Buy Nothing. Give Freely. Share Creatively. No Selling. No Bartering. The ideal policy for the New Year Season!
'The Buy Nothing Project' began as an experimental hyper-local gift economy on Bainbridge Island, Washington (state) in 2013; in just 8 months, it had become a social movement, growing to over 25,000 members in 150 groups, in 4 countries.
The Buy Nothing Project says, "We offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbours."
This is a new concept, going viral in the West, but it has been a part of Eastern culture for many millennia, though now forgotten. In the West it is called a 'Gift Economy' as a reaction against 'Cash economy'. Here is a concept which we too can adopt now, as we have been re-adopting so many of our ancient customs and practices when they come back to us from the West.
It is the cash economy, and all the gimmicks used by the business community, which make people 'buy' unwanted useless goods. They offer discounts, interest free credit, they lie or tell you half truths about the immense benefits, and they even create jealousy among neighbours, to sell their products.
The local groups form gift economies that are complementary and parallel to local cash economies. A gift economy’s real wealth is the people involved and the web of connections that forms to support them. The Buy Nothing Project is about setting the scarcity model of our cash economy aside in favor of creatively and collaboratively sharing the abundance around us.
Long before the dawn of the 20th century, people in the west had forgotten the concept of Giving. Probably that is why Bronislaw Malinowsky found it remarkable that the 'Kula' people in Papua New Guinea travelled long distance to gift goods of high value to strangers, who in turn would gift to other people and sometimes it would circle back to the people who first gave, and he called it a Kula Ring. Malinowsky could not accept that human beings could make 'Pure Gifts' without expecting anything in return.
But Marcel Mauss argued that even if it was not a Pure Gift, it was given without direct reciprocity and he called it 'Prestation'. According to Mauss, Prestation is giving which is compelled by social obligations, which reenforces social status. Then perhaps we could use this term for the new year gifts and for alms-givings because these acts are social obligations most of the time.
The Adbusters magazine posed a question, "What would the Buddha buy?" if he lived in this consumerist world today. 'Shopocalypse' is a term coined by Reverend Billy who founded 'The Church of Stop Shopping', asking people to stop shopping. All these protest movements are happenings because many people are obsessed with shopping, purchasing for the sake of purchasing, which we can often see when people go on holiday abroad. They feel obliged to bring gifts to all their near and dear ones, and there are those who also expect such gifts when someone returns from abroad.
There is a rush to buy meaningless, often useless things during these two weeks before new year, just because they are available at a discount, just because we have to gift things to our family members, elders, children and loved ones.. When we buy something for ourselves, or to be gifted to someone else, we should ask ourselves, do we really need it? Does the person who is receiving the gift really need it? Is it something that he cannot buy himself?
For the New Year what the parents would really want is for their children to visit them, to spend the New Year with them, not to offer them useless 'gifts', or send such gifts through a courier service.
We have to ask all these questions from ourselves because we have forgotten the true unselfish act of giving, practiced by our ancestors. Even the concept of 'Dana' in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism has degenerated into acts of charity, to gain merit, or fame or respect. But it is well explained in ancient Jaina Dharma, "In the practice of giving, one gets over greed, which is a form of 'Himsa'." That is probably the reason why in Islam 'Zakat' means both 'purification' and 'growth'
Jacques Derrida said the only true gift is the one that is forgotten immediately by both the donor and the receiver. "For there to be a gift, not only must the donor or donee not perceive or receive the gift as such, have no consciousness of it, no memory, no recognition; he or she must also forget it right away".
Buy Nothing is what our software developers are practicing, when they use Copyleft and Creative Commons. They are gifting their software products to anyone who wants them, and it is coming into vogue with free e-books and journals and many newspapers. One does not have to buy any software, or buy any books to read.
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, "The only gift is a portion of thyself...therefor the poet brings his poem, ....the painter, his picture..."
As true artists and writers we should be able to gift all our creative works to the whole world, in the way shown us by Derrida, not as a gift to be given or accepted, with no obligations, gratitude or reciprocity. The moment we share our creative work, it is no longer our gift to our readers, because it belongs to all humanity, and thus there is no giver or receiver. That is what the Sinhala term for a book launch, 'Jana gatha kireema' really means, sharing it with the people, not selling it.
