The South Asia Policy and Research Institute (SAPRI) chaired by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, has embarked on a program to build sustainable religious harmony in Ratnapura, Kurunegala and Gampaha districts.
SAPRI, a regional organisation focusing on the formulation of policies on subjects of importance to South Asia to facilitate the evolving of inclusive societies, is greatly concerned by the increasing acts occurring in the region, in Sri Lanka particularly, violating religious harmony.
With the objective of building religious harmony to promote peaceful co-existence in societies in Sri Lanka, SAPRI has commenced a district level program across the country working at the grassroots level. As a first step, work has begun in three districts in areas recognised as being susceptible to religious disputes, namely Imbulpe in the Ratnapura district, Gampaha and Kurunegala.
SAPRI has conducted a series of activities in the three districts with the participation of religious leaders in the area; community leaders; multi stake holders including professionals such as doctors, education sector experts, lawyers, etc.; the private sector representatives, politicians, government officials and others. The participation always reflected a gender and a youth balance.
SAPRI is in the process of setting up platforms on religious tolerance and harmonious coexistence within the selected divisional districts comprising community leaders, religious leaders, multi-stake holders and working committees to support the platforms. The platforms provide space for continuous dialogue, conduct of activities to enhance religious harmony and diffuse tension and they are expected to watch out for early signs of threats to religious harmony and take early preventive action. As a means of building religious harmony SAPRI conducted ‘Conflict Transformation’ workshops to address mind-sets by Professor Jayantha Seneviratna, of the University of Kelaniya and Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardena in the three chosen divisions prior to setting up of the required platforms.
The participants of the workshops have appreciated the interactive workshops and emphasised their desire to be a part of such activities as they would help the communities in numerous ways. In Imbulpe, a group of participants has set up a working committee to meet once a month. It has planned multi-religious activities, mostly, with the involvement of children to take place during the coming months.
SAPRI firmly believes that in terms of achieving long lasting peace, the process of building harmony must adhere to sustainable reconciliation methods extending to the grass root level of the society. The mechanism of divisional platforms and working committees that SAPRI is creating appears to be an ideal frame work towards obtaining sustainable social harmony and religious co-existence.