By Ragi Kadirgamar –
Now ten years after my father was brutally assassinated in his own garden, I still do not know who killed him. I know who pulled the trigger…I have been told it was the LTTE…
Strangely the inquiry that Scotland Yard started was terminated before it was completed and I still do not know to this day what actually happened. There are of course rumors, stories, people’s suspicions. I have tried to piece together this ghastly puzzle…
What is clear is that there are many things that have not been revealed to the public over the last ten years, including my father’s assassination. Many things that people may find painful to hear in some cases, things that people do not want to divulge.
Sometimes these things are heard as an attack against ones identity, one’s community. We have lost the ability to listen impartially, an ability that I saw in my father and his friends as they would argue, even disagree over key issues, but yet remain friends. We seem to have lost this ability in this land.
As individuals and a nation, from my personal experience, I believe it is essential that the truth be addressed. It is essential that the truth be known, it is essential that we come to terms ourselves as individuals with the truth; in our own lives, with our parents, with our families.
And I say it is essential for a very specific reason. We can only truly heal at a psychological and emotional level, if the truth is known and faced. At the level of nations this has been proven and demonstrated in countries like South Africa and others that went through long periods of internal conflict, where during and after the truth and reconciliation processes, people have almost miraculously been able to forgive the perpetrators of terrible acts, against themselves and their loved ones. The people that abused, tortured or killed their family members, their husbands and wives, their children, their parents, brothers and sisters, have been faced…and acceptance and thereby forgiveness has occurred.
Deep forgiveness is not just the domain of saints; it is truly within our normal human reach. But to forgive, the truth is essential and the people of this country need to know what happened. The people of the north in particular need to know what happened, so that they can mourn and close that part of their tragic lives. Not forget, but forgive.
If we cannot truly mourn we cannot live, if we cannot overcome our mourning we will remain for the rest of our lives in mourning, and this process of mourning will deprive one of our potential to achieve other things in our life, and to realize ourselves.
In this way I believe Sri Lanka is being deprived of its potential. I meet so many who have suffered from the conflict and have not been able to come to terms with it in their own lives.
There needs to be a healing process in this land, there needs to be a deep process of reconciliation, between communities, and within each of us. We should not make the mistake of believing that only economic and physical development will solve all our woes. This kind of development does not take away the suffering caused by different forms of abuse, it does not take away the suffering of a mother not knowing how her child died.
I say this because I have worked with people from many walks of life in this country who continue to struggle with their psychological and emotional suffering…normal people who have suffered abuse as children, abuse at the hands of adults. Adults from all sides of the ethnic divide affected in many different ways by the various conflicts we have experienced since the early 1970’s.
Economic and physical development is an essential part of the solution to the many problems our country faces, but it is not a panacea for all the woes.
I personally deeply believe that this process of reconciliation, beginning with truth, ending with justice, is what is needed. It is a difficult road but from my personal experience it is possible, and it can start with each of us as individuals. There are things that all us of us carry, things we have done in our past, pains and suffering, guilt, shame and hatred, and these negative emotions create tremendous problems within, which at some point spill out.
We can come to a point of totally accepting who we are, and being at peace, and if we are able to do that by extension, sometimes in parallel, we can accept and forgive our parents, imperfect beings like our self. People sometimes act in certain ways unconsciously, hurt others without meaning to, and later in their life deeply regret it. I know my father in the latter years of his life regretted some of the things he did, or did not do.
I came to a point where I had to accept the man as he was, without expectations. I had to forgive him, and move on in my life. And I see this same problem in many people in this country, and everywhere in the world, but particularly here as a result of the long conflict that we have endured, for so many decades, and especially what has happened for the last ten years. There is a tremendous need to come to terms with the loss and tragedy that we have faced.
I can honestly say I forgive those that killed my father. They were sadly, tragically, products of their own suffering, products of the brutality and pain that they had endured at some earlier point in their lives.
Those that I found less easy to forgive are those that have manipulated situations purely through greed for money and power, personal and family advancement. I found it more difficult to forgive them because somehow they have had the privilege of education, social and economic security.
But in the end, in the final account, if we cannot forgive everyone it remains a wound within, a festering sore that does not heal and prevents one from being at peace with oneself, and prevents finding peace with those around us.
So I can honestly say today, I do forgive those that masterminded my father’s assassination. One day maybe this truth will also emerge, and the people of this nation will know who killed one of their most beloved sons, and there might be justice.
I would like to talk about something that concerns a greater number of people not just myself and my family.
The general election in a few days – the nation is at a crossroad, a simple decision, and a frightening one.
We go one way towards more brutality and corruption, nepotism and impunity of the worst kind. And the other way towards a stronger democracy, freedom of expression, and more potential for each individual in this country to realize and manifest who we truly are.
