සිංහල, Democracy, English, Jaffna, Peace and reconciliation

So As You Look, So Shall You See

I read, with great pain of mind, Ruki’s article on “Jaffna: Tears, Blood and Terror” posted on ‘Groundviews” on December 11, 2007. The comments on the article were no less moving. I agree with all that has been said.

It may appear ludicrous for someone to agree with all views that are diagonally opposite to one another ex facie. Let me explain.

The explanation may be acceptable to all or it may be detested by all. Nevertheless I must say what I have to say for I believe that it is only by putting our hearts and minds together, that our calamitous ethnic conflict can be laid to rest some day.

My basic assumption is that each view is justified in relation to the angle from which it is taken. The curse is that there is a multiplicity of angles involved in the conflict.

The humiliation and the deprivations suffered by the Tamils and referred to by Ruki are real and pathetic. Tamils have done nothing on their part to deserve such treatment. They may have had better opportunities before Independence but that was not their fault. It was a part of the ‘divide and rule policy’ of the imperialists. In my experience, Tamils have always been hard-working, hospitable, amicable and peace-loving, as a people. The War which is the root-cause of their suffering is not their creature.

The LTTE is generally blamed for starting the war but who pushed them into it? Decades of negotiations between leaders of both sides only led to the holocaust of 1983. The war is a product of desperation born of the lethargy, short-sightedness and cowardice on the part of all those who were in power after Independence. In any case, war has at the least, given a sense of urgency to the search for a solution to the ethnic conflict and some measure of confidence to the Tamils who were exposed to periodic ‘purges’.

The Army has not marched into the North on their own. The war is not their creation either and they have no private axe to grind as evidenced by the words of the soldier quoted in Ruki: “we hope peace can come and we can go back and stay in our own lands without occupying other people’s lands”

Soldiers are members of a paid force exposing themselves to danger on the orders of the Government in power. Placed in such an unenviable position they have to take certain precautions to protect themselves and execute their assignment. Unfortunately, innocent Tamils have to bear the brunt of such precautions.

The South itself is not immune to danger. Murderous explosions cause death and mayhem there to the Sinhalese, personally ‘guiltless of (their) country’s blood.’ Memories of discriminations suffered under foreign rule haunt the Sinhala majority. They are obsessed by the paranoia of losing the clout of their numbers in a constitutionally balanced society.

Such fears find fertile ground in our economy which is dragging its feet. The cake is too small to go round and all stake-holders jealously guard their share against the others. Youth, on both sides of the divide, are driven by a sense of despair and disillusionment.

The ground is ripe for collision and conflict unless the economy expands commensurately and evenly. The escalating mutual distrust between the communities, partly due to the absence of a common medium of communication, exacerbates the conflict further.

In this scenario, no stake-holder is to blame. All of them are cog-wheels in an illusory machine created by Government, or the lack of it. The movement of each wheel is determined by the direction of other wheels in a system gone haywire. No wheel has the freedom to move independently of the others.

The death of Thamil Chelvam is as lamentable as the demise of Major General Parami Kulatunga. They were both precious sons of the soil, who sacrificed their lives in their commitment to causes imposed on them by a society gone berserk. The blame for all this should really fall on the system that makes the wheels move in a negative direction into destruction and extinction.

The solution lies in working out a just and balanced system of power-sharing. Then only will the cog-wheels move together positively. But when will that be? For three generations, there have been ‘words, words and words’ but no resolution of the conflict in sight.

Round-Table Conferences, All-Party Representative Committees, Expert Panels are all too familiar to us. They are only a means of dragging the issue into confusion till the cows come home, reminding one of the proverbial native physician who called for seven packets of a non-existent oil to cure a malady that he could not diagnose. A solution is promised ‘tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow’ but the day never comes.

The day cannot come in a country whose leaders do not have the guts to control their men – leaders who would stake the future of the land for one more day in power. The only solution appears to be enlightening the electorate at least at this late stage, on how to elect their leaders.

I concluded my article in the “Daily Mirror”, on “Let Us Realize the Kannangara Dream”, with the words:

‘the challenge will be to evolve a ‘Katikavata’ on National Goals and set up machinery to regularly review progress, proclaim levels of performance and whip up public enthusiasm, so that the People can make informed decisions on those whom they choose to usher in a ‘just, contented and vibrantly progressive society.’

It is heartening to note that a campaign has been started on these lines by collecting signatures on a pledge on whom to vote for, hereafter. As it is, the movement is limited to the elite, with the result that its impact on the next general election, if any, would be marginal. It is only by carrying this message forcefully down to the ground level, that we can dream of a future whose leaders would have the breadth if vision, the valour of mind and the strength of character, to usher in an era of justice, peace and development.

Somapala Gunadheera