24 September, 2020

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Untapped Potential For Unity And Joint Problem Solving

By Jehan Perera –

Jehan Perera

The inability of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to deliver his speech at the opening session of the Commonwealth Business Council in London last week was a replay of the scuttling of the President’s intention to address the Oxford Union last year.   On that occasion there was strong manifestation of ill feeling and even hatred that apparently intimidated the organizers of the event into cancelling it as the last moment.  There was reason for the government to have been aware of the possibility of disruption on this occasion too.  The organizers would have been aware of the massive protests that the Tamil Diaspora had been able to organize during the last days of the war when they sought international intervention to stop the war.

On the other hand, it is also possible that the President was briefed regarding the risk he was taking, but decided to go ahead with the speech at the Commonwealth Business Council on the basis that on this occasion the President was visiting the United Kingdom on a state visit to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.   By way of contrast, when he went to speak at the Oxford Union, he was going as a private citizen.  It is therefore natural that the members of the Sri Lankan government believed that the British government would take additional precautions against a recurrence of that ugly event.  It was a failure on the part of those tasked with protecting the President from the humiliation of having his speech cancelled at the last minute.

Despite the fact that the President could not deliver his speech at the Commonwealth Business Council he was able to attend the Queen’s official jubilee celebration which was, by far, the more important event.  Members of the Tamil Diaspora were waiting to disrupt his entry into the site of the celebration.  But the President showed flexibility in getting into a British police vehicle rather than seeking entry in his own official limousine which would have been recognizable to the demonstrators.  He did not stand on his dignity and insist on entering the venue in his own vehicle with the Sri Lanka flag flying high.  In doing so, the President showed his pragmatic side which is to do what is necessary to sort out a problem.  Photographs showed the Queen graciously greeting the President.

DIASPORA RELATIONS

The confrontation between the Tamil Diaspora and the President in London may suggest a scale of ill feeling and virulent hatred that will be impossible to heal or transform into constructive relations.  However, the political dimension of this chasm needs to be noted.  It is important not to misinterpret it as the evidence of a war between two nations or a conflict that cannot be transformed. In our own neigbourhood we have only to see how the conflict between the Sikhs and the Indian government that gave rise to similar Diaspora agitation has now been overcome by the resolution of the political dispute within India.

During a recent visit to Jaffna I happened to meet with a Diaspora family at Palali airport.  Our flight back to Colombo had got delayed for a while.  There was a young couple and an older person who seemed to be from the same family.  When I found the name of the young man sounded as if it were Sinhalese I inquired from him where he was born. When he gave his hometown in the Deep South I asked him if he was Sinhalese to which he replied in the affirmative.  He said he lived abroad and had married a Diaspora Tamil and had come to visit her hometown of Jaffna along with her father.  It turned out that the notion we have in Sri Lanka that the Tamil Diaspora is monolithic and anti-Sinhalese is not the only reality.

The young man also informed me that the relationship between the second generation of Tamils and Sinhalese in the Diaspora was not generally a hostile or confrontational one.  He said that in the West, notions of racism and nationalism were not encouraged and this also applied to Tamil and Sinhalese young people who grew up there.  The second generation of the Diaspora has been educated with liberal and universal values. So by and large they interact positively with each other, and even get married to each other.  However, he also said that the one thing that they avoid discussing is the political problem.  The inability to solve the political problem is the failure of politicians, not of civil society.

UNIFYING BASIS

The evidence of positive relations and the desire for such positive relations between the ethnic communities exists both out of Sri Lanka and within it too.  It gives reason for hope that the basis for unity and joint problem-solving exists.  What is lacking is the political leadership that shows the way forward to people.  Most people want to interact with members of other communities and show them that they bear goodwill to them.  They like to prove to themselves and to the world that they are not chauvinist or discriminate against others.  These feelings are strengthened by religious teachings that stress universal values.  No one is an outcaste by birth, remember you were once strangers in the land, the world is one family are some of those teachings that echo in the consciousness of the masses of Sri Lankan people.

Two years ago I was part of a small team of less than ten persons who began to set up inter religious groups in twelve districts of the country, half in the north and east, and half of them in other districts.  It was slow and hard work at the beginning.  We did not know the religious clergy in many of the districts and they did not know us, and so it was difficult to get them to come for meetings and to commit their precious time when their own religious duties took up so much of their time.  It was discouraging to travel for hours to a distant district and find that only a handful had turned up for the meeting.  But soon the value of those meetings spread by word of mouth.  The religious clergy in a district who knew of each other, but had never had an opportunity to spend time with one another, now found that opportunity and began to value it.

