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Wednesday, 10 June 2020 14:30

Bridging the Language Divide for Unity and Reconciliation

A new project titled Language to Reconcile (L2R) will be launched in June funded by the National Languages Equality Advancement Project (NLEAP), which is supported by the Canadian government. The issue of language was a key dividing factor in the early years of Sri Lanka’s independence and one of the root causes of the ethnic conflict that escalated into a three decade-long internal war.

The proposal deals with both the practical and nation building aspects of language. The practical dimension stems from the need of citizens to be able to communicate with the state in their own language. The inability of citizens to engage in business with the state in their language and resolve their problems or access resources will cause them to be marginalised and frustrated. Unless this is contained, it can become a focus for future conflict with the state.

The nation building dimension arises because language is the means of communication between people of different ethnicities and religions who may otherwise remain in isolation from one another. A significant part of the population lives in ethnically and religiously mixed surroundings.

But the fact that they live side-by-side does not guarantee that they will engage with one another. Especially due to the legacy of protracted ethnic conflict and the more recent spike in inter religious tensions, there is also a need for structured engagements rather than to rely on spontaneous engagements.

The project that is envisaged has three inter related components that mutually nourish one another. The first component will be one of creating awareness and thereby building the capacity of the targeted groups about the relevance and importance of the Official Language Policy and the language rights framework. This will include gaining an understanding of the language mechanisms, policy gaps and implementation difficulties and their impacts upon state delivery.

The second component will be to conduct language audits of three main institutions in each area in which the project will be implemented - Akurana in the Kandy District, Beruwela in the Kalutara District and Trincomalee in the Trincomalee District.

The audit of key institutions such as hospitals, police stations and local government authorities will identify the bottlenecks that prevent the Official Language Policy from being implemented in them. This will include an assessment of possible remedial actions that can be taken at the local level and what might require action at the central level.

The third component of the project is the strengthening of the nation building process. In the past language has been used to divide the communities and to assert the dominance of one over the other.

In this project, language will be used as a tool for unifying and reconciliation and will cater to the need for community level second language learning and be combined with structured interactions in the form of language camps and exchange visits.