The Sunday Leader

Govt. Should Not Have Any Role In Religion K. D. Lalkantha

by Camelia Nathaniel

Neither President Maithripala Sirisena nor Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is capable of a producing a Constitution that is favourable to the people of the country charged the JVP Politburo member and head of the National Trade Union Center (NTUC), K. D. Lalkantha. He said the reason is that in order to hold onto power they want the support of the majority. In an interview with The Sunday Leader he said that the discussion or debate on wanting a new constitution is good and it can be an insight into our future, but it is definitely not a realistic goal as long as it is not a socialist approach, it will never be beneficial to the people.

Following are excerpts of the interview:-

Q: Do we need a new constitution and why?

A: The first thing is that the first paragraph in our constitution itself is a lie. Sri Lanka is a socialist democratic republic. Next our constitution contains a lot of faults and therefore we agree that we need a new constitution. It was in 1978 that our party published its policy statement. To date no other party has published such a statement. However during the elections they periodically publish election manifestos. Even in our policy statement we have stated that a new constitution will be established. Even during the elections we have made the same promise to the people. Hence this debate over a new constitution is very relevant.

We only have an issue with regard to its contents. By now certain elements have began to campaign on the streets to fulfill their political and racial agendas. Therefore the formulating of a new constitution is something that should be done very cautiously. When formulating a new constitution we will have to do a very comprehensive review of our country’s history. That alone will not suffice, and we will have to also take into account the present and also the direction we intend to take in the future. However sadly we do not see such a broad range being considered or discussed in this whole exercise of formulating a new constitution. Therefore we have a responsibility to make this a responsible undertaking and not something that is done haphazardly.

 

Q:  Do you think that Buddhism should be given prominence in the constitution?

A: There has been some views that have led to discussions that Buddhism should be given pride of place in the constitution. Some believe that all religions should be given an equal place in the constitution. Considering the fact that the majority of the people in the country are Buddhist, some may argue that Buddhism should be given  prominence. Others could feel that Buddhism could be given prominence, but it is also the responsibility of the government to intervene and give consideration to the other religions as well. On the other hand while some feel that all religions are equal irrespective of majority or minority, others are of the view that the government should entirely refrain from meddling with matters connected to religion. The opinion of the JVP is also that the government should not have any role in religion.

In the past there was a reason that Buddhism was given prominence in our constitution. When we were ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch and the English and during that period they arrived in the country with the bible in hand and they made their religion the main religion of the country. During that period they also suppressed the Sinhalese and Buddhism. Hence the Sinhalese and the Buddhists started agitating against them to preserve their religion. In 1815 when the country was handed over to the English, it was necessary to include the paragraph on protecting Buddhism into the constitution, under the circumstances that prevailed at the time. Therefore I cannot be deemed wrong. However in today’s context, it is not relevant or required. Just because it was necessary to include it at the time due to various pressures brought upon the Buddhist community, it does not mean it has to be done now as well. This phrase has no relevance to the present or the future. This is the reason I said that in constructing the constitution, we need to consider the past, present and the future.

 

Q: Why can’t we formulate the new constitution based on national interests rather than giving prominence to any race?

A:  The need to include the conditions regarding the Sinhalese was also based on the fact that the rights of the Sinhalese population were under threat during the foreign administration. That argument was valid at the time, but we need to reconsider if that argument is valid in the current context.

With regard to the rights of the Tamil population, there is a debate about their rights and they do have historically relevant reasons for this stand. The Tamils were oppressed and their demand to include the preservation of their rights in the constitution is similar to the demand to include the clauses to protect the rights of the Sinhalese after the 1815 incidents. Therefore historically there was some legitimacy and fairness in the need and demands to include the rights of certain races or religions in the constitution, based on the events that transpired during those periods. However when considering the present and the future context it is extremely unreasonable to demand that Buddhism be given special prominence or privileges and be included in the new constitution. If we do this we are being unfair to all the other religions. Hence the best option now is for the government to stay away from all religious inclusions.

Next point is that there is another group who argues just like us that the government should keep off religion altogether, but they feel that the constitution should be made based on ethnic policies. This is a ridiculous argument. Our party’s view is that the whole concept of including religion or race into the constitution is totally unnecessary in today’s context.

If we focus on the future we want Sri Lanka to have a national identity rather being referred by race or religion. This is the only way that we can achieve long lasting peace and unity. For this we should look carefully at the current constitution.

