FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Reconciliation elusive on the ground
Posted:Jun 30, 2014
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
R. K. Radhakrishnan
 
The packed hall at the Galle Literary Festival was stunned into silence by a series of abuses hurled on a Sri Lankan human rights activist by a member in the audience. The hurler of abuses, a well-known journalist, questioned the activist’s patriotism, labelled her pro-Tiger, and described her as a ‘stooge’ of the Western nations. Oh yes, that was just the printable part.
 
The activist at the receiving end was Sunila Abeysekera. She was one of the panellists on ‘Aftershock: The lingering legacy of civil war,’ presented by the BBC World Service. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and event moderator Bridget Kendall (BBC’s diplomatic correspondent) were on stage. The exchange presented a clear idea of the differing perceptions on the concept of reconciliation.
 
Sunila elaborated on the collective grief of entire communities, and described the hurdles that stood in the way of reconciliation - an absolute essential to ensure peace.  “Muslims still observe the day they were driven out of Jaffna; the days on which hundreds of their brothers were massacred in two mosques while Tamils remembered the kidnappings from the Batticaloa hospital. The Sinhalese remembered the killing of 600 policemen in the eastern province. This is a clear indication of how far we need to go to overcome the collective grief of the communities,” she said. (The Hindu, January 28, 2011).
 
If one made an effort to understand the point that the protesting journalist was trying to make, one would understand that his short point was that the country had just emerged from a debilitating conflict with the Tamil Tigers and every citizen should stand firm behind the State. Outside actors were trying to dismember Sri Lanka and every true Sri Lankan should unite. The simplicity of his logic was hard to beat, but the only point he glossed over was his definition of who is a Sri Lankan. Sunila’s painstaking explanations had no bearing on him: he was convinced of the Sri Lankan state’s new narrow definition of equating Sri Lankanness with exclusively the Sinhalese. Dissent was put down in the name of the foreign hand, a nightmare of a phase in the existence of any nation: India had gone through this during the infamous Indira-Emergency years.
 
As a natural extension of stifling dissent in the name of national security, the definition of reconciliation is reduced to progress made in infrastructure building in the Northern Province eversince the end of the war in May 2009. The carefully worded statements tailor-made for a barely-interested international audience, ahead of the UNHRC sessions, push the definitions of reconciliation into an essentially Made-in-Sri Lanka strait-jacket, and link it to lack of violence, availability of services, and progress of development works. When the State seeks to link reconciliation with overtly physical progress, its apologists follow. Defining reconciliation hence become a tricky proposition: The moment you define, you would have answered the State’s question ‘are-you-with-us-or-are-you-against-us.’
 
It is against this backdrop that the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, a Colombo-based non-profit which works largely on issues in ethnicity and identity politics, has published a study on ‘Reconciliation in Sri Lanka: Voices from former war zones.’ It is a commendable effort at understanding the post-war reconciliation process at the ground-level. The aim is to record people’s expectations and add to the discourse on reconciliation in Sri Lanka. ICES says “the study used a pluralist research methodology comprising a series of in-depth interviews and dialogue sessions with communities in the former war zones combined with a survey of 600 respondents in 6 districts in the North and East.”
 
The research project, which metamorphosed into a book, has asked the war-affected people very basic questions that aid in the understanding of their view of reconciliation. For instance, one question on safety (Generally speaking, how safe do you feel at present?) draws similar responses from Tamils, and Muslims (71.9 per cent of Tamils and 72.6 per cent of Muslims felt safe), compared to the Sinhalese (81.2 per cent felt safe). One interesting question is the amount of trust in politicians, particularly President Mahinda Rajapaksa. While a majority of Sinhalese (59.7 per cent) said they had a great deal of trust in the President, the percentage of Tamils who had a great deal of trust in the President was a bare 9.8 per cent. As many as 21 per cent Muslims had a great deal of trust in the President – which essentially spotlights the Sri Lankan State’s central problem of majoritarianism.
 
One important question chronicled in page 133 drives home the wedge that exists between Sinhalese and other communities. The question: according to your opinion, how do you describe the past 30 years of war? An astounding 53.7 per cent of Sinhalese said it was a terrorist problem (13.4 per cent Tamils, and 17.6 Muslims also felt so), while a majority of Tamils (66.4 per cent) and Muslims (61.8) surveyed insisted it was an ethnic conflict (only 5.8 per cent of Sinhalas surveyed thought so). Yes, the sample size is small, but this is indicative of where the Sri Lankan government needs to begin its work from. Several such crucial questions throw light on the attitude and state of mind of the ‘conquered’ which is an invaluable input for countries that want to put pressure on Sri Lanka to achieve genuine reconciliation.
 
As the book puts in succinctly: the war is over, but the conflict is not.’ The overwhelming presence of the Sri Lankan military is of serious concern and this has often been brought to the notice of the President and his government by many, including India. But there has barely been any change.
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
The sixth ministerial conference of Heart of Asia (HoA) - Istanbul Process is all set to begin in Amritsar from today. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani besides representatives from various countries would participate in the conference.
 
read-more
Does Pakistan’s green lighting of the Russian request to use the strategic Gwadar Port for its exports, signal a new alignment in regional power play? Not really, writes Monish Gulati
 
read-more
Fidel Castro was a symbol of revolution and inspiration to most of his followers. His insubordination to US power made him a beacon of resistance in Latin America and elsewhere, and his bushy beard, long Cuban cigar and green fatigues became universal symbols of rebellion, writes Amity Saha for South Asia Monitor.
 
read-more
Since Donald Trump’s shock victory last month, the Democratic Party and its supporters have plunged into a cantankerous inquest. The search for answers has lingered on voters in the “Rust Belt” states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, areas of the country that haemorrhaged manufacturing jobs in recent decades.
 
read-more
US President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia, such as it was, is an endangered species in the Trump era. Looking back, was it in essence more rhetoric than a policy to be implemented? Leaders of South-east Asia, East Asia and further afield are asking themselves this question.a
 
read-more
I thank Excellency Ghani for accepting my invitation and for gracing this conference. It is also a great privilege for me to welcome all of you in Amritsar, a city blessed with simplicity, beauty and spirituality, and abode to the Golden Temple, the holiest shrines of Sikhs.   
 
read-more
The traditional ties between India and the United Arab Emirates have,  over the decades grown, riding on the strength of trade and investments. The Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan will be the chief guest for the 2017 Republic Day
 
read-more
Pathankot in the Punjab, a strategic IAF base, Uri, a sensitive Army post in the Kashmir Valley, both close to the Pakistan border, and now Nagrota, a major base of the Indian Army deep inside the Jammu region close to Jammu city, all were attacked by Islamic terrorist groups which penetrated, the inner-most security cordons.
 
read-more
Column-image

An aching sense of love, loss and yearning permeate this work of fiction which, however, reads like a personal narrative set in an intensely disruptive period of Indian history, and adds to the genre of partition literature, writes Ni...

 
Column-image

This is a path-breaking work on India's foreign policy since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in May 2014 and surprised everyone by taking virtual charge of the external affairs portfolio. A man who had been denied visa by some count...

 
Column-image

The pattern of Chinese actions on the global stage demonstrates that it lives by the credo of might is right, a potent tool in its armoury for the pursuit of aggressive designs, writes Sudip Talukdar for South Asia Monitor....

 
Column-image

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and others of their ilk not only destabilise Pakistan and make it one of the world's most dangerous places but also threaten neighbouring Afghanistan and India -- and even far...

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive