– by Shenali D Waduge –
We certainly need to get to the bottom of the root causes for the buildup of disharmony. The harmony that has prevailed amongst the communities as we carry out our day to day affairs must not be allowed to be manipulated by a handful via politicians and public servants while external forces are covertly helping so that Sri Lanka digs its own grave.
In looking at some of the incidents that have taken place in the past which have led to sudden altercations the fact that traditional spaces and incursions have taken place and continue to take place are prime factors. When incursions are taking place it means that the authorities have either been blind or they have been party by virtue of knowing and even officially providing their seal of approval to allow these incursions without realizing the damage they are contributing towards because of their shortsightedness or selfishness. This legally constitutes an illegal construction because the laws are very straightforward and officials in doubt have plenty of avenues to allay their doubts before making approvals. However, when things happen under the table all laws simply get thrown into the air and they form the basis of the issues that emerge often making their way to international podiums where lobbies are waiting for the kill. When, officials under influence of remunerations that contradict the oath they have taken to be law abiding citizens and public servants, with time they are allowing a time bomb to take place. We see these time bombs now going off.
Ministries, local authorities, provincial authorities, municipalities with officials from top to bottom have to shoulder blame and take accountability for allowing what should not have been allowed under very clear written laws to take place – thus we see constructions whether they are for residential, religious or otherwise find themselves start small or on the pretext of another venture and then end up mighty establishments with even foreign funds flowing in and that is when animosities start setting in where people begin to question the rights. This is why we see an enormous number of religious places, prayer houses mushrooming themselves creating the barriers that need to be immediately addressed by the authorities who have created the mess in the first place and politicians allowing such thinking that would increase their vote base! What good is any kitty when they find the real vote base has deserted them because they have felt alienated and hurt by the actions of these politicians? Do we not see this happening before our eyes and warnings are simply ignored. The external forces out to force regime change have not had to do anything – our leaders have dug their own graves.
Politicians will also realize their folly too late when having encouraged the majority to disperse of their lands when these people become tenants eventually their anger will reign down on the politicians who will be blamed and treated as traitors.
We also question how far some of these officials are even aware of the laws in existence in particular when it comes to temple lands and how such lands have been virtually sold by provincial councils to non-Buddhists throughout Sri Lanka especially in the East. How many are also aware that no building can be demolished if it is over 100 years. Translated this means that for any to argue that anything is historical they must through documents (not verbal) prove it is 100 years or more. When areas, lands etc have been sold or leased out without the proper legal provisions being looked at what happens is that the guilty party ends up taking affairs into their own hands and then animosity sets in with aggrieved parties seeking justice and authorities remaining mum because of their own guilt. In many cases the police become the ugly hero because they end up taking the flak for the wrongs committed by public officials and state institutes. We need to address this without allowing these acts of malpractices to continue because it is now affecting the fabric of society given that population is expanding, Sri Lanka is a small nation and everyone is fighting for territory while the indigenous race is fighting to protect its cultural heritage and space in a majority Buddhist country. As for the oft used slogan of lack of tolerance of Buddhists the simple answer is the trust factor – how can the majority trust the minorities when they are either seeking to separate and create an ethnic-based state or wanting to create a new rule of law suited to only their religion and culture and all other religions and cultures are taboo and not tolerated? It is the majority Buddhists that should rightly be questioning the tolerance and trust factor of the minorities because Buddhist compassion is an all-inclusive human quality and not exclusive to one set of people only.
One of the main fault lines lies in not articulating Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage vis a vis Article 9 of the Constitution for that clearly would put to rest the incursions taking place because once people understands and are told what is law – what can be done and what cannot be done, people would accept. The Government and its public servants need to make all laws clear to the people and once made being the good guy and bending these rules becomes detrimental at a later date. When that law is made clear it means that even the public officials and VIPs must follow those laws too – no one is exempted. Islamic nations clearly articulate their do’s and dont’s, people do not question them, people have to adhere to them whether they like it or not and their officials do not bend any laws that goes against their religion, no laws or customs are bent to appease the needs or customs of another race or religion even on the basis of good will or cordial relations? Should the same not be applied elsewhere too otherwise we end up the laughing stock – a country neglecting its roots while other nations strive to preserve it. Destroying or neglecting our roots just to please nations and sets of people will land leaders or the country nowhere and officials that STILL worship the colonial masters who give such advice are only misleading the leaders.
If we can return to clearly articulating what is accepted and what is not – what is right and what is not – what is legal and what is not, we will not be having incursions related to religion, territory or other factors that have created unwarranted animosities amongst the people simply because officials have either showed a blind eye or have been part of the malady. How can authorities claim not to see a structure that they know is illegal when they see it – how can authorities not see the number of mushrooming illegal business and religious institutes that have sprung up and not do something about it. The fact that officials have not taken action has resulted in people thinking they have a free reign to do as they like. These scenarios are likely to get out of hand and result in unwanted situations paving the way for people to lose faith in their Governments and once that block vote is lost and the voters decide on alternatives it will be too late to do damage control – therefore authorities need to realize that they are playing with fire when they do not lay down the do’s and don’t’s clearly so that people learn to respect and follow them.
What is also important for public servants to take note of given that the President himself declared that the people are upset at the service delivery of the Public Servant is that like Judges, public servants are not meant to give personal opinions or judgments but to do their service according to the law of the land.
It is time a commission with competent officials be set up to call from the Public all grievances with proof of incursions and other such illegalities so that they can be investigated in order for the municipal and provincial authorities to take responsibility and undo the mistake’s their officials have made for personal benefit. Approvals given for personal benefit cannot become State law.
Unless Sri Lanka is able to clearly demarcate the laws we are unlikely to solve the issue. Moreover far more than anything we need to bring back compassion, good values and kind thinking – this is the most important goal that Sri Lanka needs to work upon. Development is of no use if our society is morally bankrupt.