We need a safe space to discuss social issues with our children: Sangakkara | Sunday Observer

We need a safe space to discuss social issues with our children: Sangakkara

Kumar Sangakkara in a wide-ranging interview with BBC Sinhala journalist Azzam Ameen
Kumar Sangakkara in a wide-ranging interview with BBC Sinhala journalist Azzam Ameen

The following are excerpts of Sri Lankan cricketing hero Kumar Sangakkara’s wide-ranging interview with journalist Azzam Ameen of BBC Sinhala, in which the former cricket skipper discussed politics, women’s rights and plans for the future.

Q: Many people say Imran Khan won Pakistan’s Premiership and it is for Kumar Sangakka to follow suit.

A. For Imran Khan it was the result of years of political odyssey with enormous trials and tribulations. It took him 20 years to reach this point, and become Prime Minister. He did not do it overnight. His is an exemplary performance for others to emulate. I am only a cricketer. Personally, I entertain no hopes to enter politics at this juncture or even in the future.

Q: Why do your Sri Lankan cricket fans invite you to politics?

A. No, people will not make such requests. I think a frivolous thing has been blown out of proportion on social media. I recollect that social media, television and newspapers had carried news that I had decided to take the plunge into politics. Although I have no interest in such things, but still wide publicity had been given to the report on Facebook.

Some bigwigs officially sought my views. I wrote on my Facebook that I will not venture into politics in order to make sure people know the truth. My logic is that only those qualified to take to politics could flourish in that discipline.

Q: You say professionals and youth need to take to politics but they continue to reject the proposal outright.

A. What would be really good is if every young person develops a knowledge of politics from an early age. Our children should be exposed to knowledge about the country’s system of politics, problems, constitution, legal system. There should be a safe space to discuss social issues and religious differences with our children. That is a good place to start. Our approach to politics must move beyond just focusing on the positions of president, prime minister and minister. Politics should be a much broader discussion on a much broader vision and programme of work. All those working within political parties should also be working with the right vision.

Q: There were also those who did not condone your entry to politics.

A. All of us have to accept all such criticisms. No one should think, they are perfect. There are those who like me and others who do not, for reasons best known to them. Only those who are near and dear to me such as my wife, parents and friends will advise me.

There may be a public image as seen on television, but it is only a handful of people that we are really intimate with. Society must be critical. People who are in social service must be ready to take honest criticism. Society has a responsibility to criticise.

Q: Mahela Jayawardene said recently that you had various clashes with politics and remarked that politics is not good for you. Do you accept you are not fit for politics?

A. No. I think there were political skirmishes. This was not exclusive to our time, but this political influence was also present when Jayasuriya, Marvan Atapattu and Hashan captained. Political influences were in fact fluctuating. Our responsibility was to do our cricketing job well.

We stood tall and did our job as captains.

Most cricket captains don’t last long. That is a result of political pressure. When there is undue pressure on sports as well as life it is better to keep a low profile to maintain your mental balance.

This does not mean you devalue politicians or undermine their political journeys.

They have been voted to office to develop the country, but the right to criticise them should be intact. Of course, those elected to serve the people should conduct themselves in a manner that respects their position.

Q: Young people in particular continue to be critical of politics. They pin their hopes on political change.

A. People should have the strength, and determination to elect the candidate of their choice. If the people cast their vote correctly, young people’s dreams would be realised.

Q: You have reached your 40th year. Where do you think the country would be in the next 20 years?

A. Sri Lanka is a country in which you can discuss the past and the present. It is important to examine how we can develop economically and socially.

We must reach honest conclusions about where we are, economically and even at village level.

The people of this country need to be committed to the country’s journey to development. It will be good if even after 20 years, the country created will be a safe and secure one.

Q: On Facebook you wrote: “Elect capable people to run the country and give such people time to effect the necessary political and economic changes” Do you think this will help materialise the swift changes anticipated by young people?

A. A long-term development plan is a must for any country but if this plan undergoes changes with successive governments, it means the plan itself has its own drawbacks. When a new government is voted to office it is incumbent on the opposition and other political parties not to sabotage the plan but together contribute to ensure national development. Of course, they will have the right to oppose parts of that plan. But it is not in the interest of the country to keep changing plans and policies every five years.

Q: Would you anticipate any change in the current situation in the next 10 or 15 years?

A. No, I don’t. Politicians themselves should set an example for the people. I feel it would be more practical if people’s attitudes change, even in a small way. I don’t believe in criticising all the time, criticising the past and the future. Something has to be done now. And this doesn’t necessary have to be a political journey.

Q: Various points of view have been expressed in regard to the recent ethnic disturbances in the Kandy district. Have you not observed similar ethnic clashes almost every year.

A. We have seen clashes that have resulted in valuable lives being lost. We have to think a little bit about our history. If we cannot stand together and make decisions setting aside our ethnic differences, we can’t call ourselves Sri Lankan. Space is necessary within the country whether one is a Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu or anybody else. Both the present and the future ought to be secure. Reconciliation must start at childhood. Once they get older, it’s harder to change mindsets.

Q: What does the sports star Kumar Sangakkara think of movements calling for equal rights for women and calling for an end to violence against women?

A. There is no difference between boys and girls and every person is entitled to equal rights. Most boys grow up without talking to girls or associating them socially. This kind of ‘segregation’ is there within our educational system as well.

This is not a healthy development at all and it needs to be rectified at school level. We are proud of our history. If violence against women and child abuse continue in a country with such a rich and proud history, it is time to make a change.