Need for an integrated Sri Lanka

Wednesday, 10 July 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The 20-year battle

Sri Lanka has survived a 20-year battle with the territorial fighters who have been fighting for the land in the north and east which ‘they’ believed was rightfully theirs and the Government who believed that it was important to yield a unified Sri Lanka for all Sri Lankans to co-exist.

These territorial fighters have been described as ‘freedom fighters’ by their cadres and supporters whilst other Sri Lankans and international opinions described them as terrorists. Co-existence does not mean a state without conflict and/or disagreement. It means that conflicts and disagreements are surfaced and resolved so that peaceable conditions could prevail, enabling people to live without violence.

Much damage to property and the unprecedented loss of life as a result of this bloody war is a reality that most sane persons cannot condone. Several countries described this battle as a war against terrorism. Some have even credited the Government of Sri Lanka as the first of its kind to take terrorism head-on and defeat it.

Post-battle integration

As for me, I don’t care much for these accolades and ‘credit’ searching. What we need now is a country that will respect ethnic, religious and gender diversity. A country where the Sinhalese, Tamil and the Muslim, irrespective of their religious faiths, could sing the National Anthem under one flag, feeling proud to be Sri Lankans. Where the children of different ethnic groups could play together without being brainwashed to avoid or be cautious of religious/ethnic groups. Our children are the country’s future and therefore, we must invest wisely in them.

The public buildings, roads, bridges, parks and walkways are looking very nice and clean. Thanks to Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the UDA for this spectacular delivery. We Sri Lankans are proud to return to Sri Lanka after overseas trips because our cities are becoming like Singapore, Dubai, etc. Beauty and cleanliness are becoming hallmarks of Colombo.

However, it is one thing to build a good-looking pleasant house and another thing to make that house a ‘home’. Home is where the occupants live within a framework of love, tolerance and understanding. What we now need are policy tools, initiatives and interventions to create this much awaited and much wanted harmony among different ethnic and religious social groups/communities.

The 13th Amendment

In the light of what we should be driving for, how will the implementation of the 13th Amendment contribute to social and national harmony? Why not a federal state for the south with their own police? What about a federal state for the west, Sabaragamuwa, Uva, etc.? Where will it all end? Should not the Government consider the launching of initiatives, drawing in positive-minded and unbiased civil societies that will help integrate different ethnic and religious groups? Should not the people in the north and east have the same rights and privileges as those in other parts of the country?

In fact, we see that the Government has started to move in this direction with the construction of roads, bridges, infrastructure, communication, etc. in the north and east. Personally, I cannot see any medium to long term benefit for our country with the unrevised implementation of the 13th Amendment. Better still, throw it out altogether and come up with policies and policy tools to create harmonious integration of all communities with equal rights as Sri Lankans. This, however, is only my opinion and not a judgment.

Fundamentalism – The evil head!

If there is one thing that we could fight against, it is fundamentalism/extremism. Extremists, irrespective of their ethnicities and religious beliefs, tend to ruin/destroy the social fabric. The majority in this country have been and are Sinhala Buddhists. They have practiced certain rights and freedom of worship throughout this country. The principle of ‘Ahimsa’ has, over the years, ingrained in them tolerance and forbearing. This thinking must not in any way change to one of hostility and disrespect for the practices of other faiths.

Likewise, other religious sects must not be using strategies and fundamentalist motions to convert through force or tactically, unsuspecting people into other faiths. Each citizen of the country must have the freedom and space to follow his/her own religion without being a hindrance, irritant, disturbance or a barrier to another of a different ethnic group or faith. Conversion of religious faith through personal conviction, however, is something within the ‘right’ of any man or woman.

History of the near past has shown that extremism exists mostly in Christianity and Islam. To my knowledge, no other religion has converted people like the aforementioned, i.e., people in Africa had the land and the Christian missionaries had the Bible. Now the Africans have the Bible and the missionaries have the land. Again, Afghanistan, Maldives, Bangladesh and Indonesia were Buddhist countries. Now they are Islamic countries.

Religious and ethnic

political parties

Certain selfish-minded, short-sighted political leaders have permitted religious-based and ethnic-based political parties to be formed, i.e., SLMC, TNA. Why not promote a ‘Sri Lanka Christian Congress’ or a ‘Sinhala National Alliance’? People would argue that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Shouldn’t political parties be formed free of ethnicity and religion?

