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
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image A career diplomat, Chitranganee Wagiswara, High Commissioner of Sri Lanka, is the first woman to be the island nation’s envoy to India. As Foreign Secretary, she was Sri Lanka’s top diplomat for 18 months before being posted to New Delhi.
 
read-more
India has accused the United Nations Security Council and the international community of tending to ignore the terrorists ravaging Afghanistan and their backers while these forces “have stood up against one of the biggest collective military efforts in the world.”
 
read-more
Close Canada-India collaboration in health and wellness is a journey that commenced in 2015 in Toronto, when the first major health summit was held, and ended in March 2017 in New Delhi.
 
read-more
With weird concoction like "Beer Yoga" getting popular as the next big international fitness craze, the ancient art of inner blossoming is seemingly going topsy-turvy. And as yoga hogs the limelight on its third International Day, the loud call for saving the spirit of the ancient and modern practice can't be swept under
 
read-more
The death of deputy superintendent Mohammed Ayub Pandith at the hands of a lynch mob highlights the dangers to the police in Kashmir today, whether from gun-wielding militants or locals disgruntled with the Indian State.
 
read-more
Sher Bahadur Deuba has been elected Prime Minister of Nepal at an especially fragile time in the life of the 11-year-old Himalayan republic.
 
read-more
The rapid rise of Mohammed bin Salman, from one among many princes in the al-Saud royal family to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia within a span of two years, is an unprecedented development in the history of the Kingdom.
 
read-more
A United States fighter downed a Syrian military aircraft for the first time when it bombed a Syrian rebel faction backed by Washington.
 
read-more
Column-image

Title: Reporting Pakistan; Author: Meena Menon; Publisher: Viking/Penguin Random House; Pages: 340; Price: Rs 599

 
Column-image

  A former Indian civil servant, who is currently a professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University, US spent long periods in distant villages and city slums of India. The result? A scholarly book that presen...

 
Column-image

  Title: The Exile; Author:  Cathy Scott-Clark & Adrian Levy; Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; Pages: 640; Price: Rs 699

 
Column-image

Jim Corbett was a British-Indian hunter and tracker-turned-conservationist, author and naturalist; who started off as an officer in the British army and attained the rank of a colonel. Frequently called in to kill man-eating tigers or leopards,...

 
Column-image

Title: Bollywood Boom; Author: Roopa Swaminathan; Publisher: Penguin; Price: Rs 399; Pages: 221

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive