by A Special Correspondent
Speaking at the Mahatma Gandhi Centre on the topic “I am Sri Lankan: my struggle to be a patriot” last Wednesday (Oct. 24), Rev.Rayappu Joseph, Bishop of Mannar, pleaded that the people of this country, particularly the majority community, cannot miss the opportunity that they now have to make Sri Lanka a country that belongs to all and as one that everyone can be proud of.
His passionate speech came as an appeal to all right thinking people so that this country can be saved from sliding into short sighted, polarized and fragmented communities rather than making long term commitments to be inclusive of everyone’s strength for rebuilding a prosperous Sri Lanka.
The Bishop was very clear that everyone born in this country is a Sri Lankan and no one can change this. He has remained a Sri Lankan and will continue to be so, he said. He further expounded that, like him, the rest of the Tamils in this country have inherited a rich and ancient culture, and the Tamil language is one of the two living classical languages (the other being Chinese). Therefore, he said, there is every reason for the Tamils to want to continue and preserve that heritage. He questioned why there should be “one country and one people”, used in political slogans in this country, and why cannot be there be one country and two nations or several nations within that country (here nations meaning grouping of people with different heritage).
National reconciliation is a priority and everyone has to work for it. According to the Bishop reconciliation can be achieved quickly if everyone is truthful to find out what had happened, not as an exercise for faulting or punishing anybody but to bring about a better understanding between the affected parties. Somebody has to explain what actually happened to those 140,000 people, as indicated in government records, gone missing or cannot be accounted for and this will remain a sticking point in the path of moving towards genuine reconciliation. Further, the Bishop pointed out that changing mile posts every now and then cannot build trust between communities. He cited the example of 13th amendment in the constitution: some want 13 plus and others 13 minus and the net result of this calculation is zero, and we now see signs of this in this country. Do we have to accept this, he questioned.
Bishop Rayappu’s speech went into the following aspects: (a) who am I? Heritage and upbringing (b) I am a Sri Lankan and I will continue to be one (c) Political aspirations of Tamil People: is it wrong to have aspirations? (d) Ground reality and my commitment to uphold justice (e)Courage to face truth and how to rectify untruth (f) Political shortsightedness and Statesmanship (h) Nation building is a common responsibility: my contribution to nation building (i) My mission: a just and prosperous Sri Lanka that belongs to all and a country that everyone can be proud of.
The speech was followed by a lively discussion with the participants. It was recognized that reconciliation is a complicated process and we need to continue such dialogue in the future.
Dr.Mohamed Saleem, President of the Mahatma Gandhi Centre while concluding noted that the meeting provided an opportunity to understand some hurdles that may have to be crossed to make this country belongs to all. Reconciliation cannot be a political decision, but it is a long and arduous process which embraces soul searching, meeting of hearts, forgiveness, and constant engagement of all the parties on the ground in order to create the environment of trust and confidence to coexist. This will become one of Mahatma Gandhi Centre’s priority activities, he said courtesy: Sunday Island