E-Sankalani is the name given to the new e-journal launched by several young creative writers. It is an outcome of the group on Facebook, "Space for Sri Lankan E-Writers", which was created on 21st, August 2014, and as at March 18th evening, there are 3576 members in the group. They may not all be writers, but they at least read e-books and e-journals, and posts on social media, specially Facebook.
This FB group is the wall, where any writer is free to write, like what they used to have on the mirror-like wall at Sigiriya. We are getting closer to real freedom of expression, what had been enjoyed by the pre-historic people who wrote on cave walls, long before man invented language, for they had their own language in the form of drawings. We lost our true freedom of expression when a few men began to control the rest of humanity. Then market forces took over, and when literature became a commodity, the publishers, and traders decided everything about what was marketable.
E-writings, be it novels, or stories or poems, are all independent of market forces. There is no need to market them. All e-writings are free in cyberspace. E-readers could read what they like and reject others, and the great writings will be with us for generations while the rest will simply disappear. Writers have the freedom to write and publish what they want, and the readers have the freedom to select what they want to read. Yet the writers will continue to have the responsibility of what they offer to the world, and not to abuse or misuse the freedom they have gained.
On March 18th, when the e-writers released their first E-journal, we should say they uploaded it on the internet and coined a Sinhala term, 'Jalagathakireema'. We still need many Sinhala terms for the creative writings in cyberspace, we do not even have a Sinhala term for 'Cyber'.
We also need to think different, as we often say, we should think outside the box. We have
e-newspapers, but most of them just follow their printed format, and we have to keep turning the pages, searching for what we want. In that the Daily News is ahead of some of the other newspapers in our country, because they do have a real e-paper, not in the printed format, and they allow us to read it free.
Silumina will be 85 years old this month. Will it reach its centenary? It should, according to the prediction made by G D Fonseka in the Silumina December 4th, 1938 writing about a newspaper in a hundred years, in 2038. Silumina too would survive, but in what form, we would not be able to predict. There could still be a limited edition of the printed paper, but it would otherwise be an e-paper, or even an audio paper only.
It has been suggested that people would become totally illiterate by about 2050, because there would not be any need to write or to read. We can dictate and we can listen. But they have coined a more modern term, Cyberliterate, instead of saying illiterate. And we do not have a Sinhala term for this either.
E-Sankalani has a long journey ahead, as the pioneer e-journal in Sri Lanka. Once it gets out of the cave, the journal could do anything with the available technology and the tech-savvy young people. They could create interactive poems, stories or even novels. They could publish a written poem, linked to an audio copy, and may be even a short movie clip. They could digitize a song and create a painting, or create a piece of music from a painting.
An e-journal can breakdown all the existing barriers and what are labelled as 'genre' so that all arts become one, with one art form merging into another. It could even be multilingual, someday with a translation facility to translate into other languages, then the journal could reach the entire cyberspace. At present, it has already reached out to the Sri Lankan diaspora, who can not only read it, but contribute their creative works and their reviews on what is published.
E-Sankalani could go viral, very soon, even though the concept of e-writing has been very slow to catch up not only in Sri Lanka, but in our part of the world. The first e-novel from Asia appeared in 1998, and many readers would take out a hard-copy to read it. At the time, reading an e-book was not as easy as it is today when we have young people reading not only the daily newspapers, but even novels on their smartphones.
Most of the articles in the first issue of this e-journal are in Sinhala. We are faced with major obstacles in writing in Sinhala. One of the very serious problems is with the Sinhala characters. We still do not have a standard unicode for Sinhala, which covers all the Sinhala characters. That is why we cannot upload our Sinhala novels on Kindle and other e-book formats yet.
We have so many vowels, phonetic-vowels, consonants, semi-consonants, touching letters, altogether making 1640 characters (Akuru.org). It is time we started to think of Sinhala characters in the digital age. We have got out of the shackles of the woodblock and movable type, but we are still mentally imprisoned inside the characters in these wood of lead blocks. Let us try to design a new Sinhala character set, simple and convenient for digital writing.
Let us also rid ourselves of the present keyboard, designed to slow down the typist, as the typebars got entangled every few seconds. We did not change it with the daisy wheel in the electric typewriter, and we still retain the same keyboard on the smartphones where most of us use only the thumb or the index finger for typing.
E is the Future.
