National Integration in Sri Lanka

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Dec 21 14:29:01 UTC 2006

National integration in Sri Lanka.

By Nikhil Mustaffa

This column was fortunate to browse a copy of a book titled Perspectives
on national integration in Sri Lanka, edited by Prof Amal Jayawardane for
the National Integration Programme (NIPU)unit of the Ministry of National
Integration and Constitutional Affairs.It is a remarkable feat, given that
NIPU from the halcyon days of inception under CBK has never really been
utilized for the purpose it was set up. One wonders whether they were even
part of the current APC. The publication is the result of a workshop in
September resulting in the edited publication, 3 months later with funding
from NORAD. It is by far the best publication of collected writings by our
leading academics. Meka ape wedak! It consists of seventeen chapters. This
column has discriminated and chosen on a few passages to bring comment
this week.

Given controversies surrounding peace activism, perceptions of agency
functions on behalf of destabilizing actors etc, a chapter focuses on
Civil Society Activism. It is stated that NGO activism track falls into
research. NGOs are donor supported, led by liberal locals. Almost all
Colombo based with ICES,LST,CHA,SEDEC,CPA and CSR being the ones named.
Marga or SSA finds no mention though they do qualify if ICES does.
Collectively their work spans three decades. In reality only two or three
of those named are active in promoting integration. A critique of their
accountability to Sri Lankan society, the use of resources, transparency
and accountable management are all valid and legitimate inquiries.

In a chapter on nation building or nations building, there is a wonderful
passage quoting Lord Acton in a debate on the character of a the state in
the second half of the 19th century. It states,The presence of different
nations under the same sovereignty provides .......against the servility
which flourishes under the shadow of a single authority, by balancing
interests, multiplying associations and giving to the subject the
restraint and support of a combined opinion.

Power Sharing and Autonomy Rights of Minority communities in SL is another
chapter. It argues for the reconstituting of the political community in a
framework that considers the political community as consisting of citizens
as well as ethnic/identity communities with constitutional entitlements to
equality and equal rights. Ethnicity and citizenship are said to be
central principles in a constitutional attempt to forge a strong political
community. Citizens are said to have rights and the right to equality not
merely as citizens but as members of groups or collectives to which they
belong. Federalist claims are denoted as claiming rights assertions in
five ways comprising autonomy or self determination as an alternative to
secession, security rights to ensure security and safety of minority
communities, representational rights to guarantee representation at all
elected assemblies, recognition of minority rights to guarantee political
worth and dignity and right to development through access to institutions
of governance. It asserts an advanced regime of group rights established
through state reform. It critiques on constitutional jurisprudence as
lacking the theoretical apparatus to come to terms with notions of shared
sovereignty calling for daring political imagination untrammeled by
legalistic injunctions with political options to constitutionalise them.

Problems of teaching history in ethnically divided societies, is another
chapter. The report of the National Education Commission of 2003, states,
In a plural society driven by ethnic and religious divisions, education
has failed to promote nation building by fostering mutual understanding
and tolerance and respect for the rich cultural diversity of Sri Lankan
society. In this process it has made little contribution to ensuring
social cohesion and

Language Policy and implementation is the final chapter chosen for
illustration. The Act of 1991 was the result of work undertaken by ICES.
It had worked with the subject Minister in preparing drafts,drawing on the
political influence of Minister Thondaman to craft multipartisan support
which resulted in the Act being passed without division. Six years after
the passing of the Act in 1997, The President had issued a letter to all
Ministers, Secretaries, and heads of departments to adhere to 1997 Act. It
directed compliance within two months:

Regulations, legal provisions to be available in three languages.

All printed forms to be availible in three languages.

Responses to letters in the language of the letter.

All name boards,of institutions serving the public in all three languages.

Translators and typists cadre vacancies to be filled immediately.

A senior officer in every institution to be responsible for language
provisions of the law.

Most of the instructions have been defaulted. A classic case in point are
the directions, courtesy the police department to motorists on the route
to be taken in Colombo seven and its one way directions. It was seen only
in one language. A citizen in Jaffna accounting six bullet wounds on both
legs was in Colombo recently. He carried with him wonderful pieces of
typing from the Jaffna police station in Sinhala describing various facets
of his misfortunes!

As was said earlier these are all discriminated selections from passages
in the book. The country, with rich thinking to prove its competence, has
to analyse, reimagine and recommend ways to go forward. This is largely
the southern story. What of the thinkers within minority communities. The
recent speech on the reregarding the long march to freedom delivered by
Velupillai Prabhakaran, supposed to be written by Anton Balasingham,
showed great many limitations in imagination and innovation. Reconfiguring
of the state, reimagining constitutionalism on which there is no shortage
on either side of single track visions, requires engagement of all
stakeholders. Coming out from this celebration of thinking and writing one
is faced with stark visuals and stories of the world as we know in the
country counting down to 2006. It is said that the three public officials
who signed committee A report of experts have been questioned on their
right to do so. It is as if we fear anything new which transcends
primordial historic claims and feelings of superiority. Given recent
comments inspired or otherwise of serious concerns around the economy, the
contest between the Government and JVP for perceived similar ideologies
and the desire of the LTTE to inflict punishment the prognosis is not one
recommended by any one of the writers extolling political solutions and
constitutional writings subsequently.

Beginning with the multi track advocates amongst NGOs who ostensibly need
much funds to imagine peace, critical soul searching is required. It is
true to say that in the cocktail circuits there are a few who are found
advising, critiquing SL on various issues. The international partners
limit their interaction in large measure to this circuit. Most have the
luxury propounding theories of destruction than showing imagination. Self
subsumes the cause and the riches overshadow all.

The political spectrum reportedly found agreement on all but 10% of issues
for constitutional reform but not one in the process dares to publish what
they agreed to. Imaginative creations, debates in parliament are all but
activities of the past. Many a debate is confined to utterances in press
conferences. In the desert of gloom, the publication by NIPU brought
through the writings and edited work is a proud achievement of a structure
which has all but been buried when we need it most. As one wag put it this
is mad. What else could you expect


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