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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 109

Message of Reconciliation Should Not be Limited to Academic Elite

Colombo, 27 July, (Asiantribune.com):

The message of reconciliation should not be limited to the academic elite but should be extended to the general public. This was stated by Professor Athula Senaratne, Vice Chancellor of The University of Peradeniya in his introductory remarks at a Round Table Discussion on the Role of Academics and Universities in Facilitating Reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

The Vice Chancellor also said that Peradeniya University was truly a national university as it is the only university [in Sri Lanka] where instructions are imparted in all three languages, represented by all religions and all ethnicities.

The Round Table was a follow-up to the Conference on Higher Education and Reconciliation held in Jaffna last month and a practical demonstration of reconciliation where cultural differences were highlighted for better understanding. These included food and the arts including dancing and was held at the Rajarata University later in June. All universities in Sri Lanka participated at these events on an initiative by the new head of the University Grants Commission, Ms. Kshanika Hirimburegama.

Outlining the objective of the discussion, Professor K.T. Silva said, “The idea is to mobilise the resources available to promote peace and reconciliation in the country, and began as a UGC initiative to assess how the universities could contribute towards it.” He said that the University of Peradeniya also had the right social background since it represented all the communities in the country. Professor Silva also said, As a university we have the full complement of subjects and disciplines which are required to contribute towards this process raning from medicine, engineering agriculture, social sciences and humanities.”

Professor Silva also said that two ideas had come out of the conference in Jaffna “One is to hold a national conference on the role of universities and institutes of higher education in promoting peace and reconciliation in the country,” he said. Peradeniya University has already initiated action to hold such a conference. The university has already received positive responses from retired professors, some faculty members, students and even some international participants have expressed their interest in such a conference. He said that they expected the conference to result in some action and activism in the country at large. He said that it would not be confined to academics and researchers and students but would also afford an opportunity for interested members of the general public to express their views on how the universities could contribute towards this process.

Professor Rohan Gunaratne from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore warned that a threat of violence exists if religious extremism in the south and communal extremism in the north is not curbed. “I believe that Sri Lanka will once again return to violence if we do not work hard and engineer a structured process that will bring Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims together,” he said.

Speaking on the need for the establishment of a Peace Centre Professor Gunaratne said that in the recent history of Sri Lanka, the university community did not align its policies and strategies to meet the nation’s immediate challenges. He said that none of the universities contributed to ending terrorism or the insurgency in Sri Lanka. He said that the university academics were detatached from the ground realities of the national needs. “Today I’m so pleased at the spirit of the remarks of the Vice Chancellor, of the Deputy Vice Chancellor and also of Professor Tudor (Silva), that universities should align themselves to the ground realities of the country. If the people are hungry, the universities should develop the concepts to feed them. If the people have a misunderstanding, and they cannot live together as a Sri Lankan nation, then the universities should provide the conceptual, intellectual and the practical mechanisms to come together.” He said that the Vice Cahncellor’s remarks that he was even prepared to provide funding demonstrates that Peradeniya is serious.

He said that the concept note to be presented by Nireka De Silva, calls for the creation of community harmony centres. He said that the university harmony centres such as the one planned to be established by the University of Peradeniya should influence and give the knowledge and understanding to those community harmony centres.

Ms. Nirekha De Silva made a detailed presentation on the proposed Harmony Centres in Sri Lankan Universities and the establishing of an International Centre of Excellence for Harmony at the University of Peradeniya.

Chandrakumar Kopinathan from Jaffna, a forth-year Tamil student in the Department of Sociology, University of Peradeniya said, “When I was in the first year in this university, I was struggling because I did not know any words in Sinhala or in English. But, now I can speak Sinhala and English. It is because of the university. What I say is that we have to interact well with other ethnic groups, especially Sinhala and Muslims.”

He recommended that when hostel facilities are granted by the university, the ethnicities should be mixed so that there is a Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim student in each room. He explained that he was accommodated with Tamil students in the first year, while in the second and third years he was accommodated with Sinhala and Muslim students. He said that the interaction would enable an improvement in ethnic relations.

Rev. Deegalle Mahinda; Retired Professor V. Nandakumar; Mr. Ariyagunarajan Selva; Dr. Nanda Gunawardena, Director, International Research Centre; Professor Anas, Department of Philosophy and Psychology of the University of Peradeniya; Ms. Shanthini, International Research Centre, University of Peradeniya; Ms. Prarthana Maduwanthi, Enhancing Knowledge and Virtues: Student Courage National Programme; Ms. Pujika Rathnayaka, Enhancing Knowledge and Virtues: Student Courage National Programme; T. Gajendra Kumar; Leel Pathirana, Journalist; Ishara Paranavithana, Clinical psychologist; Dr. Abey Rathnayaka, University of Peradeniya also made contributions to the discussion.

- Asian Tribune -

 Professor Athula Senaratne, Vice Chancellor of The University of Peradeniya
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