1 December, 2022


Symbolic Actions Alone Are Insufficient For Long Term Change To Occur 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

There is a likelihood that constitutional reform will be on the political table again. The enactment of a new constitution in which a permanent solution to the ethnic conflict would be found is one of the unmet promises of the government. At its inception in 2015, there was much optimism on this score because the government held both a 2/3 majority in parliament and was also composed of the two main political parties that had hitherto opposed each other whenever one of them had sought a solution to the problem. In the early part of the government’s tenure in office during 2015-16 there appeared to be substantial progress but this slowed down thereafter and even seemed to have fallen off the political table.

One major problem with the government’s approach towards constitutional reform is that it has become distant from the people and rather secretive too with its content being known only by a small group of experts. This has provided the opposition political parties with the opportunity to play upon the fears of the general public which they are doing with leaps of the imagination. For instance, one opposition member of standing has written an article claiming that the depreciation of the Sri Lankan rupee against the US dollar is part of a conspiracy to divide the country.

The constant use of the ethnic conflict by the opposition points to the continuing importance it plays in the everyday politics of the country, but especially as election time approaches. Opposition members make statements that are intended to bring up the bogey of Tamil separatism even ten years after the military defeat of the LTTE. The latest is to assert that the government is planning to have two legal systems in the country, one for the North and another for the South. As there is only one legal system in the country at present, the only possible explanation is that opposition politicians are targeting the forthcoming constitutional reform proposals in advance.

Individual Stories 

Unfortunately at present there are crude attempts being made to rouse nationalism, fear and hatred of the other communities, and on different sides of the ethnic and religious divides. In this context, the participation of leading members of the joint opposition in a recent reconciliation event came as a possible signal that a middle path may be possible. The event was the launching of a book titled “Voices of Peace” by Sarah Kabir which provides detailed accounts from the lives of ten former Sri Lankan soldiers and ten members of the LTTE who once fought each other as central actors in the three decade long war. But today they are marginalized and rendered voiceless. The book aims to give these silenced members of the Sri Lankan family who played a critical role in shaping the destiny of the country, a constructive role in the present time.

The content of the book is important because it educates the heart as well as the mind. The ancient Greek sage Aristotle is recorded as saying that “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Every chapter of this book contains the stories of individuals, and not those of a collective. The book captures the life stories of former combatants, on both the government and LTTE sides, in considerable detail. Each account of the twenty protagonists selected for this study has been carefully researched, sometimes by the author going back to interview them as many as five or more times. This is because there are multiple ways to remember the past. People remember in parts, and it is said that stories, like experiences, are never finished.

The significance of the book is that it highlights the importance of individual stories. It is an attempt to prevent them from getting lost in the collective histories of the conflict, by the use of terms such as “ex-combatants” or “missing persons.” The government has set up the Office of Missing Persons and a Ranaviru Seva Authority for the families of war-affected soldiers. These statutory authorities have been established to cater to the needs of those categories of persons and their families. But sometimes by aggregating individuals into a collective, it becomes easier to negate the entire group as by saying that the “missing persons” are no longer amongst the living as government leaders have done publicly and to the distress and anger of the families of those who are missing.

Real Change 

The value of Sarah Kabir’s work is that she has made the individual the centre of her efforts, and because their stories are real, they impel the readers to want to do something positive rather than be passive. This spirit contributed to the success of the book launch. But of equal or even greater significance as the book launch was the presence at that event of several high ranking members of the joint opposition, including former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, MP Namal Rajapaksa as well as the leader of the SLPP, Prof GL Peiris and former minister of reconciliation and MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara. Their presence contributed to the sense of an inclusive event, and an indication of the value they may be seeing in re-engaging with civil society and those who stand for the rights of minorities and those who are marginalized.

This period of the government of national unity, and the support given to the government by the ethnic and religious minorities, has given space to civil society to play a more active role in the national reconciliation process. Another recent example was the beach cleanup organized by Caritas SEDEC, the social arm of the Catholic Church which covered a coastal stretch of over 30 kilometers from Wattala to Negombo. In addition to contributing to environmental protection, the purpose of this event was to make it a community owned participatory activity that would bring together the members of the civil society and other like-minded organizations with an interreligious dimension to give added value to this action. Some participants in this voluntary action came from as far away as Kurunegala in a demonstration of the goodwill that exists within the people that awaits positive use by leadership at the governmental level.

During the beach cleanup it was pointed out that despite the efforts undertaken, the following day the beach would start getting polluted again due to debris coming in from the sea at high tide, and from residents who were not conscientised about keeping the environment clean. Symbolic actions are important but are not enough to make for sustainable change. This applies not only to the beach cleanup but also to the joint opposition presence at the reconciliation event. Civil society can initiate and show what is possible at the micro level and what can be replicated at a larger level at the macro level. Despite its weakness, the mainframe of government policy is that of accepting the diversity and pluralism of society and permitting government systems to run their course. Symbolic actions need to be followed up by government action that comes through its administrative systems, regulatory frameworks and the enactment and implementation of the law.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Dr Ranil’s reconciliation is to please the TNA and the Diaspora.
    And let his UNP mates local and overseas make as much Moolay as possible before the Party ends.

    Writing books is good.
    5 Million are malnourished according to the UN.
    These Civil Rights dudes I don’t think have even their distant cousins in that List.
    They are only interested in breaking up the Nation
    And introduce Western Culture to please the new Rich…

    Dr Ranil and his UNP Politikkas can not dupe the poor and stuff them up on their only piece of land.
    And feed the crumbs from the Foreigners and the New Rich.

