Revitalising Ethnic Harmony
By Lakshman I. Keerthisinghe
“We may have different religions, different languages, different coloured skin, but we all belong to one human race.”
– Kofi Annan (Former UN Secretary General)
“Difference is of the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”
– John Hume (1998 Nobel Peace Prize Winner)
In Sri Lanka, there has arisen a difference of opinion between the Muslims and people of other faiths living together due to a health direction on disposal of dead bodies which Muslims stress is contrary to their religious beliefs but the majority are of the view that the safety of the living should take priority. History reveals that Sri Lankans, whether they be Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay or any other ethnic community have lived in peace and harmony for quite a long period of time until ethnic harmony was disrupted by a nearly three decade separatist war due to some power hungry political elements attempting to separate the territory of our small beautiful island home where we lived together. The best way to solve any problem is consultation, compromise and reaching a consensus as violence which is the hallmark of disaster has not been a means to achieve a lasting solution.
Reminiscing of the past one may recall the good old days when the Burghers and their happy go lucky ways and hospitality in sometimes inviting the whole street or neighbourhood to their parties, which is sadly missed today. Then there is the thrift and the perseverance in matters of living attributed to the Tamils of Lanka and also the Muslims. This shows how wonderful it is to live in a society with people of different characteristics which are attributed to their ethnic heritage. as in diversity lies strength and beauty of co-existence. Thus, ethnic diversity of any country means that richness if all ethnic populations share their resources and knowledge with each other and work towards the common goal of taking their country towards prosperity which attitude should be permitted to grow from childhood through adulthood.
Clearly, diversity can be one of the greatest strengths for a country. This is one of the reasons for some Western countries to promote ethnic diversity by encouraging immigrants from a wide range of cultures. In Sri Lanka, we already have several ethnic populations that are very rich in cultural resources. For centuries, all ethnic populations have lived in harmony. But, unfortunately this is not true anymore. The sad reality today is such an ethnic harmony is far from reality.
If one considers the question of disharmony from a spiritual perspective it is observed that the science of spirituality tells us that though we see ourselves as separate individuals in the material realm, in the quantum realm, we all are integral parts of an indivisible single field of conscious energy – Universal Consciousness/ and all people are connected according to many faiths.. Buddha has also emphasised the strength of loving kindness or karuna and meththa to all living beings. If we act as we are designed to act, our actions bring well-being and happiness to ourselves as well as to others. On the other hand, if we act selfishly, we suffer and our selfish behaviour brings suffering to others.
Children first learn about their ethnic identity from their parents and then from teachers and the society. The perceptions they develop such as ‘I am Sinhala/Tamil/Muslim’, ‘we are superior to others’, ‘our religion is the only true religion’, and ‘this country or this part of the country belongs to us and others should stay away’ are indoctrinated and they are further strengthened by some religious leaders and media. Due to the ethnically segregated school system and the geographical distance between the areas where different ethnic population live, lack of an opportunity to interact with the children of different ethnicities and to verify the truth of perceptions become stronger as they grow older, these perceptions make their behaviour racist. Leaders of ethnic-based political parties further strengthen these perceptions. Their behaviour is often guided by their attachments to ethnicity as well as material wealth, political power, social status, publicity and fame.
In conclusion, all religions advocate kindness to all living human beings, Although the dead have to be respected priority has to be given to the living in medical emergencies and all precautions have to be taken to safeguard the living as death causes grief to all. All peace loving right thinking Sri Lankans hope for a conflict free Sri Lanka where all ethnic communities can live in peace and harmony in our little beautiful island home as in the good old days.
The writer is an Attorney-at-Law with LLB, LLM, MPhil.(Colombo)[email protected]