By Laksiri Fernando –
To: Vasantha Senanayake MP, Raghu Balachandran MP, Shehan Semasinghe MP, Hunais Farook MP, Niroshan Perera MP, Harin Fernando MP, and others.
I write this letter to appreciate your statement on behalf of the Young Political Leaders Forum (YPLF) in remembrance of the dreadful events of July 1983 and to mark your determination not to allow or prevent another July 83 in the future. You are quite right in calling for ‘active social engagement of youth both in Sri Lanka and within the Diaspora in the reconciliation process.’ I also appreciate your bipartisan approach on this matter. However, the main task before all of us is to walk the talk.
It is my view that the long term reconciliation in the country should begin in schools and in this context that you may have a role to play in intervening or lobbying in reforming the school curricular, teacher training and allocation of resources for ‘reconciliation education’ that should include multiculturalism, plurality, language training and most importantly human rights. Human rights education in schools is a neglected area in the recent past and you may pay attention to resurrect or rescue it.
Both from a long term and a present-day perspective, universities are equally or more important. As young MPs, you may have a direct rapport with the university students. However, the reconciliation efforts or activities might not be workable without a sympathetic eye for the students’ grievances in other areas. The teachers/academics are also important. The universities did have an admirable reconciliation program sometime back but unfortunately this has become neglected in the ensuing euphoria of war victory. It might be very easy for you to encourage resurrecting this effort with the association, for example, of FUTA. More interactions between universities in the North, South and the East are important.
While your determination to prevent the recurrence of July 83 is laudable we all have to admit that similar events did happen this June at Aluthgama against a different minority community. Most unfortunately many of the rioters were youth. Perhaps the awareness about minority rights or religious tolerance is abysmal among at least some of the youth. How to correct this? You may have to take a stand against the perpetrators.
Let me relate some experiences in respect of general education and building awareness. The Peace Building Project (under the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs) conducted a popular Subharathi (Sinhala and Tamil) radio program and the results were extremely positive. There were many simply written publications. The PBP staff traversed the country to educate the youth and conduct programs, of course within certain financial limitations. These and many more effective programs might be necessary to educate the youth today.
Let me delve on a broader matter. It is my view that the question of reconciliation cannot be divorced from other matters of social justice, human rights and democratization. Unless we voice the grievances of the poor and deal with them, they are the most vulnerable for antagonistic politics on ethnic/religious or other lines. Instigators are usually the opportunistic leaders. Dealing with reconciliation in isolation will fail. There should be a holistic view. Therefore, I would like to encourage you to deal with broader justice issues including fighting against corruption.
At last but not least. You have correctly identified the Diaspora as an important arena where reconciliation is necessary and important. I am now part of Diaspora. I belonged to the Sri Lanka Reconciliation Forum, NSW, and the SLRF is giving much emphasis on encouraging youth for reconciliation. Although I cannot speak formerly on behalf of the SLRF, I am sure that any of you intend to visit this part of the world, down under, the SLRF would be most happy to accord an opportunity to address the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims living here who are in essence not that antagonistic like back home in my view and experience.
Dr. Laksiri Fernando
PS. I have also noticed that among your Young Leaders there are no Young women. I won’t ask you why, but wish you to pay attention to this matter as well.