SL’s progress on reconciliation
Gunratna’s address ‘Reconciliation through Education’ at the National
Conference on ‘The role of education in reconciliation’, held in
Colombo, on March 13
The course of Sri Lanka’s history changed on May 19, 2009. Since
then, there has been significant progress in the area of reconciliation.
Sri Lanka witnessed progress in three different areas. First,
humanitarian assistance, second, socio-economic development and third,
The first step in the national reconciliation process is the
rehabilitation of the ex-LTTE cadres, particularly those under 18 years
of age. About 12,000 former members of the LTTE underwent
rehabilitation. Initially, it was not very clear as to direction Sri
Lanka will move, whether it would be retributive justice, whether those
LTTE Tigers would be prosecuted or if there would be restorative
justice, where they will be rehabilitated and released. I want to share
with you that neither the Sri Lankan government nor the Sri Lankan
people wanted to prosecute the LTTE Tigers. To ensure future stability
and peace in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan government decided to
rehabilitate and reintegrate 11, 500 LTTE Tigers.
Professor Rohan Gunratna
Of the 12,000 LTTE Tigers, about 500 members of the organization were
children below 18 years of age. The Sri Lankan government decided to
give them opportunities in education. They were almost all educated at
the Hindu College in Ratmalana. Today I’m very proud to say that a few
hundred of those LTTE Tiger members who underwent rehabilitation have
entered university. Some of them have even entered the medical school.
This demonstrated the spirit of the Sri Lankan people. Even though they
were former combatants, some of them did killings in the North and East
and even outside that area, the response of the Sri Lankan public and
the government was to rehabilitate and reintegrate them.
Rehabilitation is the first step in reconciliation. To move beyond
this point, Sri Lankan launched a multifaceted reconciliation
enterprise. To build harmony, the Kadirgamar Institute created12
different clusters in reconciliation. Reconciliation by engaging the
leaders in (1)business, (2) education, (3)information technology, (4)
media, (5) religion, (6) community, (7) security, (8) youth, (9)
diaspora, (10) women (11) sports and (12) art and culture.
On November 24, 2011, the Kadirgamar Institute convened its inaugural
National Conference on Reconciliation. On February 26, the Institute
hosted the National Conference on the Role of the Business Community in
Reconciliation, a highly successful conference. Many of the key business
leaders either invested or decided to invest in the North and the East.
A very important Sri Lankan business leader by the name of Eassuwaren
helped 52 ex-cadres to get married. He provided the women with sarees,
the men with their traditional garments, and cash gifts. A wonderful
celebration was held to mark this event.
Eassuwarene has now started a series of enterprises to support the
beneficiaries to fully reintegrate into society. They have embarked on
certain enterprises that would bring them a livelihood. For example, the
making of ‘handunkuru’ or incense sticks. Although they were former
members of the LTTE, we don’t refer to them as terrorists. The rejected
violence and embraced peace. We call them beneficiaries because they
benefited from the reconciliation programme. The rehabilitation
programme had six key modes of rehabilitation (1) religious and
spiritual rehabilitation (2) educational rehabilitation (3) vocational
rehabilitation (4) social and family rehabilitation (5) recreational
rehabilitation and (6) psychological rehabilitation.
Under religious and spiritual rehabilitation, the beneficiaries
reflected. They listened to sermons, read religious books and meditated.
Under educational rehabilitation, teachers came and taught the
beneficiaries. Only about 60 percent of them had only studied up to
Ordinary Level. Many were illiterate. The end of the conflict provided
these misguided men and women of Sri Lanka a golden opportunities for
them to study and transform into productive citizens. In many ways,
these rehabilitation centres became learning institutions. Under
vocational training programme, the beneficiaries were given
opportunities to start a second life. The private sector played a
crucial role in building a new set of skills in the beneficiaries. Under
social and family rehabilitation, the contact with the family members,
including visits became frequent. Under recreational rehabilitation, the
beneficiaries played and learnt sport. They didn’t play against any
ethnic group, but in mixed teams where they played together and made new
friends. Under psychological rehabilitation, the beneficiaries engaged
in the creative arts and in mentorship programme. Many important
personalities, be they from the government, the private sector, the
recreational sector, or media personalities, came and addressed the
beneficiaries. These role role models from their own ethnic and
religious communities gave them hope.
I personally believe that none of those 11, 500 LTTE Tigers
rehabilitated and reintegrated will not go back to violence. They
committed and saw what conflict was and they experienced it personally.
In my personal opinion, they would lead mainstream lives. Overseas,
there is a very small segment of the Tamil community who live in a
bubble. I say that they live in a parallel universe. They didn’t
experience the reality of what happened in Sri Lanka. Unlike those
living in Sri Lanka, a segment of those who live overseas want to Sri
Lanka to return to conflict. The way the private sector, community
organizations and the government came together in the rehabilitation and
the resettlement of the 11, 500 LTTE detainees will create greater
stability in the country in the coming months and years.