Last week the "Writers for Democracy" gathered at the National Museum Auditorium, and there were writers of all races and faiths writing in Sinhala, Tamil and English. The organization was formed several months ago, because there was an urgent need for all writers to unite to save democracy in this country.
However, since the immediate threat for the system what we know as Democracy has been removed, it is time to think about what Democracy today has come to mean. A Bhutanese poet said "Democracy divides people" and it is very true, when we come to think of it. Even at this gathering of writers for democracy, there was division, some writers did not want to attend, for various reasons.
Thus it is perhaps time to name this organization as Writers for Humanity, because democracy has just become an empty word. What we need is for man to become humane once again, to be really human. Writers have a major role to play, and a major responsibility to regain the lost humanity. If we become really human once again, then all the evil on earth would disappear and we could live in peace and harmony with all races, creeds, castes and people speaking in different tongues.
At the gathering it was also discussed about the achievement towards Good Governance. We have been gloating over the achievement for two months already. We have been gloating over the victory over terrorism for over five years, but we have not been able to convert that war victory into a victory of humanity, into a country where all human beings could live together with trust and confidence with each other. It is time to start working as writers, to consolidate the victory for Good Governance.
Martin Wickramasinghe was known to some of the village folk at Koggala as 'Liyana Mahattaya'. That is one way of translating the word 'Writer'. It is a good term for a writer, because a genuine writer is a 'Mahattaya', a gentleman. That is what all writers should be, a gentleman or gentlewoman, or to please everyone, a gentleperson. Then we are on the path to be Writers for Humanity. Then we should be able to shed all our petty difference of party politics, personal interests, language or religious issues and even regional issues.
In his speech, Gamini Viyangoda pointed out that the meeting should not have started with observing Pansil (Five Precepts). This observance could have been the result of having a Buddhist monk as the Chief Guest. But it is also because we are still thinking inside the box, that any occasion where Buddhist monks are present, we should start with a Buddhist ritual. The Buddhist monks who attended the meeting came as writers and as the initiators of the "Writers for Democracy" movement. It was not a religious function, and if we are to have religious observances at the start of such secular functions, then we would not have time to conduct the meeting, after the Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Islam religious observances are completed.
What I realized as we recited the Five Precepts was that if all of us observed these Five Precepts to the letter, then we already have humanity back with us, we already have democracy and good governance, and we do not even need to have a meeting to remind us or discuss the issue.
Almost all the writers who gathered as Writers for Democracy were all senior citizens of the country. There were very few young people in the auditorium, except perhaps from the media organizations. This is one major drawback for democracy or for humanity. It is the youth in this country, who have the vision, who have the strength to make this movement effective. They also have the latest technology, digital and electronic, and the knowledge to use this technology through their blog posts, social media sites and e-journals to take the message to other youth.
Another advantage with the youth is that their minds are not poisoned by racial, religious or language issues. They have no prejudices. It is the youth who should come forward, take the lead, show the country, and the rest of the world, that we in Sri Lanka are one nation, one people, and that we can resolve our issues by ourselves.
In order to achieve this, youth have a mighty weapon. The digital word, where they can use their most convenient, most handy, and most powerful weapons in the form of their computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. They have already begun to use these weapons. They used them successfully in other countries, in Iran and in Egypt. They used these weapons here to save democracy.
Now they can use it to restore Humanity. For this we have to recognize and accept their writing medium. For they write in the clouds, they write in the electronic media, in e-books, e-journals, blogs and social media. The Ministry of Cultural Affairs should recognize e-writers as writers. They too have to think outside the box, that it is not necessary in the world today to publish something in the print medium to be accepted as a writer. The constitution of the Sri Lanka National Writers' Organization accepts only writers who have published (printed) a book, whatever the book may be. The Literary Panel of the Arts Council accepts only printed books for the State Literary Awards. It is time they accepted e-books too, to be considered for literary awards.
Why is it that young writers are not coming forward? Are they discouraged or prevented from coming forward by the seniors who want to retain their positions? Are they keeping away out of respect for the seniors?
Let us give youth the opportunity to win back democracy and humanity, because it is their future.
Mother Earth is sick. She is very sick. She is suffering from late stage cancer. Yet she could still recover, if she could destroy the all malignant cancer cells, and eliminate the source, which she can achieve by herself. For her own survival, as she has been surviving for the past 4.5 billion years, she would do it.