Two years later there is a great deal of work that these inter religious groups have done together to improve their understanding of one another and of their religions.  They have begun to understand the nature of the political problems that separates the ethnic communities and makes their political leaders see each other as opponents instead of as partners.  So far the mutual acts of good will and assistance are at the micro level.  Civil society groups which are usually small, and with limited resources, tend to act at the micro level.  But they give a hint of what a more powerful entity, such as the government, could do at the macro level if it has the desire to be an agent of change.  Governments have the capacity to act at the macro level in a way that civil society groups do not have.

HOPEFUL STORIES

Among the many stories of change that come from the two years of work, two of them stand out.  In one case the army decided to move out of a high security zone.  But when they withdrew, they were to leave behind a Buddhist shrine at which the soldiers had worshipped.  There were concerns amongst the returning Tamil community that with the passage of time the shrine would be neglected, the jungle would overrun it, and that it may even be vandalized, as there was going to be no more Buddhists left to look after the shrine once the army withdrew.  They feared that this could lead to misunderstanding and problems in the future.  So the inter religious group met with the army commander of the area and explained the problem to him.  The Buddhist monk in that group took the lead in this.  The result was that the army agreed to take the shrine away with them when they withdrew.

A second example of a helpful intervention was during the scare caused by the so-called Grease Devils.  In one area there was a major confrontation between the military and civilians.  The inter-religious committee went as a delegation to the hospital where many civilians lay injured to sympathise with them.  In addition the Buddhist monk amongst them who had good connections with the government and with the military took the matter up with senior officials to ensure that the problem did not escalate any further.   The third example is the manner in which the inter-religious representatives of the twelve districts negotiated with each other regarding a statement that they wished to present to the entire group.  They were conscious of both the need to be truthful with regard to their aspirations, as well as to temper what they said so that the entire group could accept it.  Once again they showed, on a micro level, what is necessary to be done at the macro level by the large political actors.

Where the basic relationship is positive and there is willingness to deepen it, leadership can make a huge difference.  Prior to our working with them, the religious clergy of different religions did not really work together, even though they knew of each other and bore no ill will towards each other.  The missing element was leadership to bring them together and to keep them together.  If small civil society organizations with so little power can achieve positive results on the ground in overcoming ethnic differences, we can only imagine what a government that gives leadership to inter-community reconciliation can achieve.  In London, President Mahinda Rajapaksa showed pragmatism in getting into a British police vehicle to ensure that he achieved his objective of participating in the Queen’s jubilee celebration.   If he shows this same pragmatism in providing leadership to overcome the ethnic conflict, the people will surely rally around him to ensure that he achieves this great objective of winning the peace after winning the war.

 

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Latest comments

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    Thanks for this – the fact of the matter is that Sri Lanka is cursed by it politicians – From Rajapakse to Ranil to Hakeem to Sambandan. They play the ethnic card to stay in power.
    This generation of politicians who have got used to playing the ethnic card to win votes and are corrupt to the hilt, and their hate-filled juniors like Weerawansa and their sons and daughters must be gotten rid of for reconciliation to become a reality in Lanka.
    Sri Lanka needs a new and visionary younger generation of politicians to be the change!

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    The problem is not the age – young politicians as much as young lawyers or young doctors are as money grabbing as their elders or worse!

    The problem is the lack of principle. And yes, I agree on the lack of vision.

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    The curse of Lanka will not disappear. It’s part and parcel of this paradise isle. The ghosts of the dead for centuries maketh this cursed island. The continuation of wars in this small country for generations had not created peace and prosperity instead vile hatredness grows out of proportion. Peace where ? One should ask.

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    Dear chokoholic,
    The curse of this country was enhanced by the passing of the 18th amendment which has made the president,a virtual dictater.
    This was done with the help of those who ‘crossed over’ deserting those who voted for them.
    It takes very strong willpower to give up ones lifestyle which is maintained/propped up by willing fawning underlings who feed on the crumbs off the table.
    Now the LLRC is slowly being shunted into oblivion,by a quite unnecessary Parliamentry Select Committee.

