By Hasaka Ratnamalala
Preserving heritage is preserving the legacy of a country and its people. Not only countries with long histories but also countries with not so long histories preserve their heritage for the future generations to see. The responsibility of preserving the heritage of a country is mainly in the hands of the government running the country. But due to lack of resources, and political will, governments failed to preserve or conserve their own heritage. In such event, organizations such as UNESCO jump in; and help the countries to protect their heritage by providing resources and naming the particular locations as world heritage sites.
Sri Lanka has several such heritage sites identified by UNESCO; but there are thousands of unidentified locations throughout the country, needed to be preserved. Today, not only these un-identified sites, but also these identified sites are facing the threat of losing its heritage identity.
Dambulla in Sri Lanka is one such UNESCO identified heritage site, facing the threat of disappearance of its identity. Unfortunately due to ignorance of politicians and lack of academic attention on the matter, these sites are wide open into the hands of those who wanted to destroy country’s cultural identity. Among all, the most dangerous thing is the behavior of so called intellectuals and irresponsible media of the country, which are trying to portray the fight for protecting cultural heritage of the country as implementation Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism.
My intention of writing this article is to disprove this chauvinism theory, and to emphasize that it is a legal obligation of the government, to protect the Buddhist heritage of the country. I also like to discuss how other countries, protect their heritage and why we should understand the legal importance of it. In doing so, I would like to take two countries, which are considered as ideal democracies; by those who support chauvinism theory. The two countries I take are Australia and Canada. Both are former British colonies with modern, multicultural societies and have English common law background.
In Australia, Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act, Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act are some of federal level steps to protect their “Native” (aboriginal) heritage, while all the other states and territories have legislations that provides blanket protection to Indigenous archaeological sites.
There is not much difference in Canada, as every level of governments has their own legislation to protect the “Native” heritage within its territory; while the federal government has the upper hand through the constitution.
In Section 91(24) of the Canadian Constitution Act of 1867, the federal parliament has given exclusive power to parliament to legislate matters related to "Indians and Lands reserved for the Indians (Aboriginals). Also part II of the Constitution Act of 1982 (also known as Charter Rights and freedoms), recognizes Aboriginal treaty and land rights through its section 35; also in here the Aboriginal rights are referred to as ancient source of Aboriginal rights and customs.
These multinational, multi ethnic, multi religious, modern, democratic countries believe that they should protect their “Native” heritage and enforce that duty in every level of the government.
Sri Lanka is not much different, but the problem is in the practical part of the action, which has bogged down due to political interference and misinterpretation of facts. Therefore in Sri Lanka the best way to counter this political interference and misinterpretation of facts is to remind all, the legal obligation of protecting the heritage.
The modern legal foundation of protecting Sri Lanka’s heritage starts with 1815 Kandyan Convention. The Section 5 of the convention states that “the religion of Buddha is declared inviolable, and its rites, ministers (monks) and places of worship are to be maintained and protected”.This is a clear indication of what had been the way of the country before 1815; and what was expected to be in the future.
This could be further explained in legal terms as, the “Sinhale” leaders who sign the agreement expected a fiduciary (trustee) duty, from the British crown; to protect Buddhist heritage in Sri Lanka. Further in to the matter, in 1818, by revolting against British rulers, same “Sinhale” leaders demand the British crown, to follow the conditions at the 1815 agreement; and that they were not tolerating any breach of its conditions. This could collaborate through the documentation found at British museums related to 1818 rebellion.Custom Search