I consider it an honour to have been called upon to deliver the fifth commemorative lecture in memory of the late Deshamanya Al-haj Mohamed Abdul Bakeer Markar. I had the privilege of knowing him as a Member of Parliament, the Speaker and the Governor of the Southern Province. This assignment is of special significance to me because in my Sarvodaya work I had the opportunity to know him, to get his blessings and co-operation and to get inspired by the exemplary life he led.
We are living at a time when politics has become a lucrative vocation for a sizable proportion of enterprising humans. Organizations popularly known as political parties accommodate them and provide the needed resources and opportunities to make a success out of their chosen vocation.
First, they help the party to capture power and once in power they conduct themselves in such a manner treating with contempt every norm in society that stand in their way. The number may be few but their evil influence permeates the party as a whole and the political culture of our country in general. When most parties commit this mistake democracy becomes a mockery. The social cost of these usurpers of party and power politics is so heavy that the silent majority of people in our country and many other countries have begun to lose faith in prevailing democratic institutions where party and power politics dominate. This is a very dangerous trend that has to be checked with least delay if we are to prevent further degeneration of our societies into total lawlessness and chaos.
It is in this background that we have to evaluate the role of personalities of the caliber of Deshamanya Al-haj Mohamad Abdul Bakeer Markar, a politician cum statesman par excellence, who ascended from his village local government body to the third highest political office in the country. What are the salient features of his political life from which the present generation of politicians and the art of politics itself can learn?
As we are living in an age of violence and conflict the world over, I chose the subject ‘A People’s Path to Peace’ with the consent of his son, his political successor, who is following the footsteps of his worthy father, the Honorable Member of Parliament and Minister of Communications, Imtiaz Bakeer Markar. I am sure as a leader of the people and a man of peace the late Mr.M.A. Bakeer Markar himself would have approved this subject.
If one were to ask Mr. M. A. Bakeer Markar what were the principles that guided his political career he would have unhesitatingly and promptly recited the following Pali stanza he had learnt at school:
In Buddhist teachings they were known as the Ten Principles that a ruler should follow – Dasa Raja Dharma; Namely, Beneficence, Morality, Charity (which I would call recognition and promotion of talent), Uprightness, Impartiality, Composure, Non-hatred, Non-violence, Patience and Non-revengefulness.
Those who knew him personally can recollect numerous instances where he practiced these qualities both in his private and public life. A true leader cannot have two sets of principles guiding him, one for his private life and another for his public life. Reading through his biographies one by Mr. Heras Fernando, Al-haj Bakeer Markar, and the other by Mr Chamika Munasinghe, Deshamanya Al-haj Bakeer Markar, and his Parliamentary speeches edited by Mr. A. H. M. Azwer, M.P., we come across clear instances of a transparent personality who gave expression to the Ten Principles of a good Ruler I mentioned.
He could have succeeded in amassing wealth if he took to his family business or the profession of indigenous medicine he inherited from the time his ancestors were the physicians for the Sinhala Kings. The legal career he practiced would have been another avenue open to him to acquire wealth. He rejected both a life of poverty or a life of affluence. He chose the middle path where he practiced and preached to his community to build a no-poverty no-affluence society that would work for all and bring happiness to all.
Naturally he was able to use all these three talents to the end of his life to help people to overcome poverty, to acquire good health and enjoy rights under the law as free and equal citizens. He was an embodiment of Dana – Beneficence. His political life was one of donating his time, thoughts, knowledge, skills and wealth for the upliftment of all.
In his farewell speech to Parliament on 9th June 1988 he stated
“I am a Muslim and proud to be one. I am proud to be a Sri Lankan, for here in Sri Lanka a man can freely worship God in his accustomed fashion. Islam regards all mankind as one. He is to be most respected who best serves God and man”
“We Muslims extend our bond of friendship to all communities whom we regard as being one nation, so that together we can march forward towards that one divine event to which the whole creation moves.”
