Modi in Sri Lanka, stresses on peace and harmony in a multi-language society ….reports Asian Lite News
In the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to the Tamil-dominated tea plantation area at Dickoya in Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said there is no better sight than a multilingual society living in peace and harmony and exhorted that threads of unity should be strengthened and not separated.
With Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe by his side, he said diversity calls for celebration and not confrontation. Modi was addressing a strong gathering of Tamils of Indian origin, largely plantation labour.
Modi had visited Sri Lanka two years ago and had undertaken a trip to Jaffna in the north at that time. He pointedly mentioned that he is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the hill areas of “this beautiful region”.
The plantation Tamils are distinct from the Tamils of North and East in the island nation, which has for over three decades faced a violent struggle in the two areas by Tamils for their rights.
In a 30-minute speech peppered with quotes from the works of Tamil saints and scholars, he also announced India’s assistance in the construction of 10,000 additional houses in upcountry areas, where 4,000 have already been built under ownership basis for the beneficiaries.
He said that India has decided to extend the 1990 emergency ambulance service, currently operating in Western and Southern provinces, to all other provinces.
Modi expressed India’s continued commitment to the people of Sri Lanka in their journey of economic progress of the Tamils and others in Sri Lanka.
Recalling the tremendous difficulties and challenges faced by their forefathers when they came from India to settle down here about 200 years ago, he said, “Those men and women were of strong will and courage, who undertook the journey of their life from India to the then Ceylon.”
“Their journey may have been uphill and their struggles hard but they never gave up. Today, we remember and salute that spirit,” he said.
The Prime Minister told the Tamils that being the children of Tamil mother, it was a matter of pride that they also speak Sinhala.
“And language is much more than a tool for communication. It defines a culture, forges relationships, joints communities and acts as a strong unifying force. There is no better sight than a multilingual society living in peace and harmony. Diversity calls for celebration and not confrontation,” he told them.
Recalling the links between Tamils and Sinhalese, Modi said they are historically intertwined. Several Buddhist texts including Jataka tales mention Saint Agastya, whom many consider to be the father of Tamil language.
The Sinhalese Nayak Kings of Kandy had matrimonial alliances with the Nayak Kings of Madurai and Tanjore and Sinhala and Tamil were court languages, Modi recalled.
“Hindu and Buddhist shrines were both respected and revered. We need to strengthen, not separate, these threads of unity and harmony,” he said.
“We are for strengthening the spirit of unity and harmony and you must be a force in this,” he said, while addressing the Indian-origin Tamils.
He heaped praise on the contribution by Soumiamurthy Thondaman, the founder of the Ceylon Workers Congress, and recalled the troubles that the Indian-origin people would have encountered when their ancestors came from India.
Modi said that the Tamils had encountered hardship in establishing their identity in a newly independent country through peaceful struggles. In this context, he referred to the late Thondaman, who had worked hard for the prosperity of the plantation Tamils and in their campaign for economic progress.
He recalled that Mahatma Gandhi had made a single visit to the plantation areas of Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and other places and in commemoration of the historic visit the Mahatma Gandhi Centre was set up with Indian assistance in 2015 in Matale.
The Prime Minister said that the plantation Tamils would be completing shortly 200 years of their migration to the hill areas, and as a mark of this milestone “we will continue to participate in the journey for economic prosperity and progress”.
“We see you as a seamless part of our continuum. We want to nurture this relationship between Sri Lanka and India and establish ties in which my government’s priority is to work for the progress of all Indians and all Sri Lankans,” he said.
He said the Indian government had from 1947 undertaken programmes in education, health and community development centres in cooperation with the Sri Lankan government.
Under this 700 scholarships are available to students either in Sri Lanka or in India.
Praising the hard work of the plantation Tamils, he said Ceylon tea is famous the world over but it is less known that the sweat and toil of the Tamils are behind it. Sri Lanka is the third largest exporter of tea globally and earns USD 1.5 billion as foreign exchange for the country.