By Jude Ratnam –
9th January 2015 – End of an era
On January 9th 2015, the day the presidential election results were announced in Sri Lanka I went out for a walk around 7 p.m. It was not a declared public holiday; nevertheless the streets were completely deserted to the level of it being virtually void of any single person on the road. I was strolling about 2 Km practically alone.
As I was walking a thought occurred to me. Probably ever since the brutal war ended in the most gory manner sacrificing thousands of lives in 2009, probably this was the first day that I felt a sense of relief. I’m not too sure what to call this feeling; maybe it was relief, maybe it was delight or maybe it was even end of paranoia.
Yes probably that was what it was! A sense of relief came about because of the end of paranoia one had experienced for a very long time. Probably it was this paranoia that still made people stay inside their homes this day. Probably because people could hardly believe that it could all end so quietly. The paranoia was to such a level, that people thought that the previous regime would never let go of and that they would do anything to stay in power. The people were probably drawn too much into the myth of the ‘invincibility of the Rajapaksa’ propaganda, that this day seemed too ‘shocking’ to accept that reality.
Strangely enough I was struck with a parallel thought. When in 2009 the war ended in the north of the country, as a Tamil living in Colombo I felt a sense of similar ‘shock’. This was probably because we as a community believed (apart from our personal likes and dislikes) in the ‘invincibility of Prabakaran and his LTTE’.
May 2009 was an end of an era for the Tamil people and surely for the whole of Sri Lanka and in the same light 2015 probably marked the end of an era for the Sinhala people and in that sense for the whole country. The former ended with a blood bath and the latter with the ballet box. Nevertheless there was wide fear and speculation that if the ‘the Rajapaksa regime’ was not dismantled this time; it would take a blood bath to dismantle it.
Feeling of togetherness
The very first district election result that was to come out from the election commissioner’s office was that of Killinochchi.
The result was in favor of the then opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena with an unsurpassable ratio of 72% to 24% to the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Looking at this I told my wife that “with this result the Tamils have reached a point of no return” and that “if Rajapaksa won now, it would be the end of the story for the Tamils (minorities) “. The writing on the wall for Rajapaksa in a sense of a verdict from the Tamil and Muslim minority votes was already written very early in the race. Now it was to be seen how the Sinhalese majority would vote! This would eventually not only decide the fate of the country but also of the minorities in this country.
When the finish line was reached, nearly 5.2 million people from the south, majority of them Sinhalese had voted against the oligarchic, nepotistic ‘Rajapaksa regime’. This enabled the opposition contender Sirisena to have just the bare minimum majority of 51% of the votes to become the new President. But ‘King Rajapaksa’ was not too far behind with 47% of the votes primarily coming from the deep south of the country where the Sinhalese are almost an absolute majority.
I called my friend around 01:30 a.m. and told him that WE had done it together and that I felt proud today to call myself a Sri Lankan.
10th January 2015 – Morning
I woke up a bit late that morning around 10 a.m. I went to the computer with my cup of coffee. In the news I read how at the wee hours on the 9th morning (the day the election results were being just announced) the Rajapaksa regime had attempted a coup with the help of the military. President Rajapaksa’s brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the defence secretary and the coup was to happen under his supervision. But the last minute thwarting efforts by the Civil Defence Commander, Attorney General and the Election Commissioner put an halt to this diabolic plan.
After reading the news I logged onto facebook. There on facebook the following post awaited me;
The first map shows the land claimed by LTTE as the homeland of the Tamils and the second map showing the Presidential election results. The yellow indicating the districts won by Sirisena and the blue indicating the districts won by Rajapaksa. This was posted by an admin by the name of Sinhala Buddhist and was shared by many, surprisingly including by some of my friends as well. The post unanimously read ‘DEAR SINHALESE BRETHREN! IS THIS WHAT YOU VOTED FOR?’
On news that day they showed the former President Rajapaksa going back to his village and he his met by a large crowed from his village. On a megaphone he addresses the crowed and says “I DON’T TAKE THIS AS A DEFEAT, BECAUSE THEY WON WITH THE EELAM VOTES!. Then almost in a casual tone one voice from the crowed asks him “WHY DIDN’T YOU RETAIN POWER BY KILLING THEM!” the entire crowed bursts into a laugh and the former President replies “NO WE CANNOT DO THAT…..WE CANNOT DO THAT….THERE SHOULD BE DEMOCRACY IN THE COUNTRY”. But by then the intended message by the former President had sunk into whoever ‘heard’ him.
On the stroke of midnight on the 9th January a prominent Sinhalese filmmaker Asoka Handagama posted this following picture of the Sri Lankan map on facebook with the title reading ‘CORIDIALLY EMBRACED!
Though pacified by this, I went to bed on the 10th night with my mind clogged with fear.
11th January 2015 – A conversation
I dropped my son at a class and was returning home when I saw the usual tuk tuk driver who takes my son to school. He is an old Sinhalese man of about 70 years. I also know that his son-in-law is an Army Colonel and that he took part in the final battle in the north.
He told me that his entire family voted for the new president and that it was absolutely baseless to say that the Tamils and the Muslims voted him into power. He also said that some will continue to harp on this divisive line without allowing ever the country to be in peace.
13th January 2015 – M.I.A. Channel 4 interview
Maya Arulpragasam the Canadian based Tamil Pop singer appeared on a Channel 4 interview and was expressing her opinion about the elections and said that ‘it was the same government with a different face’. During her interview she was alluding to all the usual rhetoric of the Tamil Diaspora of War crimes, independent investigations, Hague etc…etc. She even candidly evaded the question very cleverly when asked if LTTE was responsible for Human Rights violations and war crimes during the interview. You can watch the interview by clicking on the link below.
But what interested me most was the last question that was asked by the interviewer and MIA’s candid answer for that. He asked her that he feels that she sounds like a spokes person for the Tamils in Sri Lanka and if she really feels that she is one. For this MIA answered ‘I don’t think they look to me, but unfortunately they’ve got me, this is what they’ve got’.
“We Need To Face Our Demons Ourselves”
As complicated and contradictory the above examples may seem, in the final analysis it goes to show that the ‘Fear of the other’ is what will play a pivotal role in defining the politics of Sri Lanka in the future.
If and unless we are prepared to face the truth of our violent past as individuals, as communities and as a nation, it will be inevitable that the country will once again fall into the old snare of violence and brutality.
Meeting Our Demons Head-On
I am sure there were many unknown reconciliation efforts taking place amongst the ordinary people even during the Rajapaksa regime on a person-to-person level. If this was earlier done in a subterfuge manner under the previous regime due to its dictatorial tendency, the present context and the political developments in the country has brought about an opportunity to do this in a head-on manner. I personally see this as something positive and as yet another opportunity to talk about our past in the open in order to reconcile in the future.
I write this as an effort towards making the thus far silenced voice of the Tamils living in Sri Lanka being heard (who want to live equally and peacefully with the Sinhalese) which goes beyond the MIAian rhetoric of the hate mongering Diaspora and shows the intricate complexities of the Sri Lankan conflict.
*Jude Ratnam is an independent filmmaker living and working in Sri Lanka