(1999 September 22)

The equal opportunities bill (draft) has been discussed by the cabinet of ministers. The Sunday newspapers carried what transpired at the last cabinet meeting and it appears that some ministers are not happy with the bill. Judging by the account given in the newspapers by the "reporters" the "broadminded" in the cabinet have spoken in favour of increasing the quota of non-Buddhist students, especially of the Muslims at schools such as Ananda College. Mr. Ashraaf has apparently quoted a figure of 20% for the ratio of Muslim students at Ananda. The minister of education and higher education has said that he is not prepared to betray the Sinhala nation by agreeing to the proposal of Mr. Ashraaf.

We do not know whether the "reporters" had given a correct version of the minutes of the cabinet meeting but the minister responsible for the draft bill Dr. G. L. Pieris is quoted by the newspaper people to have said on some other occasion that in countries like the United States of America these provisions are already the law and we are behind those countries in this respect. It is also said that Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam was the other architect of the bill.

The equal opportunities bill, if it becomes the law, would identify and develop equality in opportunities within the community with respect to gender, religious or political views, language, caste, age, disabilities. I am not quite sure how it is formulated in that all-important country the United States of America but I am puzzled as to why wealth, has been dropped from the list. The equal opportunities is clearly a western concept and to some ministers such as Dr. Pieris, we have to follow the western model whether in law or fashions, I would not say ladies as I do not want to discriminate against the designers of fashions for males. But what the followers of the western model do not seem to realise is that the so-called equal opportunities were given in those countries only after having established strong nation states and also after having put the dominant culture in a very strong position. Once these pre requisites are met the equal opportunities become a decorative feature in their so-called democracies. On the other hand Dr. Pieris who is very fond of the western model is oblivion to the fact even within the western system the equal opportunities came after raising the living standards of the people. What has the government done in order to raise the standard of living of the poor people of this country, especially of the Sinhala poor people, following the standards set by the Americans? At least Messrs. Thondaman and Ashraaf are looking after their communities even in this sphere. As there are no ministers in the cabinet who represent the Sinhala people, the Sinhala ministers having become very good internationalists and citizens of the world, the Sinhala children have lost even the schools they had in some of the villages. The children of the Sinhala peasants, who attended these schools have been given the equal opportunity of attending the schools in the towns, a golden opportunity that their parents have decided to ignore! Without all these high sounding western concepts of equal opportunities Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara was able to give more opportunities to students both Sinhala and non Sinhala. His concept of free education that had the blessings of the Maha Sangha, but was opposed by the high priests of the Christian and Catholic churches, is derived within the Buddhist culture, is still being opposed by the other high priests in the world bank and the international monetary fund, the two western giants who control our economy.

The draft bill is in respect of sexual abuse, employment, education, transport methods, lodging, supply of commodities and services. Strangely enough the draft bill is silent on the selling of land and marriage. This means that the Tesavalamai law and the Muslim marriage law will not be affected in any manner even if the bill becomes law. Why did the architects of the bill want to continue with these laws? I do not know how the word opportunity is defined within the Roman Dutch law but some communities, especially their males, seem to be entitled to more opportunities than the others. The bill has no reference to travel and residence either. As it is a Hindu, a Muslim or a Christian can travel to worship their main religious places in the island. However the Buddhists do not have the opportunity to travel to Jaffna and worship the Nagadipa as their parents have done, nor a Sinhala can reside in the Jaffna peninsula. Very soon judging by the massacres at Ampara, on which the good Bishop of Jaffna is silent, the Sinhala people will be chased out even from the eastern province. The Sinhala peasants around Gonagala in Ampara have already started to shift to other places. A government that has failed to provide equal opportunities for the Sinhala people to travel and reside anywhere in the island has been very busy in drafting a bill to give equal opportunities in the field of education. The draft bill having failed to treat education, land, travel etc., on an equal footing is discriminatory even in the selection of fields. If the government is to follow even the camouflaged equal opportunities concept of the west then the bill should not have discriminated among the fields. One cannot have so-called equal opportunities in one field and discriminatory laws in other fields. Clearly the bill is discriminatory against the Sinhala people in several fields.

The concept of equal opportunity is derived within the western culture. Like everything else even equal opportunities are relative. There are no absolute equal opportunities applicable to all cultures. Even though many of us do not realise the concepts such as human rights and fundamental rights are relative to the culture. A fundamental right in one culture need not be so in another culture. Fundamental rights defined with respect to Muslim Sharya law may not be treated as fundamental rights within the Roman Dutch law formulated in a Christian culture.

The western countries have evolved their concepts of fundamental rights etc., only after their predominant cultures had been firmly established in strong nation states. They know how to say one thing on paper and practise something else. It is an art the westerners have evolved over centuries with their experience in ruling the colonies. Sometime ago a Sikh who rode his bicycle with his turban in England was fined and reminded that he was living in a Christian country and was told by the British judiciary that if he wanted to wear a turban he should go back to India.

The westerners through the formal as well non formal education imparted to us have made sure that most of us take their values, their laws, their knowledge, their science, their political institutions etc., as ours without raising any questions. Even schools like Ananda College, sad to say, have imparted this common culture despite the Buddhistic rituals the students are expected to follow. When one says that he or she is broadminded in this society one merely states that he or she has been given a "good western imitative mind". I am happy to say that I am not broadminded in that sense.

