The Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka celebrated 70 years of freedom from the dominion of the British on February 4th, 2018.
Freedom of the Land
Ceylon was granted freedom from the British rule in 1948 under the Soulbury Constitution. D.S.Senanayake was the first Sri Lankan Prime minister to the cabinet and the prominent Tamil leaders Ponnambalam and Arunachalam Mahadeva joined him. Ceylon gradually became the Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka (SL) in 1972 by gaining independence from British dominion. This is clearly a physical independence. Only the freedom of the land from a foreign dominion.
Freedom of Minds
The recent insurgencies in Kandy and Ampara describe the mental independence of Sri Lankans. Teldeniya incident was a conflict between two parties and the attackers were arrested. Communal riots arose only when the ethnicity of the groups were revealed. Else it would have been one of the many police cases.
Real independence comes from our thoughts. Thoughts are which build individuals. Irrespective of the colour, caste, creed or ethnicity. Unity should be upheld.
Subtle discrimination in the free land – Then and Now
A major avenue in the Lankan history was the promulgation of the controversial Sinhala only Act in 1956 by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike which proclaimed Sinhala as the official Language in SL.
One of the best things Sri Lankans gained from the British is a developed railway system. People all over the country traveled in trains, especially the Yaaldevi train which became a bridge of cohesion and unity. Most of the travelers knew Tamil and Sinhala languages which was handy in trading as well. The Sinhalese went to Northern province schools as they were reputed for quality education. Tamils worked in Colombo without any discrimination.
The 1956 Sinhala only Act disturbed the harmony between the two communities. Insurgencies forced people to leave their education and work and seek safe havens. Since then, language had become just a language, not a feeling anymore.
Amidst these grievances, a ray of hope emerged when the citizenry were free to sing the national anthem in the language they are most comfortable with, either Tamil or Sinhala. Because one’s interconnection with his/her language is subjective rather than being objective. Language should not be a benchmark to measure one’s patriotism. People might feel unwelcome when a country prioritizes a language or community of the majority over the minorities.
The Tea industry is one of the leading industries in SL. Ceylon is famous in the world for its tea produce. Human rights violations against estate workers are increasing day by day. Every government leave the workers with false hopes of elevating their quality of life. Their plight had not changed from the time their ancestors migrated to SL, till date. The only recognition given to them is the right to vote. Infrastructure, sanitary facilities, education facilities are still insufficient. Even though the constitution recognizes them as citizens of SL and grant all the rights others have, are they really free to exercise them? They are silent and powerless. But there will be a day in future, when SL will loose its greatest pride – Tea. SL will have to import tea rather than export it.
Independence is more or less a subjective feeling where one feels unharmed and free. Each and every person is unique. A nation can’t be defined by the majority’s identity. Everyone in the island should be felt accepted and respected. It is vital to grow up as Sri Lankans upholding the Sri lankanness and enjoying the richness of a multi cultural, multi ethnic, multi-religious backdrop rather discriminating.
Celebrating a National Day
The Independence Day celebrations depict Sri Lanka’s patriotism, pride, bravery and national unity. At present, SL’s independence celebration is highly commercialized. Flags and crackers are high in demand like during festive seasons of Avurudu or Christmas.
Apart from aforementioned pride and commercialization, what did we really achieve in terms of independence?
“A civilization that spends more money on war than education is anything but civilized”.
Investing more on sustainable education than a tamasha of military power will teach minds to be free and enable everyone to think beyond boundaries. In that sense, SL can term it as “National day” rather calling it an “Independence Day”.