By Malinda Seneviratne –
Those who lecture Sri Lanka on what is best for the country and the people, claim that accountability and justice are necessary and non-negotiable preconditions for reconciliation. Never mind their moral authority to pontificate there is truth in this position. ‘Forgive-and-forget’ is easy to say but hard to obtain. It is the same for the aggrieved, whether grief arrived in May 2009 or somewhere in the mid-eighties for the simple reason that some sorrows can only be laid to rest with any degree of finality with the death of the sorrowing.
In short, there are no shortcuts in the matter of ‘closure’. There can be no selectivity, not of community, not within community and not in terms of week, month, year or decade. Complete closure, as mentioned, will only come with death. This side of death, there are things that help and things that detract.
Leaving aside the legality of the matter and punishment warranted if infringement is determined, S. Sritharan did not help when he did his ‘Mahaveer’ number in Parliament, calling Velupillai Prabhakaran a national hero. It is hard to understand how a man who ordered hundreds of Tamils to be killed, abducted and conscripted thousands of little children to carry out terrorist activities and held some 300,000 civilians hostage could be hero to Tamil people, never mind the death, destruction, dismemberment and displacement invited and engineered by the man’s preferred strategies.
The leadership of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was quick to distance itself from Sritharan’s position. Party Leader R. Sampanthan, however, has skirted around the vexed question of hero-credentials, offering ‘the man is dead’. If the fact of death is itself a conversation stopper than the TNA (and Sri Lanka’s detractors in the international community) can drop all talk of investigation, accountability and justice. TNA MP Sumanthiran did no better when he chided Government MPs for not stopping Sritharan. Surely, he knows that charity begins at home? He could have himself intervened. Both leave us wondering whether they have a ‘public story’ or a ‘Colombo story’ about Prabhakaran as well as a private (Beyond-Vavuniya) narrative. Sritharan, in this aspect, appears more honest.
If reconciliation is predicated on accountability and justice then the TNA and other one-time apologists for the LTTE who even now squirm and wriggle when questioned about Prabhakaran would have to turn searchlight inwards. Even if they don’t they cannot stop the questions being asked. This is because reconciliation is a two-way street. They can’t point finger without applauding the Government for saving more than 300,000 Tamils held hostage by Prabhakaran. They could ask Murali Reddy, embedded journalist during the last stages, what he saw and wrote at the time, if they still have doubts.
All this indicates the amount of acrimony and distrust that still exists or else the pernicious readiness to pretend to be acrimonious and distrustful. That’s Cameronesque politicking. The TNA can do better if only because all things taken into account they belong to a community of largely gentle disposition that can draw from a refined, accommodating and generous culture.
If the TNA needs inspiration at this point, UNP National List MP R Yogarajan’s observations on the issue of commemoration would suffice. Yogarajan said, ‘Both parties should commemorate war heroes together’. One can dispute the suitability of the term ‘hero’ of course. One can argue about what the term ‘parties’ means here. Everyone, however, can commemorate the dead for that’s ‘common ground’, ‘heroism’ being a contentious word that could revive old animosities.
Yogarajan, when heckled by Government MPs, also said, ‘Let’s change the date if you don’t want to commemorate on November 26th which was fixed by the LTTE’. He was essentially saying that it is not profitable to get embroiled over ‘best day to commemorate,’ implying rather that what is important is the act of commemorating together. Yes, the key word is ‘together’. We can, after all, drop all labels and keep ‘citizen’ and therefore ‘fellow-citizen’ intact.
We could theoretically argue until we are dead and (therefore) done about accountability, justice and the best pathways to reconcile, but nothing stops us from opting to do the little things that can heal.
The TNA, perhaps for reasons of political expedience, may not have ears for the likes of Yogarajan. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, however, has no reason to object. Indeed, as head of state, he is better positioned to take the lead here. It will not get us to ‘Reconciliation’, sure, but it will get us out of hatred and suspicion. That would be a big step.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com