VITAL POLICY ACTIONS TO AVOID RACIAL/ ETHNICAL AND RELIGIOUS CONFLICTS IN SRI LANKA
Posted on May 14th, 2019

BY EDWARD THEOPHILUS

After the Easter Sunday attacks in Catholic Churches and Tourist Hotels in Colombo and Suburban areas, it seems that various comments and policy ideas have been published in media during the past several weeks. Many of publications were in the English language which attracted only a few readers and listeners.  The history of racial/ethnical and religious problems in Sri Lanka goes back to centuries and the major reason for conflicts and differences could be considered as isolate and separate living of ethnical and religious groups in ghettos. In Sri Lanka people in racial/ ethnic, religious or castes reside in separate areas and they do not like to mix with other ethnical, religious or caste groups and this nature promotes the development of different cultures, traditions, beliefs, etc and it also restricts information going out about the activities of a community. In Western countries, it seems that human settlement policy does not encourage creating ghettos and promotes mixing different communities, ethnic and religious groups.

Human settlement policy or the environment in Sri Lanka promotes conflicts between communities and groups and the nature of this social system has created difficulties for government authorities such as police, intelligence agents and armed forces to gain information about the inside of communities. In history during the Dutch era districts of the country lined to encourage the further promotion of isolation of communities and restricting the allocation of governments lands to mixing of different communities. It appears that among Sinhala people, creating ghettos is not a problem as they mix with each other and they don’t want to maintain closed societies, but others such as Muslim and Tamils want to maintain closed societies or groups.

Except for Sinhala and Buddhist communities, all others such as Tamil, Muslim, Catholic, Christian communities have networked in various areas of the country.  Within the Sinhala Community, it could have seen that the Sinhala community was also divided by religions such as Catholic, Christian and caste dictions, however, the division of the Sinhala community has radically changed after the political metamorphoses in 1956. Socially, it seems that the Sinhala community has been uniting to ignore the differences and the pace of changes in the Sinhala community does not reflect in other communities such as Tamil and Muslim.

Since the origination of the Kandyan Kingdom, the differences of the society have been sharpened and the British imperialism in the country used such divisions for the advantage of divide and rule policy. The vicious aspect of isolate living is the promotion of discriminations within a community.  The personal law structure of the country seems to be fuelling the discrimination and major victims are women and children in isolated communities.

The major reason to create unreasonable personal laws, which contradict with common law and ethnic conflicts is a settlement system restricting other communities to go in. The proposed constitutional reforms of the Yahapalana regime promoted developing legally isolated communities.  When Mr. J.R. Jayawardane was in power disagreed with the North and East merger as his view was, when population rapidly increases in Western Province, the lands of East should be allowed to accommodate excess population in the West.  The Yahapalana regime attempted to gain political advantages through constitutional reforms and promote ghettos of communities or religious groups.

After 1970, Buddhists and Christians have mixed within Sinhala community and excellent reconciliation has developed among two religions and why other religious groups such as Hindus and Muslims cannot mix with Buddhists and Christians?

The following policy actions are essentially needed in the country.

  • Settlement policy should be changed to restrict creating ghettos of races, ethnic groups, religions, castes, and many others.
  • Personal laws of the country should be reformed disallowing the discrimination of women and children.
  • The population of the country is rapidly increasing and the government must set policies to reduce the population to 1981 level within 20 years restricting a woman have only two babies.
  • Polygamy in the Muslim community must be banned and restrictions to mixed marriage should be removed
  • Strict anti-discrimination laws must be enforced in the country. 

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