For centuries we have been a resilient people, enjoying the natural bliss and beauty of our island. Peace was enshrined in our minds.
A people known world over for genuine smiles and an ancient culture that embraced diversity. Being invaded and subject to three eras of foreign rule, and the hasty propagation of reward based religion our forefathers began to notice and absorb the differences within each community. Customs and rituals that were once considered common became elements that provoked division. Bonds of brotherhood began to strain. Suspicion took deeper root. Soon it was supplemented by selfish short-sighted political decisions, infused with racism leaving dark stains that are visible to date.
After three bloody decades of internal conflict fought on our own soil, what have we achieved? Have the aspirations of all peace- loving communities been duly recognized and sustained? Does not language still impede our national unity? Surely peace cannot be symbolized by releasing a few white pigeons and one solitary rendition of the national anthem in Tamil, which action itself became a political debate and drama!
Every citizen alive will endorse that we are still a nation divided by language. Some are of the view that the introduction of English in all official correspondence in state and other institutions will be a good start. I don’t fully agree. Let’s face reality, how many government officials are proficient in the Queen’s language to engage in official duties? Many simply downplay the need for English proficiency. I opine that all official correspondence be done to facilitate the three national languages as per the people’s needs. Stubbornly sticking to one’s mother tongue is not patriotism, it is administrative ignorance.
A good case study would be the United States where all employees who deal directly with the public have to be proficient in both English and Spanish, given the large Hispanic population. Even students from Asian regions are encouraged to study Spanish. The US Military has a programme to teach basic Arabic to troops deploying to the Middle East nations, so that they may engage the innocent public in goodwill and trust. This is wisdom.
Ministries tasked with reconciliation and social integration must rapidly implement systems where every Sri Lankan, is given a total sense of National identity. A cricket match between a school from the Northern Province and Southern Province is not good enough, although it is a decent start. This is child’s play in more than one sense! We must rebuild that golden era when Sinhala brothers had businesses in Jaffna and Tamil brothers ventured to Kalutara and Galle to run grocery stores. Our Muslim brothers too are part of our wonderful heritage. Sadly our jolly Burgher brothers (and their attractive sisters) are now domiciled in Australia and England.
The darkest part of this ugly saga is that our citizens are divided within their own ethnic clans. The Jaffna Tamils somewhat despise the Tamils from Batticaloa and Trincomalee. In turn both of these combined groups mildly shun the Indian based Colombo Tamils. Not to be outdone the Sinhalese from the salubrious hills of Kandy look down on their brothers from Galle and Matara. The Muslim community has mild strains between Moors and Malays.
These attitudes are very evident if one sees the marriage proposal columns and the way people express their desires in terms of caste. Come on Sri Lanka we all have the same blood. A house divided will fall. We have fallen many times. Let us forget the past, learning its lessons and unite as one nation. One family. Let us passionately embrace our diversity. Recollect how we all come together to cheer our team for a World Cup cricket match, well let’s do it daily. We as a nation have many matches to win, in many arenas. All Sri Lankans must remember the words of Mahathma Gandhi – “You must not loose faith in humanity, Humanity is an ocean. If a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the entire ocean does not become dirty”.