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

A Lenten Reflection by Bishop Duleep de Chickera


The weeks leading to Independence Day on February 4 were filled with intense debate on the legality and morality of the impeachment of the Chief Justice (CJ). The debate centred on the interpretation of the law and the political motives behind it. The government finally had its way and the CJ was impeached.

The beginning of Lent, (Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13) followed close on these events. Since Lent is a time for inner scrutiny, repentance and a return to integrity amidst the harsh realities of life, any realistic preparation to celebrate Easter as the Festival of Ascent, is called to wrestle with these events.

Evolutionary decline

The episode of the impeachment of CJ Bandaranayake is not to be seen as an isolated incident. It is part of a wider design in governance, strong and predictable enough to be identified as evolutionary decline. Evolutionary because it grows on us; decline because it pulls us down.

Evolutionary decline operates in cyclic form.  At regular intervals serious irregularities of public and national importance that demand government accountability, stir the nation. Some are serious enough to call for the resignation of those in high places. But as expected no one resigns or is asked to resign; because if one goes – one will not go alone. And so to the contrary, those responsible stubbornly close ranks and sit it out with predictable rhetoric until the irregular is inevitably incorporated into the system.

As the system absorbs more and more irregularities, its very nature becomes irregular. From here the regular becomes strange and is caricatured because it exposes the irregular; and the nation finds itself in a dangerous state of moral decline which neither National Day parades nor the occasional outburst when a little girl is arrested for stealing coconuts, can conceal.

Alternative people’s resilience

Thankfully this trend is not the end of the story. Evolutionary decline inevitably breeds an alternative people’s resilience which refuses to succumb to the former. This people’s resilience, vibrant and alive in all corners of the country, exposes the irregular system by sifting and sustaining the truth in the security of twos and threes, when doing so publicly could be costly. When evolutionary decline threatens to engulf all, it is this ability to engage in critique and interpretation across all ethnic, political, religious and class barriers that safeguards human dignity and the national image.

This people’s resilience also functions as informal people’s tribunals when justice is distorted. In fact it is these tribunals that recently ruled that CJ Bandaranayake did not receive justice. Like many individuals who put public service first in spite of knowing what was coming, she will be remembered long after those who hurt her are forgotten.

The verdicts of these people’s tribunals often prove to be more just than official rulings under evolutionary decline. All legislators and judges are to bear in mind the sense of natural justice within the people, which spontaneously scrutinises the integrity of the legal process. This scrutiny is simple and straightforward. It probes whether constitutions and the rule of law liberate and benefit people as a whole or whether they benefit those in power mostly and hinder and harass the people instead. In application it serves as the final democratic word; judging both the judgement and those who pronounce judgement, long after the work of parliaments and law courts is done.

The ability to sustain this people’s integrity when it runs counter to evolutionary decline is then the essence of human freedom. The ability to recognise, protect and foster this integrity is the test of true democratic leadership in an independent nation.

The teaching of Christ

The teaching of Christ is best understood when it is applicable to all and not just Christians; and when it is applied to difficult times and not merely the routine. In fact Christ’s teaching loses its freshness when restricted for long periods to the general interpretation and application of religion within the Church only.

It is from this perspective that Christ’s teaching on the life-affirming character of people’s gatherings in “twos and threes” is of relevance for today. To restrict this teaching to religious gatherings is to deflect its impact. It much more anticipates a mechanism of survival and counter influence at a time when credible alternatives to exclusive governance are seen as intrigue. So those within the tradition of people’s resilience are to take heart. The universal Christ is present in the “twos and threes” to endorse and empower such gatherings.

Set free to free

People’s resilience eventually has a spill-over effect. Its association with and assertion of the truth, frees people from self and sectarian interest to recognise responsibility for the freedom of others.  It is this liberating influence that has historically disturbed and compelled many to pick up the anxieties of the helpless (those oppressed by structural injustice and violence) and the harassed (those also oppressed by visible injustice and violence) and to cross borders to stand in human solidarity with those deprived of justice.

