My dear Brothers and Sisters!
by Justice C.V.Wigneswaran
Let me thank the Marga Institute for giving me this opportunity to participate in this Workshop dealing with the process of post war Reconciliation and Co-existence in Sri Lanka. Emphasis has been placed by the organizers on identifying the core issues and gaps in our knowledge and understanding.
The word “core” appears highly relevant to our deliberations. On one side we are to ascertain the core issues that have sparked off social tension in this Country. On the other hand, we are asked to delve deep into our respective religions, by-passing the peripheral differences, to identify common core values which could respond to the tensive situation that has arisen and usher in a framework of harmony and understanding and, ultimately, help to foster a Sri Lankan identity despite differences among the denizens of this Country.
Therefore, our first task today is to ascertain the core issues that contributed to the tension.
In the Vedas there is a story which has been used in a different context, but seems appropriate to our deliberations today. A man walks down a path early morning. He sees something across the centre of the road. He identifies it as a snake crawling across the road. He is tensed. He cries out for help. Someone comes and gets closer to the object only to identify the object in the centre of the road as a dried twig lying across the path. The illusion of the snake vanishes in the mind of the first man and the actuality of a twig is then realized. The context in which this story was referred to in the Vedas applied to our accepting the world perceived by our senses as true and real. Beyond the apparent world was the truth referred to by the Vedas.
It is my contention that a few important illusions, if I may say so, have taken control of the minds of a large section of our people, which in turn have led to the present impasse.
What are they?
Firstly, that the Sinhala speaking and the Tamil speaking people of this Country belong to different ethnic groups.
Secondly, that the Sinhala language and those speaking it are Aryans who came from North India and the Tamil language and those who speak it are Dravidians who came from South India.
Thirdly, that the Sinhalese were the original inhabitants of this Country and the Tamils were later immigrants at various stages of our history who forcibly occupied certain areas of this Country.
Fourthly, as a corollary to the above third contention that the Sinhalese occupied the Northern and Eastern regions of the Country from time immemorial until such immigrants took charge of those areas, flows the next expectation that those lands must be retrieved even by force.
Fifthly, that the Sri Lankan Tamils are a minority in this Country asking for rights and privileges far beyond their eligibility.
It is curious to note that despite excavations, finding of inscriptions and the use of modern scientific instruments and consequent discoveries pointing towards contrary views, history in recent times is being perverted to maintain the above said five erroneous contentions or illusions, hoping to instill such erroneous concepts in the minds of a large mass of humanity living in this Country. Such perversions no doubt lead to adverse consequences in the Island.
Professor Sudarshan Seneviratne has referred to historians in Sri Lanka (being)”in the process of subverting the study of history for personal ends and political expediency” ( Vide Preface,”Situating History and the Historian’s Craft” (Book Review in The Island , Colombo- 04/08/2001)).
The politicization and polarization of the academicians today has thrown up a breed of pseudo – historians who are seriously undermining proper research done so far by impartial and erudite historians.
An impartial study of history would point out and maybe confirm
1. that the Sinhalese and the Tamil speaking people of this Country have a common origin (vide Professor Senarat Paranavitana –University of Ceylon History of Ceylon Volume 1 Pages 1: 96-97),
2. that the impact of Prakrit and other languages from India on the existing Mesolithic indigenous languages, which certainly were not North Indian in origin, led to the formation and development of the Sinhalese language,
3. that there is no historical confirmation of any large scale influx of persons either from the North or South of India but that from pre-historic times the two way traffic between the South of India and Sri Lanka had been confirmed by recent excavations and other scientific evidence,
4. that there was a time when the Tamils of the North and East were Buddhists and therefore account for the Buddhist remains in those two areas,
5. that while the Tamil speaking people have lived on this Island from pre-historic times, even before the formation of the Sinhala language, there had been influx of other Tamil speaking people subsequently also, making up the occupants of the North and East of the Island and, finally
6. that the Tamil speaking people have always been the overwhelming majority in the North and East until those two regions for administrative reasons were amalgamated to the rest of the Island.
The Census statistics pertaining to the North and East during the British period when compared with the Census particulars obtained after Independence would confirm the contention that the Tamil speaking people were the overwhelming majority in the North and East at least until Independence. In the early part of the last century, in 1926, when the late Mr.S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike spoke of federalism for Ceylon, it was the Tamils who opposed it. Due to the arid nature and adverse weather conditions of the North and East and the consequent hardships experienced in their living conditions, many Tamil speaking people preferred to live in other areas in the South in amity with the other communities and therefore were not in favour of any regional autonomy of any sort.
It was the “Sinhala Only” Act of 1956 which opened their eyes to the hidden agenda among the politicians of the majority community. The successive incidents that took place until now overtly or covertly with State support have confirmed their suspicions. These included initially the determination on the part of the politicians among the majority community to drive out the Tamil speaking people from the Southern areas to the North or to foreign climes by State organized pogroms and riots, take control of areas they had occupied for centuries by State colonization and in recent times by military intrusions and thereby thin out the population of Tamil speaking people in the Southern areas initially and then the Northern and Eastern areas to make them an insignificant minority in those areas as well as elsewhere. The idea appears to be forcible integration of an entire community with the governing community after destroying the former’s individuality.