He ended the same speech with the following words:
“May this House through its activities bring peace and amity to our country and ensure the well-being and happiness of all its people. May Allah bless you all. May the Triple Gem guide you all.”
In the above words are contained the essence of his life’s philosophy from which all other values expected of a ruler such as morality, selflessness, uprightness, impartiality in judgment, composure in conduct, non-hatred, non-violence, patience, and non-revengefulness radiated from the centre of his heart.
We as people of different religions may verbally take our Pancha Sila, the Five Precepts, chant our hymns, say our different prayers and participate in all the customs, rituals and other externalities associated with religious practices and yet our hearts may be empty of any spirituality.
When religious labels, institutions, structures and leaders themselves divide human beings into separate interest groups, without focusing on the noblest objective of founders of our faiths, namely, in his words “to march forward towards that one divine event to which the whole creation moves” “bringing peace and amity ensuring the well-being and happiness of all….” untold suffering is caused to humans, all other living beings, the environment and nature itself. Blinded by the glamour of a materialistic civilization and its many technical and cultural achievements, this indescribable suffering is ignored because the dominant mentality embraces a state of spiritual ignorance and stupor.
If people of religion would have foremost in their minds this ‘one divine event’ he has referred to, most of the world’s problems can be solved and new dangers to human well-being can be averted. For me this divine event may be the Supreme Bliss of Nirvana. To another it may be oneness with God or Brahma or Moksha. All other external functions of religions should be in conformity with this ultimate spiritual objective.
Without this supreme objective religions can do more harm than good. When every human being will march forward to his or her spiritual goal he or she will not impinge on the right of other human beings to legitimately practice their own religions in freedom. No civilized person or religious group will force others by deception, bribery, threat or punishment to change one’s faith. They will reject all forms of violence associated with religious differences. Only a man who has imbibed spirituality through his religion can say “May Allah Bless you all. May the Triple Gem Bless you all.”
Every human being should have a philosophical grounding out of which he or she lives his or her life. This is called a cosmology or worldview. Religions helped man to find a meaning to life. Most people fall short of this ideal because they mistake a sectarian goal as an ideal. True ideals are always for universal good. Our worldviews are shaped first by our sensory contacts, sensations and perceptions. Next we generate thoughts, which enhance the already conditioned stream of consciousness.
If our minds are greed oriented or harbor ill will against a person, group or race, this ignorance of reality, of the sanctity of all life, can create very powerful negative and destructive thoughts and emotions. In the extreme case a person has been known to take his or her own life or the lives of others for a so-called political or politicized-religious objective. Their minds block all non-violent alternatives. This is the same psychological process that works in people who crave after more and more sensual pleasures and commit murder, rape, robberies and other anti-social acts.
Generally speaking, in modern societies, the spiritual potential of religions does not manifest itself effectively and sufficiently to transform the mind-set of the global society. In the same token I like to state that most governments and their decision makers are spiritually blind. Therefore, the global society does not move from conflicts to harmony, poverty to no-poverty, environmental poisoning to environmental health, human rights violations to human rights protection, compilation of armaments to disarmament, and from war to peace.
This is why I say we, as people have to search for a Pathway to Peace, if necessary, independent of religious institutions and governments. This does mean we have to take a confrontational path. Within the spirit of the religious laws and state laws we should be able to generate non-violent constructive processes as individuals, families and communities transcending all man-made barriers.
In most countries governments profess democracy while standing alienated from the people. They too are blind to a worldview where the well being of the whole of humanity and their life-support systems are ensured. Very often, in most countries, a few people dominate all investment and cultural decisions and run governments. They pay scant respect for liberties of people or public opinion. Millions of people the world over, including in America and Britain , have protested against violence and war. But they cannot prevent governments from taking recourse to war if that serves the narrow political and economic interests of the small elite groups controlling the awesome levers of power.
In the opening statement I made about our own situation in this country regarding the lawlessness and violence I asked the question whether political parties are relevant today for good governance, democratic way of life, sustainable development, building peace in our minds and society and protecting our environment. Perhaps we have to think about an alternative pathway to democratic politics as well where people can participate better for their own well-being.
