Achieving true lasting reconciliation

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By 2018-01-20

By Lakshman I. Keerthisinghe

Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, not absorbed.

- Mary Parker Follett

"United we stand, divided we fall."

- Aesop (620 -560 B.C.)

The week Monday(8) to Sunday (14), had been declared as the National Integration and Reconciliation week for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka by President Maithripala Sirisena. The main aim of this initiative was to promote unity, peace, affection and brotherhood among people to ensure empathy and trust among diverse ethnicities which is an effort towards nation building that will lay the foundation for a united, strong, reconciled and prosperous nation. The first activity during the National Integration and Reconciliation week, the declaration of reconciliation prepared by the Ministry was read in every State institution ranging from the school system to the Parliament.

To mark this initiative in Washington D.C., the staff of the Embassy of Sri Lanka commenced the work day, on Monday, taking a pledge to work towards national integration and reconciliation. After hoisting the National Flag and singing the National Anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil, the following Pledge for National Integration and Reconciliation was made by all Embassy employees: "While respecting the richness of our diversity of different ethnicities, religions, regions and languages, with the firm objective of making National Integration a reality in Sri Lanka, we all solemnly pledge in this manner. We are members of one and the same human race. We will strive resolutely with determination to foster peace among all citizens and communities in Sri Lanka with understanding, mutual trust, and a boundless sense of unity and compassion amongst all of us. We pledge that we will join hands with one another to achieve this noble objective, and build a prosperous nation with a Sri Lankan identity. With clear understanding and recognition that, to achieve sustainable development and prosperity, national integration, reconciliation and lasting peace are essential, we hereby pledge to act and work towards making these objectives a reality."

Common National goals

It is a fact that different communities in Sri Lanka showed promise of being able to live and work towards common national goals in peace, harmony and unity. They had worked together in the past, to gain independence from the British despite the fact that they followed different faiths, spoke different languages and followed different cultures. The failure to manage the justifiable grievances of our Northern brethren led to conflict and violence. Sri Lanka's post-independence leadership was unable to come to terms with her diversity as a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-lingual nation. As a result the grievances were transformed into inter-communal resentment and feelings of discrimination and unfair treatment. Our post-Independence leaders, who were acutely aware of the diverse character of our island, sadly faltered at decisive moments and failed to stand up to extremists. From time to time our leaders fanned communal feelings and openly supported racism to gain petty political advantages.

The unfortunate short sighted policies of some of our leaders led to a disastrous situation resulting in a colossal loss of life and ushered in an era of misery. Sri Lankans have to learn from the bitter experiences of the past and work together so as to never permit such calamities to engulf our nation again. For true reconciliation to be ushered in a genuine dialogue between our people in the North and the South in particular and also of the East, is the need of the hour. As the renowned Australian politician, Malcolm Fraser stated, "Reconciliation requires changes of heart and spirit, as well as social and economic change. It requires symbolic as well as practical action." A separate Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation was established under President Sirisena to achieve this purpose.

The 'Tamil Guardian' reported that "In Sri Lanka, reconciliation between the Sinhalese and Tamils is seen as one of all people adopting a 'Sri Lankan' identity...That such an identity should be seen as the righteous and natural State of the island has long been enshrined within the country's Constitution." Thus it is seen that the main grievance of our Tamil brethren appears to be that the 'Sri Lankan' identity the Government proposes to establish is essentially a Sinhala Buddhist one. The new Constitution is in the offing and in reforming the Constitutional provisions this grievance of our Tamil brethren has to be kept in mind by the framers and parity of status should be granted to remove all the grievances thereby achieving a true and lasting national reconciliation in our motherland where all communities could live together as one undivided unified nation in peace and harmony forever.

In conclusion, it must be stated that all patriotic Sri Lankans should co-operate with the State to achieve unity in diversity in promoting national integration.

(The writer is an Attorney-at-Law with LLB, LLM, MPhil.(Colombo) [email protected]

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