Ethnic reconciliation has top priority

(January 14, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) “The priority now of our country should be ethnic reconciliation. We must not dwell on the past, but look to a common future. In this endeavour the philosophy of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam will be of great relevance” said Senior Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama at a meeting held to commemorate the 86 death anniversary of Arunachalam, held in Colombo. The Minister further said that Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam was an outstanding Sri Lankan. He was a leading member of the Coomaraswamy family which produced great art historians like Ananda Coomaraswamy and politicians like Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan.After a distinguished education at Cambridge University, Arunachalam was one of the earliest Sri Lankans to enter the Colonial Civil Service. He held high positions of the time such as Magistrate and District Judge. Later he was made the first Sri Lankan Registrar General. His Census reports are still considered outstanding writings on history and ethnology of our country.

Dr. Amunugama said that Arunachalam would have reached even greater heights in the colonial administration, but for the fact that positions like Secretaryships were then reserved for Britishers. Only Arunachalam and Sir Paul Peiris could emerge anywhere near the Englishmen in the administration. After retiring from the Civil Service Arunachalam entered the field of politics as a member of the Legislative Council. He was the first President of the Ceylon National Congress having been sponsored by Sir James Peiris and E J Samarawickrema. Arunachalam was influenced by the liberal politics of Britain in that time. In terms of these progressive policies he fought for increasing the representation of Sri Lankans of different communities in the highest political decision making bodies. While engaged in politics, he led the movement not only for political reform but also to create a residential university for the country. The University of Peradeniya is a monument to his commitment to education as a way of fostering growth and dignity of Sri Lankans. Arunachalam Hall in present day Peradeniya University is a symbol of his abiding interest in education through a residential university. There are thousands of Sri Larikans spread throughout the country who have resided in Arunachalam Hall at Peradeniya, who keep alive his name and recognize his contribution. On retirement from politics Sir Arunachalam devoted his life to religious activities. He was a Hindu Savant. In fact he died in India while on a pilgrimage to the sacred Hindu sites in that country.

Dr. Amunugama also said that while the country owes a debt to Sir Arunachalam, it should remember him for his contribution to bringing about communal amity. During his Civil Service career, he encouraged the Buddhist theosophical movement as shown in the diary entries of Henry Steele Olcott. His family has also fought valiantly on behalf of the Sri Lankan leaders who were harassed by the colonial administration after the 1915 riots. It was Ramanathan who pleaded their case before the British authorities.

Today with the defeat of the LTTE, Sinhala & Tamil people can come together in dignity to develop their common motherland. For this, both communities must give-up the antagonisms and petty jealousies of the past. When Sri Lanka grows in strength as an economic powerhouse there will be room for everybody, irrespective of race, religion and caste. That is the need of the hour in our country said the Senior Minister. Mistakes may have been made by all sides in the past. But this is the time to look forward and strengthen our inter dependence he said.

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