By V. Kanthaiya –
“It is the policy of (Name of the Company) not to discriminate against any applicant for employment, or any employee because of age, colour, gender, disability, national origin, race, religion, caste or veteran status…” ~ An extract from the annual report of a company listed in Colombo Stock Exchange
“The Constitution shall accord the foremost place to Buddhism. The Existing Article 9 shall be maintained just as it is without any amendment… ” ~ Page 29, Interim Report of the Steering Committee, The Constitutional Assembly of Sri Lanka.
Several times in my life, I have been met by people carrying pamphlets and trying to inform me that the religion they follow and the God they worship are the correct way to heaven. They would fervently preach that Gold loves me and is doing all his best to help to come over all my troubles. Once I had severe financial difficulty (I always have but this time it was severe) and I thought time has come for me to let the God into my life. I attended a group worship. I prayed with them. They prayed for me. They were really nice people. And finally the preacher started to preach us. Then he asked the devotees to donate some money to the particular institution.
This was the same pattern with all the other religions. The men of God will preach us and pray for us and finally ask us for financial contribution saying it is for the God. All the religions portray the God as the almighty creator of this universe who has the power to change anything and everything. But in contrast to this, my subconscious mind started to believe that God is someone like me, a person plagued with financial difficulties.
What is surprising to my rational mind is that how religion is able to dominate one’s life? After all it’s just a choice of a way to reach the God. We accept the fact that there are numerous ways to prepare a cup of tea. We accept that people have different choices and it is their fundamental right to choose something they like unless it harms the others. But why this rationalism instantly vanishes when it comes to religion?
Many of those who identify themselves as ardent Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus or Muslims will find difficult to understand that religion is just a collective belief. Something which exists only in the mindset of those who believe it. This is exactly what Kanye West and Jay-z tell in their song ‘No Church in the Wild’.
“Human beings in a mob.
What is a mob to a king? What’s a king to a god?
What’s a god to a non-believer…?”
Now I want to ask a question.
How much Buddhism amounts to a Christian Sinhalese, to a Tamil, to a Muslim, to an atheist, and to an agnostic? The Constitution says it places Buddhism in the foremost place. Then what about the Christian Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims? They too are the citizens of this country. Won’t their fundamental rights being violated by placing Buddhism in the foremost place?
Another question is, what this state is trying to achieve by giving prominence to Buddhism through the constitution itself? Who is benefiting from it? Is it the common man of this country? Or at least the common Sinhala Buddhist of this country? This will benefit only the members of Maha Sangha and the Buddhist monks to have a place in the society and assist them to get financial resources.
Some will say that I am deliberately avoiding the latter part of the phrase in the constitution and misleading the readers. All right! The constitution says “ 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)”.
I always get an odd feeling that this phrase was copied from (and slightly modified) George Orwell’s book Animal Farm, in which the pigs who rule the farm create a rule “All animals are equal, but some are more equal”.
Giving Buddhism the foremost place justifies the call by Tamils for power devolution and the autonomy since the constitution of the state fails to protect the minorities and discriminate them. In reality, Sri Lanka has never been a Buddhist country prior to the independence ( and post ) from the British. The north and Eastern part of the country was ruled by Tamils and hinduism was the predominant religion there. The British conquered all the kingdoms on the country and united them for their administration and when they left the Island in 1948, they left all the kingdoms as one single country. The Tamils in the North and eastern parts have distinct culture and language. Giving prominence to Buddhism and forcing all the other ethnic minorities to do the same have alienated them from the concept of unitary state. This is the key reason Tamils now demand a framework which recognizes their distinct language and culture and give autonomy in governing themselves.
Most of the smart patriots and other Sinhala Buddhists may question why and how giving prominence to a particular religion creates division among the various ethnic groups. Well, one’s religion may be of enormous value to the particular person or group, but for others, it’s of nothing. A metaphor mostly used by the rationalists to describe the religion is the underwear. People seek both mostly for inner peace/ inner comfort. They are supposed to be intimate. The best part of this analogy is that they both are of choice. You can select your underwear based on colour, quality, price, brand and your waist size. And telling people from other religions that Buddhism is of higher value to the country is like telling others that your underwear is the best underwear and expecting all others to accept it and respect it, while forgetting that fact one person’s underwear will not be suitable for all the other people. Remember Everybody has different waist size. Sadly, what Maha Sangha and the Mahanayake’s think is that the underwear which fits them well, should fit all others in the country (and all others should wear the same).
Unless otherwise, the majority citizens of this country stand up and say to the clergies that there is no one best single underwear which suits everyone in this country and there is no one religion which suits every one in this world. Everyone has their own choices.