In Conversation with Jayathilaka Bandara
The Voice of the Good People
Musician and vocalist, Jayathilaka Bandara talks about ‘Sadhu Jana Rava’, his two decade long show which aims to enhance social reconciliation and brotherhood in Sri Lanka.
Musician and vocalist, Jayathilaka Bandara, has been conducting his ‘Sadhu Jana Rava’ (the voice of the good people) show for over two decades. This show aims to enhance social reconciliation and brotherhood, currently working to re-build Sinhala and Muslim harmony. He takes his show from village to village raising voices for Sinhala and Muslim unity to cure the hearts injured by the Easter Sunday attacks. This is the Catamaran’s exclusive interview with him.
THE CATAMARAN – You are engaged in a dialogue with the Muslim community through music. How did you introduce this program?
This program’s name translates to the voice of the good people. I have used my voice to amplify the voices of the good people in times where only the voices of negativity can be heard. I decided to take to the streets again after the Easter Sunday Attacks, and have now held a number of shows successfully.
THE CATAMARAN – How do you conduct the show?
Not following the format of popular entertainment programs, our shows are mostly held in community halls, schools, temples and similar places. I sing in both Sinhala and Tamil languages. In between songs, we carry a discussion regarding literature and society. Our aim is to bring out the humane qualities of people that is usually undermined by racism and religious extremism. A small team accompanies me to conduct the programme. We have re-oriented the programme for the reconciliation between Sinhala and Tamil communities. We started Sadhu Jana Rava in 1995 and continued amidst hardships.
THE CATAMARAN – You started Sadhu Jana Rava in a time when the country was entangled in complex ethnic tension. Although many programs were conducted for peacebuilding, the conflict was eventually resolved through war. In such a context, how far do you think the people can be addressed through media like literature and art?
We launched this programme at a time the rebels Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were highly sophisticated in terms of military machinery. The government retaliated using high tech weaponry. We were threatened by these groups. Once, we visited the Jaffna University to conduct a show and the LTTE did not allow us to show it. We told them that we would perform on the roadside. They threatened us with dire consequences. They meant death, but we told them, “No problem. You can do that. But the news will spread throughout the world that a group that came to Jaffna to sing for peace was assassinated.” They discussed among themselves and told us to carry on in the Jaffna University.
THE CATAMARAN – What are your current experiences?
The situation is the same even today. Recently, we were to conduct our programme in a Muslim school. They initially gave us permission but later changed their decision. Later, they allowed us to conduct the programme for half an hour. When we completed the allocated time, they asked us to continue. They admitted they were wrong. Then we conducted the programme in a Sinhala school. They too told us we could be given a maximum of 45 minutes. But after that time ended, the principal told us to carry on.
THE CATAMARAN – Does this mean art and literature can really change people’s hearts?
Art and literature can change the attitudes of people to a certain extent. Art can change bad men to good and the vice versa. Sinhala extremists attacked Muslims at Dharga Town, Digana and Galle. But these extremists failed to spread the violence throughout the country because people did not respond. Racist elements and power hungry political parties tried to spread violence against the Muslims around the country after the Easter Sunday attacks. The government was silent. Extremists launched the attacks but failed to spread it around the country. All these positive responses are the results of the endeavors of the good people and I am happy to have contributed to it.
THE CATAMARAN – According to your understanding, what are the attitudes of the Muslim people towards the Sinhalese?
Recently, we conducted a Sadhu Jana Rava programme in a Muslim village surrounded by Sinhala villages in Anamaduwa. After the Easter Sunday attacks, the Muslim village was attacked. Houses and vehicles were burnt. This was the reason for us to hold this programme there with the support of some progressive Sinhala and Muslim people. Some Muslims were thinking of leaving the village for safety. There were a few who were thinking of leaving the entire country. We shared brotherhood with them and they were hopeful after that. All Muslims are not extremists. Likewise all Sinhalese are not extremists. We discussed this with them. I believe these problems can be solved to a certain extent if more artists join community work.
THE CATAMARAN – How many of the participants of your programme understand your message?
I do not think 100% of the participants captured our message, but to a certain extent I believe these actions help make society better. Sadhu Jana Rava is not conducted for money. The seeds we have planted through this programme are growing.
THE CATAMARAN – How long will you address he current ethnic conflict through this programme?
We are now elderly people. I am 67 years old. We cannot get the retirement that we need. We must continue this programme because other people are not doing it.