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Government should declare A Year of Tolerance



This year 2021 Easter Sunday falls on 4th April. Two years ago, in 2019, it fell on 21st April 2021. All of you who are reading this will recall exactly where you were and what you were doing on that fateful day in 2019. Easter Sunday 2019 was such an impactful day that it came to define us as individuals, families, communities, nations and humanity itself. In brief, it not only showed the world the best of humanity and worst of humanity but to this day continues to do so. It is also the type of day that all of us will remember for ever and pass on to our children and grandchildren, as a lesson in life. The carnage which took place on that day should never be forgotten and never should be allowed to be forgotten for any reason. The remembrance of this day should be dedicated to the memory of the victims of this heinous terrorist crime and equally to survivors of it and most of all dedicated to the loved ones of those who lost their lives on that day, who have to live every single day with only memories.

Whatever the background and circumstances, which led to this terrorist act, let us acknowledge and accept one thing which is indisputable. The Easter Sunday 2019 act of terrorism was carried out by a group of misguided Sri Lankan Muslims. It is my opinion that the ideological, political, and social infrastructure which gave rise to the Easter Sunday Carnage of 2019 is still not only existing but thriving in Sri Lanka, thanks to identity politics of the majority Sinhalese and minority Muslim communities. Politicians to clergy and all in between will exploit this situation for their individual expectations and agendas at the cost of all peace-loving Sri Lankans.

Since the Easter Sunday Carnage of 2019, what have we, as Sri Lankans, done to bring justice to the victims? What have we done to punish the perpetrators and the puppet masters of this crime? What lessons have we learned to come together as true Sri Lankans and move to create a more inclusive and tolerant future for all of us? I am not qualified to answer these questions, though I have tried to initiate some action towards answering the last though my call for the government to declare A Year of Tolerance since June/July 2019.

There have, of course, been reams of paper-based reports produced which documents, analyses and recommends what the writers of these reports thought happened and what the writers think ought to happen. I sincerely hope future generations will know what really happened.

What really ought to happen is we Sri Lankans should find ways and means to accept each other for who we are and learn to live in a tolerant inclusive democracy which treats all Sri Lankans equally while recognizing that we are indeed racially, culturally, religiously, politically and ideologically different from one another. We should find ways to appreciate this diversity but at the same time unite as one – E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many One). One of many fundamental ways of creating one out of many is to plan and create an environment of Tolerance among all Sri Lankans. It is in this context that I renew my call on the government to seriously consider declaring A Year Of Tolerance at its earliest convenience.

The concept of TOLERANCE one must understand is NOT A NATURAL STATE FOR HUMANS. It is an attitude and virtue which needs to be cultivated. Research shows that tolerance helps governments maintain law and order and exercise power effectively.

Let me summarize, in a few sentences, the questions which Sri Lanka will need to address in convincing the majority Sinhalese the need for tolerance. It will indeed be fair for any Sinhalese Sri Lankan Buddhist to ask ‘Why should we Sinhalese tolerate the Muslims and Tamils? We have tolerated them for thousands of years and see what they have done and continue to do to us? Why can’t the Tamils and Muslims tolerate us, the Majority Sinhalese of this country, after all we are indeed the dominant race, religion and ethnicity in Sri Lanka?’

It is precisely this dialogue which we need to have as SRI LANKANS. We may have different ethnic, religious, regional, cultural social and political views but what ought to be uniting us is the common denominator all of us share – OUR SRI LANKAN IDENTITY. This may I cite as first the justification for declaring A Year of Tolerance.

I am sure there are much more technically competent experts in the field of tolerance from a sociological perspective but let me share six practices and attitudes which captures the spirt of tolerance-

1. Empathy

2. Compassion

3. Dialogue

4. Conflict resolution

5. Resilience

6. Teamwork


Most of these I believe are already part of our diverse religious teachings and cultural practices as Sri Lankans, but for some reason our moral compass has been disrupted by religious, political and ethnic extremist from all sides for personal, political and economic advantage.

Lord Buddha said we need to follow the middle path, and I believe that is precisely what we should do and the most important justification for calling on the Sri Lankan Government and Sinhala Buddhist Majority to support the call for declaring A Year of Tolerance for Sri Lanka.

Liberal democracy is rooted in the rights of individuals, and not the rights of groups or fixed communities. It is this theoretical background which leads people in liberal democracies to believe how they want to believe what they want to believe when they want to believe in it. This belief mechanism is rooted in the psychological theory called the five Enemies of Rational Thought, which are listed below.

