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In looking at the question of national integration, which should be our principal goal now that we have eliminated terrorism from at least Sri Lankan shores, we need to begin by considering the factors that so nearly caused disintegration.

Firstly there was the sustained neglect of areas in which minorities lived. This was not particularly targeted at the minorities, since Sri Lanka suffered for more than 50 years after independence from development without equity. This has resulted in the Western Province hogging the lion’s share of per capita income, which is why many areas in the country still suffer from high levels of poverty even though the country as a whole has now moved to middle income level.

Secondly, there were measures which in intention as well as in effect were clearly discriminatory. The most upsetting in this regard was language policy, not only the constitutional measure declaring Sinhala the only official language after an electoral campaign in which both major parties seemed to think being negative about Tamil was the key to electoral success, but also the educational system that straitjacketed many children in monolingualism. Another upsetting measure, still remembered with bitterness as I found last week in dialogue with Tamil members of the diaspora in London, was discrimination with regard to University admission. This is all the more significant in that Mr Prabhakaran’s was the first school cohort affected by the new system, even though in its overtly racist form it was only formulated in 1978.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2010
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