Spurring Reconciliation In Sri Lanka: Facilitating Social Capital Among Youth Networks For Peace – Analysis


By Shanti Nandana Wijesinghe

Social capital is an oft exhausted topic in the field of Social Sciences though the two words were clustered into a single phrase only as late as the 80s. There is no consensus as to who deserves the credit for coining the term. However, literature on social capital is extensive and hence there is no lack of definitions on the subject from which to draw a general conclusion.
Pierre Bourdieu believes that “social capital is the aggregate of the actual or potential resources, which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition – in other words, to membership in groups – which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectively owned capital, a ‘credential’ which entitles them to credit, in the various senses of the word” (Bourdieu, 1986: 248-49).

According to Coleman, social capital is defined by its function. It is not a single entity but a variety of different entities. These different entities have two common features: they are a part of the social structure and they facilitate certain actions of actors. He claims that unlike other forms of capital, social capital is inherent in the structure of relations between actors and among actors. Thus, social capital is not lodged in individuals themselves or in physical instruments of production. Coleman identifies three forms of social capital. (1) Obligations. (2) Expectations and trustworthiness of structures, information channels and norms. (3) Effective sanctions.

Durkheim and Marx define social capital as “those expectations for action within a collectivity that affect the economic goals and goal-seeking behaviour of its members, even if these expectations are not oriented towards the economic sphere.” They identify four specific sources of social capital. (1) Value introjection – avoiding acting with naked greed so others in the group can appropriate one as a resource. (2) Reciprocity transactions – mutual assistance. (3) Bounded solidarity – discrimination of entities outside the group thus establishing intra-group solidarity. (4) Enforceable trust – disciplined compliance with the group’s expectations conditioned by both rewards and sanctions.

Putnam, whose writings have largely contributed to the recognition of social capital as a concept, articulated social capital as follows: “Features of social organizations such as trust, norms and networks that improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions.”
The above definitions illustrate a few characteristics of social capital such as networking, facilitation of collective action, trust, norms, and reciprocity. Hence social capital could roughly be defined as a “resource constituted by trust, reciprocity and networks.” The writer aims to build the essay on this definition and discuss social capital in the Sri Lankan context, with a special focus on the Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya program, a reconciliation-oriented effort taken by the Office of Social Development Affairs to the President for the benefit of the youth of the country. The essay would analyze how the youth of Sri Lanka can be effectively used to generate and sustain social capital with appropriate illustrations from Nena Guna Weduma and how this entire process would contribute to the massive effort at reconciliation in the country.

Benefits of social capital:

Coleman draws into attention the most fundamental benefit of social capital through a concise sentence. “Social capital…..enables those who have it to achieve certain ends that would not be attainable in its absence.” For example if a certain group is trustworthy and displays extensive trust in others, they are better placed to accomplish things than a group in which trustworthiness and trust is absent. Fukuyama’s (1995) findings substantiate this argument. He compared American, Japanese and German societies, which in his assessment are high-trusting societies, with lower-trusting French, Italian and some East Asian cultures, including that of China. In the trusting societies, the ability of people to place trust in strangers and to form organizations independent from family and kinship has led to the growth of large-scale industries, while in the lower-trusting societies, industries remain family-centered and small because they are less trusting of outsiders. In effect, in the latter societies the state has had to fill a gap left by an unwilling private sector, and these societies have experienced inefficiency related to state management of industries.

The potency of social capital is dependent mainly on two factors. (1) The degree of value preservation in relationships – this refers to extent of regard for such human values as trust, loyalty, reciprocity, unity, etc. (2) The scale of networks that are born from these relationships – the greater the magnitude, the more influence it can have on society. Hence relationships based on human values, if practiced on a societal scale, could produce a large reserve of valuable social capital. This does not necessarily imply that all people in a society should actively participate in generating social capital. According to Coleman “social capital benefits all those who are part of a structure. It does not give benefits only to those who make an effort to bring about a mutually beneficial condition in a given social structure.” The point of interest here is that if an entire society could benefit from the social capital produced by the efforts of some, the sheer scale of a genuinely collective effort could generate a social capital of such energy that would propel a country towards development and peace of enormous proportions.

In terms of networking, another component of social capital, horizontal networking is generally preferred to its vertical counterpart. Explaining the negative dimension of vertical networking Putnam says that “no matter how dense and how important to [their] participants, [vertical networks] cannot sustain social trust and social cooperation. Vertical patron-client relations are characterized by dependency rather than mutuality.” This can generate opportunism and can lead to exploitation and shirking.

Many researchers claim that grassroots associations facilitate spontaneous cooperation. They point to voluntary credit associations as illustrative of this kind of cooperation. The participation in a rotating credit device is significant in that a member can earn a reputation for being honest and reliable by being a successful contributor and avoiding default. Hence rotating credit associations reflect how social capital facilitates collective actions, and show how pre-existing social connections mitigate barriers against collective action. Social capital of this kind is much more important for those who do not have access to normal credit markets. People who lack physical capital to offer as surety effectively pledge their social connections. Hence people’s associations can generate concrete monetary and economic benefits (Amunugama, 1964; Dissanayake, 1991; Jayamaha, 1990; Putnam, 1992).

