Pradeep Jeganathan, in The Nation, 23 October 2011
There is view, very common internationally now, that ‘reconciliation’ in Sri Lanka will not come until there is ‘justice’ and ‘accountability.’ These arguments are well known now, but it’s worth delving into the basic assumptions that underlie them. It is assumed in the ‘reconciliation’ argument that there were two sides that fought for a long time and one side defeated the other side. Now, both sides must stand trial, so that charges, for which ‘credible evidence’ is available, can be proved. Once proved, the leaders or representatives of both sides must be punished. And then, all will be well. Really!
Since this is an argument about Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans, a very Sri Lankan analogy might help.Land Litigation: As we know, litigation over land boundaries is common all over this country. Sometimes, it’s a significant chunk of real estate that’s at stake, but often it’s not. It can, sometimes, come down to just one coconut tree sits on the fence between two properties. Of course, the point here isn’t the tree at all. The real catalyst is another dispute about honour, status, insult or humiliation that can’t be taken to court.
So the tree is really a proxy; the litigants will go on and on from the lowest court to the highest fighting for a few inches of land often selling other properties, or even mortgaging the very property that is in dispute until the victory comes. Of course, the victory comes slowly here, not only because the courts are slow, but also because even as one side wins, and celebrates, and humiliates the other side in word and deed, the other side is planning their appeal. It used to be, that you could go right up to the Queen’s Privy Council for this kind of matter; but then, finally, there are no more courts to petition. Mercifully the matter is over. Both sides are bankrupt and one side gets to move the fence. Are they reconciled? Of course not, their enmity has turned even bitterer.
I have a different approach to reconciliation. First, let’s not have sides. Let’s acknowledge we are all responsible for lots of deaths, destruction and grief. Let’s not, either, simply try to forget and remember together. Priyan Attygalle, an old friend of mine, offered me the suggestion of one of his friends, Sunderasan Padmanathan who has proposed that we should consider everyone who was killed in the war a hero. Not just those died, supposedly on the one ‘side’ or the other. I like this idea, because I feel it’s on the right track, no ‘sides’. But I also have my own suggestion, it is concrete and practical. It may however be a little complex in execution; nevertheless, it is not impossible at all.
Let us layout a large map made of concrete or granite somewhere in the country. It must be to scale with all its mountains and valleys, rivers and reservoirs, forests and cites. Let it be, say, 500 metres in length or more. Let us mark on this map the place of every violent event that took place within its shores from the April 5, 1971 to the May 19, 2009. It cannot be comprehensive of course, but it can be representative, no ‘sides,’ but in the sense of a random statistical sample. Identify survivors of these selected events. Record what they remember, not about politics, not about violence, nor about who did what to whom, but about their loved ones died in that place. That’s all, a narrative of their love and attachment, which will also be a narrative of loss, pain and grief. Let us take these recordings made in the language the survivor chooses, and translate them also in to the other two languages of our country.
The idea is to place these recordings on the map of our country so that any one, especially, our children can listen to them. This map then will be filled with markers, of stone also, simple and yet distinct from the terrain it represents of death.
Let us walk on this map– it is a large map, remember, and we can walk on it; respectfully of course — as we walk our country, and we can visit and revisit, in some small way, at each place someone died.
As we walk this map, then, with simple portable playback device with pre-recorded disk, yes, like a iPod, and a pair of supplied head phones, which we obtain from the administrator of the site as one does in some museums now, we should be able to listen at each place that is marked, by selecting number, like k324 on the device to a narrative of a survivor that pertains to that place. Listen, take it in, and perhaps move on to another spot. It will take hours, of course, perhaps days, to traverse this map.
I do not offer panaceas; nor can I foretell the future. But I do think this may be a better way for us Sri Lankans to reconcile ourselves to our violent past.