United march towards democracy | Daily News

United march towards democracy

President is serious about the Steering Committee on constitution making, no doubt. However he has seen that discussions in public forums are not enough. TV and radio discussions are limited and selective. Hence various misunderstandings have crept in to the minds of various social and cultural sections; especially among Buddhist Sangha. That is why he has decided to call for meetings with all Chapters of Buddhist clergy; in addition an All Party Conference and special discussions among various sections led and influenced by Sangha. It’s feared whether Parliament will go for a new Constitution under the pressure from those who are filled in their minds with grave misunderstandings about the positive role of the new constitution.

The foremost place for Buddhism is a unique feature of Lankan Constitution but Tamil and Muslim leaders are prepared to tolerate this. May be comparing Evangelical Lutheran Religion is the official religion of the state in Norway and Evangelical Lutheran Church is the established Church of Denmark; yet they are considered very liberal countries. However sadly, there is a history of pogroms against other religious groups by so called Theravada Buddhists in Lanka. Nobody here has prepared a constitution with open federal features. All Federal countries, barring a very few, are geographically vast countries; but India is considered a unitary state even though devolution in India is much stronger when police and land powers are considered.

Even now, before the new constitution comes to Lanka, sovereignty lies with the people. In the Republic of Sri Lanka, sovereignty is in the people, and is inalienable. It was duly elected people’s representatives that thought it fit to promulgate the 1978 Constitution, as an offshoot of the first Republican Constitution. That is where Lanka started as an independent sovereign nation. Before that from 1947 to 1972, technically Lankans were governed by British sovereign power. Every law was enacted in her name.

First home-grown constitution

The first home-grown constitution was promulgated only after 25 years of independence. One can argue that the provisions of the Soulbury Constitution can be used to make the new Constitution.

There were no provisions because, over the years, the Supreme Court as well as the then highest court of the country promulgated on a number of occasions that certain Articles of the Soulbury Constitution were unalterable. In other words, the British, when they gave independence, thought it fit to retain some unalterable provisions. So, at the 1970 General Elections, the United National Front gave a firm assurance in their election manifesto that if it were elected to power, all the elected representatives would sit separately as a Constituent Assembly. They did that. Now, Lanka is taking a giant leap with the new constituent assembly.

Mangala, Minister of Finance, in supporting the report submitted by the Steering Committee on constitutional reform, called for a constitution that ‘will help our nation put its past behind for good and move forward with renewed hope.’ obviously he has meant that Lankans must forget the past where majoritist politics created clashes among nationalities within country.

Hence, this is a positive statement. Mangala’s speech also alluded to the Sathara Brahma Viharana or the four humanist mental conditions that should be evoked when looking at another, meththa, karuna, muditha, and upekka. These are not divine but human attitudes developed within social communal living suppressing desire, hate and delusion. Of course those who believe in God the creator, can believe these mind sets arrive with god blessing, no problem. According to Buddhist teachings meththa means to defend the right of the other to live, karuna means to give the share of the other, muditha means the joy in others achievement, finally upekka means to pardon others mistake in equanimity.

There have been a lot of allusions to the Buddha’s doctrine of late. M.A. Sumanthiran (TNA) has argued for the repealing of Article 9 of the constitution which states “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).”

He has rightfully stated that he, not being a Buddhist, just for that cannot be told that he is second class in this country. He argues further that support for Article 9 is ‘an indefensible position for the Buddhists to take.’ clearly he is pointing to the fact that Buddhists following a teaching which so strongly emphasized the equality of all humans are in an embarrassing situation. If 9 is deleted all religions will be treated equally under the Articles 10 and 14 (1) (e) whether Sumanthiran is silent or not about those Articles.

The inconsistency with Buddhist philosophy would be eliminated. With that message of dharma given in the speech of Mangala will be valid.

Sarcasm of Sumanthiran when he said that he will not oppose if Buddhists demand that article 9 should be included, could be neutralized. Thus Mangala started with the correct perspective and Sumanthiran made use of the avenue set by Mangala. All this of course is not innocent but is it progressive? It is true that history whether one likes it or not, bears upon the present and future. Constitutions have not, do not and will not fall from the sky. Societies and cultures are changing and developing ever according to the rule of uthpatha thithi banga.

Hence, these are not cast in stone of course and are necessarily altered over time and space, with negation of the negation for better or worse. Negation or dumping history is serious occurrence inspite of the need to remember the past; seen violent and bloody persecution which cannot and should not be forgotten. One note that neither Samaraweera nor his political friends have clean histories; nobody has, and neither are they ready to do the forgive-and-forget of past wrongs perpetrated by political opponents. That does not mean that they are right in the middle of a revenge game, as were their predecessors.

British rule

Less seriously, Sumanthiran is known as a Christian, and his religious community may have it good for centuries at the expense of Buddhists and Hindus, before Panadura Vadaya and arrival of Cornel Oldcot. Buddhist revival changes the picture even under British rule. Asking Buddhists to act as rational enlighten community is a credit to the Buddhist revivalists.

Many believe that Lanka is the real centre of Theravada Buddhism and men such as Prof. Carlo Fonseka claim Buddhism is a source for rationalist thinking. Of course to assume they have achieved one of the four levels of enlightenment, at least Sovan, is bit much. However Sumanthiran, by his sober yet compelling appeal made the eyes open for so many, while surely injured the pride of several racists in the Sinhala Buddhist camp. But it has not violated the Christian teaching, for example, could read Matthew 5:39: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person.

If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also; if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”

Let us unitedly march towards democracy and modernism. 



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