Sri Lanka: Reconciliation Through Art And Dancing – Analysis

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By Nandana Wijesinghe

The office of the Director, Social Development Affairs to the President has been organizing a national programme named Enhancing Knowledge and Virtues: Student Courage (Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya) national program for six consecutive years, whose main aim is societal development especially in the former conflict ridden areas. The office of the Director, Social Development Affairs to the President believes that sustainable peace and social development can be engineered through ethnic and religious integration and the resultant harmonious community. Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya was designed to realize this goal.

The target group of the programme consists of students of former combat zones who have lived in trauma for nearly three decades because of the conflict. Their mindset is conditioned by fear, anxiety, and suspicion and hence they live in constant paranoia, viewing strangers as essential enemies. The organizers of the sub programmes of Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya are sensitive to this issue when planning events whose ultimate goal is to foster genuine religious harmony among students of this country.

At a time when the West is hurling Human Rights violations allegations at Sri Lanka, it is crucial to unite and face them down with living, breathing examples especially in a context where the country is gradually implementing the recommendations of the LLRC report. Both government-sponsored and civil society-initiated activities are marking Sri Lanka’s steady progress towards reconciliation despite international allegations. Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya is all the more important in this context since it is a paradigm of reconciliation that happens on a huge scale benefitting thousands of lives annually.

ART EXHIBITIONS:

The fundamental theme of the Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya programme ‘Peace, Harmony and Diversity’ is indeed the ultimate objective of all the events carried out under it. Consequently the numerous art exhibitions organized by the programme also had a thematic relevance to it. By consistently setting sub-themes within the larger framework of this central theme for art exhibitions it is expected that notions of peace, harmony, unity, etc. will be embedded in the subconscious of the beneficiaries of Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya – namely the student populace – because they would have to dwell largely on these subjects in order to produce a creation. The long-term benefit of this is that they will effortlessly have gained an understanding of human values and their mindsets will be automatically conditioned to prioritize such values over narrow divides.

Art is a primary form of expression. This skill had been suppressed in the minds of children who lived in former combat areas. With the expert guidance provided by workshops organized throughout the Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya programme, students were able to tap their vast reserves of talent which some of them were not even aware of. Reviving the children of previously conflict affected areas whose education was disrupted and who were displaced was a concept of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Special focus is placed upon O/L and A/L students whose education and leadership development is complemented by the assistance rendered for psychological release of post-traumatic stress through artistic expression. Following are the themes and brief descriptions of the art exhibitions that were held annually.

1. 2009 – Social Harmony within Diversity: A series of workshops aimed at developing psycho-social skills of the children who lived through the hugely traumatic LTTE attack on Kebithigollawa in 2006 were held at the National Youth Council, Maharagama in the year 2009. Methodologies used in these workshops included group discussions, role plays, study and recreational tours and psychotherapy, all of which promoted greater interaction and participation of youth belonging to all communities. Also contemporary and relevant fields such as skill development, information technology, health, beauty of the nature etc. were included in the workshops. The objective was not only to fine-tune artistic skills in students, but also to provide them a means of expressing bottled up emotions that are the result of the conflict. It also aimed to create beauty in the society through art along with building patience, sensitivity, and a love for nature. The workshops culminated in an art exhibition which involved the creations of students of Wauniya Madukanda National College, Wauniya Vipulananda College, Anuradhapura Padawiya Maha Vidyalaya and Angunochchiya Muslim Maha Vidyalaya. The knowledge and experience gained through the workshops were reflected in the exhibition.

2. 2010 – Unity in Diversity: As part of the World Children’s Day celebrations held at the Kilinochchi Hindu College, the 2010 art exhibition of Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya was hosted with Deputy Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Hon. S.M. Chandrasena, Governor of Northern Province-Hon. G.A. Chandrasiri, the director of social development affairs to the president- Mr. Nandana Wijesinghe, District Secretary- Rupawathie Kethieswaran and other distinguished individuals in attendance. The exhibition was coupled with a very exciting combination of street dramas, singing and dancing along the streets where the young artists had immense fun.

3. 2011 – Peace, Harmony and Diversity: The 3rd art exhibition coincided with the Enlightenment Anniversary celebrations. The efforts of students were exhibited at the Vavuniya Tamil College on the 18th, 19th and 20th of May 2011. An art competition under the same topic was held during the months of May, June and July of 2011 among students of the East, North Central and Western provinces. A two day art workshop was held at the end of all the exhibitions and competitions on the 1st and 2nd of August 2011 at the Maharagama National Youth Council for a selected student group of 130 from 13 districts constituting 10 students per district. The products of this workshop were again exhibited at the Indoor Stadium of University of Colombo from 3rd to 5th August 2011.

DANCING AND CULTURAL PERFORMANCES:

The dancing performances organized by Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya are also connected to reconciliation by the harmonizing quality of dancing. All fine arts are defined by the common characteristic of universal appeal, thus effectively undermining narrow ethnic, religious and cultural divides. As such, fine arts can be used to promote harmony. Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya has wisely used this quality to the maximum benefit and the massive student networks spanning the width and breadth of the country as a result of cultural integration stand testimony to it. Following are brief descriptions of the various dancing performances carried out by Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya throughout the years.

