CERIPresident Chandrika Kumaratunga’s lecture at the Centre for International Studies and Research CERI – Sciences Po

Secularism implies the relationship between Religion and Politics, more specifically between Religion and the State. The concept of secularism has drawn its sources from the philosophy that Humans can order their lives and their societies without recourse to transcendent or supra natural powers, and hence they could also organize and manage the State and its government, without direct connections with the religious establishment. Thus evolved the concept of Secularism and the separation of the Sate from Religion, taking root in Europe and spreading its message across the globe.

In South Asia, the concept was popularized in the 20th century, mainly during the anti-colonial struggles and the consequent formation of new, independent States in the 2nd half of the century.
In Sri Lanka in the past few years, the end of the civil war and the victory of the State over the separatists has been immersed in Sinhala Buddhist discourse. Anti terrorist emotions have been successfully linked with anti-Tamil and now anti-NGO and anti-everybody else concept, by means of a massive State-led publicity campaign. The Sinhala Buddhist identity is projected as supreme and the exclusively legitimate one comprising the right to dominance over the State and body politic of Lanka. The present leaders seem to dig deep into the Sinhala Buddhist psyche, searching out the fears and concerns of the populace of a small, weak country to turn them against various types of enemies.

At this point, I would like to describe my personal experience as Head of State. I was personally committed to the concept that Federalism and inclusivity were the solutions to Sri Lanka’s minorities’ question. I had also ascertained that the majority of adherents to the exclusivist Sinhala Buddhist concept of the State belong to a small minority of the elite ruling class- politicians and clergy closely linked to them, professionals and business men. The masses, in their vast majority were not committed to extremist political views of any type.

A Gallup poll we conducted at the time my government came to power in 1994 showed that only 23 per cent of the Sinhala people opted for a negotiated settlement of the conflict. We undertook programs to take the message of peace to the entire country. We held seminars, workshops, street theaters, and we used the media widely. At the end of 2 years another survey showed that the number of people opting not only for peace, but this time also for devolution of power had increased to 68 per cent.”

“The root causes of most conflicts in South Asia have proved to be poverty and exclusion.
We do not know of solutions other than those we find in Federalism, Pluralism and Inclusive development to forge a socially cohesive, stable and prosperous State”


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