This short note regarding ancient history and modern happenings is referred to here with a view to setting out the background to enumerate the grievances of the ethnic groups which speak Tamil.
Unless the grievances are identified, reconciliation and co-existence become a farce. No amount of peripheral adjustments in the form of conciliatory Camps, unity songs, well intentioned Workshops and uttering of pious platitudes could bring about reconciliation and co-existence unless the underlying grievances are unearthed and solutions found for them. Reconciliation is not possible between a man fallen into a well having been pushed into the well by a person standing outside the well and that very same person so standing outside. What might appear to be a reconciliatory process would only be the foisting of the will of the person standing free outside the well on the person fallen in. We must pull up the fallen person to stand on terra firma able to communicate on equal terms with the other person to ensure reconciliation and co-existence.
Again, we are speaking about reconciliation and co-existence without taking into account the views of the man standing outside the well. Why should he conciliate with a man fallen into the well? Even if he is pressurized by external factors, would he want to genuinely alleviate the grievances of the man fallen into the well or would he prefer to throw, very casually, a few crumbs with disdain at him only to ease his pressure for the moment?
Maybe he might not consent to all expectations of the affected person, but would he even consider what by International standards are considered reasonable and appropriate? Maybe a desire to install stability might change him. But it would still be what he condescends to give. Not what the affected would reasonably expect on the basis of their grievances as an equal standing outside the well.
Grievances could be of two types – real and imaginary. Much of the grievances of the minorities in Sri Lanka today are positively real while the so-called grievances of the majority community are, I dare say, imaginary.
Grievances of those minorities affected centre around language, religion, land, education, economy, development, employment and so on. The grievances of the majority community harps back on certain wrongs said to have been perpetrated on them by the British before Independence which according to them need to be corrected. Having said that and having enjoyed political power and authority for over sixty years, which effectively decimated any hold real or imaginary that the minorities may have had in public service, businesses, trade and commerce, the refrain has now changed to historical wrongs perpetrated on them which needs to be corrected by measures, including retrieval of lands in the hands of minorities displacing them from their areas of habitation and foisting of their will and authority on these minorities ,subjugating them in the name of their religion with the help of the authority of the State fallen into their hands. Hence the question – “Are we really interested in reconciliation and co-existence?” Here the word “we” means those in the echelons of power belonging mainly to the Sinhala Buddhist community.
When the majority among the All Party Representatives’ Conference came up with a workable solution to the problems of those affected around the year 2006, their efforts were scuttled. The highest in the land refused to allow the report of the majority to be debated and considered. On the other hand steps were taken to maximize the State’s efforts towards the war. Now that the war has been concluded in the State’s favour, why do powers that be not want to go back to the majority report of the All Party Representatives’ Conference and consider same favourably?
If the State and its governing elite have hidden racial or ethnic or even political bias, reconciliation becomes a problem even if large sections of the people are in fact in favour of reconciliation and co-existence. Further, it would be difficult for the victims and those affected to step out of their conditioned state of mind which believes that the State is an organ of repression and aggression bent on looking after the interests of a section of the people and not wanting to alleviate the sufferings and grievances of sections of citizens other than those favoured.
The sense of frustration and hopelessness would per force go underground, so to say. It would be embedded in the hearts of the victims awaiting a chance to burst out violently. That was what took place earlier which had been cruelly destroyed.
But no amount of brutal wiping out of human species would douse the flame of freedom and justice from the hearts of Men. The Jews in millions were wiped out. But they still remain the most powerful group of human beings in this world. So long as decimating and wiping out of human beings fighting for causes perceived by them as legitimate and moral, continues to be a policy of a governing elite, Hinduism believes, the Law of Karma would take its effect. The saying that those who flourish by the sword would perish by the sword, though trite, does not lack credibility.
No doubt those who took up to violence found that greater violence brought about their exit. But how long would it take for those who resorted to such greater and more sophisticated brutal violence, especially against innocent human beings, to learn this same lesson? We have seen this happening quite often in the past. All religions have said that we reap what we sow. An understanding of this law of retribution coupled with possibly the urgent need for political stability in the Country might hold the key to reconciliation and co-existence. If we realize that we pay for the wrongs we do to others in the long run, maybe a sense of grave responsibility might overtake us. We might realize that the politics of continuing violence, politics of distrust of the past which culminated in the revocation of agreements and failure to honour promises had led us to an abyss of unrest and chaos so far and unless a positive turning back from such violence and distrust is attempted, the cycle of violence would again have its toll on us. For this, a change of heart is essential. The victor, like King Asoka, must realize the futility of war and violence. If the Buddha’s message could have kindled a sensitive string in the heart of King Asoka after the bloody Kalinga War, why cannot the same message move the hearts of the modern professed followers of the Buddha?
Hinduism teaches that if we had acted violently or foolishly so far we could change our ways radically to usher in a better future, a peaceful future, an intelligent future. Thus, the ill effects of all wrongs done to the minorities by the governing elite so far could be washed away by taking corrective action presently.
