5000 People Spoke Out Against Racism in Sri Lanka
5,081 people that is. The petition was created by a small group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens, following the systematic harassment of minority communities around the island over the past few months. What started out with banning Halal food, rapidly developed into arson attacks on Muslim owned businesses, defacing of Mosques and attacks on Churches.
That’s not to say that the issue cropped up recently. In 2012 an extremist Buddhist group, lead by monks, stormed a Mosque in Dambulla and torched the 50 year old building. The Buddhists in the area condemned the violence against their Muslims neighbours, stating that they have co-existed peacefully over the years. The government did what they do best– they ignored it.
Just as they ignored other isolated incidents of both Mosques and Churches being attacked as well in the recent past. They went as far as calling the public delusional and having cooked up the Grease Yakka attacks.
Then again, this has been an issue since the 1950’s; possibly beyond. The problem is undoubtedly deep-rooted, and we cannot allow it to fester as it has for all these decades. It has been the impetus of the 30 year conflict, and here we are once again, repeating the mistakes of our past.
We need to speak up. We need to work towards chipping away at the racism in Sri Lanka that’s preventing us from truly progressing. No amount of expressways, wider roads, wetland parks and cobble-stone pavements (all built on borrowed money as we sink deeper and deeper in debt), will help Sri Lanka progress.
So 5081 people spoke out. They called on the government to take action against the hate-speech, hate-crimes and racism. The petition was mailed to the President a few weeks back and has reached the Presidential Secretariat.
Here’s a link to the petition in case you’d like to read through it (there’s a Sinhala and Tamil translation available as well)-
You can check out the Facebook page too(it’s got lost of neat graphics and posters)- http://www.facebook.com/NoMoreHateInSriLanka
I do hope that all those who signed the petition will continue to speak out and fight against racism in Sri Lanka. Signing the petition is a good first step, but we need people actively working towards bringing about change.
Meg is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She’s a journalist and a world-class klutz. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.
The Sacred Vote
We visited a community of Northern Displaced IDPs in Puttlam recently. This was part of our Peace and Governance initiative, an effort to improve cohesion between youth and the entity we call Governance.
We had 3 discussions in course of our visit; the first was with a group of youth, the second with a young provincial council member elected to Jaffna and the last was with a few officials and community representatives from the Community Trust Fund.
Their problems are complex and community discourse has reached a fever pitch with the war ending and the possibilities of relocating to their old homes becoming a reality.
But we found yet another issue that mainly was faced by the youth; young people are facing an inability to act upon their right to vote. Most youngsters who have left the territories before the age of being eligible to vote have not received their voting registration forms yet.
So we got together with a bunch of other young people and wrote a letter to the Elections Commissioner about it. A lot of much more useful work has been done in this regard of course by organizations like CPA and CTF. We heard that the elections commissioner was due to release a circular enabling them to vote during this election, but are yet to find out what came of it.
A casual report on our discussion with the IDP youth can be viewed here.
Implementing Bilingual — Use the damn Telephone!
One of the most real complaints by Tamil-speaking civillians in Sri Lanka is that they cannot speak in their own language when communicating with government officials including policemen and security personnel.
Writing for his “Choices” column at LBO, Rohan Samarijiva offers a simple and a simply brilliant idea for implementing bilingual (hell, even trilingual) communication in Sri Lanka — Using a call centre as a translation service. Here’s a choice excerpt,
We simply do not have enough bilingual government servants, even though we have more people working for government, per capita, than any place on the planet. Mr Lionel Fernando tried to solve this problem; Mr D.E.W. Gunasekera is still at it. But the evidence is clear. Conventional approaches are not working.
The solution is staring us in the face. The ubiquitous telephone.
With just a little tweaking of the 1919 Government Information Center, we can enable any citizen anywhere to speak to any government servant in any official language of his choice. Even today, 1919 is one place in government where questions are answered in all three official languages, politely. Why not just extend it into a full-fledged government interpretation service?
If anyone has trouble communicating with a government official, all she would have to do is dial 1919. Ideally this would be a free call. Even if not, it’s better than what we now have. All sorts of bells and whistles can be built in starting with simple conference calling, so that there’d be no need to pass the phone from ear to ear.
Does the government official have to be at her desk? No. Mobile phones work everywhere. You can call from a check point. You can call from the middle of Yala. Will this be limited to the rich? Oh no. LIRNEasia research shows that by October 2008, over 70 percent of households at the bottom of the pyramid (defined as socio-economic classifications D and E, corresponding to households earning less than USD 2 a day) in the country, excluding the North and the East, have some kind of phone. If that is the case for those with the least income, it has to be higher for those at the top of the pyramid.
If someone wants to be picky, they can start a rent-a-phone service. Rent-a-phone is easier than rent-a-neighbor. But there really is no need.
