A change of attitude will unite society - Vasudeva
Commenting on the communal clashes erupting now and then, National
Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara said that
the only way to unite a fractured society is by ‘a change of attitude’.
National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva
“Society has different levels and layers. And they do not seem to
interact with one another for the common cause of the country,” Minister
In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said that it
is the enforcement of law and order that can stop perpetrators from
using communal clashes to make easy money. He said he aims to unite Sri
Lanka by winning the hearts and minds of diverse communities. Law and
order has to play its role, the Minister said. ‘Social engineering’
which the Ministry is attempting to implement will change society in the
Excerpts of the interview.
Q: The Social Integration Week will start on July 14 and
continue till July 20. What do you intend to achieve? What would be its
specific contribution to society?
A: We expect to change the attitude of the people – macro and
micro levels of society, schools, village, youth and all social levels.
A society has different levels and layers. And they do not seem to
interact with one another for the common cause of the country. The main
stream of society usually gets restricted to the elite and the
privileged. The marginalised communities, such people who are neglected
or excluded from society, need to be integrated into the main stream. In
order to do so we need to change the attitude of the entire society.
Q: Are you going to change a fractured society that has been
existing for generations?
A: Yes it is historical. And on the other hand neo-liberal
economy has thrown some people into exclusion especially in their
Q: Yet it is very complicated. How can one change this social
A: Attitude. You can be a low income earner with very little
chance in life. I am a middle income earner I have opportunities in
plenty. Then as a middle income earner. I should have the attitude to
help a low income earner out of their challenge of being absorbed into
the main stream of society. The low income earners have few chances to
get integrated into main stream society.
If I have an attitude as a middle income earner I will draw you into
the interactive levels of society. And then those people will gradually
develop integration. It will be an on-going, molecular and long term
This will be helped by setting higher levels of income and
livelihoods and the support extended by the Government to ensure
education, health and the essential conditions of life such as housing
If that support comes then there is a natural process of throwing
them up in the ladder of society and thus open avenues for integration.
Or the low income level people need to increase their income in their
own right and their own effort.
Q: Do you mean to say that the higher social strata need to
assist more in bringing the under-privileged people into main stream
society? Such as private organisations need to contribute more towards
A: Yes that will also help. Either the state must help ensure
education and other social well-being factors. Now for education there
should be a support system from down below right to the highest levels
without any problems to find the money. If there is an institution to
support education that will similarly help those who are without the
means to get their education.
That will naturally bring the marginalised groups of society to the
main stream. A child who gets a scholarship to a privileged school in
the city will gradually elevate to the mainstream. And through him or
her, the family too will come into the mainstream. That is the magic of
free education. This is the main avenue through which social integration
takes place. That is why we are unhappy about any reduction in quantity
or quality of the right to free education.
Q: In the present context many argue that these essential
services need to be focused on the neediest rather the state spending on
those who can afford. What is your opinion?
A: There is a point. But then the universal free education
becomes a selective free education. Then it becomes a question of
distinguishing between the haves and the have-nots in the education.
Then you have the two slabs. Then comes the problem of facilities. What
I suggest is an extra tax be charged from the privileged for education.
Not fees; a tax from capable parents like me. I should have been charged
a tax for the free education my children received. And that tax should
be used to pay the education bills of the less privileged. Charge the
tax from all the parents who have the means – that is what the
Government should do.
Q: Today we hear so much about social unrest. Your Ministry
plays a major role in social integration. What is your point of view?
A: I douse communal upheavals. But I support social upheavals
in order to win people’s demands. Not communal upheavals. But social and
economic upheavals I promote when people cannot win their demands.
Communal disturbances is a grave crime.a It’s a crime that should be a
Q: What is the best way to bring together a fractured society?
A: I promote communal harmony through social engineering. By
learning languages and bringing about cultural exchange. And promoting
the learning of languages and literature of other communities among
children. There should be opportunities to appreciate each other's
culture. I continue to promote these.
Q: Isn’t that more successful than trying to impose law and
order on people?
A: What I do through the Ministry is a necessary part of the
social action. But the law and order breaks down, that gives the
offenders the impression that they can get away with it.
Whenever there is a communal flare up they enrich themselves by
looting. The law and order has to come down on them.
Q: You mentioned about bringing in marginalised communities in
to the mainstream. And in many of the social integration attempts of
your Ministry we see a lot of community participation. But generally
there is less participation of the ground level communities in important
issues. How do you see this?
A: This is a concept of administration. Our concepts of
administration is from top to bottom. We need to promote more of the
ground level participation in administration. I have developed what is
known as workers cultures or employees councils to participate with the
administration in resolving knotty problems with the administration and
make the administration more productive.
The participation of employees in a consultative manner is necessary
to improve the administration itself and the delivery of service to the
Then people’s organisations, need to be included in the local
government bodies in order to carry out work that affects their lives.
This is very important.
At least when it comes to local bodies which are elected by the
people and are the closest to the people there is some interaction
between the community and those representatives. Therefore, we must give
more power to the local bodies and then organise the people to come into
participatory activity with the local government bodies. It is provided
in the Act.
Q: How successful are your efforts in involving the public in
to social integration activities. How do you assess the success of the
participation of the communities in programs initiated by the ministry?
A: I think we have gone a long way. Because in all programs we
have involved the community. If it is the question of issuing the
identity cards or birth certificates which have been lost during the
time of war, we start collecting data in consultation with the
Divisional Secretaries and the local organisations and the community and
And we get all those things prepared through the mobile service. And
we issue those documents free of charge to the people at our own
expense. We involve their community in issuing these and collecting
data. I see some success in involving the community.
Q: Do you think people are responsive enough?
A: You have to accept that people are preoccupied with finding
the means for their essential.
There is hardly any time for community participation because they are
working all the time. When come home after work they have more work at
home to get that extra money. Even with that it is insufficient for them
meet their basic needs. And they are frustrated.
Therefore, they have no inclination to join community projects.
That is the case with large numbers of people which is more than 20%
of society. So we are really dealing with the people above them.