Danger of Labeling People

Sri Lanka just got recovered from a devastating region of terror, which the country has been suffering for over three decades. The western media originally interpreted this problem as an ethnic issue and after the 9/11 attack the term used for this has been changed to a terrorist issue by most of them. Despite the name they used for it what is important is to find out what originated this.

While there are many supporting causes for this, if you analyze the root cause for that problem you’ll find an ethnic issue – a silly conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Where the Tamils are given the impression of they are ruled by the Sinhalese and they don’t have a voice. Who have labeled people as Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, etc…? Quite unfortunately our birth certificate and many other “official” documents indicate our race. With my deepest regret, assuming that all the Sri Lankans have a race; let’s see how this problem progressed towards a bloodbath. Having a race, publicly speaking which race you belong to or saying how proud of are you because of your race won’t necessarily spark the flames. Rather those are your personal opinions and the others won’t really care of those. But others would care if those are affecting their lives. So if you act without harming the others there won’t be a problem. Every country is governed by a common law. And if that common law has a preference to one race then it could trigger something very big. Directly or indirectly there have been preferences given towards one race in Sri Lankan by the law or by the narrow-minded politicians in the past which sparked these flames.

There are other types of labeling schemes, the caste based labeling is an expired technique used in Sri Lanka. I don’t recall my memory in any bloodbaths because of this labeling scheme in the recent past. Another dangerous and active labeling scheme in Sri Lanka is party politics and it has cost us thousands of lives during 1971 and 1987-1989 alone. And during every election we see violence and surprisingly within the candidates belong to the same party too. Unlike race and caste a person does not inherit the political party, anyone has the right to change the political party at their will or not to have a political party, yet we see violence. Since Sri Lankans are very much aware of the consequences of this party politics labeling technique I will not write it again here.

One other type of labeling commonly used in Sri Lanka is Religion. In contrast with race, religion is not specified in our birth certificate. A common belief is that we inherit our parents’ religion. Which I think is not true. Irrespective of how we got the religion what is important is how we practice it. Just like the race, someone practicing a religion will not be a problem to the others. But if those religious practices affect the others then there will be a problem. Especially if the common law in the country recognizes one religion to be given a better place over the others how would the other people feel? Didn’t this kind of special recognition trigger a bloodbath in the recent past? Has there been a religious war in Sri Lanka? If you turn the history books you’ll see there have been many wars in this land and religious backing has been there for many of them. Someone may argue saying that if not for Religious backing we wouldn’t have got the independence at the first place. But that is wrong we achieved independence ONLY because we worked together as a Sri Lankan nation.

In 1957 then the ruler of Sri Lanka, Prime Minister S W R D Bandaranaike signed an agreement with the main Tamil Political party leader S J V Chelvanayakam. There are a couple of interesting remarks Mr. Bandaranaike made, one of them was “In the discussion which the leaders of the Federal Party had with me, an honorable solution was reached. In thinking over this problem I had in mind the fact that I am not merely a Prime Minister but a Buddhist Prime Minister”. The fact I’m trying to point out is not against the Buddhists, the law and the people who are responsible for making and using them should retain making decisions based on these labels. And especially as a person Mr. Bandaranaike may practice whatever the religion he likes, but when making decisions which affects all the Sri Lankans those personal opinions should NOT come to play.

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true; by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful" - Seneca the Younger (4 B.C.E.-65 C.E.) Maybe our rulers used religion as a tool to control the minds of the people and maybe that’s why they have been putting the labels on us. The law in ancient days was primarily the arbitrary decisions of the king and few others. The crown was passed to the next generation in kings’ bloodline. People didn’t have much choice in the ancient days for deciding who their ruler is; only few incidents are there in the history books indicating people trying to change their ruler. But in the modern days every adult in this country have a voice when deciding their ruler and therefore have a voice of making the laws in the country. Now the 1978 constitution of Sri Lanka is the supreme law of the country. In this supreme law there is a section which says “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana…” What is this so called “foremost” place? and why so? J R Jayawardena must be spinning in his grave somewhere now. Maybe then ruler of this country, President J R Jayawardena added that to satisfy the majority or maybe he was using the religion as a useful tool to control the people.

The common law in a country should not be biased towards a particular label; however in our constitution we do have such a label. On the other hand our neighbor India has a “secular constitution”. The word “Secular” means a concept that government or other entities should exist separately from religion and/or religious beliefs. Not only India most of the countries have a secular constitutions. Although India has a secular constitution the practice of it in some of its states is questionable. There have been politically backed attacks on religious institutions and on the other hand there are religiously and racially backed attacks on political institutions and politicians. It’s hard to identify whether religion or race is backing politics or the other way around, but the backing coexists. 

In Sri Lanka we don’t have a secular constitution but things here are not as bad as in India as yet. We have seen some small scale attacks on religious institutions, blaming religions over incidents like conversions, etc… But in 2006 we have seen religious groups getting arms in the Eastern Province however it got faded away. So, for the moment there are no shootings purely based on religious reasons but the question is are we near any? How should we avoid this? Keep in mind this religious labeling scheme is a big “Sleeping Volcano”, let’s not awake it!

The message I’m giving you is even if you wear any labels the least you can do is to keep them to your selves, get the benefits you get by wearing those labels in such a way that it does not affect the living of others.