Some studies do, however, point to the effectiveness of vertical social capital as well. For example, studies in Sweden have shown that vertical trust between individuals in organizations (such as trade unions), trust between leaders of such organizations and trust between leaders of organizations and the state, have helped Swedish democracy and supported the smooth functioning of industry. Sweden is considered a high-trust society and has a vibrant record of voluntary associations and actions. So some forms of vertical trust can be associated with positive outcomes in certain situations (Rothstein, 2002).

Networking takes two forms: Bonding and bridging. The former refers to intra-group networking while the latter refers to inter-group networking. A group can have a common interest/s that keeps its members together such as ethnicity, economic necessity, religion, politics or even environmental concerns.

Fox shows that in rural Mexican society many of Mexico’s poorest regions have large stocks of social capital in terms of horizontal associations, reciprocity and self-help. But these areas are not only poor but also have deficient systems of governance due to the lack of cross-cutting networks connecting people outside the boundaries of villages. Thus what matters most is ‘bridging social capital’. People’s organizations which penetrate spatial and ethnic divides facilitate the realization of shared interests by overcoming ‘socially constructed constraints of locally confined solidarities’. Strictly local organizations cannot overcome concentrated elite power while national organizations cannot represent local diversity. But regional organizations connecting local organizations can overcome both of these problems (Fox, 1996).

Some studies try to show that bonding forms of social capital can also contribute to upward mobility of ‘backward’ communities, by facilitating the efficient use of available opportunities. For instance, a tight-knit caste group can pool community labour to aid their economic actions. They may also secure credit from within the caste group (Gidwani, 2000). Widmalm (2005) argues that many studies of social capital have generated the fallacy that bridging social capital supports development but bonding social capital inhibits development and democracy. He asserts that he success of many mass political movements such as the civil rights movement in America, workers’ movements, feminist movements and social democratic parties and unions (the latter two in countries like Sweden) have relied on bonding forms of social capital initially quite heavily. Only in latter stages have these movements become heterogynous in many ways.

Social capital is sometimes considered to have the capacity to explain the occurrence of ethnic violence or its absence. Varshney (2002), although he does not use the term social capital, illustrates cases in India where the density of everyday civic engagement between Hindus and Muslims in the villages and the extent of associational activity combining Hindus and Muslims in the cities influence the extent of ethnic violence or peace in each setting. He claims that ethnic violence in Indian villages and cities cannot be entirely accounted for by long-standing hatreds, activities of the political elite, political institutions, or master narratives. The civil society endowed with dense everyday civic engagement and associational activity has tremendous power to pre-empt ethnic violence, and to curb it if it erupts.

Fostering social capital:

Social capital is not a natural outcome of human social behaviour. Though trust, reciprocity and other sources of social capital could be inherent in humans, transforming them into an actual capital is a conscious and deliberate effort. While a relationship that is defined by esteemed human values is considered healthy, such values only become a capital when the parties involved benefit from the former’s presence in a relationship. As Bourdieu put it; “The existence of a network of connections is not a natural given, or even a social given constituted once and for all by an initial act of institution…it is the product of an…effort at institution…the network of relationship is the product of investment strategies of the individual or collective, consciously or unconsciously aimed at establishing or reproaching social relationships that are directly usable in the short or long term” (Bourdieu, 1986: 241).

Investment in this case signifies an effort at transforming primary or simple kinds of relationships such as neighbourhood or kinship into those that are usable involving obligations. This is done by attaching value to relationships, and they are then reproduced through social exchange.

In Sri Lanka’s post-war context fostering social capital occupies a chief place of consequence in that it is determining in sustaining peace in the country. Many efforts to this end are being taken in the country at both state and non-state levels among which a strongly felt presence is claimed by the Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya program.

Nena Guna Weduma is a national effort at sustainable reconciliation through fostering social capital among the youth in and across ethnic divides. Bridging networks are prioritized in the program over bonding ones to reverse the segregated mindsets created by decades of war and the resultant notion of the ethnic other. The target group of Nena Guna Weduma consists of students who have lived in trauma for nearly three decades because of the war. Their psyche is conditioned by fear, anxiety, and suspicion and hence they live in constant paranoia, viewing strangers as essential enemies. The organizers of the program address this issue when planning events whose ultimate goal was to foster genuine harmony among students of this country. Thus, all sub-programs under Nena Guna Weduma essentially contain an element of spirituality to help students deal with their post-traumatic stress.

