16 January 2012

The karawala-mallun of addressing citizenship anomalies

There is a number that scrambles the number 13. That number is 54, and, worse, it is a number that references an increasing trend, leading to further scrambling. Yes, I am talking about the 13th Amendment to the constitution, with ‘54’ referring to the percentage of Tamils living outside the so-called traditional homelands of the Tamils.

Thus, quite apart from the untenable nature of posturing in terms of history that can be substantiated, the territorial fixations regarding resolving for citizenship anomalies seem utterly silly for demographic reasons. I am yet to see a compelling answer from the ardent champions of the 13th Amendment (as per addressing Tamil grievances/aspirations) to what I call ‘The Number 54 Dilemma’.

Lacking a cogent response, they cannot be faulted for taking the ‘koheda yanne malle pol’ road out of the debate. Dayan Jayatilleka, in a recent video interview with Sanjana Hattotuwa (available at www.groundviews.org), dismisses as ‘karawala and mallun’ (to him, a Sinhala equivalent of ‘apples and oranges’) my contention that minority grievances are not addressable by the 13th or by any devolutionary mechanism but have a better chance of being resolved through a formulation that takes the 17th Amendment as a starting point.

[Karawala, by the way, is dried fish and mallun refers to sliced greens sometimes mixed with coconut, with salt and lime in quantities as preferred by maker. ]

He offers that a citizens’ rights approach, as such I have argued for, works only in a secular state.
This is interesting because it is mischievous, obscurantist and nothing more than setting up an ‘ideal’ as a straw man in opposition to a formulation that is not only ideal (in this case a minority community contained 100% in a given territory with an indisputable and exclusive historical claim).
Secularism, broadly, refers to the view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs; and in general parlance speaks to the ‘ideal’ of separating church and state. It remains an unfleshed term in political practice and as pertain to real (and not imagined) political formations describable as ‘states’. For example, it can be argued that there is no such thing as ‘a purely secular state’. The USA for example has ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ printed on all paper currency. Barack Obama as well as every President before him and almost all senators, congressmen and candidates for such office typically end speeches with ‘God bless you and God bless the United States of America’. Should atheists then be rounded up and given a special territory where they can exercise some degree of self-determination as per devolved powers?
Switzerland, the UK and a number of other countries with secular pretensions have the cross (as in ‘Christian’) on their national flags. National Anthems in most European nations have clearly non-secular wordings. Constitutions too. Article 2 (Religion, State Religion) of the Kingdom of Norway puts it this way: (1) All inhabitants of the Realm shall have the right to free exercise of their religion, but adds the caveat (2) The Evangelical-Lutheran religion shall remain the official religion of the State. The inhabitants professing it are bound to bring up their children in the same.
According to Dayan’s argument, religious minority communities (and atheists) in such countries cannot be equal citizens in the full sense of the word unless they are corralled into a province or district (as per their numbers) and given self-determination by way of devolution. This is nonsense.
What’s ‘not secular’ about Sri Lanka, I wonder. The reference to Buddhism in the constitution? That is nothing more than a frill, a decoration, and there is nothing in the constitution or in subsequent determination by court that gives Buddhists any extra privileges.
Sri Lanka, in other words, is not a bad political formulation in the secularist spectrum. There are worse cases. Dayan’s ‘secular’ interjection, therefore, is mischievous and an exaggerated reference employed to push his preferred formulation; that of a Sri Lanka with power devolved to provinces.

Let us assume that Sri Lanka was the worst non-secularist political entity in the world. Sadly, for Dayan, even this doesn’t unscramble ‘54’ to a degree that makes the 13th logical as a ‘solution’ to minority grievances. If indeed Sri Lanka was a grotesque example of the constitutional intertwining of church and state (as was typical in societies in which the Vatican exercised considerable power) then of course an unraveling as per political realities may be warranted, but this is simply not the case.

Champions of the 13th must come up with a more robust argument with respect to ‘54’ and more importantly, if they are to be taken seriously, must not toss around political terms and idioms carelessly. Until such time, the 13th remains an aberration, the only logic for whose existence is that it was forced into the constitution. It remains not because it is good or resolves what it sought to resolve but because of political realities that have nothing to do with democracy, the will of the people etc. If it remains, it is only because its removal depends on politicians, and because its removal would be against their self-interest. It was and is a basket of goodies for politicians. It did precious little for the people and if the 13th is seen as somehow eliminating citizenship anomalies pertaining to minorities, then the minorities, in my view, are settling for crumbs.