Freedom in a Secured Nation | Daily News


Freedom in a Secured Nation

Sri Lanka, has been variously known as Lanka, Sinhala Dveepa, Taprobane, Serendip, Ceylon and Ceylan over the millennia of human civilisation, by its own inhabitants, by communities in the South Asian neighbourhood and, by people along global trade routes. But, for nearly a half-millennium recently, our island was under the yoke of European colonial powers.

From then on, it was a long, hard, road to freedom, which was finally achieved on February 4, 1948.

Freedom is not just a politico-economic status. It is also a state of mind. We must really feel free as a nation to reap the full benefits of the struggle for freedom from colonial domination and exploitation that succeeded in 1948.

Without that mental de-colonisation, our efforts to continue with our own social progress are slowed down by diversions and mirages that are the persistent legacy of nearly five hundred years of European colonial subjugation.

The very use of the term ‘independence’ to refer to our country’s Freedom Day in the English (former colonial) language, is itself, a mental continuation of that colonial legacy. After all, in our indigenous Sinhala and Tamil languages the term used is, unambiguously, ‘freedom’.

‘Independence’ would imply that previous to February 1948, Sri Lanka was ‘dependent’ on our colonial masters, which is a reversal of the truth. After all, it was our European colonisers who were dependent on Sri Lanka for economic and geo-political gain. There was, and still is, a Euro-colonial misrepresentation of colonies as ‘dependencies’.

For post-colonial Sri Lankans to continue to refer to Freedom Day as ‘Independence’ Day in the English language is to perpetuate the continued charade of our former colonial masters. Without a shift in terminology, our English speaking class will remain in a world rooted in a lost colonial past and will not directly connect with the fresh currents of a free nationhood now striving to march forward toward a new world.

Today, in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka has two leaders who can indeed charter a new course. Their vision for Sri Lanka is reflected in this year’s Freedom Day theme – A Secured Nation, A Prosperous Country. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has stressed that National Security will be the foundation on which a prosperous Sri Lanka will be built, as we have to be free of both internal and external threats to achieve full freedom.

The President has regularly stressed that unity was essential to defeat any enemy, internal or external.

The ethnic-centred policies of our politicians after 1948 ultimately resulted in one of the longest-running conflicts in Asia. With freedom from colonial rule, our leaders had a golden opportunity to reconcile all communities under one flag and a unified nationhood but they failed in this task of nation building. Instead, the seeds of discord and rancour were sown that left deep scars in our annals and on our conscience.

During the freedom struggle, leaders from the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay and Burgher communities joined hands to achieve one goal – the overthrow of colonialism. But 72 years after obtaining freedom, we still hang on to ethnic identities without forging a truly Sri Lankan identity. Do Singaporeans call themselves Chinese, Malay and Tamil? Do Indians call themselves Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil or Hindi? They are proud to call themselves Singaporean or Indian. Why cannot we do the same?

It is certainly time that 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. 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. Ethnicity does not take precedence over every other aspect of citizenship and nationhood.

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. Hopefully, in the future, all people should be able to speak Sinhala, Tamil and English fluently, which will end all divisions based on language. There will be no room for miscommunication or misunderstanding if everyone knows all three languages.

As we build our post-colonial nation, in addition to cultural and ethnic identity issues, there are many other problems we must overcome: poverty, inequality, climate change and moral development among others. Economic emancipation is essential for a nation to move forward. We have already earned Middle Income Status, but there should be a faster pace of development in all spheres.

From the 2004 tsunami to the ethnic conflict, Sri Lankans have weathered many a storm, always with a smile on their faces even in the depths of despair. They will resolutely march forward, seeking and making a better country for themselves and the generations yet to be born. Ultimately, we must make our own contribution to human civilisation.

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