North and East Inter-Faith Forum Makes Representations
In the mid-afternoon of Dec 1, a small group of people, headed by a Buddhist monk, was seen entering the auditorium of the Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations to give evidence before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. There were Hindu Priests, Catholic Priests, Christian Pastors and Muslim Moulavis in the group.
As the vanguard headed towards the front of the auditorium, another stream of saffron robed monks, white frocked fathers, white-capped moulavis and bear-bodied as well as white verttied Hindu priests followed closely behind. The group included two gentle-faced Buddhist nuns. The sprinkling of the public who had come to listen to the ‘evidence’ had perplexity written all over their faces. Possibly a publicity seeking gimmick some would have thought.
This congregation was the delegation of the North and East Interfaith Forum for Reconciliation (NEIFR). As the various spokespersons of the delegation began to deliver presentations, as a Team, the initial perplexity of the audience gave way to focused listening and towards the end to a sense of admiration and awe.
The presentation was opened by Rev. Ranmuthugala Sangharathana Thero.
Rev. Sangharathana addressed the Commission in Tamil. This set the tone for the whole presentation. Here was a Buddhist monk speaking in Tamil about the national problem and reconciliation. The Reverend Thero spoke Tamil with such confidence and assurance that the initial doubts of the audience evaporated and everyone began to concentrate on the proceedings. Rev. Father Thevakumar followed in English. Rev. Wimala Thero spoke, next, in Sinhala. Moulavi U. L. M. Mohammed Mackie was the next presenter, and spoke in Tamil. It was then the turn of Deshabandhu Dr. Manohara Kurukkal and he spoke in Tamil. Rev. Father Reginald Francis made the final part of the presentation.
Responding to questions from the Commissioners Rev. Sangharathana articulated his ideas both in Sinhala and Tamil. Moulavi Mohammed Mackie also responded in Tamil and Sinhala.
Of course the quick turnover of speakers and constant change of language of presentation created some difficulties in comprehension as well as some light difficulties in interpretation. But the mutual respect displayed by members of the interfaith group towards each other, their enthusiasm and confidence, the positive atmosphere created by the use of three languages, and their team approach more than made up for these weaknesses.
This was not a sophisticated, slick, media-savvy presentation. It was, however, a very effective piece of communications. It reflected ground reality. It demonstrated a possible way forward. It attempted to practically demonstrate that reconciliation programmes, based on spiritual principles such as compassion, forgiveness and human respect; undertaken genuinely and sincerely; using all three languages, and (multi) culturally sensitive approaches; implemented through mixed ethnic and religious groups could have a high probability of success. Therefore the presentation made by the North and East Interfaith Group was unique in that the it articulated not only ideas and concepts for nurturing peace, harmony and reconciliation among communities, but practically demonstrated a ‘ methodology as well as a social (relationship-building) process’ for empowering people to enhance harmony and reconciliation. The Forum requested support from the State and the community to strengthen and expand this initiative.
The North and East Interfaith Group has clearly begun to ‘walk the talk’. A process such as above could only be evolved and sustained by people and leaders living in specific multicultural settings and experiencing positive and negative trends of (such living) at first hand, be it at the village level, district level, or the national level. And that is why the "concept of a home-spun solution’ is so vital to promote reconciliation and strengthen peace in Sri Lanka or any country that has undergone a long period of strife. The members of the LLRC steeped in the national as well as varied cultural milieus of Sri Lanka combined with deep and varied professional competencies, and possessed of abundantly rich international experiences are eminently placed to internalize and utilize these unique local experiences in exploring appropriate recommendations.
The Chairman of the LLRC Mr. C.R.de Silva, spoke possibly for everyone present, when he commended the NEIFR and identified the Group as a (emerging) symbol of national reconciliation.
The North and East Interfaith Forum for Reconciliation represents Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. The membership of the Forum in Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Mannar, Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Ampara and Anuradhapura met in October 2010 in a workshop themed ‘Spirituality as a resource for reconciliation and reconstruction; the role of relgious leaders’. The key ideas presented at the LLRC were developed during this workshop influenced by concepts and approaches discussed by group of religious leaders in a similar workshop held at BMICH in 2008.
In the presentation to the LLRC, the NEIFR affirmed that the Sinhala-Tamil divide began with the categorization of people on ethnic terms during the colonial times, and unfortunately had persisted even after independence, and now in the hands of politicians ethnic characterization has emotionally strengthened as a powerful weapon to mobilize people in exclusive groups for gaining political power.
The Forum believes that spirituality and common human values founded and strengthened by the different religious teachings should be used as a force to promote inter-ethnic understanding and social cohesion. Compassion is the glue to keep humans as individuals and communities, thus, it ensures care and safety of everyone without endangering the rights of all other living beings in their respective domains.
Peace … is of little value to someone gripped in poverty. The Forum believes that all post reconstruction efforts in terms of macro level infrastructures are crucial, but they need to be people-centered with the sole objective of making them self-reliant, and reconciliation efforts should go hand in hand with reconstruction efforts. This is where the religious leaders have an obligation to bring in a sense of moral authority for restoring societal relationships that were severed by the war and to inculcate virtues of co-existence based on human dignity and commitment as shareholders in protecting the integrity of this country.
The Forum believes that in any country conflict resolution should address ethnic diversity, equity and justice, accountability and people’s security and safety.
The Forum made the following key recommendations:
Constitute a National Committee of Conscience rooted in spiritual guidelines of right to life, share of common space and resources. This will be the apex body to advise governments on human rights, resource access and allocation, ethical harnessing of natural resources. It will also function as an advocate for safety of endowments passed down to the next generation. The Committee will also advise on inclusion of spiritual teachings of human and family values in schools. The Committee will monitor divisionary or extremist publication or pronouncement that could incite divisions.
Constitution of Reconciliation and Peace Committees at District and Pradeshiya Sabha levels including clergy from different religions. These Committees will hold meetings, seminars, and workshops involving public officers and general public as ways of strengthening inter-ethnic relationships with a focus on a common Sri Lankan identity. These Committees will be linked to the National Committee of Conscience.
Community Steering Force – Encourage formation of community councils at village level including two members of clergy as ex-officio steering members. The responsibility of the steering members would be to guide the work of the Committees, and prevent excesses and corruption in public life and inculcate resource conservation as a spiritual requirement for posterity. The Committee will promote respect for human values including right to life as a platform to building a peaceful society.
Role Models – The religious leaders should be role models and focal points for forging peace and harmony in the society by providing incentives and recognition for humanitarian services and community reconciliation work.
(COURTESY: THE ISLAND)