This path is defined by the simple, yet complex choices we will make on the 17th of August. If we vote for people who demonstrate good values, who are honest, knowledgeable, visionary and humble, then we may have a chance of strengthening our democracy, and as a result of achieving our potential as human beings, and our potential as a nation.
If we choose the other path, we slide back into an era which has robbed us of so many lives, destroyed so much of the fabric of this young nation. I therefore urge you, in my father’s name, please choose carefully on the 17th. Ultimately each of us has that power to decide which way we go, not only in our own lives, but the life of our nation.
Why is it so important that we have this democracy and that we continue to preserve and strengthen it, when it is at times fragile and weak? Well democracy as we know is not a perfect system, there are many flaws in it, but it is a model, a system that allows us to some extent this essential freedom of expression, this space to manifest our potential.
If nothing else that is the reason we are here on this earth. Each of us has unbounded potential to manifest. I see this every day particularly in the youth of this country, a potential that is waiting, wanting to be expressed, actualized, and sadly, frustratingly, often has no positive outlet. And it is corruption in particular that is preventing this positive expression. Corruption is like a cancer that gradually moves through our body and eventually kills us. Corruption as we know has many forms, many ugly heads, many faces, some visible some not.
My father never told me directly, ‘son this is how it should be’, instead he demonstrated it through his actions in his own life. He was a decent man who had profound convictions and beliefs based on an upbringing in a family where values and principles were often held higher than anything else. He had his faults of course, but who doesn’t? He was decent and tried whenever he could to help others. He tried to do the right thing.
On the day of his funeral I witnessed thousands of people who had come to mourn the loss of a great man, a true son of Sri Lanka, and I could also see they were mourning the loss of a great hope, of a great idea, a seed that exists in every human being.
He set a high example in his professional life, as minister of foreign affairs, in the government of the time. He demonstrated a way of being a politician and a member of parliament, which many today could well do to learn from. He was liked by all across the political divides, because he stood for the best of Sri Lanka, and he deeply loved the land of his birth. He showed like several of his colleagues at that time, that it is possible to be a public servant and not personally profit, or allow his family to profit. And there are still a handful of politicians that demonstrate these values and principles.
My sister and I also tried to demonstrate this, that it is possible to be from a politician’s family and not be nepotistic. We did not have cars or houses or security, we did not have secret bank accounts, or make deals, make money or hold positions, or achieve any form of gain from his position.
I can remember back in 2001 when I was offered a job as advisor to one of the cabinet ministers and I called my father to seek his advice. It was a job I wanted to take because I felt I could make a contribution in my sphere of work. My father said “Rag…I hope you don’t expect anything from me or my position.” And I replied, of course not, I am only calling for your opinion before I decide. And he said, “Good then take it if you feel you can make a contribution.”
What this country desperately needs is parliamentarians who will at the very least not be financially corrupt. It is unacceptable, there is no excuse for it, and the citizens of this country must realize this. We must curtail this form of greed in this country, and it is up to the voters on the 17th of August to send a clear signal to those that claim they are fit to be our representatives, that anyone who intends to continue financial corrupt practices, is not fit for public service.
Honesty and Integrity are the basic qualifications for a candidate. If the person is known to have been corrupt it is like giving a known kleptomaniac the keys to your safe, despite what they may tell you about having become a reformed character. Addictions take a long time to overcome.
Hundreds of millions, thousands of millions, thousands of thousands of millions of rupees have been stolen from our country, stolen from hardworking Sri Lankans. The money has been stolen in so many different ways, many people are not even aware of it. Public projects have cost sometimes double or triple what they normally should have, and it is us citizens that will be paying this bill for decades to come.
I do not see why an individual should be allowed to profit from a position of public service. I do not see why certain families should profit. If my father and his family, and other families of politicians have managed to demonstrate a certain code of conduct, why should it not apply to all? I can tell you from personal experience, it is possible.
How many schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, houses, jobs have been denied to Sri Lankans, robbed by corrupt leaders.
In all our great spiritual traditions corruption is highlighted. Lord Buddha showed us a way out of suffering, so did Jesus Christ, the Prophet and the great Hindu sages and saints.
Sri Lankans, citizens, the silent majority, please awake. Speak up, get up and take back this country from the extremist greedy voice. Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, moderate people of all faiths who live your lives based on values and principles, take back this nation, save it from sliding back in to brutality and corruption.
Do it because it is our land, our individual right.
This would have been my father’s wish, if he had lived to see this day.
*Speech made by Ragi Kadirgamar at the 10th death anniversary remembrance of his father Lakshman Kadirgamar on August 12, 2015, Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, Colombo