By Shanti Nandana Wijesinghe*
Sri Lanka is recovering from thirty years of traumatic civil war, with her people craving peace and prosperity after prolonged exposure to barbaric and cruel experiences forced on them by terrorism. The government for its part is taking significant measures to undo the destructive effects of war on both material and psychological aspects of life by way of carrying out infrastructure development projects of massive proportions and facilitating harmony through special programs aimed at building peace and reconciliation among different ethnicities.
Naturally, the latter endeavor is more testing since it concerns altering thinking patterns that have for so long been conditioned by fear, mistrust, and general negativity. In order to address the issue, a host of reconciliation initiatives are being taken at the state level that tackle various dimensions of reconciliation including, but not limited to, social integration, ethnic coexistence, mutual trust, religious harmony, citizen empowerment, and grassroots leadership training.
A notable effort in this regard was taken by the Presidential Secretariat during the traditional Hindu Thai Pongul festival in January, 2013 where a select group of former female carders of the LTTE along with a group of university undergraduates engaged in the festivities associated with the event at the Leisure World Water Park. This initiative was mainly taken with the hope that both groups will for the first time be given the opportunity to interact extensively, thereby possibly deconstructing misinformed racial and religious prejudices they may entertain about each other.
The writer has specifically chosen this event due to the extensive implications it has for the social transformation process of post-war Sri Lanka. Furthermore, it suggests possibilities of a very wide scope that make it worthy of deliberation. The following theoretical concepts and definitions will be incorporated into this analysis, and the discussion will develop along lines of social integration and social capital in post-war Sri Lanka.
The article will focus on the following aspects in particular:
- How the youth of Sri Lanka can be effectively used to generate and sustain social capital in the terms of social development
- The implications of integrating the university student community with that of former LTTE carders on post-war reconciliation
- The impact of this effort on the process of social transformation as a whole