I realized this as I was reading 'Vanishing Face of Gaia', by James Lovelock, who has been trying to open our eyes to the fact that Earth Mother is truly a living entity. (by the way, this treasure too I found at the British Council Library, Colombo branch, undiscovered, unexplored).
Gaia would have self diagnosed and identified the cancer cells, which have proliferated like a virus all over the surface of Gaia, destroying all other life forms and all her mineral and natural wealth. The cancer cells are mankind, seven billion cancer cells, increasing every second. Gaia would have to destroy all the cancer cells, without leaving a trace, if she is to survive for another 4 billion or more years. 'The Clone' (2012) was written on this premise that Gaia would survive, even after mankind becomes extinct.
Man himself is aware that Mother Earth or Gaia is dying. Anyone who accepts the Earth is dying, has already accepted that she is alive, for if she was not alive then she cannot die. But man refuses to see and accept that he himself is killing her. Thus his attempts to cure the cancer is almost similar to his attempts to cure cancer in man himself. All the research, experiments and trials are claimed to be aimed at finding a cure for cancer. It is surprising that man, who has been able to find solutions to almost every problem, who has been able to overcome every obstacle in his path, has been unable to find a cure for cancer. Could it be because a permanent cure for cancer would limit the market, because the patients would stop using the drug, once they are cured. Today money keeps pouring in till the patient dies of the cancer, or very often, dies of the adverse effects of the drugs themselves. Till then the drug barons sell the drugs to treat the side effects too.
That is why man has not made serious research into the prevention of cancer.
Lovelock talks about the Carbon footprint so popular with environmentalists. "Too many also think of the profit to be made from carbon trading. It is not the carbon footprint alone that harms the Earth; the people's footprint is larger and more deadly."
Lovelock questions the carrying capacity of the Earth for people. He speculates that as carnivores there is room enough for only about 10 million, but as gatherers (or vegetarians) it could be 100 million or more. But Earth is now carrying 7 billion. Since most humans are carnivorous, this means we are seventy thousand times overpopulated. Just like cancer cells. We are the cancer.
If Gaia decides to get rid of the excess burden, and still allow 10 million people to survive, who would survive? Who would be the fittest to survive? How would we react, if we get advance warning?
Till recent times almost all sci-fi literature has been based on the idea that man would destroy himself, by nuclear or biological wars, or by other means of destruction. But now we have cli-fi novels, climate fiction, (Life Into Arts 27-08-2014) exploring all possibilities within man's imagination to find how nature would destroy us, or destroy Gaia herself.
Among the authors who took up the concept of a living planet is Isaac Asimov in 'Foundation's Edge' (1982) and 'Foundation and Earth' (1984) where he calls the ideal planetary state as Gaia, where all living things taking part in a planetary consciousness, are striving towards a 'Galaxia' with the entire galaxy as a living organism. The western view is that the idea goes back 2400 years to Plato and his Timaeus. Many writers have used this idea since then. Another popular sci-fi author, Brian Aldiss in his 'Helliconia' trilogy has the planets of Helliconia and Earth as the main characters in his story. Orson Scott and Kathryn H. Kidd titled their novel 'Lovelock' (1994), introducing the term "Gaiaology' as a new science.
Poems have been written about Gaia and a living Earth, by Tennessee Williams - 'Heavenly Grass', by Oscar Wilde - 'We Are Made One with What We Touch and See', and Nancy Vedder-Shults - 'Song to Gaia'.
Biophilia was a concept introduced by Edward O. Wilson in his book of the same title, claiming a human dependence on nature that extends far beyond the simple issues of material and physical sustenance to encompass as well the human craving for aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual meaning and satisfaction. That is probably what we need, to save mankind and Mother Earth.
Lovelock explores the scientific possibilities, of the threats posed today. Scientists are aware of the dangers and the risks, but probably they are also too confused. They are stranded in a labyrinth, running along new paths, which they themselves have labelled Geophysiology, Biogeochemistry, and many others, combining many scientific fields together, but always including nature somewhere in the word.
Yet all these new words, and new theories, new proposals all seem childish, amateurish, and impractical, just as the visions of the sci-fi and cli-fi writers, and sometimes sillier than the creations of the 'Dream Merchants'
We do not know if Lovelock, Wilson and Margulis had studied the teachings on Paticca Samuppada, or the Law of Dependent Origination, but if we try to understand Gaia in the light of Buddha's teachings, it would be easier to confront all the critics. It would also be easier to find ways and means to save Gaia, while saving mankind too.