What are these corrective measures? According to Hinduism, following the Ideal of Dharma is the important corrective measure to be undertaken. The virtues that spring from the Ideal of Dharma are all based on a fundamental sense of obligation towards fellow beings and are branches from the root of Dutifulness. Even though rights and duties, being co-relatives, are two sides of the same coin, the attitudes of those claiming rights and those insisting on doing their duties are different. When we ask for our rights we are aggressive, combative and separative. Those who prefer to do their duties are yielding, peaceful and unifying.
An important result that flows from the Ideal of Duty is that the failure of one of two parties in a relationship to do his duty does not excuse the other from doing his. While there should be reciprocity to make a relationship perfect, yet duty must be done even to the undutiful. Duty must be fully discharged no matter what may be the unworthiness of the other party to the relationship. Why this should be so stems from the realization that the other will have to answer to Karma for his breaches of the law.
Importing this idea to our present predicament, we should note that performing our duties dispassionately, having acted hitherto in a selfish manner, would entail a change of heart on our part, which is essential if we are to move forward towards peace, reconciliation and co-existence. Conforming to the ideal of Dharma brings out some of the core values stressed by the Hindu religion viz.
1. Understanding of the working of the Law of Karma;
2. Realisation of the unity of creation and the interdependency of all beings and the inter-connectedness of all activities going on in the Universe;
3. The realization of the need to share resources, power and love among communities and
4. The realization of the need to build up trust among communities by each community performing its duties for the betterment of the entire Sri Lankan society.
If Truth and Reconciliation Committees in South Africa in conformity with noble Christian ideals stressed the importance of regret and atonement, we in Sri Lanka could set up a Movement which would in conformity with the ideals of Hinduism and Buddhism take us back to Dharma (Dhamma), where every person high or low, powerful or ordinary, intellectual or unlettered, belonging to a major community or minor community comes forward to perform his or her duty. There is no need to regret. Having realized our mistakes of the past, we collectively shoulder our responsibility to take forward our country towards peace and prosperity by performing our duties. We are fortunate that our Constitution has already enumerated Principles of State Policy and (Citizen’s) Fundamental Duties in its Chapter VI in Articles 27 and 28. Establishment of a just and free society, full realization of rights and freedoms of all persons, equitable distribution of the resources of the Country, establishment of a just social order, strengthening of the democratic structure of government and the democratic rights of the People by decentralizing the administration ensuring People’s participation in national life and in governance, elimination of discrimination on grounds of race, religion and language, equality of opportunity to all citizens, fostering respect for international law and treaty obligations in dealings among nations are some of the Principles of State Policy enumerated in Article 27(2) of the Constitution.
Unfortunately these are termed “Directive” principles, which means they are not justiciable in terms of the provisions of Article 29. Article 28 enumerates fundamental duties of Citizens. Thus, our laws are not devoid of the structure which recognizes the need to strengthen Dutifulness as a principle of administration, governance and social order. It is time we gave teeth to this principle of dutifulness which is the foundation of Dharma.
Conforming to the Dharma would identify the needs of the society for the present as well as for the future and the determination of all concerned to shoulder the responsibilities for the present and future. Performance of duties by all and the recognition of the principle of performing our duties towards those whom we had hitherto been at war or conflict is also part of Dharma.
Let me finally enumerate shortly some of the practical methods that may be considered by powers that be in order to bring solace to those suffering hitherto.
a. Resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons in their original areas of habitation.
b. Rebuilding houses destroyed or damaged by the War.
c. Paying compensation to those who had suffered by the War.
d. Immediate steps to fully implement the provisions of the 13th and 16th Amendments to the Constitution, especially with regard to Language.
e. Initiating training programmes for Parliamentarians on Reconciliation and Co-existence and the need to conform to the Dharma which means the stressing of their duties.
f. To discourage at the highest levels the condonation of the building of religious idols as instruments of victory symbols and aggression.
g. To fully implement the use of all three Languages in name boards in Government Departments, Road Signs, buses and other means of conveyance and transport etc., giving equal recognition to all three languages.
h. To desist from making the Military as an instrument of repression and discrimination.
i. To initiate programmes in schools which would teach children the benefits of sharing and respecting the other person’s humanity and doing their duties towards all and sundry.
j. To formulate a social structure which would emphasise the need to conform to the list of duties enumerated in the Constitution.
k. All religious dignitaries to come forward voluntarily to participate in this Movement to restore the Dharma.
The word “Dharma” should not be misunderstood as something indigenous to Hinduism and Buddhism only. It is the Ideal of Duty, the ideal of social responsibility and social responsiveness. Such an ideal had been taught by all religious leaders, be it Lord Jesus Christ or the Prophet (Peace be unto Him). We have to use our ingenuity to formulate a social instrument which would overshadow the culture of Rights with a culture of Duties. Here lies the contribution of Religions to social weal and well being.
I thank you for the patient hearing.
(Retired Supreme court judge, Justice C.V.Wigneswaran delivered this address at a MARGA Institute workshop held in Colombo ob September 15th 2009)