Reconciliation, religious harmony - need of the hour | Sunday Observer

Reconciliation, religious harmony - need of the hour

In a week when one of Sri Lanka’s biggest Buddhist festivals - Poson was celebrated, the peace-loving countrymen heeded to spread the message of love and kindness. In a Poson day message, the President said, our determination should be to commit ourselves to make a better world through the discipline of mind, body and word and to extend non-violent principles to human beings and animals; while the Prime Minister focused on the Buddha’s principles of nonviolence and compassion that encourage us to live in harmony and peaceful co-existence while respecting other religions and other cultures.

Through this, the leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to running a non-violent Yahapalana government. However, the government’s efforts to continue to adhere to the principles of reconciliation - heal, repair and transform - are often disrupted by a few racists who want to survive with the seeds of intolerance. When it comes to reconciliation, we may have just passed the healing process, by restoring justice and equality with the January 8, 2015 revolution. But, to ensure that those wounds do not recur in today’s society and to guarantee resistance towards structural violence, it is still a big task for the government.

The General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), Ven Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera has been accused of disrupting this process, and making public statements to provoke attacks, especially, on the Muslims.

The Police had said two weeks ago that Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera was to be arrested for obstructing Police duty among several other complaints. A court order had been obtained preventing the controversial monk from leaving the country and CID detectives had been deployed to take him into custody over allegations of inciting religious and racial hatred.

Cabinet spokesman, Dr Rajitha Senaratne last week questioned the delay by the Police to arrest the Ven Thera and said “it is clear Gnanasara Thera is behind some of the latest incidents targeting the Muslims.’

The BBS has said Gnanasara Thera is in hiding as there is an alleged threat to his life. When a journalist questioned Senaratne at the weekly news briefing last week, Senaratne had said it would be a difficult task for the police to arrest him if he was being protected by a Minister. He added it is possible that he is being protected by a Minister. “That is why the police have been unable to arrest him. Sri Lanka is not such a big country nor are there so many places for him to hide,” he said.

Suspects to be revealed today

The police has deployed four teams to arrest the controversial monk two weeks ago. The monk was instructed by the Police to report to the Organised Crime Division of the Sri Lanka Police to give a statement on May 20, but the Thera has failed to do so, forcing the Police to deploy teams for his arrest. The BBS believes there are groups similar to ISIS in Sri Lanka with plans to kill the monk. Although they fear for his life, the BBS has not asked the Police to provide him security either, according to reports.

Meanwhile, the Police Intelligence officers have arrested a suspect in connection with the incident where several Muslim owned shops were set ablaze in Wijerama, Maharagama. The 33 year old suspect was identified by officers through footage obtained from CCTV cameras in the vicinity.

Police said, the cameras had captured the suspect, a resident of Maharagama, arriving on a bicycle and throwing an object at the shops which then started to burn.

When asked, Police Spokesperson DIG Priyantha Jayakody told the Sunday Observer that Police will continue with their mission to arrest the thera. “It took time for the Police to arrest the former JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera way back in the 1989. When the suspect is hiding, it is not easy to find the person. However, we have arrested and found out the details of the suspects who set fire on some of the shops owned by Muslims in several areas in the country. The details will be revealed at a press conference to be held this morning,” he said.

JO’s mission

In another political move, the Joint Opposition (JO) on June 1 began a campaign where a group of party members led by the JO Leader, Dinesh Gunawardene MP, to garner support of some of the foreign missions in Colombo on several political issues which they dubbed as ‘important’ to them.

The team first met the EU Delegation in Sri Lanka and wanted to discuss the failure of the government of Sri Lanka, so far, to hold Local Government elections. The team handed over a joint statement to the mission. During the discussion, the team was sceptical about EU’s genesis and had told the EU that they (JO) wouldn’t allow the government to do away with the military nature of the Constitution.