If this continues, there will be inter-racial, inter-faith differences which may and could lead to religious and ethnic battles. Think about it! Why are the wise and intellectuals so silent? Why not take action collectively to create national unity and harmony? Don’t Sri Lankans deserve it?

Friendships beyond religious and ethnic differences

Some of my closest friends happen to be Tamil and Muslim. We do not let our own beliefs and faiths become barriers to our sincerity and love for one another. None of my friends, thankfully, are fundamentalists. If they were, they would not be my friends.

We did not know the differences among the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu when we went through our schooling at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. We are still very united and meet twice a year faithfully and several of our batch mates living overseas, irrespective of their respective ethnicities, make it a point to fly to Sri Lanka to enjoy the get-together and fellowship among our batch-mates at these bi-annual events.

I value their friendship as much as they value mine. We are all human and we feel the same pain, excitement, sorrow, happiness and joy brought to us time to time by incidences that may be within or without our control. What is more, we inhale and exhale the same air. Birth, death, pain and suffering do not respect power, wealth, status, recognitions, class systems, etc.

What did Pol Pot, Hitler, Idi Amin, Mussolini, etc., gain? On the other hand, Mother Theresa, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Maj. General Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Mahatma Gandhi and the like are revered and fondly remembered. What is important is that we are human and we will, in the end, share a common, inevitable end. We will be remembered only by our good deeds, the legacy or assets that we leave behind. This is leadership!

The effect of religion on people

There are several temples, churches, kovils and mosques spread across the country. We have the Dhamma Pada, Bible, Bhagavatgeetha and Quran in the form of books to read. We also have them in the form of DVDs for easy mobility and access. We can even download them from the internet.

At a time when religious doctrines are made available in hard copy and electronic copy, when there is so much of global preaching, why then is the world getting worse by the minute? Female babies as well as women ranging from teens to their ’70s are being raped and gang-raped with the same fierce intensity. Does this mean that religion has failed? Or does it mean that we pay lip-service to the practice of our labelled faiths?

If we look at the teachings of our religious books, most of the practical sides to co-existence, love for one another, harmony, consideration for one another, uplifting one another supporting one another irrespective of their respective beliefs and faith, are addressed. If we commit our lives to live by the teachings and preaching that we so religiously defend, this world will be a better place to live. I know I sound terribly controversial when I say this but, if there was no religion, there will be little or no cause for people to fight, i.e., crusade wars to religious wars.

Looking at more modern times, we can see two sets of persons believing and serving the one Almighty God, fighting and killing each other. This too is only an opinion and not a judgment. Taking our minds back to World War II, we had the Americans, British and Australians who were praying to the God of Abraham and Moses to give them strength, endurance and blessing to kill and defeat their enemy the Germans. At the same time, the Germans were praying to that very same God asking for strength, endurance and blessing to kill and destroy their enemy, the British, Americans and the Australians. What pain of mind and headache would this have given God? What mockery of faith and religion is this?

The way forward

One must consider bringing about supporting and restraining policies that will ensure the independence of a person to live his/her life and practice his/her faith, tradition and custom in a manner that will not become a hindrance or an irritant to another person. We need to create a national environment that supports access to information and access to justice.

The north does not belong to the Tamil just as much as the south does not belong to a Sinhalese or the east to a Muslim. This land belongs to Sri Lankans. It is wise to break down ethnic and religious colonisation in geographical areas and to institute mechanisms for integration of people of all ethnic groups and faiths so that, irrespective of where one dwells, one can be proud that he/she is a Sri Lankan and enjoy equal right to co-exist.

[Dr. Nalin Jayasuriya (DBA, California, USA) is a much sought-after business and management consultant. He is also a management trainer of international repute. Dr. Nalin was a visiting lecturer to the Marketing Institute of Singapore, addressed the Indian Chamber of Commerce, Selangor on three occasions, addressed the CEO Forum in Brisbane, Australia and has presented management papers in the USA, UK, Greece, Poland, South Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Kenya, Dubai and Pakistan. Dr. Nalin has trained over 5,000 senior managers in over 15 countries since 1988. He has been a consultant to Airport and Aviation Services, Ceylon Electricity Board, SriLankan Airlines, SLTPB – Ministry of Tourism and to several multinational and blue-chip companies in Sri Lanka. He was co-consultant to set up the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), the first multi-sector regulatory agency in Asia. Dr. Jayasuriya has led consultancy assignments for the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, UNDP, Institute of World Problems (USA) and PricewaterhouseCoopers.]

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