This basis of theology which is initially used to calm the mind is then adapted to the reconciliation context by facilitating mutual theological awareness among students of various religions. Lack of awareness and respect for other religions and cultures owes largely to the lack of exposure. Hence Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya organized mutual visits to numerous religious destinations of the four main religions to cultivate and enhance an inclusive cultural and religious sensitivity in children since a very young age. Students were taken to such consecrated places as Jinthupitiya Hindu Kovil, Kelaniya Vidyalankara Pirivena, Maharagama Wajiraramaya, Matale Aluviharaya, Kandy Meerakkam church, Ganadewi Kovil, Bahirawakanda Temple and Temple Tooth under the monthly programs of Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya.

The Bodhi Poojas were very special events indeed to all students in that for Buddhists they were a great relief from their stress and for others it was a wonderful opportunity to explore and participate in an actual religious activity outside their own. On the other hand, Buddhist students were given the valuable opportunity of visiting Kovils and Mosques of which they had only had an abstract knowledge before.

Bebbington and Carroll (2002) put forward the view that structural social capital can be induced and reinforced by purposeful intervention, and that even other forms of social capital such as trust, cooperation, shared identity and reciprocity can be enhanced and replicated through sensitive and persistent support. This observation is substantiated by the course of Nena Guna Weduma. Mr. Nandana Wijesinghe, Director of Social Development Affairs to the President, believes that sustainable peace and social development could be engineered through ethnic and religious integration and the resultant harmonious community. His belief was instrumental in Nena Guna Weduma coming into existence and benefitting thousands of students throughout the previously war-torn regions of the North and the East. The program has evidently been a ‘purposeful intervention’ in the lives of students which would otherwise have not reached full bloom and the ‘sensitive and persistent support’ rendered by Nena Guna Weduma enabled these students to build networks of friendship and fraternity, thus producing valuable reserves of social capital. A few specific illustrations of Nena Guna Weduma’s contribution to generating social capital would shed better light on how the youth of Sri Lanka can be converted into a huge source of social capital.

In 2011 Nena Guna Weduma organized celebrations for the 2600th anniversary of the enlightenment of the Buddha at the Vavuniya Tamil Central College for three consecutive days. Though the reason for festivities was essentially Buddhist, students of all religions complemented the celebrations by not only joining in them but also demonstrating their own legacies in religious music. Vesak lanterns and pandols were displayed along the streets, making accessible a hitherto alien culture to the people of Vavuniya. This was an occasion of uniting the children of North and South. The celebrations carried on the message of the Buddha to the whole world: The message that in the path of spiritual development, all differences are immaterial.

Running in parallel to the religious celebrations were eye clinics, medical clinics and shramadana campaigns aimed at improving living conditions of the local populace. Psychological counseling sessions were also conducted with the help of prominent counselors in the country as mental imbalance is a serious and common after effect of war. This event successfully generated a sense of fraternity and trust among all involved since the celebrations, despite having a religious pertinence to Buddhists only, did not segregate or discriminate when dispensing the benefits of all affiliated services. It also facilitated inter-ethnic and inter-religious networking (bridging) on a large scale and also strengthened intra-ethnic and intra-religious networks (bonding).

The religious fraternity fostered by like-natured events was further solidified through multi-religious gatherings organized periodically. The Christmas and New Year counterparts of this celebration enjoyed a staggering degree of attendance, proof positive that Nena Guna Weduma is gathering momentum and reconciliation is truly happening in Sri Lanka.

A series of workshops aimed at developing the psycho-socio skills of the children who lived through the hugely traumatic LTTE attack on Kebithigollawa in 2006 and the children in the previously conflict-ridden areas in general was culminated with an exhibition where the works of these young artists and writers were put on display. Methodologies used in these workshops included group discussions, role plays, study and recreational tours and psychotherapy which promote 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. The ensuing exhibition featured a host of photographs depicting the progress of the workshop and also some milestones of the larger Nena Guna Weduma program.

Painting exhibitions were held in order to provide students with a platform showcase their talents. 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 program, students were able to tap their vast reserves of talent of which some of them were not even aware.

The central theme of the art exhibition held in the year 2009 was ‘Social Harmony within Diversity’. Students of Wauniya Madukanda National College, Wauniya Vipulananda College, Anuradhapura Padawiya Maha Vidyalaya and Angunochchiya Muslim Maha Vidyalaya participated for the Art Workshop which was held from 15th -19th of June 2009 at National Youth Council, Maharagama. The main objective of the workshop was to create beauty in the society through art along with building patience, sensitivity, and a love for nature. The results of the knowledge and experience gained through the workshop were expressed at the exhibition.

In 2010 ‘Unity in Diversity’ was the theme based on which all works of art were produced. As part of the Global Children’s Day celebrations held at the Kilinochchi Hindu College, this art exhibition 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.

‘Peace, Harmony and Diversity’ was the theme for the 2011 art exhibition. It 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.

These exhibitions were instrumental in the establishment of new networks and the expansion of existing ones. Students from the North and the East mingled with students from other parts of the country and the resultant interaction generated a large reserve of social capital in the form of friendship.

