Category Archives: Multiculturalism

Towards strengthening multi-cultural policies and practices in Canberra

Recently, I got the opportunity to be part of a dialogue on multiculturalism and multi-faith in Canberra thanks to #Libby[1]. The objective of committing half a day for this engagement was mainly to familiarise myself with the work on the same subject matter I have been engaged in out of Australia over years. Having listening to this group of eminent personalities who have been working to promote ‘One Canberra’ made me only realise how common some of these issues we face in Sri Lanka to Myanmar to the UK to Australia are.

Islamaphobia like everywhere else is challenging the democratic practices of Australia as well. No different to any other country, this is once again promoted mainly through social media. This was recognised as one of the key challenges to the multi-cultural practices of that of Australia in general and that of Australian Capital Territory in specific. I was happy to see the large numbers at the symposium on a working day morning and their enthusiasm to contribute to the dialogue. There was significant amount of time spent on identifying and analysing the issues regarding multi-culturalism and multi-faith. The survey findings of the researchers from Scanlon Foundation and Monash University[2] were also highlighted in support of problem analysis.

It is the general practice in anywhere in the world to allocate a significant space and time to analyse problems than proposing solutions. Without following the same norm, I would like to share some thoughts on ways and means of promoting multi-cultural and multi-faith practices and policies in Canberra in specific and Australia as a whole.

My thesis would be based on the following strategy that could be considered as incremental steps to promote multi-culturalism. Each of the five steps can be approached and understood in terms of both “process” and “contents”.

 

 

  1. Visibility: All practitioners and the policy makers in Australia or anywhere else in the world will undoubtedly accept that hate and racism that threatens multi-cultural and multi-faith practices are widely promoted through social media. Whilst we accept this there is limited promotion on the beauty of our diversity, importance of multi-cultural practices in the same platforms, addressing the concerns voiced by many in the past few months. This clearly shows we have no visibility in terms of promotion of multi-culturalism.It is imperative that together we work on a campaign to enhance the visibility of our policies, activities on multi-culturalism and multi-faith, feeling of belongingness and social cohesion on social media as well as traditional media. Whilst Canberra has had beautiful strategic documents to promote One Canberra over the years, there is hardly anything found in social media. I hope the social media presence of the recent symposium will be a starting point in this regard.

 

  1. Dialogue: ‘One Canberra’ symposium was a rich dialogue that engaged a significant number of people. This needs to be broadened to engage more young people and those in the business community. It is vital that we engage people of all levels, representing all sectors, age levels and backgrounds. The proposal for a multi-cultural week in that regard can be considered as a wonderful idea. Examples can be drawn from Sri Lanka Social Integration week that I was actively engaged in http://lanintegmin.gov.lk/social-integration-week-2014/. Every year the multi-cultural week will be based on a specific theme, with various activities including cultural festivals, seminars and public discussions to enrich the macro dialogue.However, by dialogue I do not necessarily mean the public discourse. It essentially needs to trickle down to the individual level too. The discussion spared a significant amount of time on casual racism and understanding each other, commencing from learning about our neighbours. Some of the proposals put forward by the audience in this regard were to celebrate Ramadan with your neighbours, organise street parties and events etc. While I appreciate all those proposals in the process, I also believe it is important for us to have discussions on our religious and cultural practices openly. By integration we do not mean living in parallel societies. Such societies will scatter at challenging times very easily. Do we know why Muslims do fast? why Buddhists celebrate Vesak? what is the message behind Devali? At our homes, work places, neighbourhoods, schools, universities and community organisations we need to take time not only to celebrate them but also to understand them. Our understanding will promote social cohesion gradually.

 

  1. Access: By access I mean not only the fact that People must be able to engage in society’s activities and social networks in their daily life, including economic, social, cultural, religious, and political activities with no discrimination based on their religion, colour, race, country of origin or their long name but also to have access to a formal body to make their case. This needs easy access than filling lengthy forms and making submissions. Once again I would like to take an example from the Sri Lankan context where I have personally been highly involved in bringing a significant change: introducing a hotline to complaint about such incidents at the time it occurs might be one way of tracking them. This way, the victim can provide his or her details and report the discrimination. It could indeed be as small as someone requesting to change the name in the resume. The person requested would even not understand it as discriminating someone. Yet denying such a request would only make the applicant loose an opportunity hence most of the time he or she will agree to change the name, how much we hate to be called by a strange foreign name. The change of each and every such practices are essential for us to promote the feeling of belongingness and to have a feeling ‘we are all part of One Canberra”.

