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On the  occasion of the DSC South Asia Literature Festival, London – October 2010

I must thank the organizers of DSC South Asian Literature Festival for giving me this opportunity to introduce from Bridging Connections, the first anthology of short stories to showcase writing from all three Sri Lankan languages. It was published by the National Book Trust of India, and has now been translated into several Indian languages, including Tamil which is of course one of the Sri Lankan languages too. 

Regrettably the Sri Lankan education system until recently ensured that most Sri Lankans were stuck in reading knowledge of one language only. Students were compulsorily educated in their mother tongue, and in most parts of the country schools were segregated, not only as Sinhala and Tamil schools, but also as separate Muslim schools. Though English was in theory a compulsory second language, it was not necessary to pass any exams in it, so it was usually neglected. The other language, Sinhalese for Tamils and Tamil for Sinhalese, was rarely taught.

 Fortunately that situation has changed in the last decade, with the second national language being made compulsory in schools, though as yet with no compulsion to pass in it. However knowledge of this is now compulsory for new recruits into government service. In addition, English medium education is now permitted, which will once more enable people of different ethnic groups to study together.

For the older generation however the problem continues. Though this volume will at least enable some Sri Lankans to read stories written originally in the other national language, we must remember that this will be confined to a small elite, namely those who read readily in English. We have yet to develop better policies and abilities in translation, though I should note that steps in the right direction are at long last being taken.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2010
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