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‘One Country, One Law’ in an aggrieved, anxious nation

23 December 2021 03:02 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Head of the 'One country- One law' task force Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera is seen with the Tamil representatives during his visit to Jaffna.

Laws can be and ought to be dispassionate but their enactment and enforcement fuel emotion.  If the task force has as objective, a set of rules that make for healing then we need to be sensitive to these emotions, political though the articulator are and pernicious though their fuelling could be

One must assume that the committee has been busy drafting and that it has taken into account the popular sentiments of the people, the relevant histories and most importantly the fact that ‘One country, one law’ has been agreed upon by the vast majority of the voters

 

The appointment of a presidential task force mandated to draft relevant legislation aimed at operationalizing the ‘One Country, One Law’ concept precipitated howls of protests. The howlers weren’t exactly from those opposed in some way to a single corpus of rules; rather they by and large belonged to that small set of people who are either inclined to object to anything that any government proposes or to see demons in anything proposed by governments headed by people with the name Rajapaksa. 


One has to wonder if the objectors would have been as livid had the President appointed anyone other than Ven. Galabodaaththe Gnanasara Thera to head the said task force given his volatile (soft word) history. That aside, it is indeed intriguing that those who swear by secularism have issues with the notion. Moreover, it must be emphasized that the ‘One country, one law’ concept is not owned by the President. It is in fact co-owned — Sajith Premadasa as the presidential candidate of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya was in agreement with Candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa. 


The numbers tell a story about the sentiments of the voting population. A total of 6.9 million voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa while Sajith Premadasa obtained 5.7 million votes. That’s 12.6 million. There were altogether 35 candidates. They either echoed this vision in their manifestos and rhetoric or were silent. In other words, at least 12.6 million people or 94.24% of the total number who cast valid votes (52.25% for Gotabaya and 41.99% for Sajith), voted for candidates who believed that Sri Lanka is a SINGLE COUNTRY and therefore should have ONE LAW for all. In fact if the other 33 candidates were asked ‘are you for or against?’ the chances are that the vast majority would say ‘for.’ We could then stop with ‘so there!’ That however would be simplistic if only because the devil would be in the details. Moreover we are talking about a nation so fractured along many lines that grief and anxiety have to be understood as key elements of the political soil in which the idea has to be planted, fertilized and tended. 


Grief and anxiety are not value-free. They are infected with ideological and outcome preferences. They can and are often inflated by the allegedly aggrieved and anxious. They are also pooh-poohed by those opposed to such grievers. We have, in fact, contesting anxieties and grief. Laws can be and ought to be dispassionate but their enactment and enforcement fuel emotion.  If the task force has as objective, a set of rules that make for healing then we need to be sensitive to these emotions, political though the articulator are and pernicious though their fuelling could be. 


Which community (ethnic, religious or political) in this country is free of anxiety? Is there any community that is not aggrieved? Can any community say ‘our anxieties are greater and we are more aggrieved’? Will any community admit ‘we are less aggrieved and less anxious’? Will anyone say ‘we inflicted suffering and we are responsible for grief and anxieties experienced by others’? The ‘yes’ and/or ‘no’ answers to such questions will give us some sense of the political terrain in which resolution-efforts of any kind (this one included) have to be planted. It’s not really an amazingly fertile soil that we are talking about. It is toxic and toxicity is deliberately enhanced by one and all, with the best of intentions or, as is more often the case, with vile intent. 


To me, at some fundamental level, it is about one’s sense of belonging. Laws are controlling mechanism to which a population must submit. If the submission is done willingly (because there’s something to gain in the social contract) it’s all good. However if the law or a set of laws are discriminatory or else privilege a community other than one which you belong to (or identify with), displeasure if not anxiety and grief will ensue. 


Do we need to list all the grievances and all the anxieties? When will we start recognizing that we have caused grief and anxiety to others? When will we acknowledge that we have deliberately and even perniciously inflated angst and ridiculed that of others? When will selectivity be acknowledged? When will we say ‘we too are guilty of various crimes of omission and commission’? 


What the Task Force is going to come up with, we cannot predict. We do know that the President appointed a committee of experts to draft a new constitution. One must assume that the committee has been busy drafting and that it has taken into account the popular sentiments of the people, the relevant histories and most importantly the fact that ‘One country, one law’ has been agreed upon by the vast majority of the voters. The Task Force ought to be in communication with this committee simply because its mandate, technically, is a sliver of the task assigned to the said committee. 


The Task Force can insist, the committee can give weight but parliament and the people must in the final instance agree. That is a process of law-formulation. On face value it seems an easy thing to do. At the end of it you will get new laws or you will have to live with what that currently exists. Either way, there’s no guarantee that the resolution desired will be obtained. 


We have heard the pros and cons of this and that offered and refuted by one community or another. That is the easy part and it is the easy thing that we have done for decades. Understandable of course because that’s what politics is all about. It is hard to rise above all that. We look for ‘truth’ and talk of ‘réconciliation’  but what we end up doing is toss around half (or less) truths and insist on resolutions that sort out our anxieties and in some way alleviate our grief, never mind what they could do to others. 


So yes, we have talked for decades. And we have footnoted or erased much more than we have written. If Ven. Gnanasara and the Task Force he leads recognizes this and initiates a discussion along these lines it would be good. Indeed it would give much needed credence to the process. Even if it does not result in scripting formal rules relevant to the idea (One country, one law), it will take us quite a distance along the road to solidarities that have evaded us for too long. 
malindasenevi@gmail.com


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