26 September, 2022


Healing Through Humanisation: A Reflection On –Just Reconciliation

By Bishop Duleep de Chickera

Bishop Duleep de Chickera

Bishop Duleep de Chickera

History concealed  

An acquaintance returned from a recent visit to Jaffna to announce it as one of the best holidays she had ever had. The hotels were good, the food delicious, there were numerous places to visit and of course the roads were excellent.

The oral tradition

My recent visit to the North however stirred different impressions.  In conversation with people, two realities kept surfacing. These were alienation and desperation—both massive obstacles to reconciliation.

Alienation and Desperation

The sense of alienation was provoked by Colombo’s four-pronged strategy of Militarisation, Southernisation, Marginalisation and Modernisation—which in turn feed the desperation. Stories from the south such as Rathupaswala, the Welikada prison riot killings, the arbitrary eviction of urban dwellers, the sky-rocketing cost of living and the unlawful impeachment of the Chief Justice, aggravate this desperation. “If it is like this there, what chance do we have here?” was how it was put.  There was an element of surprise that the ‘there’ which had to be more settled and better provided for, was not.

The four-pronged strategy  

Militarisation conveys that people are being watched all the time. A line separates ‘terrorism’ from ‘good behaviour’ and is not to be crossed. Normalcy; democratic dissent and the human clamour for privacy and community discourse are all lumped on the opposite side of ‘good behaviour’. An added feature of militarisation is the immense power it commands. The status of land for instance simply changes if the military wants it, and peoples’ organisations for instance can only operate if the military allows it.

Southernisation;- occurs through the steady reconstruction of the distinct northern identity and ethos in the image of the south,- that goes beyond the spontaneous and welcome mix of equally dignified cultures. It is seen in the periodic movement of construction workers, hotel staff etc. from elsewhere;—which refuses to recognise the availability of able human resources in the north;—discerned in plans to locate Sinhala peasant farmers from elsewhere; disliked because it receives state patronage; and feared because it will fragment and disconnect the homogeneous nature of the Tamil community. The total impact of this arbitrary trend clearly disregards the collective confidence of an already insecure northern people.

Marginalisation neutralises the impact of alternative forces which can make a difference to the quality of life of the northern people such as the Northern Provincial Council, community organisations, the minority religions, peoples’ cooperatives and so on. With the erosion of their space and consequent caricature of these agents of change as defunct bodies, the corresponding elevation of the centre as the sole protector and provider is just one step away.

Modernisation is another word for the rapid supply of services and goods and mass scale development which route profits elsewhere. This is why numerous banks and finance companies accompany improved roads, electricity and IT facilities. The response of the economically crushed northern Sri Lankan to this far too rapid and cruel flood of enticement is financial indebtedness. Parents for instance have no peace till loans secure TVs seen for the first time by children.

Spectators of decline

While some in the North seem to welcome this exchange of dignity for expediency, the majority have been reduced to spectators of their own decline. Struggling for economic stability with no financial resources and denied of political space to engage in community discourse on the calamitous events which engulfed them and which the rest of the world is ironically free to talk about, the people helplessly watch as these military, socio-cultural, political and economic currents overtake their struggle for daily existence to usurp the polity and resources that are equally and rightly theirs.

The whispered question

‘When and where will this end’, is the whispered question on the lips of sensitive and informed Sri Lankans. There seem to be at least four possibilities.

  1. The rise of pockets of internal resistance. The combination of caste discrimination, now raising its head in the Tamil community, and the lure of nationalistic separatism could tip the balance to drive disillusioned and desperate youth into militant liberation movements once again.
  2. External interference to either save the north or save Colombo, but certainly with an eye on acquiring our resources and securing strategic advantages. In today’s world no one helps anyone, not even us, for free.
  3. A mix of the first two possibilities leading to a protracted conflict on the lines of a mini Syria. Human need and human greed have a strange way of collaborating to spread human conflict and human suffering.
  4. A land of contradiction; comprising a subdued, remnant people and powerful ambitious forces, in search of wealth and leisure; similar to the contradiction in parts of the idyllic hill country where the other oppressed Tamil Community is cleverly hidden behind a different type of- “ line”.