 

  1. Rights: One Canberra policy mainly focuses on ensuring the rights of all communities living in the Capital Territory and to promote feeling of belongingness. Not only the policy makers, but each and every individual in our society needs to understand the rights of all the people. It is common for most of the cases pertaining to racism not been reported due to lack of understanding on the rights. Understanding or awareness of these will inevitable be made when the above three elements are addressed successfully, why we also can identify this as a process. Let people understand that they have rights to act and claim, rights to be different, legal rights, rights to access social services, such as housing, education, transportation, and health care. They must have visibility, engage in dialogue, access to services and resources to fully participate in this. Most importantly, the right to claim will regress if one is discriminated.

 

  1. Responsibilities: The general phenomenon is that those who do not have access to rights are not able to participate fully in society which challenges our multi-cultural element. However, even if people have rights to access, they are unable to participate or strop participating because of conditions such as lack of recognition, lack of respect or physical constraints where the responsibility becomes an important element. We all as elements of this society hence needs to have a responsibility to take an extra step to make everyone feel part of this society. The responsibility does not essentially lies with the governing bodies, it is of all, each and every one of us.

 

In this regard, I would like to emphasise the role of media as the creators of ‘public mind’ in the 21st century. Media holds a significant responsibility in promoting belongingness and to avoid all discriminatory reporting or statements for petty profit purposes.

 

It is our Canberra and our Society! Let’s celebrate our diversity and make One Canberra a living reality!

 

[1] https://www.linkedin.com/pub/libby-lloyd/11/585/349

[2] http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/economic-concerns-terrorism-and-racism-top-australian-worries-survey-finds/story-fni0fiyv-1227105599775?nk=8b4c55ae9abfc6e602d636df31077c84

Canberra’s public transport system: First impressions of a migrant

Exactly a month ago I made my first ever visit to Canberra and that was as a skilled migrant. Both me and my husband had done our research and realised that we cannot live here with a three year old unless we have our own vehicle. However to our surprise the situation was much worse than expected. It was very different to, and much worse than where I was coming from and most third world countries I had travelled to. As a family who were settling in ACT the first thing we did was to collect our ATM cards from the Bank (luckily the accounts were opened prior to our arrival) and walked into a rent-a-car. We had to get a vehicle to ensure we were mobile. Although our initial plan was to purchase a vehicle about a week after our visit, two days in the capital territory we owned a car.

Canberra as the capital city of Australia and the best place to live according to OECD[1] is surprising do not have a public transport service that is definitely not in par with the rest of the capital cities in the world. Few days in this city, I realised there was a policy proposal by the ACT government to introduce a light rail system. This might take another decade or more, but the news was a console. Having read that I also figured out the negative comments listed against introducing such a policy have invaded media spaces more and I decided to share my thinking as a migrant.

Given Canberra has a very small population of only about 358,222 by 2010 according to www.visitcanberra.com.au, investing in a public transport system is seemed as a loss by  the ruling government of the country. However, I believe it is time to remind the wise policy makers that the growing population in the capital and frequent visitors to it will only increase over the years. We don’t make policies looking only of today, but they are for tomorrow, for the years to come. The strategy paper of the ACT government targeting this project to bring its full benefits by 2031 is indeed impressive in that sense.

If someone thinks that going to work, school drop-offs, after-work sports will steer people into cars instead of using public transport, it’s time for them to see how  people in London to Washington DC to New Delhi do the same. Having said that it is also imperative to get the fundamentals right. The public transport system all in all must be easy and convenient to use, fast, safe, clean and affordable. World Bank[2] shows that public transport systems are not only excellent in cities like London, Singapore and Hong Kong, but they are also excellent in smaller cities like Lyon in France, Curitiba in Brazil, Leon in Mexico, Pereira in Columbia, Lagos in Nigeria and Ahmedabad in India. I really don’t think Canberra wants to be behind all of them.

A key feature in these transport systems is that they integrate multiple technologies such as metros, light rail and bus services. A common ticket like the Oyster Card in London makes it easy for passengers to transfer from one mode to the other. Comprehensive passenger information systems will enable us to know when the next service is due and to understand the routes easily. This also reduces the hassle of long wait for the next bus or the train.

