By Elanko Muthu –
An article by Thisuri Wanniarachchi on the recent violence at Jaffna University is being shared by many of my Facebook friends. It is great that she acknowledges her privileges and apologizes throughout the article. Her point about how women respond to everyday violence against them with “tolerance” (rather than violence) is noteworthy. We, among friends, have often debated on how every protest organizer should ponder on the fact that women were able to achieve so much in the last hundred years without resorting to violence. However, it is crystal clear that as long as the Sinhala majoritarian nationalism exists, Tamil nationalism will be alive. (How Tamil nationalism has turned or has been turned into an irrational passion is altogether another topic for conversation) Tamil nationalism of the future will undoubtedly become another form of narrow nationalism unless it roots from the marginalized and women.
Putting these aside, let us talk about Thisuri Wanniarachchi’s words addressed towards the Tamil students. As a person from the majority ethnic group who has claimed to understand her own privileges, she should not start with an “advice” for Tamil students. She should firstly address her own people who have the same privileges she has. Giving her some benefit let us and assume that her words come from true care and concern for the Tamil people. Her reading of history is still questionable. Is she reading history with her privileges or after getting rid of them?
You mention that our country fell into the abyss of a 3-decade war after an attack by Tamils (Tigers) in 1983. LTTE attacked the armed forces. Why did the retaliation end up killing many unarmed, innocent civilians? This question should be the beginning of every conversation. Let us say, in your own way, that LTTE sowed the seeds of violence. If so, who are the perpetrators of violence between the 1956 ‘Sinhala only Act’ and 1983? Your choice to ignore this means you have not stepped out of your privilege while racing to give ‘advice’ to the oppressed.
You request Tamils not become violent, but we are tired of you failing to see the source of the violence. After the colossal destruction of war and after being oppressed in every way, why do Tamils still harbor ‘violence’? It is important for you to give it some thought. You say that nothing has changed in the Sinhala society and you ask us what will happen if they turn to be the violators. You don’t seem to be giving the same advice you gave to Tamils to the Sinhalese. Moreover, I cannot fathom how you can say the following while also apologizing:
“But at the end of the day we are both Sri Lankan and we cannot let our parents’ and grandparents’ generation’s mistakes belittle the future we have to rebuild.”
I do not understand how you can say this. It is acceptable if you have acknowledged that we live in the same country with our own different ethnic identities, but no. Isn’t it great violence when we are never made to feel ‘Sri Lankan’ but are now asked to unite under one umbrella with a singular Sri Lankan identity? If you were a politician, we will tolerate you. It is astounding that you, who claim to acknowledge your privileges and to care for the Tamil people, can say what you have said.
On your benevolence towards Tamil students and on the fact that violence should never be justified, we agree with you. However, I regret that it has not been communicated clearly in your writing. We know all forms of violence better than you who preach nonviolence. We have seen violence lead our community to the lowest level of dignity. You have to give deeper thought to the reason why our war-torn community is still clinging to violence. Why does the community want to live with a unique identity rather than joining the ‘Sri Lankan’ identity? This is food for thought for a person like you who belongs to the majority ethnic group and is attempting to understand their own privilege.
Thanks to R & A for translating my essay from Tamil into English