A step towards communal harmony | Daily News

A step towards communal harmony

The move by the Registrar General P.S.P. Abeywardena to do away with the practice of entering one’s race or community in the Birth Certificate of an individual is a welcome step and would certainly go a long way in promoting the ‘One Sri Lanka’ concept.

Hitherto in the space reserved in the Birth Certificate for entering one’s nationality, the practice had been to indicate whether one was a Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay or whatever race one belonged to. Now the Registrar General has left the option to the parents when getting the Birth Certificates of their children to either insert the race they belong to or simply mention ‘Sri Lankan’. In fact, a majority of Lankans are already filling passport forms or other documents identifying themselves as Sri Lankan without mentioning their community per se, according to Abeywardena.

This is a healthy practice and should have been done long ago by the authorities. Had this been the case, we could have avoided all racial tensions, discrimination based on race and gone a long way in improving relations between the different communities. Perhaps even the three decades long war fought on the basis of communalism could have been avoided if race was not given much prominence in everyday life. It would also have removed all inferior feelings one entertained due to belonging to a community other than Sinhalese.

There is no knowing how many unfortunate souls would have been deprived of job opportunities or discriminated in other fields of endeavour from among those belonging to other communities. In fact, in no other country do people identify themselves by one’s race or ethnic identity. Americans – White, Black, Hispanic or Asian - call themselves American. In Australia, all including the Aborigines identify themselves as Australians. In Singapore, Chinese, Malays, Tamils and Eurasians all call themselves Singaporeans. In Kenya, all citizens are Kenyan - even those belonging to different tribes.

The Sri Lanka cricket team even in the past comprised players belonging to all communities and religions. When playing for the country they were all Sri Lankans. Why then, not extend this concept to other areas? Why have Birth Certificates with a column reserved for one’s race? The periodic population census too should exclude any mention of race. There is no need for making it public as to how many Sinhalese or how many Tamils live in Sri Lanka. We should all be Sri Lankan. All traces of identifying oneself by race or community should be eliminated.

The country should be treated as one for all communities. There should also be no enclaves in any part of the country set apart on a community basis. In fact such practices should be outlawed and no politician should be allowed to espouse race or religion as a means of gaining power.

As stated, not just confining this to the birth certificate, the practice should be extended to other areas as well. Schools too should not have sections divided on the basis of race or community such as the Sinhala medium or Tamil medium. There should be only one learning entity for students belonging to all communities. Even the names of schools should not carry racial tags such as Sinhala Vidyalaya or Muslim Vidyalaya like they do at present.

This amounts to an unconscious division of children based on community at a very early stage in their lives, which will likely snowball into xenophobic tendencies and racial bias later on. In the past, schools were not divided on race labels and children of all communities mixed perfectly and cohabited in harmony studying in the English medium. No suspicions were entertained between different communities based on race or communal factors. The same applied to religion. Unfortunately, the so-called social revolution of 1956 changed this status quo and people developed a marked ‘race consciousness’ leading to communal riots flaring up from time to time.

In that sense, our politicians of all hues had a lot to do in shaping the people’s minds based on community and religion. Communities started becoming compartmentalized on race and religious grounds. Since then racial feelings were fomented by politicians for attaining power and politicians of all communities are guilty of this.

Fortunately, the people, especially the youth, no longer care about factors such as race or religion and neither do they care for politicians who arouse communal passions which is a healthy sign that narrow considerations of race or religion are on their way out.

This was very much in evidence during the recent protest movement where those belonging to all communities were brought under one umbrella, including the clergy belonging to all religions. In that context, the step taken by the Registrar General to do away with persons identifying themselves by community, no doubt, would drive the final nail to end all vestiges of racial discrimination. This is as it should be, for no country can progress if its people are divided on racial or religious grounds and Sri Lanka in its present state needs unity as at no other time in its post-Independence history.

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