What do I mean by a People’s Pathway? It is a course of action people who share a non-violent worldview take by thought, word and deed. They work within their own vicinity in the areas of basic needs satisfaction, human rights and duties and safeguarding the environment. They depend on self-reliance and community participation. They draw up their own agenda of sustainable development in the best scientific way according to their understanding. They network with other similar community efforts with whom they have a philosophical affinity for mutual benefit regionally, nationally and internationally.
Like the late Mr. Bakeer Markar I also do believe in the Buddha’s words Yathavadi Thathakari ~ Tathavadi Yathakari h:djd§ ;:dldÍ ~ ;:djd§ h:dldÍ Practice what you preach and preach what you practice. He sincerely believed in a language policy for our country. He fearlessly advocated it since 1960 and put it into practice by giving all his children an education in the Sinhala medium. In our opinion he may have been right or wrong. But what I am emphasizing is the fact he conducted himself true to his conscience. I am also a believer of this principle and what I am going to tell you later in this lecture is a concept we developed as a People’s Pathway to Peace in Sarvodaya, which, we have practiced over a period of forty-five years.
First and foremost we have to realize that every living and non-living object, however minute or large is inter-connected and interdependent with all the others. The understanding of this inter-connection is far more fundamentally important than concepts of physical global communications, transport systems, exchange of goods, services, ideas, systems and technologies, international financial links and so on.
Ven.Thich Nat Hanh, a famous Vietnamese monk and Dhamma teacher, calls this ‘interbeing.’
I would like to expand on this concept of “inter-being” because I believe it is very important for us in our present situation where we have essentially come to see a distinction between “us” and “them”. That is why we have had a war and we continue to have violence. We also tend to think of the “environment” as something out there “external” to us. We have isolated ourselves from each other and also from “nature” forgetting that we are also a part of nature.
The Venerable Thich Nat Hanh uses some very simple examples from every day life to put across this very valuable concept of “interbeing”. I shall try to adapt some of his examples to suit the present occasion. You have all got a copy of my paper. For a few moments, please reflect on all that has gone on previously to make that simple event happen. Let us take the simpler things first. How did the paper come into being?
Did it just appear by itself? Some time back the material of the paper you are holding was part of a tree either in this country or in some other country. Certain conditions are required for a tree to grow; sunlight, water, soil etc. May be it grew naturally. Many people would have been involved in cutting it down, transporting it to a paper making factory, turning it into paper before it ended up in your hands. If those people were not there and the conditions for the growth of the trees were absent, then we would not have had the paper. Very often we forget this relationship with other people and nature.
You do not have blank sheets of paper. I have been inspired by many many people to write what I have written. The immediate inspiration has of course been the late Mr.Bakeer Markar. I am what I am and you are what you are primarily on account of the very many interactions we have had with other people. None of us can stand-alone and aloof from others of whatever kind. We cannot stand aloof from nature either. We are made from the same stuff that nature is made of. We are all related to each other in many many ways.
A part of the reason for this alienation is that we have replaced human relationships with money transactions. When we buy a kilo of local rice, we very often forget the farmer in the field. We do not think of his family, we do not think of the labour he has put into producing the rice nor of his commitment to practicing his age-old profession, which results in the continuation of our food supply. We are fooled and overwhelmed by sterile economic theories and practices, which threaten the very life on this planet. Unfortunately for many of us farmers are another set of people who live somewhere else with whom we have nothing much to do. We have to be one with the farmers. They are also us. If I say we have to be one with the “beggars” also, it should come as no surprise to many of you who are followers of Islam. The inter-dependence of all life on this planet is at the heart of “inter-being”.
The realization of this global view, which has modern scientific approval and recognition makes a person so harmless and humble that it is a matter of time before his or her consciousness begins to vibrate with non-violence and friendliness towards all.
