By Rashantha N. de Alwis-Seneviratne –
Dear Mr. Wigneswaran,
It is sad that you used your office as Chief Minister of the Northern Province to make a political speech to young sportsmen and women who are visiting Jaffna from other parts of Sri Lanka. Sports, even you acknowledge, broadens the mind, firms the body and encourages bonhomie among participants. It is also a great platform to build understanding and mutual respect. It is sad that these attributes were not central to your speech but that you chose to use such an auspicious occasion to talk about what divides people instead. You should have acknowledged that it is only after the end of the LTTE that such an occasion was possible and that it should be just the beginning of more events like this, where our youth can meet on common ground and establish long lasting bonds. Instead, you chose to vomit a harangue that marred the occasion, rather than drive home the point that it is our youth who can create a bridge between the differences and strengthen what is common to us all, as Sri Lankans. I regret also, that not once did you stress on the importance of the role of our youth in the Sri Lankan identity that we should all aspire to. You are more worried about emphasising the necessity of maintaining the identity and individuality of your people, when both are intact and very much alive.
As Chief Minister of the North, you should have spoken with more responsibility because it is easy to plant seeds of doubt in newly unfettered minds. You, more than a lot of others, know that the Northern and Eastern Youth have many challenges to face, being liberated from a life plagued by the suffocating grip of terrorism which you have chosen to ignore in your speech. The fundamental expectations of any citizen are the same and may be only quantitatively different. Why do you think that it is different for others? Northern or Eastern or Southern expectations are surely not different to one another, especially among the poor. I speak of the poor because the majority of our citizens live on the borderline of poverty. A Sinhalese peasant is a Tamil peasant is a Muslim peasant and the rich do not have an ethnic divide either. According to you, a new constitution is necessary to engender reconciliation, which is conditional on the youth obtaining equal rights and status. What are these rights that are exclusive to others and denied to the youth of the North and East? Were the rights you so obviously desire, given to the youth by a terrorist organisation that ruled these regions for decades? Did the forcible conscription of the youth and the controlled freedom of all those who resided there, give them the rights that you speak of?
Mr. Wigneswaran, reconciliation means appeasement, understanding, compromise, bringing together and so on. Do these need a written document or are they really down to us to achieve? All of these need a meeting point and there is nothing better than common ground, a strictly two way proposition that works on the physical and material plane. Freedoms that were taken away in the last thirty years have been restored to the people unless you believe that they had a better life under terrorists. To accept that, is to deny where your youth are today, where they live free from the fear of conscription, able expand their intellect and build on it. We need to reinvent ourselves but with leaders like you, there seems to be little chance of that. Mahatma Gandhi said ‘You must be the change you want to see in the World’. That sentiment should have been the message you gave the youth because sports teaches one to accept change. I have a gut feeling that you were not a sportsman, even though you went to a prestigious Colombo school.
Mr. Wigneswaran, was it really necessary to talk about a 2000 years old traditional homeland of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, at a sports event? It is like talking about the value of your silverware when you are hosting guests in your house. By the same argument, would you please tell me where the traditional homeland of the Sinhalese is? I do not believe that these statements were made for the youth from other parts of the Country at all for they are, after all, citizens of this country and do not need a history lesson or fairy tales, from you. I believe your entire speech was directed at the International Community who is sympathetic to your aspirations in the North and East. It is for the same reason that you sugar coated the creation of the dastardly terrorist group called the LTTE, by apologetically stating that, complicated political issues and activities made its creation an inevitability. Taking up arms against a democratically elected government is treason. There is no other word for it. As a man of the law, you know this very well, yet make excuses for it. The JVP also tried similar tactics against the government but thankfully, they are now part of the democratic process, one which the LTTE chose not to participate in. Their fascist agenda did not allow it but you see no evil in it or the chaos they created or the murder of thousands of Sinhalese and Muslims and other ethnicities in their quest for a separate state. You speak of relief and justice and fair play for the Tamils when none of this was available to those innocent people killed by the LTTE.
The military is stationed all over the country. If there are greater numbers in the North and East, it is because these regions were under the control of the LTTE not so long ago. A government has an obligation to protect the boundaries of a nation and how they do it is for it to decide. We have given it our mandate on such matters. There are military, naval and air force camps in strategic positions across the country. After the JVP uprisings, a similar security situation prevailed in the South but with time, camps were reduced and maintained where it was deemed necessary. The army does not stop you from trying to make your region economically sustainable. The army does not make it impossible for children to go to school or adults to engage in legal activities at work or in any other field. The army does not stop religious freedom or the free movement of people. Worry about ensuring the best conditions for the northern fishermen to operate. Spearhead the various development projects that must surely be necessary for a better life for the people. Be actively engaged in directing the youth on the right path, for they need that guidance now, while they come to terms with what freedom has brought. These should be your priority while you are Chief Minister. Your position, as with any political leader, is not an assured one and your time is limited, so please make it count in the right way. The time for cheap publicity is running out.
Sri Lanka has never stopped anyone from observing unique cultural and religious practices. People of all religions have absolute freedom to worship as they wish, where they wish. The many cultural festivals are enjoyed by all communities, as much as the different culinary dishes that abound. In this arena, it was particularly sad that a cultural dance item performed by Sinhalese students in the Jaffna campus, ended in violence. The northern students have many mental barriers to breakdown and one cannot deny that there are still those who are resentful of their southern counterparts. This is why it is important for leaders such as you, to help build bridges and not erect more fences. There are thousands of Tamil students in universities all over the country, working alongside their Sinhalese and Muslim counterparts. A reciprocal environment should be encouraged in the North and East where such a thing has been absent for decades and is therefore, an enigma. This is not the dominance of one ethnic community over another, which you speak of. It is about blending as one, when it is possible. This takes nothing away from who you are.
If you are seeking the right to self determination, perhaps you need to change your position and not use arrogance as a lever. Perhaps if you show the government by deed, that you are sincere in your efforts to be part of Sri Lanka truly and stop playing to the gallery, your wishes will come true. If you expect apologies from the Sinhalese, then you should show the way, since there are more of us to convince of your sincerity. You should desist from bringing useless resolutions in the NPC, against the governments of Sri Lanka, for genocide and the amalgamation of the North and East. You should talk for a united Sri Lanka, as a Sri Lankan and not as though you were a lackey of Jayalalithaa. You should give the rest of the country the confidence that you are genuinely committed to the common good of the country and not only the people of the North and East, who, by the way, populate more of the Western Province than the ‘traditional’ Sinhalese now. I believe that it is people like you who are a barrier to forging a Sri Lankan identity because your own identity is more important. And would you please stop bringing South Africa into the picture? The majority in that country, who were the indigenous ‘Black’ people, suffered generations of abuse at the hands of a handful of ‘white’ Boers, so how does that fit in, as a comparison? The mind boggles!
Please rewrite your speech to the Sinhalese youth and tell them that sport is a meeting ground and a platform to build long lasting friendships that will remove these mental barriers. Tell those poor children who had to listen to your rigmarole, that there will be many such events in the North and the East where their participation will be looked forward to, as much as the Sinhalese youth would surely welcome ‘your youth’ with the same hospitality. Tell all of them, that the future is in their hands and that together, they can be a formidable force. Our children are wonderful. Let us give them a chance. They do not have to give up their cultural and ethnic identity to do this.
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