July 20, 2019 (LBO) – An Independent National Movement led by the Colombo YMBA, after deliberations, have come up with a four-point national agenda capturing all issues presently tearing the country apart.
Addressing the Diplomatic Community yesterday, General Secretary of Colombo YMBA, Mahendra Jayasekara detailed the four points.
Address to the Diplomatic Community on ‘One Voice – A Secure Country’ Independent National Movement
By Mahendra Jayasekara, Honorary General Secretary, Colombo YMBA | 19 July 2019
Your Excellences’, Members of the Board of Governors, the Board of Management of the Colombo YMBA, distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen; it gives me great pleasure and honour to welcome you all to the briefing and discussion on ‘One Voice – A Secure Country. An Independent National Movement’ organized and led by the Colombo YMBA.
We have invited your excellences today to tell you how moved the Buddhist community is by the tragic events that unfolded with the Easter Sunday attacks targeting mainly the Catholic community whilst destroying the lives of so many others. We are aware that the outside world is confused as to the feelings and views of the majority people of this country who are predominantly Buddhists and about the religious tolerance in Sri Lanka.
This confusion may have further aggravated by the views that were expressed by different parties which could be construed as the views of the Buddhist majority.
We wish to state categorically that some views expressed from various platforms are not the views of the majority of our people. It behoves us at the Colombo YMBA to come forward to tell the world that we are a people who not only preach but also practice being accommodative and reconciliatory as good as, if not better than any other nation in the world. Our culture is one that has been enriched by the Buddhist philosophy for over 2500 years. We will not let these values be overshadowed by such views which the outside world perhaps considers as extreme.
We understand that other communities approached your Excellences from time to time to communicate their concerns about political, religious and cultural concerns in our country. We haven’t seen representatives of the Buddhist community doing like-wise to present its views regarding same. Therefore, I take this opportunity to thank your Excellences for gracing this occasion to hear of the steps that the Colombo YMBA as the apex body of Buddhists in Sri Lanka is taking to address the concerns of other communities.
The Young Men’s Buddhist Association was formed in 1898 not just as an association for Buddhist discussion, or for gatherings of like-minded Buddhists, but a movement for the revival, and the restoration of Buddhism to its rightful place in this country. This association also represents and publicizes the opinion of 14 million moderate Buddhists in the country. We also act as the voice of Buddhists, as a watchdog for protecting rights and privileges of Buddhists and an instrument for exposure of inroads made towards the subversion or destruction of Buddhism in this country.
The Easter Sunday attacks that took the lives of many and paralyzed the hearts and minds of people with grief, fear and uncertainty, stirred in us the need to act immediately as concerns arose in regard to the immediate security and safety of not only our own people but also our visitors. We believe the Easter Sunday events that unfolded were far too grave to be ignored and not addressed.
During the tense situations that occurred including minor riots against the Muslim community in isolated parts of the country, we the Colombo YMBA decided that appropriate action needed to be taken to address and mitigate the unfolding events that would have snowballed into a bigger calamity with disastrous consequences. We sent out letters to 16,000 Buddhist temples requesting the clergy to address the people and stressed the importance of remaining calm and not getting involved in any undesirable actions.
There was immediate feedback from the clergy that this is not good enough. They demanded that the Colombo YMBA should do much more to address this situation especially in educating and raising awareness that all communities need to coexist in a society that respects one another according to the Buddhist Philosophy.
Permit me to reiterate that certain views expressed and the manner in which they are expressed from platforms purporting to be those of Buddhists do not necessarily represent the views of the majority of Buddhists in the country. The mainstream media is partly to blame for focusing and providing air time to parties who use religion or race to create disharmony and political division. The nature of news and the manner in which it is reported is the views of those parties but not the views of the common man. The international community needs to know that this is not how the common man – may he be Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Buddhist, Catholic, Christian, Hindu or an Islamic think or behave. And we would like to correct this distorted image of Sri Lankans. The moderate Sri Lankan Buddhists which is the majority in the country practice loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity, four sublime states. The Catholic or Christian strives to live in accord with the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Hindu followers practice eternal duty, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings, patience, forbearance self- restraint and compassion. Likewise, the moderate Muslims live their lives in prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification and pilgrimage.
Since independence in 1948, it has been a Buddhist who held the most powerful office in Sri Lanka. It is inevitable that this would continue into the foreseeable future as well. Under the present electoral system, it is likely to be a Buddhist who will be elected by the people to be the President of the country. Therefore, as the oldest and largest Buddhist organization in the country, we believe we have a bigger responsibility to ensure that the future leader will do his utmost to achieve economic prosperity whilst ensuring unity, equality and justice for all citizens of the country.