Dancing, being a fine art, possesses the ability to foster unity and harmony in that it is understood and enjoyed universally. While dances do contain various features peculiar to their cultural context, the appreciation they receive and the possibility of practicing them is not limited to cultural boundaries. It enables merging of cultures and therefore of people. Nena Guna Weduma recognized the potential of dancing as a tool to establish harmony. Hence various events were organized for students to engage in this harmonizing fine art.

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 all ethnic identities.

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. Mr. Nandana Gunasinghe, 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 war, 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.

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.

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.

Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya is part of the Uthuru Wasanthaya and Nagenahira Navodaya projects, both of which are carried out to reconstruct the war-torn North and Eastern 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 the 2012 exhibition, a special cultural show named ‘Uthuru Wasanthaya Nagenahira 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 children are 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.

The recognition of talents that these occasions afforded was a solid foundation for the building of indiscrimination, trust and [hence] fraternity. Performances were given irrespective of the background of the audience and talents were appreciated irrespective of the background of the performer. This was a major step towards producing sustainable social capital. These bonds were further strengthened by a series of New Year celebrations that welcomed the years 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. The honour of hosting was granted rotationally so that students could travel to various parts of the country and form new alliances.

The 2009 New Year celebration was the first of its kind conducted under Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya. Festivities took place at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute which is located within close proximity to the Independence Square. Students from North, South and the East participated with great enthusiasm. This festival was distinguished from other new year celebrations because it included students of ethnicities who traditionally do not celebrate the New Year in April and demonstrated the beauty of unity. The Sri Lanka Foundation Institute premises were alive with the joy and laughter of childhood that was finally given space to celebrate in freedom. The Director, Social Development Affairs to the President wanted to signify ‘harmony’ in its truest sense and thus an ethnically balanced group of 123 students was invited from Anuradhapura Alivanguwa M.V, Wawuniya Periyakomarasankulam M.V and Trincomalee Pulmudai Muslim M.V. Children participated in the events with great enthusiasm and all events were fun-oriented instead of victory-oriented. Performance of folk dancing and folk songs added beauty brought about through cultural identity. The value of cultural preservation was indirectly and entertainingly conveyed to the youngsters at this event.

The 2010 New Year celebrations, with the experience and expertise gained through organizing the previous event, were carried out on a massive scale with the participation of 4000 Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim students from 40 schools in the districts of Vavuniya and Anuradhapura. As the first New Year celebration after terrorism was eliminated from the country, the festivities had an air of happiness and relief. The celebrations inaugurated with the blessings of leaders from all four religions, which fostered a sense of spirituality and mutual acceptance to the setting. Victory and defeat were both embraced with the same spirit of fraternity because students had created strong bonds of friendship with others belonging to ethnicities and religions outside of their own. Cultural identity was given a prominent place to emphasize the notion of ‘Unity in Diversity’. Six gates enabled access to the premises and each of them was decorated according to a particular local culture. The six cultures that were displayed are as follows: Southern Culture, Culture of Wedda Society (natives of Lanka), Pride of History, Tamil Culture, Muslim Culture, and Culture of Up-Country. The display of native cultural factors are worthy of special mention for their outstanding layout. Also the Aryan transition during the 6th century BC magnificently depicted the arrival of Northern Indians to Sri Lanka and also the historic connection between Mannar and Anuradhapura. Refreshments were served in a novel way where food items typical to various ethnicities were served in models houses that featured the traditional components of a particular ethnicity. Folk dances added colour and rhythm to the premises. Instead of separating along ethnic and religious divides, these students experienced the fragrance of unity and peace through these New Year celebrations organized by the Office of Director, Social Development Affairs to the President. (2012 May 12.)

Social capital and conflict:

The fact that the term ‘social capital’ has positive connotations is a commonly catered notion. This understanding possibly stems from the context in which ‘social capital’ is usually placed. It is mainly discussed with regard to development, peace, reconciliation, etc. But social capital does have a negative dimension. Trust, reciprocity, and even fraternity can be used in bonding networks to endorse a harmful cause.

Colletta and Cullen (2000) found that in Rwanda, the manipulation of fear and hatred against Tutsis created solidarity among Hutus, and this led to a remarkable decrease of bridging social capital which existed in the form of exchange, mutual assistance, reciprocity, trust and other forms of collective action among and between the Hutu communities. And then vested interests mobilized bonding social capital within the Hutu community to perpetrate violence against Tutsis.

In the Sri Lankan context too conflict has influenced patterns of social capital in several ways. The conflict has strengthened group-based networks and family ties. Goodhand et al assert that “the most resilient sources of social capital are socially embedded networks and institutions, particularly those based on caste and religion” (Goodhand, Hulme and Lewer, 2000: 401-2). Here bonding social capital has been promoted at the expense of bridging social capital between Tamil and non-Tamil groups. They argue that “propaganda and violence have been used to nurture an emotional economy based on a currency of fear, victimhood, and a sense of grievance. Showcase killings and theatrical violence have been used strategically to cow populations, provoke reprisal killings, and deepen ethnic fault lines” (Ibid).

