Colombo, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Last comment on Sri Lanka: Is the war really over?

[Editors note: This is Lionel Bopage’s second detailed response to the points brought up in his article Sri Lanka: Is the war really over? The first response and resulting comments can be read here.]

I doubt that a solution to Sri Lanka’s national question can be discussed in detail on a forum such as Groundviews without using up too much valuable space. However, if I may, I’d like to respond to the latest comments made about my original posting of Sri Lanka: Is the war really over?

I believe that the Sri Lanka diaspora cannot and should not prescribe a solution to the national question. Yet, the diaspora could make a positive contribution to assist the people of Sri Lanka, its government (GoSL) and others in the development of a solution to the national question.

However, I will try to briefly explain what I believe to be the principles that need to guide the development of a broad framework to address the major issues relating to the national question. I believe that it is essential to develop and implement a basic legal framework and other appropriate policy and procedural frameworks to ensure that every citizen of Sri Lanka, irrespective of his/her social, cultural, economic and political background, has access to fairness, justice, security, dignity, inclusivity and equity

In a basic sense, citizenship is exclusive in terms of entitlements and rights in a certain country in relation to other countries. However, the citizens of a country are considered equals if proclamations of equality in the Constitution, the laws, the human rights codes etc. ensure their formal equality. Typically, in a democracy, there are many freedoms associated with citizenship. In this sense, social inclusion goes beyond formal equality. It begins with the responsibility of society and government to work towards developing the talents and capacities of all its citizens in an equitable manner.

The root cause of national, socio-economic, political and cultural crises in Sri Lanka emanates from its national, economic, social, cultural and psychological servility. These crises are intricate, interwoven and inter-dependent. Some crises undoubtedly lead to others. National, social, cultural and political crises deepen when economic crises grow.

Policy development in Sri Lanka was and is forged in political opportunism, discrimination and exclusion based on politics of difference and identity. Policies of exclusion and disadvantage mutually reinforce each other. The major aspect of governance that led to the current circumstances was the extension of the feudal and neo-colonial policy of social exclusion to the days after 1948. This continues to date.

In a nutshell, by social exclusion I mean expropriation from a person or a community the fundamental rights of citizenship; i.e., right to a basic standard of living and to participate in social and economic opportunities in society. Such exclusion is achieved by trapping them to a vicious cycle of discrimination and disadvantage.

If we can understand the crux of all the youth insurrections in Sri Lanka, it is easy to comprehend that the basis for such struggles was to look for legitimacy as citizens of the country, to look for their place as equals to the rest of the society. The groups who have been marginalized developed their own sense of cohesion for contesting socio-economic oppression, discrimination and exclusion; factors that created a situation of economic, social, political and cultural disadvantage to many. Hence we need a new kind of politics leading to a different breed of social, economic and cultural attitudes that takes into account the issues of inclusivity and social justice.

To do this,, we need a fulsome discussion of poverty, racism and sexism and a holistic analysis of exclusion. Such a discussion needs to exceed the boundaries set by ‘marketable political products that are acceptable only to the majority’ – as some bourgeois and socialist bureaucrats tend to argue.
Such a discussion needs to rise above the limits set by essentialism and critically look at the hierarchies of oppression. It needs to promote an agenda of transformation of disrespectful, disparaging, oppressive, unjust and intolerant social and cultural attitudes towards one another.

The measure of success of social inclusion will be the extent to which such a policy promotes social cohesion in a society like ours, which is already fragmented along numerous fault lines. For example, as visible in many other developing countries, many streams of racist, religious and other fragmentations are also manifested in our society. Many governments do not allow such manifestations of faulty lines to grow and totally fragment and destroy their societies.

The corner stone for social policy development and the associated institutional policies and practices should be based on a policy framework that would bind socially and culturally diverse social movements together within a more inclusive, more just and equitable society. In such a conceptualisation, social inclusion can provide a coherent critique of the multiple forms of social injustices.

As I said at the beginning, the process of reconciliation and harmony has to begin with the responsibility of the society and its government to work towards developing the talents and capacities of all its citizens in an equitable manner. For this to become realpolitik, we need a new kind of politics leading to a different breed of social, economic and cultural attitudes that takes into account the issues of inclusivity and social justice.

With regard to other commentators I would like to add that they have not laid out any objective bases or evidence for their allegations. Regarding the bankruptcy of political programs of successive governments, one has only to look at the failure of implementation of any worthwhile initiatives over the last few decades.