Thoughts on Freedom | Daily News

Thoughts on Freedom

Sri Lanka gained independence from the British rulers on February 4, 1948, exactly 71 years ago. This was a pivotal moment in the long history of our nation. Although we received independence from the British, we had been under colonial rule in one way or the other for more than 400 years by 1948, since the Portuguese stepped on our rich soil in 1505.

Since then, we have seen many Governments change and various other developments, but the very meaning of freedom seems to evade us still. In describing February 4 as the National Day, the Government will succeed in instilling a feeling of national pride in Sri Lankans, which will go a long way towards achieving a real sense of freedom for all Sri Lankans.

Independence is not just a facility that we gain from another country. It is also a state of mind. We must really feel free and independent as a nation to reap the full benefits of the struggle for independence that succeeded in 1948. Sri Lanka has gone through a tumultuous 71 years mainly as a result of shortsighted and ethnic-centred policies of our politicians. They did not think about maintaining ethnic harmony and unity, which ultimately resulted in one of the longest-running conflicts in Asia.

Although the conflict finally ended in 2009, the hearts of all Sri Lankans will take many more decades to heal. Today, we have an enlightened leadership that has seen the dangers of ethnic division and vowed not to repeat the same mistakes. As the saying goes, it is sometimes easy to win the battle, but keeping the peace is much harder. Peace and reconciliation go hand in hand. We lost the peace that we gained in 1948 because some of our politicians lacked the foresight to maintain reconciliation. This mistake should not be allowed to happen again. There still are certain political, societal and other forces which see internecine conflict as their only salvation and path to victory.

Today, we have a golden opportunity to move forward as a nation sans division and conflict. It is certainly time we evolved a truly Sri Lankan identity where we all feel “Sri Lankan” instead of describing ourselves as Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher. This “one nation-one people” identity should precisely be our goal. Whenever we meet someone, our first instinct is to ask him or her “are you Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim?”. The fact that we are all Sri Lankans, wherever we live, does not cross our minds. If we all call ourselves Sri Lankan instead of giving racial monikers, half our problems will be solved. This does not mean giving up traditions and beliefs unique to each community – it means that we think of ourselves as one Sri Lankan people.

This should perhaps start from the classroom. Children usually have no preconceived notions or prejudices and it is far easier to inculcate in them a sense of belonging to one Sri Lanka. Our Governments have already taken preliminary steps to end the language barrier by teaching Tamil to Sinhala students and vice versa. Indeed 10 or 15 years down the road, all young people will be able to speak Sinhala, Tamil and English fluently, which will end all divisions based on language. After all, there will be no room for miscommunication or misunderstanding if everyone knows all three languages.

The term “Unity in Diversity” may be a cliché, but it describes this goal very well. There are many other countries where this works splendidly. During the independence struggle, leaders from Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay and Burgher communities joined hands to achieve one goal – independence. Now as we look towards the next 70-plus years in our post-independence journey, this unity should come to the fore. Again, the concept of unity in diversity has a chance of succeeding only if we come together under one flag, one nation, proud of our identity as Sri Lankans.

As a nation emerging from the embers of a cataclysmic conflict that ended exactly 10 years ago, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. We have overcome many odds to reach this milestone, but there are many challenges ahead which have to be faced as one nation, one people. We must collectively rise out of the mire of poverty and ignorance to become an Asian powerhouse. All Asian countries other than Japan were poorer than Sri Lanka in 1948. Somewhere along the way, we fell behind countries such as Korea, Singapore and Malaysia. Economic emancipation is essential for a nation to move forward. We have to ramp up local agricultural and industrial production to depend less on foreign countries and imports and to increase exports. We have already earned Middle Income status, but the path to an even greater pace of development should be taken.

There is a lot of catching up to do, but if we think collectively as Sri Lankans and aspire to do our best for the Motherland, no goal will be impossible. On this National Day, Mother Lanka deserves nothing less. 


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