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    The president got the choice.He has to make some genuine decisions today for a better tomorrow for all the citizens of Sri-Lanka.As stated in the ”Mahinda Chintanaya” he should abolish the executive presidency to start with.He should get rid of all these opportunistic politicos who don’t give a damn about the people or the country .(All the U.N.P crossover gang).There are Genuine People in the U.N.P like Harsha de Silava,Wijedasa Rajapakse.(By the way I am not a U.N.P. supporter).The president can invite anyone who wants to make a genuine contribution to the country.(May be a unity government).The time is ticking.The question is will the president has the wisdom to make some bold decisions ???????????????????

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    Thanks Jehan,

    All the promises and compromises made before and during the war just to expand the anti LTTE faction, were just ignored and the Tamil parties and grouphs who supported MR regime chages their position one by one

    All of them know they were cheated and misused and they are disappointed, some speaks out and some changes their position like PLOTE Sitharthan. The price they paid is huge. The are the traitors of Tamil struggle

    You can see the justice of the winner. There is no discussion about a sustainable political solution

    People like Dayan talks about Sampanthan and not ready to do the
    analysis in his own row and he redirects the public opinion

    During JR, Athulathmudali & co period there were a Sinhalese and a Tamil faction, in between we have a GoSL and a anti GoSL factions, independant from our ethnic affiliation

    There are people ready to risk everything from both sides. In Diaspora you see plenty of mixed couples and marriages as you have seen in Palali.

    LTTE diaspora started talking to parties in their host countries, which never happened before.

    This is a real development in our society

    All the terms we used in past like grassroots level and mass struggle begins to develope

    Thanks MR & Co, you help us a lot to unite and to form a united 3rd power!

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    Jehan has got it all wrong, but he has undoubtedly good intentions. The diaspora will agitate until there is justice for those who were murdered, the number itself is in doubt due to the cunning ways of the government and military trying to cover up for the past 4 years.
    Whether it is 40,000, 100,000, 146,679 as Bishop Rajappu testified at the Silva Commission, or it is just 7,400 as Colonel Gotabaya Rajapakse declares after 3 years, which includes the LTTE cadres who died in the fighting and surrendering with the white flag process, natural deaths, snake bites as per Rajeeva Wijesinghe’s false testimony, and those who were supposedly killed by the LTTE while escaping to their so called liberators the SLA.
    The Tamils also want closure, and for that purpose they want and will continue to demand an independent, international investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    Tamils also demand that the bones of the dead to be returned, and the area that the Tamils were massacred as sacred soil. They do not need freaking Buddhist Temples, and statues or memorials for the Sinhala buddhist soldiers who also used chemical weapons, cluster bombs and white phosphorus to kill the Tamils, and used Chinese incinerators to burn the bodies like wild animals.

    The same soldiers were guilty of rape, torture and other war crimes desecrating dead Tamil girls. What a disgrace to Sri Lanka and Buddhism.

    Whether Rajapakse was practical and pragmatic riding like a Bayagullah in a British Police vehicle (Range Rover) without Sri Lankan flag, is not an issue.

    Nor is the marriage of a few Tamil girls to Sinhalese men, for whatever reason, such as caste, religion, financial or pure love is not an issue. There are 1 million Tamils in the diaspora and it is natural that such marriages takes place. But as one observes that the Tamils have not given up on their homeland, heritage and culture and all cannot be politically strong in public. Tamils also do not have hatred towards the Sinhalese, and despite their strong patriotic positions to their homeland and people, they socialize with a few good Sinhalese. I can speak for myself. There is not a single day that I do not speak on the phone to a Sinhalese either in Sri Lanka, US, or UK. That does not mean there is reconciliation, or as a Tamil I have forgiven and forgotten the war crimes committed under the leadership of the Rajakases and Fonseka. Yes, Fonseka is also in the same boat as Rajapakses and has not been excused just because he contested the Presidential elections against Mahinda Rajapakse.

    The LTTE Police Chief Nadesan from VVT and a cousin of VP also was married to a Sinhalese from Matara. And FYI the mother of my two children who are in their twenties, and who live with me is a Sinhalese from Colpetty. Tamil agitation is all about accountability, Justice and Truth, and I can guarantee that the resolve and the resoluteness of the Tamil youth will not reduce, in the coming years until Tamils satisfy their aspirations. Sinhalese, if they want to live in peace and prosperity in that island need to decide how they want to resolve this problem in a fair and just manner, like they resolved the “So called Grease Devils” issue, by locking their own demons aka Grease Devils inside the military camps. (Will write more on that subject).

