The events that took place in Sri Lanka in the past few days truly left me confounded – mostly sad, angry and helpless. Watching from a distance it felt surreal, all I could think of was why this keeps happening to us again and again. There was chaos on the streets of Kandy, a state of emergency, innocent people been attacked because of their race/religion. I was then inclined to write a blog post out of that disappointment, about the reasons we keep going back to communal conflicts, but of course the reasons are many. One explanation that is simple, yet complex at the same time, and which I keep coming back to in my readings again and again is the need for justice for what happened in the past. Conflicts have the potential to play itself out in different ways in the future. The violence and conflict that appear to be new is often historically informed and rooted in ongoing experiences of social marginalisation, political exclusion and economic exploitation.
Whilst this needs to be discussed, today I would like to specifically focus on the unity and solidarity of our people in the aftermath of this violence. Because right now I’m not writing from a place of disappointment, I’m writing from a place of deep appreciation for my country men and women.
One thing we Sri Lankans are good at is coming together to recover what has been lost after a time of crisis. Yes, what happened during the past few days could have been prevented, but how do you stop the sudden actions of those few people who breed racist ideologies, and stir trouble and incite violence? It happens in every society, but the most important thing is that in this situation they did not win.
I have been overwhelmed with the amount of pictures and videos I have been seeing of Sinhalese and Muslims standing shoulder to shoulder in this time of distress; people getting together and rebuilding the shops and houses that were burnt down, collecting funds and presenting it to shop owners and families who lost everything, cooking together and sharing food, buddhist monks protecting mosques while their muslim brethren were praying, celebrities, political and religious leaders, and influencers in Sri Lanka speaking out against such violence, and so many other acts of love that have probably gone unnoticed.
So let this be a wake up call to the people of our country: let’s transform our mindsets and hearts to be inclusive and tolerant, let’s not wait for a time of crisis to be compassionate. To our government: let’s stop dragging our feet when it comes to seeking truth and justice for past violations, because as long as there is no justice for past violations the space for the recurrence of racial and communal violence keeps growing. But, at this moment in time we have to commend those people who rose up and did not let the instigators of racial violence win, because love overcame despair; love, kindness and compassion won.