by The Reformist
National Service: the way to discipline a nation
In another four months, we will reach the
milestone of 60 years of Independence from the British. During the run
up to the usual celebrations, it is prudent to look back and examine how
we, as a nation, have performed. If we are sincere in our assessment, we
will see that our ‘report card’ is nothing much to brag about.
A few things aside, our performance as a whole
has not reached standards that we can be proud of. With free education
and health, we have been able to register good indicators, but look at
our infrastructure, such as highways, railway, etc.; we seem to have
gone down the scale. Some of the good things such as the railway, we
have not been able to maintain.
Leave aside everything, have we been able to
come out as a nation that is strong, confident, united and with morally
We need to accept, though reluctantly, that we do not think in terms
of being one nation. Why we do not think as one nation, with all kinds
of divisions, may be because we didn’t have to struggle for
independence. We never struggled for freedom as one entity. On the heels
of India’s freedom struggle, we too managed to get our independence.
Country before Self: sure way of rebuilding our nation is to
institute the National Service for youth
Those nations that shed blood to gain independence from their
colonial masters became united in doing so and displayed a great sense
of togetherness in later years. Had they been divided and not fought
together as one nation, most countries would not see the prosperity they
have attained today.
What really has gone wrong with the Sri Lankans? This is an important
question that we must seek to understand sooner than later. Firstly, we
do not seem to feel as one nation due to divisions that seem to be
getting deeper and deeper as time passes. Unfortunately, we do not seem
to be finding common threads that bind us together.
On the contrary, we are creating more avenues to be different from
each other. Secondly, there seems to be a huge deterioration in our
attitudes. This is evident because of vandalism that goes on unabated.
Increasingly, public property is being desecrated; seats in state
buses and railways are ripped; public buildings are vandalized and
anything that is maintained by the government seems to be in danger of
being destroyed because people think that public property is nobody’s.
In short, we as a nation have not been able to put our act together.
Is this situation remediable? We believe it is. For inspiration, we
do not have to go far. Our neighbour India has, since Independence, been
able to keep alive the feeling among its citizens that every Indian
belongs to one large family, Mother India. They take pride in being
Indian despite the diversities in languages, religions, habitats,
cultures and many other facets of life.
From food to clothing to traditions and customs, the feeling of
‘being Indian’ pervades throughout India. In everything the Indians do,
there is an indigenous flavour; the British having ruled India for so
long, had not been able to wipe out the feeling of ‘being Indian’ at
While we in Sri Lanka boast that we speak English as the English do
or even better, no Indian, elite or otherwise, will be shy about their
strong Indian accent. They don’t think English; they only speak English.
This is where we should position ourselves to learn what India does to
make her citizens feel being Indian.
One thing that worries all right thinking Sri Lankans is the rampant
indiscipline in all strata of our society. Here, the example of the
Japanese must be well understood and if possible emulated.
The discipline and courtesy that pervades the Japanese society is
something to be envied. Whether it is on a highway, or in a public
transport, or in a super market, any Japanese displays a remarkable
courtesy towards the others. This shows to what extent they have been
trained to be disciplined.
It is surprising that Sri Lankans with their cultural heritage so
seeped in tradition and customs have chosen to ignore the deeply rooted
habits and behave in such unruly fashion that we as a nation is now
being labelled undisciplined. It will not be possible for us to progress
unless we root out indiscipline and firmly establish discipline in all
strata of our social fabric.
This column, therefore, is dedicated to a very important initiative
that must receive the government’s serious attention. It is more
appropriate than ever for the present government to seriously think
about bringing into force the concept of every youth undergoing
Whilst we have to acknowledge that the education system has not been
able to make a significant impact on the attitudes and behaviours of
generation after generation of children, we cannot keep on postponing
into the future the rebuilding of our badly damaged nation.
One sure way of rebuilding our nation is to institute the National
Service for all youth, to inculcate a set of values that is Sri Lankan.
“Country before Self” and not “Self above Everything” should be the
motto for a well articulated National Service.
The proposed National Service in Sri Lanka must be built on strong
principles of non-discrimination, non-violence, equality, equity and
Every youth enlisted to do national service must be equally treated
irrespective of the standing of his or her parents in society. Simply
put, the child of a beggar and the child of the ruler must receive the
same treatment while engaged in National Service.
Otherwise, any discrimination will negate the fundamentals and
ethical underpinnings of a National Service and draftees will someday
become anti-establishment and turn to be perpetrators of serious crime.
The philosophy, form, content, and implementation of National Service
differ from country to country. Some have National Service purely as a
preparatory programme for young people before they are drafted into the
Armed Forces. In Britain, even the young Royals have to join the Armed
Forces and serve for a mandatory period.
They have to be in active service. They may even have to go to the
battle front, if required. Some other countries have National Service
purely as a nation building and ‘levelling’ process.
In any of these forms, one thing is certain; the youth of the nation
become highly disciplined and law abiding citizens with a great sense of
patriotism inculcated into them. They also begin to appreciate what the
country stands for and what their responsibilities and obligations are
towards their motherland.
In a country like ours, National Service must serve many purposes as
First and foremost, it must inculcate a sense of patriotism and the
feeling that we are a one nation. It also must impart to all its
recruits the importance of safe guarding the country and inviolability
of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
As regards the attitude towards our public property, there must be
interventions to make every draftee feel that public property belongs to
every citizen and that it is everybody’s obligation to look after,
nurture and protect any kind of public property.
What a National Service in Sri Lanka will have to achieve most would
be to build a disciplined nation. Every young person going through
National Service must on completion become a thoroughly disciplined
person with an attitude of “country before self”. Undisciplined ways, be
it on the road, public gatherings, a queue or any other situation that
demands complying with rules, law and order, will need to be eradicated
from the society if we are to emerge as a disciplined nation.
Indiscipline among the people of any nation undoubtedly calls for
high expenditure because the machinery to control it could be costly in
the form of large number of police stations, police officers, and other
non human resources. As such, even expenditurewise National Service in
the long run will save many millions of rupees for our exchequer.
Draftees into a future National Service must have finished the G.C.E.
‘A’ Level or attained the age of 18 years. In other words, every young
Sri Lankan before he or she embarks on further education or training for
employment should have completed at least 12 months of National Service.
It must be made mandatory for every young person and with no exemptions.
The components for training should be carefully crafted but must at
least have elements of military discipline, team building, social
service such as working in elder’s and children’s homes as volunteers,
undertaking a community service project such as repairing small public
infrastructures with technical support from relevant departments,
language training, exposure to IT, confidence building activities such
as outward bound training, activities that will build and enhance
patriotism, and a few other initiatives that will make youth of our
country truly Sri Lankan and also confident personalities.