Posted on December 3rd, 2010

Chandra Abeynayake

 Restrained by the norms of good governance and international rules and conventions a democratic state can be placed in a position of weakness due to the very nature of terrorism . The Sri Lankan State, whatever form it took through Years, tried many ways and means to contain the scourge of terrorism – sometimes by direct negotiations with the perpetrators – at times through a third party such as India. Fortunately for our nation most of those efforts failed due to the persistent vindictiveness and arrogance of the terrorists who operated in a `position of strength’, believing that they were invincible. Fortunately of course as, if agreement was reached during any such negotiations it would have been to the advantage of the terrorists (e.g. the disastrous CFA.) which in turn would have entailed the division of the communities – the Sinhala and the Tamil, leading perhaps to a civil war as distinct from the fictional `civil war’, the Western theorists and their media apparatus and some of their local cohorts used to describe the Sri Lanka terrorist problem. Fortunately again, with resolve, determination and political will the leadership of the Sri Lanka state brought terrorism to an end militarily, restoring freedom and security to the people in all Sri Lanka. In the aftermath the immediate and primary need of the country was to work towards the welfare of the displaced peoples and to defray the damage caused to the infrastructure, particularly in areas where people have been subjugated by terrorists. The work towards that end has been in commendable progress in the last one and a half Years; the government has initiated projects to develop the North and East to uplift the people in those areas economically.

As for the talk of `reconciliation’ after hostilities one could pertinently ask the question, whom are we going to reconcile with? The vast majority of the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim peoples have lived amicably with each other throughout history and up to this day, preserving their separate cultural and religious identities. The situation remained such before terrorism and it continues to be thereafter. People of all walks of life, irrespective of their ethnicity suffered immensely during hostilities. Tamils would have suffered unavoidable inconveniences during security checks; even after the hostilities they would have been anxious and

apprehensive. It could be safely asserted and observed that the Sinhala people, right through the phase of hostilities were convinced that the conflict was between the terrorists and the legitimately elected government, and had nothing to do with them and the Tamil people. By now any such undue anxieties and apprehensions of the Tamil community aught to have waned. For security reasons it seems too soon to do away with all the precautionary security measures that are in force especially in the areas once controlled by the terrorists.

To identify any grievances of the minorities, or more specifically of the Tamils it is a colossal must that we should veer away from the archaic and concocted theories propounded and propagated by the aggrieved elitist class in the country who used every opportunity to counteract the inevitable social and national resurgence and reorganization of the nation after independence, notably after1956. Though this elite class was numerically small, they controlled the media, and acted as proxies of the Western interests. The Western media was dependent on this English speaking and disgruntled class and their associated elements who deliberately gave them concocted stories. The Sinhala elite class joined their Tamil counterpart. They opposed the Official Language Bill introduced to replace English spoken by less than 6% of the population, with Sinhala language spoken by more than 74%. S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister who mobilized the masses and spearheaded social reforms was accused of being the architect of “ƒ”¹…”communal hatred’, disregarding the fact that he prudently advocated “ƒ”¹…”reasonable use of the Tamil language’. It is ironic that even to-day some pundits still want to believe that the Tamil community as a whole were humiliated by the language policy of the state at the time. As for the implementation of the Official Language Act, with reasonable use of Tamil, both Sinhala and Tamil people continued to suffer humiliation as it took time for the administrative apparatus to replace English language spoken by less than 6% of the population. How could anyone say that only the minorities suffered? It has been established that one of the grievances of the predominantly Sinhala youth who staged the violent insurrection in 1971 was the continued dominance of the English language which was used to humiliate them, barring them from employment opportunities and hindering their social mobility.

Another claim that the Tamil propagandists backed by foreign funded NGO’s hurled upon to justify the cause of Tamil militancy was “ƒ”¹…”standardization’ relating to entry to Universities. This system was initiated to avert possible student riots due to the disproportionate intake of Tamil students to the faculties of Medicine, Engineering and Science. In fact in 1972 the intake of Tamil students was well over 50%. There were claims and charges that Tamil academics were favoring the students belonging to their community. However, the ruling on standardization was modified and the quota system was allowed to prevail to accommodate disadvantaged students from Districts with lesser facilities in their schools. This enhanced opportunities for students from Districts away from Jaffna and Colombo. Subsequently the number of Universities were increased. In 1956 there were only two Universities in the country and to-day it has increased to fifteen to accommodate the increasing number of students due mainly to the replacement of English as the medium of instruction in schools and universities by `Swabasha’. Have we got a University entry problem To-day specific to the Tamil community the terrorists claimed they represented?

In 1978 Tamil language too has been made an Official Language in par with the Sinhala language. There continues to be lapses in the implementation of the official languages Act. The disadvantages of such lapses are not confined to Tamil speaking people alone. The Sinhala people are also affected by it. Both communities are affected due to English being still used in certain circumstances.

Minorities may have problems and grievances specific to their community. To find solutions to those it is paramount that the responsible authorities, in liaison with those affected should identify the problems. As some eminent scholars have repeatedly emphasized, one should not muddle situations by attempting to solve imagined problems, or problems bloated out of proportion.

The Northern militancy at its inception was a reaction against social injustice, similar to the militancy of the youth in the south in 1971. The conventional Tamil leaders who were once well entrenched in hegemonic politics in their areas were challenged and they tried to appease the militant youth by the Vadukoddai Resolution of 1976. By then the militants had transformed themselves into a

terrorist outfit, pushing the older and hegemonic leaders to the background, and subsequently liquidating some of them.

The aforementioned bloated grievances the terrorists managed to amplify to gain the sympathy of the world have no valid basis now. Through course of time either by deliberation or by natural process they were rendered irrelevant. The language anomalies arising from the lapses in the implementation of the official languages Act may still prevail and need to be located and rectified.

In the sphere of economics, along with the current trends in China and India, and also Indonesia and Vietnam, there are signs and prospects for the Sri Lanka society to transform itself rapidly. The indication of a fast growing economy however does not necessarily mean prospective social harmony unless the state and the responsible civil society actors work towards minimizing the effects of possible social dislocations inherent in such speedy economic growth. Lessons can be learnt from the turmoil that followed the introduction of the open economy in 1977. Following global trends the corporate sector is increasingly becoming the provider of employment in Sri Lanka. It should be the responsibility of the state, and the actors of the civil society to promote ways and means to encourage and persuade the private sector to desist from marginalizing the educated youth especially the University Graduate for want of proficiency in the English language. On the other hand the employers’ organizations can promote a system of training new recruits to learn English on the job, if required. The business leadership of the country would no doubt realize that such a policy would enhance the productivity of their employees, and prevent future unrest and promote social and political stability conducive to good business. Swabasha has come to stay in Sri Lanka. When needed English language can be adapted to suit specific conditions and requirements as seen in the overwhelming majority of the countries in the world.

The current thought on trilingual competency (if it denotes the learning all three languages by all Sri Lankans) seems idealistic, impractical and farfetched. Fanciful project? Serving what purpose?

Chandra Abeynayake

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