My identity as Sri Lankan – my birthright



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by Gnana Moonesinghe


Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam are different faiths followed by sections of the people domiciled in this country. Please do not try to gain superior status by claiming more weightage for any religion based on numerical strength or political power base. Numerical strength is given and accepted but only as a fact to be reckoned with but not as a superior feature for any classification. Political power is a nebulous feature, transitory, transient and impermanent. The permanent entity is me, my identity as Sri Lankan given by birth and my right to the land assured.


Many Sri Lankans are feeling insecure following the violence and communal unrest since Easter Sunday. Death and destruction consequent to the Easter bombings revived memories of similar incidents of destabilization over the past several years and it is having a cumulative effect on personal and national security concerns. There is confusion regarding personal security as well as with reference to ones place in society, individual rights including claims to national identity. Are the rights and identity status conferred by favour or are they intrinsic to ones status of ‘being.’? This is the million dollar question that requires a definitive response.


As for me, I am here, in Sri Lanka, in the place of my birth. This is my country, my world. My having been born here is not as a result of a wish of mine. To whose family I should be born to or the race, religion or caste I should belong to I had no choice. It is purely an accident of birth. I can be held responsible only for what I am, what I have made of myself given the circumstances and the environment I was raised in. I had little elbow room to be flexible since I am circumscribed by the environment in which I am trapped in, unless and until I dive in and make the environment and the given circumstances work to my advantage. Since I was born here and know no other home I am firm in my conviction that I constitute, indeed must constitute, an integral part of this nation. My claim to this land is unquestionable. My sovereign right to claim this land as my home cannot be contested. None can give this entitlement to me or deny me my inalienable right to this land of my birth Sri Lanka.


Since I have developed as an individual with liberal values, shrouded with an open ended outlook, prepared to delve into any issue I encounter in order to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion bereft of prejudice or bias, I have, I believe, gained the status of an independent person who has the right to refuse to be compartmentalized, and who wants to remain a free spirit not straddled as a stake holder for any group or cause. I wish to epitomize the character of a Sri Lankan.


Therefore please do not question me regarding my identity as if I had a choice to make even as you did not. My identity is given at birth. You may view me from the heights of a majority perch and look down on me since I belong to a minority group both regarding race and religion. But remember I have groomed myself away from the small group syndrome to assume confidence in myself and with that I have grown in stature and self- assurance belying my minority status. By broad basing myself thus I no longer fear narrow labelling as many by habit are want to.


You cannot wither me with your strength in numbers; I can be challenged on issues only by those in your group who have grown out of your narrow narcissist background and are able to make objective assessments of any given situation. To them I am willing to reach out and make relationships on an equal footing but never ever as a supplicant.


My identity is given, my rights are my inherent, inalienable ones I have acquired at birth. These rights cannot be claimed or disclaimed by anyone however powerful they be, politically, financially or through familial superiority presumptions. As of now I have no identity issues for it should be clear that each one of us born in this country have space in this land as our birthright. None can dispute this even it be on the basis of being a majority in the country. Often conflicts have begun as a consequence of claiming superior status from numerical strength, be it race or religion. On the basis of the premise given earlier all races and religions have equal rights in this nation regardless of man made provisions such as references to Sri Lanka as a Sinhala Buddhist country. Everything is reduced to a question of proportionality. Natural laws cannot be superseded by man-made proclamations.


Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam are different faiths followed by sections of the people domiciled in this country. Please do not try to gain superior status by claiming more weightage for any religion based on numerical strength or political power base. Numerical strength is given and accepted but only as a fact to be reckoned with but not as a superior feature for any classification. Political power is a nebulous feature, transitory, transient and impermanent. The permanent entity is me, my identity as Sri Lankan given by birth and my right to the land assured.


Sri Lanka cannot be given the identity of a Sinhala Buddhist country because there are men and women from other races and religions living in the country. In Buddhist philosophy there is no room for possessiveness of any kind. It is specially so for the clergy who on taking to the robes in renunciation of worldly life abandon all thoughts of me and mine. Therefore the clergy who was specifically instructed by the Buddha to go forth and teach the Dhamma for the ‘benefit, welfare and happiness of gods and men’ thereby teaching that which is ‘good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end.’ Let us proclaim in the same tenor as in the Buddhist teachings- ‘happy indeed we live, we who possess nothing.’ Wherein is there room for claims to racial or religious covetousness or personal aggrandisement?


Let those who fight for more than their share continue to do so for I am satisfied with my development into a ‘no greed’ state of mind. Let this strand of thinking bring peace and contentment to all the people with the question of nationality and identity resolved. There has been occasions in the past when the Tamil minority in a show of power made reference to the Tamil fraternity spread out globally. It did not help win friends or influence except perchance to put fear into the Sinhalese of losing their majority status. In troubled times when cornered such claims are made in all likelihood to give extra muscle power to the groups concerned.


Today, similar claim to extend strength in numbers has been made by the former Provincial Governor Hisbullah. While we are trying to clarify our national status this type of comment only alienates and gives little room for accommodation among the communities. In this context the Asgiriya Mahanayake’s call for the various communities to ‘live peacefully as brothers’ in the manner we have lived for many centuries is a weighty welcome announcement. This gives credence to the call that the land of birth is our legitimate birth right’, our unassailable identity.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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