By Kusal Perera –
This attempts to position the National Policy Framework for Social Integration (NPFSI) named “Access for every one” (Savivara) within politics of post war Sri Lanka that Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara proudly exhibits as his National Languages and Social Integration Ministry’s most formidable contribution for reconciliation. The whole programme was funded by the German government through its GIZ administered Facilitating Initiatives for Social Cohesion and Transformation (FLICT) that was initially called Fund for Local Initiatives on Conflict Transformation. Having met Minister Nanayakkara, UNHR High Commissioner Navi Pillai sounded satisfied, there is some positive work done under that ministry.
I personally believe, not only Minister Nanayakkara, but politician Vasudeva has also been proved a fake, under the Rajapaksa regime. The September 21st NPC elections voted overwhelmingly for the TNA manifesto and now with the EPC adopting a resolution asking for all powers under the 13 Amendment, it is proof Northern and Eastern, Tamil and Muslim people see nothing convincing in this government’s post war reconciliation and social integration. Which means, Nanayakkara’s ministry created NPFSI adds nothing to this regime’s “reconciliation”. This ministry simply can not expect the Tamils and the Muslims to trust their “Access” programme for social integration, when the Minister himself goes to Jaffna to tell the Tamil people what Gotabhaya says from Colombo. The NPC will not be given land and police powers said Minister Nanayakkara, addressing a press conference in Jafffna, while on an election campaign trail in the North.
Apart from how the people would trust such a minister in this regime, the issue of how such a politician conceptualises his social integration programme is very much in question. His political perception of the unresolved political conflict, seems no different to that of the rabid Sinhala campaigners in the Rajapaksa government, who believe what has already been done as “development” in the North and East, is what “reconciliation” means and is adequate. The absence of any serious understanding of the political conflict, is quite evident and stands out very conspicuously in the NPFSI.
Reading through over two dozen A4 pages having left out pages of name lists and abbreviations, I was shocked to find that this NPF for “Social Integration” has absolutely no mention, this is intended for a country that had been through a 30 year brutal and savage armed conflict. That this is for a country that left over 240,000 civilians completely displaced and languishing in barbed wired camps, having been displaced many times before and moving from place to place for many years. That this is for a country that still keeps counting and disputing the numbers died during the last phase of the war and the regime that fought the war refusing to accept responsibility. There is absolutely no mention that this NPF for “Social Integration” is for a country that for decades have been left polarising on an ethnic conflict that lost thousands of lives on both sides of the barricade. A country that has over 80,000 war widows and perhaps an equal or higher number of children without both or one parent. A country that has hundreds of mothers, spouses and children who are still searching for their missing family members. An ethnic conflict that brought out Sinhala masses on the streets in jubilation to celebrate not the end of the war, but the defeat of the “Tamils” and their separatist agenda. A country that does not know it needs a seriously thought out and planned re-socialising programme for its brutally battle hardened military.
Instead, I read through with utter disgust, three empty messages by minister Nanayakkara, ministry Secretary Mrs. Malkanthi Wickramasinghe and GIZ-FLICT Technical Advisor and National Process Manager to the ministry, Ms. Dayani Panagoda that had praises for each other and for the GIZ-FLICT, obviously for funds received. None of them had ever been living through a war in SL, from what they have carefully worded in their messages. Sadly, the FLICT has failed too. What ever technical advice was given to this much claimed consultative process by GIZ-FLICT, the first question they should have asked the ministry is, “why does the ministry think this country needs a foreign funded programme for reconciliation, social integration and cohesion ?” The answer to that would have led to other important issues that have been conveniently left out of this NPFSI.
The case for social integration and reconciliation goes far beyond the 30 year war. The 30 year war and its fixation on the LTTE, Prabhakaran and “Separatism” is what this regime and its paid writers are ailing and living with. Gradual disintegration of a society during the first 30 years after independence that should have instead been integrated, is what led to an armed conflict, led to armed groupings like the TELO, EROS, PLOTE, EPRLF, EPDP and the LTTE and to names like Prabhakaran, Karuna, Pilleyan, KP and Devananda, all products that could have been avoided, had the Sinhala political leadership managed social integration and cohesion as a political task in establishing an inclusive, plural and a secular State, post independence.
That political task never addressed, the ministry of National Languages and Social Integration, if mandated as it says, to facilitate “a trilingual, integrated society that assures rights of one and all and respects each other” should, to begin with, acknowledge the fact, this State does not allow any such hallowed objectives. The State with which we live had evolved into an ideologically responding Sinhala Buddhist State.
The process of “Sinhalisation” of the State was begun in real terms in 1956 with PM Bandaranaike’s “Sinhala Only” policy, enacting in parliament its Official Language Act No. 33. This left the minorities – Tamils 11.2% and Muslims 09.2% accounting to a good 21% – who speak, read and write Tamil as their mother tongue, in then old Ceylon and Sri Lanka after 1972, out of the State hampering very much their day to day correspondence and communications with the State. Much later inclusion of Tamil language as the other official language, has not mitigated the actual political issue of the State functioning as a Sinhala Buddhist State over the past decades.