After discussions with the EU Delegation on June 1, the JO members led by Dinesh Gunawardena also met the Japanese Ambassador and the Canadian High Commissioner on Wednesday, to discuss the same issues and handed over the joint statement they had already shared with the EU Delegation.

The JO statement on ‘Failure of the Government of Sri Lanka to hold Local Government Elections’ stated: “It has been two years since the dissolution of the local government institutions in Sri Lanka. This means the public, from North to South and West to East, comprising over 15 million voters and their families, children and communities have been denied of representation at the most basic, grassroots level, which impacts most on their day-to-day life, health and welfare. The last Local Government elections were held in 2011.

“Local Government institutions in Sri Lanka totals 335, includes over 6,000 men and women elected to represent Municipal Councils, Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas, some being in existence for over 100 years. The Constitution and the laws of the country provide for tiers of democratic representation - the Executive Presidency and Parliament at national level and Provincial Councils and Local Government Authorities at provincial and local levels. Depriving voters of their representation in any of these tiers is a violation of the democratic rights of the people.”

The JO statement further stated, “The avoidance of elections to local government authorities is a violation of the Local Government Act, which requires approval for their expenditure, from time to time, by the Councils comprising representatives elected by the people.

“The revenues collected by these LG bodies are being used unproductively. The public servants in charge of these institutions are helpless, since they lack direction from duly elected Councils. The result has been the breakdown of services. The collection of garbage or waste is not carried out systematically and the hygiene of the citizens is in danger; all contributing to the failure of Good Governance.”

Ironically, the meetings took place while Mahinda Rajapaksa MP was away in Japan, with his second son Yoshitha. However, the eldest son and MP Namal Rajapaksa filled the gap in his father’s absence and joined Dinesh Gunawardena’s team to meet the foreign diplomats. After the EU meeting Namal Rajapaksa in a tweet message described that the meeting with the EU Ambassador was a ‘good one’ and ‘he was glad the EU wants to continue the dialogue with the JO’.

Namal has a way of being in news continuously, and tries hard to grab attention wherever he is, be it disaster or success. During the floods over the past few weeks that brought despair to hundreds of people in several areas of the country, Namal couldn’t resist visiting some of the villages and arranging flood relief work through his ‘infamous’ Tharunyata Hetak. He was photo crazy; did not miss uploading every moment of his ‘kind deeds’ to his twitter account. His photo where he is carrying an elderly woman and wading through floods was pooh-poohed by many people. State Minister of International Trade, Sujeewa Senasinghe also reacted to this, saying a couple of such pictures by Namal in the social media will not solve the bigger problems faced by the people affected by the floods.

Sujeewa on CPA

Senasinghe was also active in flood relief work. He has just completed a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s (CPA) prestigious Fundamentals Program on Parliamentary practices and procedures. The venue of the program was South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand (WITS) in Johannesburg. Senasinghe began the program consisting four modules online in February this year and face-to-face sessions were conducted at the WITS. He also completed a program in Harvard University’s prestigious Kennedy School.

In South Africa, Senasinghe was able to share some of his own experiences as a Minister of a developing country that had opened its economy in the late 70s but whose development was had been negatively affected by a 30-year conflict.

Talking about his experiences on communal harmony during the program Senasinghe said, “It is of interest that the host country, South Africa has also suffered a severe racial conflict for decades due to institutionalized racism, but is considered a success story in the area of conflict resolution and reconciliation because of the statesmanship of the late president Nelson Mandela and other politicians from all communities. South Africa is often described as a model because the transition period of the hand over political power was very smooth and the country now enjoys a sound economy and peaceful and vibrant society.

“In many ways the Sri Lankan experience mirrors that of South Africa with a conflict that ended in 2009. Now there is a commitment on the part of the government and people of all Sri Lankan communities to move on and indeed move ahead. Sri Lanka has also enjoyed high rates of economic growth but this has not been an easy task as like in the case of South Africa, there are demands on the part of those who lived throughout the conflict.

