Promoting Harmony Among A Multi-Cultural Society

Deshmanya Jayaratna Banda Dissannayake born in 16 April 1937. He is an Emeritus Professor and one of the leading authorities of the Sinhala Language. He was former Sri Lankan Ambassador to Thailand. Dissanayake received his primary education at Dharmaraja College Kandy and secondary education at Ananda College. He graduated from the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya in 1961. He would later receive a Fulbright scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley to read for a Masters in linguistics and obtained a PhD from the University of Colombo. With a long teaching career of over 45 years as a lecturer of the University of Colombo, he is the author of numerous books on linguistics, culture and history. Prior to his retirement Dissanayake served in the capacity of the Head of the Department of Sinhala at the University. And he came for the guest lecture in UCSC. His lecture was about the topic on Promoting Harmony Among A Multi-Cultural Society. He did an interesting lecture for us.

He talked about our Sinhala Alphabet not only that but also he said today alphabet should have sixty one letters not sixty letters. He said he try to correct this issue by talking with relevant authorities. He said as a nation we need to make attempts to bring closer understanding amongst the different divorced ethnic groups in our fragmented society. We are a nation of different religions and diverse cultures and have a tradition going back to several centuries. However, we have not been successful in bringing closer understanding and respect of each others’ cultures, customs, traditions and values. Although we are fully aware of others around, we have not provided an official body to focus on this vitally important area; the absence of which could threaten the nation. We as a nation have gone through several painful ethnic conflicts during the past several decades. Within the past few years they were intensified, threatened and challenged the social framework of our society. These incidents resulted in deeply embedded hateful scars in our society.

Since independence cultural and political discrimination in governance, the lack of equitable development policies, and failure to preserve and respect local and cultural knowledge has become endemic. Competitive ethnic politics become institutionalized in post-colonial Sri Lanka. Democracy came to represent the “tyranny of the majority”, while a political culture premised on the notion that “might is right” became entrenched in the various regions of the island. In the north and south politicians and others who claim to represent majority interests have frequently undermined the rights of local minorities. Sri Lanka no longer upholds the true sign of civilization and social democracy that consists of protecting the vulnerable; those with the least access to power; the poor, and the homeless. The need of the hour is for power sharing to promote trust building and co-existence between the island’s diverse communities in order to forge a common future and preserve human life. Too many people have died and been displaced in this small island in the past decades. While the conflict in the north and east has a major ethnic component, it is not reducible to ethnicity. Poverty, inequality, and intra-group divisions within the major ethnic communities played a part in fuelling the armed conflicts. A just and sustainable peace will require understanding the complexity of Sri Lanka’s two post-colonial conflicts, as well as transcending competitive ethnic politics. Our vision encompasses a post-conflict reconstruction and development program that recognizes the need for equity, democracy, respect for human rights and broad-based human development in a globalized economy that has enabled growth but also generated deep regional, economic, and social inequalities. We note that profound inequalities and poverty render societies vulnerable to cycles of violence. As such development trajectories and policies that exacerbate inequality and poverty are to be avoided. And finally I think this is a great and valuable lecture for all of us. 

01 August 2022
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