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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Sri Lanka: For a Lid on Hate Speech

The Government’s move to come down hard against purveyors of hate speech is most opportune given the increasingly strident forms the speeches made by both politicians and some members of Bhikkhu community, with communal undertones, have taken in recent times. Today minority bashing has become a fine art with certain politicians in the South so much so that they cannot make a speech without alluding to the dangers faced by the Sinhala race and of the imminent division of the country from minority backed external threats.

By such utterances they are hoping to address the baser instincts of a section of the Sinhala majority and at the same time obtain mileage for their political project. The same goes for those members of the Sangha who backed by certain defeated politicians are nevertheless attempting to keep the flame alight by rabble rousing, in the process bringing disrepute and harm to the religion. It goes without saying that communal politics has been the bane of this country and robbed it of its true potential due to the disruption and turbulence caused periodically by race riots. Sri Lanka which is emerging from a thirty-year civil war that was a result of communal politics cannot afford to see another setback to its journey to prosperity that is now underway. No room should be allowed for the ugly face of racism to raise its head again.

We say this because attempts are once again being made to stoke communal passions in not so subtle ways by the acolytes of politicians who were thrown out of power on January 8, in a bid to facilitate a comeback of their mentors or should we say handlers. We see this trend in the speeches made by these politicians. There is an attempt being made to show that but for the vote of the Tamils in the North who are all liberally described as LTTEers their man would still be in the seats of power. Those who make such claims seem to have conveniently forgotten that their political master campaigned vigorously and extensively in the North during the election campaign even making speeches in Tamil, all towards wooing these ‘LTTE votes’. This shows the extent to which hate politics have taken its stranglehold on the body politic of this country

Hence there should be a firm lid on communal politics and all right thinking people would no doubt endorse the Government moves in this direction. We are here not singling out any particular community or religious group. There have been incitements from all sides. But it is the duty of the Government the rein in the trend notwithstanding from what quarter this emanates. According to our weekend Sinhala Newspaper Silumina the Government is to bring in laws to prosecute those holding political rallies with a view to incite communal or religious possessions and those aiding and abetting such an exercise. It also states that the Government had already taken steps to enact laws banning publications carrying racist content and also to extend these laws to cover those holding political rallies with a view to inflaming communal or religious passions.

To say that Sri Lanka’s post independence political history has been marred communal politics is to make an understatement. Politicians of all hues used the communal card at one time or another to ascend to power. 1956 marked a watershed in this regard. While S.W.R.D ushered in the People’ revolution it also saw the birth of communal politics in a most virulent form. The “Sinhala Only” Act drove a wedge between the two main communities dividing them into two camps. Politicians in the South began tub thumping their chests to exhort their fidelity to their race and language brainwashing the entire polity in the process. The result- communal politics became the order of the day, with one trying to outdo the other on the political stage.

True, the later Premier was justified to some extent for the steps he took. Up to that point it was the anglicised elite who were ruling the roost depriving the educated Sinhala natives a place in the sun. It also ushered in a cultural revolution that saw the revival of local literature, arts and an entire transformation in the Sinhala Buddhist outlook. Besides Sri Lanka was only caught up in the winds of change where nationalism was sweeping through the newly independent states in the region.

However in Sri Lanka this nationalism that took off in 1956 seems to have taken on a communal colouration going by the events that have unfolded through the decades. Today we see the sad spectacle of members of the Sangha leading mobs attacking business establishments owned by minorities. At a time when all measures are being taken by the new Government to heal the festering wounds and bring about amity, brotherhood and concord between the two main communities no room should be left for persons with hidden political agendas to queer the pitch.

Editorial. CDN


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