By Mass L. Usuf
Imagine if all human beings are of one race, one colour, one height, and with the same features. Then, obviously, there will not be a race, colour, or ethnic differentiation, as all will look the same. Of course, there will be great difficulty and confusion in recognising each other, and dealing with the rights and duties of each other. The mother and the wife will look the same, as will the husband and the father.
Diversity is, therefore, a necessity designed by God, or, by nature, for those who do not believe in God, to recognise each other, so that we can live in communities, leading a social life as human beings. It is this diversity that is seen in the form of a distinct race, colour, and ethnicity of the vast human kind. To repeat it again, basically, this diversity is to recognise and understand each other. Not to be proud about one’s belonging, not to feel superior to another man, and not to be at each other’s throat based on these differences.
This is my land
In the same vein, a group of people cannot claim ownership of land, bestowed by God, or, by nature, to human kind, and exclude others within that geography. The earth did not beget hominids. The homo sapiens gave birth to humans. The earth does not belong to anyone. It belongs to all. Distancing themselves from this law of nature, man, in the past, conquered lands and annexed them, calling themselves landlords.
Some others merely migrated from one place to another, seeking existence, and began to call the place where they settled ‘their land.’ From this perspective, the three major communities living in Sri Lanka, claim they belong here. It is not surprising for the Sinhalese to state that this country belongs to them.
The Tamils, make similar claims, about the North and East. The Muslims, who settled here from antiquity, say this is the land of their birth.
To live today, by dwelling in the past, is not a wise thing to do. The place of the past is in museums or in the form of relics. We are living in a modern world, where almost everything of the past eras has changed. Man, also must adapt to the changing environment. The past gives us an experience, today gives us a lesson, and tomorrow gives us hope.
Culture, language, and identity
This does not in any way mean that the cultures, languages, and identities of people are irrelevant. The preservation and perpetuation of these are a must. After all, they are the tools of characterisation of a community’s identity. This is unique, through which we must recognise, accept, and understand each other as humans. The Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims can live peacefully together, where they create this space and respect that space of each other, with tolerance.
The world has been continuously witnessing unprecedented phenomena. For example, see the extent of migration that is taking place. Further, look at how man has evolved to be more civilised, with the advancement of human knowledge and technology. To that end, man has also developed various types of norms, to ensure the dignity of human beings. What is considered a violation of human rights today, was never considered wrong or bad in the past. In this context, why is it that we harbour primitive thinking, of a tribalistic nature, and be the reason for disharmony. If all accept this reality, the way forward will be much easier, prosperous, and joyful. The primordial nature of every man is pure. Therefore, it is this man’s responsibility to make his goodness grow, and be successful, or stunt its growth and face conflict.
Why cannot we?
South Africa, we all know, was at one time the most ostracised country in the world. They were in a permanent state of denial vis-a-vis apartheid. They are different today because they accepted the fact, as the fact.
Acknowledged the truth, as the truth, and shed their bigotry to understand, accommodate, reconcile, and co-exist. In that pursuit, they formulated a new Constitution, which, today, may be named as the most modern Constitution. The preamble to the Constitution reads:
“We, the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of our past; believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
We therefore, through our freely-elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic, so as to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice, and fundamental human rights, lay the foundations for a democratic and open society, in which government is based on the will of the people, and every citizen is equally protected by law.”
South Africa recognises eleven languages as her official languages and also has provision to promote and ensure respect for languages commonly used by communities in South Africa, including Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu, to name a few. Its Bill of Rights, in Chapter 2, is an extensive formulation safeguarding, protecting, and providing for the dignity of human rights.
If South Africa, with a population of around 56 million people, with nearly nine ethnic groups, practising a variety of religions, can come together, why cannot we Sri Lankans come together? We are only 21 million people, with only three ethnic groups, practising four major religions. Is it not shameful?
Cartoon googled and added by TW
State of denial
With regard to the popular notion that this is a Sinhala Buddhist country, and the rest are ‘others,’ is in fact living in a state of denial. This is a notion that had been perpetuated by opportunistic politicians, and, by those belonging to religious institutions, some of whom have transformed the noble teachings of The Buddha, transforming it into a political, cultural, and commercial institution. Sri Lanka is a country which is populated with multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious communities. It would do well for her both locally and internationally, if she embraces this ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity. Like South Africa, Sri Lanka can also model itself to be a light to the world. Here lie the true values of Buddhism. To publicly state, as is often done by some politicians, monks, and extremist elements, that this is a Sinhala Buddhist country, without any consideration for the feelings of the other communities, is an affront on them.
For the bigots, they can call it whatever they want, but the fact remains that this country belongs to all its citizens. And, no citizen would ever want to derogate his or her status as equal citizens. These are nonsensical claims, made by those who dwell in a state of denial. They are, in fact, creating a division amongst the communities. Little wonder that the Tamil community wants to take care of their own affairs, in a land that they can call their own.
It is high time that the Sinhala Buddhist people (not all of them), the sangha (not all of them) and the politicians (not all of them), who are in this state of denial, come out of their delusion. Accept the fact, as it is. Acknowledge the reality as it should be. If not, they are the ones who will one day be the cause for this country, to inevitably be divided. This would be a costly price to be paid for parochialism and bigotry.