High Commission of Sri Lanka in India

Remarks by High Commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam at the SAARC Festival of Literature PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail
Saturday, 26 March 2011 03:16
Guest of Honour Madam Gursharan Kaur 
Shri Mani Shankar Aiyar 
Madam Ajeet Cour 
Writers and Poets from our Region

I am honoured to be here in the company of some of our region’s literati and those committed to SAARC and I thank Madam Ajeet Cour for inviting me to speak a few words.

At the outset, I would like to congratulate Madam Ajeet Cour and FOSWAL for organising this event. It is gatherings like this that help to expand the boundaries of SAARC. Discussion, exchange of views and sharing of each other’s experiences and ideas at events of this nature have the potential to broaden and widen the frontiers of our minds and they play an important role in creating awareness in the region of our collective heritage. As Amartya Sen observes, “While we cannot live without history, we need not live within it either”. Our faculties of reasoning empower us to choose which facets of history integrate rather than separate us and the need for an inclusionary view of our identities. Poets and writers are called “the eyes and the hearts” of the world for a reason. They have the power to influence people in a positive way. Madam Ajeet Cour, you continue to inspire the poets, academics, writers, intellectuals and policy makers of our region to open their minds and their hearts to our common heritage, and to our cultural and civilisational links, helping thereby, the progress of regional cooperation and the creation of a ‘South Asian identity’ and a ‘SAARC brand’. We thank you for your remarkable efforts.

SAARC, as we all know, is Government driven. The success of SAARC, however, does not lie solely in the hands of Government. Much of it, in fact, lies in the hands of the people of our region. The poets, the writers, the artists and intellectuals who have the ability to create lasting impressions on the minds of the people of our eight nations have an important role to play in complementing the efforts of governments in pushing regional cooperation forward.  They have the ability and creativity to visualise ideas which transcend the mono-country and mono-culture concepts, exposing our societies and especially the younger generations to cross-regional and cross-cultural horizons. They possess the creative means to not only awaken the people of our region to the common challenges that confront us, but to inspire a culture of peace, tolerance and compassion, so essential for our region’s progress.

For thousands of years, our region had been open to the flow of opinions and ideas. We have witnessed the rise and fall of some of the world’s most ancient civilisations. South Asia has been home to some of the world’s greatest philosophers, poets and writers. This region has also been home to ancient centres of learning such as Nalanda where gifted scholars from around Asia, including Sri Lanka, and the world, once gathered to share expertise in a range of subjects including Buddhism, astrology, mathematics and science. Our cultures are therefore historically ancient, our civilisational links are many, with recorded accounts of poets, writers, scholars, monks, and traders traversing our region, carrying with them across continents, philosophies, ancient texts, and goods. In fact, the works of Kalidasa, who is hailed as India’s greatest Sanskrit poet and dramatist, indicate that he travelled extensively, and legend has it that he ended his days in Sri Lanka.

SAARC is now 25 years, and it is still “work in progress”. From its establishment in 1985, SAARC has come a long way. I do not wish to bore you with details, but I will mention some significant developments very briefly. Over the last 25 years, we have laid the foundation of our Organisation, and set in place the necessary mechanisms for the implementation of regional cooperation objectives. Our eight countries have learned the art of working together, so much so that it has now become a habit to work together. Framing of a joint approach to an issue or even discussion of issues jointly did not exist before the birth of SAARC. Efforts to focus on project-based collaboration are progressing through the SAARC Development Fund that was launched in 2008. One of the SDF projects focusing on Home Based Workers in the SAARC region has already started producing goods that are marketed under the SAARC brand – “Made in SAARC”. Trade under SAFTA has been growing, although slowly. The South Asian University, inspired by the vision of the Hon. Prime Minister of India, Shri Manmohan Singh, commenced its first academic session in August 2010 and is now expanding the courses on offer. Over the years, there has also been a bonding of professionals of our region, such as lawyers, accountants, architects, and doctors, collaborating in the pursuit of shared interests. Over 200 SAARC meetings and activities were approved during the SAARC Inter-Summit Session Meetings held in Thimphu in February this year. These meetings and activities are scheduled for a period of 10 months from February 2011 until the 17th Summit in Maldives in November. The SAARC desks of our respective Foreign Ministries are some of the busiest on a daily basis throughout the year. High-level Meetings of our Association have become important occasions to maintain continuity in our bilateral relations.

Despite all this activity that takes place, I have often seen some of our academics and writers dismiss SAARC as not having achieved its objectives or as being too slow. These conclusions are based on comparisons with other regional organisations elsewhere in the world. However, in measuring the success of SAARC, we have to take into account the ground realities that differentiate SAARC from other regional organisations. SAARC is unique and has progressed at its own pace. I am confident that our nations, over time, will overcome the constraints that beset us now. Our cultures are historically ancient, interdependent and deeply common. The links between our eight nations go back to the mists of history, myth and legend. As ancient as they are, they are deeper than our minds can perceive. We speak languages that have remarkable similarity, our music is common, our culture is common and we feel at home wherever we go in this region. So the writers, academics, intellectuals and poets of the region have a treasure trove from which to draw upon to build common ground, create bonds and build bridges and mobilise the vast reservoir of goodwill among the peoples of our region, to move SAARC forward, for the common good of our region.

I wish this Festival all success.

Thank you.