| by Eran Wickramaratne

( November 23, 2014,Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) During the colonial period the Sinhala speaking people were disadvantaged by the obstacles to communicate in their mother tongue. After independence and the adoption of the ‘Sinhala Only’ policy we disadvantaged the Tamil speaking people. This country has remained divided primarily due to the non recognition of the Tamil language. This situation was corrected when this assembly adopted Sinhala and Tamil as the official language of the country. Constitutionally it was a progressive move to put right that which was wrong.

Despite the official language policy there is little visible signs of improvement in the implementation of the policy.

There are buses of the S.L.T.B. which do not still carry its destination in all three languages. There are police stations which have no Tamil language capability. As of January 2014 there were only 2,326 Tamil speaking police officers, which is a low percentage of the police force. The Government announced in 2014 that it was recruiting 150 Tamil speaking police officers. It is a small step in the right direction. Out of 408 police stations only 157 have a Tamil speaking capability. Even in the dominant Tamil speaking areas, for example in Chundikulam in Vavuniya, Sampur in Trincomalee and Bogawantalawa in Nuwara Eliya districts there was no Tamil speaking capability in the police station.

We conduct important government business only in the Sinhala language. Even at the Thimbirigasyaya Divisional Secretariat, where I attend meetings, they are exclusively conducted in Sinhala. The city of Colombo has a considerable Tamil population and their Constitutional rights are being violated. However, when the Government wants to collect taxes or payments they will communicate in Sinhala, Tamil and English. The telephone bill or the electricity bill will be sent in all three languages. It proves that the Government has no political will to implement a tri-lingual policy, while it will do everything possible to communicate in their language when it wants to collect revenue.

There are 19 recommendations in the LLRC report on the implementation of the National Languages policy, social integration and reconciliation. There is no progress on 16% of the recommendations, poor progress on 53% and partial progress on 31%.

The Constitution provides for singing the National Anthem in both Sinhala & Tamil languages. However at government functions and National events this is not been followed. I want to know from the Minister of National Languages and Social Integration, whether he supports the Government policy of non-implementation of the Constitution? If not, what will he do to implement, the singing of the National Anthem in both Sinhala & Tamil. A verse in the National Anthem says "Eka mawakage daru kela bavina" - we are the children of one mother. If we truly believe that we are the children of one mother we must provide the opportunity for the Tamil speaking people to sing our National Anthem with pride and emotion in their mother tongue.

Today, a sperm is obtained from Europe, the egg from Africa, and a womb is rented from Asia – A test tube baby is born. This is the advancement in science. Please tell me whether this baby is European, African, Asian, Sinhala or Tamil? Our language is given to us from the environment into which we are born. So let’s recognize the humanity & dignity in every person, and respect their language and cultural rights.

The past years has made the Muslim community in this country feel that they are second class citizens. We have created a cleavage that did not exist over the last one hundred years. We saw its manifestation in Beruwela and Aluthgama in the recent past. The Government’s inability to provide economically and materially was exploited to create this mayhem. Within hours of the incident I was there to witness the destruction of Muslim owned businesses, houses and mosques. The UNP completely denounces the treatment of minorities in this particular way. The perpetrators have still not been apprehended. The perpetrators are being protected by high officials in Government. A culture of impunity is being fostered. YouTube videos will show that the security establishment watched as the destruction took place. I know that the SLFP does not approve of this behaviour. The behaviour we saw in Beruwela and Aluthgama was not the true face of the Sinhala people. It was not the true face of Buddhism. We are a tolerant and compassionate people. The UNP was built as the foundation of a united identity. In 1946 the name of our party was proposed by a Tamil Leader and Seconded by a Muslim Leader. Our Leaders and founding Prime Minister D S Senanayake showed us the way of a united Sri Lanka. We travel still on that road. We must protect the rights of minorities.