Hope through vulnerability

Since none of these possibilities are in the best interest of a reconciled and integrated Sri Lanka, one clearly correct option stands tall. This is for Colombo to even now come to its senses and do the right thing by collaborating with Jaffna -( under the moderate leadership of the Chief Minister)- in a deliberate shift towards democratisation through humanisation, beginning with the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala multi-violated war victims.

To cater mostly to the economically and politically powerful, when a mass of our own flesh and blood remain crushed and nursing a web of bruises, demonstrates a breach of wise governance and an ignorance of history. Wise governance in any civilised society directs its primary energy to enhance those deprived most. And history teaches that those deprived for long periods inevitably rise in search of liberation; converting a conflict manageable through compassionate common sense into a complex crisis.

When on the other hand the vulnerable receive primary attention, those in different seats of political governance are compelled to review their respective exclusive strategies. For Colombo and Jaffna this will mean a shift away from any and all shades of Sinhala and Tamil nationalistic chauvinism; the very positions that caused and aggravated the conflict and continue to obstruct collaboration, reconciliation and integration.

A just way forward

In practice, democratisation through humanisation among the multi violated vulnerable will first be expected to ensure a dignified life style based on socio-economic stability. Considering the colossal amounts being spent on other, often less urgent infrastructure development programmes, providing substantial livelihood support and housing for the multi vulnerable is within easy reach of the national budget.

In making these priority provisions it will be necessary to recognise that those repeatedly displaced and resettled have had to return to a parched land and tattered nets. Consequently substantial livelihood support must include subsistence until there are steady and viable economic returns which make a dignified life style possible. It is only then that the violated can be left to fend for them-selves. This is why the “one- off” assistance schemes will simply not do.

Once stabilised these rural and semi urban communities will display a resilience and initiative that will both meet their own needs and also empower the wider regional-national economy. Livelihood support, say for instance for multi violated farming or fishing communities, is never a long term drain on national resources. When undertaken professionally and implemented beyond the machinations of politicians and in direct consultation with these communities, such programmes can be steered to become viable investments for future economic growth.

The crucial question

What bearing this will have on the current Geneva tremors is anybody’s guess. The situation is grave but there is a clear lesson that history teaches. When the crushed are treated with just dignity a fresh ethos of compassion, truth and goodwill is generated that enables people to look beyond hurting each other to the more essential human obligation of living together in dignity, freedom and equality in a generous and hospitable land.

It is from here and here mostly that the more complex issues of devolution and independent democratic institutions, the rule of law and good governance, the missing and those killed and the ethics of our behaviour during times of war and conflict, for which we are certainly accountable to ourselves, each other and our children, must and will be addressed.  A return to humanisation is always the precursor to justice and democracy followed by healing and reconciliation.

The inhumanity of the apartheid evil had first to be dismantled for the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission to fall into place. It was from here that steps towards healing became possible in this previously torn and divided Nation.

This sequence of just dignity first, followed by truth and generosity is undoubtedly the right path to sustained healing and reconciliation; everywhere and always. Our beloved Sri Lanka is no exception.

With Peace and Blessings to all

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Latest comments

  • 3

    “In practice, democratisation through humanisation among the multi violated vulnerable will first be expected to ensure a dignified life style based on socio-economic stability. Considering the colossal amounts being spent on other, often less urgent infrastructure development programmes, providing substantial livelihood support and housing for the multi vulnerable is within easy reach of the national budget.”

    The main purpose is to fill their pockets quickly by engaging in LESS URGENT INFRASTRUCTURE DEV PROG which will give biggest slice, and the others will not though is from the national budget.

