Courtesy of the Sunday Leader, 24 October 2010, where it has the caption: “Land Of My Forefathers Has Descended From Paradise Deep Into Hell”
Your Excellency; Mrs. Rajapaksa; Hon. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee; Hon. Consul General Arora; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.
Welcome your Excellency to this great city. If you can ignore the oak trees and the mockingbirds, you could easily mistake this for Sri Lanka. It is in Sri Lanka that I was born, and my mother and the parents of my wife Shanti, our grandfathers and our grandmothers are all buried under the sacred soil of my motherland. I grew up, your Excellency, in Jaffna and moved to Colombo when I was only 10 years old. My wife is from Badulla and grew up in Diyathalawa, where her father was a well respected Captain.
I have smelt the sweetness of margosa trees in Jaffna and tasted the red jambu fruits that left red stains on my white shirts as I walked to school in Colombo. I know the lure of jack fruits ripening on the tree as the crows begin to break them open. I have seen the bright colored pandals during Vesak and shamelessly eaten the food at the dansalas meant for the poor and I have heard the chanting in the kovils and inhaled the smell of jasmines and the josticks.
I have heard the bells of All Saints’ Church as I assisted Father Herath during mass. But since I left Sri Lanka in 1975, there has been such pain, such sorrow and such agony. The mighty Mahaweli Ganga that usually brings its sacred waters to the paddy fields spat out blood, both Sinhalese and Tamil. From up here in the United States, I have watched the land of my forefathers descend from Paradise deep into Hell. No one can say with any certainty who is to blame. But the time for blaming is long gone.
Your Excellency, you are descended from Duttu Gemunu and my people from Elara. Remember how Duttu Gemunu fought Elara on his elephant Kandula and killed Elara. Duttu Gemunu, of course, is still remembered for uniting Sri Lanka for the first time. But he is also remembered for something else. After defeating and killing Elara, he built a monument for Elara out of respect for his worthy opponent. He ordered all citizens of the land to stop, dismount, and pay respect to Elara. In so doing, he not only showed what a great nobleman he was but also proved to be a great politician. He knew that he had to rule the Tamil people too after the defeat of Elara.
Your Excellency, fate and fortune and your great political skills have placed you at a unique point in history. Children, in years to come, will read in their history books that a great leader, a great warrior by the name of Mahinda Rajapaksa finally defeated the rebellion after nearly 25 years when several before him failed. They may even say that you are the Duttu Gemunu of the 21st Century. But if you want to wear Gemunu’s mantle, your Excellency, then you will have to build a monument too. That monument does not have to be a dagoba or a building. It will have to be new policy backed by law with teeth to enforce.
Do not make the mistake that sparked the ‘58 riots. Do not hold back Tamil youth who want to get into universities. Do not make the Tamils feel as though they are second class citizens. Respect their religions and respect their language. There is something about the Tamil people you need to know, Your Excellency. To them their language is God. There are only a few cultures in the world that have such devotion to their language.
You were trained as a lawyer, and in your early career you were a formidable defender of human rights. Now, you have the popularity; you have the power of a hero like Julius Caesar returning to Rome from his conquests. No one can deny you what you ask. Ask the parliament to pass some of the entrenched clauses you and I read in law school when we had to study the Soulbury Constitution. If you need my help, I will give it free as many in this audience would. The Tamil people are naked and hungry looking for you to assure them that there is a place for them. Make sure they have one. You killed one Prabhakaran, but do not let another one grow. You cannot prevent another one with swords and guns. You can only do that with your heart and wisdom. The compassion, truth, and justice you learned from the Buddha are the only weapons you will need. According to Dhammapada, Buddha said: “Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule.”
Your Excellency, as you leave this fair city and return to Sri Lanka, promise me that the ten-year-old boy walking to school tomorrow in his white shirt will have no other red stain than from the jambu fruit, the morning crow will not open anything other than the jack fruit, that there will be nothing else hanging from the margosa tree than the fruits I smelt. Your Excellency, return us to Paradise! Return us to Paradise!