1. Informal Fallacy

2. Formal Fallacy

3. Cognitive Bias

4. Cognitive Distortion

5. Self-Deception

(Reference: . By Neel Burton, MD)

Reality is always different to theory and in keeping with that reality the above mentioned five enemies of rational thought will always be exploited to prevent the right thing being done at the right time for the right reason. More importantly these five enemies of rational thought will always be used to justify and do the wrong thing, for the wrong time at the wrong reason.

Liberal democracy cannot exist without a national identity that defines what citizens hold in common with one another. Given the de facto multiculturalism of contemporary democracies, that identity needs to be civic or creedal. It needs to be based on liberal political ideas that are accessible to people of different cultural backgrounds rather than on fixed characteristics such as race, ethnicity, or religion. – Francis Fukuyama

Human beings have a fundamental need to belong—a need that their collective identities, be they racial, ethnic, religious, regional, or national, often satisfy. Such affiliations, which psychologists call “social identities,” serve multiple psychological functions. These include, for example, the need for a sense of safety, which social identities satisfy by reducing uncertainty and providing norms that help people navigate everyday life. At times, identities provide a sense of purpose and meaning and a basis for esteem and regard that is larger than people’s individual selves. Identities efficiently satisfy the human need for respect and dignity.

I believe Identity, in the recent past has begun to focus on the rise of right-wing nationalist populism or vice versa. This development threatens liberal democracy because populist leaders seek to use the legitimacy they gain from democratic elections to undermine liberal institutions such as courts, the media, and impartial bureaucracies which minorities rely on for a sense of equity and all citizens rely on for fair play.

We in Sri Lanka have an unparalleled and unique opportunity to exploit. With the election of the populist SLPP which used identify politics of the majority (thus reverse engineering the traditional interpretation of identity politics often associated with politically marginalised minority groups) to establish a politically stable governing environment, the state should use this platform to solidify liberal democracy in Sri Lanka by working towards creating a national identity that defines what citizens hold in common with one another. Not doing so at this point of time will lead to a situation of identity politics going on steroids!!!!!

I conclude by once again quoting Fukuyama who warns that ‘fragmenting into segments based on ever-narrower identities, threatens the possibility of deliberation and collective action by society as a whole’. If we go down the current path of identity-based politics, we in Sri Lanka are most likely to fulfil this prophecy.

People will never stop thinking about themselves and their societies in terms of identities. But people’s identities are neither fixed nor necessarily given by birth. Identity can be used to divide, but it can also be used to unify. That, in the end, will be the remedy for the populist politics of the present.

We need a national level effort and programme to address these issues in a Sri Lankan manner and I firmly believe that a state-led declaration of a Year of Tolerance will be a good starting point and foundation to use identity as a tool to unite all Sri Lankans to become one, out of many.

Dear reader, please consider extending your considerable influence as a Sri Lankan towards calling on the government to declare A Year Of Tolerance at its earliest possible convenience.

Dr Ruvaiz Haniffa

Consultant Family Physician

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Ampitiya That I Knew



Ampitiya is a village just two miles from Kandy. The road to Talatuoya, Marassana, Galaha and turning left from Talatuoya to Tennekumbura and Hanguranketha and beyond goes through Ampitiya.My family moved there in 1949 when our paternal grandfather bequeathed the ancestral home to our father to be effective after our grandfather’s demise. Until then the eldest sister of our father’s family with her family and the two bachelor brothers lived in the house. After living in various places our father was transferred to on duty, we had come to our final abode there.

The house was situated about 100 yards before the second mile post. There were paddy fields both in front of the house and behind it with a mountain further away. These were salubrious surroundings to live in. There was no hustle and bustle as in a town and the only noise would have been the occasional tooting of horns and the call of vendors selling various household needs.

The Ampitiya village extended from near the entrance to the Seminary and the school situated a short climb away along Rajapihilla Mawatha (now Deveni Rajasinghe Mawatha) on the road from Kandy ending at the gate to the Seminary, and running up to the Diurum Bodiya temple.

Ampitiya was well known thanks to the Seminary of our Lady of Lanka located there. Newly ordained Catholic priests took theology classes here. The Seminary with its majestic building commanded a fine view of the Dumbara valley. The student priests lived in the hostel called Montefano St. Sylvester’s Monastery situated just above the sloping rice fields coming down to the Kandy-Talatuoya Road. There was a volleyball court within the Montefano premises and we used to see the young priests enjoying themselves playing a game in the evenings as the court was quite visible from our house.

We, as schoolboys of the neighbourhood, used to get together during many weekends and play cricket on the roadway to the Montefano which was just past the second milepost as there was no vehicular traffic then on that road.

Ampitiya had a school started by the Catholic Church and known as Berrewaerts College which later became the Ampitiya Maha Vidyalaya. At the time our family became residents of Ampitiya this was the only school. Later the Catholic Church established a girls’ school named Carmel Hill Convent. This school enabled most girls who had to go all the way to Kandy or Talatuoya by bus to walk to school.

People who follow sports, especially athletics, would have heard the names of Linus Dias, Sellappuliyage Lucien Benedict Rosa (best known in Sri Lanka as SLB Rosa) and Ranatunga Karunananda, all Ampitiya products who participated in the Olympics as long distance runners competing in the 10,000 metres event. Linus Dias captained the Sri Lankan contingent in the Rome Olympics in 1960.Though they were not able to emulate Duncan White they took part.

Karunananda became a hero in Sri Lanka as well as in Japan when at the Tokyo Olympics of October 1964 he completed the 10,000 metre course running the last four laps all alone. The crowd cheered him all the way to the finish appreciating his courage in not abandoning the already completed race. Later he said he was living up to the Olympic motto which said the main thing is to take part and not to win.

Rosa captained the Sri Lankan team in the 1972 Munich Olympics. He switched to long distance running while still a student thanks to the Principal of Ampitiya Maha Vidyalaya, Mr. Tissa Weerasinghe (a hall mate of mine one year senior to me at Peradeniya) who had noted his stamina and asked him to switch to long distance events. I must mention that Tissa was responsible for bringing this school to a high standard from where it was when he took over.

Coincidentally, during our Ampitiya days, all the houses from Uduwela junction for about half a mile towards Talatuoya were occupied by our relatives! They included the Warakaulles, Koswattes, Pussegodas, Sangakkaras, Godamunnes, Thalgodapitiyas and Wijekoons. Now most of these houses are occupied by others.

Ampitiya area had two Buddhist temples. One was the Dalukgolla Rajamaha Viharaya on the Ratemulla Road and the other, Ampitiya Diurum Bodiya, near the third mile post. From the latter temple a famous Buddhist monk, Ven. Ampitye Rahula Thero later joined the Vajirarama temple in Colombo and was highly recognized by Buddhists just like Ven. Narada and Ven.Piyadassi Theros.

The Uduwela temple had a water spout emerging out of a granite rock where the temple priests and neighbours used to bathe and wash their clothes. This spout never ran dry.

At present the landscape of Ampitiya has changed hugely. Most of the sloping paddy fields have been filled and dwelling houses have come up. The majestic view, except for faraway mountains, is no longer present. A five-star hotel has been built just beyond the second mile post and the area has lost its previous tranquility. A person of my vintage who once lived there visiting Ampitiya now wouldn’t be able to recognize the place given the changes.



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Expert advice on tax regime



The Government’s new tax regime has led to protests not only by high income earning professionals but also by Trade Unions.In my view the problem is not with the rate of taxation which is 6% – 36%, but with the tax exemption threshold. Due to hyper-inflation and the high cost of electricity, water, essential food items etc, the Exemption Threshold of 1.2 million per year is far too low.

If the Exemption Threshold is increased to at least 1.8 million per year, the Trade Unions are likely to accept this. It will also lessen the burden of taxation on high income professionals. And it should not impact on the IMF agreement.

The time has now come for a compromise between the Government and the protesters.

(The writer is a retired Commissioner General of Inland Revenue)

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This refers to the superlatively interesting and provocative piece on the above subject by Dr Upul Wijewardene{UW) appearing in The Island of 21/3/23 wherein, as he states, he had been a victim himself at the hands of a well-known Professor of Medicine turned health administrator. He makes it a point to castigate the leaders of the Buddhist clergy for their deviation from the sublime doctrine of this religion.

My first thought on this subject is that it is a cultural problem of exploitation by the privileged of the less fortunate fellow beings. The cultural aspect has its origin in the religion of the majority in India, Hinduism. There is no such discrimination in Islam.

The first recorded case was that of a Sinhala member of the Dutch army fighting against the Portuguese (or the army of the Kandiyan kingdom) being prevented by the members of the higher ranks from wearing sandals due to his low status in the caste hierarchy. The Dutch commander permitted the Sinhala solder to wear sandals as recorded by Paul Pieris in “Ceylon the Portuguese era”

There is also the instance of a monk getting up to meet the King when it was not the customary way of greeting the King by monks.

In an article by Dr Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian published in a local journal, it is said that members of the majority caste (approximately 40% of the Sinhala population) were not permitting lower ranking public officials serving the British government wear vestments studded with brass buttons. The second tier of the hierarchy who had become rich through means other than agriculture like sale of alcohol in the early British times took their revenge by lighting crackers in front of houses of their caste rivals when a British Duke was marching along in a procession in Colombo.

It is not uncommon for members of minority castes numerically low in numbers to help their own kind due to the discriminatory practices of the higher tiers of the hierarchy.

Dr Leo Fernando
Talahena, Negombo

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