Today I met a young man who has made a name for himself in Sri Lanka and done a lot to help the post-conflict situation and victims of the war. What inspired me most about his story was the painful and challenging journey he had to take to get to where he is today. In our discussion he reciprocated what many people I have spoken to have been saying: reconciliation should be a personal experience; reconciliation should start from within. So here is his story, and I hope it inspires you too.
R was born in Trincomalee, in the East of Sri Lanka. When he was about 5 years old his father was killed in war. His mother was left to take care of him and his older brother, who witnessed the killing of his father. His mother had no choice but to separate the two brothers, R was brought up in an orphanage in Trincomalee. When he was older, he was reconnected with his family, who moved to Colombo.
Whilst he was sitting for his ordinary level examinations, his brother decided to visit friends in Batticaloa. That was the last R saw of his brother. About 3 years later he was contacted by the Red Cross (ICRC) informing him that his brother was held in a police station in Pollonnaruwa. A week later he got a similar call from ICRC, but this time it was even more heart wrenching.
A rehabilitation centre in Bandarawela was attacked on 25th October 2000, known as the Bindunuwewa Massacre. About 28 Tamil youths were killed. R’s brother was one among those unfortunate souls. R and his mother did not accept this news; how is this possible if his brother was detained in Pollonnaruwa? R was called to the hospital in Colombo where the bodies were transferred to. R had the horrendous task of looking at the charred faces of 28 bodies to identify his brother; he could not do it.
A year later, then President Chandrika Kumaratunga set up the Presidential Commission of Inquiry. Five years later those accused of the massacre were released. R sat through all of the hearings. It was the most difficult thing to come to terms with, but, in his heart he was able to forgive those who took the life of his beloved brother, even though justice was not served. Deeper within, he even forgave those who took the life of his loving father.
For R, this is where reconciliation starts; finding it in your heart, to forgive those who did you wrong, so that you can finally move on with your life. But is this enough? Should the personal side of reconciliation somehow meet the national reconciliation processes half way through? Can these two paths ever cross, or do they travel parallel to each other? These are questions I will continue to ask, until we finally find the answer.