It is further argued that from an urban mobility perspective, public transport is far more efficient and environment friendly than personal motor vehicles in terms of the road space it uses up and the energy it consumes. If I am to take the advice given by most of my friends who have been living in Canberra, I need to target to buy the second vehicle (one for me and another for my husband) as soon as we start working, as normalcy is almost impossible without such an arrangement, specially with a kid around. The only exception is that both husband and wife start working either for the same company or nearby offices. If that logic is to be applied as a reality in the case of majority of 358,222 people living in Canberra, can one say that in reality there are about 600,000 vehicles on the road? Going a step beyond that, if the number of people in Canberra is believed to almost double its population during parliamentary sittings, will this reach more than 1,000,000? Although these numbers and assumptions are based on what I have heard as a brand new migrant, it’s worth researching on them further.

Looking back at the space and sustainability of the above argument, for example a bus carrying 40 passengers uses only 2.5 times more road space than a car carrying 1 or 2 people[3]. The same bus is estimated to consume only about 3 times as much fuel as a car. This will only reaffirm us that improving public transport system in Canberra undoubtedly is important and timely for improving sustainable mobility and it is the right approach to encourage low-carbon growth in the city as well.

[1] http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/canberra-the-best-place-to-live-in-the-worlds-best-country-oecd-20141007-10rfn7.html

[2] http://www.global-briefing.org/2012/07/a-good-public-transport-system-must-be-easy-and-convenient-to-use-fast-safe-clean-and-affordable/

[3] Ibid

Asylum seekers vs opportunists

The Australian government introduced a milestone bill on asylum seekers last week… It seeks to remove the already limited ability of the courts to evaluate Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in accordance with the international obligations and introduces an “Australian Version” of the international refugee definition. For the convenience of the state, the bills says the government could even remove people with no consideration of their risks of torture or other human rights violations[1].

At the same time, the government of Australia held a toast after signing to resettle refugees from Nauru in Cambodia. Australia has put $40 million on the table to ensure the success of this transaction. In fact, although the Minister of immigration is thinking about unlimited numbers to be resettled there, Cambodia seems to be looking at handful[2].

On the other hand, the Australian civil society is further concerned about the asylum seekers who were returned to Sri Lanka[3].

All these incidents, only leave us with the question “who is responsible for these asylum seekers?”

In the context of the above events, one may argue the fact that recently signed agreement to resettle some refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centres will provide a path to settle and determine the future for the so called illegal maritime arrivals, rather than being in uncertainty in life over years.

However, most rights groups have criticised the agreement calling it as inhumane. Considering the human rights record of Cambodia they have further condemned relocating the vulnerable refugees there.

Whilst the arguments for and against are put through various forms, from a humanitarian point of view, asylum seekers are mostly a symbol of our turbulent times. As each new conflict erupts, the media is filled with pictures of masses on the move, fleeing from their own country. Those who eventually survive depend on the willingness of mostly developed states to open their borders and various humanitarian organisations to provide new arrivals with the basic needs. In fact, subsequently when the message goes back to the country of origin, it is always possible to use this international obligation of another state in an abusive manner.

In the case of Sri Lankan asylum seekers, even after 5 years since the end of the war we hear more and more boats coming to Australia. Irrespective of ethnic differences they are fleeing seeking for better opportunities and life prospects in the developed world. People smuggling is the real problem to be addressed in this regard. I have heard stories about smugglers attempting to pass on people through boats and at the time of failure, if they are returned they torture the people, expose them to media as the next step. If the governments reply they consider to be lucky. If not, the world turns its attention to another crisis and they are left behind in their usual routines back at home.

While we claim that asylum seekers are a responsibility of the entire world and it is imperative to ensure their human potentials are not wasted during their time in exile, providing them with the right solutions, it is also the responsibility of the people not to exploit these humanitarian laws.

