On a day like today, on the 7th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, I ask you:
“Who counts as human? Whose lives counts as lives? And finally, what makes for a grievable life?”
– Butler, 2004
This should be a day of solemn remembrance, not a day of celebrations. For how do we celebrate the many thousands of lives, all lives, that were lost during the 30 years of the conflict?
Yes we can remember the day we could breathe a sigh of relief that it was all over, but we should remember this day solemnly, not for the messy politics of the war, but for those lives that were lost, and for those families that carry that pain to this day.
I condone the move made by the government of Sri Lanka to call off ‘victory day celebrations’ and instead have a day of remembrance where we will remember this day respectfully. One more step towards reconciliation.
S moved to Canada when he was 6 years old. Growing up in Canada, he always imagined the Sinhalese person as ‘the other’, ‘the alien’, who had a different race, a different language, a different religion, and was just different in every way. It was when he started university that he came to the realisation that ‘we are all just the same’, when he met his Sinhalese friend.
They soon grew to be the greatest of friends – and he soon realised that he had more things in common with his Sinhalese friend even more than he had in common with his Tamil friend from India.
Just like most of us realise, when you put aside the race, the religion, the language, the political opinion and ideologies – beneath the surface we’re all the same.
We just need to remember that the conflict was not an ethnic one, it was a political one. Maybe then the tensions we have one a personal level would fade away.
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.
Today someone said to me: “the world is watching you…”, referring to Sri Lanka… And I was stumped for words. What I realised is that whatever a small minority of the population does reflects on all Sri Lankans, whether it’s good or bad. In this instance I’m talking about a small group of Buddhist extremists who are claiming to be the true Sri Lankan’s and are fighting to abolish the halal system in the country.
We may not agree with them, but as long as we stay silent and not do our part in standing against it, and standing for the unity and beliefs of every ethnic and religious group that makes Sri Lanka as special as it is, to the rest of the world it seems like we agree with it. So here I am, doing my part in the smallest way I can to share the message that this is not what Sri Lanka is.
Today I learnt that Sri Lanka has it good compared to the extreme struggles and conflict some other countries go through. The Youth Peace Ambassador’s shared their stories and the situation in their countries. I was fortunate enough to hear their stories first hand and I think it’s important that the world knows some of these stories too, so here I am about to share them with you.
Lilach from Israel lives 40km from the Gaza Strip. Lilach, her family and neighbours face the terrors of missiles and bombs on a daily basis. She know that it’s not good for this to feel normal, but that is the reality, this is the norm. They also have shelter’s that protect them, since they are so close to the Gaza Strip they have to run to the shelter’s within 15 seconds. Added to this constant state of conflict, every Israeli has to join the army at the age of 18. Girl’s must serve in the army for 2 years whilst boys serve longer.