Saturday, 12 April 2014 00:00
The Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration conducted the National Unity Convention under the auspices of President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) in Colombo early this week.The Convention was organised to build consensus on a charter to preserve unity in diversity in Sri Lanka and will be in line with the National Policy Framework for Social Integration (NPFSI), launched by the Ministry in 2012.The forum provided an opportunity for over 1,500 eminent citizens from various segments of society, including public officials, religious leaders, civil society and Sri Lanka’s expatriate community, among others, to exchange views and interact.In 2012, the Ministry launched the NPFSI with the intention of addressing the country’s particular social integration needs. According to the Ministry website, “the NPFSI was founded on a rights-based approach, highlighting the significance of the rights and responsibilities of individuals and the duties of the state to enhance social justice and inclusion.”Addressing the gathering, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said there are no minorities in this country and all citizens have equal rights to live as one nation and one people with same laws and facilities without any discrimination. “This is my policy, the policy enshrined in the Mahinda Chinthana. There cannot be any minorities, we all are Sri Lankans who love the Motherland and nobody can deny this reality”.The President pointed out that all people, irrespective their religion or ethnicity celebrated the victory of the Sri Lankan cricket team the previous evening. “There was no difference of being Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims, they joined hands to celebrate displaying the proud of the achievement of the country, the Motherland Sri Lanka,” he told the hundreds of representatives from all regions of the country assembled for the Convention organised by the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration.He said that to build the national harmony, it was necessary to understand that great concept of humanity and use it as a firm foundation.Following is the full speech of the President:
As we participate in this National Unity Convention, I am reminded how we showed our national unity at its highest yesterday, when we won the World T20 Trophy. There were no differences among Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, or religious differences, in the celebrations. Those from all regions, the North, South, East, West and the Hill Country joined hands in a great show of national unity, and feeling for one’s Motherland.
I extend my warmest greetings to all participating in this National Unity Convention. Many learned persons, academics, professionals and those from different communities and religions are gathered here today. It is not wrong to describe this as reflecting the diversity of our society. As much as there are those from different communities and religions, there are also the disabled who have come together here. You will agree this shows how all communities and religions live in unity today.
A free nation
When conducting a major Convention on National Unity it is proper that we consider the current situation that prevails in the country. We are today able to talk of national unity and national unification because we have built a free nation. Peace has dawned because we have built freedom. Because of peace, it is possible to travel, to any part of the country, and settle down anywhere without any problems. It is for this reason that we have built the background necessary for coexistence. The inducement to hold a convention such as this is born in the hearts and minds of Sri Lankans because a suitable environment and country has been established for it.
There must be a good understanding of the people of our country to build national unity. Our national heritage shows the way to national unity. It is needless to remind you that examples from our past show a path towards national unity. There are some countries where the religious symbols that are worn around the neck or the images of their religious teachers carried by persons who come there are confiscated by the Customs before allowing such persons to enter the country. Such practices have never existed in our 2,000-year-old history. Persons from various nationalities, various religions came freely to our land. From the past to this date, there has been an environment where a person of any nationality or religion could come to Sri Lanka and live freely carrying out national or religious traditions and customs.
When the Portuguese who came here in the past began harassing the Muslims, King Senerath helped those Muslims to be settled in the East of the country. But this king had no interest in converting them to Buddhism. Similarly, when the Dutch who arrived later began harassing the Catholics here, the Sinhala King settled the Catholics in the safety of Wahacotte in Matale. The kings and national leaders of the past did not act to make anyone change one’s religion because of obtaining royal or state patronage. Today the Muslims in the country follow the Islamic faith. Those in Wahacotte follow Catholicism. They have been living together for centuries. Therefore, this is a country that has accepted religious coexistence thousands of years before those who are now preaching to us about religious coexistence.
Our concept of human rights is far richer than any charter of human rights that exists today. You are aware that the people, of the world are now saying that all beings, and flora and fauna, should be protected because if we follow current trends all beings will be lost. The trees and foliage will be destroyed and the land will be turned into a desert. Therefore, charters have been prepared to protect sentient beings because if they become extinct, future generation will have no knowledge of such beings. However, when we established the world’s first wildlife sanctuary at Anuradhapura more than 2000 years ago and stopped the killing of animals it was not because of a fear of the extinction of animals.
There was an abundance of wildlife in the forests at that time. We stopped the killing of animals on the basis that all sentient beings had the right to live on this earth. We had the great humanist concept that they too had the right to life. Does this not show the immense value of our thinking?
It is my belief that when we make efforts to build national unity today, we should properly understand this great humanist thinking and work towards realising that. We are a nation that is enriched by a very rich humanist thinking. Therefore, false concepts of national unity or processes for peace that become active because of funds coming from abroad will not bear fruit.
I remember, how those who some time ago said they wanted to build peace in this country wanted to erase the name of King Dutugemunu from our history books as they considered him to be a racist. We can say without fear that King Dutugemunu fought the war respecting human rights. He respectfully treated the vanquished King Elara and even respected his grave. He proclaimed that all workers who constructed the Ruwanweliseya should be paid wages. Even today, we can read in an edict in Mihintale that says ‘teachers too should be paid wages’. We never vanquished races and enslaved them.
As we have the history of the nation in our hearts, we have pardoned tens of thousands of terrorists. We have handed over the child soldiers to their parents. We do these things to build peace and national harmony as we have that feeling in our heart. These things cannot be done in falsehood.
Building national unity
Developing concepts without knowing the history of the nation will not serve national unity. One must understand the indigenous ways and aspirations. It is not possible to build national unity through the debates on television channels or websites.
National unity cannot be build by changing the words of a language. That is why we have launched a massive linguistic program to teach Sinhala children Tamil and Tamil children, Sinhala. We have taken steps to ensure that a Tamil visiting a government office gets the work attended in one’s own language by properly implementing the National Languages Policy.
We should understand what the biggest hurdle is to build national unity. There were communal clashes in 1915, 1958 and 1983. Now there are forces attempting to unleash a different conflict to those. One cannot build peace by instilling hatred and religious animosity. We should first understand who the biggest enemy of national unity. We respect the endeavour of this important Convention on National Unity.
Live together as one
(Following is a translation of the President’s views expressed in Tamil):
It is a pleasure for me to speak before you at this important Convention. It gives me more pleasure as this important Convention is organised by the Government. This is a very important Convention, a brotherhood convention. We cannot have any differences. It is not good for us to divide on ethnicity, religion, caste or language. We must live together with feelings of brotherhood.
All those who live in this country have equal rights. They can have equal opportunities. All citizens have equal rights to live as one nation and one people with same laws and facilities, without any discrimination. This is my policy. That is the policy enshrined in the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’. There cannot be any minorities. We all are Sri Lankans who love the Motherland. That is the reality and nobody can deny that. For us what is most important thing, is the Motherland first, second and third. We have protected the cultures of every community. Some people attempt to divide the people by raising differences between communities, religions, races and caste. But fear not, these attempts will never succeed. Let us live together as one. Let us live with affection.