[lg policy] SriLanka: Response to Article on “National Reconciliation Policy” by Laksiri Fernando

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat May 27 10:49:41 EDT 2017

Response to Article on “National Reconciliation Policy” by Laksiri Fernando
[image: Devanesan Nesiah] Devanesan Nesiah

on 05/27/2017

*Featured image courtesy UNICEF <https://www.unicef.org/> *

I enjoyed reading Laksiri Fernando’s article
and endorse most of his comments under policy areas 1-7, but not those
under policy area 8 for reasons that I will elaborate later on.

I am particularly appreciative of what Laksiri has to say on the need to
eliminate caste discrimination; and to adopt a trilingual language policy.
On Caste, the initiative needs to come from Sri Lankan Buddhists to
eliminate the continuation of caste based Nikayas as well as other
manifestations of caste consciousness within Buddhism; from Hindus to
eliminate all caste based oppression including the vestiges of
untouchability, especially in relation to temple entry and access to public
places; and from Sinhalese and Tamils (including Christians) to eliminate
even the most subtle public identification of the caste identity of
individuals, notably in marriage advertisements.

In respect of a trilingual language policy, we have the advantage of a
highly literate population that is also very responsive to financial and
other incentives, whether for employment or for admission to educational or
training institutions. What is needed is to work out appropriate schemes of
incentives for such employment, education and training, backed by an
island-wide trilingual school network supplemented by out of school
language training institutions. It will not be many years before we have a
nation that is predominantly trilingual.

The one issue on which I have clear differences of opinion is on
affirmative action /reverse discrimination. This should be a device to
provide a level playing field for those with unequal opportunities due
to external factors beyond their control. Accordingly African Americans,
Native Americans (Red Indians), women and certain minorities in the USA
received quota benefits for nearly two decades. Similarly, in India,
Untouchables (Dalits), Tribals and certain other “Backward Classes”
continue to receive quota benefits in respect of employment or education in
state sector institutions.

The confusion of affirmative action/reverse discrimination with area quotas
(in relation to university admissions) is peculiar to Sri Lanka. The scheme
of district quotas in university admissions in Sri Lanka is unrelated to
affirmative action/reverse discrimination. District quotas, in design and
in impact boost further the privileges of the children of the rural elite.
They gain from good schooling (they invariably gain admission as day
scholars to the best schools in the district or as boarders to good schools
elsewhere) and are further privileged on account of affluence at home.
There are privileged and under privileged populations and also schools of
widely different quality in every district. The children of the elite
everywhere have access to good schooling. On the other hand children of the
underclass have difficulties in accessing good schooling anywhere.

For example, Royal College and Visakha Vidyalaya cater predominantly to the
upper classes in preference to the underclass in their neighbourhood. This
holds true of elite schools everywhere. In every district there are lesser
schools to serve the underclass. The children of elite schools anywhere are
not primarily from the neighbourhood, judging by the glut of cars and vans
that converge on these schools at opening and closing times. Similarly,
Trinity and Hillwood cater primarily to the elite of Kandy and elsewhere.
These children are in no way handicapped by being surrounded by estate
schools and depressed Sinhalese medium schools. However, the children of
Trinity and Hillwood gain a boost in university admissions due to being
surrounded by under privileged schools. In turn, schools for low income
populations all over Colombo and Jaffna lose out in university admissions
due to being surrounded by numerous elite schools. This is certainly not
affirmative action/reverse discrimination.

Some factors that impact on performance in school are related to the
quality of the school and others to the socio-economic and education levels
of parents and family. The latter is difficult to quantify and therefore to
compensate for. Yet schools can be graded objectively (they already are)
and these grades, further refined periodically in relation to individual
university faculties that the children qualify to enter each year can be
objectively quantified and university admissions duly adjusted. Such a
scheme would indeed be affirmative action/reverse discrimination, which
disrtrict quotas are definitely not.

Further, as Laksiri points out, reconciliation requires attention to
several other more contentious items such as dealing with killings,
disappearances, physical disabilities, physiological trauma, displacement,
loss of land, occupation as well as the overwhelming presence of the
military among the population most affected by the war. These issues are
more difficult to deal with. Healing in respect of issues listed 1-7 by
Laksiri, and issue 8 as amended above, will go a long way towards
reconciliation and make it easier to deal with the more controversial

*Readers who enjoyed this article might find “Dealing with Caste prejudice
and inequalities in Sri Lanka
and “The Art of Connection: Two organisations take on reconciliation

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