The Colombo YMBA wanted to do more. We saw how bad things can happen very quickly and also realized good things cannot be built in a day. We had many discussions with religious groups and the youth. The youth consisted of two types. The ones who lived through the Civil war and experienced how our country was very nearly destroyed, and the other group – the post-war youth that hadn’t experienced any sort of violence in the country. The latter group was traumatized by the Easter Sunday attack and subsequent events and they do not want to go through a period of calamity filled with fear, violence, instability, uncertainty and despair. This is the expectation and the wish of the other group and the general public too. So, there is no doubt that we need to unite all communities. We need to strive for unity that could not be willed by mere declaration.
We need to shift into an entirely new paradigm and inculcate the practice of collaboration and network of partnerships to create a prosperous society, superseding the traditional silos that have divided governments, philanthropies and private enterprises for decades.
Sri Lankans should stand together and vote. That vote should reflect hope and not fear. Some people cast their vote based on religion and race, creating an environment for more division in a society based on political party lines. We need to start looking at things differently. There is a grave need for all Sri Lankans to unite shedding ethnicity, race, and religion – and demand a change, demand a focus on a national agenda, demand by all Sri Lankans for a better tomorrow.
Throughout history, the Colombo YMBA has never been political nor have we spoken on behalf of any politician or party. To date, we continue to remain independent and work towards the betterment of all Sri Lankans. Therefore, after long discussions and consultations with the professionals, the leaders of the clergy from the Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu and Muslim communities and taking all challenges into consideration we decided on “One Voice – A Secure Country’ an Independent National Movement, which I stress, is necessarily devoid of any political party affiliations.
We don’t achieve unity by ignoring the issues that need to be addressed. Therefore, the main objective of this movement is to focus on the key issues that have led to the present state of the country and to get our people irrespective of race, religion or political affiliations to impose pressure on our political leaders to focus on solving pressing economic and social issues and lead our country onto the right path. We reiterate with the people of this country that all present and aspiring future leaders should have a clearly spelled out strategy addressing these areas and should demonstrate their commitment towards solving the issues.
After much deliberations and discussions with many stakeholders, our independent national movement came up with a four-point national agenda capturing all issues presently tearing the country apart.
The first point in our National Agenda is “One Law for all Sri Lankans that treats all citizens equally.”
The effectiveness of the Government machinery is seen in either the presence or absence of law and order. Sri Lankans seem to believe that there is apathy on the part of law enforcement authorities in enforcing the law and maintaining law and order in the country. This is one reason why Sri Lanka is in 89th place in 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International.
Further, people shouldn’t feel that our country’s law is only applied to low-income groups and that the affluent operate above the law. The law of the land should not discriminate but treat all equally.
Presently certain laws that apply only to some communities have created mistrust among the people. There is a perceived notion that the Muslim community plans to out-grow other communities in the country and become the majority. This perception has gathered momentum after the 21stattacks and the people rightly or wrongly believe the present laws facilitate the fulfillment of this objective by allowing the child and multiple marriages. I am pleased to inform your excellences that in this short space of one and a half months of the Colombo YMBA starting to discuss these issues the leaders and the clergy of the Muslim community have agreed, in principle, to increase the age of marriage to 18 years. Now it is up to the Government to do their part. Discussions are taking place in multiple marriages. We are persuading them to transfer the Halal certification to the Sri Lanka Standards Institute from the present authority which is areligious organization. We are hopeful that we will be able to reach an agreement among all stakeholders in this regard in the near future as many Muslim associations have already responded to this positively.
Under this point, we can also discuss multiple issues such as the relevance of Muslim, Kandyan and Thesawalamai laws in modern Sri Lankan society. We believe a few small areas such as what I spelled out earlier can take priority over a larger discussion involving the relevance of laws applicable to certain communities that have a greater impact on the current situation. This is primarily why we stress this point of, “One law for all Sri Lankans that treat all Sri Lankans equally”.
The 2nd point in our national agenda is “One Education System for all our children that is supervised by the Government.” All curricula should be monitored by the Government. From an early age, we have to educate our children that we need to respect all humans and there will be little tolerance if anyone tries to marginalize another based on Ethnicity or Religion.
The lack of quality education to all is a major issue faced by our nation. It is very much depressing to see the complacency on the part of the Authorities in addressing the key issues in the education sector such as Grade One admissions, lack of trained teachers, quality educational institutions and outdated curricula. Scores of unsupervised educational institutes have come up in recent years. The result is that we have children growing up in Sri Lanka who do not seem to respect the national flag, the anthem, other cultures and worse still people of other religious faith.