For the Sinhalese community Buddhism has been an important focal point, and educational institutions have reinforced ethnic and language differences. Bonding social capital may represent a powerful social glue when there is a clearly defined enemy, but when conflict becomes protracted the fault-lines become less clear and bonds may break down. Conflict entrepreneurs on either side of the conflict are aware of these tensions and exploit them accordingly (Ibid).

In another study on the same conflict, Korf and Silva (2003) confirm the strengthening of bonding social capital mainly along ethnic lines. Even assistance to those affected who live in welfare centers comes from ethnic brethrens, and this further reinforces ethnic identity. Inter-ethnic exchanges and social capital have been undermined further endangering livelihoods and bringing more dependence upon ethnic patron-client help mechanisms. Hence, there is a need for a vibrant civil society not daunted by ethnic divisions, and responsive to the needs of all for peace, relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The above facts illustrate the need for careful handling of social capital lest it should be manipulated in a way detrimental to the on-going reconciliation process. Bridging networks should be more evidently endorsed than bonding ones. While the latter is crucial in maintaining national identity and preserving the unique features of various ethnicities, it should not be given extensive prominence in order to avoid highlighting ethnic divides. A reconciliation effort like Nena Guna Weduma should primarily be appreciated for its creative approach that simultaneously establishes ethnic and religious identities, and promotes the beauty of a harmonious blend of cultures.

Social capital and reconciliation:

Reconciliation has become a central issue of concern in Sri Lanka’s post-war context. Three decades of terror, suffering and the resultant economic lagging has created a persistent call for sustainable peace. The society understands the need for compromise in order to engineer a workable solution, and reconciliation is increasingly catered as a very constructive framework within which the maximum amount of needs of the maximum amount of parties can be satisfied. If nothing else, reconciliation would at least create a context conducive for reasonable negotiation.

Hence all post-war peace-building efforts revolve around the central theme of reconciliation. As such, Nena Guna Weduma too was conceptualized with the ultimate goal of fostering genuine reconciliation. Mr. Nandana Wijesinghe, Director of Social Development Affairs to the President, held that the student populace involved in the program could be effectively used to produce social capital which would in effect be a propelling force of the reconciliation process. Mr. Nandana Wijesinghe believes that sources of social capital such as trust, reciprocity and loyalty are in fact components of genuine reconciliation. Hence the more social capital that is generated, the speedier the progress towards reconciliation would be. Towards this end, the program has been very successful thus far. In its six years of existence, Nena Guna Weduma has facilitated large bridging networks, a fundamental component of social capital, between students from all over the country. These networks have been further strengthened through periodical meetings in the form of exhibitions, religious festivals, New Year celebrations, etc.

The youth was specifically chosen because they would lead the society in the future; they have the vision, enthusiasm and energy required to make an actual difference; their mindset is the most conducive to foster human values because they are young enough to value relationships over narrow divides and old enough to have the intellectual stamina required to take concrete steps towards creating that kind of society.

The march towards reconciliation by using the youth as social capital can be inspired with various illustrations of reconciliation in actual practice. For this purpose, the writer has chosen three very inspiring marriages that happened in Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, and Kilinochchi, a former combat zone located in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. These marriages illustrate the power of love; its potent force that overcomes all obstacles and wins; its sheer glory that disregards all divides.

Ex-LTTE carder Illankeswaran is currently serving 30 year rigorous imprisonment for the 1999 Town Hall bomb explosion that injured former president Chandrika Kumaranatunga. His Sinhala bride is Gunasena Sudarshini who had met him when she was a mere 19 years old. Illankeshwaran had worked as a bus driver in Sudarshini’s village Vavuniya Neriyakulam. Their accidental meeting later proved to be a fateful one. Sudarshini’s parents’ love story is also one of a kind. Her father Gunasena is a Kandyan who worked in the paddy marketing board, a job that afforded him trips round the country. He met Pushparani on one such trip and love happened. The affair got the blessings of neither family but to the young lovers approval was immaterial. Their marriage resulted in the birth of four daughters and one son, among whom Sudarshini is the youngest. Though her parents were initially against the notion of their daughter marrying a prison inmate, they later respected her wishes and gave their blessings to the union.

Illankeswaran was forcibly recruited by the LTTE while he was still schooling in Vavuniya. His terrorist activities with the organization rendered him a prisoner till the year 2040. Sudarshini, constant as she is, did not change her mind about her choice for marriage. Illankeswaran, regretting his past, says that he wishes to adopt a whole new way of life. He also thanked the Commissioner of Prisons for making provisions for this marriage despite him being an inmate there. Illankeshwaran’s mother Sathyawel Thawamanidewi’s anxieties about her son’s marriage were put to rest after this. Out of her three children, Illankeswaran was the single child whose marriage remained a question. His mother, whose psyche had already been seriously disturbed by his sentence, is relieved after this marriage and she is now been taken care of by her new daughter-in-law Sudarshini.

