Vibhasha | November – December 2011
It seems that a new discourseon an old subject is emergent withinthe country at present. However, theskeptics that question the sincerityand meaningulness o this discourse,and renewed interest in the languagerights in Sri Lanka, are also not inshortage. This skepticism is also notunounded. The numerous harsh anddisappointing experiences o the pastorm the basis or this doubt.I one were to list out allthe problems aced by Sri Lankathroughout her history, theaorementioned language rightswould top the list.It is also no secret that thisproblem, which intensied in theyears ollowing independence, wasa key actor that resulted in thecountry eventually plummeting into adreaded war zone.Even in those early days, itis not that there were no leaderswho understood the gravity o theproblem and attempted to set thecountry on the right track. Some evenput their lives on the line in theireorts. However, the victors werethose who overpowered these eortswith their own attempts to intensiythe problem. In the end, the country’sinheritance was the 30 year unendingfames o war.Now the fames have died andthe war has ended. And pledges o never letting a repetition occur arebeing made.It is within such a backdrop thatthe present discourse on languagerights in Sri Lanka is unolding.Numerous workshops, conerencesand lectures are at present beingconducted to raise awareness onlanguage rights amongst the citizenryo this country.At rst glance, this seems apositive development. Various issuesthat were suppressed during the lastthirty years by the terrorizing warenvironment are yet again beingbrought up or discussion as a result.However, key amongst the questionsraised, is that which asks how helpulthis discourse will be in providingsolutions to the problems people atthe grassroots level ace in their dailylives.
While such doubt and dismayounded in past experience may be justifed, we must understand thatan increase in public interest is stepone o any process o resolution. Inthis light, we must be able to viewthis renewed interest with positivity.
The media’s ability to draw publicas well as policy makers’ attention toproblems related to language rights,is also due or special consideration.While our past experiences withthe media have been less thansatisactory, not all hope should belost. It is the media that is responsibleor bringing the problems related tolanguage rights aced by the averageperson, to the attention o societyat large. Journalists, as well as thevarious pressure groups working onlanguage rights should understandthis ability that the media possesses,and work towards using it or societalprogress.What is meant here is not the useo media to create media circuses, butrather the use o media as a platormthrough which to bring society’sattention to real problems related tolanguage rights, and seek solutionsor the same.However, this responsibilityshould also not be underestimated asone that can be ullled by the mediaalone. What the media has at presentis a journey that is merged with theparallel social activism related tolanguage rights. When examined incomparison to the past, one could saythat the situation today is somewhatpositive, as neither the various socialorces working on language rights,nor the media, seem to be aced withthe kind o direct adverse pressuresthey were aced with a ew decadesago. The main obstacle today isthe inadequate dedication andenthusiasm seen on the part o responsible parties. The articlepublished on page 16 o this issue o Vibhasha can be cited as one simpleexample o this. The article speaks o a problemrelated to a government sponsoredbillboard displayed in proximity to theColombo Town Hall. As the billboardwas not displayed with sensitivityto language rights in Sri Lanka, theChairman o the Ocial LanguagesCommission was aced with theneed to rectiy this problem. As such,while the Chairman contacted therelevant responsible parties o theMinistry o Health several monthsago, inorming them o the error, nochange whatsoever is seen on thebillboard as yet. The Minister o NationalLanguages and Social IntegrationVasudeva Nanayakkara presentedanother example o a language rightsviolation rom the recent past. A largenumber o Sinhala as well as Tamilspeaking persons visit the ColomboNational Museum on a daily basis. Themajority o them are students romar fung areas o the country. There isnot a single Tamil speaking employeeat the National Museum to providethem with inormation related tothe exhibits. Having understood thegravity o this problem, the Ministerhas over the last ew months beenpressuring the Museum authoritiesto hire two Tamil speaking sta members. However his eorts haveyielded no results thus ar.
or the dream o a uture Sri Lankawith established language rights.What they indicate is the same oldcountry that is insensitive to languagerights. One might cite the problemo inecient administration that weall ace oten in this country as thereason or this. Another might say “the
what the country is in need o todayare not excuses, but solutions to theproblem.Mr. S.G Punchihewa in hispublication ‘Language and Humanity’,points out administrative shortall isnothing new by citing the ollowingrepresentation made by the AllCeylon Tamil Congress at the SoulburyCommission Evidence Hearings.“Discrimination against theCeylon Tamils arises not so much romlegislative as rom administrativeor executive acts o commission oromission.”I this allegation made by theACTC at a time beore independence,is still valid or the present day, whatdoes it say o the independence wehave achieved?On the other hand, proo thatadministration is not a problem whenthe need exists, is aplenty. This act has been proven timeand again both in the case o thewar as well as through subsequentpost war “urban development” and“accelerated development” projects.As such, this administrativepassivity should not be allowedvalidity as a reason with regards toproblems o language rights alone.
and related arising problems,are second to none amongst theproblems aced by this country.
An “accelerated” plan towin language rights as well