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Radio drama strengthens religious diversity and pluralism

'Radio drama has been evolving as an art with enormous scientific elements, and has proved its potential to strengthening religious diversity and pluralism in Sri Lanka,' said Prof. W A D P Wanigasundera, Chairperson of the Sri Lanka Development Journalist Forum (SDJF), sharing his view about a Radio drama initiative implemented by SDJF, promoting freedom of religion and pluralism.

A radio drama in progress

"Positive social change is a very dynamic process and might take a gradual phase towards behavioural change. It is one of the arts, that has immense power and potential that helps not only the listeners, but also everyone who is involved in writing, editing and production, to internalise the value it intends to cater.

What is interesting about the Radio drama initiative is that that it features civil society participation in writing and nurturing the scripts," he said.

The Sri Lanka Development Journalist Forum engaged 24 young radio drama writers, who are fluent in Sinhala and Tamil. As an end result, after the story-hunting and training with eight days of residential workshop, the youth concluded writing 12 radio drama scripts.

Scripts

After voicing the dramas from the scripts created by the youth, veteran radio drama artists such as K. Chandrasekeran, Ulepane Gunasekara, Senani Wikramasinghe, Ashroff Sihabdeen enthusiastically commented on the scripts. They indicated that the dramas were written with critical sense, a balanced approach, and in a manner that appealed attention towards freedom of religion and pluralism.

Before the dramas were written, the young writers were divided into mixed groups and sent to a story-hunting visit. The purpose of the visit was to encourage the young writers to stay three to four days in a targeted community and bring a real world essence to their scripts. It also aimed to bring the civil society inputs to the scripts from the very beginning of the process.

During the story-hunting visit, young writers were exposed to different religious lives, connected practices, issues and perceptions while hunting for their unique characters, plots, story lines and case studies for the drama scripts.

Opportunities

Young writers met civil society leaders, government servants, the public, youth, women and children to gain more perspectives on deeply rooted issues in the community that were connected to the theme.

Participants had opportunities to interact with women groups as to understand a gender perspective on the issue. Some Tamil and Muslim youth writers did voluntary activities in Buddhists temples in their visits, while Sinhalese writers had similar experiences in Muslim Mosques.

Ninety percent of the writers agreed that the story hunting visits positively influenced the content in their drama.

After the story-hunting visit, 24 writers attended a professional training on modern radio drama in promoting freedom of religion and pluralism. The first phase of the training focused on mobilising the knowledge gained through the story hunting visits for the radio drama, while the second phase of the training concentrated on providing skills and knowledge on creating radio drama scripts under developing characters, concentrating them with freedom of religion and religious pluralism, developing story lines, scenes and script editing etc.

During the process of writing the scripts, activities were carried out to ensure that the young writers had internalised and reflected on connected values such tolerance, respecting diversity, dialogues, non-violence, equality, justice, and human rights towards freedom of religion and religious pluralism.

The last stage of the training involved tasks such as group reading, discussion and debate about the substance and structural aspects of the dramas to ensure that they would potentially meet the needs of the target community.

Workshop

All the participants said the training workshop was highly useful with regards to their personal life. Ninety-three percent said that workshop had made them activists in promoting religious pluralism. Every participant believes that their perception on the freedom of religion has changed positively. More than 90% believe that they can use radio drama in the future in different forms through the media, such as community radio in schools and in village level societies.

What is more vital in this initiative was that SDJF formed three storyboards that comprised 15 civil society members each and the scripts were sent back to them for the inclusion of civil perspectives in the content and civil participation in writing the scripts. Civil society members contributed notable amounts of changes on some of the scripts.

Tharindu Wickremasinghe, one of the participants, said, "I didn't think that there was anybody as racist as I was. I was 100% a racist. I believe that we all should get together and work as one unit."

M.F.M. Firnas, a participant from Batticaloa said, "During the process of writing my drama, the ideas of tolerance, understanding and respecting diversity have dominated my thoughts. Now I realise my role in promoting religious pluralism and I recognise myself as an activist".

The dramas that were produced in this process are to be aired through community radio stations and then would be part of a large number of community dialogues across the country.

Eventually, the dramas will be uploaded in social media platforms to reach out to yet a wider community for cyber dialogue. This program was funded by the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives. For more information write to [email protected]

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