Commendable 'No' to communalism
Rajapaksa's rejection of communalism, besides clarifying the
policy parameters within which the state operates on issues
relating to the communities of this country, is a profoundly
wise pronouncement which could help greatly in bringing healing
and harmony to Sri Lanka. This is a most welcome sentiment and
there is no doubt that the statement would have helped win for
the state the hearts and minds of the majority of our citizenry.
As should have been realized by the majority of Sri Lankan
watchers and other knowledgeable sections, communalism has been
a virulent cancer in our body-politic over the decades. There
have been occasions when it has torn this country apart, with
July 1983 standing out as the most horrific manifestation of
violent communalism thus far.
It needs to be noted that although outbursts of violence,
such as those that occurred in July 1983, have been habitually
and simplistically characterized as being racial in nature, this
is not the case. Humans do not carry racial prejudice and
animosities in their genes. Nor do they carry religious bigotry
in their DNA. That is, people are not inherently racist and
communal-minded. Communal hatred is induced in humans by their
social environments and cultures and the same goes for religious
If the society into which one is born is tolerant of those
who sow the seeds of communal animosity among its members, the
chances are that very many members of the culture or society in
question would be communalistic in outlook. Therefore, societies
bent on development and advancement in every conceivable respect
need to follow a policy of 'zero tolerance' towards communalism
and other such divisive tendencies. The founding fathers of
contemporary Singapore, for instance, followed a 'zero
tolerance' policy towards ethnicity and communalism and this is
a significant factor in Singapore's multi-faceted advancement.
A country on the march cannot afford to be segmented by
communal and religious divisions and eventually disintegrate
amid violence unleashed by these dangerous cleavages. It should
not be doubted for a moment that such divisions spell not only
social dismemberment but economic underdevelopment and
backwardness too. Therefore, government leaders need to be
decidedly against communalism and other such divisions and
constantly guide their polities in the direction of
reconciliation and unity.
Countries such as ours need to constantly guard against the
deadly viruses of communalism and religious discord.
Unfortunately, there are some politicians and opinion-moulders
who assiduously spread such diseases and live off them. For such
sections, the creation of divisions is of the first importance
because it is on such bases that their popular support is
established and expanded.
In recent memory, it is only communalism in some sections
which have proved a huge obstacle to development. Religious
friction has been unheard of in this country, particularly in
the decades after the gaining of political independence.
However, there was an attempt in some quarters to surface
religious divisions too and the tensions at Dambulla some weeks
back, were the proof of this. Fortunately, stability has been
reintroduced in the area but careless words in some quarters did
play a part in fanning religious animosities.
It was to Heads of media organizations, mainly, that
President Rajapaksa directed his timely words on the communal
scourge. This is in order because some sections of the media
play a decisive role in fuelling communal and religious tensions
by mainly sensationalizing and 'spicing-up' their stories. Such
tendencies have had tragic consequences in the past and the 1983
July riots easily come to mind as one instance where sections of
the media aggravated tensions by reporting carelessly and in an
incendiary fashion on the developments of the day.
This is a moment of soul-searching for us in the media. We
need to put our considerable resources and capability to
influence the public, to very good and constructive use. The
media cannot be seen as generating and exacerbating social
tensions. If they are seen as doing this, they are only sowing
the seeds of national discord and the latter situation would be
to no-one's benefit.