How long would it take to offer anytime, anywhere interpretation services? Weeks, not months. The private company currently operating the 1919 center can be asked to go 24/7 and increase the number of calls that can be handled at any given time. Improve the connectivity of government offices. All very cheap: telecom is the only thing going down in prices these days. But note, you need to buy from the cheapest supplier.
Find bilingual speakers and add them to the current team; take them out of government offices if need be. Accelerate the development of the databases currently used to provide information to callers so that some calls can be handled without connecting back to the government office at all.
Use the built-in capabilities of call centers, analyze the sources, types and times of calls that come in and use that data not only to improve the services from 1919, but also from the physical interfaces of government.
Start using mobile payments. Conference calling. MMS. Imagination is the limit.
Yesterday, the former LTTE colnel Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna was sworn in as the Minister of National Integration and Reconciliation. This might be a good project for the minister to push for.
The entire column is at the LBO site.
Founder of the Sri Lanka Youth Parliament and eternal BB-ite talks about youth activism, identity, getting young people to work together, change and a bit of Obama thrown in, on The Interview. The whole thing can be seen here. We would obviously want you to watch it.
We are In Mutiny
Or something like that. Beyond Borders has started a brand new blog called “InMutiny”, primarily based on our project to document youth responses on the ethnic conflict. The blog would primarily feature members of our study circle based in Colombo, but any young person can contribute to the blog by emailing their thoughts, articles and opinions by sending them to inmutiny[at]beyondborders.lk
The blog is a free and open space, subject to basic rules of civility and relevance. BB doesn’t take responsibility for the content.
So visit today, subscribe to it’s RSS feed or subscribe via email, and if you really like it, give a link back.
Here’s some of the latest posts from InMutiny,
Dude, where’s my ethnic conflict?
Thanks to work we do at BB, I have sat at countless foums, discussions and workshops which eventually ends up talking about Sri Lanka’s conflict. A lot of these discussions have included Colombo-based cosmopolitan youth, and some of them (I’ll even say many) seems to think that Sri Lanka doesn’t have an ethnic conflict. Their reasoning is quite simple:
Proposition 1: I have Tamil friends. (The infamous “some of my best friends are Tamil” line), we don’t fight.
Proposition 2: There are lots of Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims living together in Colombo, they don’t fight.
Conclusion : There’s no ethnic conflict.
I’m guilty of a bit of oversimplification and perhaps tad bit of sterotyping here, but generally the argument follows this basic model. Now I’m a big fan of cosmopolitan attitudes, I think that’s a good way to live. But unfortunately, many people in Sri Lanka don’t have cosmopolitan attitudes, hence it’s a poor way to understand what’s going on Sri Lanka.
I also don’t think interpreting the Sri Lankan conflict this way is necessarily stupid, there are bunch of (more sophisticated) arguments one can make to this end, but I think they are generaly wrong. Whatever might have been the ‘root causes’ of this conflict — and there could be a number of economic, political and situational causes — it has manifested itself in ethnic terms.
I agree with those who say the standard majority-minority analysis mises great part of the picture. I personally think what we have is more of a governance issue which manifests itself in ethnic terms. But because it has manifested itself in ethnic terms, we should call it what it is — an ethnic conflict.
Deane is a Core Group Member of Beyond Borders and a regular blogger. The views expressed here are that of the author, not of Beyond Borders.
Observations about “History” [video]
Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri and Prof. Nira Wickramasinghe both from the faculty of arts at the University of Colombo spoke at a Beyond Borders study circle in Colombo on how we interpret the construct called “history”. Following are some excerpts from their remarks.
Dr. Nirmal Dewasiri on the relationship between the past and the present :
Prof. Nira Wickramasinghe on the objectivity of history writing :
Our apologies to Prof.Wickramasinghe and Dr.Dewasiri for the incompleteness of the videos and (at times) wobbly camera work. More about the BB study circle is here.
A Study Circle on the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka
Beyond Borders kicked off the inaugural session of a series of a study circle meetings on the ethnic conflict for young people who are interested in the issues related to the ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka.
The Colombo study circle is part of a larger initiative by Beyond Borders which aims to strengthen youth voices in the discourse of the ethnic conflict by creating safe spaces for youth to freely talk about these issues. BB hopes to hold regional youth forums, study circles and create a reader on youth responses to the ethnic conflict which can be used as a lobbying tool, research resource for interested parties.
The first session focused on the role of our understanding of history has played in shaping the ethnic conflict. The speakers included Prof. Nira Wickramasinghe and Dr. Nirmal R. Dewasiri from the University of Colombo. Some pictures from the study circle is on our flickr. Watch this space for more updates on the Study Circles discussions.
Participation for the study circle is by invitation only. If you are between the ages of 18 to 29 and like to be part of the study circle drop us an email to info[at]beyondborders.lk with your name, age and a brief description as to why you’d like to be part of the study circle.