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Are all Sri Lankan Children of one Mother?

Sinhala Buddhist institutional hegemony and the political power it wields does make equality of all Sri Lankans a challenging issue from a practical context although constitutional equality as already enshrined in the Constitution provides for legal equality.

6 mins read
Hatton, Sri Lanka [ Photo: Eddy Billard/ Unsplash]

It was the Roman lawyer, Cicero, who in his De Re Publica, uses the literary device of the Dream of Scipio to give the authority of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, the greatest of the Roman Republic’s citizen soldiers, to the proposition that the ‘populus’, the people, served by a true republic is not any assemblage of individuals, but an assemblage associated in a particular common interest. And that common interest is in the doing of justice to each other. For Cicero, a true republic is a state which serves the ‘res populi’, the thing of the people, that is the common good, by securing the practice of justice between them: a notion that the French citizens of 1789 would come to call ‘fraternité’. ~ Hon Justice Patrick Keane AC

The verse in the National Anthem that all children are of one mother(Eka Mawakage Daruwo), would have been written with a view to promoting unity amongst all Sri Lankans, but it is possible that this verse in fact has had the effect of promoting disunity as it could have had the unintended consequence of not recognizing the challenges that cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity of Sri Lankans pose when it comes to equality and equity. On the one hand it could be said that they all are of one mother, at least at the time they were born, and until they are labelled as Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Islamists etc, etc. On the other hand, it is possible that historical and contemporary cultural, linguistic, and religious realities assign different motherhood status in the minds of some considering that the country’s diversity has not been recognized and translated to equality for all children in all instances and it possibly has been difficult for them to identify all children of Sri Lanka as one mothers children.

Although the verse implies equality of all children of Mother Sri Lanka, it has not been the case with some being regarded as more equal than others. This has resulted in diversity becoming a hinderance rather than a positive quality towards achieving unity. If Sri Lanka is taken as the mother of all children, one must reflect whether this mother has treated all children equally and equitably. The National flag of the country has four Bo leaves representing Karuna, Metta, Muditha and Upekka, essentially love and compassion, but it is questionable whether these have in fact been practiced by all Sri Lankans when it comes to diversity amongst the communities.

Whatever the intent of this verse was, no doubt a very noble one, it is possible that communities have distanced themselves from each other wittingly or unwittingly rather than cohabiting with love and compassion and understanding, to live as children of one mother.

The psyche of inequality felt by some, and superiority felt by others, leading to discriminatory practices by one community over others, could have been the root cause of the ethnic conflict involving the North/East Tamil community and the Sinhala Buddhist community.

The pursuit of reconciliation between the aggrieved and the triumphant, has to recognize this anomaly and find ways and means of addressing it from within the ambit of realities rather than from the perspective of unrealistic and unfounded rhetoric.

Unless and until political and religious leaders demonstrate by example that all are equal and neither history nor the present day has accorded equals to become more equal than others, it is unlikely that followers of such leaders will think as they should.

It is unlikely that true, lasting reconciliation will happen until such a mindset change occurs. Reconciliation cannot be achieved through legislation; it has to be embedded in the minds of people.

Reconciliation also cannot happen if it is seen as a one-way process and where the triumphant is considered to be solely responsible for reaching out to the aggrieved with the latter not understanding and appreciating some reasons that would have contributed to the triumphalism. The deep-rooted desire of the Northern and Eastern people for self-governance and a deep-seated mistrust of the Tamils by the Sinhala Buddhist majority makes reconciliation a major challenge.

As an example, the demand for a land area as a homeland of one community based on questionable historical claims could have contributed to another community asserting their claim of historical superiority with both positions unhelpful for reconciliation due to this mistrust. A demand for a homeland area that provides a sense of cultural comfort and safety would have been a more reconcilable discussion point.

The 13th Amendment

The debates and discussions that are ongoing about reconciliation are centered around the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.  In reality, the 13th Amendment could be looked at as more of a drawback than a helpful way forward to achieve reconciliation through a deeper understanding, appreciation and acceptance of the diversity between the communities in question.