The Dutch and then the British neglected our education and established a system of education that was alien to this country. They made no attempt whatsoever to absorb the western (British) education into the culture of the country. The British who were responsible for cultural imperialism wanted to make sure that we also think like them. At best we learnt to imitate them.

The Buddhist Commission report gives a very good of account of the education in Sri Lanka since the 15th century. Both the Dutch and the British were "committed" to civilise the "heathens" and the schools were used to facilitate the process of civilising the natives. The Baptists, the Weslyians and the church missionaries came to the country in 1812, 1814 and 1816 respectively. Emerson Tennent in his "Christianity in Ceylon", as quoted by the Buddhist Commission report, says that in 1817 the Weslyians started swabhasha schools in order to displace the Bhikkus from the educational system. In 1821 Rev. Twisliton, the archdeacon of Colombo was appointed as the chief and the inspector of schools. In today's context it is similar to appointing the Bishop of Colombo as the director general of education. Not that appointing a Buddhist to that position makes much of a difference. One can gain a taste of what is happening in education today if one finds out how history has been re-written and how quotations from ancient texts in schoolbooks have been dropped by stating that they are pro Buddhist. Would they drop passages from Shakespeare though they are definitely pro Christian.

With the revival of nationalism the Buddhists started their own schools and Ananda College was established in 1876. However it is unfortunate that Ananda College and the other Buddhist schools that followed tried to become Buddhist Royal Colleges rather than attempting to evolve as Buddhist institutions imparting education to the young Buddhists in a modern world. In the 1950's the Buddhists felt that even then there was a stronghold of missionaries in the sphere of Sri Lankan education and "equal opportunities" were not given to the Buddhists. They agitated that the government should take over all the schools so that "equal opportunities" would be given to all the students.

As a result in 1962 the schools were taken over and almost all the Buddhist schools except Musaeus college were handed over to the government. What the Buddhists then did not realise was that the government or rather the state was not Buddhist. The state even after independence remained the so-called secular state established by the British. These "secular" states in Europe are nothing but Christian states in disguise. On the other hand even with "secular states" the Christian and the Catholic churches did not hand over their "elite" schools to the government and continued with what were known as private schools.

If schools like Ananda, Nalanda and Vishaka were not handed over to the government, the equal opportunities bill of Dr. Pieris, who incidentally is a member of the "board of governors" of Vishaka Vidyalaya, would have had no effect on them. This is a typical "vandinna giya devale hise kadawetuna" situation as far as the Buddhists are concerned. The temple or the house of god to which they went to worship has fallen on their heads! Mr. Ashraaf the Muslim Presidents Counsel is now trying to make use of the Christian Roman Dutch Law to deprive the Buddhists the education given at Ananda College. This is not different from quoting gazette notifications of the British imperialists who did not honour the Kandyan Convention of 1815, in preference to the "sannasa" of the king Keerthi Shri Rajasinghe in respect of Deeghvapi. If Mr. Ashraaf is really interested in the education of the poor Muslims around Maradana, what he should have done is to request his "broadminded" colleagues in the cabinet to take over Zahira College and bring it under Mr. Pathirana who apparently has said that he can find room for those Muslim students in that school.

The Buddhists have to learn a lesson from this episode. They have to understand that they cannot expect much from the state, the political institutions and the law that the British established. They have to seriously think of alternatives. The concepts such as human rights and fundamental rights have to be studied from a Buddhist point of view. Long before the westerners thought of the rights of the enemy the king Dutugemunu had honoured a Buddhistic right of the enemy king Elara. The Buddhists had looked after the Muslims when they were attacked by the Portuguese Catholics and then had protected the Catholics from the Protestants. The "Sannasa" of Keerthi Shri Rajasinghe mentioned above refers to the "na na deshavasi" Dravida, Olanda and the Javakas who were residing near Deeghavapi in the coastal areas of the present Eastern province. The Javakas here means the Muslims and they had been considered as "na na deshavasi" or people from different countries together with the Tamils and the Dutch. The interesting feature is that these Muslims who were not considered as deepavasins or citizens of this country, even as late as 1755, were given protection and land by the Sinhala Buddhist king Senerath in the seventeenth century. The Sinhala Buddhists have treated even the non-citizens with respect and I wonder whether any Muslim or Christian country, with all their fundamental rights and human rights, would even today treat the non-citizens the way they had been treated by the Buddhists.

All these equal opportunities bills drafted by Dr. Pieris are presented within the context of a law handed over to us by the British. The British and the westerners are still with us in the sense that their "franchised dealers" are taking decisions on behalf of us. These decisions whether supported by the Muslims and the Tamils or not are neither in the interests of them or the Sinhala Buddhists. The westerners in Sri Lanka are only using the Tamils and the Muslims to deprive the rightful place being given to the Sinhala people, their language, their culture and their history. Equal opportunities in Sri Lanka means continuing with the British policy of violating the Kandyan convention. The Muslims and the Tamils have to understand that the westerners do not have a special love for them. They may love Mr. Ashraaf in Sri Lanka but certainly they would not tolerate a Saddam Hussein, a Gadafi or even a Nasar in the Muslim countries.