"We, the writers, artists, thinkers, journalists and social activists of SAARC countries, view the present scenario of Terrorism and hateful animosities with alarm and deep concern.
We know that Terrorism is a man-made problem which can be solved, and has to be solved, by the society if it wants to survive.
It is in this context that the writers, artists, media people and socially conscious intellectuals of the SAARC countries have come together to understand and realise the ferocity of the menace of Terrorism to all the SAARC countries and the humanity at large.
Terrorism is a phenomenon that cannot be tackled by arms and weapons alone; the society as a whole has to become alert to this grave danger, and chalk out a positive programme of reaching out for reconciliations.
We, the writers of the SAARC countries, hereby pledge ourselves to the struggle against Terrorism anywhere in the world and we commit ourselves to work ceaselessly towards fulfillment of the avowed Pledge."
The above is the Agra Declaration, issued at the end of the annual SAARC Literary Festival in Agra, India from February 13th to 15th, 2015, organized by the Foundation Of SAARC Writers And Literature (FOSWAL). Writers and poets from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka gathered as one family, to share their thoughts and their writings. The Theme of the conference this year was "Beyond Borders - Bridging Historical Traumas, and Moving Towards Reconciliations, Leading to Peace and Tranquility in the Region".
One victory we achieved on Feb 15th, was that almost every Indian and Pakistan writer attended the conference, instead of remaining at the idiot box to watch the India-Pakistan match. Literature won over cricket, in a cricket-mad world.
The Agra Declaration is important to us because writers and journalists and mass media are contributing today to a large extent to the spread of hatred and resulting violence around the world. Today the most popular fiction and films are about violence. Today there is hardly any difference, very often in the mindset of a terrorist and some of our thriller writers. That is why I used the term "noverist" for such thriller writers in this column. (Life into Arts, 02-02-2011)
At the Agra conference some issues that came up were based on violent, inhuman deeds, which had happened around the world in the recent past even though such acts were mentioned to draw attention to the violence and hatred and to suggest ways to overcome them. One incident was the burning alive of a person, which had been videoed and shown on mass media and social media sites. Those who did this crime or the one who filmed the scene could not be considered human beings. But who could be so unfeeling and inhuman to broadcast this on mass media, could we consider them, and those who watched this on their television sets, or their mobile phones, as human? Could we consider those who broadcast, those who posted them on social media, those who enjoyed the gory details as human?
We have a very fertile imagination. We have highly evolved languages and advanced technology. It is not necessary for the mass media to show all the violence, all the cruelty, in all its bloody detail. If they say a man was burnt alive, or a group of helpless men were beheaded, that should be more than enough, if the media wanted to report them. The visual media are aware that what they are showing is not easy to watch. That is why they post "Warning, Extremely Graphic video." But they still show them, because it improves their "ratings", it increases their viewer base, which in turn improves their profits through advertisements. That is the bottom line, all they want is profits, and more profits, by catering to the lowest forms of entertainment.
By making all these acts newsworthy we are also giving prominence to the terrorists, encourage them to more and more such acts, because the terrorists need to draw the world's attention to themselves, to their deeds. Our media are giving them free publicity. To recruit more followers, to encourage others to commit such sins.
We had our own experience, during the thirty years of the ethnic conflict. Our own media were complaining that foreign media were reporting only the violence and the atrocities occurring in our country, and ignored all the happy and good incidents. We found that again during the recent elections, when our people were reminded of the death and cruelty, blood and pain, over and over again.
Man has been conditioned to watch and enjoy violent and cruel acts, for many millennia. The ruling classes used it to make the mind of their soldiers to enjoy violence. Religious organizations used violence and torture to bring fear into the minds of mankind. By describing hell, perhaps these priests enjoyed a sadistic pleasure in describing what happens in hell and in our part of the world, in 'narakadiya'.
It is this human weakness that was first exploited by historians writing for their rulers, and then writers, playwrights and film producers. That is why we have all the violence and cruelty in our history books, fiction and films. That is why novelists began to think and plot like terrorists, and terrorists began to learn from the novelists. The first suicide bomb was not an idea of a terrorist, but that of a British novelist, Craig Thomas described in his 1976 novel 'Rat Trap'.