The Sinhala language becoming the only official language till end 1987 was no isolated happening with just an Act passed in parliament. First, it allowed Sinhala educated youth to secure State employment. Two, it was accompanied with a politically argued social ideology for Sinhala Buddhist supremacy in every aspect of life in the country. Therefore the British established old Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) turned into a bastion of Sinhala educated, Sinhala thinking administrators from majority Buddhist background as the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS), the pinnacle of the State in administration, planning and implementation.
The other arms of the State too were similarly taken over by the Sinhala Buddhist majority. The controversial yet silent transformation was in the military and the police, where during the Colonial rule, the officer caste came from English educated, urban society. With British Colonial influence, the Christian and Catholic influence and dominance was very much an established fact. Sinhala recruitment that was essentially Buddhist and led to gradual re-organising of the security forces after 1956, made the old English educated non Buddhist elite in the army, quite insecure.
Established as the Royal Ceylon Army under the British and not more than 40,000 by 1960, saw its major infantry battalion being overshadowed with the establishment of the “Sinha Regiment”. It was no doubt the beginning. Thereafter the Sri Lanka Light Infantry got its mascot, an elephant named “Kandula”. No accident it was to name it thus. King Dutugemunu is said to have fought and defeated the Dravidian King Elara on the back of his elephant named “Kandula”. The infamous and failed Coup de tat in 1962 against Madam Bandaranaike’s government led by a group of high level Christian-Catholic officers in the military and the police, is a reflection of this shift to Sinhala Buddhist dominance. Thereafter, one would see other regiments being formed as Gemunu Watch, Gajaba Regiment and Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment, all Sinhala historical names proving the State is too Sinhala to at least think in terms of “Ruhuna” or “Wayamba” regiments. The war was thus fought out as one between Tamil youth fighting for separation and a Sinhala army recruited, trained and deployed during the last 40 years to fight for the Sinhala “Unitary” State.
The whole society being State controlled through Sinhala dominated governments, post 1956 development was also thought of as development of the Sinhala South. Therefore, all except 04 State owned Corporations were in Sinhala South. Those 04 State Corporations – cement, mineral sands, chemical and paper – could not possibly go South, for logistical and natural resource necessities. So were the foreign funded projects that came during the Jayewardene era. Called “Integrated Rural Development Programmes” (IRDP) and begun in 1978 from Kurunegala district, IRDPs as a norm were double phased, each running to about 06 to 08 years. There had been 19 such development programmes over a 20 year period. None had been planned for North and East of Sri Lanka.
The Mahaweli Development programme considered the most aggressive and enterprising of all development efforts in post independent Sri Lanka, left out North and East. This discrimination stands out tall, with Uda Walawe area in the Southern dry zone, brought under the Mahaweli Development Authority in 1982. This,despite Uda Walawe in early 1950 being brought under a very comprehensive development programme in 04 phases called “Uda Walawe Irrigation and Resettlement Project” covering both its left and right banks.
Standardisation in education based on medium of language in 1974, scrapped the merit pass system on which students were enrolled to faculties on their raw marks. The new system of standardisation introduced, reduced all marks to a uniform scale. As K.M. De Silva notes, standardisation was to make “….the number of students qualifying in each language became proportionate to the number sitting the examination in that medium. It was a device to neutralise the superior performance of Tamil medium students in science subjects, as depicted by raw marks.”(Affirmative Action Policy – Sri Lankan Experience / page 250)
The consolidation of the Sinhala Buddhist State was achieved through numerous, complex means after the Official Languages Act in 1956 and over almost 03 decades. Every such intervention in turn strengthened the Sinhala social psyche and made the two leading political parties to compete for Sinhala votes at every election. The major issue now, is not only to diffuse and negate the Southern social psyche but to restructure the State to be inclusive and accommodative. This requires the NPFSI to accept their statement, “Diversity demands social integration” as empty and abstract. The reality demands acceptance of equality as what allows social integration in a diverse ethno-religious society. That “equality in diversity” is not possible under this State and with the dominant Sinhala psyche that drives all policy and decision making.
Therefore, apart from taking stock of a post war, brutally polarised country, its historical degeneration and disintegration needs to be seriously discussed, for any reconciliation, for social integration and cohesion to be planned and programmed. Grass root work may be in vogue for funding, but what is more necessary here is a political will and a programme that takes on the most difficult task of dismantling what has been assembled in the past, in terms of State administration in every public department, agency and institute. Such is not the NPFSI, the ministry of National Languages and Social Integration is proud selling for international consumption. Do they buy such talk ? The international community has been happy buying such crap to ward off hard decisions, not only on Sri Lanka, but every where else with rogue or failed States.