Friday, October 29, 2010

India to help upgrade Jaffna University

Sri Lanka has sought Indian assistance to upgrade the engineering department of the Jaffna University in the north of the island to speed up the specialised skill development of people --- mainly Tamils --- living there. The department, badly in need of a fresh injection of teaching talent and tools, due to years of civil war that raged in the island's north and east, is to be eventually be "developed into a full-fledged engineering college," Indian government officials said.

The proposal is part of a programme of the Sri Lankan government to develop the Jaffna peninsula. It was one of the main theatres of conflict at the height of the island's bloody civil war between the minority Tamils and majority Sinhalese. The second largest city after Colombo, Jaffna is regarded the cultural capital of the Tamils, before fighting escalated in the early 1980s.

India's assistance to help modernise the education facilities in the island's north and the east was discussed during the visits of Sri Lanka's minister of higher education S.B. Dissanayake and foreign minister G.L. Peiris to New Delhi recently. Among the proposals explored were getting prominent Indian professors and lecturers to teach at Sri Lankan universities, a senior government official said.

"Under the proposal, we will also help groom the engineering teachers of Jaffna University. Faculty and student exchange are also part of the plan. India will help upgrade their laboratories and most likely provide high-end equipment to the university for its engineering institute," a human resource development ministry official said, confirming the development.

As has already been announced, India is also helping Sri Lanka become a "trilingual society" with the minority Tamils learning to speak Sinhalese and the majority Sinhalese speakers learning Tamil --- with both groups learning English as well. "The aim is to ensure respect for both languages so that the two ethnic groups understand each other. It will help better integration and unity in society," said the government official cited above, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "A team of officials from the human resources development ministry will be travelling to Sri Lanka soon to flesh out this idea," he said.

Friction over language --- especially Tamils having to learn Sinhalese to get government jobs --- was one of the triggers of the civil war. Sri Lanka has said the rehabilitation of Tamil civilians displaced by the civil war is a priority for the government. According to foreign minister Peiris, the number of those living in relief camps at present is below 20,000, down from the almost 300,000 living there about 15 months ago.

India, whose 62 million Tamils share close cultural links with Sri Lanka's minority community, is keen to see the war-displaced resettled quickly. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which administers Tamil Nadu with the support of the Congress party, has been pressuring the government to lean on Sri Lanka to complete the rehabilitation of some 30,000 Tamils still living in camps and devolve more political power to them. India has already committed Rs. 1,000 crore (Rs. 10 billion) for the displaced civilians and will build 50,000 houses in the war-ravaged north of the island. Foreign minister S.M. Krishna is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka in November to take stock of the rehabilitation process and the utilization of Indian funds meant for the displaced.

Source: Mint, October 29, 2010
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