    Let us further analyze:
    Religion,
    Sri Lanka is blessed by Lord Buddha thrice and does Sri Lanka needs additional state protections and if Buddhists are true believers they will have to be in the forefront more than others to do away with special constitutional provisions for Buddhism.
    . .
    Let me reformulate the provision for religion in the constitution if the present provision is mere lip-servicing and nothing more;

    “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and however it shall be the duty of the state to protect and foster all religions while assuring to all religions the fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution”.

    If you are innovative and think out of box the possibilities are endless.

    Devolution

    According to Malinda, “Demography rebels against devolution as mechanism to resolve grievances almost half the Tamils live outside the so-called ‘traditional homelands”.

    If the Tamils living outside Northern and Eastern Provinces themselves are not worried why you are worried?

    Let the majority of Tamils outside Northern and Eastern Provinces along with others.
    Why you are shedding crocodile tears?

    Bargaining

    Again according to Malinda,”The twin assaults on the majority community could have be deliberate for the simple reason that ‘compromise’ can be reached, dumping one for the other. For example, it could come to a point where one is thrust as bargaining chip to obtain the other, in the give-and-take spirit”.

    The twin assaults are on” religion” and “Devolutions” you believe the Tamils are ready to bargain devolution for Religion.

    Well! negotiation is a skill! and it is the prerogative of Tamils to use their own strategy and tactics

  • 1
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    Here is my whistle for yet another superb article from you Malinda! Keep it up.

    • 2
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      max

      “Here is my whistle for yet another superb article from you Malinda! Keep it up.”

      Why?

      Is it because just like you he too is another clan’s b***s carrier?

  • 4
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    Foremost place to buddhism means more resources to temples by the government so that monks can molest more boys! Nothing else. You cannot create a just and equal society by favoring one religion by the government. Leave religion out of government and assure equal rights and freedom of religion to all citizens. The biggest joke of the present government was that the sinhala guy who just got fired as deputy minister had muslim affairs under him! I wonder how that worked out.

    • 3
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      ABM

      “Foremost place to buddhism”

      A very good place for the crooks, thieves, war criminals, ……… to hide.

      From ministry’s additional budget the politicians in charge of the ministry could siphon off large sums of funds through creative accounting as happened in sil redda case.

      Why should anyone allow the political crooks, thieves, rapists, war criminals, saffron clad thugs ….. to determine what is good for Buddhism?

  • 1
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    Malinda in paragraph 2, high lights NGOs who subscribe to ~ “our stand is that there should be a secular constitution where there is no special identification for a single religion, and instead all religions should be given equal status in the country.”
    Malinda rates such groups of anti Sinhala, anti-Buddhist. Why?
    Buddhism has survived 500 years of colonisation, virtually in tact. This “Defender of Buddhism” has become a commercial venture and Malinda no doubt wants to join the gravy train. The danger is from within Malinda!
    Malinda ascribes the para 2 thingy to TNA. They never said this. This is hitting below the belt.
    Malinda has political ambitions. On public holidays, he says ~ “…….Christians, on the other hand, have 54: Sundays, Easter and Christmas…….”.
    This is on the lower side of low. Remember the dislocation caused by the pre-Poya and Poya holidays?

  • 2
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    Malinda Senevirathne iss another Hyena and some say he wants to become a politician. Why do you blame only the buddhist monks. How about the church and mosque inviting politicians into their church. why don’t you about that. Why don’t you blame politicians offering kilograms of Gold to foreign temples. ——-BTW if you try to repsent politically, WE should do our best to make you lose.

  • 1
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    This chap says Christians are a favoured lot because they enjoy 52 Sundays, which are all Christian religious holidays. This is an absurd statement to make. Even though originally Sundays were devoted to religious activities by Christians they were later universally adopted by the world community as a sort of convention and that was very convenient for all. It is wrong to describe Sundays as exclusively favouring one religion because all persons, whatever their religion enjoy Sundays. Also, there has to be some sort of uniformity because if all countries adopted a different calendar for their weekends that would cause severe disruption to production, communication and all economic activities. This guy is a prize ass I tell you!

    I am focusing on one absurd assertion in his article. It is not the only one though and is typical of his line of reasoning.

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