By Ayathuray Rajasingam –
In any civilized country, after an armed conflict with the insurgents alleged to represent the oppressed community, the re-establishment of friendly relations with the oppressed community is promoted and encouraged by all means. A group representing all communities is formed to find out the truth and ensure justice. Such reconciliation measures include forgiveness and accommodation between conflicting communities.
Since gaining independence, Sri Lanka witnessed three communal riots and eventually a war against the Tamil insurgents, in addition to the rebellions staged by the JVP, all of which resulted in heavy loss of lives and property, which shattered the economy of Sri Lanka. The unsettled conditions that prevailed in Sri Lanka only saw that some Sinhalese politicians were infected with the disease of communalism for greed of power and violence (instead of peace, kindness and generosity) which in turn resulted in bringing three constitutions within a period of thirty years. But other countries like Canada, India, Malaysia, Singapore have never changed their constitutions because their leaders were concerned of the harmony of all races.
If Sri Lanka is to be placed on the path of progress, reconciliation is the way ahead. The argument that because the armed conflict continued for a period of more than 25 years, it will take time to resolve the ethnic issue has no foundation. As the 21st century belongs to organizations and teamwork, reconciliation process should have been completed within a period of two years with the assistance of the NGOs. Instead of re-settling the Tamils, the Government is keen to drag the issue with the view to neutralize the 13th Amendment. The attempt to neutralize the operation of the 13th Amendment appears to be a monstrous injustice to the minorities and will pave way for the essence of inequality to be embedded in the constitution. It is unfortunate that the government failed to realize that Tamils are a segment of the Sri Lanka population. Moreover, few Buddhist priests with some undesirable politicians, began to give a new interpretation to the teachings of Lord Buddha. It is these people who have been a barrier to the teamwork of group which wanted some reconciliation within the communities. Every citizen hopes that Sri Lanka should not be divided down the lines of discrimination.
The idea behind the reconciliation process is to bring back all affected parties together and heal the wounds of pain of feelings and create trust among the communities which is a challenging task. It is the teamwork of a group or Commission which plays a vital role in designing resolutions of conflicts through negotiated process without the interference of religious and political extremists. Since democracy and reconciliation are interwoven and intertwined, they should go hand in hand.
Team work is a major factor for unity and national integration in any country practising pluralism. Teamwork is one way of confident building measures within communities, resulting from exchange of ideas on account of interactions between the representatives of various communities. A group or Commission should comprise members from all communities which should adopt an egalitarian approach to improve interactions within the communities. But embracing diversity alone would be detrimental to the unity of the communities. As minority community always prefer to retain their identities, the group or Commission appointed by the government should not act in such a manner to generate greater feelings of distrust and impressions of prejudice in inter-racial inter actions, because teamwork is considered as a cornerstone to attain the desired objective of confident building measures. Colonizing with Sinhalese in lands belonging to the Tamils, abducting individuals for ransom, communal tone of speech, etc, shatters the spirit of the teamwork for reconciliation.
The settlement of the ethnic issue should revolve around the problems of the victims who survived the experience of this armed conflict between the LTTE and the Military Forces. In identifying the various parties to the conflict, the group entrusted with the reconciliation process should stage a coming together as Sri Lankan citizens. As such, the group or Commission as a team should consist of Tamils, Muslims and non-prejudicial Sinhalese which could perform better than with some Tamils, Muslims and aversively racist Sinhalese. But the spirit of the teamwork of the group or Commission has become complex on account of some Muslims leaning towards the ruling party to the detriment of Tamils’ interests while some extreme forces of Muslims has been a concern to the Sinhala Buddhists. Targeting Mosques by Buddhist extremists, destruction of Hindu temples and churches by unknown elements and the undemocratic behaviour of some Police and military officers with religious extremists breaking the backbone of the Buddhist spiritual and cultural heritage throughout the country, demonstrates the absence of law and order. In an atmosphere of this nature, the interracial teamwork would suffer greatly from aversive racism on interracial interaction.
A group as a team should consist of different ethnic groups without any feeling of resentment from organizations including NGOs, Universities and institutions on projects which are beneficial to the communities. There should be no political or religious affiliations to such constituted teams, because a team can make better decisions which are of sound quality than an individual working alone. It is these teams which can foster unity and multi-cultural understanding among the people. Such a multi-ethnic work environment has the force of promoting co-operation in their daily interactions. Team work is one of the adequate measures which can ensure students in schools and universities to expose with ideas about multi-cultural understanding frequently. The influence of narrow considerations by the politicians even affected the national anthem to be sung only in Sinhala, thus deliberately ignoring the aspirations of the minorities, in addition to the behaviour of the BBS and other extremist factions, which paved way for disintegration and nullified the concept of Oneness of the nation. It is regretted to observe that the presence of military forces in schools and universities had nullified such team building for instilling multi-cultural understanding.
It is the greed for power that tempted politicians to suppress the legitimate rights of the minorities and deliberately denying that the minorities are not a segment of Sri Lanka’s community. They only experiment ways and means to divide the nation for their survival instead of strengthening the teamwork for the harmony of all people. The creation of the BBS and the evil attitude of the politicians in suppressing the legitimate rights of the minorities, the indirect blessings of Muslim politicians for the spread of Wahhabism, the selfish attitude of some Tamil politicians, the illegal activities of drug trafficking, the connections of the politicians and the Security Forces with the underworld criminals, giving priority to military officers instead of the trained civil officers, the improper appointments as representatives to foreign countries, squeezing the independence of judiciary, etc shatter the spirit of the teamwork for maintaining and strengthening the communal harmony. It also appears that the creation of the BBS is to divert the attention of the public from the misdeeds of the politicians, pertaining to the independence of judiciary. It is a type of ‘divide and rule policy’. One ponders the issue of addressing their minds to such concept of teamwork for communal harmony.
