Day of Solemn Remembrance

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Image Credit: telecoms.com

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.

 

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We are all just the same

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.

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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Reconciling From Within

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.

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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.

Should We Be Optimistic about Reconciliation in Sri Lanka?

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?

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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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