I write this fully aware of my privilege. I’m aware of the advantages, and the ease of life that is granted to me simply for being born to a Sinhalese Buddhist family. The moment I step outside of my motherland I am a woman of colour, a minority and I’ve seen the the clear contrast of the life of a majority and a minority; an unpleasant truth people are often scared to discuss, easily shoved under the carpet. I’m aware that you live amidst all kinds of everyday microaggressions and the petty egomaniacle superiority complexes of majoritarians. I can only imagine your anger towards the injustices that many decades of unfair conflict has left you with. I’m aware that crimes were committed against our own people, and I’m ashamed we blindly cheered on while it happened. For my ignorance then, I’m sorry. If by writing to you I’m overstepping, thinking I have a right to speak my mind to you after all that we’ve let happen to you; I’m sorry. But at the end of the day we are both Sri Lankan and we cannot let our parents’ and grandparents’ generation’s mistakes belittle the future we have to rebuild.
Violence is not the way. You must laugh, who am I to say that to you, right? After keeping quiet all this time while we let them violate you, your people and several international humanitarian laws, here I am telling you not to be violent. You’re right to laugh or be angry, I can smell the entitlement in that statement too. I know you’re just a group of students who rightfully share built up resentment against what happened in the past thirty years and the consequences of it that led to certain entitled, privilege-driven actions by the Sinhala students you clashed with. I know that there are many structural injustices that make life difficult for you. That is understood; if I were you I would be angry too. But I say this to you honestly, as someone who knows how sinhalese people think: violence is not the way. In 1983 a few tamils launched Four Four Bravo and killed 12 sinhalese and we retaliated by wiping a good portion of your ethnicity off our map in the next 30 years. This is how we think. In the average extreme Sinhalese mind you are expected to live subservient to us. Like a woman in a domestic violence ridden marriage. The moment you raise a finger towards the sinhalese they feel entitled to raise a hand towards you. A majority of the majority race in sri lanka are programmed to think in ‘us against them’.
This reality is ugly. No matter how many reconciliation offices we set up, cultural concerts we organize with foreign aid lent to stereotype our ethnicities in the most gaudy way possible, this reality doesn’t change. In this maze of injustices what we can do may seem unclear. But from the past we’ve learnt what we most definitely can’t resort to: violence. There are two reasons why I tell you violence is not your answer. One is because it could rekindle old fires; and you and I both know the social and political dynamics at play here, you will lose more that we would. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. For us to resort to violence to solve our problems would be insanity; been there done that. The second reason I believe violence is not your answer is because we need you. You are state university students, a rare species in Sri Lanka. And as the creme dela creme of the Sri Lankan Tamil community, there’s immense responsibility on your shoulders. There’s much that needs to be done to revive and continue the history and legacy of Sri Lankan Tamils; much of which has been destroyed in the past decades. Resorting to violence could take the ability to fulfil this responsibility away from you. You don’t belong on the streets, in hiding or in jail cells, you belong in positions of power: in places you can influence policy. You might sometimes forget that you’re not the only political minority in this country, there are so many others. Take women for instance, although we account for over half of the population we are barely represented in places of power. The country’s policies don’t reflect our needs. There are so many structural injustices deeply entrenched within are our system that violate us constantly. Women get harassed in broad daylight and people turn a blind eye to it. The war against women doesn’t involve shelling, bombs or war tanks, but it most definitely is violent. It happens on the streets, within households and workplaces. Our anger too is quite heavy. But we know violence is not our answer. Remember the one time that a woman bravely responded to catcalling by physically attacking the man who harassed her on the street? (Better known to most as the Wariyapola incident) People turned against the woman instantly. We live in a world with social and political systems rigged against political minorities. People expect political minorities to live subservient to the majority. In today’s society a man who justifies rape to be the fault of a woman gets less backlash than a woman who speaks up against misogyny. But women are slowly changing things. Despite the the structural sexism and male privilege they are patiently making it through state universities (in which they constitute almost 55% of the undergraduates) into places of power where they can influence changes in policy.You might not be able to change the way people think, but by changing policies progressively you may be able to change the way the system works and the way people behave around and within it. Get your degrees, come join the system, and fix it from within: so our children won’t have to see what we have seen. Violence is not the answer.
*Thisuri Wanniarachchi, 22, is the author of nationally acclaimed novels The Terrorist’s Daughter and Colombo Streets. She is Sri Lanka’s youngest State Literary Award winner and the world’s youngest national nominee to the prestigious Iowa International Writers’ Program. She is currently an undergraduate student and full scholar of Bennington College studying Political Economy and Education Reform.