We believe all children should have an opportunity to enter into a school irrespective of their ethnicity or religion based on an agreed formula. We also would like to advocate the strengthening of mixed public schools where children of all faiths will have the opportunity to grow together.
These young minds if not taught and developed can turn into weapons that ruin a nation. As parents, our only hope is that the children receive the best education in order to be able to stand on their own and live prosperous lives in a flourishing society. Many parents toil for this dream making immense sacrifices. The change which is peace and development we strive for can be achieved only by ensuring a better education for all children.
The 3rd Point of our national agenda is “Protection and Promotion of Local Entrepreneurs and Farmers.” Governments both past and present in Sri Lanka lost focus and interest in the promotion of the local entrepreneurs, farmers and sustaining the production of the country. When their livelihoods are at risk the mental stress takes a toll on the way these people think and behave. Anything that promises a better life for the ones who have lost hope in the system can be influenced by unethical and unhealthy social behaviours which is detrimental to society.
We have neglected our duty to protect local industries, entrepreneurs and farmers for decades. Due to the lack of sound and consistent policies, the country loses its competitive advantage that is manifested in the vicious cycle of depreciating the currency, unemployment, lack of investment, slower economic growth and poverty. This highlights the urgent need of revisiting our monetary and fiscal policies. The policies should improve the enabling environment to support and develop the local farmers and the industries. This would lead to locally manufactured goods and services making its mark even in export markets.
However, what we experience is the negative consequences due to lack of a proper agenda or policy for farmers, local entrepreneurs and even for international trade. The Farmers continue to demand for concessions and subsidies resulting in increasing Government expenditure. The country cannot sustain its populations’ demand for goods and services that in turn result in the increase in imports. As we fail to protect the local industries by mainly letting importers flood the local market with either low priced or low-quality goods making the production of goods and services within the countryless competitive.
We should remember that out of 5 million households in the country a good 2 million representing 40% are beneficiaries of social subsidies such as Samurdhi and this number is only increasing year by year.
Slower economic growth has led to Sri Lankans leaving the country in search of jobs in order to meet their basic needs. Parents go overseas seeking to bring home a better future for their kids. The children who are young and impressionable are deprived of parental love and guidance to grow to make them vulnerable to drugs and other vices. Ironically, parents come back home only to find their children preparing to leave the country in search of economic prosperity for themselves.
Parents leaving their children in order to earn a living destroy the social fabric and create many social issues in the country. Irrespective of what language you speak, race you belong to or religion you practice the bond between parent and child if broken can be detrimental to society as a whole. We need to create opportunities for all to keep families together. Peace of mind and peace in the country are necessarily the foundation for economic prosperity.
The 4th point is to have “One Ministry for the affairs of all religions in the country”.
Religious disharmony arises due to the absence of one authority to oversee all religious activities in the country. For example, there is a Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs but the other religions in the country do not have such a commissioner.
It is very desirable that we have one ministry that looks after the affairs of all religions in the country. This ministry needs to monitor activities and religious teachings. Currently, we have no regulations in this regard resulting in different religious schools entering our country through various organizations that directly challenge and pose threats to the mainstream religions. Today we find even Islam under threat as it is experiencing the spread of radicalism.
The Independent National Movement is the voice of all Sri Lankans led by the people comprising the majority population. The Colombo YMBA would be reaching out to all communities irrespective of different religions and races to enforce this national agenda and to make Sri Lanka a prosperous country. We, Sri Lankans, need to stand together devoid of short-sighted political agendas and elect a leader who will treat all Sri Lankans as one. This leader should give a rightful place to each community and religion upholding Article 9 of the constitution and by not allowing one community or race to have an advantage over the others.
We need to make sure that we elect a leader who would embrace these policies and demonstrates the capability of efficiently implementing an effective national development plan.
One may find it difficult imagining, valuing or even believing in the promise of change at this time, but this is the moment of opportunity to challenge the forces of destruction, strengthen the unity of all communities of Sinhala Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims and Burghers and move towards a prosperous Sri Lanka. We, the Colombo YMBA as the apex body of Buddhists in the country, will speak for this cause.
As President Mandela who fought for equal justice for all once stated “Action without vision is only passing time. Vision without action is merely daydreaming, but vision with action can change the world.” Therefore, appeal to you to take our message to the world. We are not a nation filled with violent, racist fanatics. We are a nation who loves to live in peace and prosperity. Allow me to conclude with a verse from the Dhammapada that contains Buddha’s words “Hatred ceases not by hatred but by love.”
I thank your excellences for this valuable opportunity.