A reminder of Sri Lanka’s unique diversity

Wednesday, 15 January 2020 00:52 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

With the country today celebrating Thai Pongal, it marks the second public holiday of the year. 

The Hindu festival is traditionally an occasion for drawing rice-powder based kolam artworks, offering prayers in the home, temples, getting together with family and friends, and exchanging gifts to renew social bonds of solidarity. 

But it also gives pause for us as a country to take stock of what a truly multicultural society we are. 

The oft-told running joke surrounds Sri Lankans and their love of public holidays, but take a gander at other countries and societies, and you begin to understand just how truly unique Sri Lanka is in that sense. 

Despite pockets of cultural and religious tensions cropping up around the country over the years, the very fabric of Sri Lankan society is underpinned by a broad acceptance of all cultures and traditions. 

With us just two weeks into the New Year, the time for resolutions and change is still upon us. 

Last year was a trialling one for Sri Lankans from all walks of life, as the Easter bomb attacks brought forth feelings of terror and uncertainty that had long laid dormant. There was a window during the months of soul searching that followed for the country to veer down a path similar to those in other, similarly wounded nations. 

The United States' relationship with their Muslim brethren has never been the same since 9/11. The ensuing unrest in the Middle East meanwhile has ensured that that mistrust has only fostered more. 

In Europe meanwhile immigration has been the hot button topic, with millions of illegal migrants fleeing war-torn regions to Europe’s safe haven aboard overcrowded ships. The deaths of those who failed to make it, the sight of their lifeless bodies washing up on European shores, will forever be a stain on human history. 

Then there are the illegal immigrant detention facilities in both Australia and the US, where children and adults alike are treated at almost sub-human levels. The lack of a stamp on a passport is enough to eviscerate many of their human rights. 

Then there are our closest neighbours. The India-Pakistan Kashmir conflict may not have a winner, but there is inevitably one set of losers, as scores of those living in the conflicted border rendered blind or worse. 

In Myanmar, meanwhile, the fleeing Rohingya Muslims are being systematically eliminated, with the stricken community having no place left to run. 

What all these instances teach us is that in sheltering ourselves from ‘the other', mankind has seemingly lost all its humanity. 

So for Sri Lanka, it’s imperative that we don’t fall into this trap of rendering those different from us as 'the other'. Yes, we as a nation have had our conflicts, and there are many obstacles still to traverse, but we are still not completely down the rabbit hole. 

This Thai Pongal, and indeed every public holiday from now on, let us appreciate that whichever God we pray to, and whatever cultural norms we adhere to, we're all still the same, and we all love our public holidays.