With rehabilitation of the LTTE Tiger members, their thinking was
mainstreamed. Similarly, it is very important to make an even greater
investment in the general population of the North and East. The 30 year
conflict generated tremendous suspicion and mistrust. Due to the
bombings and attacks by the LTTE in the South and the military
operations in the North, the thinking of the people in the North and
South polarized. There was a fragmentation of society and the people
started to misunderstand each other.
To build harmony and to bridge this divide, reconciliation is the
tool. So reconciliation can be through the business community,
university and school teachers and other media. We have also planned a
series of events to engage the diverse sectors of society. With the
National Conference on the Role of the Youth in Reconciliation, we will
engage the youth. With the National Conference on the Role of the
Diaspora in Reconciliation, we will engage the diaspora and migrant
communities. With the National Conference on the Role of the Arts and
Culture in Reconciliation, we will engage the public through song,
dance, puppetry and music to build a harmonious living. The arts have
mesmerized people across ethnic and religious divides. After years of
conflict, these platforms can be harnessed to bring people of diverse
In the education field, there has been some progress. However, the
progress made so far must be consolidated and the efforts must be
sustained. For instance, today we have the visionary principals of a
number of schools participating in the National Conference on the Role
of Education in Reconciliation.
The former Principal of Holy Family Convent, Sister Canice, Javed
Yusuf, the former Principal of Zahira College and Nirmalee
Wickremasinghe, the Principal of Ladies College played a very important
role in bringing people of diverse ethnic and religious communities
together. I must say that all these schools have invited children from
the North to come and spend time with their brothers and sisters in the
South, and similarly the children from these schools have visited the
North. To spur reconciliation, the Ladies College can be a model for
other schools that do not have exchange programmes. Even before the
conflict ended, a number of schools with visionary educators developed
models that are worthy of emulation.
Today, the most challenging issue Sri Lanka is facing is to
restructure its education system to produce Sri Lankans, and not
Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. As an educator himself, the Monitoring MP
for Education, Mohan Lal Grero, will understand the educational
challenges Sri Lanka is facing. I grew up at Ananda College but I want
to tell you that all my friends were Sinhalese and almost all of them
were Buddhists. So we grew up as Sinhalese, we did not grow up as Sri
Lankans. Similarly, in Tamil schools, the children grew up as Tamils and
not as Sri Lankans. The same is with some Muslim schools. So we need to
create an education system where the children will grow up as Sri
Lankans. They will benefit by coming to know the richness of growing up
with brothers and sisters of different Sri Lankan ethnic and religious
groups. When they start to learn Tamil or Sinhalese, they will not have
mutual mistrust or suspicion of what another ethnic or religious group
A few years before she passed away, together with Prof. Bruce Hofman,
one of the leading counter terrorism specialists in the US, I met with
Mrs. Bandaranaike. I asked her, “Madam, what caused the ethnic
conflict?” She was very clear when she said: “it was the Sinhala-only
Act. Then I said, “Madam, it was your husband the late SWRD
Banadaranaike who introduced the Act?” She said, “yes, that is true but
that divided our country in many ways.”
Politicians will always be politicians, whether it is politicians
from the current government, Opposition or the TNA. They will always
play the ethnic card, the religious card especially close to the
elections to get votes. They will suddenly become un-Sri Lankan. It is
very important to develop a norm and an ethic in Sri Lankan society
against the exploitation of ethnic and the religious differences in our
rich society. We must not permit politicians to play the racial and
religious card and damage the social fabric of Sri Lanka.
The greatest heritage, every Sri Lankan inherited is harmony.
Unfortunately, the political leaders in the North and South exploited
the ethnicities and the religiosities of the people for their personal
and political advantage.
The politicians made our people racist. As a result, for 30 years the
Sri Lankan people could not enjoy and benefit from this great heritage
of harmony. Our education system can recreate the ideal Sri Lankan of
the future. It is my fervent hope that this conference will spur debate
especially among the elite of our vision to build that ideal Sri Lankan.
When I travel to the North or to the South or to the East I do not see
racism, but I see so much of racism among the elite in Colombo. There
has been a significant amount of propaganda in circulation in the
capital. In contrast, the people in the rural areas want to live in
When I ask the people in the Vanni, what is it that you need? They
will tell me, I need security, I need a job, I need a house to live in
and I need to send my children to school.
Addressing such issues should be the focus not dividing Sri Lanka by
ethnicity and religion. I think that there should be reflection and
discussion about these key issues confronting the ordinary people by the
elite and the intellectuals in Colombo.
There are many mistakes that we have made in the last 25 -30 years
that created and sustained the Sri Lankan conflict. It is time we take a
hard look at what we have done well and the mistakes we need to undo and
make progress, so that there will be no relapse or return to conflict.