There’s got to be some sorta way outta here
This is an article I wrote for the Sunday Leader. I usually try to post an excerpt before so one can go out and go out and get the paper, but whatevs. It’s available on their site but my photo and byline are still messed up so reposting it here. I suppose it’s naive, but I’m genuinely trying to find and think about positive ways out.
We have an opportunity in this generation to build a truly Sri Lankan democracy. We have a window to deliver a political solution to Tamil grievances which – besides weakening the forces of terror – will strengthen democracy for all citizens of this land. Language, education, employment and colonization are issues that affect all Sri Lankans. All Sri Lankans can work together to make (and be) a positive change.
Devolution Of Ideas
Tamil grievances are relatively straightforward and they’ve actually been addressed by various pacts between leaders. Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam, Senanayake-Chelvanayakam, the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord (Jayawardene-Gandhi), then various devolution packages and constitutional reforms. And finally the MOU between Ranil and Prabhakaran.
What’s striking is not that power has devolved (it hasn’t), but that the proposals have. What began with actual human problems devolved into the reshuffle of a Constitution which no one actually follows. In the end it was just about weapons and who could raise flags where and almost nothing about the real grievances. Which still exist.
Leaders have tended to focus on the mechanisms of leadership (Provincial Councils, amendments) while people’s lives have not actually improved. This is not to say that Constitutional reforms shouldn’t continue, they should. At the same time, however, the people of this country need to take responsibility for improving our own lives and the lives of our neighbors. As citizens we need to make this a new era of responsibility, negotiating for and being the change we want. Because there are some quick wins we can get, right now. This column will address the two issues of language and education with employment and colonization to follow.
Language (Pick Up The Phone)
We have used technology like the AK-47 and C4 to blow each other up, but other technology can actually help us. Like the phone. Today you can dial 1919 and get government service in Sinhala, Tamil and English. You don’t need to devolve power or set up a new administration, just press 1, 2 or 3. The service is quite good.
In a recent LBO.lk article, Rohan Samarajiva (the former Director General of the TRC and, as a full disclosure, my father) proposes extending 1919 to a full scale interpretation service. Can’t get service in Tamil at your police station? Simply call 1919 and have a conference call between you, the interpreter and the police officer. This is a quick win, and expansion can begin right now. This Government Information Center was launched by the ICTA and the Presidential Secretariat. If you want to make them aware of this idea you can mail the ICTA at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them on 11-236 9100.
Education (Comment On A Blog)
Sri Lanka still has a strong education system, but far too many of our youth have nowhere to go after O/Levels or A/Levels. They have support from their families and the desire to work hard, but there aren’t enough quality universities or instititutes to train them. However, for students with initiative there is always opportunity on the Internet. Anyone can access full video courses from MIT, Stanford, Princeton and Yale at academicearth.org. Anyone can access lecture notes, exams and videos from MIT at ocw.mit.edu. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it shows you what’s out there. These opportunities are open to anyone with an Internet connection and some knowledge of English.
What we can do now is promote Internet access to our students, and better English knowledge. Open broadband access to the North and East will take time, but we as citizens should demand it. This is a priority because it can immediately begin to address the legitimate demand for education (as well as employment, in time). Policy makers should know that this is important, because it’s about the next generation, and the roots of our ethnic conflict.
The first generation to take advantage of these opportunities is already online, coming from ‘border’ villages like Mahavilachiya. Visit the blogroll (links on the left) of hlacademy.wordpress.com. Those are real kids who are blogging in English and Sinhala. You can help them with their English simply by leaving a comment and encouraging them to write more. This is a simple model driven by the children themselves and it can easily spread to children in the North and East. And it’s fun.
We can hope for governmental change, but we do not have to wait for it. We are the government and we can be the change we want to see in this world. A political solution to Tamil grievances is too vital to Sri Lanka to be left to the politicians. As citizens, neighbors and friends we need to get involved in addressing these basic Sri Lankan grievances wherever we see them. Instead of bombs to our chest we need to strap phones to our ears and keyboards to our fingers. And get out there. Language, education, employment and colonization are not just Tamil grievances, they are Sri Lankan grievances. And they are within our power to solve. Not through a pact between our leaders, but through a pact with each other, and ourselves.