Both the bride and the groom of the marriage that will be described next are from Jampata Street, Colombo. Balachandran Pushparaja, who is now 36, was imprisoned in 2007, a year after his affair with Rasik Fathima, who is now 22, began. In a context where Sri Lanka’s Human Rights situation is being question, these marriages stand as supreme examples of religious integration and reconciliation.

Says Sudarshini: Ethnic divides don’t exist in our marriage. We are grateful for the end of war because that is the reason we are together today.” Both Sudarshini and Fathima have completely disregarded the past of their husbands. What concerns them is the present and future. They have good faith that their husbands will reform and lead good lives with them one day. The two husbands, in turn, are keen as ever to return home where they know their loved ones will be waiting for them. These marriages carry an important message: The past is immaterial. A bright future can be expected if we unite and lay the foundation for it now.

The wedding ceremony that marked the marriage of Sandaruwan and Sharmila in itself is a very special event. The guests who graced the wedding also attended some phases of Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya. Chandrasekaran Sharmila is the second daughter of a Tamil family in Malayapuram, Kilinochchi, a former combat zone which is now being rehabilitated by the government. The 20 year old groom is from Galigamuwa, Kurunegala and is a member of the 25th Gajaba Regiment. The bride’s father Mr. Perumal Chandrasekaran shared his sentiments in a speech delivered at the first leadership skill development program of Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya, which was held at the Kilinochchi Hindu College from 25th-29th January 2012. Following are his ideas.

“Ours is a small country. We have Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers living in harmony. We will only be able to live in fraternity and peace if we respect each other. We had a past where politicians manipulated the public for their own selfish ends. Some are still doing this. If this pattern continues, the country will disintegrate and no one would be able to do anything about it. Our country must be steered towards progress and the quality of life should be improved.

I first went to my son-in-law’s village on December 19th, 2011. I will never forget the warm reception we got and the taste of the authentic Sinhala meals they served us. It was the very first time I was exposed to the true extent of compassion of the Sinhala people. We didn’t have any fear or doubt about having to travel to an unknown destination so far away from home.

You, as youth, have to take care to preserve the peace that has been gifted to you. It will only be possible for you all to lead successful lives if you preserve peace. You can study and find employment; your families will be protected. On my trip to Galigamuwa I received help by many army personnel. One even offered monetary assistance. I denied because I had enough money with me. I had spent some time in Deraniyagala earlier in my life and had learned a little Sinhalese. So I was able to converse with the people in Galigamuwa. It is very fortunate that both my daughter and son-in-law speak Sinhala and Tamil because then they won’t have a problem with blending in wherever they go. You must become fluent in all three languages. This will speed up the reconciliation process.

My son-in-law’s family paid a formal visit to us for the first time on 22nd December, 2011. This enabled our extended family and neighbours to interact and build relationships with them. That night we served them traditional Tamil food. They were able to experience the Tamil culture. They too didn’t have any misgivings about coming to Kilinochchi. They said they were not checked by the army at any point, and since the roads have all been carpeted they were able to be there on time. During the war it usually took 3-4 days to travel from Kilinochchi to Galigamuwa. Now it only takes hours. Also progress is possible because of the absence of war.

On 28th December 2011 my daughter got married with the blessings of both families. The police and army believed that we should celebrate this in a grand manner. The festivities happened according to both cultures. We now go to Buddhist religious places and they come to Hindu religious places. Also mutual visits to Galigamuwa and Kilinochchi are frequently happening. The two families are interacting very well. There is true reconciliation in our family and I the whole of Sri Lanka.

Before concluding the speech, there is something I need to emphasize on. We suffered tremendously during the past 30 years. Four Children who have lost their parents are now in my care. I tend to all their needs like a father. With the relations from Galigamuwa, we have become a large family. By acting as a moderate family who acts with restraint, we have been able to give a good example. Through that reconciliation grows in the family, in the area and in the entire country. God bless you”.

Inter-ethnic marriages as a form of bridging social capital are a sure way to foster sustainable reconciliation in the country because blood ties are stronger than ethnic divides. Thus the children born of such marriages will not have space to be racially prejudiced. This strategy, however, is a long term one. Until such time, present attempts at reconciliation should be recognized and appreciated in order to encourage more and more such ventures. Hence it is of contemporary importance to evaluate the success of Nena Guna Weduma through accounts of some children who actually benefitted from the program.

Dilani Kumari:

Dilani Kumari is a twenty year old girl who benefitted from the Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya program. She attended Ehetugaswewa Vidyalaya from grade 1-5 and joined Welioya Sampath Nuwara Vidyalaya. For her Advanced Levelsshe enrolled at Buddhangala Vidyalaya in Anuradhapura where she sat for the exam under the Commerce subject stream.

Her life is blotted with traumatic experiences brought about by terrorism. Her village was attacked by terrorists in 1999, displacing the entire populace there for almost a month. Kumari recalls finding refuge at Buddhangala Vidyalaya and Ehetugawewa Vidyalaya.

