The Language Act and Tamil services

| by Bodhi Dhanapala

(December 09, Quebec, Sri Lanka Guardian) Anne Abesekera (AnnA) has written an article entitled the “language Issue” on 29 November in the Island newspaper. She is amazed that the Government hadn’t had the grace to acknowledge its failure – and … of previous governments – to implement the Official Languages Act for so long. Cold comfort to the Tamils who have waited in vain for several decades to receive official communications in Tamil and to have the right to use their mother-tongue when dealing orally or in writing, with Govt. departments. Then she quotes Prof. Sasanka Perera: ” The vast gap between … Tamil as an Official Language and the practical implementation … is yet to be bridged. As recently as 2005, … The facilities of communicating with the central government in obtaining its services in Tamil are minimal. The situation amounts to a violation of constitutional rights of the Tamil speaking citizens of this country. Apart from the indignities they are made to suffer, they are put into innumerable inconveniences in transacting business with the Government. The provincial administration … miserably fail in serving citizens inhabiting those areas…”
File Photo
Neither Prof. Perera, nor AnnA, asks (i) How does Sri Lanka compare with other multi-ethnic countries like USA, Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland and Canada ? (ii) Why is it that the Tamils wait for the government without acquiring some of the needed capabilities themselves?.
The USA has some 17% Hispanics, and ‘traditional homelands’ in California, New Mexico, Southern Texas. The US asserts that the Hispanics must learn English. Britain today is more multicultural than before, with 4% from India, and 3% Arabs. English is the only official language.
France has some 10% Arab speakers. Large parts of France were under Arab rule before the Crusades. Nevertheless, no concession is given to Arabic. Instead, the nation’s politicians view the threat to the French language with alarm. Arab children must study French and also not wear the now-illegal Islamic head cover. Germany has harboured French speakers in the Alsace-Lorraine region, even before the rise of Germany under Bismark. However, the recent phenomenon is the 5.6% Arab population. A very menacing right-wing political movement with Neo-Nazi connections ensures that no concessions are made to these new Germans.
Switzerland is the exception to the above problematic nations. The country started as independent cantons with common mercantile interests, with similar Swiss-German dialects and French, Italian. The federation simply retained the languages of each canton at confederation.
Canada started as two nations at war. The natives were subjugated in “reservations” run by possibly highly corrupt band leaders. The average “aboriginal” lives without running water, doctors or schools. Tuberculosis, alcoholism, crime and drugs are rampant. Their Languages have no place in the constitution. French and English populations have been 2:3 in strength. When French separatism arose in the 1960s, Pierre Trudeau and others leaders proposed bilingualism. Bilingual education, bonuses, bilingual promotions and incentives were announced. Top posts became necessarily bilingual.
Four decades and after billions dollars of money spend, r Canada is still 80% unilingual. English is difficult to find in rural Quebec, while French becomes rare west of Ottawa, the federal capital. The federal services, their web pages etc., are bilingual; but local-government is 90% unilingual. Canada made an honest effort; but its bilingualism has failed.
The situation in Sri Lanka, with currently less than 10% Tamils, is not comparable to Canada with 40% French, or with USA with 17% Hispanics. Meanwhile, Tamils who go to Germany, France, or even Poland and Norway rapidly learn those complex languages. Tamil and Sinhala have the same structure and many words are common. A Tamil can learn Sinhala easily (or vice versa). So why do the Tamils wait for the government to ‘implement the law’?
Ordinary Tamils , being practical minded, have always studied Sinhalese. But the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) strongly campaigned since 1956 against learning Sinhala. Psychological and Physical threats were applied. Legal cases were filed even in the Privy council challenging the act. The manifestos of the ITAK promised an imminent creation of a Tamil Kingdom; stamps were printed in the early 1970s. The Banda-Chelva pact or the Dudly-Chelva pact were not trusted by those who read the Tamil manifestos promising Arasu, while English manifestos talked of federalism. By the 1980s, Tamil officers who worked in Sinhalese could die. Sinhalese who knew Tamil left the North. Meanwhile the Tamil politicians informed the world that Tamil-language services are not offered by the government.
We can understand AnnA living in her cuckoo world of Colombo acting as a cat’s paw for for scraping the beggars wound assiduously cultivated by the Eelamists. Not long ago she harranagues about the single sign in Omantha where the name is correctely written in Sinhala. She wanted the Tamil version to prevail not only in Tamil, but also in Sinhala and English. According the CIA fact sheet on various countires, Sri Lanka is said to now have only 5% Tamils, with the rest listed as Indian tamils. This seems to me s to be an under-estimate. But there is no doubt that the Tamils are demographically less significant than the Hispanics in the USA, or the Arabs in France. And yet Ann Abeserker goes about stirring the pot, asking for something evan wealthy Canada, with more than 40% French could not achieve even under no-war conditions.
So, even if we ignore Ann A, how is it that a Professor of Sociology is also totally ignorant of the social realities that prevailed in the country? In which country does he live? Where does he gets his facts? Which nation pays him?

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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