By Malinda Seneviratne –
Four years ago the nation, which had held its collective breath in fear and uncertainty, breathed again. It was a deep breath that was taken and the exhalation was naturally long. There was dancing in the streets. This was called ‘triumphalism’, with the word laced with derisive commentary. Let us, at this moment when Sri Lanka celebrates the 4th anniversary of the vanquishing of Eelamism’s military apparatus, it is a word that is worth reflecting on.
When Sri Lanka beat Australia to win the World Cup in 1996, there was celebration. It was a triumph that warranted celebration. There was ‘triumphalism’. When US security forces pinned down suspects of the Boston Marathon bombing, killing one and arresting the badly injured other, people cheered. Triumphalism. True, it was accompanied and preceded by a lot of religious intolerance and anti-Muslim invective, but there was unmistakable relief expressed by a citizenry that had been kept on its collective toes for several days.
Sri Lanka took almost 30 years to remove terrorism from the political equation and the daily lives of the nation. That’s thirty years of not known when you or your loved ones would be killed or how or where. The recovery of breath, the expansion of the dimensions of hope, the freedom from unnecessary fear and the return of predictability were all cause for celebration. It was called ‘triumphalism’, as mentioned earlier, in derisive tone. The Sinhalese were supposed to be celebrating the defeat of ‘Tamils’. In other words, Sinhalese, routinely accused of conflating ‘Tamil’ with ‘LTTE’, couldn’t celebrate the defeat of the latter without celebrating, simultaneously, ‘a defeat of Tamils’. It seems that the true ‘conflators’ were these very same objectors. After all, it was fashionable at one time to say ‘The LTTE is the sole representative of the Tamil people’. So, THEY, more than the Sinhalese read ‘LTTE defeat’ as ‘Tamil defeat’.
People cannot be denied the right to celebrate the recovery of freedom, even if only in part. Mis-educated or ill-informed or myopic onlookers, spoilers and others who preferred different outcomes can read things as they will of course. They too ‘won’ some freedom of movement, for bombs and suicide-bombers don’t check and separate friend from enemy when launching random attacks. Some relief may have slipped out of their lungs but they would never admit nor applaud those who made that kind of exhalation possible.
It is good to celebrate, to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives to give us that moment as well as the terrorism-free years that followed, especially since Eelamism is not dead. Eelamists in reduced circumstances haven’t stopped trying to achieve objectives in the little-now-more-later manner through relevant myth-mongering (using the 13th Amendment as stepping stone of course). It is also important to mourn the massive loss of lives of those who fought and those who were caught in crossfire and terrorist attacks, regardless of communal identity and political loyalty. They were all citizens of this country.
We have celebrated enough, I feel. We’ve mourned very little and this is not only because we are a resilient nation that has its ways of achieving ‘closure’ and moving on. There has been forgive-and-forget, but there’s been selectivity in this, political allegiance being a critical factor. There has been rehabilitation and reconstruction, facilitation of skill-development and re-integration into society of LTTE cadres, captured or surrendered. But if KP and Karuna are forgiven and forgotten, then there’s nothing to stop the Government from facilitating and even encouraging the open mourning by friend, family and others of the LTTE dead, Prabhakaran downwards. No Sinhala Buddhist can object to this because this has been part of the ‘Sinhala Buddhist story’ in all conflicts and invasions they’ve lived through.
There will be those who would abuse such sanction, but the benefits, moral and otherwise, would far outstrip these irritants.
Today, therefore, is both a day of celebration as well as a day of mourning. Celebration because there’s reason to be happy, to be grateful too, and mourning because of the lost years, lost opportunities, needless deaths, childhoods that were destroyed and most of all for the reluctance to mourn and sanction mourning and consequent detracting of something of our common humanity.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com