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Mutual understanding vital for communal harmony -Vasu

National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara told the Sunday Observer in an interview that much headway has been made during the last two years to implement Tamil as an official language and promote communal amity and mutual understanding among the different communities towards the goal of unifying the country as one nation.

He said the last UNHCR resolution was not drastic but in implementing the LLRC report which the Government has started on, there are interventions from interested parties and States who attempt to re-activate the issue.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: As Minister of National Languages and Social Integration, how far have you been successful in implementing Tamil, with Sinhalese, as the official language and promoting communal amity in the country?

A: We have come a long way in the last two years. I believe a number of government institutions that have not been using Tamil as an official language along with Sinhalese are now using it. In the bilingual secretariat areas Tamil administrative officers are operating fully, other than in police stations and hospitals.

More Tamil-speaking administrative officers are being recruited. Similarly, Management Assistants, which is the Government’s clerical service, are being recruited from among those who can speak Tamil as well, especially from the Tamil and Muslim communities. The total number required will be recruited in this manner. Only about 10 percent of the Sinhalese know Tamil while about 30 percent Tamils know Sinhalese.

This is a major drawback for the mutual understanding and goodwill among the communities. So we are implementing programs for more people to learn the others’ language. It will gradually resolve the problems and grievances of the people.

The Sinhalese are now learning Tamil and the Tamils are learning Sinhala. We are promoting it as a Ministry. It will facilitate mutual communication, understanding and goodwill. As more and more people learn the two languages they will be able to converse with one another and a greater understanding will be achieved.

The problems of security, self-respect and dignity arose mainly due to the communication gap. All these problems will be resolved if the communication gap can be overcome.

Around 28,000 – 30,000 people have been trained in Sinhalese and Tamil, according to the interests expressed by the language societies under the 'two language cadre program'. Over 40,000 public servants were trained in the ‘other language’ in 2012. When we reach the projected target the grievances of the people will become nil.

Q:What do you consider as the main reason for the three-decade long ethnic strife and turbulence?

A: Mutual understanding is the primary requirement for communal harmony. The lack of mutual understanding was the cause for the problems in the past. Understanding will come only out of equality, self-respect, individual security and equal opportunities. So we, the government, should make those things possible.

Once they are promoted, understanding will follow between and among the communities. Some of the grievances are due to logistical reasons, some due to wrong attitudes of bureaucrats and certain groups and sections of society, including the extremist elements who make things uncomfortable for the smaller communities.

In the past, recruitment to government service was not done according to the ethnic percentage and everything was polarised in the long protracted war. These things are being addressed now.

Q: The Indian government has given protection to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on his visit to India to pay homage at the Tirupathy Hindu temple and at Bodhi Gaya, despite protests from fundamentalist political elements. How do you look at it?

A:President Rajapaksa undertook a private visit to Tirupathy. He is our President and he has political opponents here and abroad who will denounce him, protest against his visits and do everything possible to make him uncomfortable. But he is undeterred and the Indian State has given him sufficient assurance and protection that he can move into any part of India or South Asia on a private visit.

Q: Political analysts have insinuated that the presence of the two super powers, India and China, in the country for their own strategic reasons may pose future problems with regard to regional security. What are your comments on it?

A: There is no Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean. India as a big naval power, is our neighbour and relation as President Rajapaksa said. India will act jointly and concurrently with us with its naval presence in the Indian Ocean.

Q: Will there be any repercussions if the UNHCR passed a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN sessions scheduled for next month ?

A: There will be no adverse repercussions in any material way. It will depend on the wording of the resolution. The last resolution was not a drastic resolution against us. Passed with the consent of India it was ensured to be with the concurrence of the government on implementing the LLRC report which we have already undertaken to do. We have launched an action plan to implement the LLRC report. But there is intervention by interested parties and States in the UNHCR.

Q: Sections of the international community have reiterated the need for a solution to the grievances of the minorities. What are your views on it?

A: We need a solution to the national question - we call it a national question because the country has ultimately to be unified as one nation. To unify the nation, we need an agreement reached through negotiations and consultations with all communities.

It has to be based on preserving and promoting the identities of the different ethnic groups and communities while unifying the country as one nation. It has to be an agreement of consensus. A solution followed by that should be on the manner in which the governance has to take place according to the different communities, their needs and acceptability.

Q: The TNA which has shown reluctance to join the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) talks to find a solution has lately undertaken a visit to South Africa whose representative was in the Darussman Committee which had adversely reported on Sri Lanka. What are your comments?

A: I do not think that the TNA is contributing productively towards finding a solution.

They is increasing antagonism by their conduct and the position they have taken on the issue. I do not think they have a genuine interest in the unification of the country. The grievances are there, I agree. But they can be resolved through discussions and agreements. No authority outside the country can impose any solution on us. It is entirely a matter for the communities of the country to reciprocate to one another and evaluate a solution acceptable to them. The TNA should take part in the PSC instead of going to cities and countries which have nothing to do with the problem.

 

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