Freedom of Expression | Sunday Observer

Freedom of Expression

All Sri Lankans will be celebrating Independence Day tomorrow, February 4th. It is a day that should unite us, as one extended family. It is a day of remembrance and reflection, on all we have endured as a nation during the past decades. It is a day we must remember with gratitude the military personnel and policemen who served with gallant altruism.

But reflecting alone will not guarantee us the bliss of sustained reconciliation, between all ethnic communities who call this bountiful island their home. In order to make meaningful progress we must be bold to accept reality- individually and collectively. The first in that step is to accept that each one of us has our own identity as human beings- shaped and induced by language, religion, personal beliefs and choices. This would not necessarily reflect or come under the common veil of culture- under which our darkest mannerisms are often hidden!

One of my teachers used to often remark “Communication is a celebration of Life”- and how act is this statement. Effective and calculated words are the hallmark of a refined human being. Animals and birds communicate- but their communication does not impact democracy or the course of life. It is our human speech and non- verbal expression that enriches our very existence as men and women. This is why young people must master the art of communication- not simply getting a diploma in speech in any language- but cultivating the discernment and temperament of how we speak to each other.

Words have power. They can destroy or heal. They can make or break. They can motivate or insult. They can stir division or facilitate peace. Words are the very parameter of what is inside of each mind- irrespective of that person’s education, profession, talents or social status.

Unfortunately many generations have sailed through this sunny paradise, causing racial disharmony and suspicion by simply talking- using untimely words that had no depth or gainful revelation. Derogatory remarks still exist as Sri Lankans try to reject, inflict shame and nullify other communities. This must stop- beginning from today. When the turbulent waves of the Tsunami ravaged this island it devastated all communities- and within that moment of despair we as a Nation rose majestically from the ashes, literally holding up one another, as the global arena applauded our team work. When our Lion Flag flies at international cricket matches we rally as one sport loving nation. This attitude must continue.

To those who aspire to bring in racial division- let them search within the abyss of their own conscience. Perhaps therein lies the submerged cause for their distorted speech which is laced with hatred and attempts to create division, in this glorious land where we have lived as brothers and sisters for centuries. We cannot forget the fallen soldiers, their permanently disabled comrades who continue to recover and their families. Likewise we cannot forget the widows left behind in the war- women of all communities or the families which are silently mourning for missing persons. The Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim children who lack the embrace of their father. The fact is that we are all Sri Lankans.

In a land which is piously influenced by all mainstream religions that inculcate love, forgiveness and tolerance it is time to eradicate speech and expression that provokes doubt and division. Young people who enjoy the liberty of social media platforms must not give into hate speech or racial statements. We must rise beyond petty differences and show the world what it is to be a patriot. We certainly cannot give absolution for the errors of the past- but we have the right to correct our future. This is our motherland. We must accept the beauty of our diversity. This multi ethnic and multi religious diversity is our national inheritance. Whilst taking pride in our mother tongues we must learn English – in order to communicate and build bridges among all communities. Where the law is broken, swift justice must be taken to curtail hate speech and non- verbal gestures that provoke division. As Mahathma Gandhi once said “Relationships are based on 4 principles- respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation. This is our watch. Let us arise and make it count.