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Sinhala Only to Tamil Eelam through Tamil Only University of Jaffna?

Jaffna University (file photo)
by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam
(March 29, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) In his interview with Dr. Hoole, on 25 March, Sri Lanka Guardian Editor, Nilantha Ilangamuwa asked:

Q. ‘What do you think of the present situation in the university system in Sri Lanka?’

Dr. Hoole said in response:

A. ‘Not enviable. Standards are badly down from the once high standards we had. The professional schools (engineering, medicine, dentistry) and special degrees are still very good so long as they teach in English. Where they teach in Tamil or Sinhalese, there is no outside check on their scholarship so anything goes.’

I hear these comments about our Australian Universities also. To me therefore such downward adjustment is happening at global level and not just in Sri Lanka. The more global we become, the more we need to relate through issues rather than individual personalities / institutions. In a democratic system, we do need to start off through the experience of the individual, to connect to global values.

Dr. Hoole who is one of the elected nominees for the position of Vice Chancellor – University of Jaffna, highlights the drop in academic standards through language proficiency. The same could be said about the Country and its Government – that so long as they function in Global language of English, their standards are good. This is true only of courses that have a strong export market.

Take for example the ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ – LLRC. In his presentation organized by Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research, published on 29 March 2011 in Sri Lanka Guardian , Mr. Alan Keenan, Senior Analyst and Sri Lanka Project Director with International Crisis Group says ‘As Crisis Group argued in a joint letter with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch last October, the LLRC is fatally flawed as an accountability mechanism: most of the members of the supposedly independent commission have close ties to the government (the chairman is a personal friend of President Rajapaksa); there is no system in place to protect witnesses who might wish to testify about crimes committed by government forces; and, crucially, the commission’s mandate includes nothing about investigating or seeking to hold people to account for alleged war crimes or serious human rights violations. While the commission has recommended the government take action on these cases, no progress has in fact been made.’

Mr. Keenan is likely to read the LLRC in English, President Rajapakse in Sinhalese and the LLRC in Sri Lankan. During a recent community meeting, a fellow Australian of Sri l Lankan origin said that his daughter (about 10 years old) distinguishes between English Tamils and Tamil Tamils. I then shared my experience with my own granddaughter (almost 4 years old) who when she was upset with me for disciplining her said that I did not speak English but Mandarin !

When we take the language with the culture we would express the same experience differently – and we would all be ‘right’ provided we do not intrude into each other’s areas. In the case of LLRC, for the purpose of Harvard and its allies, the work is purely for academic purposes through Western theories and is the parallel of the Science courses mentioned above by Dr. Hoole. For the purposes of President Rajapakse, the LLRC work and report would be read in Sinhalese to satisfy majority race who elect government. They are the parallels of Hindu Culture & Tamil Literature taught at University of Jaffna towards attracting ‘Tamil Only’ students. In terms of LLRC itself it would have been an experience shared with some victims of war and hence is Sri Lanka. That is the parallel of the students who go to Sri Lankan Universities primarily for the purpose of making money – such as Accounting and Commerce. There is room for all of them provided each group is true to itself and does not ‘grade’ the other – as both Mr. Keenan as well as Dr. Hoole have done.

In Australia, older white academics also complain that standards have gone down due to ‘foreign’ students. These students are largely from Asia. To my mind these students pay towards the brain-drain from poorer countries such as Sri Lanka – whose citizens come here through various forms of immigration. Australian Government in turn collects the monies and sends them back to these countries as Aid. If Dr. Hoole were able to attract these Asian students to University of Jaffna – our contribution to this ‘Aid’ system would diminish. We do not want that – do we?

Sinhala ‘only’ is a key issue in relation to Ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. One may ask the question as to why that is wrong if English only is right for America or Australia. Some others may ask why not ‘Tamil Only’ for Tamil areas – as in India. Sri Lanka, like India, does have strong diversity through its cultures. In Democracy the voter needs to be able to relate to the Government through her/his cultural faith. Hence the voter in rural areas would elect through his language/culture. But in Capital cities of Sri Lanka, including Jaffna, one needs multiculturalism and democracy. Since we cannot afford more than one University in Tamil areas, we have to cater to all cultures within the one university. Our Tamil Refugees – many of whom are graduates of University of Jaffna do pick up English – largely for work purposes. Not many of them would be able to naturally present themselves in an English speaking global forum. But then that is also the case with their seniors – who are graduates of University of Colombo and University of Peradeniya. To the extent they undertook University studies for the purpose of jobs – they do not need high standards because most of the time we do not actually practice the theories we learnt. What we do need is the strength to discipline ourselves through faith in elders and/or the ability to consciously use discriminative thinking when we are outside our natural environments and to act in the consciousness of causal Truth and not just on the basis of partial facts and casual information.

Hasty application of inappropriate policies such as ‘Sinhala Only’ when they are copied by the opposition, would lead to claims of separation such as through ‘Tamil Eelam’. That is the way of Revenge. We have the same guna but express it in different forms at the same time or in the same form at different times. The former is called opposition in democracy and the latter is called faith in hierarchical system. There was no democratic facility to practice the former in Sri Lanka during ‘Sinhala Only’ time and the Tamil Eelam claimants who became the ‘other’ side – lacked common faith as Sri Lankans.

Truth continues to manifest Itself and the Reconciliation needed is between these manifestations of Truth and the outcomes produced by Human systems through measures of rights and wrongs at institutional level and desires and fears at individual level.
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