M. A. Mohammed Saleem, in the Sunday Island, 5 June 2011
We learn from the media that External Affairs Minister G. L. Pieris, speaking to a select group of journalists in New Delhi recently declared… “There is never going to be another civil war inSri Lanka. Never again” (The Sunday Island May 22). Although it is indeed comforting there are many, inside and outside this country, who would have asked the same question that was raised by one from audience – how could he be sure? And, also find the Minister’s answer less convincing.
No one in Sri Lanka, given its size, could have even dreamt that our country will ever go to war with anyone. This country cannot afford to earn anyone’s enmity, and the best course for it therefore is non-alignment, and that is what was adopted by the early leaders all along. Unfortunately, the very leaders had discounted emotional sensitivities of the various groups of people in this country, and for the minorities, some government policies were discriminative and meant to marginalize them from the mainstream. In the eyes of many therefore, this country did not belong to everyone. That incited some to agitate for a separate homeland and pushed the extreme militant Tamil fringe to take up arms to fight for it although, at one time, Tamils of this country were considered most docile and law abiding compared to other communities.
No doubt, the group that terrorized this country for three decades has been decimated, and some other collaborators with that movement are still detained for further investigation or have been released after a crash rehabilitation programme. Most of the civilians held in camps have returned to their villages for resettlement. Minister Pieris is an experienced diplomat; he is fond of articulating peace and reconciliation, and has done it on various occasions holding brief for different ruling parties. At one time he marketed that autonomy to the merged Northern and Eastern provinces under a federal arrangement with Prabaharan at the helm was the way to peace and reconciliation in this country. At that time he was representing Ranil’s government. Now that Prabaharan is no more, the minister seems to believe that (although Northern and Eastern Provinces are now demerged and pursuing different democratic courses) … “ongoing dialogue between government of Sri Lanka and the representatives of the Tamil parties … a devolution package, building upon the 13th amendment, would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for such reconciliation…” and therefore made him to declare that, under these conditions, there is not going to be another civil war.
Independently, another group calling itself the North East Interfaith Forum for Reconciliation (NEIFR), constituted by coming together of some religious leaders representing Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians from the war affected parts of this country, had adopted a strong position early in January 2011 that resorting to war should never be an option for resolving problems of any form in this country. For this to happen, NEIFR has premised that the country needs a new vision “…based on love, compassion, moral and spiritual principles enriched by all religions that are practiced on this land…” which will create “a new environment and enable a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in this country in which all citizens can co-exist and enjoy equality, justice, human rights and security”. NEIFR’s stand is that “…all human beings are born free, equal in dignity and rights and have the potential to contribute constructively to development and well being of a society…” and “…ethnic diversity of this country should be valued, enjoyed, accepted and embraced as a permanent feature enriching our society…”. Therefore, NEIFR calls for national policies that will:-
* make dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred an offence punishable by law
* introduce vigilance and deterrence (through establishment of Committee of Conscience at each administrative level starting with the village) to discourage individuals, groups and organizations from disseminating racial superiority or hatred and treat these as acts of violence or incitements to commit such acts
* enable a facilitation unit for healing and reconciliation through which people of every locality can take charge of development and, in the process, create a space for mediation, expressing regrets, remorse and apology at individual levels
* provide globalization spin off opportunities and benefits evenly to all people rather than to individuals and groups selected on political or ethnic criteria.
The power that controls this country seems to project (as Minister Pieris did inDelhi) that trickledown from administrative amendments through 13 plus or 13 minus, infrastructure reconstruction and new economic opportunities will lead to national reconciliation. Unfortunately, little is realized that such dispensations, with whatever good intentions attached to them, seem immaterial to the ones who are returning to their villages from the refugee camps to pick up the broken pieces and restart life.
Free interaction with the war affected returnees reveals that emotional and psychosomatic wounds they sustained over the long years of conflict remain not only open but are beginning to fester and, as long as they are unattended to, national reconciliation will be a distant goal. A common feeling among them is that there is no willingness or serious effort by anyone to help in healing their wounds and, they are let to remain in this plight by a (government) policy design. At every turn of life the war victims are being bureaucratically and militarily blocked and the given excuse is security risk. For anything they wish to do to restart life, even to collect and resell thrown away scrap materials, an invisible someone’s approval is required but, approval is not a barrier or easily granted to anyone from Southern provinces who wish to be involved in the same trade. What is needed is an opening for these war victims to stretch out and make a free choice of how they wish to restart their lives. Ingredients for reconciliation are situation specific, and they cannot be generalized under one package.
Regardless of whatever different situations may demand, reconciliation has to ultimately work through the hearts of individuals who harbor pains from the long years of their inability to meet basic human aspirations or from loss of loved ones and properties as they became innocent victims of calculated and indiscriminate violent attacks between fighting forces. Constitutional amendments and projected development that the enlightened minister talked about cannot make hearts to forget or forgive. This has to be done at a different level, through a process of spiritual counseling and persuasion. If wounds are not healed and social inequities and disparities are allowed to multiply consciously or unconsciously they will turn to be the harbinger of another cycle of fear and violence. Certainly we in this country do not want this to happen. This is a choice for those in power to make. It is gratifying that, at least, NEIFR has realized dangers from people with unhealed wounds, and that is why it has taken upon itself to find redress through reconciliation at the spiritual level which is within NEIFR’s own forte.