18 December, 2017

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The Day Of Commemoration For The Disappeared – May God Save Us From Madness

By Basil Fernando

Basil Fernando

On 27 October, about 400 persons from the north and south, most of whom are family members of disappeared persons, gathered at the Monument for the Disappeared at Raddaluwa, Seeduwa. Like the gatherings in previous years, this year’s too was a very sad spectacle to watch. Several of the persons carried flowers or a candle to place before their loved ones, whose photographs are set in the marble of the monument.

There are many disappeared family members whose photographs have not yet been displayed, though all the participants find affinity in each other’s acts of respect for their lost loved ones.

This is not, however, just a commemoration of the dead. What binds these people together is the wounds they carry, not only of their losses but also of the hurt that comes from those acts of cruelty being committed by agents of the state. Perhaps the most wounded people among all Sri Lankans are the family members of the disappeared. Their suffering is so complex because they have been denied any kind of explanation of what might have happened to their lost family members. The most elementary courtesies that the state extends even in the most difficult circumstances are not extended to them.

The public message from the state is that it will not in any way respond to these persons. Some regret may be expressed privately but, for all official purposes, the policy is one of complete denial. Not only were the disappearances conducted in a secret manner but the state wants all information about them to remain a secret forever.

Appointment of “commissions” for cosmetic reasons only add insult to injury.

The family members cannot erase their memories. However, the state wants them to live as if they have lost their memory about their disappeared loved ones. To have a vivid memory and to live as if one does not have memories is impossible unless one goes mad.

It is not only the families of the disappeared who are supposed to lose the memory of their loss; the entire nation is being asked to do so by the state. The state justifies it under a policy which says that to deal with issues such as enforced disappearances will ‘reopen old wounds’. This is now proclaimed almost as dogma and considered a condition of being loyal to the state. The loyalty demands that Sri Lankans as a whole should lose their memory of the disappearances. Again, in the case of individuals (as well as collectively) it is impossible to abandon one’s memory except when one loses one’s mind altogether. The state policy of not opening the ‘old wounds’ presupposes that the people, even if they are not insane, should at least behave as if they were.

‘Reopening old wounds’ is itself a senseless phrase. The memories of the families of disappeared persons, like for anyone else who suffers from a serious grievance, do not grow old. The mere passing of days or even years does not make an internal wound old. In any case, if a wound does not heal it means that it is festering. An old wound, therefore, is worse than a fresh one. You can close an old wound only at your own peril. Therefore, the policy expressed in the words of closing an old wound is itself an absurdity.

All human relationships need to be bound through moral, ethical and legal connections. If order and sanity are to prevail within a community, the state in its relationship with the people has to formulate its policies in terms of these moral, ethical and legal bonds. This simple principle applies also, and even more so, in the case of an acute human problem such as the causing of disappearances. If the state itself wishes to ignore these moral, ethical and legal obligations towards it own people, who accuse it of having wronged them, there are then very fundamental moral, ethical and legal problems.

Solzhenitsyn, one of the great writers who reflected on such problems in his own society (Russia under Joseph Stalin), wrote a profound poem entitled God prevent me from going mad. In this poem he reflects on the long prison sentence he was suffering through no fault of his own but due to the fault of the political system he was living under. The only way by which he could remain sane was by memorizing the experiences that he had been exposed to. He began to fear the loss of his memory and the only thing that kept him sane was memory. The title of the poem, God prevent me from going mad, reflects this profound problem.

The Sri Lankans who have memories of the disappeared persons (and also the whole nation, which is aware of the problem of disappearances) keep their loyalties to their moral, ethical and legal codes only by retaining this memory until such time as when, by way of a proper response, the state, which caused the problem, takes steps towards reconciliation. Merely appointing commissions that are unable to convince the people of any credible intentions of the state only add insult to injury.  As long as the state itself becomes the opponent to such reconciliation, the people are exposed to a similar experience as that expressed by Solzhenitsyn.

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    most of them are traitors now living in western countries…..rest who failed to get visa to western countries must have got visa to hell

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    Thank goodness Chandragupta Thenuwara’s Monument for the “Disappeared” has survived the depredations of a callous state. Shockingly, the other Monument to the “Disappeared” created during Chandrika’s government (& strongly supported by Mangala Samarasinghe), not far from the entrance to Parliament, was demolished on the orders of the Defence Secretary. It was quite an extraordinary concept, conceived & brought to “life” by artist & archaeologist Jagath Weerasinghe – a “buried” treasure/body in a tumulus, incorporating architecture, sculpture, writing in prose & poetry, engraved on slabs of clay embedded in the walls of the open-to-the-sky enclosure. I attended its opening, at which relatives of the “disappeared” came from various places, but also took friends & visitors to experience its special atmosphere on many occasions. The wellknown South African freedom fighter & Judge, Albie Sachs (who lost one arm to a car bomb, which blew as he opened its door) was very impressed & moved by the whole concept. “It is just the sort of thing I would like us to have in South Africa,” he told me.

