I was at the Public Dialogue on Peace and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka, today at SOAS University. I was interested in attending not only because it is on the topic I study, but because I was curious to hear what the two different parties expected from reconciliation, and what their vision of reconciliation is. The two parties that were represented was the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), who was represented by Mr. Kandia Sarveswaran and the government who was represented by Mr. Shiral Lakthilaka, who is the coordinating secretary to the President of Sri Lanka, and also a member of the United National Party (UNP).
I was hard hit by the fact that six years after the end of the war we are still at a premature stage of reconciliation. Reconciliation… a beautiful word, but one that hold so much of ambiguity in the context of Sri Lanka. So what does reconciliation mean to the two different parties?
For the TNA, representing the Tamil people mainly in the northern province of the country, reconciliation means to find a solution to the root of the war. For them, the root of the war is the ideology of the Sinhala-Buddhist polity that they are the sons of the land, and everyone else are aliens. They see the war as not just a fight against terrorism, but a “well-planned genocidal attack”. So reconciliation means accountability for the injustices caused to the Tamil people. But, what Mr. Sarweswaran sees as the reality of reconciliation is the Tamil’s having to reconcile with being a marginalised minority, and just move on.
On the other hand, Mr. Lakthilaka believes that the election of President Sirisena, has given hope for a new Sri Lanka – a Sri Lanka that is “humane, civilised, and democratic”. He believes that democracy can help deal with the “challenging and contentious” issues of peace, reconciliation, and transitional justice, that Sri Lanka has to deal with. But he thinks that it is too early for reconciliation because we are still left with the mentality of a victorious community vs. the defeated community. But, my challenge to Mr. Lakthilaka is, isn’t that the whole of idea of pursuing reconciliation? So that we can get further away from those mentalities, or even eliminate those mentalities from society?
What concerned me most was that Mr. Lakthilaka voiced his opinion that he doesn’t believe that reconciliation is possible in the context of Sri Lanka, at least not right now. Whilst to some extent I understand where he is coming from, I believe that reconciliation is not something you can just jump into and expect to happen in one go. It needs the effort of all aspects of society, from the grassroots level to the political elite, but also various projects and mechanisms that finally when pieced together will create the perfect picture of peaceful coexistence and true reconciliation for all parties involved. I guess the first step we should take is in finding out what the different actors expect from reconciliation, what is their vision of a reconciled nation, and then what each group of actors can do to take that further?
What is your vision of reconciliation for Sri Lanka? Do you feel optimistic about it?
Please feel free to comment and spark a conversation. Thank you.