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    The memorials for the 20,000 Sinhala soldiers who dies over 30 years can and should be built in Gampaha and Hambantota districts as well as in every town they came from, to remind the Sinhalese the futility of war, oppression, repression, and suppression of a minority.

    Discrimination and ill treatment does not work or make the majority prosper in the long run.

    The GOSL should allow the Tamils to mourn their dead, and allow them to bury the dead in the mass graves of Mullivaikkal soil. That is the cemetry for the Tamils, and the curses of the dead spirits will be floating and haunting the killers in the whole island. The diaspora has no control of those spirits or the bad karma that follows. Just ask General Fonseka about it or even the King.

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    We have to have the changing or shifting our policy into pre-UNP 1977 era.
    In 1977 regime of UNP overall policy had been badly undermine of secular foundation of democarcy in our society.Divided Nation had been created by of so-called ethnic antagonomism of Sinhalese versus Tamils;the cause of several anti-Tamil immoral roits since 1977,79,81 and 1983 deeply infiltrate roots of Ethani communities,then develop into contradication among two nationalities.
    Its leads into war,the result of war nation internally and internationlly divided.To be rectify policy of Pre 1977 regime of incorrigible & anti-social not an easy task at all.
    We have to address (urgently) root cause of confilcts,seek new set of policy of solution withing the MAHATMA GANDI’S VISION OF non-vilonce path and SPIRIT OF SWADESHI concept.
    Well maintain and blance between of Sovereginity and Democarcy; terrorial interigrity and secessionism; as well as indepandence and Rights of all forms of Sri lanka.
    This will build harmoney of ethanic social forces and address war reveanges damage of Human and property of thirty years of violence and remedies of WAR.TO build trusteeship between all ethanic forces inside and outside the island is urgent task.
    We want braod delebration and consensus to overcome damage in past our island.Our people were still living in poverty.We had to eliminate poverty and backwardness and speedly develop economy and demonstrate our sincerity of superiority of democacy.
    We have bring the initative our all ethanic forces into full play.Gurantee Human Rights and developemt two aspects our policy should be.We are still behind of Industies Agriculure, science and techonology.We need an open policy slove unlike other countries;level of devepoement and satge of Capitalism in pre- satge, ongoing term of path of ecomony still lagging behind, progress is concern.
    Shifting new set policy makers young or old should not attack on personl ground of regime on ruling power but give priority policy matters address the reality of problems.

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    Please above article correct Pre-UNP 1977 and as a Post-UNP in 1977.

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    Hi Gnanakone you touched the subject I have highlighted earlier thanks. It’s true that freed FONI got his come uppence and still receiving it from lord Buddha . That is what in terms of karma what goes round comes round whether you’re a king of the castle or a servant of the castle. All are equal when it comes to pay the price for wickedness. The curse of the WONDER OF ASIA may never be cured.

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      @Chocoholic. Agreed. Thanks.
      As far as Sri Lanka is concerned it needs the good will of the Tamil diaspora to prosper and have peace. They cannot live in perpetual conflict like Israel. At least Israel has USA to back it up.
      Sri Lanka has China to suck the money with fraudulent contracts and high interest rates. In return for high commissions and high cost.
      How stupid?

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    You are writing about ” a scale of ill feeling and virulent hatred that will be impossible to heal or transform into constructive relations”.
    Sri Lanka does not need any kind of LTTE minded Tamil Diaspora. They will never care or come to Sri Lanka to live.They love to live under
    colonial masters as slaves. So jehan, Dont write bullshit. I am a Sri lankan born Tamil and one day I will go back to SL and live. Thanks for President Rajapaksha for vipe out the LTTE.

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    Good article, great intention, thank you Jehan. Wounds are so deep ,politicians and religious leaders have done that. Now they have a duty to show the leadership, otherwise people are going to suffer more.In order to unite the country we have to get rid of the old idealogy and accept people without any discrimination, religion, ethnicity, gender or phsical ablity should not play a role. There is a black president in the United States, our neighbour India has a sikh prime minister we don’t have to go that far our last king was a Tamil.

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    As long as the chanting goes on in Srilanka it will stay as a country with the history ENTWINED with the word of KILLING FIELDS of SRILANKA.

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