Unlike most modern states, the British constitution began with the text of Magna Carta, as agreed by King John and the barons of England on 15 June 1215, dispatched within the month to various bishops, and possibly sheriffs, throughout the kingdom. The document itself starts with a large capital ‘I’ (for ‘Iohannes’) in the upper left-hand corner and is written on sheepskin parchment; in a documentary script by a single scribe and King John could surely never have anticipated the enduring international legacy of Magna Carta, which closes with the words: Both we and the barons have sworn that all this shall be observed in good faith and without deceit … Given by our hand in the meadow that is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign. Sri Lanka has an official written constitution, yet till now many processes considered as an essential part of the system are not actually in the constitution.
Most democratic countries have a written constitution, but it’s not a requirement and the British one is formed of Acts of Parliament, court judgments and conventions; while in Sri Lanka since the country gained independence the customs put into practise by the state have been doing for so long that many citizens think these are, in fact, laws yet they are not. The Sri Lankan constitution drafted by the British and implemented on gaining independence in 1948 was diluted to match the unwritten constitution to bring these practices in to laws; observed in good faith by the majority community, while cheating the minorities that drove a wedge between them and the rulers; causing polarisation of communities. The constitution continues to be meddled to satisfy the personnel whims of the rulers; that forced a change of rulers at the 2015 General Election.
At the elections in 2015 the ethnic and religious minorities overwhelmingly voted for the government parties which promised to protect them from the violence, lawlessness and impunity to which they had been subjected in the past. The rulers need to keep in mind the lessons from the past in which the failure to protect minorities from discrimination became a cause for three decades of war. Realising this the present rulers are attempting to rewrite the constitution acceptable to all. Unfortunately, the process is delayed by those legislators who had benefited by the diluted constitution and the unwritten practices in use, stating that the changes proposed by the new constitution are not essential.
Unfortunately, the cabinet of ministers have approved in keeping with the unwritten practices of allocating funds for constructing Buddhist temples. The Chief Minister of North Province has highlighted the futility of erecting and maintaining Buddhist structures in a land with almost no Buddhist population and the government has admitted that the hundreds of Buddhist temples that have sprung up in the North and East since the end of the war in 2009 do not have benefactors.
Earlier, when the war ended in 2009, the state assisted many Sinhalese families said to have been displaced by war from Jaffna were moved to live in the land belonging to the National Housing Authority in Navatkuli, ignoring the local tenants of the housing scheme demolished by the war. Now foundation stone has been laid for constructing a Buddhist temple in this particular site. A written notice has been issued by the Divisional Secretary of Chavakacheri DS Division stating that construction activities of this particular Buddhist temple should immediately be stopped since the construction activities have been started without getting the permission of the Divisional Secretariat.
It is noteworthy that while the Buddhist monks are getting engaged in the activities against the minorities in the Eastern and Southern part of this country, more than 300 Buddhist monks from South made a special visit to get engaged in the religious rituals to be held at the place where the Foundation Stone for the unauthorised Buddhist temple was laid in Navatkuli. Earlier this month, a South based organization visited Killinochchi and posted national flags exclusive of the colors representing to the minority people.
That was followed with alarming number of attacks against religious places of worship and businesses of the minorities are being reported countrywide causing economic ruin to many people, hurting their religious sentiment and bringing them dismay and leaving these communities in fear of life and security. This worsening trend has been going on for several years and has a pattern of repeating after a short lull. In most parts of the country these minority communities are living scattered which makes them vulnerable to all kinds of violence against them. The failure of the police to protect people who are being subjected to attack and violence is abdication of their duty to protect all citizens equally. The rise in violence has been accompanied by public statements made by these aggressors that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country with the implication that ethnic and religious minorities have a lesser place in the country. The practice of an unwritten constitution as stated earlier, was made public by a Buddhist monk, who went to the office of the Minister of National Coexistence, Dialogue and Official Languages and challenged him to a verbal duel on that basis; to date this man in rope is moving freely, for he is one of many who believes in the unwritten practices of the past rulers.
Sri Lanka celebrated the United Nations Vesak Day this year with the participation of Buddhist leaders from around the world; with the three day celebration that begin on May 12 in Colombo and the closing ceremony held in Kandy, marking the birth, enlightenment and the attaining nibbana of the Buddha. At such a juncture, it reflects poorly on the country where majority practice Buddhism a universal and peaceful religion in which there are no chosen people by birth who are considered superior to others. As stressed by the President, the Independent Commissions established under the 19th Amendment to the current constitution to strengthen the Rule of Law and good governance should be effectively applied; to monitor the performance of the police to give them the necessary encouragement to maintain law and order in the country. Perhaps the country will see the day light, only when the New Constitution being drafted at present is accepted by the people and replace the current constitution and rid of other unwritten practices.