Voices of Jaffna

So I finally made my way to Jaffna. It has been something I wanted to do ever since the end of the war in 2009. The best part of my trip was talking to the locals about how their lives have changed since the end of the war – their stories moved me, so I wanted to share it with you.

 

IMG_6624“We have been travelling since Sunday to all the temples in the North because of Shivaratri (Hindu religious festival), and we return home to Batticaloa tomorrow morning. Things have changed quite a bit since the end of the war. We don’t have to fear war anymore, but we lost our houses so we now live in rented houses. Before the war we could sit at our own home and eat peacefully, we had our own money, but life is hard now. I live with my daughter and son-in-law. He is a farmer so they take care of me. And in return I do all the household work. I pray to God to get younger”
Paramsothi at Nallur Temple 

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Starting from the Personal

Been on my fieldwork in Sri Lanka has inspired me to write a blog post about why I’m so interested in pursuing the topic of transitional justice and reconciliation for my PhD research project. In academia we seldom get to talk about our personal views, so this defining moment for me always gets stored at the back of my mind where the cobwebs live. But, so many people I met on a professional level have asked me, why? why reconciliation?

When I first moved to London, in 2012, and started my new job, a colleague, a young Sri Lankan Tamil gentleman (H) approached me and we started getting to know each other, moving on to the ‘where are you from originally’, we were both stunned to realise that we have something else in common; Sri Lanka. But there was also something else that could have stopped our friendship from growing; our perception of each others identities*.

As much as meeting a Tamil was not a big deal for me, for H it was the first time meeting someone Sinhalese at all; let alone having a proper conversation. However, what struck me was that, he had already created this image of a ‘Sinhala’ person from what he has heard all his life. This is common for most second generation Tamil’s living abroad (or broadly using the term Tamil diaspora). For him the Sinhalese were his enemy, they committed many atrocities to his family that forced them leave their motherland – and go through a dangerous journey to get to where they are now. Everything he learnt about the Sinhalese and Sri Lanka was still censored by LTTE propaganda. And whilst most of what he heard might be true, he had no idea about the horrific stories from the other side. This is also true for most of us who lived safely in the big city; we seldom heard the horrific stories from the conflict zones committed by this side.

H and I are now great friends, our friendship was coloured by the stories we told each other, and the knowledge we shed on each other, and the excitement in discovering the common things our cultures share. This may not be the case for everyone, there have certainly been people I encountered that was not open as H, and those that denied their Sri Lankan identity to me. However, the realisation I got was that, maybe this is where reconciliation starts. And I acknowledge that it might be easy for me to sit here and say let’s start from the personal when I did not have to see my family butchered in front of my eyes, or when I’m not the one still looking for answers. It may not be the same for a victim to personally reconcile with the perpetrator. I am completely aware of this. But this is where reconciliation has different levels – and these different levels need to come together at some point. But for now, shall we start here? 

 

 *When I use the term identities here, I mean both cultural and political; because in a context like Sri Lanka the political tends to be embedded in the cultural.

A Step in the Right Direction… Do You Agree?

A few days ago I was greeted with the good news that the new government of Sri Lanka lifted the ban on the national anthem being sung in Tamil. My joy was disturbed by certain statuses I saw on Facebook that undermined this positive move. So here I am, inspired to write a blog, because I was shocked and mostly heartbroken that almost 5 years after the war, there are still people with racist views. So why should the national anthem also be in Tamil?

Firstly, it’s about time, because the Sri Lankan government embarked on their journey towards reconciliation with the LLRC report been published, and this move is taking us ever closer to achieving this goal. It is a move that shows the Tamil people that Sri Lanka belongs to them as much as it does to the Sinhalese. It is also a symbol of moving forward in unity, as one people, despite race or religion – we are all Sri Lankan.

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Winning the Peace Through Reconciliation: A Case Study of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka concluded a brutal civil war between the state and the separatist group in May 2009. Since then the president of Sri Lanka appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to investigate human rights violations and present recommendations to achieve reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

This dissertation seeks to understand the concept of reconciliation and how it has been applied in Sri Lanka and the impact it has had on the society in Sri Lanka. The research involves interviews with NGOs in Sri Lanka and outside Sri Lanka who works towards reconciliation and sustainable peace in Sri Lanka.

Through this research what we have come to understand is that whilst many great recommendations have been made by the LLRC, the implementation of these recommendations has been a failure. What we have further come to understand is that whilst the government is developing infrastructure and the economy, nothing much has been done to heal the emotional wounds of the war affected people. Therefore, NGOs have been instrumental in giving their knowledge and experience in finding an effective way to go about achieving reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Whilst many further recommendations were made by the NGO representatives interviewed, what stood out most was that the Sri Lankan government should be open to involving third parties , such as local NGOs and international bodies, in the reconciliation process in order to make it more efficient, effective and successful, to see a Sri Lanka that has been healed of its wounds and taking a path towards sustainable peace.

To download the full dissertation Click Here

Zero Dark Thirty – Is It Conveying the Right Message?

MV5BMTQ4OTUyNzcwN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTQ1NDE3OA@@._V1_SX214_Yesterday whilst visiting family I watched the film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, which narrates the capture and killing of the most wanted terrorist at the time, Osama Bin Laden, by American troupes. Whilst overall it was a well produced film, the first 10-15 minutes of the film was painful to watch; it made me extremely uncomfortable and angry because it went against everything I have learnt about international human rights law. While I admire the creators of this film, and respect the real life heroes who were brave enough to venture this dangerous operation, and most of all the woman who was the mastermind of the operation, I would like to present my criticism about what I learned from the first few scenes of the film. Continue reading “Zero Dark Thirty – Is It Conveying the Right Message?”

In the shoes of Nimalaruban’s Parents

Whilst going through ‘Groundviews’ I came across the link to this shocking and disturbing article (http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/7855). It’s about the murder of 28-year-old Nimalaruban from Vavuniya, allegedly by state authorities.  I’m surprised that I didn’t come across it much sooner (see http://groundviews.org/2012/07/31/ganesan-nimalaruban-a-damning-murder-funeral-and-silence/ ).

I will not speculate the authenticity of this story, there is always two sides to a story, but considering that it is true, there are a few things that I would like to draw attention to that will help the reconciliation process of Sri Lanka.

First of all, I was saddened by just reading what the parents would have gone through, not only that they  were unable to understand completely what was going on due to the language barrier, but just being sent from place to place with no proper direction, and not being able to see their son for five days, whilst being told that he was in a seriously critical condition. I was sitting on my desk, safe and sound, but my body felt like it was somewhere else, frozen, my eye threatening to tear.

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There is no other way to solve human problems other than with loving-kindness and compassion

I wanted to share this video because I’m relieved that someone is speaking out. Let’s not let another 30 years of destruction and grief be repeated again. Let’s work together to stop this conflict before it escalates. Let’s not let the paradise that is Sri Lanka be turned into hell.

“We should be alarmed if our society is moving towards another conflict again… we can blame our foregone generation for the last war. But, if the same thing repeats, it is a sign of our failure. It is our responsibility to prevent such a thing from happening again” – Ven Dhammananda, Lecturer at the University of Kelaniya.