1 October, 2020

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What Is The Scope Of National Reconciliation?

By R.M.B Senanayake –

R.M.B. Senanayake

R.M.B. Senanayake

People including scholars are talking about National Reconciliation in Sri Lanka. They are blindly following the Transitional Justice model proposed by western scholars to deal generally with post conflict situations. They say former enemies may have a long history of violence between them and may find themselves faced with the challenge of implementing a new negotiated structure for the future management of their differences. They then argue that one of the biggest obstacles to such future cooperation is that, because of the violence of the past, their relations are based on antagonism, distrust, disrespect, hurt and hatred. But how true is this in the case of the Sri Lankan context.

But what I noticed even during the long war was that there was little or no personal animosity by the Sinhalese to the Tamils in the South. I am not sure about the border villages but leaving them out I think there was no mutual animosity between the ordinary Sinhalese and the Tamils. During the 1983 riots many Sinhalese befriended Tamils. Similarly there is no personal hatred towards the Sinhalese among the Tamils. But the models of transitional justice postulated by western scholars take such animosity and the need for reconciliation for granted. One of the biggest obstacles to resolution of the problem they say is the violence of the past, when their relations were based on antagonism, distrust, disrespect  hurt and hatred.

But right from 1956 the Tamil campaign against ‘Sinhala only’  was opposed with violence mainly by mobs commissioned by interested politicians . They were not a spontaneous outburst of anger by the ordinary Sinhalese against the Tamil politicians . The situation changed after the LTTE emerged with war and violence. Even then  Tamils lived among the Sinhalese in the South and several Tamils from the North took refuge in Colombo to escape the extortion and demands of the LTTE.

So here in Sri Lanka, despite both communities having suffered severely during the war, my impression is that except in border areas and with the army, the Tamil people are not having personal animosity towards the Sinhalese as such.

But no one can miss the hostility of the Tamil Diaspora but that is not directed against  the Sinhala people at large but to the Regime in power. They have leveled incredible allegations of crimes during the last stages of the war committed by the present regime. These allegations have been denied by the authorities. But they will not just go away.  They have appeared and re-appeared in the international media. In fairness to the UN it has been urging the regime to hold a domestic inquiry where all crimes can be investigated. Even during the war the Penal Code is not repealed for the police and the Army  and those who murdered the three university students and the 17 Aid workers should have been  brought to justice, since they were not part of the war.

So it is natural that the Tamil Diaspora and the present regime hate each other. But human beings being what they are, such animosity and hatred tends to be projected to those of the same kind. So the Regime doesn’t trust the Tamil National Alliance and will not allow it the space to function as a democratic political force. Similar actions in the past by Sinhala governments led to the failure of the Tamil democratic parties and their replacement by the LTTE which believed that there was no solution except Eelam and that it was to be obtained through armed struggle only. So the problem as I see it is  not the need for national reconciliation but the need for reconciliation by the Regime with the Tamil Diaspora and the Tamil political leadership. Can such reconciliation take place when the Diaspora is making allegations of crimes and brutalities in the last stage of the war in violation of the Laws of War? It was worth a try.

So the need for reconciliation is not between the Sinhala and the Tamil people but between the present regime, the Tamil Diaspora  and the Tamil political leadership. Into the fray of course the LTTE remnant seems also to be seeking to enter and  reassert itself. There have been no discussions between the present regime and the Tamil Diaspora. Nor have there been discussions about the allegations of crimes during the last stage of the war been discussed with the TNA. Time seems to be running out for the UN HCR is expected to name their Commission.

