|Saturday, 24 July 2004|
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Forgiveness as the path to peace
In a rare insight into the prolonged suffering of this country, President Kumaratunga has called on wrong-doers on both sides of the ethnic divide to make a new beginning in the affairs of Sri Lanka by forgiving each other for the evil they have traded over the decades.
The immediate context for these observations is the ethnic violence of July 1983, which the right-thinking sections of this country, sadly commemorate this week. As for us in the 'Daily News' - as we said yesterday - our hearts are with the innocent victims of those riots which plunged Sri Lanka into a cavernous pit of misfortune.
"We should apologise to each other. There should be a public apology. It is only then that we can unburden our shoulders and take the country forward", President Kumaratunga was quoted saying at the Prize Day celebrations of St. Anthony's College, Kandy.
The President explained that although she had tendered an apology in this connection at the 50th Independence Day celebrations of the country, this wouldn't be sufficient to bring complete healing and wholeness to Sri Lanka.
What is needed is an open apology by those responsible for the ethnic holocaust of July 1983 to the victims of those hell fires. It is only a sincere acknowledgement of one's faults which could bring healing to the wounds the ethnic turmoil in this country has engendered. Likewise, those responsible for the bombing of the Dalada Maligawa, for instance, too need to seek forgiveness.
This request by the President smacks of the highest statesmanship. It points to a heart and mind which transcends narrow, man-made barriers and measures up to the highest standards of humanity.
Besides, the President has infused into the political culture of this country a rarely-mentioned value; one which opens the door to reconciliation and harmony. It needs to be faced that those beautiful words, "I am sorry", are rarely mentioned by one adversary to another - political or otherwise.
If these stirring words are heard more often, Sri Lanka would be safely on the course to healing and reconciliation. Unfortunately we Sri Lankans are yet to come to grips with the paradox that "the way up is the way down".
That is, if we want peace, harmony and healing in our land, we should serve each other humbly and cultivate the sublime virtue of forgiveness. Closely related to this truth is the adage that hatred doesn't cease by hatred. It is love and compassion that ends hatred.
For some perplexing reason, we permit these noble truths to evade us. Rather than turn a new leaf, we go along the old set ways, preferring bloated egos to golden hearts full of love and concern. The President was absolutely right when she said that it is only a reoriented education system which could bring about the correct attitudinal changes in the citizenry.
We need to begin at the beginning, and make our education system a highly value-based one. If sharing, caring and forgiving are to be the core values of the people, they need to learn them early in their homes and schools.
Boon for local industry
A uniform spells uniformity. Wearing a uniform signifies that all are equal. It is for instilling this particular virtue in children that almost all the schools in this country, government and private, require their students to wear official uniforms.
The Sri Lankan State came to the rescue of poor parents who were unable to afford the high costs of textiles by starting a free uniform scheme, whereby millions of metres of cloth material is handed over to students. But there were some flaws in the earlier system of granting school uniforms which the new Government has taken swift steps to rectify.
First, the cloth material was almost entirely sourced from other countries, spending millions of dollars in foreign exchange. Second, parents had to go through an elaborate process that involved the divisional secretary to get the uniform materials for their children.
The new education administration has put things right by giving prominence to local textile producers - it has placed orders with 11 local companies for school uniform material required for 2005.
Out of the total 9.3 million meters required for school uniforms for girls and boys, 1.30 million meters will be woven and entirely produced by local producers. The rest will be imported by local producers and processed locally, leading to considerable savings.
The Government's policy is to encourage the production of uniform materials locally with value addition at every stage. This is good news for local industrialists. We hope that the locally produced quota would be increased annually, until the entire requirement of uniform material can be obtained locally.
The Government has also rightly decided to ensure that the material is distributed among all schoolchildren at their respective schools before the December vacation. Uniform material had to be obtained through Divisional Secretariats and Grama Sevakas previously, inconveniencing parents.
The Government must also strive to expand the free school meals program at least in rural areas. It is vital to provide a balanced tray of food to young students, many of whom are known to miss breakfast, the most important meal of the day.
This is one of the main factors that lead to low nutritional levels.
With free education right up to university level, free textbooks, free uniforms and even free meals, Sri Lanka ranks among the few developing countries which have very good education statistics. The Government's 21st century-oriented education reforms and plans to develop rural schools to be on par with their counterparts in the cities will help reinforce this position.
Produced by Lake House