Most of those who voted for change in January 2015 would agree that the performance of the Yahapalana Government is like the proverbial curate’s egg – both good and bad. The opening up of the democratic space is one achievement, while the steps taken to bring about national reconciliation is another, both of which constitute [...]


National reconciliation is no longer on the agenda


Most of those who voted for change in January 2015 would agree that the performance of the Yahapalana Government is like the proverbial curate’s egg – both good and bad. The opening up of the democratic space is one achievement, while the steps taken to bring about national reconciliation is another, both of which constitute the good aspect of the government.

The previous government failed to build on its success in defeating the LTTE by not addressing the concerns of the minorities. In fact, they added another dimension to the national question by not providing security to the Muslims in the face of targeted actions by hardline groups.

After the advent of the Yahapalana Government, the minorities began to breathe more easily with some of the issues relating to the minorities – particularly the Tamils – being addressed. However, the terrorist attacks of April 21, 2019 have not only caused a setback to the country’s reconciliation efforts, but have, in fact, caused a reversal of the process.

During the reconciliation process of the past few years, one of the factors that was stressed as a strength of the country was its diversity. Sri Lanka was often depicted as a beautiful tapestry made up of four religions and its diverse cultures. Following the lead given by the country’s leaders, the nation began to think and work towards this goal with civil society too embarking on several initiatives.

One of the fallouts of the Easter Sunday attacks has been its impact on the healing process embarked upon by the Government. The words ‘reconciliation’ and ‘diversity’ have simply disappeared from the public discourse. What seems to be in vogue is the call for assimilation and uniformity.

The Government itself, after valiantly trying to keep the reconciliation process on track for four years despite the disruptive efforts of its opponents, seems to have now caved in and allowed the anti-national and majoritarian forces to set the agenda.

Taking advantage of the situation, the Bodu Bala Sena and like-minded forces are ruling the roost and spewing the anti-Muslim hatred that characterised their behavior pre-January 8, 2015. While the Government has successfully dismantled the terrorist network within two weeks and restored the security of the country and the people, its response to the insecurities of the Muslim community leaves much to be desired.

Its efforts to deprive Muslims of the rights they have enjoyed in this country over the years as a response to the terrorist attacks is causing great concern among the Muslims. None of the measures envisaged can be explained or justified as being taken to prevent the recurrence of events similar to the tragic incidents that took place last month.

For instance, efforts are being made to regulate madrasas, even though there is no evidence to suggest that the germ of terrorism was planted in the minds of the terrorists by the madrasas. Regulation of religious schools is a welcome step, but it should apply to all religious schools and not only to madrasas. Otherwise it would amount to discriminating against the Muslims and is a violation of Constitutional provisions.

The release of Ven Gnanasara Thero on a Presidential pardon adds another dimension to the fears of Muslims. Although the monk was convicted and sentenced for reasons other than his anti-Muslim escapades, his unprecedented pardon will undoubtedly impact on any attempt to rebuild relations among communities.

At his first press conference after his release from prison, he showed that he was none the worse for his incarceration. He raved against the madrasas, the burka and all things Muslim. He called upon all citizens to take the role of the policeman – a sentiment he had expressed and acted upon prior to his imprisonment.

The Presidential pardon, however, also raises many issues relating to the Rule of Law which is directly linked to reconciliation and the larger national interest. The monk’s conviction was not based on a simple contempt of court where some chance remark or comment of an individual is deemed in contempt of court.

In this instance, the monk walked into the court which was in session, disturbed the court and insulted the State Counsel, and let’s not forget the intimidation faced by Sandya Ekneligoda. The complaint was made by the magistrate and the monk was convicted after trial by the Court of Appeal. Such an incident amounting to contempt of court is probably unheard of in any part of the world.

No wonder then that Rev Asiri Perera, the Head of the Methodist Church, was quick to condemn the act of pardon. It remains to be seen what other religious leaders will have to say on the matter. Given the ramifications for the independence of the judiciary and the administration of justice it will also be interesting to see what the Bar Association has to say on the matter.

The President and the Government owe it to the country to explain the reasoning behind taking such a far-reaching step. Otherwise it will only provide ammunition to those who want international involvement in judicial processes and the administration of justice relating to allegations connected to the civil war.

In this environment of fear and suspicion there is also a section of Muslims who are falling head over heels to appease hardline forces. Some are doing it out of ignorance, some to serve their political ends and others to settle old scores based on religious differences within the Muslim community.

When one looks around and sees the response of various sections of society to the events of April 21, 2019 as well as the attacks on Muslims of May 13 and 14, one can only lament that the country is unable to maintain its sanity and look at issues dispassionately in this moment of national crisis. When what is needed is a proper analysis of what led to these incidents, and what action should be taken to prevent its recurrence, instead one only sees knee-jerk reactions or ill-informed decisions based on prejudice or ignorance.

This clearly is a situation which requires wise leadership that places the country’s interest in the forefront. The question is whether the nation has the capacity to collectively throw up such leadership.


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