The Buddha introduced to the world The Teaching on Dependent – Orgination, The Paticca Samuppada Dharma. The Buddha called the quality of cultivating friendliness towards all ‘Metta’ and non-violent activists universally use this word. ‘The Karaniya Metta Sutta’ – The Buddha’s Discourse on Loving Kindness is comparable to a Universal Charter on Non-violence.
I recently read a book Non-violent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan – A Man to Match His Mountains authored by Professor Eknath Easwaran and published by Nilgiri Press. I recommend this book to be read by all who believe in non-violent transformation of societies. This book is a must for all Muslims who face turbulent times in the Middle East and several other places in the world. I take the liberty of quoting from this book some words of Abdul Gaffar Abdul Khan. He was the uncrowned King of Pathans and also was known as Frontier Gandhi. When he was almost eighty years of age, in 1969, I had the good fortune of seeing him, listening to him and getting his blessings during the Mahatma Gandhi Centenary Celebrations in New Delhi .
I quote: > “There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or a Pathan like me subscribing to the creed of non-violence. It is not a new creed. It was followed fourteen hundred years ago by the Prophet all the time he was in Mecca, and it has since been followed by all those who wanted to throw off an oppressor’s yoke. But we had so far forgotten it that when Gandhiji placed it before us, we thought he was sponsoring a novel creed.”
>“The Holy Prophet Mohammed came into this world and taught us; that man is a Muslim who never hurts anyone by word or deed, but who works for the benefit and happiness of God’s creatures. Belief in God is to love one’s own followers.”
“It is my innermost conviction that Islam is amah, yakeen, muhabat (work, faith and love) and without these the name “Muslim” is sounding brass and tinkling cymbal…….”
“No true effort is in vain. Look at the fields over there. The grain sown therein has to remain in the earth for a certain time, then it sprouts, and in due time yields hundreds of its kind. The same is the case with every effort in a good cause.”
The first step in a People’s Pathway to Peace is sowing the seeds of non-violence in human consciousness. We should strongly believe that in Sri Lanka , we as a people, can achieve this objective with great success, if we work with patience and right understanding. Such individual, family and community awakening can contribute to this process of transformation of consciousness until a critical mass of spiritual consciousness is created that will have an overriding impact over all those forces of violence and divisiveness which have eaten into the social, political and economic fabric of this country. It is basically a process generated from below permeating and reaching into wider and higher strata of our society. Emphasizing the spiritual awakening of individuals, families and communities so far in 15,000 village and urban communities in Sri Lanka , the Sarvodaya Movement has initiated this non-violent transformation process.
I spent one whole month last July and August in United States of America at the invitation of Sarvodaya USA . Starting from Boston , Detroit , Washington and New York in the east coast I visited several cities in the mid country like Phoenix in Arizona ending up in San Francisco in the west coast, meeting, talking and meditating with thousands of Americans who believe in non-violent activism. Never before in my previous visits had I sensed so much commitment to non-violence and peace as a response to fear and uncertainties caused by terrorism and war. According to a lead story in the TIME Magazine of 4th of August 2003, over 20 million Americans have taken to meditation. Right across America there are many Vipassana meditation centres where teachers who were trained in Burma and Thailand conduct regular meditation courses.
On July 17th immediately after visiting the former site of the World Trade Centre Twin Towers , or Ground Zero as it is now called, I noted down in my diary the following thoughts that came to my mind.
“I have been on the top of the Twin Towers on three previous occasions. My last visit was in the year 2000 with my wife. We stood on the top floor and viewed the majestic sight of New York City . Today it is a desolated ground around which a fence has been constructed to build another concrete skyscraper taller than the one that was destroyed. Like every thing else living or non-living it reminded me of the universal truth of Impermanence.”
“What a horrible tragedy? What an act of inhumanity of man towards man? How a terrorist mind can give expression to revengeful and destructive emotions? It does not give any consideration to innocent lives, which had nothing to do with a government policy or actions. What happened in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 happened in Sri Lanka on a smaller scale and over a period of time where thousands of innocents were killed by terrorist attacks. The world did not take sufficient notice that this can escalate into proportions where even the richest and militarily most powerful country in the world could be threatened.