In 2001, when her scholarship examination was due, the village was again plagued by terrorism. As per the instructions of the army, villagers concentrated into the middle of the village, which caused 2-3 families to live under one roof. Times were difficult and stressful. Despite these bitter experiences, however, Dulani Kumari takes pride in her past since it is testimony to the fact that she had the courage to overcome them and live the life she does today.

Speaking on inter-ethnic relations, Kumari says that while her parents had many Tamil friends, the younger generation missed out on that due to the distance terrorism created between Sinhalese and Tamils.

Commenting on the benefits she received from the Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya program, Kumari says that it has been a great platform for her to identify and enhance her talents. Public speaking and compeering were two such talents that she had made little use of before. But after the encouraging praise she received following a speech she delivered at one program, and the recognition earned by that speech getting published in the Nena Guna Weduma monthly magazine, boosted her confidence and faith in herself.

She believes that a tri-lingual approach is the best way to foster reconciliation in the country and steer it towards development. Concluding her thoughts she said that we should all consider ourselves as the children of Mother Lanka and forger all our differences.

Ramanathan Sujitha:

Sujitha attended Saint Saviour’s Girls’ College. She has one sister and parents. She said that she and her family appreciated the importance of learning all three languages but due to the lack of Sinhalese in the area she could not get the necessary exposure to Sinhala. She then talked about Sinduja, a girl from Badulla whose Sinhala knowledge was commendable. She recalled how they conversed in Sinhala at school, saying that they had to do so in secret because Sinhala and the learning of it were scorned there. Though my speech is not very good, said Sujitha, I learnt to read and write the language well and as a result I always got the highest marks for Sinhala in school.

She extended her gratitude to Nena Guna Weduma: Sisu Diriya for enabling her to learn Sinhala properly. She said the year 2007 is still fresh in her mind because that was when she first joined the program. She recalled boarding a bus to come to Colombo from Mannar to join the leadership training program that was held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute in Colombo. Sujitha said some Sinhala students also got in along the way and since neither group knew the other’s language she became the translator. She said it was a very enjoyable experience and that everyone wished the journey was a bit longer when they finally arrived in Colombo.

Talking about the leadership training program Sijitha said they got the chance to learn about time management, increasing memory space, presentation skills, leadership and confidence, exploring hidden skills and bringing them out, mutual understanding and team work. The experience at the Leisure World Water Park was unforgettable, Sujitha recalled.

Sujitha said their way of thinking changed after this experience. Her class mates now appreciate the importance of learning other languages because they are keen to communicate with their Sinhala friends. She has been able to teach Sinhala to 7th grade students and is learning more Sinhala herself now. Sisu Diriya has also guided her to become part of media school. She thanked His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapakse and Mr. Nandana Wijesinghe, Director, Office of Social Development Affairs to the President for enabling students to explore their abilities thus.

Sujitha made special note of the fact that Nena Guna Weduma focuses more on students from under-developed areas as opposed to other programs which mainly cater to students in major cities. Also the exposure given to other religions, cultures and ways of life was greatly appreciated. In terms of pleasure, Sujitha says, I am very happy about having visited Leisure World, Bandaranayake International Air Port, Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and the zoo, places of which we had only heard before.

She especially mentioned the Nena Guna magazine, a platform for students to exhibit their talents. She appreciated the fact that literature that appears in one language is translated into the other two as well, so everyone can understand. Also the cultural shows were very exciting, Sujitha commented, because respect for the cultures of others could only grow when you know the beauty in them. She also said that though language was an issue initially, they somehow managed to get along and communicate. The mutual understanding this enabled, Sujitha said concluding her recollections, is what can bring peace, harmony and unity to this country.

Prarthana Madhuwanthi De Mel:

Prarthana has been involved in Nena Guna Weduma since the year 2008. She schooled at Peliyagoda Vidyalankara Daham Vidyala and was appointed school Head Prefect from 2008-2010. Nena Guna Weduma organized various activities for students of the North and the East during this period which were held in Colombo and its suburbs and her school hosted some of these events. Prarthana observes that genuine friendship was fostered among those in attendance regardless of their place of birth. It, she recalls, was a fresh experience that enabled communication despite the language barrier. This stimulated an interest in her to learn the Tamil language. In 2009, she attended the New Year festival organized by Nena Guna Weduma at the Sri Lanka foundation institute in the capacity of the Head Prefect. There students entertained themselves by joining in various games and other fun events along with their brothers and sisters in the North. Nena Guna Weduma thus became the most beautiful experience of my life, notes Prarthana. She says she felt the distance forced upon them by terrorism on a very personal level. She further states that the war they knew only on an abstract level was brought into life by the experiences related by their friends from the North.
After completing her A/L examination in 2009 she volunteered for Nena Guna Weduma as an organizer. She claims it altered not only her personality but also her life. Various workshops organized by Nena Guna Weduma, Prarthana recalls, enabled me to acquire the emotional and physical strength needed to overcome challenges. She says she felt privileged to have got the opportunity to contribute towards the betterment of the country through the speech and compeering skills she was born with. The programme enabled her to train herself as an attitude altering leader as well. It was a valuable experience and enhanced my personality in considerable proportions, Prarthana comments.

