[lg policy] Tamil Language Rights in Sri Lanka =?windows-1252?Q?=96_?=Part III

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 9 17:49:26 UTC 2012

Tamil Language Rights in Sri Lanka – Part III
March 8, 2012, 8:11 pm

By Devanesan Nesiah

Continued from yesterday

This part is a reproduction of the sections of the LLRC Report of
December 2011 titled the Language Policy, Education and Peace
Education. This is a much more recent than the Audit from which part
II is extracted. Moreover, it is based on the testimony of individuals
who volunteered to appear before the LLRC rather than on surveys of
Government institutions and is therefore fundamentally different in
several respects. Part II and Part III are both unavoidably
constrained by their respective mandates but effectively supplement
each other in respect of Tamil language rights.

LANGUAGE POLICY9.238 The Commission heard from many Tamil persons and
noted the sense of marginalisation expressed by them due to the
language policy and the deficiencies in its implementation followed by
successive Governments.

9.239 The Commission during its visits to the affected areas witnessed
firsthand, that even today many persons of the minority communities
are made to transact business not in the language of their choice.

9.240 Whilst acknowledging the work in progress for recruiting
Tamil-speaking Police officers, the Commission notes with regret that
recommendations on urgent measures made by the Commission in its
interim communication to the President on these matters have yet to be

9.241 The official bodies for executing the language policies and
monitoring performance should have adequate representation of the
Tamil speaking people and Tamil speaking regions. The full
implementation of the language policy should include action plans
broken down to the community level, and appropriately covering the
Divisions and Local Bodies with targets that can be monitored with
citizen participation.

9.242 The people of the North and East are separated from the people
of the South due to communication barriers. Every attempt must be made
to create a sense of belonging among all the citizens irrespective of
race, religion or social status. It is language that unifies and binds
a nation. Therefore, it is essential that policies relating to
language are formulated towards this end. It is imperative that the
official languages policy is implemented in an effective manner to
promote understanding, diversity and national integration.

9.243 The learning of each others’ languages should be made a
compulsory part of the school curriculum. This would be a primary tool
to ensure attitudinal changes amongst the two communities. Teaching
Tamil to Sinhala children and Sinhala to Tamil children will result in
greater understanding of each other’s cultures.

9.244 The proper implementation of the language policy and ensuring
trilingual (Sinhala, Tamil and English) fluency of future generations
becomes vitally important. A tri-lingual education will allow children
from very young days to get to understand each other.

9.245 The Commission welcomes the government initiative for a
trilingual nation by the year 2020. To this end the necessary
budgetary provisions must be made available on a priority basis for
teacher training and staffing.

9.246 No district or province should be categorised in terms of
language. Officers in Government service should possess language
skills to serve in any part of the country.

9.247 It should be made compulsory that all Government offices have
Tamil-speaking officers at all times. In the case of Police Stations
they should have bi-lingual officers on a 24- hour basis. A
complainant should have the right to have his/her statement taken down
in the language of their choice.

9.248 The Official Languages Commission is centralised and based in
Colombo and not easily accessible to rural citizenry. The Language
Commission should be an authority with effective powers of
implementation, and also with branches in every province.

9.249 Greater attention should be given to information technology
which can be utilised as an instrument to overcome the language
barrier. For this purpose, as a temporary measure, software programs
can be used for translation from one language to another until long
term policies and measures take effect.

9.250 In this regard, the Commission also wishes to invite attention
to its Interim

Recommendation to station interpreters at Police Stations using
retired police officers

with bilingual fluency.