Instead of popularizing violence and sadism, instead of starting to think like terrorists and sadists, writers can play a major role to bring love, compassion, empathy, reconciliation, harmony, among the seven billion human beings and bring into their hearts and minds loving kindness towards all life on earth. Then terrorism will disappear from the face of the earth.
In India the term Untouchable is used to identify a class of people, who are considered to belong to very low castes. In Sanskrit they were called 'Antyaja', the seven 'inferior' castes of the 'last born'. Now they call them Dalits, and officially as Scheduled Castes. Mahatma Gandhi called them Harijans, or the 'Children of God'. However changing the name did not change the position of the social outcaste, guilty by birth and not by deed. The Mahatma failed. Ambedkar failed, through his conversion to Buddhism and the Indian Constitution. Those who are fighting today to eliminate this inequality among mankind have not succeeded so far.
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, embraced Buddhism, on October 14th, 1956, with 1.5 million other 'untouchables', but in Indian society, all of them still remained as 'untouchables', and so are their descendants today. The Indian constitution states, "no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu [the Sikh or the Buddhist] religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste". Unfortunately this was nullified by the acceptance in the constitution of the Scheduled castes among the Hindus.
Perhaps Ambedkar, with all his intelligence and education had not realized, that unless he was able to convert the so-called 'higher' castes to Buddhism, the plight of the untouchables would never change. Dalit writers are continuing the struggle begun by Ambedkar and Jiyotirao.
Raja Sekhar Vrundu, in the Times of India (Oct 14, 2006) reminded the people of India that Buddha himself had been an 'untouchable' in previous births, quoting Matanga Jataka and Chitta Sambhuta Jataka. Even though the term Dalit Literature could be traced back only up to 1958 we could say these two Jataka stories could be the earliest recorded Dalit literature in South Asia.
The first ever Dalit conference was held in Mumbai in 1958, and came into greater prominence in 1972 when a group of young Marathi writer-activists founded Dalit Panthers, explaining that Dalit is not a caste but a realization and is related to the experiences, joys and sorrows and struggles of those in the lowest strata of society."
Dalit from Sanskrit, means downtrodden, suppressed, crushed, which has been traced back to Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, the first Hindu to have started an orphanage for outcaste children. He established a school for girls, and in 1873 formed the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of seekers of Truth).
We could, in this sense, use Dalit for the literature of all suppressed and oppressed people in the world, the Afro-Americans in the United States, the women around the world, and the gay community.
'The Arrival' is the title of A. M. Gondane's saga of four generations of a Dalit family in India, "its social and cultural metamorphosis..... acceptance....restrained defiance......academic and social ascent....neo-Buddhism......neo-Ambedkarism..."
The story is about a 'Maang' or 'Matang', one of the most suppressed 'untouchable' castes in India. Yet they also play a very vital role in society. Though they are untouchable, though a 'high caste' person should never touch them, they can touch the high caste women at childbirth, for they play the role of a midwife. Probably the 'high' caste man's logic is that his woman is an 'untouchable' too whenever she is bleeding, at childbirth or menses. Thus he allows the 'untouchable' to touch his woman, and his son at childbirth, in the same way that he himself had been 'touched' by an untouchable at his birth. He probably does not realize that he has already been 'defiled' by the Maang, from birth, as all his ancestors and his progeny.
This contradiction continues in every aspect of social interaction. The potter is an 'untouchable', but man eats the food cooked in a clay pot, and his woman washes it every day. He wears his clothes washed and cleaned by his washerman who is an untouchable.
In some countries the royal family is also 'untouchable'. It is taboo to touch any member of the royal family, just like it is taboo to touch a 'low caste' person.
There have been instances in history, where the 'untouchability' of royalty led to tragedy. On May 31, 1880, a royal barge capsized on the Chao Phraya river in Thailand. The king's 19 year old wife, Sunanda and her 2 year old daughter Kannabhorn Bejraratana drowned in the river, because no one dared to rescue them. Touching Thai royalty at the time was punishable by death, of the entire family of the person.
The protocol concerning British sovereign has been set in stone for generations. 'Whatever you do, don't touch the queen' courtiers warn. In 1992, the Australian prime minister Paul Keating had put his arm around the queen's waist at Canberra parliament house "and found himself lampooned as 'the Lizard of Oz' for his faux-pass" (Daily Mail, 03-05-2012).
