One Country “Which” Law? By Mass L. Usuf –

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In the pre-1956 Ceylon, English was the predominantly used language. The vernacular formed both the Sinhala and Tamil languages. The Tamils who educated themselves in the English language compared to their Sinhalese counterpart, were able to secure employment easily. Of course, the latter felt uneasy about it. Robert N. Kearney, writes, ‘The vernacular-speaking Ceylonese began to oppose the influence and power of the English-educated.’ (Communalism and Language in the Politics of Ceylon).

This partly triggered the slogan of ‘Swabasha’. Later exploited by the Sinhalese politicians paving the way for the ‘Swabasha’ campaign. The term itself was vague and ambiguous. To the Sinhalese it meant Sinhala only. To the Tamils it was both Sinhala and, their Tamil language. Though the movement was led for the most part by Sinhalese, the ulterior motive of the then Sinhalese politicians was to capture power by manipulating the sentiments of the Sinhala majority.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party intensified the Sinhala-only viewpoint. The campaign theme in the 1956 Election was, “Sinhala-Only”. Dudley Senanayake of the United National Party did not oppose this view. On the contrary, he stressed the continued commitment of his party to ‘Swabasha’. The only difference being the graceful and matured Dudley emphasized the necessity for gradualism. Whereas, the opportunistic S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, wanted to adopt the policy immediately. “‘Swabasha’ [was] a marvelously ambiguous slogan for rallying political support.” (ibid).

Destroying the country

The One Country One Law (OCOL) campaign is not different from the vagueness and ambiguity of the ‘Swabasha’ movement. It resembles a repetition of history, in a different form. The people’s understanding of the OCOL was that the law will be applied equally to all especially, the corrupt politicians. They wanted the Rule of Law as – One Country One Law. They did not think of ‘one legal system’. They wanted to get rid of the degenerative ‘Rule of Law of the Politicians’.

The ‘Swabasha’ movement was focused on the Sinhala language and against the Tamil community. The OCOL campaign according to some analysts was focused against the Muslim community. The OCOL campaign was also divisively aimed at mobilizing the majority Sinhala voters. The Swabasha campaign destroyed this country. The OCOL will finish off, the rest of it. Therefore, every patriotic citizen should oppose this and stand against further dividing the people and the continuing destruction of our motherland.

One Country And Supreme Law

The SVASTI of our Constitution unequivocally states:

“do hereby adopt and enact this CONSTITUTION as the SUPREME LAW of Democratic Socialist Republic Of SRI LANKA”.

Does this not distinctly, unambiguously and explicitly manifest that this is ONE COUNTRY and that there is only ONE SUPREME LAW? Thinking out loud, I am wondering if most of the members of the One Country One Law Task Force would be aware of this. Moreover, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka observed, “The Preamble/Svasti of the Constitution recognises Dignity and Well-being of the People as a fundamental value … The Constitution, as a living document, should not be construed in a narrow and pedantic sense.” (Rathnayake Tharanga Lakmali v Niroshan Abeykoon, SC/FR Application No. 577 of 2010).

Our rural/urban population is around 80%. How many of these citizens may be aware of the Constitution and the contents therein? Cunningly using this ignorance, the political forces easily deceive and fool the public into acceptance of whatever they claim under the guise of ‘patriotism’, ‘nationalism’ ‘Sinhala race’ etc. The innocent citizens always become prey to these vile political agendas.

One Citizenry

Let us look at Article 26 of the Constitution which deals with, “Citizenship”. It reads as follows:

  1. (1) “There shall be ONE STATUS OF CITIZENSHIP known as “the status of a citizen of Sri Lanka”.
  1. (3) “No DISTINCTION shall be drawn between citizens of Sri Lanka for any purpose …”
  1. (5) “Every person who immediately prior to the commencement of the Constitution was a citizen of Sri Lanka, …. shall be ENTITLED to the status and to the rights of a citizen of Sri Lanka …”.

As for the citizens of this country, here again the Constitution distinctly, unambiguously and explicitly states there is only one citizenship. That there shall be no distinction between the citizens and that all citizens shall be entitled to that status and rights of a citizen.

We, the people living in this country are, therefore, One Citizenry in One Country and with One Supreme Law, our Constitution.

 The Admixture of Laws

Sri Lanka had been subjected to invasions by the Portuguese (1505), Dutch (1658) and the British (1796). Prior to these conquests, the ancient Sinhala kings from pre-12th century had developed relations with Arabs, Christians and Jews. The Dutch introduced the Statutes of Batavia in 1776 as applicable to the Muslims of this island. They found the Muslims of Sri Lanka practising the same religion and applying the same jurisprudence which they found in their rule of the Indonesian archipelago. The Britishers who were well aware of the rich heritage of the Islamic law, besides introducing their laws for general application to the inhabitants of Sri Lanka, they codified the Muslim law of Sri Lanka as the Muhammaden Code of 1806. During this period there was prevalent the Kandyan law and the Thesavalamai.

The current Penal Code was given to us by the British in 1883, the Criminal Procedure Code in 1898, the Civil Procedure Code in 1889, the Law of Evidence in 1895 and the law of Delicts even today is Roman Dutch Law. These laws form the core of some of the major substantive and procedural laws of our legal system. And, all of these laws presently are applicable to all the citizens of this country without any distinction or discrimination. Then the question arises, what is this one law that is being promoted. Is it not this same law that is being applied to all citizens – Sinhala, Tamil Muslim, Malay, Burgher and all others?

Which Law?

 Our legal system has an amalgam of Roman law, Dutch law, English law, Customary laws. In addition, the Kandyan Law, Thesavalamai and Muslim Personal laws. We do not have a distinct corpus of indigenous laws to call as ours. Some reference can be made to the laws of the Kingdoms that prevailed in the ancient times. Some of which are barbaric in today’s context for example, the King’s justice under the Kandyan kingdom was such that if the criminal escapes, the King would not hesitate to put to death even the wife and children of that criminal. Other forms of punishments included the tearing of limbs from the body by elephants, slow penetration of spike into the body through the anus etc.

Moreover, we had several kingdoms and the laws and practices of each of them may differ. From medieval historical period, there were the Kingdom of Kotte (1408–1598), Kingdom of Sitawaka (1521–1593) and the Kingdom of Kandy (1590–1815). We cannot overlook the fact that there was also the Kingdom of Jaffna called ‘Yalppanam’.

What Is The Use Of This?

The futility of this ‘one country one law’ exercise becomes evident when looking at the complexities and the implications involved. The colossal waste of productive time and public funds at a time when the country is economically unstable should be a matter for concern. In simple English, one may ask, “What is the use of this?”. Wait. Did I hear someone saying, “This is to target the Muslims”? Or, am I hallucinating? May be, hallucination!!

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Disclaimer: One Country “Which” Law? By Mass L. Usuf – - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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