by M. A. M. H. Barry
PhD, LLM, MA, LLB. BA
The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal (Aristotle)
Although much is spoken about ‘one country and one law’ in Sri Lanka, it is not a new phrase as all the countries in the world have one legal system. But this does not denote that there must be only one law for each and every aspect which everyone should follow. If this contention is correct, then no country will have different laws at the different levels or for different segments of people. For instance, if we take Sri Lanka, we have different laws in different provinces in some prescribed areas by virtue of the Thirteenth Amendment and Provincial Council Act No. 42 of 1987, and further we have different bylaws in various local councils.
Furthermore, we have several different laws which govern the administration and functions of the different religious places or institutions. For examples, we have Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance No. 19 of 1931 (as amended) governing the administration of temples, The Hindu Cultural Fund Act No. 31 of 1985, The Church of Ceylon (Incorporation) act (No. 43 of 1998), and Muslim Mosques and Charitable Trusts or Wakfs Act (No. 51 of 1956). These acts clearly indicate that different laws are necessary for the functioning and administration of different religious places/institutions.
No sensible person would argue that there should be one law to manage all these religious places because the diversity of the faiths and cultures demand such different laws. These laws exist because this diversity was recognized. It is not possible or correct to demand the people to give up their diverse faiths and to accept one law which could govern all religious places or institutions on the argument that all Sri Lankans should have only one law.
Equality and Equity
One of the fundamental elements of the notion of equality is equity, which requires that justice should be distributed according to the needs of the people as not all people are equal in all aspects, whether they are political, economic or social and they are not identical in strength, resources, means and practice.
The basic concept of equality signifies that the persons who are similarly categorized must be treated equally. To treat equals as unequals or unequals as equals, is equally unjust or violative of the principle of equality (State Bank of India v. State of West Bengal, 1979, 1 Ch LJ 363). All human beings are born equal and they should be treated equally. However, the unequals are identified and recognized not only due to political, economic and social disparities, but also more importantly due to the diversities of religions, cultures and languages. The concept of equality demands recognition of diversities and permits the manifestation of the rights of diverse communities according to the fundamental norms of the constitution or guiding principles of the state, without affecting the substantial laws of the country. In application of indigenous laws, the recognition is given only in a limited areas which are very personal like marriage, divorce and inheritance. For all other purposes general law is equally applicable to all.
The Indian Supreme Court in many decided cases interpreted the art 14(equality clause) by reading it with the art. 15 which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth etc. The section 15 though fosters national identity does not deny pluralism of Indian culture but rather it preserves it (MR Jois, Equal Treatment, Jspui, bitstream).
Many leading states where they are federal, semi federal or unitary have either parallel or sub-legal systems, but they are still regarded as the part of one legal system which accommodates the unity of their people.
The sub-legal systems are accommodated in several states in order to recognize the religious or cultural practices of segments of the people in a few selected areas like personal law which deals with the matters related to marriage, divorces, inheritance etc. Several non-Muslim countries including India, Thailand, Singapore, Philippine and notably Israel which is known as the world only Jewish state where the Qadi courts are functioning under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice or Cultural Affairs. The Qadi courts in Israel have jurisdiction to adjudicate matters relating to marriages, divorce, financial maintenance, legal capacity and guardianship, custody of children, paternity and inheritance, among others. The rights of the Muslims to practice their personal law are being protected in Israel despite the fact that there has been a historical animosity between the Arab Muslims and Israeli Jews due to Israel/Palestine land dispute. In Sri Lanka we have a pluralistic legal system which has been accommodated to realize the diverse aspirations and give respect to different communities of whom our constitution acknowledges as equal citizens of the country.
The reasons for recognizing and protecting the ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural rights of the citizens in multi religious/cultural and linguistic states could be realistically, legally and politically attributed to the following indispensable factors (1) social contract (2) protecting religious rights and (3) protecting universal rights. The states by definition and nature are obliged to respect and enforce their duties originate from the above factors.
The social contract is a contract between the state and its citizens. No modern state could exist or function without the social contract and it is the people who give authority to the state or to its agent (government) to manage their affairs. Under the social contract, the people surrender or delegate certain rights to the state and retained or reserved their fundamental rights to themselves.
