Colombo, November 2 (newsin.asia): The Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on “One Country, One Law”, Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera, has ruled out the inclusion of any Tamils in the PTF but has assured that they will be represented in an appropriate sub-committee of the Task Force.
Addressing the media here on Monday, the controversial monk said that it was not deemed necessary to appoint a Tamil to the PTF as such, because the concentration of the panel would be on the controversial laws of the Muslim community, such as those on marriage and divorce, on the wearing of the burqa, the existence of separate Qazi courts and Madrassahs (religious schools). A number of Muslims have been appointed to the PTF for tapping their expertise on Islamic laws.
However, in regard to the Tamils, the monk added that a Tamil will “certainly” be appointed to an appropriate sub-committee of the PTF.
Gnanasara Thero pointed out that there was a search for a suitable Tamil for appointment to the PTF, and the authorities had considered 12 names. But these had run into objections. There were objections on their affiliation with particular provinces. Some of them were objected to on the grounds that they had connections with American and Indian intelligence agencies, he said. The monk said that the PTF will entertain the views of all “except those with hidden agendas.”
He went on to ask the Tamils not to think only in communal terms but to strive for the establishment of unity in the country. He challenged the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader and MP M.A.Sumanthiran to be inclusive himself and make a Hindu the leader of the TNA in Mannar district which has a strong Christian population.
Gnanasara Thera appealed to Sri Lankan youth to offer suggestions to the PTF. “The youth of this country have suffered the most due to racial, religious and provincial divisions. Therefore, the youth have a special place in this process, he said, adding that all young people representing universities, higher education institutions and various organizations are invited to submit their ideas and suggestions to the Task Force,” he said.
He declared that he is “committed to fulfilling the desired objectives of the Task Force together with its members” and that the PTF will submit its report and recommendations for a legislative Act within the four-month deadline.
Core Policy Framework
The Thera pointed out that in fulfilling that role, the PTF will act according to a “core policy framework”. The core policy is that “no citizen should be subjected to any difference or discrimination before the law on the basis of race, religion, caste or any other factor.”
He emphasized that if the citizens can place the country as number one above all, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or political affiliation, the Task Force is ready to listen to all opinions regarding the legal framework of such a country.
But the Presidential Task Force has a broad understanding on this issue, he said. “Our responsibility is to create one nation that can get together under one flag and to formulate one law suitable for the country. We need one nation which deviates from narrow divisions and lives together in harmony, respecting each other’s cultural and religious heritages. Our responsibility is to create the necessary environment in this country to formulate one law that will bring together all the communities without being divided into as Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims or else Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus or Muslims.”
The Thera also said that he hopes to discuss the matter with all political parties, religious and civil society organizations and groups in the coming days and added that the discussion is open to all who come without any “hidden agendas.”
Global Tamil Forum Slams PTF
The London-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) has, in a statement, said that the appointment of the PTF under the leadership of Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero “is a deeply worrying development.”
“The task force has a few handpicked Muslim representatives but without Tamil representation and was formed without consultations with minority community representatives. It is a clear illustration of Sri Lanka’s twin failures – lack of respect for pluralism and rule of law, and entrenched immunity from prosecution – the hallmarks of the present administration,” the statement said.
“Under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka is increasingly ruled through Presidential Task Forces sidestepping the traditional democratic mechanisms of governance. The ‘One Country, One Law’ concept was used as a successful election slogan in 2019 by Gotabaya Rajapaksa to rally Sinhala Buddhist voters by calculatingly tapping into their groundless fears of the minority communities. In 2020, the same fallacious argument was invoked by the government to justify its stand on mandatory-cremation of Covid-19 victims, thus denying the faith-based burial rites of the Muslim and Christian minorities. This slogan (despite its veneer of rationality) represents an ultra-Buddhist nationalist attempt to homogenize the country’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural landscape by progressively eliminating the uniqueness and specialities of its different communities,” the GTF said.
“The person who has been chosen for this job by President Rajapaksa removes any ambiguities about the aims of the Task Force. Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, the head of the extremist Bodu Bala Sena (‘Buddhist Power Force’), is one of the most divisive and notorious persons in the country. His open espousal of racism and incitement against the Muslim community is well known in Sri Lanka and in many other countries. The Thero who was previously convicted by the Courts for different crimes, including for threatening the wife of a forcibly disappeared journalist, and contempt of court, was granted Presidential Pardon in May 2019 within a year of serving his six-year jail term.”
“The ‘One Country, One Law’ initiative has opened another urgent and ominous front on ethnic relations in the country. The President’s recent pronouncements about creating a new constitution next year and this initiative under an extremist Buddhist monk are highly worrying developments for the minority communities. Many people suspect that in the name of homogenizing the legal system – the regional power devolution arrangements could also be diluted or abolished – in addition to weakening the existing traditional laws and customs pertaining to different communities.”
“It is feared the present government that has so spectacularly failed in every aspect of governance and economic development, will resort to majoritarian extremism, and foster ethnic hatreds to sustain a degree of its original support base – a time tested strategy in Sri Lankan politics. Such steps will undoubtedly be the death knell for reconciliation and has the potential to set off resentments and conflicts in the future,” the GTF said.
Going further, the GTF said: “It is time for the international community to rethink its engagement approach towards Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka should be made to understand in no uncertain terms that the country will pay a heavy price if it continues its negative trajectory – whether it be on democracy, rule of law, human rights, accountability, and reconciliation or on fostering its pluralistic character. As a first step, the leaders of the international community, particularly those who consider adherence to international law as a cornerstone for decent and civilized world, should desist from direct engagement with Sri Lankan leaders who so blatantly flout the foundation of international norms.”