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Indian help to integrate Sinhala and Tamil

India has come forward to help Sri Lanka resolve the politically sensitive and festering issue of integrating the two primary languages, Sinhala and Tamil.

world Updated: Nov 14, 2010 17:01 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

India has come forward to help Sri Lanka resolve the politically sensitive and festering issue of integrating the two primary languages, Sinhala and Tamil.

The Sinhala Only Act of 1956 followed by the – many say deliberate -- failure of successive governments to assimilate the two languages partly contributed to the feeling of discrimination among the ethnic Tamils and the decades-long civil war.

Though officially, the two languages are now at par, Tamil remains the primary language in the north and east and Sinhala in the rest of the country.

But Sri Lanka now feels that India's rich experience in juggling multiple languages could help the island nation eliminate linguistic discrepancies and become a trilingual nation, along with English.

A four-member Indian team of linguistics specialists, headed by the language bureau chief of the Human Resources Development (HRD) ministry, Anita Bhatnagar Jain, is currently touring the country and meeting academics and bureaucrats to begin the process.

"We are cast in the role of consultants and will advise and aid (Sri Lanka) in the harmonious development of languages," Professor Rajesh Sachdeva, director of the Mysore-based Central Indian Institute of Languages (CIIL), told HT on Saturday.

Sachdeva, who specializes in tribal languages and linguistic minorities, said: "there's nothing called language conflict; issues could be economic or political. It (the conflict) is social conflict garbed in language. We need to understand the context,".

The other two in the team are LN Ramamoorthy from CIIL who specializes in linguistics and language technology and Surabi Bharati from the Hyderabad-based English and Foreign Languages University.

One aim of the bilateral cooperation is to fill up the vacuum of trained teachers, especially those qualified to teach Tamil but also proficient in Sinhala.

"Language is the old wound which nobody wanted to touch. But the situation has changed. India is helping us with technical assistance in language planning and production of material, use of information technology and training skills, " Sunimal Fernando, advisor to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said.

"The Indian government will also help us with teachers, equipment and libraries for the nine language training centres we are setting up in the nine provinces (of the country)," Fernando added.

Fernando also heads the 23-member advisory committee set up by Rajapaksa to prepare a 10-year master plan to promote a trilingual society.

To start with, CIIL has helped the Presidential secretariat to carry out a small language survey, in which the majority Sinhalese respondents wanted to learn Tamil and majority Tamil respondents Sinhala.