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Sunday, 29 June 2014

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Tolerance and self discipline goes hand in hand:

A country is beautiful when there are different religions and cultures

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 rumour mongering.

Senior lecturer of Law,
A. Sarveswaran

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 welcome move.

"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 Hettige

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 prevented.

All religions in Sri Lanka promote peace. Hence religions should not be used as dividers of societies but instead should be connectors of societies.

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 team.

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 Tamil-Hindu view.

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 sectarianism.

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."

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