She was then met with the huge challenge of establishing Nena Guna Weduma committees. Prarthana travelled to schools in the districts of Mannar, Baaticoala and Mulativu and organized students of O/L and A/L classes towards this end. Elaborating on religious and ethnic harmony, empowerment, and leadership skills development, she encouraged students to air their ideas as well. She recalls that this step enabled them to stimulate a harmonious sentiment in the students and produce a potent youth force with the capability of transforming Sri Lanka to be the wonder of Asia. A network exceeding thousand Tamil and Muslim students has made friends with me, says Prarthana, because of Nena Guna Weduma and these relationships are still kept alive through internet and telephone correspondence. Especially their family members and other friends have also become her friends through extensive networking.

Prarthana specially noted that some students involved in Nena Guna Weduma, despite attending universities today, make time for the programme. Since the beneficiaries of Nena Guna Weduma are more or less of the same age group, Prarthana believes they can understand each other despite the language barrier. These communications enabled them to reach out to the traumatized minds of their friends in the North and foster a sentiment of fraternity in them. The love and friendship we share is a very valuable gift to me and we enjoy a rewarding sense of brotherhood in our relationships, Prarthana observes happily. Especially the opportunity to become a Sinhala friend to a group who do not have Sinhala contacts at all is priceless, she says.

When establishing Nena Guna Weduma committees at schools Prarthana expressed her personal opinions and they contributed towards creating an environment conducive to friendship. The students, she recalled, were surprised to learn the religious and ethnic diversity in her family. It encouraged them to open up to me and some even wanted to learn Sinhala especially to communicate with me, says she. Prarthana further states that she can say with pride that she now have relations all over the North.

Prarthana, who personally saw the trauma they underwent because of terrorism and also the need they have to connect with the South, says that this was a very strong incentive for her to continue her work as a social worker. She even decided the course of her university education according to this mission because she identifies it as the most major need of the hour. Her sole aim is to use the opportunities she has been given through Nena Guna Weduma towards the betterment of Sri Lanka. Using young talent in programmes designed for reconciliation is a very effective means of achieving my ultimate goal, she said in conclusion.

Anuruddha Prasad Illangasighe, a GAQ student (Kebithigollewa): My father was the driver of the bus that was blasted by the claymore on 18th June 2006. I lost my parents and some of my cousins. Now I have to help my sister with her education. Initially I was lost and confused. I didn’t where to begin, how to begin. But Nena Guna Weduma gave me a direction, helped me form new expectations, and built my leadership skills and identity. (Anuruddha was later selected to the Faculty of Management, University of Colombo and subsequently found employment.)

Inoka Subhashini Dissanayake: My younger brother was killed by a bus bomb. My father was killed by a landmine in 1997. I only joined this program to overcome my despair. I did not have any self-confidence as such. But this program helped re-build my mental strength and self-confidence. First I felt like I was on a field trip, but later on my mind changed for the better and I was able to reap the true benefits of Nena Guna Weduma.

S. P. Chamila (Padavi Parakramapura Vidyalaya): These seven days have been very special for us. We are very grateful to the organizers of this program. We didn’t have any expectations in our lives. We were used to running to the forest when we heard gun shots. Studies were carried out with minimum facilities. We had only heard about professors before, but this program gave us the opportunity of not only seeing them, but also talking to them about our problems. My parents are farmers. We thought that was the only kind of life we could live. But Nena Guna Weduma changed that idea. We have begun to hope. Now we have the knowledge that if we improve, the country improves. Though we are far away from our homes, we can still hear the gun shots in our heads. Back there the society is divided due to terrorism. But here we see it’s possible to lay down all those differences and live in happy brotherhood. Some people have not even heard the names of our villages. Why is that? Are we not children of this country too? We eat the usual rice and coconut sambol our mothers prepare for us. Now we have got a chance to taste food from super hotels in Colombo. We felt what it is like to live in peace when we came to Colombo.

These accounts demonstrate the fact that actual reconciliation in Sri Lanka is not only feasible, but is already in motion in actual terms. The contribution of Nena Guna Weduma to this huge effort has been truly outstanding. With its wide variety of programs designed to build and sustain student networks spanning the length and width of the island, Nena Guna Weduma has successfully generated substantial social capital among tomorrow’s leaders. The mobilization of the youth of the country has not only accommodated social capital but has also played a crucial role in uplifting the self-esteem of many worthy individuals by providing a platform and a receptive audience to showcase their talents. The vast wealth of positive energy these ventures have produced is indeed a valuable resource that could be exhausted towards spurring the ongoing process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

Shanti Nandana Wijesinghe, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya 20400, Sri Lanka.

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