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Experiencing Sri Lankan Citizenship

by Admin - Lanka Forum
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25Apr

As we discussed in our previous posts , a state should treat all its citizens equally regardless of their ‘private persona’ qualities (i.e. gender, ehtnicity, religion, skin-color etc.). If a state did treat its citizens that way, all communities would experience ‘citizenship’ in a similar manner. This is not different to a membership in a sports club. If you pay your membership dues and conform to club-rules, you should be entiled to the same set of privileges (access to the gym, pool etc.) as any other member.

To findout if communities within Sri Lanka experienced citizenship the same way, Lankaforum recently (Feb/March 2015) conducted a set of pilot perception surveys in the Nothern and Central Provinces to find out how average citizens experienced their ‘membership’ in Sri Lanka. Though the survey itself was limited to 150 respondents in each province, the samples were purposively selected to represent the ethnic/religious composition of each province.

The citizenship experience largely revolves around three main dimensions—i.e. legal, political, and identity dimensions. The legal dimension defines the civil, political, and social rights citizens enjoy. The political dimension, meanwhile, defines the space available for citizens to actively participate in politics. How citizens experience the above dimensions will then influence the third dimension of identity—i.e. how they relate to the state. As we progressed with our survey, we quickly realized significant differences in how residents of each province perceived their citizenship experience. We are presenting below a couple of ‘first cut’ findings in this regard.

We used the respondents’ view of channels avaliable to their community to address grievancs as a proxy for how they experience the legal dimension of citizenship.

Formal Channels

As the graph indicates, residents of the Northern Province seemed to have a significantly pessimistic view with 68% indicating they had no adequate formal channels to address grievances. Among the residents in the Central Province only 47% felt the same.


Legitimacy  of Central Leaders

Similarly, when asked if central-level political leaders genuinely represent their interests—i.e. political dimension of citizenship—overwhelming number of respondents from the Central Province felt so, while respondents from the Northern Province were far more pessimistic. Almost half of the Northern Province respondents felt that central-level political leaders did not represent their interests. We are convinced that these findings would be even more striking when disaggregated by ethnicity/religion—and would attempt that in subsequent posts.

Obviously, we can see the mixed experience of citizenship (the legal and political dimensions) feeding into the third dimension of citizenship--identity. Clearly respondents from the Central Province seem to relate to a stronger Sri Lankan identity—compared to their ethnic identity—than respondents from the Northern Province.



The weak citizenship experience of Northern Province residents seemed to have directly impacted their ability to fully relate to a uniform Sri Lankan identity. This is like a group of members feeling less loyal to a sports club when they feel that they somehow have less access to privileges compared to other members—despite paying their dues and abiding by club rules.

The above findings are not altogether unexpected (or earthshattering). However, going beyond anecdotal evidence, these results provide systematic evidence for what we know instinctively. If the Sri Lankan state is serious about post-war reconciliation, it will have to dig deeper into these issues and identify concrete ways of addressing deficiencies in citizenship experienced by some communities. That would be the only way to promote a strong and unified Sri Lankan identity.

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