Here is a permanent wall built on one side of the site and over three thousand names of the victims are carved out. People believe there was three thousand others who were killed who were illegal migrant workers. This place is visited by thousands of people everyday. Some were crying looking through the names. Several times tears came to my eyes also. Many had written remarks on a temporary wall on the opposite side in remembrance of the dead ones. I did not notice a single statement of hatred or revenge. It was all words of love, sympathy, shock and forgiveness.
This heinous crime was committed using modern and most advanced technology. Two airplanes that were hijacked were made to hit straight at the twin towers. This shows how dangerous it is to have advanced technology without a parallel advancement in spiritual qualities of love, compassion and respect for life. This is a two way process. Not only the terrorists but also the governments of USA and other advanced countries are responsible for this situation. For political and economic purposes they used these people who later turned terrorists.
Instead they should have improved the economy, the living conditions and democratic institutions in these countries so that terrorism would never have risen its head. Oil was considered to be of more value than human lives and people’s freedom and right to live a decent life.
Fanatics who have not grasped the essence of spirituality and non-violence in religions use religious susceptibilities of ignorant people for political purposes when people face real or imaginary injustices. They are completely ignorant of non-violent techniques to fight against injustices. Development is measured by physical growth. I am not aware of a single government or UN agency with a place for the upliftment of spiritual qualities of the human species in their agenda.
One thought that occurred in my mind was to organize a mass meditation event at the Ground Zero in New York and transfer merit to the departed as we do here in Sri Lanka .
I meditated there for a few minutes and with my spiritual strength and as a Buddhist transferred the merit to all those innocents who perished on September 11th. I wished “Never again may such a tragedy occur in the world.”
Whether it is the Hiroshima and Nagasaki holocaust at the end of World War II caused by the American government or the Twin Tower Tragedy caused by terrorists both are fundamentally the outcomes of destructive minds and emotions resorting to violence.
The world economy is a highly organized violent structure. This structural violence causes over two billion people to live in poverty and sub-human conditions. The new globalization policies, I believe, make the conditions worse. When people are instigated by power-hungry elements against unjust economic structures, the remedy is not crushing them down with violence. Violence begets more violence.
Structural violence should be removed and people should be empowered to build their own democratic institutions, improve their economy and learn to protect human rights and perform human duties. Non-violent positive action and not revengeful violent action is the answer. There is no other way to fight terrorism.”
Having said so much about the importance of a non-violent foundation particularly in the consciousness of people, now I will turn to what people themselves can do to build a more harmonious and peaceful society. This is from an experience we have gained in working in 15,000 villages in Sri Lanka for the last 45 years. What I state is from our own experience.
We work in communities both rural and urban. Each community may have a population ranging from 200 families to 1000 families. With these communities who have expressed a desire to work with us, we have a series of discussions and come to a consensus on a need-based development activity beneficial to the community. We do not bring into the discussion caste, religious, racial or political differences in the community.
We are only concerned with a basic-needs satisfaction programme the community itself wishes to be involved in. This need may be an access road to the village, series of drinking water wells, an irrigation tank or a canal, a pre-school building or a playground for school children. The village-level organizers with the guidance of experienced Sarvodaya community development workers plan out everything including the necessary legal requirements, human and material resources, tools and equipment needed to do the task and if outside volunteers are invited to prepare their food, shelter and sanitary facilities. The technique used is the Shramadana Camp Method. This is an opportunity for the people to celebrate their self-reliance and community participation through acts of sharing for the well being of all. Six to eight hours of physical labour, three to four hours of what we call family gatherings held in the camp, which has a great spiritual, cultural and educational value is conducted in a days programme.
The outcome of such an exercise is not only the achievement of the targeted physical objective, but also the establishment of a commonly shared psychological infrastructure.
