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.
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?
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.
Leadership is an extremely complex topic with many definitions and many approaches. For the sake of this post we will explore leadership as defined by Joseph. C. Rost (1993):
“Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes and outcomes that reflect their shared purposes” (Rost 1993 cited in Daft 2011:5).
We will look at the film ‘Freedom Writers’ with this leadership lens. Freedom Writer’s is a film based on a true story about Erin Gruwell, a first time teacher who is assigned to a class of underperforming students who have experienced racial and gang violence all their lives. The story is based in Long Beach, California in 1994. At this time Long Beach California had a high rate of gang violence, and Woodrow Wilson High School implemented a voluntary integration program.
We will focus on the leadership behaviour of the teacher Erin Gruwell. Among the many leadership approaches we can focus on, we will look at transformational leadership because Erin can be seen as a transformational leader, because by the end of the movie, she transformed the performance of her students completely. We analyse this in more depth below. However, prior to that we need to understand what transformational leadership is. According to a definition by Northouse (2013):
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.
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?”→
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.
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
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.
I was invited by a friend on Facebook to join this amazing campaign called ‘Red My Lips’… It’s a campaign to create awareness and stop blaming victims of sexual abuse. And a really creative way of creating awareness is to wear red lipstick for the month of April. It’s not only empowering to wear such a bold colour all the time, but it’s the perfect opportunity to get the conversation started.
So, today a girl at work commented that she liked the colour of my lipstick… I told her that I’m wearing it for a cause and that got us talking… and I’m 99% percent sure that, it will get her talking and her friends talking and it’s going to create a wave of talking about this ridiculous trend of victim blaming. From the girl who was gang raped on a bus in India being blamed for it to the 14 year old girl in Maldives being blamed for ‘having underage sex with her stepfather’… when in fact she was raped… it’s everywhere.. and women are not the only victims of sexual abuse, men are too. So this campaign is for everyone.