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Yogendra Duraiswamy - he served the cause of ethnic peace

Yogendra Duraiswamy passed away five years ago creating a void, not only within his family but within his close circle of friends as well. He was born to a illustrious Jaffna Tamil Family. His grandfather Ford Waitialingam, an engineer by Profession, was a Singapore pioneer in 1871. His father Sir Waitialingam Duraiswamy impressive and turbaned, was elected as the lone representative of the Northern Province in the colonial Legislative Council in 1921.

Yogendra Duraiswamy

He later became the Speaker of the State Council and first citizen of the land in 1936. Yogendra received the best education that one could receive at the time. He had his primary education at Jaffna Central College, then studied at Royal College and later at Jaffna Hindu College. He entered the University College in 1944 graduating with an Honours Degree in Economics. He joined the coveted Foreign Service in 1949, one of the first six diplomats of independent Sri Lanka.

Yogendra's professional life as a diplomat was an unqualified success. His first overseas appointment in New Delhi was after his heart for he was able to enhance his knowledge of Nehruvian India and Hindu religion.

He returned to India on a second posting, this time, as secretary in charge of Public Relations at a time when Indo-Sri Lanka relations had become a sensitive issue. Yoga handled them with delicacy and sophistication. He inaugurated the Sri Lankan consulate in Madras.

Devout Hindu that he was, he upheld the tolerant ideals of Hinduism throughout his life. He inherited its liberal vision with no trace of religious extremism or fanaticism.

Yogendra served in the Sri Lankan embassies in Rangoon, Canberra, Baghdad, Rome, Beijing and Manila. He held several important positions. He was the Official Secretary of the Ceylon Mission to the United Nations in New York from 1956 to 1959, when he gained recognition as the spokesman for the Afro Asian Group. In 1970 he was the representative of Ceylon at the Sessions of the UN General Assembly.

Yogendra participated in the first Non-Aligned Conference in Belegrade in 1961 at a time when the two super powers and their allies were poised against each other.

Although he enjoyed life in foreign missions, his greatest desire was to return to Sri Lanka and be of service to the people of Jaffna. He retired prematurely in 1975. The ethnic conflict was simmering in Sri Lanka at the time and Yogendra expressed his views with remarkable candour. J.R. Jayewardene appointed him as District Secretary, Jaffna, in 1979, a move opposed by the TULF MPs in the legislature.

This was the finest hour of his life when he realized his life-long passion of serving his people. He took this opportunity to rethink the development strategies for Jaffna and Kilinochchi. He implemented several projects during his tenure of two and half years. He launched housing projects and constructed new roads. Yogendra introduced measures to enhance bus transportation within the district, boat services to the off shore islands and initiate small rural development projects.

Direct dialling facilities were accelerated and a Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation Transmitting Centre was established. His able team conceptualized a US$ 75 million integrated rural development plan for the Jaffna district to be implemented over five years. He had plans to rehabilitate the Iranamadu tank in Kilinochchi whereby an extra 20,000 acres were to come under the plough.

I had the good fortune of knowing Yogendra in the 1980s and he struck me as being a warm humane person. At the time he was the President of the Hindu Council of Sri Lanka. Through it he was working selflessly in refugee camps and trying to promote harmonious relations between the two major ethnic groups in the island. He helped grass roots Hindu organizations to access international funds.

NORAD funds were channelled to the Young Men's Hindu Association in Batticaloa to reconstruct houses damaged by war. The Hindu Council frequently sent dry rations to the Vanni using resources of the London-based Standing Committee of Tamils and FORUT. The Hindu council worked with the Sarada Sevasharam in Point Pedro, the Young Men's Hindu Association in Trincomalee and the Ramakrishna Mission in Batticaloa in relief efforts. It linked up with local-level Hindu groups in the estate sector.

He established links with other Hindu organizations in India, Nepal, Singapore, Mauritius, South Africa and Indonesia.

As a progressive Hindu, Yogendra supported inter-religious dialogue with all his heart. Under his leadership the Hindu Council met the Mahanayakes of Malwatte, Asgiriya and Amarapura chapters on several occasions and emphasized the fact the Buddhists and Hindus, who form 85% of the island's population, needed to live in harmony.

The Bauddha-Hindu Maha Sabba was formed to convene Buddhists and Hindus on a joint platform. The two religions share similar concepts like dhamma, karma, samsara and moksha not to mention similar practices like yoga and bhavana. Adherents of the two religions visit the same places of pilgrimage in Sri Lanka, be it Kataragama, Nagadipa, Sri Pada and Munreswaram. They share the same calendar.

I worked very closely with Yogendra when he was President of the Alumni Association of the Colombo University. Here too he displayed his concern for under-privileged students and took a great interest in finding hostel accommodation for poor rural girls. In his predecessor's tenure, he helped her to obtain funds for the hostel that was built during that period for university students. Yogendra also lectured on Hinduism at the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute during his last days - an eloquent and much respected lecturer.

A seasoned diplomat, district secretary and social activist, he was indeed a true son of Sri Lanka. His wife Sivanandini and son Naresh should be happy that they had the good karma to share a part of their lives with a man of the caliber of Yogendra Duraiswamy.

Dr Lorna Dewaraja, Director, Bandaranaike International Training Institute

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