Sri Lankan Communities: The Cost of Distrust and Social Harmony

Today in the contemporary society there is a cost for everything, from the air that we breathe to the burial of the dead. But we never question the money’s worth for what we pay. Governments come and go, rules are enacted and shelved and applied to ones choosing, babies are born, killed and one’s life is sometimes snuffed out before being born. No one questions these nor are there answers one would be obliged to provide, life goes for the survival of the fittest. Man a social animal with more animalist inclinations living in a concrete jungle called modern conurbations. This is where we are today. We know the cost of everything and value of next to nothing. So is the cost of distrust. We do not know the cost of trust hence we fail to fathom the cost of distrust.

A society built on trust is sustainable, cheap and effective and value based. As opposed to this, distrust is a negative reflection of trust and it is prohibitively expensive, it costs one’s life, social harmony and economic growth of a nation.

In Sri Lanka, cost of everything is high and shooting higher and higher, the more the society is individuated from homogeneity the more we become socially and economically unsustainable and it would undermine all the systems that support society.

Individuation and division of people into segments and groups under various pretexts is good for market forces to make profit out of such atomisations, but this produces an unsustainable society.

For a society to sustain itself, it has to be homogenous, interdependent, sharing and caring so that in return it would produce social security, social harmony, efficient resource use, productivity and peace. The kingpin of such a cohesive society is mutual trust, inter-dependence and reciprocity. This is what we were once, and then, we did not have endemic poverty, civil strife, communalism and divisions as much as we have now.

The issues of distrust in Sri Lankan society can be categorised at three levels – individual, social and political.  At the individual plane there is trust between people. The Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims in their neighbourhood have very cordial relations with each other as individuals and families. Similarly their individual business relationships and other transactions confirm inter-dependency amongst them. This is a healthy sign at the people level based on individual and family connections. Very rarely is there a rupture in their personal, private and business relations amongst them unless distrust by ones own misdemeanour spoils the relationship. Here, culture, language, race and religion have never been a dividing force and as opposed to this mutual understanding and respect and reciprocation has often strengthened the bonds across the divide. Remarkably, individuals and families hail from diverse backgrounds where mutual relationship is not inhibited by diversity, instead diversity plays a neutral role and it was humanity that binds these people together. That is why the many tourists and other foreigners call us a smiling people.

Apart from these, the commonality of the socio-economic problems that people face in general is common to all people irrespective of their diversity. Therefore, socio-economic problems of most Sri Lankans are common except where developments are driven to regions due to political power building than when it is national development centric. Therefore people, if left to themselves un-interfered by social and political leaders tend to maintain harmony and perpetuate good relationships amongst them at their plane.

For the people, ‘Distrust’ at their plane is prohibitively expensive and threatens survival. At this plane, there is no reason for distrust amongst them since everyone is fighting for their own survival and they have their own issues to look after than the issues of politics and economy which are controlled by the powerful segments of the society. Therefore, for them ‘Trust’ and mutual recognition is the way for their survival.

At the Social Plane the people are divided as communities,Sinhalese (Buddhists/ Catholics), Tamils (Hindus / Catholics) and Muslims (Consisting of many ethnicities) . Each group have their leaders who represent their communal interests in the larger fabric of society. There is a need for such leaders to genuinely represent their communities so that the interest of the community is furthered for their betterment. Like the people relationship at their plane, social and community leaders need to represent community at the higher plane to further engender social sustainability and harmony without undermining the sustainability of the other. Unfortunately, very often social and community leaders do not reflect the aspirations of the common people instead they tend to turn out to be liberators of their people and thereby carve a niche for them as another class. Then they use their liberationist thoughts about the other’s hegemony and create divisions amongst the people in order to consolidate and perpetuate their position as leaders. To justify their claim to leadership and to keep them perpetually relevant amongst their respective peoples, they invent new issues like Dambulla, Anuradhapura and similar issues so that they will have a following that gives credence to their leadership. It is this breed that spawn chauvinism in society for their private gains.

Since independence, how many social and community leaders have sacrificed their personal wealth and positions to the benefits of their communities? They are a very countable few and the rest are parasiting on their community and larger society.

The main tool that this breed of community leaders use is ‘Distrust’. They spread distrust amongst unsuspecting innocent people and create divisions among them and create a place for this special class. As was displayed in the Dambulla case, it is the silent majority that pays the price for maintaining this class of leaders. They do serious damage to the society, amongst a people who have no division, they divide and they spread mischief in a harmonious society in the name of looking after the interest of their community. This sort of leadership is a social evil that parasites on the society and does no good to the country.

This sort of leadership does not go after the social and economic ills that threaten their community or society. They are silent about the increasing number of drug addicts, alcoholism, spread of pornography, human trafficking, economic inequity, poverty, failure of health & education and social & moral degradation and the absence of social justice. Invariably they are very often found frolicking with those parties that suck the society through the aforesaid social ills and other means.

To the leaders at this level, building trust is an anathema and it threatens their survival and they are hell bent on spawning ‘Distrust’ among people in the name of culture, language, race, religion and country. Can we then expect them to build this nation as a civilised country that thrives in meritocracy and good governance?

At the political plane similar to the social plane, it was the social leadership that very often evolves as political leadership. As often, political leaders use social, religious or racial aspects as ladders to climb up the hierarchy by creating a voter base not based on intelligent policies but on divisive and chauvinistic beliefs.

Post Independence history testifies, that our political class parcelled out to people not pragmatic programmes of nation building but chauvinism, language to preclude the other, disfranchising the estate workers, removal of minority protection clause in the 1971 constitution, supposed Dharmishta Society and Dignified Peace as Unique Selling Propositions (USP)to come to power. In the process they let the country to bleed for 30years. No political groups accept responsibility for what they did to the country that destroyed the social fabric and economic infrastructure of a nation that Lee Kuan Yu once wished to emulate in the 1960s.

Even in Post War Sri Lanka, the political class is still bickering over how to consolidate power by hook or by crook than by presenting to people credible and pragmatic programmes and policies as a way forward to sustainable Sri Lanka.

The goodwill, bonds and human fraternity prevailing amongst all Sri Lankans are destroyed by the social and political leadership today. The USPs used by all these leaders is a mirage to people that they never achieved but resulted in distrust and division.

The people have built their lives around trust and understanding whereas the social and political leaders build their lives on distrust and division which percolates down the society as time goes and that is how our society has come to be so divided and vulnerable.

These point to a fact that when more and more people trust their social/communal and political leaders the people would breed distrust and get more polarised to give way for the corrupt leaders to drain the social and national resources for the betterment of the few who command.

Who gains by ‘Distrust’?

Today, spawning distrust in a society is an effective marketing tool. Spawning distrust in a harmonious society creates a paradigm shift and results in creating new market opportunities. As such, this society is bound to be conflict ridden as more and more market players would come to the scene to sell security, conflict resolution, anti-terrorism consultants and arms dealers. No doubt, Sri Lanka with all the paragons of peace active in their peaceful domains, distrust is an ever growing phenomenon and this is testified by the ever increasing defence allocation in Sri Lanka’s budget and the closeness that it is building with Israel – a country thriving in arms supply and paradoxical relationship with other countries in peace time.