The Power of Sports & Arts
The bridge between ethnic, religious & language
In conversation with Karate instructor Shihan Anto Dinesh on sports and creativity as forms of national reconciliation.
“In our country reconciliation is considered a primary issue. It is necessary to cultivate reconciliation from school days and this could be achieved specifically through the arts”, says Shihan Anto Dinesh, a Karate Teacher. This is our interview with him.
THE CATAMARAN: Can you tell us about how Karate, the art of self-defense related to Sri Lankan women, in spite of the cultural norms?
Yes. Women learn this art with inspiration. In 2015, a programme against sexual violence was held for the first time in 5 districts from the North. In the Mannar District, where the programme was held, many Muslim and Sinhalese women participated, in spite of the cultural barriers. In other districts too, Muslim and Sinhalese women participated together with Tamil women. We trained them in the art of self-defense as well as the action they should take immediately to protect themselves under difficult situations. This programme was initiated by the United Nations who were responsible for the women’s division. More or less 500 women participated in the training. Considering that women of 3 different races participated, it could be considered an initiative towards reconciliation too.
THE CATAMARAN: How can Karate promote reconciliation?
I believe Karate training should be provided to beginners free of charge because it also promotes health and self-confidence. Though schools are divided on the basis of language, they could be amalgamated for a common cause like this. With the permission of school principals it is better to conduct Karate training monthly. After that inter-school competitions may be held to further strengthen unity. In fact, I believe that sports and arts will be a bridge between races, religions and languages. One aspect of this is Karate.
THE CATAMARAN: Have you formulated any plans to take this island wide?
In Nuwara Eliya, the Gamini Dissanayake Foundation provides education and arts for young boys and girls from poor families. Last year they contacted our Institute regarding their intention to include Karate in their curriculum. We signed an agreement with them and as a result classes were started. I thought Gamini Dissanayake Foundation would comprise mostly Sinhalese students, but an equal number of students from three races were present there. There was also no gender disparity. Everyone was treated equally. I saw perfect equality in that organization. I am a Tamil teacher. There are Sinhalese teachers who are capable of teaching Tamil students too. At present students from the three races are learning the syllabuses including Karate.
THE CATAMARAN: Irrespective of the many efforts made, reconciliation itself still seems a difficult goal. What are the reasons behind this?
The reason for this is a lack of understanding. For example, in a small family unit, in many instances it is difficult to have a good relationship or understanding with everyone. When you look at a country, you find there are multi-religious and multi-linguistic people. Mutual understanding should be properly disseminated. In the race for power, some have disseminated hatred and differences instead of mutual understanding. The result is what we see today. When some people fought non-violently, others engaged in violence. Some simply remain silent and disappear. There are various types of people like this. But it is necessary for everyone to follow and adhere to proper channels. Here it is important that their actions do not affect people of other races and religions.
THE CATAMARAN: Do you experience difficulties while working with people of different ethnicities?
Students from all three races learn Karate under me. There is only unity among them. But outsiders criticize me for this. Some say I am a racist. They want to create confusion among people here and negate the reconciliation for which the country is struggling. If we are patriots of this country we will not have linguistic or ethnic differences. The national flag is printed on my Karate uniform so I display it when I travel overseas too. When you love your country there will not be any racial or religious difference.
THE CATAMARAN: For us to love our country, first we need equal rights. Do you say it is wrong to demand our rights and needs?
I do not mean that. Equality should be achieved by our representatives through pressure at the right time through proper ways and at the right opportunity. It is necessary for Tamils to be united. Regional differences have risen between them. First we must do away with the declining of reconciliation among Tamils. With strength and unity, Tamils can win their rights. At the same time, we should always have reconciliation in our minds. As an Artist I can say only this. Mutual understanding and love of the nation will bring reconciliation.