For the first time, the United Nations celebrated Vesak 2017 in Sri Lanka with the highlight being the three-day international conference attended by representatives from some 85 countries. As we stressed yesterday, significantly the theme was a peaceful and just society.
For sustainable reconciliation, peace and justice, the all-religions activist Dr. L.A.W. Sirisena has made some proposals to the government.
According to Dr. Sirisena and -- most people would agree with him -- Sri Lankans get too many holidays. Indeed we have the largest number of holidays when compared with the rest of the world. This adversely affects the work in the public and private sectors -- thereby the economy.
Successive governments have made attempts to rectify this situation, without success. The declared Public Holidays add up to 25. Since we have a five-day working week, we will be ‘holidaying’ for almost another five weeks, in addition to all the Saturdays and Sundays. Can we, a developing nation, afford such a large number of holidays, together with the holiday mood -- the preparation for the holiday and its aftermath -- that spreads beyond the actual holiday, further eroding into the working hours and days.
Further, can the declaration of a National Holiday, in commemoration of an event, where the majority of the people will do nothing connected with the event, be justified?
Dr. Sirisena says a closer look at the list of public holidays shows that 23 out of the 25 have ethno-religious commemorative significance, affording an ideal opportunity, only if used appropriately, to promote inter-faith action. There are only two days that are common to all sections of the society. Those are the Independence Day and May Day. These two days and another eight days, which are considered to be of the highest importance to the respective ethnic or religious group, namely Thai Pongal, the National New Year (2 days), Vesak (2 days), Poson, Ramazan and Christmas need to be considered separately. During these 10 days, there are large scale religious observances, social events or family reunions. This group of 10 could constitute our commemorative holidays.
The remaining 15 commemorative events consisting of ten Poya Days, Hadji, Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, Maha Sivarathri, Deepavali and Good Friday could be made full working days, with the exception that the first two hours -- 8 am to 10 am be spent in an activity devoted to the significance of that particular day’s event.
Dr. Sirisena says that for example, on a Poya Day there could be a Bana preaching/meditation; on Hadji and Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, a programme on some aspect of Islam and the life of the Holy Prophet; on Deepavali and Maha Sivarathri Day a Hindu religious or cultural programme, and on Good Friday a prayer service or a talk and dialogue on the life of Jesus Christ. This will ensure that most workers will at least spend some time meaningfully, in observance of the particular event commemorated. It will also promote understanding of the different religions and cultures, integration and harmony among the different religious and ethnic groups, as all separate groups will together be involved in making arrangements and participating in each others functions. They could get back to work after partaking in fellowship and refreshments.
According to Dr. Sirisena we should not forget that comparatively only a few Buddhists observe ‘Ata-Sil‘ on most Poya days. As ‘Ata-Sil’ observance need not necessarily be on the Poya Day, arrangements could be made to hold such observances on the Sunday following or preceding the Poya. Most schools arrange their ‘Ata-Sil’ observances on the school day preceding the Poya.
Since over the years we have been used to the idea of enjoying ‘long week-ends’, consideration could be given to declaring one Monday or Friday in each quarter of the year, simply as an additional holiday, to encourage people to take a long break for relaxation and recreation. This is a healthy concept.
Thereby we will have a total of 14 national holidays.
This proposal will curtail the number of holidays and increase the number of working days, thereby helping the country’s smooth administration and economy; with a little give and take, it will also promote better understanding and appreciation of each others cultures, build bridges, facilitate cross faith interactions and regain inter community trust which is essential for ensuring harmony and oneness.