Although the need for national reconciliation between the Sinhala and Tamil people may not be a pressing issue now, it may assume importance if the allegations of crimes during the war are proved. It will be difficult for any people to forgive or forget if such brutal crimes as alleged were in fact committed against their kith and kin. It is then that the need for national reconciliation will arise. As it is the Tamil people know that the LTTE committed heinous crimes against innocent Sinhalese and do not condone it and seem willing to let bygones be bygones.. But the attitude may change if they realize that the regime has actually acted brutally and in uncivilized ways. This sort of reaction took place in the Turkish Empire. There were riots and uprisings against the Turkish rule during the days of the Turkish Empire. The Greeks revolted and they were brutally suppressed. The Armenians, who sided the Russians during the First World War, were massacred but to this day the Turks deny it. But Europe was horrified and accepted the claim for secession from the Turks by the ethnic and religious minorities si8nce they assumed that such barbarism was second nature to the Turks. The minorities included the Arabs of the Middle East who also revolted. They were all crushed with the same brute force. But it sealed the fate of the Turkish Empire.

In the 1980s, an armed insurgency of the Kurds challenged the Turkish state, which responded with martial law. The Kurds were scattered in several Arab states like Iraq, Syria and Iran  After the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi Kurds were protected against the armies of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein by NATO-enforced no fly zones, allowing them considerable autonomy and self-government without the control of the Iraqi central government. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Kurdistan became an autonomous region, enjoying a great measure of self-governance but stopping short of full independence.

So if the crimes during the war are somehow proved to the satisfaction of the UN there will arise a need for National Reconciliation. The Tamil people  will have to decide then whether despite the proved  brutality  ( if proved) with which the regime is alleged to have prosecuted the war, whether they would consider being part of the same State or not. They of course cannot forget the similar or worse brutality of the LTTE. It is then that the need for national reconciliation will arise. Will there be a demand from the UN by the Tamil Diaspora to carry out its responsibility to protect?

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    Finally, someone who does not sugar coat the racism and intentional ignorance of both the Tamils who are silent on atrocities committed by the LTTE and other Tamil paramilitaries, and on the Sinhalese who did not speak up for the civilian victims of the SLA and the state-sponsored thugs and paramilitaries.

    I still think that the majority of both Tamils and Sinhalese CAN live in peace with each other, as exemplified in the integrated neighborhoods of the Western province. The question is how to boost the voices of moderation and objective and rational thinking, and mute or overwhelm those of the nationalistic, racist and secessionists?

    The key is the fear psychosis – that BOTH Tamils and Sinhalese – suffer from. They’ve had and continue to have good reason for this fear. So any talk of reconciliation needs to address the causes of these fears and work to eradicate them.

    Buddhism provides us all with some advice on the dangers of harbouring hatred:

    Dhammapada Verses 3 and 4

    Tissatthera Vatthu

    Akkocchi mam avadhi mam
    ajini mam ahasi me
    ye ca tam upanayhanti
    veram tesam na sammati.

    Akkocchi mam avadhi mam
    ajini mam ahasi me
    ye ca tam nupanayhanti
    veram tesupasammati.

    Verse 3: “He abused me, he ill-treated me, he got the better of me, he stole my belongings;”… the enmity of those harbouring such thoughts cannot be appeased.

    Verse 4: “He abused me, he ill-treated me, he got the better of me, he stole my belongings;”… the enmity of those not harbouring such thoughts can be appeased.

  • 1
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    As usual the learned and articulate RMBS raises some interesting questions. I am somewhat discouraged at the lack of response from the audience – particularly those regular readers who generally display liberal inclinations.

    “…. the need for reconciliation is not between the Sinhala and the Tamil people but between the present regime, the Tamil Diaspora and the Tamil political leadership…” I think people on both sides come within 2 groupings- one the more educated who are more accommodative coming from the more elitist of society. This category, that is generally 50 years and over, is ready to forget the blood-letting of the past, blaming both sides, and is ready to give togetherness another try. Then there is the younger on both sides of the ethnic divide – not exposed to the secular culture that held sway till the 1960s – who see the other as “the enemy” and the source of all their horror. They want a total break.

    “…The Tamil people will have to decide then whether despite the proved brutality (if proved) with which the regime is alleged to have prosecuted the war, whether they would consider being part of the same..” I have Jewish friends in Germany, Poland and other parts of Europe – areas that provided much of the fodder for Auschwitz, Belsen and other camps. They have since chosen to forget and have built happier lives in what was hostile territory during WW2. Yet they remember the horror and the many close relatives who perished in the cold of the Concentration camps and honour their memories annually. The German Govt and people gathered up the decency to apologise and hold themselves responsible – as CBK did in our times. There have been many inter-marriages and narrowing of differences in Europe since then.

