[lg policy] Sri Lanka: Small step that goes a long way

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 17 13:32:24 UTC 2010

Small step that goes a long way

Yesterday the Sri Lanka Police took a small step. It started recording
complaints in Tamil at four Police stations in the metropolitan area -
Welikada, Kohuwela, Dehiwela and Mount Lavinia. Though this is a small
step, it marks the beginning of a move to rectify a long-standing
injustice. Now Tamil-speaking citizens could go to these Police
stations and make complaints or record statements in their mother
tongue. Till now they had to make use of a friend or some one else,
who would translate the recorded statements for them to know whether
it was correctly recorded or not.

This small step goes much further to build and consolidate
inter-racial harmony than a thousand speeches on the benefits of that
harmony. The fact that it took more than sixty years after
independence to begin this process of using Tamil language in
recording statements shows the extent of indifference and lethargy of
the bureaucracy and the politicians. What has been started should be
continued to encompass all Police stations in which there are citizens
who are conversant only with Tamil.

Had our education authorities cared to teach Tamil to the Sinhala
students and Sinhala to the Tamil students we would have a population
that is bilingual. Anyway it would take at least a decade to make such
bilingual education available throughout the school system. Till then
the government has to give bilingual proficiency to its employees
under a crash program.

It should be mentioned here that the government has already rewarded
many of its employees who have passed the Tamil Language proficiency
tests. However, it has not made it compulsory for those who pass the
test to work in that language. The result has been a waste of State
resources for rewarding a set of employees whose only aim in reaching
the minimum proficiency level was the mercenary benefit. Unfortunately
there was no system to check whether these employees had lost the
proficiency later for want of practice. Language ability if not used
withers away as a knife unused would rust.

During the colonial days when the language of administration was
English, the Sinhala and Tamil citizens were at a disadvantage in
transacting business with the government. Though Sinhala and Tamil are
both official languages there is still much to be done to implement
the official language policy in relation to Tamil.

As President Mahinda Rajapaksa has stressed several times the need
today in the 21st Century is to make our population conversant in all
three languages - Sinhala, Tamil and English. It is up to the
educationists and policy planners to implement the President's wish.
That is necessary not because it was the President's wish but because
in the 21st Century trilingual abilities will make our citizens more
suited to face its challenges.

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