Friday, 1 May 2015 00:00
Vesak has returned, bringing all its faith, fun and freedom. For the first time in years Sri Lankans of all religions can feel the tolerance and understanding that is the true message of the ‘Themagula’.
It cannot be denied that with the advent of the Bodu Bala Sena and other hard-line organisations in Sri Lanka, the intensity of bigoted actions has increased. The number of derogatory racist remarks and tokenisation of religions and individuals, the warping of the diverse history inherited by Sri Lanka and spread of virulent and often inaccurate information to whip up racial hatred was on the rise.
In the past few months there has been a refreshing return to secular values. Gone are the days when one religion and those following it were held to have more rights than others. A start has been made to recognise all people as citizens of one Sri Lanka and ruled by the same law. No doubt mistakes and wrongs will be made in the future, disputes will are arise, but at least now there is a feeling that these issues will be given fair hearing and militarisation of religion is fading back into its dark shadows.
Few would argue that increasing power of extremist groups played a significant role in the presidential election. In fact even former President Mahinda Rajapaksa publicly admitted failure by his administration to take action against such organisations helped towards his downfall, though he prefers to see it as part of an insidious conspiracy rather than a personal fault. Voters were very clear in the message they sent the candidate who promised to promote peace and equal rights – they can stay so long as they do the right thing.
So far it seems the Government has received the message loud and clear. Since taking over they have implemented the law even against religious organisations and allowed people to follow their faith in peace for the most part. They have also taken steps to promote reconciliation between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities, which was ignored for many years.
However, the spectre of religious violence is never far away. Extremist organisations are openly considering entering politics and bringing their agenda into parliament. As a country healing after a three decade conflict and ethnic wrongs that span even deeper into its history everyone has to understand the precious fresh chance that has been given to this troubled island. They have to hold their public representatives responsible to safeguard religious tolerance and social equality. It is the people who have to ensure the best and highest aspects of their faith are safeguarded through peace and respect.
Vesak takes on even more poignancy in this backdrop. During this blessed time, all Sri Lankans must make an effort to return to the true Dhamma preached by Lord Buddha, to end hatred, foster peace and forge understanding. If this ultimate message is lost, then all of Sri Lanka will suffer the consequences.