“At the worst of times Sri Lanka has also suffered political assassination including that of the former president R. Premadasa, a fact also shared by the host country.”

When Sri Lanka faced one of its biggest catastrophes due to the recent floods, many foreign countries and organisations came to the rescue with numerous activities. This swift supportive response in rushing goods, organizing funds and deploying voluntary workers to support flood victims must be appreciated by all Sri Lankans. Several organizations arranged welfare activities for the animals, too, which was indeed the need of the hour.

Meanwhile, Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said nearly Rs. 8.9 billion is needed to rectify the damages caused by the recent floods and landslides and this amount can be recovered from the insurance trust fund due to the Insurance Policy that the government has taken covering all people and houses in the country.

Disaster Management

Minister Yapa said, the full amount or more would be obtained from the Insurance Trust Fund. “We have already received an advance of Rs.150 million,” the Minister said. “On the other hand last year, we got Rs 3.135 billion to provide relief and construct the houses for the people who were affected by flood and landslides last year.”

The funds that were given to the government by way of grants and donations are managed by the Treasury and allocated for reconstruction and rebuilding projects through the Disaster Management Ministry, according to a senior official of the Finance Ministry. “It is the usual mechanism established by the government for such occasions,” he said, responding to our question on the mechanism to distribute the money received for the benefit of flood victims.

Dreams shattered

Meanwhile, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera (MP), a key architect of the January 8, 2015 revolution last week expressed dissatisfaction over the government’s report card so far and said, ‘his dreams are shattered’ as he couldn’t get the present Government to perform any good or valuable deeds. He said, he is now left with only one dream, that is, to prevent the Government from at least making any harmful decisions. The Thera expressed these views during a news conference organised by the National Council of Sri Lanka (NCSL) in Colombo over the detrimental conditions of the proposed China-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (CSLFTA).“As of this moment, my hope is not to expect good deeds from this Government. Those dreams of ours have been shattered. Now our dream is to prevent the Government from making detrimental moves. After electing the Government into power, not only the Cabinet but we too have a responsibility.”

Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera’s statement made headlines in newspapers, last week. Looking at the history of the Thera’s political career, and the roles he played on changing peoples’ political attitude to change governments, this statement should not be taken lightly by the government.

The Thera was unceremoniously evicted from his political party ‘Jathika Hela Urumaya’ last year, and remains a national list MP of the United National Party (UNP) now. He is also close to President Maithripala Sirisena; however the thera does not identify with either the UNP or the SLFP at present. The thera’s main concerns at this juncture are on the proposed trade agreements. He was also talking about the proposed trade agreement with China and the CESS removal process over a five-year period, which he thinks would go against local industrialists.

In the week before, when Ven Athuraliya Rathana Thera showed dissatisfaction over some of the government’s economic plans, the 75th birth anniversary of the Most Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayaka Thera, chief incumbent of Sri Naga Vihara, Kotte and the main architect of the Yahapalana government was commemorated at a ceremony at the Sri Sobitharama Vihara, Elapathgama, Wilachchiya on May 29.

The late Nayaka Thera rendered yoeman service in the sphere of society, religion and country. The event organised by the Sobitha Nahimi Memorial Foundation, was held under the patronage of most Ven. Ittepane Dharmalankara Maha Nayake of Sri Samagree Dhamma Maha Sangha Sabha and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. The late Thera was known as a key leader who contributed immensely to promote inter-religious unity and solidarity, while leading civil society movements for peace and reconciliation.

New civil society movement

Last week, some political groups speculated that a new civil society movement is being set up and would be led by Ven. Prof Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera. Responding to this, the thera denied such reports and told the Sunday Observer that he has ‘no intention of heading any civil society movement.’

He said, he has never thought of taking up a political career, nor did he plan to assemble people for political missions. “I only discuss policy matters and religious concepts when people visit me. I have no idea how this false media reports surfaced; I only want people not to believe such news,” he said.