  • 8

    A level-headed, compassionate person, talking sense. Wish there were more like him!

    • 3

      I am amazed to read the opinions of someone who represents a so-called religion created by a despised man like Henry the 8th.

      If he is seeking enlightenment as a Third WORLD HOLY MAN, first he needs to get a clear, undistorted view of Christ and Christianity by breaking free of the “political church” (without theology) created by a despised man like Henry.

      Then the world will listen.

      • 1

        The Virgin Queen Liz listened to her voices which came from her father who fathered a many but just one wasp – she was curious of the way the Jesuits lived and thwarted the princely Portuguese romantic advances for her wisdom.
        Catherine of Aragon being respected is part of wasp culture
        you cannot love and be wise simultaneously.

      • 4

        I admire the bravery of ‘The Italian’ to step forward and cast the first stone. Suffice to say that instead of splitting hairs, many have accepted that we are but creatures of circumstance, and here is good man writing from his heart and trying, as I see it, to show us the way to a better world here on earth. If one sinner who reads this article turns, we can all rejoice. Each one of us needs help as we plough our lonely furrow in these god-forsaken times.

  • 7

    Bishop Duleep de Chickera,

    You analysis of the situation of governance and the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka is commendable.

    The sole goal of the Sinhala ruling elite since independence, whether they be the SLFP, UNP, or JVP or other so-called main stream parties is the Sinhala Buddhist hegemony and dominance of the island.

    By projecting the Tamils’ fight for self determination as terrorism and winning immense international support they were able to defeat the Tamils, not otherwise. The only people who feel for the Tamils in Sri Lanka are the kith and kin in Tamil Nadu.

    Majority of the Sinhalese are happy as they feel that their goal is within the reach, and they do everything possible to complete the vision.

    You are asking the ruling elite to move away from their goal, will they? Never!

    Eventually the Sinhalese themselves will realize their folly, and that will be when it is too late.

  • 2

    ” under the moderate leadership of the Chief Minister “

    That was good for a laugh. If the Northern Tamils wish to take their rightful place AMONG the other citizens of the land they need to align their aspirations with the latter’s. Today they seem to be more in tune with Jeyalalitha (I am being more than generous here) and running to New Delhi than to Colombo. That does not endear them to the rest. Such self-alienation cannot be blamed on others. It is a legacy of the last thirty years of fission, and will take time to mend, though there are forces at play which would hate to see this happen.

    • 3

      Does it burn you to see the recognition given to the CM?

      Does it burn you that foreign dignitaries visit the Bishop of Mannar?

      Does it burn you that Modi has personally invited the CM to visit him?

  • 2

    Why this guy does not think, what is happening there is GOd’s wish and just say Amen and accept it.

  • 2

    By looking at this face, it reminds me that the Catholic church all over the world had sexual perverts who destroyed young boys.

  • 2

    This article itself says that the militarization of the North is needed.

    the article says, the caste discrimination and tamil nationalism is boiling there and that could lead to another armed uprising.

    IF so, why don’t you say that the military sleuths have to have very open eyes and they must know where they should spend the day.

    This author also does not want to talk Tamils are moving out of North and Colombo is completely a muslim and tamil city now. those days, Tamils sailed to Tamilnadu and now, Yapapatuna is developing they can stay home and spend that money or spend their time. Why do you say modernization harms them ?

    Is it simply a tribal view point that you are presenting to support a fraction of people ?

  • 1

    According to the Bishop “the combination of caste discrimination and tamil nationalism is boiling … and that could lead to another armed uprising…”

    The Bishop’s aboservations fit in with what rasalingam, and also Ahilan Kadirgamar had said.
    In an article that Sebastian Rasalingam wrote he pointed out that one of the good things in the grocery shops run by the Army was that there is no caste discrimination. Some Local-Tamil shops, owned by our so-called upper caste people required that “low-caste” people only come to buy stuff through the backdoor or at night!
    Many of us Tamils who have grown up in the south cannot even conceive of the mentality of the orthodox Hindu Jaffna man.