2009 Deyata Kirula Development Exhibition: Deyata Kirula is an annual exhibition that depicts the development of the country in various sectors such as education, infrastructure, security, etc. The 2009 Deyata Kirula premises were used by Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya as a platform for students to present their talents to an audience rich with territorial, ethnic and religious diversity. The office of the Director of Social Development Affairs to the President, considered the staggering attention attracted by this national exhibition as an ideal means to promote awareness of the ongoing process of reconciliation and its successes thus far, so as to boost the collective morale of the country’s populace and encourage it to enthusiastically get involved in reconciliation. Given the inaccessibility of previous combat zones during times of the conflict, infrastructure development was completely stalled. The resultant stagnation of these areas caused in the alienation of their people who were trapped in an environment of armed conflict, which rendered them so traumatized that they did not ever have the heart to pay attention to their inner person and abilities. Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya enabled students who had endured such suffering to discover their talents and also provided a platform to showcase them. These students are living examples of what proper guidance can do and they are a tribute to Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya.

Sisu Diriya dancing performance at the Maharagama National Youth Council 2010: Sisu Diriya Dancing is a special effort taken by the office of Director Social Development Affairs to the President in order to unveil and enhance the gift of dancing in children. The 2010 program of Sisu Diriya dancing was held at the Maharagama Youth Council with the participation of 1500 students from North, East and Central provinces. The program was significant in terms of integration in that it provided a widely recognized platform for students who belong in the ethnic minorities to perform their talents. Also the interaction this program enabled was instrumental in fostering a sense of fraternity among different ethnic and religious groups. Pooja dancing by Waw/ WipulanandaVidyalaya and Waw/ Sayiwapragasha Girls’ college, Kurakkan dancing by Anu/ Aliwanguwa M.V, Muslim cultural song by students of waw/ Al-Ikball Vidyala are some examples of the performances made by students of multiple ethnicities.

2010 Deyata Kirula in (Pallekele) Kandy: The 2010 Deyata Kirula exhibition was hosted by the Buddhist Academy Premises in Pallekele, Kandy. Sri Lanka was embracing the fresh experience of peace and huge crowds turned out for the exhibition without the usual reservations about bombs and other horrors associated with war. Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya made this an opportunity to illustrate the beneficiaries of the program by demonstrating their talents on stage. Dimbulagala Nawaginidamana Maha Vidyalaya, Waw/ Tamil Central College, Waw/ Puwarasankulam Vidyalaya, Trincomalee Pulmudai Muslim Maha Vidyalaya, Mannar Sithivinayakar Hindu College, Mannar Sent. Saviors Boys College, Waw/ Sayivapragasha Girls College, Waw/ Lanka Sabha Tamil Mix School and Kandy Poojapitiya Marathugoda Maha Vidyalaya are the schools that entertained the audience. Among the entertainments were a pooja dance that celebrated the beauty of the Tamil culture, an appreciation of His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapakse, folk songs, and street dramas.

2011 Deyata Kirula in Buttala: Deyata Kirula is hosted at locations across the country to distribute knowledge in equal proportions. The exhibition hosted in Buttala featured the talents of students not only from the North, East and Central provinces, but also those in Sabaragamuwa to whom it was a wholly new experience. Waw/ Sayiwapragasha Girls’ College, Anu/ Buddhangala Vidyalaya, Kilinochhci Kanagapuram Vidyalaya, Waw/ Muslim M.V and number of other Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil schools demonstrated their talents along with Sanchitha Ranga Kalayathanaya- Badulla, Narthani Kalayathnaya and other institutions in Badulla, Bandarawela, Wellawaya and other areas in Uva Province. These cultural performances marked the dawn of a new era in Sri Lanka defined by hope and peace.

2012 Deyata Kirula Anuradhapura Oyamaduwa: Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya is part of the Uthuru Wasanthaya and Rajarata Navodaya projects, both of which are carried out to reconstruct the war-torn North and North Central provinces. As such, it naturally has a place reserved in Deyata Kirula exhibitions because an intrinsic part of reconstruction involves psychological reconstruction as well and these students are the living results of the efforts taken towards this end thus far. In accordance with this effort, almost all the schools had chosen ‘reconciliation’ as the theme of their performances. At this exhibition, a special cultural show named ‘Uthuru Wasanthaya Rajarata Navodaya special dancing and cultural show’ was staged from 5th to 12th February 2012, in which more than 2000 students of all ethnicities took part. Mr. Nandana Wijesinghe, Director of Sodial Development Affairs to the President, held that His Excellency the President considers children as the wealth of the country. “This program is designed to help them re-focus their lives towards acquiring knowledge and virtues and re-shape their characters with discipline. We have selected 100 students from a competitive selection process, who will gain exposure to yet more knowledge and skill that will boost their self-confidence. Also the rich diversity of our beneficiaries will help foster genuine reconciliation and write a new chapter in the history of this country.” Sinhalese schools such as A/ Thibbatuwewa M.V, A/ Mahanama M.V, A/ Dhammmadinna M.V, Po/ Weheragala M.V, and Tamil schools such as Jaffna Hindu Girls’ College, Jaffna Kokawil Hindu College, and Muslim colleges such as Waw/ Muslim M.V contributed towards making the event a success.

 

Nandana Wijesinghe, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.


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