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Playing politics with the MMDA

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 7 August 2018 00:00

As with everything of value for this country & everything that should matter to the citizens of this country seems political clout and political longevity override all other considerations.

It has taken over 30 years for some of the finest representatives of the Muslim population of Sri Lanka to bring to a close a long-drawn out initiative to bring about legislative changes to the 1951 Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) of Sri Lanka. This was at the behest of the Muslim population of Sri Lanka.

The Justice Saleem Marsoof (JSM for short) report of the final commission appointed by-then Minister of Justice Hon Milinda Moragoda itself took 9 long years and demonstrative of the complicated nature of the issue at hand; as there was no consensus, two varied reports representing two ‘factions’ within the commission were presented to the current Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorala on 22 January. It is an extensive report of over 320 pages, compiled by the Chairman Justice Saleem Marsoof, comprehensively detailing not just the suggested amendments (by both factions), but the substantive justification for them, as well as details of the process that led them to their respective conclusions.

That Minister Thalatha Athukorala, thereafter took more than 170 days to release the report to the public, despite the many RTIs, was the first sign of political prevarication and indifference that is inherently dominant in the general political nature of the legislators of this country.

The second sign of this malaise was when JSM Committee Chairman Justice Saleem Marsoof presented the full report with its variant positions to the Muslim Parliamentarians on 19 July, after the report was finally made public on 18 July. This was to facilitate their reading and understanding of the lengthy 320-odd page report. However, of the 22 Muslim MPs that are currently in Parliament, only a scant 10 attended. And within those 10, it has been reliably reported that there was dissent, with a view to political mileage and voter base. That certain Muslim Ministers are being courted by radical intransigent theologians, who are perceived to have a large following, was an obvious inference from this meeting. That a significant proportion of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka has been increasingly moving towards an exclusivist ideology, through the influence of such theologians, should be a warning to disavow such influence within legislators and legislation, and within the polity.  That only a scant 10 Parliamentarians of the 22 Muslim Parliamentarians attended the presentation also demonstrates the abject lack of will within the Muslim legislators to prioritise issues, which they see as only primarily concerning to members of the Muslim society in Sri Lanka who have been adversely impacted by the MMDA, and therefore do not have the requisite political bargaining power. That it is a matter of ethical and moral obligation, as representatives of each and every Muslim citizen, is of secondary importance. It therefore behooves all right-minded Parliamentarians, who have the ethical and moral fortitude to consider these amendments to the MMDA as a concern for marginalised citizens of this country, and not just an issue that should be solely confined to the Muslim community. Muslims of Sri Lanka are first and foremost equal citizens of Sri Lanka, and it is the duty of the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that that equality is granted.

Also, that the Muslim community, and specifically those directly affected by the MMDA, are now to be used as bargaining chips and fodder for aspiring political ambitions, is something that should not just concern right-minded Muslims of Sri Lanka, but all right-minded citizens of Sri Lanka who look towards an equitable, just and fair society for all Sri Lankans. An esteem of a society is measured firstly by how its marginalised people are addressed, and if we allow the legislators we have appointed into power to continue to detract from these issues and play political games with these issues, we are complicit in creating a morally corrupt nation. 

There is a collective responsibility, at this juncture in the history of legislative enactments of this country, to do what is right and not just what seems right. It is, after all, not just for today, but for the many tomorrows that we will leave our future generations to face.

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