Tackling racial hatred | Daily News

Tackling racial hatred

National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages Minister Mano Ganesan has proposed the disbanding of all schools based on race and religion, which he says has only gone on to promote and foster racial and religious bigotry. He says he will forward a Cabinet paper shortly aimed at completely doing away with schools that are operated on race or religious identities in order to halt young minds being polluted with racial and religious prejudices, and instead promote amity and concord among members of different religions and races. The Minister was of the view that race based schools foster communal discord and that preventive measures have to be taken to deescalate the rising tide of communal and racial prejudices.

Many would agree with the Minister who is doing much these days to foster and promote communal harmony through the various programmes conducted by his ministry. He is apparently attempting to tackle the malaise of communal hatred at the source. No doubt, implanting communal ill will among schoolchildren at a tender age is bound to get magnified with the passage of time leading to grave repercussions. The CID investigations into the recent communal violence in Kandy also revealed that schoolchildren had been involved in circulating hate speech via social media. Even during the July, ’83 riots, students of some leading schools in the city actively took part in the arson attacks in the heart of Colombo, while in school uniform.

Therefore, inculcating the virtue of peaceful co-existence among schoolchildren cannot be overemphasized in the present day. Teachers and elders have an important role to pay in this connection. Regrettably though, more often than not, the communal mindset of children are the legacies of the parents who find it difficult to suppress their racial prejudices which unfortunately rubs off on their offspring. Certain heroic deeds of kings, contained in history lessons taught in schools, in past, where the conquest of one race by another was emphasized also, no doubt, went on to make a big impression on young minds, leading to the cultivation of a superiority complex and tendency to look down upon the other race. Sadly, even certain members of the Sangha tend to harp on the past glories of a single race that goes onto exacerbate feelings of racial superiority. Hence, not just in the schools, the malaise of racial bigotry should be tackled on all fronts if we are to eradicate racial and religious intolerance and promote amity among the different communities.

Schools identified with a religion and/or community, though, cannot be disbanded overnight. To begin, with the founders of these schools meant it to be that way. Buddhists would not like to see a premier educational institution such as Ananda be supplanted by a school having children of a mixed bag of religions or races. Similarly, the old boys of S.Thomas' would not like to see their school diluted in any way that would affect its identity as a leading Anglican school. Ditto for schools such as Zahira, and, or, the leading Catholic schools.

Besides, demographies too has to be taken into account. For instance, it would be well nigh impossible to try the minister's experiment in schools in the North where one particular race predominate. A common denominator too would not work in most areas in the South with a high concentration of Buddhists.

The ideal way to promote communal and religious harmony is for those strident communal voices on both sides of the divide to come down from their hard line positions and instead show the way for peaceful co-existence, themselves. Politicians and religious leaders can take the lead.

But are we asking for too much? If one were to go by immediate post war scenario it is difficult to expect politicians to shed their communal prejudices. Victory parades were held ad nausm relegating the Tamils to a conquered race. Gung ho speeches were made by the leaders of the day that were blatantly racist. Not only that. The singing of the National Anthem in Tamil was banned at functions in schools and government offices in the North. All efforts were made to emphasize the superiority of a single race to the total exclusion of the other. No amount of multi-racial or multi-religious schools will succeed in changing the status quo so long as politicians and members of clergy openly or subtly promote racial intolerance in the manner that is happening today.

With the present communication revolution, it goes without saying that it is all too easy to poison young minds to lead them astray. The Kandy incidents only went on to emphasise this. No amount integrated school will be of any use in such a scenario. Interestingly, among the youth taken into custody for spreading hate speech was a student from the leading school in Colombo, which, indeed, is an integrated school having under its roof students of all races and religions.

Noble as the Minister's suggestion is, his will be an exercise in futility under the present circumstances that obtain in this country where race and religion are made use of by politicians as a short cut to power.

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