Tolerance and self discipline goes hand in hand:
A country is beautiful when there are different religions and
Loving your community and religion and being patriotic is not about
hating others'. Besides among all religions Buddhism is supreme in its
preaching of non-violence but the Beruwala and Aluthgama incidents
painted a distorted picture. It is time to rein in hate speech and
Senior lecturer of Law,
India with many legislatures to monitor hate speech, is still
struggling to fight this ghost. The last Indian parliamentary election
where speakers for leading candidates were warned about provocative
speeches was a case in point. Sri Lanka will have a tougher battle
without necessary legislation to arrest the disturbing trend.
However, long before the Beruwala incident the National Languages and
Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara submitted a Cabinet
paper to include the provisions contained in the PTA against hate speech
in the Penal Code in May last year. It was referred to the Cabinet
subcommittee on Legislation Chaired by Minister Susil Premajayantha.
Upon endorsement it returned to Cabinet for approval last week before
being sent to the Legal Draftsman's.
The proposed Cabinet paper points out that the recommendation
No.9.283 of the LLRC sets out the need to enact deterrent laws to
preserve racial and religious coexistence and prevent hate speech.
Therefore it proposes to include provisions contained in Section 2 (1)
(h) of the prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No 48 of
1979, in the Penal Code as section 291 (c) in the Chapter XV.
The aim is to criminalise hate speech against any ethnic or religious
group and facilitate action against those causing or instigating acts of
violence, hostility etc.
Minister Nanayakkara said if there were no delays in drafting the law
the Bill can be tabled in Parliament within the next two months.
In this backdrop the Sunday Observer spoke to a couple of eminent
personalities on the importance and urgency to introduce legislature and
for action to neutralise small groups of extremists .
Senior lecturer of Law and Coordinator for Post Graduate Programs in
Conflict and Peace Studies at Colombo University A. Sarveswaran says
there is legislation regarding hate speech under the PTA and the Penal
Code but provisions that can be applied liberally to all situations is a
"Sri Lanka is a party to all international conventions relating to
human rights. Hate speech may become a violation of the principles
embodied in these conventions.
Senior Professor Siri
Hate speech violates the laws and culture of Sri Lanka also. The
Constitution states that language rights, religious rights and cultural
rights as fundamental human rights and guarantees enjoyment of all these
rights to the people of Sri Lanka.
Recognition of a plural society and multiculturalism is part of our
Constitution. The Constitution also guarantees freedom of speech but
this right is not an absolute right. It could be restricted by law for
many reasons in the interest of racial and religious harmony.
The provision of the Public Security Ordinance too could be invoked
to take action against hate speech if necessary. Hate speech is a form
of violence. Violence need not necessarily be physical. Violence could
be in our attitude and speech also. Hate speech is like spilling
gasoline, even a small spark can cause huge damage. That needs to be
All religions in Sri Lanka promote peace. Hence religions should not
be used as dividers of societies but instead should be connectors of
A garden is more beautiful when it has different varieties of
flowering plants. A country also becomes beautiful when there are
different religions and cultures. Hate speech is against recognition of
multiculturalism it leads to polarisation of societies on ethnic and
religious basis. It promotes ethnic and religious identities and erodes
the Sri Lakan identity.
For example when Sri Lanka plays a cricket match with India or
Pakistan, there are Sri Lankans who support the Indian team and there
are Sri Lankans who support the Pakistan team. It makes us wonder, being
Sri Lankan, why they support the Indian or Pakistan team.
Everyone has the freedom to support a team of his or her choice but
we should have a vision to make all Sri Lankans support the Sri Lankan
The attempt to incorporate hate speech laws in the Penal Code will
help deal with this issue more effectively, then it comes into the
existing legislation I referred to, this legislation is applicable in
certain circumstances. The law mainly refers to offences covering
religion or national security.
