Saturday, October 20, 2012

Love your mother tongue - respect the other ones!

Love your mother tongue & respect the other ones!

Last month I visited Jaffna for the first time in my life, and wow what a lovely adventure!  I loved the different colours, the different clothes and the sights and fantastic vegetarian cooking, Ive hardly any words to describe how thrilled I was by this land that was so different and yet, our country. Sri Lanka is made beautiful by its diversity,  that is the very differences that make us who we are. Many of you who are reading this article will remember pretty much all your life there was this ethnic conflict/ civil war or whatever,  going on. There were bombs blowing up, Army checkpoints, and sad news on television, people dying and suffering and a general sense of worry. You didn't know if your parents would come back home at the end of the day, after going to work!! For our Tamil friends the situation was worse, they were treated with suspicion, and harassed every where they went in this country, of which they too are equally citizens. Well this ethnic conflict goes back a long way into the past before all the violence and revenge, and one of the reasons it actually started is that the powers that be those days were not sensitive to the rights of all citizens of this country. Thats what we need to understand you see, that all of us Sinhala, Tamil,Muslim Burger and various mixes in between, that this lovely island is ours to have and to hold together.
Let me start with the food for just one example, have you tasted delicious Pongal,  and do you remember the mouth watering sawans that our Muslim sisters send us after Ramadan, and how about those delightful creamy Bombay sweets? Then how about all the wonderful varied characters you meet in life? The different stories, dramas, songs we hear and the colourful festivals we celebrate here, along with so many public holidays...  these all originate from different cultures, and in Sri Lanka we are ever so lucky to have different ethnic communities on one island. But then why were we fighting? For the reasons you'd have to travel way back in history, which might be boring but I will explain it very briefly...some of the reasons are political, meaning people in high positions made unfair decisions, basically so that they could retain power!
One of these decisions was the "Sinhala Only policy" which was made in the late 1950s probably when your grandparents were young.
Now this had some pretty strange paragraphs  which we cant even begin to justify now since  most of the people who wrote it are not around, but basically it meant that all official work should be done in Sinhala and you have to pass Sinhala exams if you wanted to progress in life. This is one of the reasons English was given third place,and then  it wasnt taught for some time,  and now there are only few quality English teachers left in the country. This means that  Sri Lanka is once more in trouble, because when it tries to interact with the rest of the world, all communication is done in English, from scientific discovery to technological breakthroughs and tourism and internet communications - everything needs English
But lets think about the people in Sri Lanka first. We are all equally citizens of this country, Sinhala Tamil Muslim, Burgher or any Sri Lankan. We all live here and we work together to develop it , and we love this country . Being Sri Lankan means we have equal rights, no matter if we are rich or poor, or dark skinned or fair, short or tall, men or women and no matter whatever language we speak. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  starts by saying  All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
The government later realized that this SInhala Only policy was not only being silly, but was causing real problems and making people hurt, so they updated it with new laws about language namely the Official Languages Act and various changes to the Constitution . The Constitution which is the Most Important Law of any country, in Sri Lanka now says that both Sinhala and Tamil are official languages  of Sri Lanka and so any Sri Lankan has a right to speak in those languages, and to get their official work done in that language. This means if you have a water bill, or if you want to apply for permission to build another room to your house, or if you want to register your marriage, basically any official kind of work, you should be able to carry this out in one of those "official" languages.
But do you know what? Yesterday I was sitting at the Central Bus halt in Fort at 7  in the evening, all tired and waiting for the bus to go home when I heard the announcements for the buses to Jaffna and Vanunia, and  they were all speaking in Sinhala. Can you imagine what a poor tired Tamil old lady would feel like if she was waiting for the bus to go to Jaffna and she did not understand Sinhala? She would probably miss the bus, and get into worse trouble don't you think? and what's even worse is that the huge neon lit signboard for the public toilets is in Sinhala and English only, so if you were an unfortunate Sri Lankan who didn't know Sinhala you would find it difficult to find the toilets , except perhaps for how smelly they are! Ok, Im joking, but then think about some serious sign, like something saying "THIS BRIDGE IS BROKEN.". What if you didn't see that sign because no one had bothered to write it in your language and then you went and got hurt? Actually it is the public duty according to the Law of the land, including the Constitution and some other important acts, like the Official Languages Act , that all public places should have notices, announcements, signboards and documentation in all three languages!
So  how about your National Identity card, how about the signboards on your road, or on the bus, or the signs in the public hospital in your area, or the instructions on how to get a blood test, or the directions on a box of heart pills?  Are they written in all three languages?  If not have you thought how unfair it is to some people who might know only one language?  I hope you will spot things like that and talk about it  next time you see them, because for sure something has to be done about them .
That way everyone can celebrate a spirit of respect and friendship and we can see a very beautiful future ahead of us, together in this lovely country.

"Progress in the North" Photo by Priyan Amarasingha

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good article Alju, I really liked it.
I think English should be our official language & all the schools should be teaching in English medium. Our country can't be developed like this.
Any Indian , Pakistanian , Maldivian can speak in English.
But see in S.L. , many can't speak English.

Also this officiam lanuguage mater, it should be compulsory to teach Tamil in Sinhala schools as a secondary lanuguage. Also Sinhala in Tamil schools.
Many Muslims & Tamils can speak Sinhala & Sinhala people can't speak Tamil.

For us , friendship can be developed & we can find solutions if we get rid if this lanuguage barrier as you say.

But I don't know when a true politian will rise to set these things.For me all the politicians are similarly stupid & selfish.

Until then, I believe we as friends can do many things to build up peace & friendship in our country.