Jehan Perera who writes copiously on various subjects, especially on matters of national interest, has made a very poignant statement in his above-captioned lengthy article, making mention of the present presidential election promises by candidates, where he says, “But there is one area in which promises are hardly to be seen. This is the area of proposals to end inter-ethnic and inter-religious strife, which has for long been the main unsolved problem in the country and its permanent dividing line. The question of healing the wounds of the past and dealing with the human rights violations that took place on all sides during the three decades of war has also not been addressed and neither the failure to find a political solution that would address the roots of the conflict”.
Yes, the root cause of the ethnic problem has been pinpointed by the commission appointed under the chairmanship of Prof. Vithanage -- Reconciliation and Rehabilitation, as the enforcing of the Sinhala Only Act. Let me elaborate on this issue from personal knowledge and experience. Going back to Colonial rule, there was no caste, creed or religious discrimination and all were treated equally. This continued after we gained independence up to the time when S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike crossed over to form a separate political party called the Sri Lanka Freedom Party [SLFP] as he was deprived of succeeding D.S. Senanayaka as Prime Minister. Although the cry for 50-50 was proposed by Tamils, headed by G.G. Ponambalam, it did not have much effect. However, with SWRD crossing over, to achieve his ambition, he mustered the support of all the non-English speaking, the then illiterate masses called the Pancha Maha Balavegaya – Govi, [Farmer] Kamkaru [Labour] Sangha [Buddhist Clergy] Veda [Ayurvedic doctors]Guru[Sinhala Teachers] and promised Sinhala as the state language. This was fully supported by Buddhist monks who spearheaded the elections which brought SWRD to power. Then it was the pressure brought by Sangha that made SWRD give in to make Sinhala Only the state language. It is my view that if SWRD was given a free hand, he would have consulted all minorities and formulated a workable solution to make Sinhala the State Language. With this hasty decision, schools which had children of all nationalities and religions in one class room were separated and compartmentalised. Thus, the lifelong friendship children made during their school days ended and today we do not see a good friendship between Sinhala and Tamil boys. Those days, there was no difference whether you were a Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher. There were inter-marriages between Sinhalese and Tamils. One shining example is C.V. Wigneswaran, Chief Minister for Northern Province, married to a well-known Sinhala girl. Apart from dividing the children, Tamils were deprived of employment in the public and private sectors, one of the main sources of income for many Jaffna Tamil families. Therefore, it is no wonder the Tamils rose against the Sinhala government. Apart from the conflict brought between Tamils and Sinhalese, we were made to fall back on advancement of science and technology as literature pertaining to the subjects was in English. Perhaps the candidates who are contesting the present presidential elections would not be able to find a favourable answer if they seek the help of the clergy, especially Buddhist clergy. The ideal solution would have been to make Sinhala and Tamil State languages and English the administrative language. Have English as a medium of instruction in school with Sinhala and Tamil as compulsory subjects at public examinations. Have not we oldsters learned advance Sinhala in school those days where our books were Rathdharma Ratanavaliya, Salalihini Sandesaya, Subhasithaya, Lovada Sangarawa. Incidentally, I asked a student in a higher form whether he has read Subasithaya. He was nonplussed. The Sinhala taught in schools is far below than what we learned. Was Sinhala neglected during those days. Emphatically NO. We had Martin Wickramasingha and Piyadasa Sirisena as authors and their books have now become textbooks in schools.
The ideal solution would have been to make Sinhala and Tamil State languages and English the administrative language. Have English as a medium of instruction in school with Sinhala and Tamil as compulsory subjects at public examinations
It will therefore be seen that the influence of our clergy has shattered the unity of this country, ethnic and religious, thereby retarding development. The recent action of the Cardinal calling upon the voters to reject the present 225 members in Parliament and his arrogance in saying that he does not want any political leader to meet him tantamounts to interference in politics and also shows what influence he has in politics in this country. Speaking of economic development, not only the Buddhist clergy but also other religious leaders have had a say. One example is that of the then Bishop of Chilaw, objecting to the setting up of a coal powered plant at Norochcholai, claiming that it will affect the Shrine of St. Annes at Thalawila, 13 km away, although both local and internally reputed consultants assured there would never be any adverse effect. This objection caused a six-hour power cut and foreign investors feared to set up business in Sri Lanka. The main reason for the delay was due to lack of political will and political leaders fearing the loss of Christian votes.
The above explains how development of this country was retarded and the causes that led to disunity, mainly the role played by the clergy who have our political leaders shackled to dance according to the tune played by them. Unless, our politicians keep the clergy away from politics, not only the country but also Buddhism will suffer.
Erskine May on Religion in Democracy
In saying so, it is pertinent to quote what Erskine May, the authority on democracy, says on Religion in Democracy “From the secular point of view religion is a hindrance to democracy as it enforces a set of legal and societal principles. Separation of religion and the state is required to protect freedom and ensure equality. From the legal point of view, democracy can never enjoy general acceptance in a religious society. Anything outside of rigid interpretation is rejected and God rather than the people is sovereign”.
Having now found the root cause of the problem of disunity in this country, which is mainly the language issue, ways and means must be found to bring back what we enjoyed prior to the disastrous “SINHALA ONLY ACT”. The only way, as I see it is to introduce a system where children sit in one classroom, build everlasting friendships among them, casting away race, religion and other social barriers. Is there anyone who could take this bold step. Here I agree with Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, oust the present set of politicians numbering 225 in parliament and bring in an honest, trustworthy and firm leader who could withstand the attack of the clergy and confine them to preach, foster and propagate their respective religions, and steer the country forward for peace and prosperity, if necessary IRON RULE.