[1] http://www.smh.com.au/comment/asylum-bill-is-highhanded-and-cambodia-deal-just-a-quick-fix-20140928-10n51y.html#ixzz3F2U1EGxI

[2] Ibid

[3] http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/53-australian-lawyers-condemn-return-of-asylum-seekers-to-sri-lanka-20140707-zsz13.html

යුද්ධය අවසන්ව වසර 5යි | ‘යුද්ධය අවසන් කිරිමට පෙර සිට අපි අහපු මේ ප්‍රශ්න අපිට තවමත් ප්‍රශ්න’

Published in http://www.vikalpa.org/?p=20620

මගේ මතකයේ ඇති කාලයක සිට 2009 මැයි මස වනතුරු යුද්ධයක් පැවති සමාජයක ජීවත් වුනා. මෙම තත්ත්වය මම ඇතුළු බොහොමයක් තරුණ තරුණියන් අත්විදපු දෙයක්. යුද්ධය අවසානයත් සමගම මා මෙන්ම මාගේ පරම්පරාවේ අය ජාතික සමගිය හා එක්සත්කම වෙනුවෙන් ලොකු ලොකු හීන දැක්කා. සමහරුන්ට මේ වන විට ඒ සිහින සැබෑවෙලා. අපිට දැන් යාපනයට මුලතිව් වලට කරදරයක් නැතුව යන්න එන්න පුළුවන්. බෝම්බ පුපුරාවීදෝ කියන බය තවදුරටත් නැහැ. මේකද අපි ජාතියක් විදිහට බලාපොරොත්තු වන සමගිය? එකමුතුකම?

ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන් විදිහට අපි තිස් වසරක් පුරා දිග්ගැසුණු සන්නද්ධ අරගලය ඇතුළු අර්බුද මාලාවක ප්‍රතිඵලයක් ලෙස අපේ ජීවිතවලට හා ජීවනෝපයන්ට සැලකිය යුතු හානියක් සිදු වී තිබෙන බව අවබෝධයක් තිබෙනවද යන්න මට ගැටළුවක්. එකී යුද්ධයේ ප්‍රතිඵලයක් ලෙස ලංකාවේ වාසය කරන විවිධ ජනතාවන් අතර හා ජනයා තුළ අවිශ්වාසයන් හා අනාරක්ෂාවන් ඇති වු බව අපි නොදන්නා කාරණයක් නොවේ. ඒ අනුව 2009 මැයි මස සිට මේ දක්වාත්, අද සිට ඉදිරියටත් ලාංකේය සමාජයේ අපිට ඇති මුලික අවශ්‍යතාවය සාමූහික ලාංකික අනන්‍යතාවයක් ගොඩනැගීම බව මගේ විශ්වාසයයි. ලංකාවේ සියලු පුරවැසියන්ගේ සමානාත්මතාවය පිළි ගනිමින්, සියලු ජනතාවන්ට එක්සත් දේශයක් තුළ ගෞරවනීය අන්දමින් තම අනන්‍යතාවයන් ආරක්ෂා කර ගැනීමට තිබෙන අයිතිය තහවුරු කිරීමට හැකි වු දිනය සැබෑ සාමයේ දිනය වේවි.

ජන වර්ගයන් හා කණ්ඩායම් අතර සමීපතාවය සුහදත්වය ඇති, සමානාත්මතාවයේ සමාජ රිතිය පිළිපදින, තමන්ගේම භාෂාවට හා සංස්කෘතියට වඩා ඉඩකඩක් තිබිය යුතුය. තවද ආණ්ඩු පාලනය සඳහා සියලු ජනයාට එකග විය හැකි දේශපාලන ව්‍යූහයක් ගොඩනගා ගැනීම, ජාතික එකමුතුකමේ මුලික අංගයන් ලෙස අවබෝධ කර ගැනීමට හැකියා ඇත. ඒ තුළ ලංකාවේ අපට ජාතින්ගේ එක්සත්කම ලගා කරගන්නේ කෙසේද? මේ වනවිට ලංකාවේ ජාතික එක්සත්කම ගොඩනැංවී නැත්තේ ඇයි? ලංකාවේ ජාතින්ගේ එක්සත්කම උදෙසා ජය ගත යුතු බාධකයන් කවරේද? එම බාධකයන් ජය ගන්නේ කෙසේද? යුද්ධය අවසන් කිරිමට පෙර සිට අපි අහපු මේ ප්‍රශ්න අපිට තවමත් ප්‍රශ්න. අපිට මෙවට පිළිතුරු නැද්ද? නැතිනම් අපිට මේවා තවදුරටත් ප්‍රශ්න බව අමතකද? යන ගැටළු මට පැන නගිනවා.

