Category Archives: social harmony

In Memory of 30 Years since July 1983

This post originally appeared here on the writers personal blog ‘My Little Pink Notebook’ on the anniversary of July 1983

(This post is dedicated to the memory of those who suffered during Black July and the torturous events that followed) Yesterday marked 30 years since the blackest day in our nations history – we call it Black July. This marked the true beginning in many ways, of an ethnic conflict that leaves our earth soaked in blood, our families ravaged and worst of all – our children hopeless.

 I am one of those children. When I was born – like thousands of others – I would grow up never knowing what peace was. Bombs exploding, people dying, anger and pain were all a part of my day to day life. And I grew up in urban Colombo which was in many ways a hundred times better than anywhere else. I was desensitized to violence, in many ways I still am. Images of Siriya, Iraq etc. that cause the world to avert their eyes – cause the children of Sri Lanka to shrug and carry on. We’ve seen worse. We’ve survived worse. And sometimes – that’s something no one understands, we survived against all odds, so can you blame us for building an arsenal of weapons, like apathy? How else would we have survived?

 But if there is one thing I wish that someone would take away from this post is this – we are survivors. Our parents stayed and fought. Others did the same in ways they knew best. Sometimes from here, sometimes from away – and we survived. And now we need to heal and flourish. But to heal we must forgive, and this I say to the children of Sri Lanka scattered across the globe, their souls rooted in this island. The children of my generation, you were even luckier than I was. You grew up away from the fear and the pain and the de-sensitizing. And you were blessed for that. But when you call us apathetic, I disagree. It’s not that we don’t care – it’s just we see the bigger picture, we’re painting it. We know that we are an imperfect nation, and the pain may never go away. But we are trying, so please try with us. Try to see the good, and celebrate that too.

 Sri Lankan’s we all need to learn to be. Before we are Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher. Before we are Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, or even atheist. The first lesson we need to learn is how to be Sri Lanka – that’s how we move forward together.

 To quote me from earlier this year in ‘Being Sri Lankan’ – “To me – I have never imagined myself as any less Sri Lankan because I was from a minority That was not how I was raised, and that was not how the people around me saw themselves. But what scares me is that as a nation we spend so much time drawing lines around our communities, that we forget the things that bind us together”


Facts and surprises

When looking at the grass roots of the 30 year conflict in Sri Lanka, we see that the language barrier was one of the causes. In school, we were taught Tamil up to grade 9, but I’ve forgotten much of it by now; blame it on our neural connections which follow the “use it or lose it” principle. So I set myself the task of refreshing my knowledge of the Tamil language. Wasn’t I in for a pleasant surprise? The author of the book from which I was learning confirmed my views in the introduction. He says that nearly 70% of Tamil words are similar to Sinhala words, either because it is a Tamil word or because both languages “borrowed” the word from the same language. Even the very first word most babies utter, “Ammaa” (meaning “mother”), is common to both tongues (àÈ´$ or அம்மா)

Few more examples:

Sinhalese word and pronunciation
Tamil word and pronunciation
English meaning
அக்கா ( akkaa)
Elder sister
´$´$ (maamaa)
மாமா (maamaa)
à½ûõÚ (adhipathi)
அதிபதி (adhipathi)
àÈýÙ´ (ambalama)
அம்பலம்( ambalam)
Wayside resting place



           Another cause for the conflict was people who declared that the country “belonged” to a certain ethnic and religious group. I would like to kindly ask those persons to check the “Mahavamsa”(a historical record written by a Buddhist monk, by the way). What was the country from which Prince Vijaya came? Wasn’t it India? If we could say that Sri Lanka belonged to any particular group considering the people who lived here from pre-historic times, then the “Yaksha” and “Naga” tribes would be the righteous owners. Even the “Veddhas” are said to be descended from Vijaya and Kuveni’s offspring; thus being half Indian. Of course, my facts may be wrong because historical sources are not 100% accurate. Even in that scenario, the land belongs to the one who created it; us being mere temporary inhabitants who’ve been given the privilege of living on this beautiful planet; a pale blue dot.


