Independence Day?

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Disclaimer: The following article was originally published as “The Language of Peace” in the Sunday Times  on the 26th January, 2014. The content of the article was edited to suit the newspaper. However, given the impending Independence Day celebrations I thought its best to share it on the blog as well. Thank you. 

2014 would mark the fifth anniversary of the end of a war that plagued this nation for 25 years, 9 months, 3 weeks and 4 days. The Sri Lankan government declared the end of the war on 18th May, 2009. People all around the country were ecstatic at the news. The war had kept everyone awake most nights, the war was all some of us knew, we grew up to it. The war was our early morning news and our bed-time story. It was what happened to our father, our brother, our neighbor, our friend. The war was our story and we won it.

But as the dust settles and we look around, more poignant questions must be asked. We have been overwhelmed by the victory itself and its repetitive glorification by parties who are inclined to make the best out of it that we have overlooked the fact that winning the war and winning the peace are two entirely different processes. While we have earned the right to boast about one, we have failed as a nation to address the other.

We now have, not one but two independence days where we stand in pride as “one nation” and celebrate as “one people”. But could we truly identify ourselves as “one people”? When the lady at the bus-stop asks how to get to Pettah in Tamil, are we capable of helping her? When we stop to ask for directions to the sea from the little boy who is standing outside his house in Batticaloa, are we capable of understanding him? If we are not capable of conversing in the two languages that are considered the national languages, could we truly regard ourselves as “Sri Lankans”? Conversation and communication are the bridges that connect peple through understanding, and understanding is the basis upon which mutual respect is built on. So will we remain oblivious to the burning-bridges, or are we going to win this peace?

However, the attention provided to this subject matter is limited to academic discourse or publicity of state sanctioned events.. While the effort is commendable, it is important that the media, as the third eye of the society, direct people’s attention to the importance of respecting the language rights of Sri Lankan’s on a day to day level. It is imperative that more articles regarding the language situation in Sri Lanka are written and published in laymen’s terms directed towards a wider public audience. In this author’s opinion state and private media, print or otherwise, must invest themselves more in promoting the notion of language equality, building up with the reasons that this is important in the post war situation. As the voice of the general public and the most influential apparatus of the society, media must mobilise to provide a ground level solution to the day to day discriminations that once led our nation to a civil war. Media should essentially facilitate a discourse regarding this subject matter and its impact on a ground level.

It is important that we are able to say “Nandri” (Thank You) to a Tamil speaking by-passer who picks up the bag you just dropped, it’s important that we say “Suba Udaasanak” (Good Morning) to the Sinhala speaking gentleman who guards the door and greets us every morning at our work place. It is important that none of us feel like outsiders here. We need to personally contribute towards a day where all twenty million of us can call this island paradise our home, whole-heartedly. Sri Lanka is an avalanche of numerous cultures. We are the Sinhalese who enjoy biriyani during Ramazan, we are the Tamils who rejoice in lanterns during Vesak with our Sinhala friends, we are the Burgers who celebrate the Sinhala and Tamil New Year with the neighbors, and we are the Muslims who enjoy the seasonal Christmas cake. Let’s learn the National languages, let’s built bridges not burn them; let’s speak the language of peace.

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