22 September, 2018

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State, Religion & Rationalization

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

Nagananda Kodituwakku, public interest litigator, has drafted a constitution for Sri Lanka. It would be the Third Republican Constitution since Independence if it moves from draft, through discussion, and amendment (if necessary) to ultimate replacement of the Second Republican Constitution and its amendments.

He has detailed sweeping changes in judicial, executive and legislative powers, treaty obligation, size of parliament and cabinet, parliamentary privileges, election system, the right of recall as well as transitional provisions. We need to salute this indefatigable fighter for citizens’ rights, true representation and accountability for the efforts expended in drafting this document. It deserves perusal and discussion. 

Now a republic can be defined as a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives and which has a leader who is elected rather than a monarch. Given diversities of all kinds, a leadership of a republic should ideally be representative of that diversity or at least sensitive to it.  Typically its the majority sway that finds expression in the governments that are elected. Majority can take many forms and where identity has sway there should be checks and balances to ensure that this ‘edge’ does not slide to a tyranny where those who don’t make up the majority are not reduced to lesser citizens in any way. 

Also, it must be understood that citizens are not entities without culture, philosophy and identity. Representation, therefore, gets inscribed by all this. This is why majorities mark the state one way or the other.  Such things can be legislated out of course, but then we need to have a different definition of ‘republic’.  

That said, let’s get to the secular-wish of Kodituwakku’s proposal. He has been bold and clear and this is good. Also, let us not rush to think that he is proposing just a word-change. Constitutions give direction. Key elements such as secularism would obviously require amendment and/or repeal of any articles in order to keep intact the integrity of the notion. Governments obtain from these and proceed to amend policies to affirm the constitution.  

This is what the summary which he has made public recently says:

“[There will be] strict  anti-racial [and anti-]discrimination laws with severe  penal  sanctions against any form of discrimination, guaranteeing human dignity, self-esteem and respect would  be  guaranteed to every citizen.” He adds: “Every citizen is identified as a Sri  Lankan only and any reference made to race or religion in any instrument will be cancelled forthwith and no Sri Lankan shall be compelled to declare their race or religion.”  

There’s a rider that might cause some problems, though: “Every citizen will be required  to    respect the culture, religion, rights and freedom of other social groups and to further national interest and the national unity.”

The problem is this: religions and therefore religious practices, depending on the religion and the practice of course, can by definition infringe on other religious communities and their rights. In other words religions can spill outside the particular religious body; for example those religions which consider proselytization an article of faith or whose religious texts define religious others as infidels who need to be eliminated by any means necessary. Where do we draw the line and who decides a) if lines should be drawn and b) what these lines are? The questions raised will be hard, but they need to be raised and addressed.

It might help to consider certain scenarios that exist and/or are recommended. There are some, for example, who claim that injustices should be remedied. The British reneged on the agreement inked in the form of the Kandyan Convention with respect to the status of Buddhism. Correction would mean that we need to reaffirm the particular article. Some might say this was done via Article 9, i.e. Buddhism being conferred the foremost place and the State required to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana. However, it can be argued that this ‘special status’ is immediately and effectively negated by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).

What needs to be understood here is that recalling history is a dangerous game and if such ‘correction’ is the norm constitutions would have to be constantly amended as per changing demographic realities. If, for example, there’s some kind of mass slaughter of a particular religious community (and we have seen this happen), someone might say, ‘now go ahead and legislate for the changed reality!’ An extreme example is given here to illustrate the point: Buddhists can ethnically cleanse the island of Hindus, Christians and Muslims, or Muslims can eliminate those of other religious faiths. What then of true republicanism? What then of the secular wish? 

We can defer such things to such a tragic eventuality of course. What we cannot defer is the non-secular interventions of the state in a would-be secular state.  

Here are some of the questions that secularists would have to address:

In a secular state enacted through constitutional reform on the lines proposed by Kodituwakku and others, can there be more than one system of law, i.e. special laws for particular religious communities? If there’s going to be one law for everyone (as proposed), what then of ‘customary law’? Will Thesavalamai Law, Kandyan Marriage Law, aspects of Sharia Law embedded in the Constitution be repealed? Shall we make ‘talak, talak, talak’ THE formal and state-sanctioned method of divorce and if so will women have the same right as men to employ it?  

What is required then is a system of rationalization. A Christian friend mentioned one irrationality (and this is not about secularization): ‘Ours is a religion that sanctions wine in the church itself, but liquor shops are closed for Christmas which is a day of celebration and not Easter, a day for abstinence, penitence and general reflection.’  