If we define the word government, there are various devices and elements and it’s when all these come together that it becomes a government. There are also a number of institutions that come under the government, such as the law. Accordingly, there can’t be any religious or racial influence within the institution of law. It should be made based on the citizens of the country. Similarly the judiciary cannot be Tamil, Sinhalese, Buddhist, Catholic or Muslim. The police too cannot have any partiality or identity based on religion or ethnicity. The police or military personnel can practice their own preferred religion but that should not part of the institution. The military is the same. However today in this country there are military temples. Now if another segment of the forces says they want a military mosque or church, this will be an issue and the whole military will be in anarchy. By this we have given the world an indication that the military is a Buddhist army. This is wrong as the military cannot have a religion. Similarly the other institutions such as the prisons, schools and state service cannot have a religion. Ironically everyone agrees that these state institutions cannot have a religion, but there are circulars being sent to celebrate Vesak. But circulars are not issued to celebrate Christmas or Thaipongal. Therefore it is clear that even though we accept that the state service should not be made Buddhist, still these things happen nonetheless. That’s why we are of the stand that the state cannot have any religious preference. Unlike in countries like Iran where the state is Islamic, Sri Lanka cannot follow that line as there are many religious denominations here.

 

Q:  Should race or religion be included in the education sector or should it be kept off schools totally?

A: Taking into consideration the education sector, there are Buddhist schools, Hindu schools, Catholic and Muslim schools throughout the country and the citizens have simply accepted this. There were historical reasons for these systems to have been established. When th-e British, Portuguese and Dutch established catholic schools, the Buddhists protested and had their own schools and then the others followed. I would like to ask the intelligent people of this country, should any school be religious establishments? No I don’t think so and a school should be an institution that provides education to all and it can include religious education of all religions as subjects. These are very important topics. It is wrong to bring in religion to schools.

Our government has four religious ministries which serves no purpose and should simply be dismantled. There are 70% of Buddhists in this country and the Maha Sangha and the people are capable of carrying on their duties. The same goes for the other religions too and they don’t need the intervention of the government. This is something that needs to be done, but I don’t know how it is possible. There should be laws that prevent religion being misused or used to exert pressure on another region. A set of rules need to be formulated based on a broad discussion. Everyone should have the right to worship any religion or belief and this right must be included in the constitution.

Then the power sharing topic of the Tamils, this will only stir unwanted emotions among the other races.  We should not take into consideration any racial or ethnic issue when formulating the new constitution. But still the government will take these angles, despite our theories. This is where we have always gone wrong.

 

Q.  The reason that these religious and ethnic issues should be considered and included into the constitution is due to the minorities being oppressed by the majority. Do you agree with this notion?

A: I don’t agree one bit with the theory that all religions and races cannot live together in harmony. Take for instance Slave Island in Colombo, there is a hotel in the centre and opposite that there is a church and to the right a Temple and behind that a Kovil and a mosque. All racial denominations, Sinhala, Muslim Malay Burgher and Tamils live in Slave Island without any issue preserving their identity. None of these people are complaining of not being able to live together.

The same in Kolpetty all these four religions and ethnic groups plus the foreign nationals too live in that area without any problem of discrimination not intimidation. Therefore I feel that this is how the whole country should be. This is why I say that people of all races should be allowed to live together without the constitution or government having any hand in influencing any race or religion. This is the only way that we can create a national identity irrespective of religion or race.

 

Q:  If you think that religion or race should not be included in the constitution, how can the minorities are assured of their rights as citizens of this country?

A: Our party’s stance is that citizens liberty should be established and included in the constitution. In this country citizens liberty has not been given a place. Our constitution has always focused only on the rights of particular groups and not individual liberty. What we need is not power to groups be in Tamil, Sinhala or Muslim, but power to the individual citizen in our constitution. The current constitution has not accepted our individual rights to live freely, irrespective of which race or religion we belong to. So how can we talk of any other right, when we don’t have the right to live freely? Only once we are given the right to live can we expect to have the right to choose our own path. Currently there is no mention regarding the right to choose one’s own path.

Instead of talking of the individual liberties of the people, the government steers the discussion toward religion and race, totally ignoring the debate on citizen’s liberty.

 

Q: What is your take on power devolution?

A: Another factor that is associated with power devolution is the fact that the country should have one law. The country should also have one judiciary and one currency and one state service, executive and one constitution. It is through this that the country can remain without division. At the same time the current population composition and the nature of lifestyle should be scientifically evaluated and the districts should be re-organised. The local government body boundaries should be freshly demarcated. The electorates should also be newly demarcated. These have so far not been done based on scientific evaluation, neither has a profound debate on this issue been initiated.

Then irrespective of race religion or cast, these divided units should be given the power to conduct their activities. In vesting of power, religion or race should not be considered at all. This whole issue is hidden and the religious and racial issues are brought up, simply because these parties have their own political agendas. Our rulers need racism and communalism in order to hold onto their power. The Rajapaksa regime heavily depended on that and this regime too is no different and need that. They don’t want the people to get the power. So they will bring in the racial and communal issues just to prevent the people from getting the power.

 

Q:  The book written by Wijeweera which is a comprehensive study and analysis of the above issues “Jathika Gataluwa” (National Problem) not been promoted by the JVP?

A:  It is the only book that scientifically and comprehensively analyses and discusses the constitution that is also endorsed by our central working committee. It’s true that this book is only known to a few. We have failed so far to print it in English and Tamil. We have to blame ourselves for that.

 

 

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