    I wonder what he would have said had he known that it was subsequently demolished on the order of the Defence Secretary (whether for purposes of land acquisition, a current trend under which nothing & no one is sacred or safe anymore, or because parliamentarians on their way to perform in our temple of democracy, felt accused every time they passed the monument, I do not know). Apparently, Jagath was offered another site to ressurect his work. Only the most extreme Philistine would consider such a thing possible. Naturally, he turned the offer down. The location was crucial to the concept.

    The “disappeared”, “disappeared” once again, doubly buried, doubly dishonoured.

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    Basil people of your courage are far and few. Most suck up to this regime which is a confirmed dictatorship. Our prayers should be with these 400 families. Each day they live in hope but as the day fades away and night falls the sadness must surely engulf their hearts. I am believer that there is a god who serves justice. When he begins to turn the wheel no power however high and mighty he may be can stop the wrath of god. Gadaffi and his son’s never dreamt in their wildest dreams that their day of reckoning will come. It came faster than they expected and friends of Gadaffi beware that every tear every sigh of grief and sadness that these families bear will be upon you and your family. Enjoy your short lived glory and the party that you think will last forever. When the wheel of gods wrath begins to grind you will not be spared and those who you have given pain will reach closure of their grief by witnessing how justice is being served on you.

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    Oi Basil! Don’t worry machan we sinhala buddhists do not go mad for small things like this. We are doing it no? See Dayan does the planning and all no. He has made the DJ National security doctrine for Sri Lanka you know no? Like the Indira Gandhi doctrine for India? Good chap no? And he has Wimal like Indira had Prabakaran! Wimal is barking and pissing all over the place no? Very ferocious, will kill all the tamils in Wellawatta. Will send all the Tamils to India. India is shivering at his mighty roar. And then he has the BBS with its BBs and ONE MILLION chinese guns each with ONE bullet to kill ONE Indian Tamil only. All very carefully budgeted and all that and the cash from the world bank will be forthcoming no? These world bank people are all on our side now. They love the roads we are building and the harbors and the airports. World Bank loves infrastructure, built infrastructure, and so they are now going to break everything and build reilience no?

    But must keep an eye on the Indians. They may offer to break it all up for cheap with their borrowed american drones from madurai and the bloody world bank may give them the demolition contract so that they can build resilience with all the american companies coming in to sit here and manufacture in India – sin no so many unemployed and shitting all over the place no? – and ship from Sri Lanka. From the HAM ban TOT.

    So all these disappeared and all is small problem machan. Shape machan Shape. Why dont you come here from Hong Kong or wherever you are? Its ok machan we understand they are paying you in dollars but we can also pay you right? Ok? Come home and be with us. Let the disappeared go. Like in Indonesia no? World bank will help to smooth over all that. So shall we say 7500 US$ per month? You like a car also? What about a housemaid better than that phillipino one you had before. Home things always taste better no? You like to stand for elections in Negombo? We can arrange that too, maybe fisheries minister? How? Good? So come boy come!

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    I hope and pray all separatists disappear.

    Ameen.

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    Basil, I salute the efforts that you and others are making to give succour and comfort to those who are grieving the disappearance of a loved one – the worst fate that can befall any of us; hope suspended and closure denied. This is a damning blot on our people regardless of race or religion, pain in universal and grieving for a disappeared loved one eternal. My prayers are for those who suffer this wrenching fate.

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    Mr.Fernando,

    The Sri Lankans who have memories of the disappeared persons (and also the whole nation, which is aware of the problem of disappearances) keep their loyalties to their moral, ethical and legal codes only by retaining this memory until such time as when, by way of a proper response, the state, which caused the problem, takes steps towards reconciliation. Merely appointing commissions that are unable to convince the people of any credible intentions of the state only add insult to injury. As long as the state itself becomes the opponent to such reconciliation, the people are exposed to a similar experience as that expressed by Solzhenitsyn.

    The Sri Lankan State is in Complete denial of the War Crimes and this has been made possible because of Indias role in the cover up. But things are beginning to change through a combination of factors. Mr.Chithamparams call for an inquiry into the brutal killing of Isapiriya is just the beginning and real change will come after March 2014.
    We Tamils cannot move on until we see MR and his cronies at the HAGUE which will happen no doubt. Everything else is secondary to us and no amount of money will give us that sense of relief.

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