Battle Of Coexistence
Apropos Rev. Fr. Augustine Fernando’s opinion on Daily News of November 28 on ‘Political resources for reconciliation’, he reports of a recent gathering in Colombo of ‘The District Inter-Religious Committees of Sri Lanka’ where there has been sharing of the experiences in all parts of the country.
I admire the unrelenting effort and enthusiasm of Rev. Fr. Augustine Fernando in his attempt to re-establish the harmonious living that existed in the good old days. He also expresses disappointment in the results of actions by the Minister and the National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages Ministry to ‘unite all people living in the island under the Sri Lankan identity’ due to attitude problems and, of political division existing in the country. No amount of high powered Committees consisting of different ethnicities or religions will succeed unless ALL of the people are made partners in the reconciliation process.
It is most unlikely that we will ever be without political divisions, but in spite of such, we should develop strategies to forge ahead with the much desired reconciliatory effort. For this, the entire population should be partners in the reconciliatory process. Reverend Father concludes, ‘It has fallen to the present generation living in the North and South, East and West of Sri Lanka to usher a new political culture and redeem her good name as befitting those who live in the Pearl of the Indian Ocean’. To achieve this end, I, a voice from the wilderness, would like to suggest a restructuring of our National Holidays, whereby there would be the opportunity for EVERYONE to respect each other’s religions and cultures.
I humbly present my recipe, which is likely to help achieve the cherished goal and in addition boost our economy as well.
We Sri Lankans ‘enjoy’ too many holidays. In fact, we have the largest number of holidays when compared with the rest of the world. This affects adversely the smooth and efficient functioning of statecraft and economy of the country. Successive governments have made attempts to rectify this situation, without success.
Genuine unity and reconciliation
The declared Public Holidays amount to 25. Since we have a five-day working week, we will be ‘holidaying’ for almost another five weeks, in addition to all the Saturdays and Sundays. Can we, a developing nation, afford such a large number of holidays, together with the ‘holiday mood’ (preparation for the holiday and its aftermath) that spreads beyond the actual ‘holiday’, further eroding into the working hours and days?
Further, can the declaration of a National Holiday, in commemoration of an event, where the majority of the people will do nothing connected with the event, be justified?
A closer look at the list of public holidays shows that 23 out of the 25 have ethnoreligious commemorative significance, affording an ideal opportunity, only if used appropriately, to promote cross-faith interactions. There are only two days that are common to all sections of the society, i.e. Independence Day and the May Day. These two days and another eight days which are considered to be of the highest importance to the respective ethnic or religious group, namely Thai Pongal, Sinhala and Tamil New Year (two days), Vesak (two days), Poson, Ramazan and Christmas – a group of 10 need to be considered separately. During these 10 days, there are large-scale religious observances, social events and/or family reunions. This group of 10 could constitute our ‘Commemorative Holidays’.
Different religions and cultures
The remaining 15 commemorative events consisting of ten Poyas, Hadji, Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, Mahasivarathri, Deepavali and Good Friday could be made full working days, with the exception that the first two hours i.e. 8 to 10 be spent in an activity devoted to the significance of that particular day’s event.
For example, on a Poya Day there could be a Bana preaching/meditation session; on Hadji and Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, a programme on some aspect of Islam and the life of the Holy Prophet; on Deepavali and Maha Sivarathri Day a Hindu religious/cultural programme, and on Good Friday a Prayer Service, talk and discussion on the life of Jesus Christ. This will ensure that everyone will at least spend some time meaningfully, in observance of the particular event commemorated.
It will also promote understanding of the different religions and cultures, and integration and harmony amongst the different religious and ethnic groups, as all separate groups will together be involved in making arrangements and participating in each other’s function, and getting back to work after partaking in fellowship and refreshments.
One should not forget the fact that comparatively a small number of Buddhists observe Ata Sil on most of the Poya days. As ‘Ata-Sil’ observance need not necessarily be on the Poya day, arrangements could be made to hold such observances on the Sunday following or preceding the Poya. In fact, most schools arrange their ‘Ata-Sil’ observances on the school day preceding the Poya.
Since over the years we have been used to the idea of enjoying ‘long weekends’, consideration could be given to declaring one Monday or Friday in each quarter of the year, simply as an additional holiday, to encourage people to take a longer break and engage in an activity of their choice, which is a healthy concept. This would make a total of 14 ‘National Holidays’.
Thus it will be seen that this proposed scheme, will curtail the number of holidays and increase the number of working days, thereby helping the country’s smooth administration and economy; with a little give and take, it will also promote better understanding and appreciation of each other’s cultures, build bridges, facilitate cross-faith interactions and regain inter-community trust which is essential for ensuring harmony and oneness – particularly important in the coming days of a rejuvenated effort at nation rebuilding. (Dr L A W Sirisena)