Sixty Nine Years After, Are We One Nation, One People?

By Mass L. Usuf (Courtesy Author)

The calendar of any new year is highlighted with certain dates in different colours indicating important events, festivals and birthdays. These dates are marked in order to remind us to commemorate, observe or celebrate such dates. Each of these dates appeal to the collective consciousness of a people to come together. They may belong to a religious group, cultural affiliation or, the people as a whole if it is a national event. The fourth of February, marked as the Independence Day is no exception to this.

The celebration of a national event awakens in the hearts and minds of every citizen as Sociologist Emile Durkheim states, “the set of shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes which operate as a unifying force within society.” So, fourth February for Sri Lankans is a day of pride and achievement with which each looks at the other with a feeling of solidarity as co-citizens of this nation.

This Day of Independence is an opportunity for us to put aside the gloom and doom perception and look towards a bright and hopeful future. There are a lot of positives that is out there and every one of us must look at tomorrow with optimism.
One Nation, One People

Chroniclers record the independence day as an important milestone in the history of our country. This importance cannot be permitted to remain confined only to words. It is certainly much larger than that. It provides us with a chance to reflect on mutual relationship between ourselves, to appreciate unity in diversity, to renew within us the good qualities of tolerance and understanding, to celebrate pluralism in its different hues and to come together to mark this joyous event as one nation, one people.

For a moment look back at 1948 and look at ourselves now. Take stock of what has shaped us over the years to make us what we are as a nation today. Remembering the past as lessons for the future will inculcate in us a better understanding as to who we are. Like, the New Year, this independence day is also an excuse for us to resolve and set goals for ourselves as citizens of Sri Lanka.

Symbolism

A careful observation of our national behavioural pattern does grossly point towards symbolism. We seem to be a nation rife with symbolic expressions. One can test case this thought in several spheres. Nothing much permeates beyond the borders of mere symbolism. Symbolism is hardly transformed into a form of inspiration and action.
Day in day out we sing the National anthem. For a moment reflect on these beautiful words:

“එක මවකගෙ දරු කැල බැවිනා
යමු යමු වී නොපමා
ප්‍රේම වඩා සැම හේද දුරැර දා නමෝ නමෝ මාතා”

“Ill-will, hatred, strife all ended,
In love enfolded, a mighty nation
Marching onward, all as one,
Lead us, Mother, to fullest freedom”

The collective consciousness arising from commemorating a national event should form the foundation of collective responsibility on the part of all the citizens. This collective responsibility need to be focussed to contribute to the development, stability and prosperity of our country.

Come fourth February each year, the street vendors are out in full force making hay while the sun shines. For them it is another seasonal trade opportunity to capitalise on in contrast to nationalistic enthusiasm. The national flag is ubiquitously seen and heard fluttering all over. Another one, in a long list of symbolism we as a nation indulge in. To fly the national flag is a good thing but is that all? As citizens, we must learn to think beyond this. When raising the national flag do it with respect and commitment and make a pledge, “I will serve my country with loyalty, faithfully and honestly.” Is this all? I do not think. We must also take the further step of putting our good intentions into practise. Away from symbolism.

Values Of A Nation

On this day, we speak much about the freedom we gained from our colonial masters. Sadly, however, from 1948 we are stagnated only with this thought of independence. For example, the Day of Independence in the United States of America includes celebrating the values that the country was founded upon. The Declaration of Independence reads: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Harry Rubenstein, a curator of American politics at the Smithsonian Institution, says that Independence Day celebrates those very ideals of democracy, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and is for anyone who finds faith in the words “all men are created equal.” He says that it is also important to remember that as Americans, we should continue to embody the values our country was built on. “These are principles that you achieve and not just state,” he says. “[Our country] is a work in progress.”
Code Of Values

Did our forefathers have a code of values that they set to themselves and to the nation when they demanded for independence? Or, was the demand for independence at that time merely dictated by political expediency? It was around the time when we witnessed the exit of the British Empire in 1947 from neighbouring India? There was not much sacrifice made from our side compared to the Indian struggle for independence.

Rule Of Law

We are a nation which has had three constitutions since 1948 and the fourth one is in its embryonic stage. Our set of values, I believe, had progressively developed in line with democratic principles and enshrined in the constitution. There are several values incorporated therein. Contextually, one of the most fundamental and significant value that constitutes the bedrock for us Sri Lankans today, is the Rule of Law. There is a moral duty on the government to establish, protect and implement this value. The government must distance itself from spiritless symbolism and seriously give credence to the application of the Rule of Law. There is also another set of reciprocal values that we, as citizens, have easily forgotten or sometimes unaware of; That is the fundamental duties of every person that is stated in Article 28 of the Constitution.

Fundamental Duties

“The exercise and enjoyment of rights and freedoms are inseparable from the performance of duties and obligations and accordingly it is the duty of every person in Sri Lanka –

(a) to uphold and defend the Constitution and the law;
(b) to further the national interest and to foster national unity ;
(c) to work conscientiously in his chosen occupation;
(d) to preserve and protect public property and to combat misuse and waste of public property ;
(e) to respect the rights and freedoms of others ; and
(f) to protect nature and conserve its riches.”

I think we should reflect on the fundamental duties we owe to this land in which we were born and God willing may die. In contrast, to symbolically raising the national flag only, let us resolve on this Day of Independence to make a pledge at the time of raising the flag that we will discharge our duties to this land sincerely, honestly and with integrity.

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