Furthermore, under the social contract the rights that are not delegated or retained by the people, the state undertakes to protect them (both individual and collective rights). In modern times the people do not give authority to states to establish absolute or totalitarian rule, but they wanted states to protect their basic rights as the primary duty of the state. The terms of the social contract (rights/duties of the state and rights/duties of the people) are normally enshrined and reflected in a country’s constitution and other respective laws
For instance, the tenth amendment to the US Constitution expressly reserves the powers not delegated under the Constitution or prohibited by it to the respective states, or to the people. The US courts have affirmed this position in several leading cases. In Butchers’ Union case (1884-111 U.S. 746) Field J observed “…all men are endowed, not by the edicts of Emperors or decrees of Parliament or Acts of Congress, but by their Creator, with certain inalienable rights’ that is, rights which cannot be bartered away or give away except the punishment of crime, and among these are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, and to secure these, not grant them but secure them, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Although under the Indian Constitution, there is no similar provision like the tenth amendment to the US Constitution, in Gopalan case (1950-SCR 88) Sastri J. stated “It is true to say that, in a sense, the people delegated to the legislative, executive and the judicial organs of the State their respective powers while reserving to themselves the fundamental rights which they made paramount by providing that, the State shall not make any law which takes away or abridges the rights conferred by that Part (of the Constitution) …”
Hence it is a duty of any state to secure these rights since they are the core values of a constitution. As the part of its primary duty a state should protect its peoples’ rights and ensure the justice to everyone by applying equality and equity in addressing or resolving any problems of the people.
“Justice, Equality and Equity” are the cardinal principles and fundamental requirements not only for successful resolutions of any dispute among the people, but also to unite the diverse people under the one national banner. These cardinal principles are the fundamental values which cannot be subordinated to any other claimed values.
The state duty under the social contract does not change according to the electoral changes as the people vote to different parties at the different elections but this does not provide permission to change or negatively amend the core values or guiding principles of the state. The social contract does not imply that it is a contract only with the majority who voted for any political party but it is a contract with all citizens (different segments). In this context, the state has to protect the interest and rights of all citizens who participated in the electoral process and also who do not participate in the process (who did not vote or do not use their franchise), because the protection of the core values are guiding principle of the state or constitution which could not be politically or morally or even legally be abrogated.
In the US, the constitutional provisions and amendments which protect the rights of the people, especially its Fourteenth Amendment which enshrines the equality clause are regarded as the core values or guiding principles of the state. No debate takes place in the US to negate or weaken these core values or guiding principles as these protective provisions are well entrenched and no one think about their abrogation as these principles are synonymous with the primary objective of the state.
Protecting Right to Freedom of Religion
The right to freedom of religion is not only a collective or community right, but it also an individual right. In modern history, it was regarded as one of the first recognized human rights. The Code of Rhode Island of 1647 and Westphalia Peace Treaty 1648 recognized religious freedom. It was regarded as one of the foundations of Human Rights ideology. The basic elements of freedom of religion and belief have the status of jus cogens or international customary law (Forum 18). It is also a part of Ius Gentium (law of nations) and a part of Lingua Franca (universal language) because the language of human rights has become the moral lingua franca (Micheal H. Perry).
Integration or Assimilation?
In a multi-cultural, religious and linguistic state like Sri Lanka the national integration is a condition precedent for the nation building. The national integration signifies that the diverse people in a state are incorporated into the society as equals while their diversity is respected and recognized as the part of the state’s polity. On the other hand, the assimilation may be defined as the process whereby all the cultures within a state are assimilated into one dominant culture and thereby, depriving other cultures to exist. The assimilation is not politically, socially, morally and legally possible in a multi-cultural, religious and linguistic state like Sri Lanka as all communities are entitled to their fundamental rights of practicing and preserving the religious, cultural and linguistic rights. Hence, the very definition of the state should reflect the ethnic diversity and aggregation of distinct communities.
The indigenous laws of Sri Lanka were recognized in the context of integrating diverse religious and cultural practice in very rare and exceptional areas which are related to the personal or private life. If the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) necessitate any amendment to mend any deficiency, it could be addressed by making necessary amendments. Already, the committee appointed for recommending reforms on MMDA, headed by former Supreme Court Judge Hon. Justice Saleem Marsoof has completed its report. Hence, the amendment could be worked out on the basis of these recommendation to address any concern or deficiency.
In this context, the notion of one country and one law’ should be seen as a unifier of all communities in the nation building process by respecting and recognizing their rights and consolidating a legal system which could accommodate the aspirations of all the people. Furthermore, the notion of one law also signifies that all people are equal before the law and they are entitled to equal protection of law, and specifically no one is above the law.
Sri Lanka needs unity among the people, which requires every community respects others and everyone community regard other communities as brothers and sisters of one family of the nation without perceiving others in suspicious, apprehensive and mistrustful manner. The law should be actively applicable to prevent hate speeches against each other and to ensure dignity to every community.
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!