This psychological infrastructure building through Shramadana camps is followed up by carefully training a group of young people in the village to follow up on what they have started. An educated young girl from the village with the help of; mothers is selected and trained for starting a pre-school and taking care of the nutrition, health and psychosocial needs of the pre-school children. Similarly, the school going children are organized under the leadership of an organized women’s group. This second step is what is known as social infrastructure building where the community is organized according to their age groups and basic needs. In actual fact the people themselves are organized to satisfy by their own efforts categories of needs coming under the following sectors:
1. The physical and psychological environment
2. Clean water for drinking and water for irrigation purposes
3. Simple clothing
4. Nutritional requirements
5. Health and sanitation
7. Energy requirements
8. Communication needs
10. Cultural and spiritual needs
Here is a chain of activities around which people are motivated, constructively organized and activated. The inherent potential skills of people young or old thus get awakened and they put to use the knowledge they possess and get themselves involved in decision-making and implementation. The more results they see the more they get away from mere slogans and divisive forces and develop people’s power to win their rights by lawful and non-violent methods.
The third stage in a people’s awakening process is the organizing of a village Sarvodaya Shramadana Society registered with the governmental authorities so that they can function as an independent legal body.
Fourth stage of the process is where people start their own economic development activities beginning with a Savings and Credit Programme progressing into their own Sarvodaya Village Development Bank. There are nearly nine hundred such banks already functioning successfully.
The fifth stage is when they join hands with similar societies around their community for networking and mutual support to achieve higher targets catering to the needs of a cluster of villages.
In this manner in 15,000 villages in Sri Lanka we have been able to transcend all man made divisions and make tens of thousands of families belonging to all three communities and religions to work towards a common goal of national awakening which we call Deshodaya.
To assist the efforts of the village people the Sarvodaya Movement has established 340 divisional level centres, 34 district level centres, 08 Development Education institutes, a large headquarters complex at Moratuwa with specialized professional units in areas such as Early Childhood Development, Maternal Welfare and Women’s Participation, Economic Upliftment, Legal Services, Care for the orphans, the handicapped, the refugees, the old and the destitute, Communication Technology, Vocational Training, Environment, and National and World Peace.
Due to time constraints I am not going into details of this Gandhian model of sustainable development, but I would like to say a few words about the People’s Path to Peace, which we have been following for over four decades. Starting from 1960 we tried our very best to prevent the escalation of violence due to communal differences. When in 1983 July the country experienced the worst wave of violence we immediately started a programme called 5R, meaning Relief, Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Reconciliation and Reawakening especially in the North and East.
We put in our maximum efforts and implemented this programme and right through urged for a peaceful solution to the conflict.
In 1990 we published the Sarvodaya Peace Action Plan and to this day we are following it step by step. In that plan we projected a course of action to be taken, immediately, in 5 months, in 01 year, 05 years, 10 years, 50 years, 100 years and 500 years. In other words our today’s thinking and actions should contribute to sustainable peace for future generations.
In that document we pleaded for a Cease Fire and stated 10 basic conditions for the cease fire which I am quoting below:
1. Guarantee safety of all citizens everywhere (freedom from fear)
2. Guarantee freedom from summary execution, torture, terror and humiliation.
3. Guarantee free movement of all people everywhere (the right to travel).
4. Guarantee freedom of ideas, information and political expression (democracy).
5. Guarantee freedom of religious and spiritual expression.
6. Guarantee freedom and equality of culture, language and creative expression.
7. Guarantee respect for the persons and property of all citizens.
8. Guarantee non-interference with work and the opportunity for right livelihood.
9. Guarantee democratic and non-violent participation in governance.
10. Guarantee the right of self-determination of every individual and community.
We are happy that the Government and the LTTE came to an agreement on a cease-fire and nearly 18 months have passed. In spite of minor problems they are continuing to talk and negotiate. It is our fervent hope that the kind of cease-fire we are having today will evolve itself to fulfill the above conditions. As far as we are concerned while we fully support a peaceful resolution to this conflict we continue to work with people on an appropriate and a long-term vision.
