In the Sri Lankan context, religious clergy are highly respected and given status that even exceeds that given to politicians despite their greater access to resources and to coercive power. They are persons who are respected and influential in their communities. As a result they can have a multiplier effect in their localities. They have sufficient maturity to continue with peace and reconciliation work and necessary experience to navigate the political space if they choose to do so.
This was visible in the joint statement issued by the Buddhist clergy of the Amarapura and Ramanya Nikayas who wrote to the president requesting him to reconsider the government policy to enforce cremation of Covid-19 dead against the religious traditions of the Muslims and other religious groups such as the Catholics.
The head of NPC’s partner organisation in Monaragala, Dhammika Laksman, had an encouraging message to give. He said that the district inter religious group that he was coordinating had decided to donate the travel allowance that they had received to support a nearby Muslim village that was under lockdown due to the discovery of Covid-19 patients.
This had happened because the inter religious group had Muslim members in it who had been able to win the trust and confidence of the Sinhala and Tamil members due to their interactions in the committee they had formed.
These informal groups constitute a first line of defense against the spread of inter community mistrust and violence and are effective problems solving bodies at the community level. This suggests the value of structured interactions across ethnic and religious divides that can create the trust among communities and build the nation.