Suwaseriya Ambulance service was a great gift from the Indian govt that plays a key role in providing emergency assistance in the present COVID-19 crisis
At the present crucial moment,when Sri Lanka is grappling hard, similarly as a majority of world nations, to bring under control the fast spreading and deadly COVID-19 pandemic, India, our immediate neighbour was the first to come with a massive gift of ten tons of ample medical supplies including lifesaving drugs and medical equipment sent in a special flight to address the situation. India has always been the first to respond to the crises occurred to her neighbours such as the recent earthquake in Nepal, water crises in Maldives and now to Sri Lanka, her closest sibling, in order to fight the COVID-19 or Corona virus situation.
India, our immediate neighbour, friend and even a blood relative, has proved time and again that she is there to come for our rescue at times of all major crises, may it be political, economic or social, irrespective of her own internal problems. History bears witness to the fact that for over 2.5 millennia, India played this pivotal role and enriched Sri Lanka and its people spiritually, economically, politically and culturally. Many things including the noble path of Buddhism, culture and traditions have their roots back in India. The worthy children of emperor Asoka-Mahinda and Sangamitta - brought Buddhism to this land, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also made mention in his speech at the ‘International Vesak Day’ celebrations in Colombo which he attended as the Chief Guest in 2017.
Beginning from the visit of Mahatma Gandhi in1927, virtually all Indian national leaders visited Sri Lanka on more than one occasion to promote political, economic, cultural and traditional relations. We recall with a heavy heart that the young life of the up and coming national leader and the former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi was cruelly snatched away on May 21, 1991 due to his involvement in forging the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord of 1987 to end the Sri Lanka’s civil war.
"Built a modern hospital at Glencairn in Dickoya"
India played a focal role not only in forging the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord, that paved the way for the creation and operation of provincial councils, but inducted the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) for the unhindered implementation of the accord, at the sacrifice of thousands of lives of IPKF soldiers, which also cost more than INR 25 billion to the government of India. Event today, when you drive pass the parliament towards Pelawatte, after the entrance to ‘Ape Game,’ you would see the tall monument erected in the memory of the Indian soldiers, built by the Government of Sri Lanka, who sacrificed their lives for the sovereignty of our motherland.
India in a her magnanimous gesture of goodwill ceded the Kachchathivu island to Sri Lanka till June 1974 in spite of strong opposition to it from the Tamil Nadu regional government. Since the end of the civil war between the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE in May 2009, India’s assistance and support value in the tune of some US$ dollar 5 billion were focused on rehabilitation and resettlement of displaced people, rebuilding and renovating the totally crippled transport - both road and railway - services, rebuilding infrastructure and providing housing and livelihood facilities to the displaced people.
We, very well remember, on Sunday, June 9, 2019, the PM Narendra Modi reached Sri Lanka to embark on his first foreign trip after re-election and paid homage to those who died at St. Anthony’s Church during Easter Sunday attack. The visit sent a strong message to the international community regarding the normalcy regained in the security situation in Sri Lanka. This timely move of solidarity was a substantial positive impact on the foreign tourist inflows into Sri Lanka, and on the Sri Lankan economy at large.
"Paved the way for the creation of provincial councils"
The Indian Premier during his first visit to Sri Lanka on March 13, 2015 delivered the speech in the Sri Lankan Parliament and he also visited the North to symbolically handover houses built by India for the displaced people. He again visited Sri Lanka in May 2017 to take part in the International Vesak Day Celebration in Colombo as the chief guest and emphasised in his speech the age-old relations between the two countries dating that 2500 years and the mutually beneficial interaction virtually encompassing all aspects of spiritual, political, social and cultural fabrics.
PM Modi highlighting on the efforts of his Buddhist-friendly government, made mention about the preservation and maintenance of all historical Buddhist shrines and monuments, the operation of direct flight services between Colombo and Varanasi for the benefit of his ‘Sri Lankan brothers and sisters’ visiting Bodhgaya etc, and the memorials at sites visited by Anagarika Dharmapala for reviving Buddhism. He was magnanimous enough to emphasise that India’s rapid growth would bring its dividends to Sri Lanka.
Some of the hallmarks of India’s post-conflict assistance and support include donation of ambulances to hospitals in all nine provinces, which now in operation all-island in the true literal form of its name ‘Suwaseriya’ from which tens and thousands of lives of our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons saved so far including my own son when he met with a tragic accident a few metres away from my residence in Kotte.
"Set up several educational platforms"
The ‘Yal devi’ train service between Colombo and Jaffna, the construction of the Durayappa Stadium in Jaffna, the renovation of the temples damaged in the three decade-long war, the renovation/reconstruction of railway line to the North and in the South, the Mahatma Gandhi Cultural Center in Matale, the modern hospital built at Glencairn in Dickoya for the plantation community, some major water projects in Dambulla and Polonnaruwa, Buddhist Cultural Centre for Kandy, facilities for operating ambulance services island-wide, flood relief supports and infrastructure to the universities, i.e. the newly constructed auditorium to the Ruhunu University. These are in addition to wide ranging educational scholarships to eligible students country wide with special focus on the children of the plantation community and other cultural and art programmes for aspiring Sri Lankan candidates.
These educational and professional scholarships are most preferred by Sri Lankan parents due to safety, security and cultural similarities in Indian environment where we share much more common values and beliefs.
Setting up Language Labs across Sri Lanka for a Three-Tier English Language Training System, commencement of a Centre for English Language Training (CELT) in Peradeniya to train Teachers in English, establishing Vocational Training Centres in to improve employment skills our people, Supplying of ten buses for the Rail Bus Project to connect Batticaloa with Trincomalee are some of the benchmark contributions by the Government of India to Sri Lanka with the noble intention of supporting livelihood of our people. The massive housing project for the plantation community to replace their line room shelters has also to be mentioned.
The training facilities for our three armed forces personnel is one more significant goodwill gesture of India with US$ 50 million for security purposes while US$ 450 million worth line of credit has already been offered to the government of Sri Lanka from India.
"Built massive housing project for plantation community"
India’s role in ending the civil war in Sri Lanka is acknowledged by all and still India is the country that offers the largest training slots for Sri Lankan armed forces than any other foreign country in the world. Adding icing to the cake, India arranges special flights every year for the families of our armed forces for pilgrimage in Bodhgaya.
In the years beginning from 2014, the number of tourist arrivals from India topped arrivals from all other nations contributing enormously to the Sri Lankan tourists Industry.
India is our immediate neighbour with myriad ethno-cultural-religious-economic similarities unlike any other regional power centre, who have nothing in common whatsoever. We, as responsible Sri Lankan citizens, must understand that Indian assistance is always sustainable in the long run. It is our duty to express our profound gratitude to India for her immense contributions and her commitments towards the spiritual, political, social, economic and cultural uplift of the Sri Lankan community.
The writer is also the Chairman of Foundation for Buddhist Brotherhood,