Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue at the Indian International Centre, New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.

Returnees at Work

But all this is for the future. For the present, what needs to be done to ensure continuing cooperation of the sort that allowed us to overcome terrorism so effectively, while forestalling any backlash within India? In the first place, obviously, we need to continue with activities that will ensure the confidence of the Tamil people within Sri Lanka, but also outside. I refer here by the latter not only to people in Tamil Nadu, but also to the diaspora, some of whom were prepared to threaten the unity of India in addition to that of Sri Lanka, in seeking to deal with grievances real and imaginary.

In what are I think the most important respects, we have done a good job, and will obviously continue on that path. I mean here the programme of rapid resettlement, together with the rehabilitation of former combatants, most of whom we realize were relatively innocent victims of Tiger compulsions. The figures here speak for themselves, and we cannot stress enough how the myths of yesteryear, that we were keeping the displaced in long-term detention, that we were treating former cadres as prisoners, have been so conclusively exploded.

We made it clear that we could not return the displaced immediately, because of the landmines, because of the need for at least basic infrastructure to be in place before people could resume their lives, and because of security considerations. But we made a pledge, soon after the defeat of the Tigers, that the bulk of the returns would take place within six months, and we stuck by this, albeit with slight delays. We must appreciate in this regard the confidence India placed in us, and also the enormous assistance proffered for the purpose, in particular with regard to demining and the provision of shelter. In a sense that approach was an object lesson to those who were less anxious about the displaced than about scoring brownie points with pressure groups through vociferous criticisms of the Sri Lankan state.

We have indeed gone further, because we are well on the way to developing the infrastructure in the North so as to promote equitable development. We showed how this could be done in the East through concerted effort, and we have made up in a short time for some at least of the neglect the distant areas of our country suffered from in the half century after independence, neglect that contributed to youth insurrections in both the North and the South.

More however remains to be done in terms of equitable human resources development. We need to fast forward educational reforms so that the talents and energies of the people in the North can contribute on an equal basis to development and prosperity. I have long advocated this, but my concerns in this regard have been increased by recent discussions with the Tamil diaspora in London, who indicated how educational discrimination in the seventies, justified as it was on racist grounds by Cyril Mathew and his ilk, contributed to bitterness. Fortunately educational reform is one of the most important objectives of the government.

But in addition to promoting excellence at higher levels on an equitable basis, to match our well recognized excellence in basic education, we must also think of innovative ways of ensuring that our young people can learn together and develop social links. We must get rid of the system of educational segregation we have allowed to build up over the years, where students are locked into Sinhala or Tamil or Muslim schools, caged in monolingualism, unable except in urban centres to engage in extra-curricular activities together. Sports and cultural activities together must be promoted, and also working together in social service projects as well as nation building activities such as cadetting.

That last field suggests another area in which we should take swift action, so as to increase the proportion of the minorities in our security forces as well as in the public sector in general. Already commissioning of Tamil policemen, which we began even while the conflict continued, is proceeding apace, and we must extend this on a proactive basis to the military. Similarly with the public service, where we also need to promote bilingualism. This government took the plunge in making bilingualism compulsory for new recruits, but we also need to ensure that those previously in service too respond positively to the new ethos.

We need too to restore confidence in governmental systems by promoting not only transparency and accountability, but also responsiveness and efficiency. In this regard I believe we can learn much from India, for instance with regard to Freedom of Information as well as the enforcement of Public Policy. This must be extended to the judiciary, not just in terms of the enforcement of rights, but more importantly in ensuring that justice is not delayed, that citizens who have recourse to the Courts do not suffer from judicial process taking precedence over justice. This I believe is an area in which India too needs to pursue reforms, and perhaps we could work together to promote this, to overcome the delays caused by the adversarial system we inherited from the British, so as to promote instead citizen centred justice for the SAARC region as a whole. Better training for the judiciary so as to focus attention on their responsibility to the citizenry is essential, while we also need to find different mechanisms to ensure swift restorative justice for those who suffered during the conflict.


  1. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – The International Context, Past and Present (Part 1) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
  2. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – Relations in the Past (Part 2) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
  3. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – Cooperation in the Current Context (Part 3) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
  4. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – Reconciliation and the Restoration of Confidence (Part 4) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
  5. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – Collaboration in Education and Training (Part 5) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.