There are more serious issues that require attention if we are to go the secular way. Religion is a private affair. If a Buddhist wants to engage in religious observances, observe sil for example on Poya Days, he/she should do it on his/her time and not that of the place of work, be it government or corporate. There’s leave. There’s lieu leave. Take it! Similarly, A Muslim who want to pray on Fridays can either take short leave or come to an arrangement with the employer to work extra hours. A Christian can take leave for Christmas and Easter.  And to keep everything equal, we would have to shift the weekend so as to avoid days of worship as per religious edict/belief in the interest of there being no special privileges for any religious community. In other words, we have to have a weekend that avoids Fridays (special for Muslims) and Sundays (special for Christians).  

There need not be bo leaves on the national flag because that would be ‘Buddhist’. The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act will have to be repealed. All legislation as well as other written and unwritten ‘understandings’ for religious exceptions for Muslims during Ramadan and in the event of widowhood, divorce and childbirth would have to be removed. 

Note also that provisions enabling Christian and Catholic priests to function as marriage registrars would have to be abolished. If the state requires to recognize such unions priests shouldn’t be allowed any part in the matter. After all, we have to keep religion strictly apart from matters of the state!

That would not mean of course that religious practices are outlawed, but just that no one can make any claim on the state for special privileges. 

If you want to keep all that because ‘that’s how it has always been’ then we immediately make room for historical claims and with it we cannot leave out the articles in the Kandyan Convention.

The issue is this: are we really serious about secularism? Will secularists respond? Whether they do or do not, the following must comment: Nagananda Kodituwakku, Rohan Pallewatte, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Maithripala Sirisena and any other individual entertaining hopes of becoming the next President of Sri Lanka.

*Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. malindasenevi@gmail.comwww.malindawords.blogspot.com

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Latest comments

  • 10
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    Malinda Seneviratne

    “What needs to be understood here is that recalling history is a dangerous game and if such ‘correction’ is the norm constitutions would have to be constantly amended as per changing demographic realities. “

    Was it a different Malinda Seneviratne who typed the stuff below:

    Excerpt
    We remain products of who we were, who our ancestors were and what they did, whether we like it or not. In other words, history sits at the head table of the present and in ways that are disconcerting to some.
    Malinda Seneviratne
    Raja Raja Chola 1 And The Quicksand Of Tamil Chauvinism
    FEBRUARY 8, 2014
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/raja-raja-chola-1-and-the-quicksand-of-tamil-chauvinism/

    Could anyone clarify if he was on Ganja, Kasippu, Arakku, or whisky when he typed this stuff earlier?

    • 1
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      Native Veddha

      So what.Read the two sentences within the context in which they were written.

      • 9
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        malinda

        Well if one’s beliefs/analysis/writings are deeply rooted in principles, context will have lot of explaining to do before one changes one’s opinion/principles. Then again bigots are free to pick and chose their own principles, contexts, circumstances to suit their irrationality.

        “So what.”

        Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for having flexible backbone, circumstances, contexts, ………….. in order to support your “whims and fancies”? How long do you think you can hop from one position to another void of any principles?

        “So what” also means “I don’t care”
        That is one reason you must realise your own folly.

        Please do not waste your precious quality time responding to my comments instead you should focus on finding new ways of offending people effectively with your bigoted typing without getting caught.

        • 2
          1

          How do you solve a problem like Malinda?
          How do you catch a clod and pin him down?
          How do you find the word that means Malinda?
          A flibbertijibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!

          (an adaptation of the song “Maria” from The Sound of Music sung to the same tune)

        • 1
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          Native Veddha

          “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for having flexible backbone, circumstances, contexts, “

          Why, do you want me to be inflexible like your dear Eelam or nothing Prabha

          I saw a gigantic tree
          Uprooted and and on its side
          The great roots forming a mane for the snarling ringed face on the stump
          But the fallen beast is taken,its husk a Home
          A vibrancy of weevils,lady bugs,frog hoppers,cockchaffers thats skittering
          Scattered like a smashed ant farm

          • 6
            1

            malinda the plagaring liar

            “I saw a gigantic tree
            Uprooted and and on its side
            The great roots forming a mane for the snarling ringed face on the stump
            But the fallen beast is taken,its husk a Home
            A vibrancy of weevils,lady bugs,frog hoppers,cockchaffers thats skittering
            Scattered like a smashed ant farm”

            You copied
            Matthew Roe’s Poems
            Damascus

            You thieving idiots didn’t have the courtesy to acknowledge the author.

            “Why, do you want me to be inflexible like your dear Eelam or nothing Prabha”

            Why do you dimwit bigots assume everyone who challenges the noisy minority (the Sinhala/Buddhist fascists) and defend pluralism, unity in diversity, democracy, human rights, ………………… oppose dictatorship, condemn b***s carriers, expose hypos, …………….. automatically connected to or fans of “dear Eelam or nothing Prabha”.