යුද්ධය නිමවී වසර පහකට පසු අද දවසේ අප ඉදිරියේ ඇති අභියෝගය ජනතාවගේ ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදී අනුමැතියෙන් සියලු ජාතීන් එකට එක්වී ජිවත් වන එකම දේශයක් ගොඩ නැංවීමයි. අද අපි දිනා ගත යුත්තේ එම එක්සත්කමයි. මෙම එක්සත්කම මගින් සිංහල – දෙමළ ද්විභාෂා පාලනයක් පිළිගැනීම හා එය පරිපුර්ණ ලෙස ක්‍රියාත්මක කරවා ගැනීම අත්‍යාවශ්‍ය කටයුත්තක් ලෙස සැලකිය යුතු වනවා. තවද ජාතීන්ගේ ඔවුන්ට ආවේනික වූ සංස්කෘතීන් හට ගෞරව කිරීමද අපගේ කාර්යයක් ලෙස සැලකීමද අත්‍යාවශ්‍ය කටයුත්තක් බවද මතක තබා ගත යුතුයි.

තවමත් නොවිසදී ඇති ගැටලුවක් වන අපේ පාලන ක්‍රමය කුමක් විය යුතුද යන්න පිළිබද දේශපාලන සංවාදය සියලු පාර්ශවයන්ගේ සහභාගිත්වයක් ඇතුව සිදුකිරීම තවමත් අපට අභියෝගයක් වි තිබෙනවා. අද වනවිට දෙමළ ජාතික සන්ධානය ඇතුළු ලංකාවේ වෙසෙන සියලු දෙමළ ජනයා නොබෙදුනු එක්සත් ලංකාවක් තුල උතුරු හා නැගෙනහිර දෙමළ ජනතාවට හා ඔවුන්ගේ නියෝජිතයන් හට යම් බලතල ඉල්ලා සිටින තත්ත්වයක් තුල ජාතික එක්සත්කමේ අනාගත විසඳුම අපට සොයා ගත හැකි දෙයකි. නමුත් ඒ සදහා වන දේශපාලන සාකච්ඡාව ඇරඹීම තව දුරටත් ප්‍රමාද කිරීමෙන් අපට මේ ලැබී ඇති මහගු අවස්ථාව නැතිවී විනාශ වී යාමට නොදීමට වග බලාගත යුතුයි. එහිදී ඓතිහාසිකව ලංකාව සමග එකට බැඳි සිටින අසල්වැසි ඉන්දිය රාජ්‍යයට අපට අනිවාර්යයෙන්ම උපකාර කළහැකි බව අපි මතක තබාගැනීම වැදගත් බව මගේ හැගීමයි.

වෙනම දෙමළ රාජ්‍යයක් දිවයින තුල පිහිටුවීමට එරෙහිව ශ්‍රී ලාංකික රාජ්‍යයද, නිදහස් දෙමළ රාජ්‍යයක් පිහිටුවිම සඳහා එල්.ටි.ටී.ඊ සංවිධානය ද මුහුණට මුහුණලා අවුරුදු 30ක් යුද්ධ කලා. එම යුද්ධය මීට අවුරුදු පහකට කලින් අවසන් වන කොට යුද්ධයකින් දෙමළ ජනයාට නිදහස දිනා ගැනීමට නොහැකි බවත්, යුද්ධයෙන් ලංකාව එක්සත් කල නොහැකි බවත් අපි දැනගත්තා. නමුත් දෙමළ හා දෙමළ කථා කරන ජනතාවගේ සහයෝගය නැතිව ලංකාව එක්සත් කල නොහැකි බව ද, සිංහල ජනතාවගේ සහයෝගය නැතිව දෙමළ ජනතාවට සිය නිදහස දිනා ගත නොහැකි බව යුද්ධයෙන් වසර පහකට පසුත් දේශපාලන අධිකාරිය අවබෝධ කර ගෙන ඇතිද යන්න ඇති ගැටළුවක්.

ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන් වන අපි, ලාංකිකයන්ගේ අනාගතය වෙනුවෙන් ඇති වගකීමක් ලෙස සලකා ලංකාවේ විවිධත්වය තුළ එක්සත්කම අරක්ෂා කිරීමටත්, මානුෂිකත්වයේ හිමිකම් හා වටිනාකම් නඟා සිටුවීමටත්, සෑම ලාංකිකයකුට ම ගෞරවයෙන් හා විවිධත්වය කෙරෙහි ඇගයීමකින් යුක්තව ජීවත් වීමට තිබෙන අයිතිය පරිවර්තනය කිරීමටත්, කැපවීම තවදුරටත් ප්‍රමාද කල නොහැකි යුතුකමක් ලෙස සිහිගන්වා ගැනීමට මෙය කදිම අවස්ථාවක් ලෙස අවසාන වශයෙන් මතක් කර සිටිනවා.

Meaningful youth Participation in post-2015 Development Agenda: Beyond a youth focused approach

An article published in http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=local/beyond-youth-focused-approach

Sri Lanka will be hosting the World Conference on Youth (WCY) in Colombo from 6th to 10th May 2014. The conference is expected to be a platform for expanding youth participation and strengthening the voices of youth in matters that concern them most. Internationally, the WCY is expected to look at a new post-2015 Agenda for Development and Sustainable Development Goals.

Ensuring meaningful youth participation in post-2015 remains and will continue to remain the key challenge at present and of the years to come. What is meant by meaningful youth participation? I recall a discussion of a group of young people on the same topic in 2007/8 where it was understood either as a collective bargaining tool for special privileges or as being part of consultative decision making processes to a better overall outcome for the young people. To explain this explicitly, we demanded to include more young people when the governments design policies or make decisions which affect young people. We claimed that young people have a right to be part of the decision-making on youth programs. As a youth activist few years ago, I understood meaningful youth participation as above and I see no significant difference in the discourse since then. In fact, re-thinking of what is meaningful youth participation for the post-2015 development, I strongly feel our continued youth-focused approach has to move to the next level: it need to be  based on  a relational approach to ensure meaningful youth participation.

A relational approach with regard to youth participation in a theoretical perspective is expected to see behaviour as functional, communicative and meaningful. It seeks to identify and understand the direct and hidden needs, see young people as voluntarily participating in a shared endeavour and promote personal responsibility, with high levels of accountability and support. It is broader and moves away from equating youth participation to consulting young people in policy making or in programmes, it examines the interplay between youth and other identity makers, such as gender, age, social class, sexuality, disability, ethnic or religious background, urban/rural setting.  It is vital at least to make WYC 2014 the platform for this discussion to move beyond the generic perceptions of youth participation as consultation, which is often an attempt by those who hold power to get their programmes and plans endorsed rather than a genuine opportunity to be involved in the design and shaping of the same.

Relational approach does not limit youth participation in policies which only affects young people, but their participation as key stakeholders in the society as a whole. Young people therefore should be able to provide input in all areas of policy formulation and often they can get passionate about issues that they see as unjust or wrong on an overall societal level rather than being overly concerned about youth specific issues or policies.  This approach although requires better researched interventions it can lead to more effective outcomes and make youth participation more meaningful.

Meaningful youth participation in a post 2015 development agenda should therefore focus on the following principles:

  1. Understanding the role of young people in the post 2015 development agenda: Every programme and policy on development requires the investment of time and resources to understand the background context to such an initiative. Understanding the role of young people as explained above will help  policy makers and others who are involved in developing programmes in identifying key stakeholders in a more appropriate way. In that regard, policy makers will understand the background and relations within that context to ensure meaningful participation of young people. Youth participation will become even more meaningful by comprehending how roles and relations of young people work in each particular context, how they influence a society, and to what  extend they make an impact. One also need to understand opportunities are needed to bring the change youth aspire for.

 

  1. Broad range of possible interventions by young people: This novel approach to youth participation not only enables us to identify the roles of young people but also of the society as a whole, particularly to identify the attitudes and practices that need to be changed and to design effective interventions. This allows policies and programmes to be more precisely targeted and thus more effectively implemented and evaluated. Most importantly, youth participation would not be limited to interventions that affects only young people, but it suggests a more meaningful participation of young people in initiatives that affect the society as a whole. This includes programmes to address other vulnerabilities (i.e. gender, disability) or societal attitudes that need to be changed, including attitudes towards young people. Universally, young people are viewed as the duty bearers of violent conflict, hence with more pro-violent attitudes. One may argue this is due to generational misunderstandings or that young people are anyway more aggressive due to lack of maturity or various other reasoning. In fact, moving beyond the youth focused approach would pave the way to understand and iron out these attitudes to ensure effective contribution of the future generation in today’s policy making that affects the society as a whole.