Equal Opportunities

9.251 The removal of the feeling of discrimination is a prerequisite
for reconciliation between the Sinhalese and Tamils in a united Sri
Lanka. Much water has flowed since the introduction of standardisation
as a means of affirmative action by the state to mitigate the
imbalance in educational opportunities afforded to different
communities. Therefore, in the best interest of future generations a
careful review of this quota system would be timely, with a view to
introducing a merit based admission system. The commission recommends
that such a review should be undertaken by a committee of experts in

9.252 The Government must pursue with renewed vigour a programme of
equitable distribution of educational facilities so that it will
contribute towards a concerted effort to minimise any feeling of
discrimination felt by the minorities. At present the proposed plan to
upgrade one thousand secondary schools island wide from 2011, will
provide another opportunity to minimise and eventually eliminate
imbalances. This policy should be implemented without creating
tensions and fissures in society. It is only if these schools are
identified on the basis of objective criteria and on an apolitical
selection process that this endeavour will prove to be a success. The
Commission recommends that the inequality in the availability of
educational facilities in different areas of the country should be
reduced and eventually eliminated.

9.253 The Commission also recommends that the Government should have a
proactive policy to encourage mixed schools serving children from
different ethnic and religious backgrounds. In this regard the
Government should develop a carefully conceived policy facilitating
the admission of children from different ethnic and religious groups
to these schools. In respect of admissions to schools, disqualifying
students on ethnic or religious grounds does not augur well for
reconciliation. Any such practice should be discouraged.

9.254 Mutual understanding and appreciation of the rich cultural
diversity of different communities should be inculcated in the minds
of school children and youth so that the process of reconciliation
takes firm root in the social fabric of the country. The Commission
therefore recommends that every encouragement be given to create
greater interraction among students, through mechanisms such as
twinning of schools from the different provinces, student exchange
programmes and formation of Reconciliation Clubs in schools. In
addition the National Youth Council should adopt more intensive
exchange programmes at the youth level.

Peace Education

9.255 An eminent international jurist, giving evidence before the
Commission underlined the vital importance of peace education in
promoting unity and reconciliation. Comments of the Commission on
possible curriculum changes are reflected in the body of the Report.

9.256 In giving effect to a trilingual policy, measures should be
taken to ensure, as far as possible, that students of different
communities have every opportunity to interact. Interaction in the
same class room should be encouraged, as far as practicable. However,
for subjects taught in different languages they could be streamed into
different class rooms.

9.257 Steps must be taken to ensure public universities have
ethnically mixed student populations with a choice of courses offered
in all three languages. Until recently, it appears that most
Tamil-speaking undergraduates were confined to the North and the East,
and the Sinhala – speaking under graduates in the South.

9.258 The Commission is of the view that sports build up inter –
personal contacts amongst people of different communities which is
essential in the process of reconciliation. With this in view, the
Commission recommends that sports tournaments should be conducted at
inter-provincial levels and important national sports competitions
should be conducted throughout the island, especially, in the North
and East.

Tamil Language Rights in Sri Lanka - Epilogue

This concluding section brings together Parts I, II and III with the
view to gaining a perspective of language rights in Sri Lanka. What is
needed to supplement the LLRC Report on this subject, particularly
with the view to reconstructing the Sri Lankan Nation? Are the 13th
and 16th Amendments to the Constitution adequate in respect of
language rights or are there fundamental legislative changes needed?
Are other major policy and institutional changes required? What roles
do civil society, including intellectuals and retired public servants
have to play? Which of these roles are short term palliatives and how
can it be ensured that such interim arrangements do not get
indefinitely extended and substitute for fundamental reforms? Do we
have the political will to design and implement programmes of reforms
needed for nation building?

The LLRC section titled Education focuses on equal opportunity, and is
excellent as far as it goes, but needs to go much further. The brief
section titled Peace Education also needs to go much further. History
and Literature contain much potential to be unifying or divisive. In
Sri Lanka, history, including school history texts, have been
divisive, especially in relation to Sinhalese – Tamil relations, but
also in setting the Sinhalese ("Bhoomiputhras") apart from the rest –
invaders / visitors with foreign roots, essentially beyond the pale,
not fully Sri Lankan in all respects. If the Sinhala Literature
syllabus in educational institutions could include originals or
translations of selected writings by Tamils or Muslims and, in turn,
the Tamil Literature syllabus could include originals or translations
of selected writings by Sinhalese, it could do much to enhance mutual
understanding and appreciation. In fact there is much excellent
Literature in Sinhalese and Tamil by Christians and Muslims (perhaps
more in Tamil on account of longer contacts). These too could be
included in the syllabuses. Sadly, there does not appear to have been
ever any conscious attempt at using literature to promote inter-ethnic
unity and Sri Lankan Nation building.

Even without any encouragement from the State, the bonds linking
different ethnic, religious and linguistic communities in Sri Lanka
are very strong, and the divisive factors have been much weaker than
in neighbouring countries. Many cultural features are shared,
festivals are celebrated, and places of pilgrimage throughout the
Island visited and revered by those of all major communities in Sri
Lanka. For example, Poya is celebrated, though in different ways, by
Buddhist and Hindus. Sinhalese and Tamil New Year is celebrated not
only in Buddhist and Hindu but also in Christian and in some Muslim
homes, though again in different ways. Adams Peak, Kataragama, Madhu
and many other holy places serve the religious needs of Buddhist,
Hindus, Christians and Muslims who mingle freely at these shrines.
Very many Buddhist places of worship, Peraharas and other celebrations
are associated with Hindu deities such as Vishnu and Paththini.
Several Christian churches celebrate Sinhala and Tamil New year in
modified forms.

Some religious exclusivists may object, but such syncretism (cultural
rather than theological) surely contributes to Sri Lankan national
unity. We need to note that many Christian festivals (including
Christmas, Easter and the Harvest festival) are inseparable from their
pre-Christian origins, whether in the timing or in the manner of
celebration. How can Christians celebrate such festivals in the
traditional way with borrowings from non- Christian sources in Europe
and North Africa and object to similar borrowings from Asia?

There are other fields that are even less contentious. Ven.
Dharmaratne Thero has published an excellent booklet titled Buddhism
in South India, sold at the Buddhist Publication centre outlets. That
booklet confirms that Buddhism and Jainism were the two dominant
religions of South India, especially among Tamils, around two thousand
years ago. This booklet, in three languages, should be made available
in all school libraries. Unfortunately such information is not widely
known and Buddhism is now sometimes regarded as a religion alien to
the Tamils. In fact, Buddhism spread in South India even before it
spread in Sri Lanka and many of the earliest Buddhist missionaries to
Sri Lanka and to various countries of South East and East Asia were
Tamil monks. The heads of Nalanda University (much older than the
major universities in Europe, and which was destroyed several
centuries before Oxford and Cambridge were established) were selected
from different parts of India; two of the best known heads were from
Tamilnadu. Some of the very early settlements in Sri Lanka (e.g. at
Pomparippu in Wilpattu) came from Buddhist communities of Tamilnadu
around two thousand years ago. Will it not help if such facts are
widely known?

Of the two major surviving Tamil epics of around two thousand years
ago, one was Silappadikaram (authored by a scholarly Tamil Jain monk)
and the other is Manimekalai (authored by a scholarly Tamil Buddhist
monk). In fact, the latter epic is a continuation of the former. The
heroine of the latter (Manimekalai) was a Buddhist nun and the step
daughter of the heroine of the former (Kannahi). Manimekalai is deeply
associated with Sri Lanka to which she fled to escape the unwanted
attention of a Chola prince. It will surely further Sri Lankan nation
building if Sinhala translations of Silappadikaram and Manimekalai, as
well as Thirukkural are prescribed in the Sinhala literature
syllabuses of education institutions and, in turn, works of
distinguished and broadminded Sinhalese writers such as Martin
Wickramasinha are prescribed in the Tamil literature syllabuses. Those
who prescribe text books may need to reorient their priorities. State
policies too need to be reoriented.



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