This far-reaching constitutional amendment, forced on the people of Sri Lanka as a panacea for overcoming the ethnic conflict has never been discussed publicly as it should have been. The Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka was passed in 1987 as part of the Indo-Lanka Accord as a solution to the ethnic conflict that had become an armed conflict between the armed forces of the country and those of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The amendment in fact had no impact as a measure to overcome the armed conflict that lasted for more than 20 years since the enactment of the amendment. It is ironical that even the leading Tamil political parties considered the 13th Amendment as inadequate to meet the aspirations of the North and East Tamil people, a position they hold to this day.

Looking to the future

Neither the 13th Amendment or any other amendment and in fact the entire constitution becomes meaningless unless it reflects the will of the people and ensures justice for all. Justice Patrick Keane’s speech referred to earlier amplifies on this. It is debatable whether the 13th Amendment reflects the will of the people and whether it assures justice for all.

In regard to the ethnic issue, the amendment is supposed to provide limited measures for the Northern and Eastern Tamil people to achieve their aspiration of self-governance, while not providing an avenue for the creation of a separate State as demanded by the LTTE.

Tamil political parties representing the Northern and Eastern Tamils maintain that this amendment does not provide for the achievement of their aspirations and that this is only the first step in moving towards eventual self-governance of the North and East of Sri Lanka by the Tamils in these two provinces.

In designing the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987, Indian political strategists perhaps provided for political devolution to all provinces as an appeasement to the Sinhala Buddhist majority to enact the 13th Amendment although at the time, such devolution was not called for by the Sinhala polity.   

Three issues need to be considered. Firstly, whether devolution provided for in the 13th Amendment is appropriate, adequate, inadequate and in fact necessary. Secondly, whether it addresses North and East Tamil aspirations of self-governance within what is referred to as a united Sri Lanka, and thirdly, whether consideration has been given to the aspirations of the rest of the country for Sri Lanka to be a unitary State.

Leaving aside the 13th Amendment, and any other legal, constitutional approaches, it will be useful to consider whether there are any other ways to address the aspirations of the Tamil and Sinhala population of the country, and of course all other communities in the country.

While it cannot be denied that the Tamils in Sri Lanka have been discriminated and treated inhumanely, with 1983 in particular being a turning point in inter-community relations where the alleged complicity of sections of the State apparatus in the pogrom against the Tamils deepened the mistrust between the communities and with the State’s ability to provide security to some of its own citizens. Mass-scale migration of Tamils began in 1983 and the Tamil Diaspora has become a strong lobby for the rights of Northern and Eastern province Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Having said this, no event could be looked at in isolation as enunciated in the theory of dependent origination. All events are linked to each other in one way or another. Colonialism, especially British colonialism, has had a deep-rooted negative impact on a substantial segment of the Sinhala Buddhist population and which in turn impacted negatively on Tamil/Sinhala relationships.

A futuristic question is whether constitutional approaches that has and will have the effect of segregating communities will be the answer to community amity and whether it will advance social healing and help in developing a better understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity amongst the people of Sri Lanka. In this context, it also needs to be questioned whether the four Brahma Viharas, Karuna, Metta, Muditha and Upekka would be practiced by all unless attitudes towards others change and give rise to more favourable relationships. .

Sinhala Buddhist institutional hegemony and the political power it wields does make equality of all Sri Lankans a challenging issue from a practical context although constitutional equality as already enshrined in the Constitution provides for legal equality. Unless Sri Lanka becomes truly secular in words and deeds and Sinhala Buddhist political dominance gives way to a multiethnic, multi-religious power-sharing model, a self-determination model for Tamils in the North and East, leading even to a federal model could become inevitable. Whether it will end there is another matter to be considered.

Politicians from the present generation who are deliberating and sitting in judgement on avenues for reconciliation must give thought to how their decisions will impact on future generations. It would be unwise and unfair to leave behind a solution that could create more problems for the generations to come. A meaningful discourse must happen with the younger generation and their views sought as to how inter-community amity maybe advanced. In the technology-oriented, globalized world they live in and will continue to live in, historical reasoning may have little to do with how they would choose to charter a path for a more considerate, inclusive Mother Lanka.

Raj Gonsalkorale

Raj Gonsalkorale is an independent health supply chain management specialist with wide international experience. Writing is his passion.

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