 

  1. Inclusivity, dialogue and empowerment: Rethinking the currently practiced approach towards youth means understanding how societal relations and identities of young people influence policy in a given context and facilitating transformational change based on that understanding. A positive transformation is possible through inclusivity, dialogue and empowerment. Inclusivity will ensure the participation not only of young people, but also women and men, old and middle aged, powerful and powerless, marginalised and empowered, urban and rural. This will capture a wide range of perspectives and knowledge where dialogue is used as the key methodology in designing, managing or implementing programmes. An inclusive dialogue with the participation of all key stakeholders in society, including young people at all spheres, will not only generate  effective policies but will also empower youth to become active citizenry. Sustainable change towards the post 2015 development will indeed strike out from there eventually assuring the efficiency of the implementation of such policies.

This World Conference on Youth in Sri Lanka is expected to be the ideal platform to commence such dialogue as outlined above and will ensure a  meaningful youth participation in formulating a sustainable post-2015 development agenda. It is time to step beyond tokenism and consultation of young people and to make efforts of ensuring a more meaningful youth participation. Stepping beyond the youth focused approach and embracing them as the key stakeholders of the future in all sector with a broader understanding of their relations and identities is the only way forward.

Novelty or the change of existing state of affairs has been eternally resisted most of the time and will continue to be so. Hence, let’s make the World Conference on Youth the platform to give a serious thought about that human rationality and to propel such a resistance of novelty. Let’s rethink meaningful youth participation in the post-2015 development agenda beyond the youth focused approach !

 

Informal Education, Culture and Social Integration

Informal education, similar to the formal one enables each and every child to maximize their potential and to become contributing members of a society. It is a fact that intensive, significant and culturally sensitive efforts are needed to allow the children to attain the achievements they need to integrate successfully into the society. Culture is a key discipline that is nurtured mainly via informal educational settings and during the socialisation process.

 

Therefore, a culture is socially learned. To say that culture is socially learned is to say that individuals acquire it in the process of growing up in the society or some other kind of group. Enculturisation generally happens as a normal part of one’s childhood. This denies the fact that culture is transferred genetically by biologically reproduction but something the people born into that group acquire with growing up among other members.

 

When the process of social learning over many generations continues, knowledge will be developed and accumulated. Ideal democratic scenario will suggest that people live today off the cultural knowledge transmitted by the previous generations and will transfer to the next generations together with the new knowledge acquired from the modern society as well. This further paves the way for the development of one’s culture as well.

 

In a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic society like Sri Lanka enculturisation process needs to address the principles of social cohesion that encourages social integration. Hence, the first lessons that come from home should encourage the process of building the values and relations within an individual. Such constructs however are essential to respect another person for who he/she is, irrespective of the language spoken, colour of the skin, gender, age or any other factors. Most importantly, our children should be taught that respecting one’s culture does not hinder us being part of ours.
Human behaviour in this regard varies from culture to culture. Even the two kids in the same family who are brought-up in the same culture differ in their behaviours. The behaviour of individuals varies for several reasons. First, individuals have different social identities: males and females, old and young, rich and poor, parents and children and so forth. Moreover people act and behave differently based on the context and situation as well. Cultural standards for and expectations of behaviour of people therefore are not always clear. It is therefore a mistake to think that all people will behave in the same manner within cultural borders.

 

Informal education is the best platform for our children to learn these differences, to understand the diversity among us: as people of the same culture and from different ones. To understand that the society we live in is for all. We take responsibility to build democratic values and healthy relations among our students as essential for the creation of such an equitable and dynamic society, where all individuals regardless of their race, sex, language, religion, can fully exercise their rights and responsibilities on an equal basis with others and contribute to a cohesive Sri Lanka. As parents and responsible citizens of present, we are to invest for an inclusive society for our children of tomorrow.

Thinking of Freedom of expression: But not forgetting the emotions of the people

The debate on freedom of information in Sri Lanka has come to a forefront once again. The contemporary discourse takes me back to the dilemma I was in when Salman Rushdie was not permitted to attend Jaipur literary festival. I recall a discussion with a Norwegian journalist in India. She strongly believed banning Rushdie’s novel “the satanic versus” was a threat to freedom of expression in India. In fact, I always looked at it with a question mark…

While we understand and of course agree that the essence of free expression is the ability to think and speak, write or communicate freely and to obtain information from others through publications or public discourse or any other means without fear of retribution, restriction, or repression by the government and that it is through free speech, people could come together to achieve political influence, to strengthen their morality, and to help others to become moral and enlightened citizens, I have a simple question. Are we talking about a radical freedom here? Or are we adopting it within the cultural framework of the society that we live in?