When any other human being touches a royal person, who gets defiled, has not been clearly explained by anyone. In 2009, Michelle Obama created headlines by hugging the queen. Who was defiled here, the Queen of England or the First Lady of USA?
In Sri Lanka though we do not have a category of writings of the 'untouchables'. In the recent past new writing has been emerging, highlighting the plight of the downtrodden, not only by writers belonging to these castes but writers from other castes too, defying the anti-social elements who would try to identify the writer as belonging to such a caste. We could also look at our literature in a positive way, that the reason we do not have a 'Dalit Movement' is because we are progressing towards a caste-free society and the people are no longer suppressed or oppressed, based on their birth.
66 years after we received independence from colonial rule, it is unfortunate that we have to ponder if we do really have the independence and the freedom to believe in and practice our own faith and religion, in Sri Lanka.
Our constitution provides us this freedom, perhaps better than in most other countries.
Chapter II provides "The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e)." (Article 9)
Article 10 "Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice."
14 (1)(e) "the freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching;"
If we are to be truly independent in our religious practices, then we should never have to declare our religion for official matters. It should never be a label on a human being. Today in most parts of the world, we do not label human beings by their caste, or by their mother tongue. We do not ask a person for his political views and label them accordingly, even though once it was done in the United States, the country which claims to be the guardians of democracy, by victimising people who were labelled as communists.
If a person is free to become a citizen of another country, and give up his claims to the country of his birth, if a person can give up his mother tongue and accept totally an alien language, if he can change his political views, he should have the same freedom to change his religious views. We should not consider a change of religious views as a conversion, and no one should have the power to prevent it.
The concept of conversion came along with the Western religions. In India it was the Muslim invaders who left only two choices to the conquered people - conversion or death. In most of the Asian and African countries, it was the missionaries who tried to convert people to Christianity. There is no record anywhere of any attempt to convert people of other faiths to Hinduism, even after the Vedic faith was labelled as Hinduism by Weber. We could make the same observation about conversion to Buddhism. Reciting the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts could give a person a mock label as a Buddhist, but a follower of Buddha Dhamma does not have and does not need a label, as does a follower of Vedic or Jain Dharma. A person could follow the Buddha Dhamma, while practicing any religion and belonging to any creed.
Before man began to group all belief systems as religions, the pre-historic man would have been truly independent and free to practice what he believed. The religious conflicts probably arose when leaders of countries or communities took over the control of religions, or when the clergy became too powerful. The other reason probably was due to man's ego, always believing that his religion was the only truth, his God was the real god, the most powerful. Then the priests believed it was their duty to bring all other "heathens' to the correct path, even with the sword or the gun.
It is probably for this reason that the eastern philosophies were labeled as 'isms', to degrade them, just as they labelled the ideas of Marx and Lenin as Commun-ism, and even Sartre's views as Existansial-ism. before the Europeans invaded our countries, there was no Hindu-ism, no Buddh-ism or Jain-ism. There were only followers of the Veda, Buddha or Mahavir Dhamma. Asoka did not try to propagate Buddh-ism, but he tried to take the message of the Dhamma to the people
One major instance religious discrimination in our country is in school admissions. There are schools in our country, which are exclusively for students of a particular religious faith only. There are other schools, where children of other faiths are admitted on a limited quota system. This is discrimination and thus a violation of a basic human right to education.
Swami Vivekananda had said, "That universal religion about which philosophers and others have dreamed in every country, already exists......I believe in acceptance, not tolerance. Toleration means that I think you are wrong and I am just allowing you to live. I accept all religions that were in the past, and worship with them all." Religious conflicts are the result of the intolerance bred by man's psychological insecurity and his fanatical attachment to the symbols of his religion. This fanaticism he mistakes for the religion itself, and which, because they are exclusive to his own religious culture, he looks upon as superior.
"We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to love one another." Jonathan Swift had written in Thoughts of Various Subjects. Chandra Muzzafar explained that "Religious doctrines and practices, however different they may be, have seldom given rise to actual conflict..... for most of Asian history the different religious doctrines, practices and symbols have co-existed without too much antagonism or enmity....not all who participate in religious riots are religious, in the conventional sense of the term. ...many rioters who shout religious slogans are often totally ignorant of their religious teachings."