            Only a*******s have the ability to accuse people without evidence. Now you have just done that.

            Bush said ” Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”
            Are you telling us if I don’t agree with you I am with terrorists?

            I suggest you spend some time investigating the idea of intellectual honesty and democracy.

            VP was a close associate of the state, the president, the armed forces, and wannabe president, …………………. Did you ever have the b***s to accuse all of those who associated and benefited from VP’s services?

            You will do well to remember the following quotes:
            Failure comes only when we forget our ideals and objectives and principles.
            Jawaharlal Nehru

            A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.
            Dwight D. Eisenhower

            Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.
            Groucho Marx

            It looks like Groucho Marx copied from you.
            Were you around during his time?

            • 3
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              CT

              Sorry I meant plagiarizing liar not plagaring liar.

            • 1
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              Native veddha

              Did i mention that poem was mine?

              However since you also seem to be a aspiring poet i would love to give you my very last hard copy of “open words are for blood letting”.It was considered by many to have been the natural choice for the Gratiaen prize that year but lost out to another.Happy to post it to you if you can give your address.However if you are living next to a beehive for your daily breakfast i can hand deliver.

            • 1
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              Oops .Sorry.IT should be “open words are for love letting”,not blood letting.All this blood letting in the 26 year old war that your thambi, thalaivar waged has muddled my brain a bit.

            • 1
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              Native Veddha

              don’t get confused due to my pseudonym.All authors /poets have one.

              • 4
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                malinda/shankar

                “don’t get confused due to my pseudonym.All authors /poets have one.”

                Forget your pseudonym or otherwise.
                Don’t mess with mine.

                When will you learn to own up your mistakes, follies, lies, …………….
                Alright all authors/poets have one, what has it got to do with poem written by others? And why exactly you have one?

                Shankar
                At this age you are confused about your name and malinda’s one. When did you become malinda’s b***s carrier?

          • 4
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            CT readers

            Here is the complete poetry of Damascus a part of which Malinda plagiarized and typed above without acknowledging the author:

            Matthew Roe Poems
            Aug 2
            Damascus

            I saw a gigantic tree.
            Uprooted and on its side.
            The great roots forming a mane for the snarling ringed face on the stump.
            But the fallen beast is taken, it’s husk a Home.
            A vibrancy of weevils, ladybugs, frog hoppers, Cockchaffers that’s skittering, scattered like a smashed ant farm.

            Around its base were prehistoric ferns,
            Curled and scaled like sand lizards’ tales.
            Reminiscing the demise of the tyrannosaur.
            When dust clouds darkened the sun which warmed their claws.
            The skittering skinks, slow worms and other small lizards, who need far less to survive, then feasted upon the monsters’ flesh and found a home in its bone structured palace.

            As whale sinks,
            Distorted into a globster of its former self,
            It hits the sea bed hard in oil-Black darkness.
            The hagfish burrow, starved for millennia.
            Brutally tearing at the befallen banquet.
            Mouths used to scraps choking on steak.
            Getting their guts knitted as they squirm over each other to grasp some sashimi.
            Dripping saliva as if we’re sweat in the ruckus.

            Yeti crab pinch, as do isopods
            But get only mucus insulting their jaws.
            And they thought they helped to cut up the portions.

            Soon all that is left is a skeleton.
            Hanging in a museum for future generations to see.

            Once again, dust gathers, from bombed out sand.
            Erupting in the air as giants hit the ground.
            We may soon again see darkness fall.
            As the rayiys is skinned.

            But no tears are shed.
            We all cheer none the less.
            https://hellopoetry.com/poem/2639637/damascus/

          • 3
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            Malinda, you should have credited Matthew Roe for that verse from “Damascus” that you slipped in? Not too late. Its just not cricket.
            Like Craig says,
            “How do you solve a problem like Malinda?”

            • 1
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              Leon

              i never said it was mine.This is a well known poem which most people know.I merely slipped it in to highlight the difference between an oak and wispy willow.

  • 6
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    Two persons were killed and a dozen injured in December 2004 during the Shah Rukh Khan concert. For Shah Rukh Khan supporters, this act is seen as a terrorist act. Whereas, for Malinda Seneviratne, the killings were an act of a fight for freedom. After all, the smoking grenade pointed to the Jathika Hela Urumaya, of which Malinda was an ardent supporter.
    This proves that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

    • 1
      0

      “This proves that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.”

      and one mans lover is another man’s wife.

  • 8
    1

    If religion is a private matter, why is Malinda discussing it in public websites such as Colombo Telegraph?

