A Minority Dream

I have a dream! A dream about a future Sri Lanka where our governance is over and above the petty divisions of race and religion; a future where politicians need to find more sophisticated plot devices to deceive the masses. In such a future, ethnic rhetoric or religious dogma will no longer be viable political devices to polarize people in one direction like a heard of cattle. The politicians will have to find more real plot devices like economy, class difference, foreign policy, environment etc to manufacture their rhetoric and lies around. I would bet that this is not going to happen in this decade! At the same time, I like to bet that this indeed is going to happen! I don’t know when; perhaps within this century. It however won’t happen by itself. We need activism from handful of people who believe in such a dream. The minority of people who believe that we can change for better, has to stay connected and be active. We don’t even have to become a majority to induce tangible changes. Influencing the correct people, and the appropriate layers of the society would work.

Having a secular constitution that everyone in Sri Lanka can subscribe to, and feel a sense of belonging in; regardless of their ethnic origin or religious convictions or lack of thereof; is a big step towards the correct direction. http://sites.google.com/site/minorityworldview/ is a site dedicated for this goal. If you are a dreamer, you can join this effort and discuss the way forward.

At the moment, the word “Secular” may create a fear in those religious individuals. This is a fear manufactured and fueled by politicians. Secularism is not about wiping out religion in one sweep, and suppressing the religious expression with an iron fist. There are, and there were governments in certain parts of the world that have given a bad name for secularism. Secularism is not about suppressing one dogma and implementing another. Secularism is about staying as further away as possible from dogma.

Secularism is about freedom for religion. More importantly, it is about freedom FROM religion as well. It is also about freedom for ethnicity and freedom FROM ethnicity. The “FOR” part is what we hear over and over these days. What is lacking is a discourse about the “FROM” part.

Freedom FOR religion is freedom to follow and propagate a particular religion of ones choice. The freedom FROM religion is the freedom for not following or influenced by religions. Freedom from religion is the freedom of NOT having to answer the question “what is your religion?”. Freedom from religion is ones freedom to keep their religious convictions a private matter. Same goes for ethnicity.

Conspiracy theories are big these days. We see conspiracy theorists wherever we look. We see crocodiles in the wash basin. In this circumstances, I tend to be wee bit too emotional than I ought to be. Out of that emotional state, let me propose a conspiracy theory myself. Unlike in other conspiracies, in this one, the perpetrators and victims are the same people. We are victims of our own conspiracy! The theory goes like this. We hear a lot of talk about ethnic and religious “equality” these days. When we hear about equality, we also hear a laundry list of entities that is supposedly given the equal status. For example, I frequently hear this rhetoric. “Every Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burger person has equal rights, we are treating Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism equally etc etc.”. When we hear this laundry list of races and religions every time we talk about equality, in essence what we are actually hearing is this. “Keep a note of your race and religion. You are an X and you are a Y. Wear those labels. You have no freedom from those labels”. This is the conspiracy I am talking about. In the guise of equality, you are fed with labels that you should wear. These labels are in tern used for pressing your emotional buttons at a later time.

Compare this with how we have managed to eliminate (or at least reduce) the effect of caste separation. It is not by preaching that we treat a laundry list of castes equal status. We no longer hear that every “Vellala, Govigama, Karawa, Rajaka … etc are equal”. We no longer have to answer to the question “What is your caste”. It is a private matter that is invoked privately, if a need be at all. No government forms carry a cage for filling in “Caste”. At public schools, children are not segregated and dispatched to learn about their caste heritage or their specific craft”

We are truly "secular" in terms of caste. It is time that we become truly secular in terms of race and religion.