If new legislation that applies to all situations could be brought
in, it will be encouraging. New legislation could be brought in as an
amendment to the existing Penal Code or as a new law. This fulfils the
objectives of the the recommendations of the LLRC.
At the same time provisions in the new legislation should not be
abused. Hate speech laws should not be a deterrent to uphold freedom of
speech in the country. What sets these two apart is a fine line, just as
freedom of speech can be abused to the extent of it amounting to hate
speech, the contrary could also happen.
Therefore, knowing where to draw the line will be crucial.
Besides, the law should be the last weapon. We need to work towards
attitudinal changes in people. That is far more important than bringing
in new laws. "
Senior Professor and Chair of Sociology at the Colombo University
Siri Hettige said the Beruwala incident which was ochestrated by a
minute group of extremists needs to be dealt with under the law.
"This is not a sudden development. This has been brewing for
sometime. In urban areas in Sri Lanka, where you have communities living
together such as Mawanella, Beruwala and Aluthgama, there is long-
standing rift between communities.
This is more or less due to intense competition for facilities and
space in the urban areas. It cannot be denied that there are divisions
in Sri Lankan society. Say for instance our education system, with
ethnic biased schools, is not making the necessary contribution to bring
communities together, it segregates communities.
Language is another issue, as well as the economic situation in Sri
Lanka. School leavers find it difficult to secure lucrative jobs. Many
of them enter the informal sector.
People look around and interpret gain and loss in terms of
ethnicities and religion. This is how I see the situation.
From the Sinhala- Buddhist perspective as well as the Tamil and
Muslim perspective ,there are those who harbour sectarian views. The
social media is a hot bed for presenting such communal views and
thousands of such messages are propagated via social media.
More recently we witnessed organised groups, making various
statements which could amount to hate speech. The issue of 'Halal' was
one such thing. There were confrontational views from different stake
holders- Muslim groups and Sinhala groups. Halal food is not a new
phenomenon. It is available in many countries and is just a preference.
When people are divided, groups who are ideologically motivated,
present things as a view of a particular community. The Sinhala Buddhist
community is a diverse community.
The Muslim community is as diverse as the Sinhala -Buddhist
community. There is no monolithic Sinhala Buddhist, monolithic Muslim or
monolithic Tamil community.
There are subdivisions within each one of these communities. But the
nationalist groups present it in a different way, as the view of one
community when actually it is the view of a particular group within the
community. They may be backed by supporters and sympathisers.
Just like the LTTE, they have an extremist view. Not all Tamils
subscribe to the LTTE view and moderates were assassinated by the LTTE.
There is no blanket Sinhala-Buddhist view or blanket Muslim-Islamic or
When we make a statement or hate speech, we don't mention a
particular segment but we talk about an entire community. That is not
the ground reality.
It is important to make it clear that we do not want violence.
Singapore has zero tolerance on corruption. Anybody who has violated
that principle is considered as corrupt likewise we could adopt zero
tolerance on violence. That is effective in fighting communalism and
Being a Buddhist country, we have absolutely no way of condoning
violence. Buddhism is a non violent religion. You cannot hate someone or
be violent towards anyone if you are a Buddhist. These are fundamental
things that you learn as a follower.
Everyone has access to Buddhism. No one has a monopoly over Buddhist
teachings. Violence is something that no Buddhist can entertain.
Then comes prejudice, this is also something that cannot be accepted
as a Buddhist. You cannot have a pre-conceived idea of another person.
You have to have an open mind. Likewise you can go on and on. You cannot
hate people because they are different.
The last thing I want to emphasise is tolerance. Tolerance of the
other person. We have to be self -disciplined and be mindful of what we
say, what we do and what we think. We have to think whether by our
action if we are going to hurt someone or whether we will antagonise
someone. We are supposed to be self- disciplined and if we are not self-
disciplined, someone else has to discipline us.
That is where the law and the police comes in. In an ideal society
the police, lawyers and the judges are not needed. Since we are not
living in an ideal society we must have lawyers and the police."