  • 1
    1

    “Will secularists respond? Whether they do or do not, the following must comment: Nagananda Kodituwakku, Rohan Pallewatte, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Maithripala Sirisena and any other individual entertaining hopes of becoming the next President of Sri Lanka.”
    Why did you exclude Mahinda Rajapakse, Namal Rajapakse?
    Of course your ommission of any Tamil or Muslim is understandable.

  • 3
    1

    Malaysia is ONLY 61.3% populated by those who practice Islam. 19.8% Buddhism; 9.2 % Christianity; 6.3%Hinduism; and 3.4%traditional Chinese religions.

    YET, their official religion is ISLAM. WTF? And they impose Sharia law in many of the states. Recently lesbian women were caned in public. What sort of backwardness is that ? That is why Malays are stupid. They will NEVER become like Singapore.

    NOW in Sri Lanka over 72% ARE BUDDHISTS, it is the Muslims and Christians and NOT Hindoos who argue against Buddhist being given pride of place. It is NOT an official religion but being given pride of place. These same Muslims have katey pittu and defend Malaysia and also Indonesia. They also support oppression of Christian and Buddhist right of worship by migrant workers in the Middle East. WE WILL NEVER ALLOW SHARIA. We should NEVER ALLOW SHARIA and the minority religions who think it is ok for Malaysia to have an official religion should stop attacking Buddhism. We need to adapt and accept that Buddhism is tolerant and accept even Gays or so called low caste people because it is a philosophy rather than a god fearing faith with violence in its scriptures to convert people. We muslims must respect and appreciate we live in Sri Lanka and not in Saudi Arabia.

  • 0
    0

    Thank you Malinda we hear what you are saying. The gist is loud and clear.
    Rationalism and religion are not compatible must be debated only if time permits.
    .
    Your last paragraph sums it all ~ “The issue is this: are we really serious about secularism? Will secularists respond? Whether they do or do not, the following must comment: Nagananda Kodituwakku, Rohan Pallewatte, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Maithripala Sirisena and any other individual entertaining hopes of becoming the next President of Sri Lanka.”

    You have invited comments from potential contestants for the Office of President. Surely you know that with the exception of Kodituwakku, the rest can only find faults with the proposals made by ‘others’. Unfortunately the ‘Mother Of All Fault-Finders’ win.

  • 1
    0

    Now Dayan Jayathilake4 is missing another excellent political analyst, we need Malinda may be he is posted to another poor country in the west. Pallwaththa is stupid if joins poltics. Take the opportunity and become a real businessman. these companies may cancel the contracts if you are not vigilent.

  • 1
    0

    Malinda Even in the western countries now Catholics are wiped out and christians have their own church. LAst time even Trump helped Evangelist church and criticized the CAtholics. Then went to Vatican and a nice chat with the Pope. So, Evengelists and protstants want a foot hold hld in Sri lanka. I know South Korean EVangelist church want Mahinda Rajapske’s s help to set up their TRqavel business to be set up in Sri lanka. So, they can send people to Europe and to nearbby areas to vist catholic – saints. Ranil also says some issues related to Sri lankan economy and finances are only familir to RAvi the LI”AR so, Ravi needs a Minister post in order to solvee those.So, hell with the Bond scam and profit making for the time being.

  • 1
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    This is related to my previous comment Even when dutch Catholics came to Sri lanka theey chased out Portugeuse or Portugal Catholics. Why we should not we get rid of christians ?

  • 1
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    Malinda: Every time it is two so-called buddhists fight the elections either as parties or as president. So, why do we need to get protestant as presidential candidates to fight the election. LEt the Sinhala buddhist camp devide by fighting among them. Anyway, most of the 225 are either protestant, catholic, hindu, muslim or Tamil. Rajapakses are caterinn to Tamils, muslims and Catholics. Yahapalanaya is also the same. At present Sri lanka doe snot have ministry for culture. but there is a minister for buddhism and a Kurunegala – Catholic is looking after that ministry. Ranil also appointed a christian minister for Muslims affairs. I think the country is almost Secular now as every president is cartering to their preferred religeons.

    • 3
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      JD the dimwit

      “Every time it is two so-called buddhists fight the elections either as parties or as president.”

      Kumar Ponnampalam was a candidate in the 1982 presidential elections and won only 173,934 votes.

      In northern province the total votes won by two candidates were as follows:
      Hector Kobbekaduwa 100,521
      Kumar Ponnambalam 98,784

      Dimwit what did it show?

      • 0
        0

        Native Veddha
        “what did it show?”

        It showed that kumar Ponnambalam got 1737 votes less than Hector Kobbekaduwa.

        Was it because of grapes and onions?Forgive me i’am a bit of a dimbulb.

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