The above illustration graces the first page of the grade 5 Mathematics work book in Sri Lanka. It shows four friends cycling along a road with cheerful smiles on their faces. Ameen (the Muslim), Meena(the Tamil), Saman(the Sinhalese) and Rosi(the Burgher) continue to appear side by side in the text book to make Mathematics more appealing to the students.

However, to most of us, such inter-racial harmony is a rare sight. I myself have a majority of Sinhalese friends and sadly, only a handful of others. A great friend of mine says that according to a survey, 70% of Sri Lankan youths do not have friends outside their circle of status, religion, language, ethnicity etc.

While I do appreciate the fact that text books promote friendship between segregated groups, I believe that more could be done. For example, the government has decided not to allow schools to be ethnicity-based in the future.( of Education, Bandula Gunawardane himself says that, “We believe the children of this country should mingle with each other so that they would understand each other better. Therefore, the ministry decided not to allow schools to be divided based on ethnicity and do away with Sinhala, Tamil (Hindu) or Muslim schools”

Indeed, it is practically impossible for us to have everyone as a “friend”, but surely, being “friendly” is possible. It is my sincere wish that that a day would soon arrive when friendships between Ameen, Meena, Saman and Rosi would be a common sight and not looked down by the society.

“The Journey on the Road to Reconciliation”-Part 12

The twelfth installment in the series of articles written by our friend, Solomon Rajaram Hariharan, a member of the “Dream team 2012” of “Sri Lanka Unites”( A youth movement for hope and reconciliation).  

Understanding both rights and responsibilities contributes to social harmony. Responsible use of power is a component of this understanding. Power is often given a meaning of one’s advantage over another in a violent, forceful, persuasive manner. However this is not always the case. Some types of power are easy to see and comprehend while other types are much more difficult. We will discuss the types of power later. Power is not an inert thing that some possess. Power exists in relationships. It can be defined as the ability to have an impact on the world. Responsible use of power is central to the development of a peaceful, pluralistic and democratic society.
What comes to my mind when I hear the word power; is the ability to have control over a community by means of working together or dictatorship. Thus power has a positive as well as negative side. For example our parents, school administration, office administration and the national administration have power over us. We feel powerless at moments when we face these groups of people. On the other hand if we are leaders in schools, the students under us would feel powerless when they interact with us.  A good leader would strive hard to control the society by means of working with the people instead of attempting to suppress the people. We often get confused with the terms power and strength. Simply we can define strength as the talents within a person and power as the work the society gives to an individual after identifying the talents. While strength is not something someone can give you, power is transferable. Strength is not internal. It shows people who you are. Power is the ability to do something you possibly cannot do alone. It is also the ability to control and influence others.  
A leader in power has a big responsibility of using the power to benefit others and build peace and social harmony. The wise way of using this power is treating people below in the same way as one would want to be treated by the people above. Decentralizing power is advantageous as the leader will not have to carry the whole burden of responsibilities. Instead, the responsibilities can be shared, thus working towards social harmony. We can see this in a prefects’ board. It is the way the prefects work and act that makes the Head Prefect a good leader. Thus we can see that decentralization is important in dividing responsibilities.
We will now see the types of power.
Power-over: It is the ability to force others to submit to your will regardless of their wishes and is often associated with violence or the threat of violence. This is the most common type in our society.

Power-with: It comes from our ability to listen to, empathize and understand others, and to identify shared beliefs and interests. It comes when we cooperate with others to achieve shared goals. Co-existence and collaborative efforts should be undertaken to deal issues in the society, as combined power always exceeds everything else.

Power-within: It comes from the inner strength associated with courage, conviction and self discipline. For some people, power-within has its source in spirituality.
Conflict resolution should be approached with power-with and within instead of power-over, as the latter usually created negative effects. We should look beyond coercive power and recognize personal and collaborative power. This will point out methods that will produce non-violent constructive solutions for conflicts.
Power can be used for destructive and constructive purposes. When power is understood broadly as ways to influence other people’s behavior we can see new places where individuals and groups are having power, which can help us to use these sources of power to correct imbalances and injustices.

Editor’s note: The above mentioned sources of power would be discussed in the next article.