Religious intolerance is raising its ugly head again, and movements in this direction are gathering momentum. If this is not immediately and effectively stopped, it will spell disaster to the nation recovering from a protracted racially motivated 30 year conflict.
The Leader of the House and Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva recently announced certain measures, including the setting up of committees in different parts of the country, with a view to jointly celebrating all ethno-religious events in the calendar. This, being a move in the right direction should be implemented fast before the current trend reaches the point of no return.
A suggestion was also made to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee to address this issue, but little or no action has so far been taken. We know of PSCs that sat at various times -- the All-Party Conference mooted by President J.R. Jayewardene and the not so long ago Tissa Vitharana Committee that sat for months or years but was of little or no avail. Unless the proposed PSC is appointed soon and its activities fast-tracked and decisions implemented without delay, it too would suffer the same fate as that of the previous ones.
As a panacea for these societal ills, a proposal made by one of our readers and presented to the action group for inter-faith harmony for fostering understanding, respect and tolerance formed the basis of two of our editorials published last month and this month. This was basically to cancel most of the non-essential holidays and instead have some religious ceremony in the office or the school. For instance a two-hour Dhamma sermon or meditation on Poya Days, a message on the life of Jesus Christ on holidays to mark Christian events and a Hindu sermon on Hindu religious holidays and a Islamic sermon on days significant to the Muslims. This proposal has been submitted to the President and we hope he would have the insight and courage to implement it though there may be opposition from some extremist or orthodox groups. Such a move would bring about racial and religious unity in diversity – which has for generations been the solid foundation of Sri Lanka’s civilization, culture and sustainable development.
Besides this the Government must also take effective steps or make structural reforms to bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources and to alleviate poverty. This is essential because often it is poverty that provokes people to react in some other area and cause religious or racial problems. The structural reforms must include a ceiling on the ownership of land and housing – a measure effectively implemented in countries like Venezuela where poverty has been alleviated to a large extent. So much so that millions of people still revere President Hugo Chavez though he has been gravely ill for two months amid fears that he may not fully recover and may not be able to rule the country again.
With these measures steps must also be taken to check corruption if Sri Lanka is to become a united and economically stable country.
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