The violent clashes in the Kandy District come more than three years after the election of a government that said much about peacebuilding, accountability, and reconciliation. In fact, reconciliation was the keyword in the Yahapalanaya or good governance propaganda. But what do we have of reconciliation today?
We are caught in a wave of extremism, largely Sinhala Buddhist, as well as Tamil and Muslim, which contributes to a system of continued confrontation in politics and the wider areas of society. A land that saw the vast tragedy of Black July in 1983, and moved on to a 30-year war against the forces of terror, moved on both sides by the impact of communal differences, is now fooling itself about the myth of reconciliation, which no political leader has any commitment to.
The end of the war against the terrorism of the LTTE in May 2009 was a great opportunity for those who gave the political leadership for that defeat and victory, to think in terms of genuine peacebuilding and reconciliation. But, that was not the reality. The end of that war was seen as the victory of the Sinhalese – more particularly, Sinhala-Buddhists, and the losers saw it as the defeat of the Tamils. The victors were happy singing paeans about the glories of victory, saw the opportunities for the restoration of a feudal monarchy, and ignored the many recommendations by its own lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on the building of genuine peace and harmony, true reconciliation in the country.
Military parades celebrated the anniversary of victory with hardly any action taken to build the true foundations for peace, understanding, and reconciliation.
It did not take very long for an ethno-religious confrontation to take place in the South, at Aluthnuwara, where the communal differences had been building up over the years, on the halal controversy, and rising voices of hatred directed at the Muslim community by the forces of disunity. The forces ready to wrongfully use the message of Buddhism, into a message of ethnic dominance, and bring about violent clashes that were the new low water mark in communal relations. And the leadership for this did come from those who paraded as the defenders of Sinhala-Buddhism, with the larger echo of Buddhism. The Bodu Bala Sena – the Buddhist Power Army; so much for its relevance to the core values of Buddhism – tolerance and understanding.
We did have Gintota a few months ago, and more recently there was Ampara. The perceived enemy is the same. At Ampara, it was the threat of sterilization pills that could prevent reproduction among the Sinhala-Buddhist majority, to benefit a minority. This story is not new; it has spread over some years. There are people who ask friends not to eat chocolates from the Middle East, which would make them sterile! That is the bunkum of those against national unity, and for a majoritarian rule.
And now it is Kandy and its environs, where there are many areas with large Muslim populations, coming down from the days of the Kandyan kings, and very much part of the Kandyan community for centuries. But, such history, including Muslims with Sinhala ’gey’ or family names, is of no value to those who spread ethno-religious hatred today, and will encourage violence for their cause.
But, what of reconciliation today? The past three years have seen both leaders of the government – President and Prime Minister – move away from the core values of reconciliation. It is significant that the violence in Kandy takes place as the UNHRC is meeting in Geneva, where Sri Lanka’s record of reconciliation and accountability would be seriously considered. Having co-sponsored a resolution that has key factors of reconciliation included, they have both moved away from that resolution, and its various clauses that can cause political problems here; whether it is foreign judges and aspects of ‘war crimes’ by members of the security forces. What we hear so often is a denial of questionable clauses in the co-sponsored resolution, or the inability to enforce them. It is never a rejection of the Resolution.
This is the farce of reconciliation. The absence of guts or political strength and commitment to stand by what this county co-sponsored or declare that we do not accept that anymore. It is shameless to say they were not aware of the contents of the resolution. That is the humbug the country and people are treated to every day. It is the very mockery of reconciliation, and the impact of such mockery is seen in the violence in Kandy and its outskirts. The mockery of not having the strength to work towards genuine national unity, with the promised reconciliation; it is the rejection of the promises the two leaders of the Common Candidate campaign gave to the people.
But it is time for those who have made a farce of reconciliation to look at the trend of popular feelings in democracies abroad. Populism is on the rise. We have seen it with the rise of Donald Trump in the USA. Of the huge rise of the extreme right-wing Alternate for Deutschland in Germany, and now the huge rise in populism in Italy, against immigration and the socialist and left-wing thinking.
It is good to realize the rise of populism here too, with the huge electoral success of the SLPP.
That rise was certainly caused by the failure to pursue reconciliation in Sri Lanka, and the overall moves to fool the people about the pledges given about the fight against corruption and building communal harmony.
The events in Kandy show that communal harmony will take many more years, and will need a much better political leadership than we have in any party or colour today. We must be aware of the political leaders, with hopes for tomorrow, who say the crisis today is due to attempts to alter our constitution, to bring in federalism and alter the position of Buddhism in the Constitution.
Is it not time to have a more serious look at our Constitution, and whether the place that Buddhism has in it, is in any way practiced in the aspects of communal understanding or trust building. Is genuine reconciliation against Buddhism?