That is why Gandhi also said "Rama, Allah and God are to me convertible terms". If we are to truly celebrate independence, we should have the freedom to believe and practice whatever faith we wish to, and also to change our views if we so wish, as long as we do not hurt anyone else in body or mind.
"The Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN) said it is delighted with last week's ruling by an Argentinian court which granted the intelligent apes the status of "non-human persons", rather than a thing or object." (Independent. Ireland. 28-12-2014)
This is said to be a landmark ruling by those trying to get orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas and apes released from captivity in zoos and laboratories. But it raises the question about the other animals used as exhibits and for experiments all over the world. There are also multinational drug barons who use poor innocent babies and even adults as guinea pigs to test their new drugs, under the fancy name of 'clinical trials'. These poor innocent people and their children are not informed or given correct information and the risks involved, and sometimes even their consent is not obtained. To them, these children are probably non-persons, but still human, because clinical trials have to be carried out on human guinea-pigs.
The Oxford dictionary defines a person as "a human being regarded as an individual". In legal context he is an unspecified individual. We use the term "he" for such a person, and "it" for a non-person. We also use "it" for any non-living object. Yet the same Oxford says 'he" refers to "a person or animal". Then if we accept the Oxford dictionary as our bible for the English language, we should use "he or she" for all animals, while also informing us that "it" is used for "an animal or child of unspecified sex". By the same argument, if a child of unspecified sex could be called "it", then we should be able to use it even for adult humans, so that we need not confuse ourselves, as we use the term "he" for both males and females.
In literature we also have a term called "character", which is defined as "any person, animal or figure represented in a literary work". We also have the word "human" derived from Latin "humanus", and also gives us the word "humane" to mean "showing compassion or benevolence". The contradictions continue with the Oxford citing and example "humane method of killing". Killing of any creature, human or animal, person or non-person, cannot ever be humane, for any reason. Today on print and electronic media and literature, what we see, hear, read, and learn about human behaviour make us doubt if we too are non-persons or non-human persons now.
Recently, at a discussion, with Prof. J. B. Disanayaka one of the participants, perhaps to show off his knowledge of Sinhala, brought up the Sinhala term for a female elephant (Aliya). The professor rightly responded, by asking what was so important or relevant to know the name for a female elephant. Some issues are only contextually important.
A person or non-person, by whatever name, who can molest, torture, kill a member of his own species, who can over-eat and destroy excess food while making millions of children, women and men starve to death, who can add poison to the water, air and food, who can torture and kill and eat the flesh of another living creature, who can violate Mother Earth and destroy nature, does not deserve the label 'human'.
A person or non-person who considers himself as a writer or a film director who describes in detail, all of the above crimes, and makes money by selling such trash in the name of literature, could not be considered as a human being either.
Either we have to declassify all Homo sapiens as persons, or include all animals as persons, and give them equal rights as for Homo sapiens. Then we will have to shut down all zoological prisons around the world, where we keep innocent animals under sentence of life-imprisonment, in order to entertain creatures calling themselves humans. We have to stop the use of animals in laboratories for experiments which only help the cosmetic and drug industries to earn filthy lucre. We have to respect the right of all life, to their own homelands, their habitats, and stop destroying them in the name of development and progress. We have to give back to plants and animals their own habitat, and pull out from the forests and the mountains and deserts that we have destroyed and occupied.
We should move away from anthropocentrism, the blind belief that human beings are the most developed, evolved, intelligent life on earth. We should move away from ethnocentrism, the blind belief in the inherent superiority of our own ethnic group or culture. We should stop behaving like vulgar dictators who believe that they own and control everything in the lands they rule, and believe that they can use, abuse, exploit and destroy everything.
It is the duty and the responsibility of all writers, artists, and journalists to use all their creative talents to restore humanity back to being human, to make them humane once again. Let us begin with our children. Let us show them the value and sacredness of all life from an ant to an elephant, from a blade of grass to a millennium old banyan tree. Let us show them that other animals too feel pain, that they too feel hunger and they too love to be with their own and enjoy their freedom. As these children grow up, they will not be concerned about persons and non-persons, or non-humans. They will show their love and concern towards all life, as they love their own.
Every word we write, every stroke of the brush, every beat of music, every pixel of an image should show us humane loving kindness towards all life. on Mother Earth. All life is sacred, everything Mother Earth has provided us, water, air, plants and minerals are all sacred, because they nourish our lives. That is why ancient people worshiped Mother Earth.