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Thengamalai - A village with no name

My name is Nancy, and I am an Active Citizen from Monaragala, a town located in the Uva Province of Sri Lanka. The issue that we took up for resolution had to do with the nearby Thengamalai village, in which both Sinhalese and Tamils reside. A poor rural village Thengamalai was first populated by Sinhalese and then later by Tamils. We found out that the Sinhalese refused to use the name ‘Thengamalai’[1] for the village and that it caused many difficulties. People in the village have faced communal issues in the past and say that the Sinhalese aligned themselves to another Sinhalese village nearby and they rather preferred to use that address.

To understand the issue better, we started with a survey of the villagers. We learnt that due to this problem, some residents did not receive letters to their houses, and that some letters were given at shops and therefore were received late by the people. For example, Devan, a teacher, said he didn't get his appointment letter as a Grama Sevaka[2] due to this issue. The villagers also face problems getting emergency treatment as the roads are not good, and face issues when they disembark buses.

One of the key findings for us was that the town had no name board.

We then came up with 8 action points to resolve this issue through using Alternative Dispute Resolution methods which was part of our Active Citizens training programme. We first discussed this issue through the Grama Sevaka, and then proceeded to hold discussions with religious leaders, government servants, and community representatives of the village. We then spoke to the Sinhala and Tamil villagers separately. Then, we brought together Sinhala and Tamil villagers to discuss the issue together. After many discussions and deliberations with the people, we undertook a shramadana[3] movement in the village with both ethnic groups participating. Finally, we did a program called "People's Voice” on the local Uva community radio with the participation of Sinhala and Tamil people and presented the village with a name board.

We faced several challenges in carrying out this project.

Bringing people to participate in an effort like this was extremely difficult for us. It was also difficult bringing together the two ethnic groups to discuss the issue, due to longstanding mistrust and suspicions. We were also affected by the current economic crisis in the country which presented challenges in carrying out the project. We had some time delays, and we had to extend this project which could have been concluded in three months, to 6 months.

It is our belief that we concluded our project fully and completely.

In doing so, we were able to score some larger victories too. We were able to cultivate a close relationship with the Grama Sevaka, religious leaders and government servants of the village. We were able to create more harmony between the Sinhala and Tamil people and were able to experience the Sinhalese move with us (Tamils) closely. It is important to note that we were able to bring together a larger group of local stakeholders to participate in this activity. This included religious, community and state leaders, going beyond just those of us who participated in the Active Citizens training programme, and helping to foster better relationships between the villagers.

[1] The name comes from the Tamil language. [2] A ‘Grama Sevaka’ is the grassroots level administrator in the Sri Lankan state, responsible for a demarcated area. [3] Shramadana directly translated means “gift of labour” and in the Sri Lankan context refers to an event or project where volunteers provide support or services to a local community

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