Talking to Vimukthi Ravanasinghe
How to Heal an Infected Society
Vimukthi Ravanasinghe, programme coordinator of Sri Lanka’s SCRM Secretariat discusses peace-building around the country
Vimukthi Dushantha Ravanasinghe is a resource person and a programme coordinator of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) of Sri Lanka. He went around the country discussing issues related to peacebuilding with the ‘Ahanna’ (Listen) programme. This is his interview with The Catamaran on the role of youth activists in building sustainable peace and reconciliation.
THE CATAMARAN – Tell us about the Ahanna programme?
This programme was launched by the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) which falls under the Prime Minister’s office and the Ministry of Finance and Media. The programme was conducted with the support of civil society organizations. It is a mobile programme for reconciliation. The primary target of the programme was the Civil Defense Committees at village level. We conducted dialogue on reconciliation with them. Later, we expanded the program to address students and the ordinary public.
THE CATAMARAN – What experiences did you gain through this programme?
You can understand the intensity of the challenges of reconciliation only when you deal with it. We know that people are naturally chaotic. We have to deal with their emotions and sensitivities about the nation, ethnicity and religion. Arguing with them on reconciliation is challenging.
THE CATAMARAN – What impact does social media have on creating sustainable peace and reconciliation among ethnic communities?
Many people are negative about this, even President of the country. According to my experience, social media can be used in campaigning for sustainable peace and reconciliation among communities. If we do not use it for that purpose, social media is manipulated to breach peace and reconciliation. We have seen the backward political elements, racists and religious extremists misuse social media. We must change this situation.
THE CATAMARAN – How does the Ahanna programme contribute to sustainable peace and reconciliation?
The present government has contributed immensely towards sustainable peace and reconciliation. Although policies and mechanisms were created, there is no dialogue among people regarding it. Because of this, we needed the Ahanna programme to carry on the dialogue and expand it. No policy decision or mechanism will be successful unless the people are aware of them. We started the discussion through Ahanna programme. But my personal view is that we failed to achieve expected outcome.
THE CATAMARAN – A new constitution was discussed in the past period in the name of peace and reconciliation. What do you think it must contain?
I think a constitution must not focus only on peace, reconciliation and solving ethnic problem. Sri Lanka must target democratic and economic reforms to create an environment where people can live peacefully. My basic idea is that the constitutional reform must pave way for minorities to think that they are no longer minorities. My proposal is Sri Lanka must be a secular state.
9th Article of Chapter II on Buddhism in the constitution of Sri Lanka says, “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).”
This article must be removed.
A non-Buddhist may think this article is discriminatory. A constitution must not discriminate against any community or person. A new constitution must address this problem.
The other problem is the 18th article of Chapter IV of the constitution which states “The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala. Tamil shall also be an official language. English shall be the link language.” We must amend this as “Sinhala and Tamil shall be official languages of Sri Lanka”
THE CATAMARAN – How do you define the present education system as a young journalist and a social activist?
The basic aim of education is to create a citizen of quality. I do not see the education system of Sri Lanka delivering that. School systems appears to be a paradise that inculcates evil ideas into the minds of students. We have a system of schools segregated by sex, religion and race.
THE CATAMARAN – The schools in this country are segregated as sex, race and religion. How can it impact on the future of the country?
The school system creates more divisions than sex, race and religious segregations. We are reaping what we saw. We have observed the trends of racist and religious extremism among the youth generation. School age children were even arrested under suspicion for certain incidents of violence. We must change this situation in future. We must change the system of segregation in our education. If we do not act fast for that, the result will be worse and we will have to live in a country in which people suspect and kill each other.
THE CATAMARAN – How do you analyze the incidents like Burqa ban, boycott of Muslim shops, sterilization pills in food and Muslim marriage law etc.?
There is nothing to analyze deeply. All of them are political propaganda. In a country filled with suspicion, when such news is planted, it can easily lead to destruction. The same phenomenon is manipulated by the politicians for their advantage. I think I do not have a right to give judgments regarding the issues connected to the belief systems of people. I have nothing to do if one has problem when seeing a short skirt or a burqa wearing woman.
THE CATAMARAN – Is religion an obstacle to ethnic reconciliation?
Definitely not. Observing a religion is personal. I see this as a side effect of the country being a religious state.
THE CATAMARAN – As a media activist, you have observed the impact of hate speech and disinformation on society. What changes are needed in the social structure to prevent them?
I have a number of examples for this. Recently, a national newspaper reported in a lead story that five persons belonged to the Saharan group had one billion rupees in their accounts. But the families of the persons arrested for this said that no such allegation has been made by legal authorities against the suspects who were taken into custody. They underwent numerous problems because of this fake news. The most pathetic situation is that they failed to explain facts to the Sinhala media because of language barriers. The other incident is Dr. Shaafi case. Many people have been proposing actions and laws regarding hate speech and fake news. Government has responded to it well.