Secular Sri Lanka - Blog

"A secular constitution that everyone in Sri Lanka can subscribe to, and feel a sense of belonging in; regardless of their ethnic origin or religious convictions or lack of thereof; is a big step towards the correct direction."

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Re: The Constitution is a Social Contract

We have bookmarked and preserved the clipping of the article by Nihal Jayawickrama captioned "The Constitution is a social contract", appearing in "The Island" of June 27, 2010. For, it is an oasis in the nearly intellectual dessert that Sri Lanka today is. His analysis is dispassionate, unbiased and erudite, coming as it is, from a learned and experienced Sri Lankan citizen.

While agreeing in all humility with everything he states, we propose to concentrate only on one aspect of his article. He sates as follows.

"National reconciliation and reintegration require that Sri Lanka should assert its secular character, as India and Singapore have done. … It was mistake (to make Buddhism the state religion) to have done in 1972."

We beseech that the mistake done in 1972 be undone at least now. We are not unaware that it is a Herculean job.

The Donoughmore Constitution, while bestowing Sri Lankan citizens with universal suffrage, was implemented in 1931. It contained no provision to offer a preferred status to any religion and Buddhism or the Buddha Sasana did not suffer in any manner as a result. The Soulbury Constitution that came into being in 1947 did not make any such provision either. On the contrary, clause 29 therein prohibited the enactment of any legislation, prejudicial to any minority group of citizens.

By this time, there had already developed some anxiety among the minority groups, nevertheless. With the Sinhala Only policy of 1956, the anxiety aggravated. The devastation, caused by the communal riots in 1958, resulting from such anxiety, is now known history. Subsequent attempts by all governments to find a solution failed due to objections by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. Ethnic strife was brewing more vigorously in the meantime.

Our politicians (as against statesmen) were nevertheless inclined to pander to the emotions of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority for short term gains and political expediency. We, of the Sri Lanka Rationalist Association, were not only conscious of the prevailing mood of the nation but also foresaw the dangers lying ahead.

We therefore submitted a memorandum to the then Minister of Constitutional Affairs in 1970, imploring him, among other things, not to grant a priority status to any particular religion in the proposed Constitution. Our suggestion was overlooked and the mistake, referred to by Nihal Jayawickrama, was made. We appreciate his inability to influence the Constitution makers despite his being close to them at the time in the face of the mood of the electorate. Subsequent developments up to date are a sad saga of history.

The rectification of the mistake is the challenge before Sri Lanka today. That would be a major step in the process of reconciliation, we are now engaged in. The SLRA is conscious of the tallness of the order, given the Sinhalese Buddhist emotionalism. Intellectuals of the caliber of Nihal Jayawickrama have to play a major role in this exercise. Rest assured that the SLRA is with you.

Dharmapala Senaratne
President – Sri Lanka Rationalist Association

Related Links(s): SSL Blog Post , The Island article

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