In practical terms this means that the harassed Jaffna University students, the simmering antagonism towards the Muslim community, those immersed in poverty like the little girl who stole coconuts, the prisoners who were allegedly killed after the Welikada Prison riot, the lawyers who received threats etc., are not to be left to their own fate or the anxieties and concerns of their immediate families, communities and groups only. The hurt and insecurity of these Sri Lankans are to be seen as invitations to counter their isolation through a demonstration of human solidarity by others.

National integration and reconciliation

While the manner in which such a tradition is to be built into the social fabric of a nation is best left to the integrity of those who respond, one thing is certain. Even though at the outset it appears to be so, cross border human solidarity does not remain an initiative of the strong towards the weak. It is to the contrary, of mutual benefit. Through the ensuing interaction, both the ones who dare to cross boundaries as well as those isolated beyond boundaries, taste freedom. For, if freedom means anything in circumstances of structural suppression and exclusion, it is the freedom to remain ever vigilant and caring in the service of each other. This is what national integration is all about.

It is from such a consolidation of people’s resilience and people’s solidarity that we will be best equipped to address the deeper wounds of reconciliation that the national agenda wishes to bypass. These include devolution, dealing with the atrocities, pain and division of the past, and development with a sensitive bias for the victims of poverty, war and violence; all of which received visionary endorsement in the recommendations of the presidential Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

[Editors note: For an interview with Bishop de Chickera broadcast on public TV in Sri Lanka, please click here.]

  • Bishop Dulip Chickera was not very long ago writing very positively about President Mahinda (before the end of the war) when he was bombing the LTTE controlled Tamil civilian population.

    At that time the Tamils were the other.

    It is said ‘If one remains silent when an injustice is being perpetuated, eventually it will visit you too’

    Bishop Chickera, welcome to the ‘other’

    This article sounds very philosophical and high minded but does not address real commitment or name names.

    • Indrajith

      Rajah, you are quite right when you say that writing philosophically is relatively safe, and that Bishop Duleep is an intellectual who has the capacity to say things without running too many risks. I, too, have been highly critical of him on other matters (the running of Anglican schools over which he had absolute control); but let’s face it, few are willing to court martyrdom, when even Bishops, I’m pretty sure, do not believe these simplistic notions of the result being instant tickets to heaven.

      Let us be happy that Emeritus-Bishop Duleep has clearly endorsed current Bishop Dhiloraj’s clear and courageous statement before “Independence Day”. It is a known fact that these two Bishops see things differently; there has been a good deal of criticism of Bishop Dhilo from sections of the Anglican Church; let’s forget past omissions. In THIS statement Chickera, as you admit, has been forthright; the moment he identifies Chief-Justice Bandaranayake as wronged, he’s boldly taken on the entire Rajapaksa regime.

      Some of us, Sinhalese, have consistently opposed the policies that have been implemented to deprive minorities of their rights. We shall continue to do so, and let’s hope that the numerically tiny Anglican Church (which is very upper class in composition) forgets its vested interests, comes out strongly (“in two and threes”)and also runs its own institutions more efficiently.

      Bishop Chickera, you know who I am; you don’t have to bother with acknowledging the wrongs you did. May your statement have a positive result, and bring you blessings. But, also, please throw your weight behind efforts to clean up the mess in the Anglican Church which people like me know exists in the Boards of Governors etc. of these schools. There just isn’t enough openness or fairness in the running of these schools; it’s not just that it affects their running, it is quite simply wrong.

      Let me be more specific. The model is that arrogant Old Boys and Boards recruit one quisling from the ranks of those who’ve come through the State Education System, and allow him to be as corrupt and manipulative as possible. This is a sure recipe for perpetuating social injustices and is leading to the failure of these schools.

  • justitia

    “……….the prisoners who were alleggedly killed after the Welikada Prisons riot……………………..”
    Why ‘alleggedly’?
    27 prisoners were shot dead in cold blood by the STF and Police.

  • Siraj Joseph (Singapore)

    Bishop Duleep articulates well the positivism we can extract from two dichotomous albeit paradoxical states (potential decline at a collective level and resilience at the individual / small group level).

    I don’t agree that his comments are philosophical – on the contrary, the message is profoundly simple but requires honest introspection to have value.

    If we can unpack the above dichotomous tendencies in ourselves at the personal level – and the underlying biases and sociological fault lines that drive them in us – we can take a big step in being more civilized and humane citizens, wherever we live.