A comparison of the reconciliation process initiated by Emperor Asoka, would reveal that Sri Lankan political leaders had failed to realize that violence is not the technique to resolve conflicts and achieve the desired aim of peace and harmony. It may be difficult to adopt non-violent techniques. But violence would alienate the oppressed communities and can produce destructive outcome. Non-violence is a method of resolving conflicts with the teachings of all religions and is consistent with a belief in the underlying unity of humankind. Violence prevents the appreciation of shared community. The method of non-violence guarantees lasting success and reflects divine qualities. Mahathma Gandhi’s non-violence is a case in point.
After the Kalinga war, it is the dead and wounded soldiers together with the weeping widows greeted the eyes of Emperor Asoka. He won the battle at the expense of much suffering, but after listening to the Buddhist monk of Buddha’s message of non-violence, kindness and love of mankind, his conscience pricked him for taking the lives of so many thousands to which he was not entitled to, other than God. He realized that victory brought only grief, but not joy. The victory of Dharma bring with it love and affection. The power of arms bowed before the power of Dharma. He realized rooting out the people of Kalinga from their traditional homes and lands amounted to economic injustice and went to extent of punishing officers for being discriminatory among the people. Thereafter, he took adequate measures to conquer the hearts of the people rather than celebrating the victory of the war. Will such sorrow appeal the political leaders and military forces in Sri Lanka?
Emperor Asoka took the view that all religions teach the same path of virtue. One of his inscriptions states, ‘We must respect the followers of other religions in every way. By doing so, we can help the growth of our religion and help other religions also. If we act in a different way, it will harm our religion and also other religions. To speak ill of other religions will harm the interests of one’s own religion. The powers of all religions should grow. Devanampriya does not consider charity and worship more important than this’. It is not sufficient for political leaders to visit such places but to put into action as service-minded rulers like in Canada, India, Malaysia and Singapore which gained independence from Britain. Sri Lankan politicians failed to realize the value of independence and were only concerned of their vested interest and not of the people.
Sri Lanka would have been a better country like Canada, Switzerland & Singapore, had the politicians in power or their supporters done good for others without discrimination, instead of expecting or demanding others to do for them. It is history that after 1956, narrow considerations like communalism, linguism and regionalism appeared to rule the country. These narrow considerations were, in fact, a threat to national integration. Since the politicians were concerned of power and bent on suppressing the legitimate rights of the Tamils, the demand for a separate State cropped up. On the other hand, had the religious Buddhist leaders come forward to protect the interests of the ethnic community, the bond between the religious faiths would certainly be very firm and binding. Mention should be made that the religious Buddhist leaders remained silent when the Sinhalese politicians raised the communal slogans. At the same time there were people from various communities including the Sinhalese, as followers of Sathya Sai Baba and frequently visited his Ashrams. But they had failed to realize what Sathya Sai Baba said about peace.
“If there is righteous in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.
If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nations.
When there is order in the nations, there will be peace in the world.” – Sathya Sai Baba
If Buddhist priests and Buddhist Sinhalese are really devoted to Buddhism they would have realized that anger destroys devotion and wisdom and that greed also destroys work. If they are to get rid of all these, they have to get rid of egoism, which Lord Buddha preached. The issue is whether the ruling politicians, military forces and divisive forces of religions have realized this truth.
It is time for the politicians to realize that two Nations existed in Sri Lanka since time immemorial and accommodated other communities with the passage of time signalling the cordial relationships within the communities, except for a very brief period. It is after gaining independence that these culturally defined communities began to experience multiple forms of exclusion from political, economic, social, and cultural realms. The 2500 year old rich Buddhist heritage or the teachings of Lord Buddha or the inscriptions of Emperor Asoka never promoted hatred towards other communities as parasites, that the national anthem be in Sinhala only, that the country belonged to specific community, etc, all of which would lead to animosity and resentment. Even the privileged Sinhalese who are very popular among the oppressed communities and fear losing power and decision-making, are no exception. If the Sinhalese Buddhists are really dedicated to Buddhism, they should demonstrate that they are followers of Lord Buddha and Emperor Asoka through practice of love and compassion and non-violence, and not through threats, abduction, murder, demolition of places of worship and private properties. The victory of Dharma is the noblest of all victories. The ruling political leaders, the armed forces and the Buddhist extremists should consider that the bullets from the gun can only spill blood, but from Dharma springs the fountain of love. The victory won through arms are temporary, but the victory of Dharma lasts forever.
It is through teamwork the way of life, education, potential and the needs according to the religious practice of various communities could be analyzed. As every religion has their own positive aspects, the best aspects from every religion and philosophy could be applied to our way of life. This does not mean a community should give up its faith, but to accept a new philosophy. The group or Commission can organize constant religious seminars/workshops to find out solutions to all problems without the interference of undesirable politicians and religious extremists. Such multi-religious teamwork will tend to seek the positive aspects in each religion to the maximum benefit to receive the maximum enjoyment and fulfillment out of life. Such teamwork has the force of suggesting solutions to improve one’s life which will culminate into harmonizing the communities.