By Rishard Najimudeen –
Every human being has more than one identity which depends or changes in accordance with particular context and situations. For instance, our “Nationality” (Or Passport) would be prioritized in Airport rather than our religious identity. In contrast, while we are in our deathbed no one will refer to our passport. Rather, we would be estimated with our “Faith and Practices” (Religious identity). This basic understanding of our identities, which are frequently changed, is one of the key element to resolve our problems prevailing particularly in a pluralistic society. I write this article based on my two essential identities.
As a Sri Lankan citizen which is one of my primary identities I have some major responsibilities towards the nation. Sri Lanka gained its freedom from British colonization in 1948. It’s worth to note that all Sri Lankan citizens regardless of ethnicity, religion and races had participated in freedom struggle. Unfortunately, the leaderships that took over the responsibility of the nation, failed to develop the concept of pluralism and also to unite the indigenous people under the one identity as Sri Lankan. Rather, they concentrated on their personal political interests and benefits. It is obvious that Sinhala only act, which was passed in the parliament in 1956, had resulted a negative impact on ethnic harmony among the local communities. Particularly, Tamil speaking community were marginalized and their aspirations were ignored by the political leaders for achieving their political victory in elections. As the result, those victimized Tamil community were inevitably compelled to demand for them a separate land and later, it evolved as a prolonged battle between the government of Sri Lanka and Tamil armed groups. The LTTE, which was then recognized as a terrorist group internationally, was always being one of the main obstacles for nation building process.
However, then President Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to defeat the terrorist group along with courageous military force in 2009. I believe this victory should be marked as the second independence of our country. He had gotten a golden opportunity to reunite the people under the one identity and move forward in order to make Sri Lanka as one of the glorious countries in Asia. But, he failed to do so and even to create a conducive environment. Number of ethnic conflicts were staged during his tenure. Specially, Muslim community was targeted and their worship places, shops and houses were attacked very often. Even during the year 2013, more than 250 malicious incidents against Muslims were recorder. All the violations against a minority community were staged by few extremist religious groups without any interference of the government or without taking any serious actions on the violators. Consequently, majority of Muslims had to support the common candidate in presidential election in 2015 as response to the inaction against the culprits and rising tendency to violate the rule of law in matters related to Muslim minorities and therefore, by the support of the minority communities, Maithiripala Sirisena was able to win the election.
Good governance, which was the focal point of the President Mathripala Sirisena during election campaign, gained yet another favourable occasion to make Sri Lanka a united nation. But, unexpected trend has emerged once again and illegal attacks still continue against Muslim community. Recently staged brutal attacks that occurred in several places in Kandy District, have created a huge gap and mutual suspicion between two communities. In fact, Muslim community in Kandy area used to maintain a cordial relationship with majority Sinhalese. But, it is unfortunate to see how situation has become vise-versa. As a Sri Lankan citizen I strongly argue that these attacks will affect very badly on the mentality of both communities. My concern is how we can build a common ground where all Sri Lankan citizens come to gather in order to make our country glorious politically, economically and socially. Every citizen, whether he is a Buddhist, or a Hindu or a Muslim or a Cristian, should have the same responsibility to spread the sense of peace and harmony among the communities.
Apart from depending on political parties, initiating active “civil organizations” which consist of personalities, academicians and activists irrespective of their religion and ethnicity would be the initial stage to make a greater awareness among the societies. On the other hand, the societies should be educated gradually in order to make it as a “pressure group” exerting influence on political parties. It would be impossible to build the nation without having a friendly relationship with each and every societies. As a citizen of this nation, I firmly believe in that initiating and strengthening such civil organizations are one of the needs of the day and every individuals should think of this kind of initiative seriously.
Moreover as a Muslim, another most important identity, I have responsibilities to reform the Muslim community. Self-criticism (evaluation) would probably be the first step in the reforming process. I would like to summarise my critics on Muslim society and its engagement in national issues. Muslim society has its own positive and negative dimensions. Number of major issues such as economic crisis, illiteracy, environmental pollution, foreign policy, lack of facilities in transportation, and failure to eradicate poverty are being discussed among the intellectuals and professionals. My humble observation is, Muslims are absent in whole these national discussions and discourses. Even Muslim leadership, either religious or political, has totally failed to contribute in above mentioned fields. I think Muslims of Sri Lanka mostly keep themselves isolated from other communities due to their lack of confidence in themselves. As a result, “lack of mutual understanding” among the societies has inevitably emerged and sometimes it has been propagated by some unknown individuals for their demonic objectives. What I have observed in Muslim society for last few years, Muslims have started to realize their lack of involvement in national issues and additionally, they have initiated some critical discussions on these matters within the society. They are in the process of reforming their collective psychology and it is hoped that they will be in the main stream in near future.
In contrast, Muslims have remarkably participated in protecting ethnic harmony and peace in the nation. The population distribution of Sri Lankan Muslims is scattered and they are mixed with Sinhalese and Hindus. This geographical existence helped them to maintain a tight relationship with fellow brothers. From the beginning, Muslims tended to direct their path in “democratic way” rather than carrying weapons. They had to confront some problematic circumstances such as merger of North-east provinces, internal displaced people, injustice and unethical attacks, in which they, without any exception, combatted democratically.
Finally, as a Sri Lankan citizen, I perceive that all the citizens have the responsibility to initiate a common ground where “shared values” will be prioritized in order to make our mother land prosperous. On the other hand, as a Muslim I believe Muslims are in the process of reforming their mind set and in near future they will be in the national discussions and they will contribute to develop and promote the “shared values” such as justice and peace.
*Writer is a MPhil Student in Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS- Malaysia