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Friday, 04 June 2021 15:31

Assessing Findings of Survey on Religious Freedom

Two online sessions on the findings of the survey on religious freedom were conducted under NPC’s Collective Engagement for Religious Freedom (CERF) project for the Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Panduwasnuwara and Kuliyapitiya Local Inter Religious Committees (LIRCs) with the participation of more than 50 members.

The sessions were used to interpret and share the significance of the research findings and to explain any new understanding and insights about the religious freedom and national and local level status of religious freedom as well as communities’ assessment of religious freedom and how the religious freedom varies in different areas.

The survey was conducted across 25 districts among religious clergy, state officials, police and community leaders. It examined how the participants who belonged to different religious
communities felt about freedom of religion in the country and how their own religion was practiced.

Mr. Shashik Silva, who facilitated the two discussions, explained the scientific basis of the research and shared the key findings of the survey that included:

  • An overwhelming majority in the five religious communities live peacefully. However, a considerable proportion of the respondents also say that there is not much interaction among
    the various religious groups. 
  • If the majority in the different communities live peacefully with each other, it is clear that spoilers of religious coexistence constitute a very small minority. Therefore, in order to
    encourage interfaith harmony, the government and civil society should pay more attention to those small groups of spoilers and address their issues and concerns. The concerns of
    politicians, community leaders and business communities should be addressed, and they should be convinced that they are to be benefited from longer term community coexistence.
  • The concerns of Muslims, Christians, and Hindus about the level of freedom their community enjoys in the country should be discussed at national level fora. Serious reflection not only on government policies but also on the practices and policies of each religious community should be encouraged to strengthen the pluralist values of the country.
  • In all reconciliation and peacebuilding programmes, effort should be made to address the prejudices of the communities. There should be systematic engagement with the media to
    sensitize them on various ethnic and religious prejudices.
  • There should be a mechanism to counter fake news distributed through mainstream media as well as social media. Members of interfaith committees should come forward to challenge
    fake news about their area.
  • As some districts continue to emerge as sites of tension, it is important for interfaith programmes to pay special attention to these districts. It is recommended that NPC commissions research to inquire as to why there is comparatively less religious freedom in these districts.
  • Religious freedom and interfaith tolerance should emerge from the community and cannot be enforced or imposed from outside. It also suggests the importance of proactive activism rather than reactive interventions. Interfaith dialogues and initiatives aimed at improving trust and cooperation between different religious groups are essential for building a society with tolerance and religious freedom.

“Integration must happen organically. It should not be done to pursue political motives and achieve partisan agendas. Unfortunately, the latter is prevalent in the Eastern province, which is corroborated by the findings of the survey. Political actors use forced settlement of Muslim families in predominantly Tamil areas to increase land ownership. This has created friction among ethno-religious communities,” said Father Rohan from Batticaloa LIRC.

“Ownership of land belonging to religious places has created tension among Buddhist and Muslim communities. Some residential areas where Muslims reside are now claimed as property of temples upon the argument that they hold archaeological value. The state must intervene to solve this issue as failure to do so will result in the escalation of the issue and could even lead to violence,” said Moulavi Rafil from Trincomalee LIRC.

“May 19 is considered as a victory day in the South while in the North May 18 is considered as a day of mourning. Until we find the will to come together, our differences will be the excuse for us to distance ourselves. The LIRCs provide a solid platform where we can interact, empathise and learn from each other. Hence, I encourage you to make the most out of this valuable opportunity and contribute your utmost towards creating the shared future that we all desire,” said NPC Executive Director Dr. Jehan Perera.