Failure to speak the same language compounds the major challenges preventing reconciliation in the country following 30-years of civil war, according to a forum of inter-religious leaders.
“Mistrust and doubt prevails among Sinhalese and Tamils when they associate,” according to Bishop Cletus Chandrasiri Perera, Chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Inter-religious and Ecumenical Dialogue.
He was addressing a recent conference in Colombo organized by Caritas Sri Lanka, in association with the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies.
These obstacles are compounded by language barriers, but can be overcome if more efforts are made to bridge this gap and show respect and tolerance to others with help from various religious bodies, he said.
The bishop’s views were echoed by Hindu priest, Siva Sri Ramachandran Babu Sharma, vice-president of the Hindu Advisory Council, who however expressed hope that this might be beginning to change.
“Tamils and Sinhalese have traditionally been reluctant to learn both languages, but now are being compelled to through government and NGO projects which are positive signs,” he said.
Despite Sinhala and Tamil being Sri Lanka’s official languages there has been a traditional reluctance among the two communities to learn the language of the other.
The religious leaders said it was this basic breakdown in communication which sparked riots after 1958 and the long-running war.
“We will form village level inter-religious groups and organize more awareness programs to overcome these challenges. Sinhala and Tamil new year is one occasion to cultivate unity and harmony,” the Hindu priest said.
Venerable professor Bellanwila Wimalarathane Nayaka Thero, chancellor of Sri Jayawardanapura university, said although bad memories are still fresh people need to look to the future.
“It is hard but people on both sides have to change the way they think. Sinhalese and Tamils must try to forget the bad memories of the past and not throw stones at each other,” he said.