My thesis is simple. Let me not complicate it here. It is a fact that people in our part of the world are very emotional about certain things, out of which religion and ethnicity are probably their primary concerns. These are the people who burn or attack the cricketers and their property when they fail matches. We are very well aware about how they have reacted to various incidents based on ethnicity or religion: Ayodya incident in India and 1983 July in Sri Lanka are some of the best scenarios with this regard.

How do we really draw the line between these incidents and the freedom of expression in this part of the world?

My personal belief says the nature of people and about the fact that they are extremely emotional on their religion or ethnicity cannot be ignored. To make things worse, politicians through-out history have successfully manipulated such emotions as well. In such a context, a deeper sensitivity on that is to be considered in making new laws or updating the existing ones. Most importantly it is to understand the context in a western developed country with a greater political maturity is far more different to India or Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s Tamil Diaspora in the middle of its ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Friendship battle

President Rajapakse has been maintaining a healthy relationship with China since he came into power in 2005. During the first few years of his term of office neither India nor the US was too worried about this new friend of Sri Lanka.

“Although Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa trumpets the importance of Sri Lanka’s friendship with China, the relationship is very lopsided in terms of trade. For example, in 2008 Chinese exports to Sri Lanka constituted 96% of total bilateral trade. In terms of investment, Hong Kong has become a key source of foreign direct investment to Sri Lanka, while China proper focuses on direct government aid. In contrast, Sri Lanka investment in China consists of a few tea shops. Though at times the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) asserts it does not need the U.S. and the West since it can turn to new friends such as China, there is no indication that China can replace Western export markets. In terms of investment and trade importance, Sri Lanka’s new friends cannot compete with her old ones in the United States and EU.” -the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington in 2009 on http://www.colombotelegraph.com/

However, the question lies whether Sri Lanka’s new friend actually commenced competing with its old one unexpectedly. As a middle income country that doesn’t continue to be a ‘donor darling’ further was rescued by China’s massive development loans not only from the international economic pressure but also from human rights abuses and other International pressure. By 2011, China became the biggest lender to Sri Lanka by 2011 pledging more than $3bn for infrastructure development, maintenance and other projects, BBC Sinhala Service reported. This novel relationship brought an unexpected state for China in terms of Sri Lankan affairs.

USA and India; good old friends of Sri Lanka that never expected such consequence were disheartened by the whole scenario and were looking forward for means and ways to regain their significant influential capacity in terms of Sri Lankan affairs. The critical question that I raise in this regard is whether the US resolution that was brought-up at the 19th UNHRC session using the support of the Tamil Diaspora was another such attempt to regain their influential power and in the presence of the USA’s scapegoating, whether the Tamil Diaspora also gave up their initial demands for an Independent International Investigation on Sri Lanka’s war crimes.

From the inception of LLRC the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora had been extremely critical about each and every aspect of the commission: its members, its structure, the hearings, the interim-report etc. including its final outcomes. Their demands were strongly in line with an International Independent Investigation on war crimes committed by the Government of Sri Lanka as recommended by the UNSG’s Panel Report on Sri Lanka. This whole paradigm shift is a dilemma for me as yet. How did this shift in the thinking and believes of the Tamil Diaspora go through such a sea-change within such a short period? I can think of two main aspects to it: it could be because anything against the government of Sri Lanka keeps the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora motivated or it could have been that USA was extremely smart enough to manipulate their strong network and worldwide political communication for the benefit of their cause. Was this whole drama on ‘UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka’ actually created to stop the whole wave and demand for an Independent International Investigation on Sri Lanka that would have imposed allegations on the Defence Secretary and the then Army Commander who are also citizens of the USA on one hand and to regain the trust of the Sri Lankan government? In this whole context, have ‘Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora’ been fooled in the middle of diplomacy and politics?

However, at the end of the drama I see the ties between Sri Lanka and its old friends re-gaining…, but are they strong enough to compete with her new friend, China as yet?