    Look at their Policies in Education , Health Care, Transportation, Trade, Employment and even Buddhism and the Temples…
    Give every thing to their mates loacal and overseas to make money out of them.
    And call it Privatization and Liberalization .
    Sell all National assets to Foreigners through FTAs and the special deal ECTA for the Hindians.

  • 1

    Dr. JP: So, Kabir Hashim’s (UNP Sec. gen) daughter, Sara, a nice richly connected kid, funded by Chandrika’s CBK’s ONUR, did a little book in the English Language rather than Sinhala and Tamil (which gives the game away), for the (Fake) reconciliation industry’s donors in Colombo?
    This occasion at LKI was graced by US citizen and war criminal Gota Rajapaksa so he could feel included and healed by the Fake Reoncilliation corruption racket, and understand how the proliteriate who fought on both sides views its post-war plight?! Oh, please, get a brain..
    No talk of crashing rupee and economic justice here for the soldiers and LTTE folk. Sara Kabir did a great service translating the subalterns who speak Sinhalese and Tamil for the English speaking foreign funded HR NGO mafia and their donors to feel good about reconciliation in Lanka.. right?
    The Fake Reconciliation industry is a UNP-SLFP bi-partisan corruption racket. Wake up JP and see the sun?! Long live Miracle of Modayas and Bullshit artists.

    • 0

      So, Kabir’s darling little Sarah wrote this Theses ..probably under Dr JP.s supervision I guess..
      How cool..

      Forget the JVP, Laxmi..
      Kumara is now more HIP than the Keselwatta.Kid from Dr Ranil’s UNP…
      I can understand the latter, who was born with all that wealth in the Treasure Hunter Gatherer Family. in Colombo 7 wanting to be among the HIP UNP….
      But Kumara selling the souls of the naive Youth who are mostly from parents in that 5 Million UN list is unforgivable.

      I mean not the selling bit ..
      But the bargain basement price he gave to Ranil…
      A lousy F****** 25 Lakhs and that old Beamer from Sampathar.
      When UNP Ladies are selling their Condos in Colombo for anything from USD 500,000 to USD 1.5 Million…

      Someone said the other day here in CT, that the total killed in the two installments were 100 thou. under Madam’s Mommy & Keslwatta Kid’s Daddy…
      I can attest to it , because I knew a couple in that List.

      You are right on the money Laksmi.
      It was a another UNP SLFP bi paritsan, joint ventures, just like the current Dr Rail & My3Sira bipartsan Yahapalanaya awhich is F******Up the same poor rural Sinhala Buddhists and their Nation…..

  • 0

    Earlier, under the Citanta Government, Tamilini wrote a book on the war under siege of Lankawe government and the rapist army. Her family never released the video or photos of Tamilini working alone, without somebody dictating her materials. So, it was always suspected that the material in the book was not Tamilini’s own. The Tamil version was marketed by Chitanta government and latter Sinhala version was marketed by Yahapalanaya government. Tamils accused both governments working together on Tamilini’s death after completion of the book. She is a LTTE woman but to comply with release condition, it was said she married a supporter of EPDP, which vigorously fought against LTTE. Few weeks ago, still to show his revenge against LTTE, its leader Douglas used despicable words to call LTTE leader Pirapaharan, during an interview for Indian Media in Delhi.

    Now without representative lawyers to look after the interest of ex. Rebels, under the Yahapalanaya administration, one of the ministers’ daughters used these rebels to earn money on her own. The story is Lankawe ministers, Presidents & other political Kingpins and their families use government employees to compile and edit the material, but under their name. With the corruption and impunity at its highest level, these practices are flourishing widely, not contested in courts. It is not sure how the proceeds of this book is calculated and shared with the rebels whose witnessing was used. On the other side, the international NGOs who collected rebels and other torture victim refugees’ have frozen the identity of the victim for their families’ safety as government persistently played on witness protection. These participants were really affected by the 70 years of torturing, raping, murdering, and looting, engulfing their properties, involuntary confinement or imprisonment and other crimes the Lankawe government have been carrying out.

  • 0

    As these are legal matters for formal courts pending to be formed or while the process is being on the preparation, publishing such victims’ material are very despicable and illegal. Ranil, while promising of fair & international experts participating investigation to TNA, Tamils, UNHRC and IC, but behind the scene, he is accused of enjoying the Tamilini Book writing, his party’s president’s daughter book writing and Jehan PhD like full swing ringmasters’ juggleries which purpose is mainly defusing & disturbing an IC participated inquiry. Ranil yet to denounce Old Royals, who were the main gusts in this book release, using anti-Tamil sentiments to their election manipulation or he is reluctant to get out and speak to Sinhala mass of an IC approved reconciliation process or an investigation or a devolution package to Tamils problems.

    Rapist Army kidnapping and forcing opponens regime’s civilizations are a crime under Human rights violation. These are matters Tamils wants to be dealt with OMP. But UNP Yahapalanaya has formed an OMP to distribute any collection to the families of the dead soldiers’ families, instead of paying them usual army compensation and pension. It must be remembered by UNHRC that lost Tamil civilian were not under the government contract, by expected to be protected by government and UN under R2P. But the MIAs who are Rapist Army soldiers were under the employment contract with Lankawe Appe Aanduwa. It is the employer is responsible to compensate the mishaps of the employee, under all time of employment, not OMP.

    I believe the ex-rebels still reserve their legal rights to appear in an IC participating investigation outside of Lankawe, provided they are not forced to face by this group Tamilini’s end.

  • 0

    Wow! sounds like a fake reconciliation freak show for war criminals and financial criminals– at air conditioned LKI. Meanwhile families of the disappeared protest on the streets in blazing heat for weeks..all under the benevolent gaze of Colombo’s fake civil society NGOS and donors.

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