    See Rasalingam’s article:
    (Army ‘Kadaigals’ in the North – Bane or Boon?, Rasalingam, Nov-2011)

    Rasalingam argues that some admixture of people from the South into the North, and a reciprocal movement of people from the North to the south are necessary for the rejuvenation of the stagnant and caste-cloistered Northern society.
    The Bishop does not seem to have realized this. He is arguing with the TNA for preserving the racial purity of the regions, rather than for a multi-cultural multi-ethnic tapestry which can be much more enriching.

    But then, the church itself is strongly caste ridden, with only the high-caste being able to aspire to the ranks of Bishops and become “a prince of the church”. The saying goes that you need to be at least of the “….pillai” caste
    to reach the upper rungs.

  • 2

    You people are first Tamils and then men of GOD.
    When I say you people, its all of those cassoack wearing Emmanuel, Rayappu and all preist clergy religious and nuns in the North and pro-ltte clergy in the South.

    YOU SHAMELESS MEN OF GOD BY NAME.you just preach out of your hat to deceive masses.DO YOU CLERGY PRAY FOR PEACE??

    Mt18: 15-20
    Jesus urges us to reconcile with one another. Dissention amongst individuals, within families and communities cause much pain and disruption to the peace. We must try to unify and build relationships, PRAY FOR PEACE, but always with Christ-like humility.

    • 0

      These guys take Christianity as the escape goat and preach hatred, tribalism and racism.

  • 2

    The main question is, what is the way forward for the three endangered ‘species’ in the island, namely, the Tamils, Muslims and Christians? They have to forge a strong unity amongst themselves for the sole purpose of survival. Then they will become a formidable force. On the other hand, if they continue to look the other way when another of the three groups gets victimised or worse if they collaborate with the common enemy for minor gains to themselves, all three of these ‘endangered species’ will be doomed!

    Sengodan. M

    • 0

      Both the Muslims and Christians/Catholics each are two billion in the world.

      Tamils are hundred million in the world.

      Sinhala people are just 17 million and sinhala people are the majority.

      It is simply the powerpaly to over power sinhala people.

  • 1

    Bishop de Chickera’s piece does make for interesting, although not easy, reading. I wish he would not be using such sentences and phrases like “marginalisation neutralises the impact of alternative forces”, “watch as these military, socio-cultural, political and economic currents overtake their struggle for daily existence to usurp the polity and resources that are equally and rightly theirs” and “democratisation through humanisation among the multi violated vulnerable will first be expected to ensure a dignified life style based on socio-economic stability.” Phew! I don’t enjoy having to read and re-read this stuff to understand what the heck he means.

    I wish also that the good bishop showed balance in his writings and not be so one sided as he appears to be on this occasion. He seeks to convey the complaints he heard on a recent trip to the North and does so seemingly with approval. Nowhere does he question the validity of those complaints or express any reservations about what he heard. He appears to have accepted it all, uncritically.

    Consider his statement about the fear in the North that ‘Southernisation’ (a word which I imagine the bishop has coined) will “fragment and disconnect the homogeneous nature of the Tamil community”. Well, what does that mean in plain language? Does it not mean, very bluntly, that they don’t want any non Tamils in the North? And does that not reflect a strange attitude from people who cared not a hoot that they might “fragment and disconnect” the “homogenous nature” of the Sinhalese community” when they were coming down South? I wonder if it did not occur to the good bishop to point out the double standards involved here? And I wonder if he did not see fit to point out that harmony and accord cannot come with isolation?

    The good bishop has set himself up as an articulate advocate for the ‘cause’ of the North. That’s his prerogative but he cannot ignore that there is also another narrative; he has got to be fair and even handed in his comments.

    I would have thought that his role as a Christian bishop would be better served by helping to build bridges across the communities rather than by seeming to speak up for only one side.

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