What our Action Plan indicates is our belief, inherent in a Buddhist Vision, that action in only one domain is not adequate. For easy understanding and communication to the people, the very complex situation with its multitude of factors, has been interpreted in terms of three significant areas for action: Consciousness, the Economy and Power. In the area of transforming consciousness we have launched the Sama Bhavana (Peace Meditation) programme. In the field of economics an Artha Dharma Vidya Programme (Economics with an ethical foundation) in several thousands of villages. The Grama Swarajya ~ Deshodaya ~ programme is in the area of Power.
Changes have to be made in all these three domains in a simultaneous, integrated and comprehensive manner. Such changes are very slow to begin with. But we believe that as more and more people are affected positively by these changes, they will gather enough momentum to influence political parties and Governments, religious leaders and institutions and usher in an era of lasting peace, harmony and prosperity for all people in our beloved country. Except this kind of a People’s Pathway to Peace I cannot conceive of any other alternative.
It is in the field of “Power” that there is much misunderstanding. Hence I would like to dwell on this in a little more detail. In particular I wish to clarify what Sarvodaya is attempting to do. A few have misunderstood the Sarvodaya work as attempting to capture “political power” as is currently understood. Any one who has read and understood our publications on this will know that all along, from our very inception, Sarvodaya has denounced “Party Politics”.
I may briefly summarize the position thus. For more than 50 years we have been governed by Sri Lankans and not by the British or any other foreign nation. The political power has been at the “top” and wielded by those “at the top”. While there has been some changes of the composition of the “top”, it has continued to be the “top” which has governed this country. In spite of the rhetoric, the people at the bottom have had no “political power” in the sense of being a principal party to decisions, which affect their lives. Very evidently those who have governed us for over fifty years must take the responsibility for the present sad state of our country. I need not expand on the latter.
The experience of more than fifty years has shown very conclusively that the “top” has failed the country. It is extremely unlikely that cosmetic changes of the “top” will improve the “governance” of this country. Even if the “top” is bifurcated or divided into even smaller portions so long as the “top” retains the present type of party political power, the people at the bottom, be they Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim will by and large remain powerless.
The Sarvodaya attempt is to make a reality of the rhetoric to which all so vociferously subscribe, namely, give the power to the people with the top exercising only those powers, which the people are willing to give them and not the other way around. For more than the last four decades Sarvodaya has been laying a firm foundation for the people at the bottom to exercise “power” in the sense of making decisions for the development of their communities and implementing those decisions with primarily their own resources supported by educational interventions designed in consultation with the people and augmented by whatever other resources Sarvodaya was able to channel to the communities.
The Deshodaya programme, which Sarvodaya is currently engaged in implementing, implies a very significant expansion in the decision-making domains of the people. The people at the bottom are now being sensitized to the powerful forces, which dominate their lives, exercised primarily through an increasingly dominant state. People feel helpless in the face of changes they do not like. Some harmful influences they may not even be aware of.
The manipulation of the collective consciousness of the people by the powerful mass media dominated by the “top” is a very insidious development which is making heavy inroads into our traditional culture based on the “ the fear and the feeling of shame of doing something wrong”.
To the mass media netball match is an exhibition of the female anatomy. The viewers are not educated on the finer points of the game. It is as important to show the legs of the announcers as their faces.
Under Deshodaya people are being educated about national-level developments, which may affect their lives adversely. Food security, access to water and access to other resources, which traditionally the people have enjoyed, may be eroded.
Expanding the decision-making domain brings with it the attendant question of implementing the decisions. An individual is helpless. A lone community may also be in the same position. A number of communities acting together may be a different proposition. Deshodaya puts such a vision before the communities.
The use of modern communication technology in linking communities is being experimented with. One advantage the communities will have in implementing decisions under Deshodaya is that on the whole what is required is the collective will and not finance and material resources.
If Deshamanya Al-haj Mohamed Abdul Bakeer Markar is alive today I am sure he will be a foremost leader in this sort of non-party, non-political, non-sectarian and non-violent constructive approach to re-awaken our country as a shinning example to the world for peace and harmony.
I wish you all a peaceful future and thank you very much for this opportunity.