In the new political climate in which we are living there is the felt need for healing of wounds, undoing the hurt and bringing about a unification of hearts and minds. The vanquishing of the LTTE did not mean vanquishing the Tamil people. All are agreed on the fact that there is no need for any enmity among the various communities which have inhabited this land peacefully for centuries before divergent political views brought great distress, division and discomfort to the citizens of Sri Lanka. The LTTE contributed to widening of differences between the Sinhala and Tamil people. The defeat of the LTTE meant the removal of a great obstacle that separated the Sinhala and Tamil people. Even before the LTTE came into being, there were issues that were a source of irritation not only to the ethnic minorities but also to religious minorities and other minorities such as those of certain castes. What they actually did was to obstruct the progress and advancement of Sri Lanka as one people. Had we been a united and peaceful country we would certainly have begun to be the model and miracle of Asia soon after gaining Independence. Today we are a people crying over spilt milk and lost opportunities. It looks as if we have been partially blind and walking in the dark for several decades.
In recent times, we have on and off dwelt on the subject of reconciliation. But one wonders whether it was genuine reconciliation that was sought. If we look at the reconciliation that was offered objectively it was a half-hearted togetherness or a vague friendliness which was suspected to be a new kind of subjugation with a veneer of patronising condescension. The Sinhala politicians who wished to ‘restore’ the lost rights of the Sinhala people and those who later claimed to have defeated the LTTE, failed to understand the sense of honour of the Tamil people and of the religious minorities that was in no way less than that of the majority community. Those who claimed to have won the war thought that ‘development’ of the North and East that also brought profits to the Sinhala politician developers and their Tamil friends would be sufficient to pacify all Tamils, Muslims and other religious minorities.
Reconciliation and Mutual Forgiveness
The much-needed reconciliation is not solely government sponsored and on any ministry managed vague programmes a lot of funds are usually expended and little reaped. What is needed is not a superficial reconciliation that gives a sentimental and passing good feeling to some hearts and minds. Wounds and hurts will be healed when and where there is goodwill, and the communication of the feelings of peace and harmony which arise from the heart. When such a genuine reconciliation of hearts and minds is well grounded on the basis of human dignity, a new fraternity will arise. Then it will find fitting expression in constitutional law. The Sinhala politicians from whatever political parties cannot get away from acknowledging the equal rights of all citizens by taking into account their inherited religious, cultural, linguistic patrimony parallel to the Sinhala people. Neither do people need to be subjected or subordinated to the other. We need to acknowledge our offences against others and must have the strength to seek mutual forgiveness. This is more than political; it is spiritual.
In the seventies, Rev. Fr. Thaninayagam organised a seminar of Tamil Literature and Culture. It was sabotaged. This was just one incident. Some people simply cannot stand others. It is a malady that cannot be healed by political policy; it needs something like psychiatric treatment. Those holding rabid racialist views and acting on them are living in a fantasy world of their own exhibiting even disgraceful, coarse and uncouth conduct. They could never be promoters of reconciliation for the simple reason that they lack basic honesty, goodwill, intelligence and spiritual calibre.
Therefore the time has come to approach active reconciliation honestly, sincerely and intelligently with a new creativity that does not ignore but takes into account and acknowledges the blatant discrimination based on prejudices and suspicions that have taken root and are still taking place on account of the ethnic and religious identities of the people now inhabiting Sri Lanka. The equal honour and human dignity of all the people and their individual and community identities are not contrary to their being patriotic Sri Lankan citizens. And patriotism is not an exclusive property of a vociferous few.
Religions for Reconciliation
There are four main religions visible and active on the public and social horizon of Sri Lanka today; Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity and a few other religions with adherents of small groups. They are all people endowed with human dignity. The identity and strength of the respective religions depend on the loyal, firm and free adherents of the religions and on their present-day religious leaders who should be providing orthodox guidance. The present-day religious leaders would be providing good leadership to their respective adherents if they themselves were faithful not only to the pristine teaching of the founders but also if they were capable of elucidating wisely and interpreting coherently the teachings of the founders thus leading people to live in solidarity and peace with other human beings perhaps not of the same persuasion, nevertheless together enhancing life in general. Religions’ approaches to reconciliation are persuasive, even painstaking, exhaustive and encouraging, orienting the mind and heart to that which is honourable, beautiful, fraternal and pleasing. Politicians use strategies, tactics, manoeuvres as means to achieve their ends. And that is not only not in keeping with religious attitudes; it mixes up religious authority with political and State power and also goes against humanity. Yet, evidently politicians find people’s religious loyalties an attractive and handy political tool. And they propagate their partisan political stances from places of worship also polluting these premises.
The religions in this country could positively and creatively contribute to the bringing about not just of religious tolerance but also of genuine reconciliation through mutual comprehension. Religions can positively motivate behaviour. The religious leaders acting in the name of the Religious Founders need to proclaim unambiguously the authentically liberating and unifying elements of the message. Religious leaders could see that no one distorts religion according to a currently advantageous political stance or ideology when many are succumbing to this temptation, with disastrous consequences to the Country at large.
These unrecognised attitudes are deciphered by independent observers as contradicting the pristine teachings of the venerated Founders of Religions.
Attitudes have been warped by the preponderant considerations arising from ethnic, caste, racial, religious, cultural prejudices and bias, when genuine and pure religious attitudes should have brought about an enlightening element to the prevalent human condition prone to descent to sub human levels.
Political Power Vs Humane Attitudes
Politics that does not uphold human dignity and honour and human rights that is widely prevalent in Sri Lanka today also tends to have over-bearing tendencies even towards religions and religious persons. Religious authorities who tend to be more politicised than oriented by faithfulness to religious attitudes weigh and judge matters from an angle of political power than by attitudes of humane and religious service to human beings.
When at points of crisis – it is said that the point of crisis is also the point of opportunity – the religious leaders fail due to their own moral deficiency, their pride, prejudice, envy, jealousy, anger, sense of superiority or inferiority, they fail the people and they fail the religions of which they are exponents. But the fact remains that true and lasting reconciliation is that which comes with genuine and deep religious convictions. If the leaders of the four main religions get together to promote reconciliation it will change the face of Sri Lanka and even guide politics in a new and saner direction.
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