Reconciliation over Racism: The Role of Youth in Sri Lanka
11 Nov 2016 by Rangana Hettiarachchi
My mother is an avid listener of radio shows – a rare breed in modern Sri Lanka. Not only does she listen to the radio news broadcast three times a day, she also does not hesitate to voice her agreement or disagreement to the content of these broadcasts.
Recently, as I was returning home after work, I found my mother, angry and emotional, trying to convince my father of something. “This is a Sinhala Buddhist Country. It was always that way and always should be that way. No one should be allowed to change it. Our ancestors preserved this country. These Tamil blabbermouths cannot understand it. We sacrificed so many lives to free this country. This government should be strong and do what it takes to keep it free. Otherwise there won’t be a country left for our children.” Although not as impulsively as his wife, my father seemed to agree with these views. I was eventually able to unearth the source of this outburst. The news broadcast had aired a story about the speech Mr C V Vigneswaran, the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council, had made at a recent rally titled ‘Tamils Awake!’
As a young idealistic, this is my analysis of the main points in my mother’s outburst
The first point is that, we have gained nothing out of racism except for 30 years of brutal terrorism, the loss of thousands of Sri Lankan lives, and a few racial groups that will never see eye to eye.
Racism is a parasite that destroyed Sri Lanka. I am at a loss to understand why our politicians cannot leave it alone. In the South, as well as in the North, racism exists under many names, giving rise to a sort of a cold war. In the North, arrogant upper class Tamils use innocent, down trodden Tamil lives as trump cards to meet their own ends. In the South, a gang exploits Sinhala Buddhists in an attempt to take the country back to where it was 30 years ago. The history of Sri Lanka, dating back thousands of years, provides us with many examples of why we should set aside our narrow-minded racial, ethnic, caste and religious differences to work as one.
All attempts at reconciliation taken by the Central Government and Tamil leaders are currently confined to a few subjects. Principally, among these are: Division of Power, Federalism, the merger of North and East, removing the military from the North, handing over the lands controlled by the Army to their original owners. There are a few suggestions through which some of these issues can be used to resolve the struggle between the ethnicities. It is important and opportune to ensure active participation of all parties in the process of revising the constitution, to arrive at measures all can agree upon to figure out an effective political solution. Working out compromises through consultations on matters where full agreement cannot be reached is desired.
One can say that the efforts at uplifting the lives of the Tamil population in the North have been superficial. It is a tragedy that efforts at development, in the North and East from 2009 to the present, have been confined to the construction of a few highways. If establishing the regional economy, uplifting the lives of the people and finding sustainable and progressive solutions for social issues is not the responsibility of the Government and the Tamil leaders, then it is worth looking who should lead this process. Using people who suffered a war to achieve personal political ends cannot, by any means, be condoned. One example is how the voice of the women in North has been silenced.
Whether we live in the North or South, our principles and expectations should not be betrayed by hypocritical and vicious ideologies that our generation is not supposed to inherit. The generation that was a direct part of the war and the generation that has been brainwashed by ideology and has only second-hand experience of the war cannot logically be placed on either side of a single scale. Destroying the future of that generation by sowing racism is more inhumane than a war.
It is time that the Northern Tamil Youth and the Southern Sinhala Youth commit to the creation of a fresh Sri Lankan identity that is built upon education, self-learning and intellectual co-existence. Increasing our percentage in political participation and ensuring our contribution within civil society organizations is important in order to ensure a better future for us.
I am disappointed at the Northern Province Chief Minister’s speech not because I am a Sinhalese, but because I am a Sri Lankan. One reason was the tone he adopted in presenting his demands, which was a tone that incites violence among his people rather than influencing them to consider a reconciliatory approach. The other reason is the reaction of the Sinhala Politicians, who even slightly modified the contents of the speech and used it as a weapon to incite racism in the South.
This country is no longer the property of anyone to destroy by sowing racism. The Youth are the future of this country, and we have the right to take decisions to ensure a bright future for us. Our future will belong to all of us.
I would like to reiterate that as Youth, it should be our priority and duty to ensure that Sri Lanka does not fall prey to narrow political forces such as these.
Note: This text is the translation of a blog which was originally written in Sinhala. See Right Section for the original blog.