    Can this encouraging culture and sense of forgetting the past and starting anew possible here. Going back to the European example one must say today’s Jews have no reason to fear the brown shirts in their streets today. Whereas it is different here today.

    It will be good to hear more readers commenting on a vital subject our good friend RMBS has started. It is so relevant and important for a national discourse.

    R. Varathan

  • 0
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    “Sinhala Only” began in the ONLY Sinhala country in the world. Tamils did not want that.

    While Tamils are against even for Hindi and love English in Indian Tamilnadu.

    Tamil Racism still unaddressed.

  • 0
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    JimSofty

    You sound like you are in pain and lonely.

    Please let us know if we can help you.

  • 0
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    Varathan

    I agree with share your disappointment at the dearth of comments to this article – perhaps that’s an indication of how polarized the majority of the commentators are on this site.

    FYI: I am 41 years old and was a 10 year-old in 83. But I did live in peace in a suburban Colombo neighborhood (not in the city) that was multi-religious and multi-ethnic (albeit less than it had been prior to the late-70s).

    I find that some neighborhoods in the suburbs are once again becoming more diverse – even the outlying town of the Colombo district that my grandfather was from has become multi-ethnic and religious.

    So I feel that there is hope.

  • 0
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    Mr. Senanayake has highlighted something I have been pointing out for a long time. The Sinhala people have not generally voted for the governments they elect on the basis of their anti-Tamil sentiments. Both the Sinhalese and Tamils are ‘ Anney Pow/ Aiyo Paavam’ ( oh! It is a sin) people who will not intentionally harm others. What the thugs and terrorists on either side do cannot be attributed to the communities they come from.

    The Sinhalese as a people have many problems that need to be solved by the governments they elect, which would require effective planning and consistent effort. However, successive governments have attempted to offer sops to the Sinhalese by depriving the minorities of what is legitimately theirs as citizens. This has been true on the language, education, employment and development fronts. The majority and minority communities within Sri Lanka have shared and exclusive grievances as a result. This unity, transcends their diversity, as are also quite evident in the languages they speak, religions they profess and the cultures they live.

    We have chosen to ignore the fact that MR did not get the majority he was expecting at the post-war presidential and parliamentary elections. The victory at the war and the triumphalism of the government did not translate into votes as expected. He cobbled together a two third majority in parliament by stealing MPs from opposition parties, through methods we can quite obviously guess. The electoral, campaigning and voting systems has been manipulated and abused to such an extent that they no longer reflect popular opinion. This rot started with JR and has become a curse under MR.

    It is only the governments that have to be blamed for the situation on the communal front. Even when the war with the LTTE was at its crescendo ( 1990s ) I have heard the Sinhala political elite expressing their jealousy at the success of the Muslim community. This has in the post-war period translated into the anti-Muslim crusade spearheaded by the BBS and benignly tolerated by this government.

    Do the Sinhalese at large share these sentiments? No.

    Whenever I have been referring to reconciliation, it has been about accepting the Tamils as equal citizens and recognising their communal rights by the governments in Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese and Tamils have been reconciled from even before the time of Dutugemunu and Elara. These two – one an aspirant and the other a reigning King- were fighting over territory and sacrificed thousands of innocent Sinhalese and Tamil lives in the process. Tamils also fought for Dutugemunu and Sinhalese fought also for Elara!

    It is time we identified the cause of the foul smell in the broth. It is the political system and politicians in Sri Lanka, that in combination produce the governments we tragically beget.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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    I suppose when it comes to which devil does one choose – the LTTE or MR Regime,the Tamils may forgive VP and his actions – which were after all a part of his “Governance” as opposed to a so-called democratically elected State and its war-without-witnesses. The post-war attitude of MR Bros should also be taken into consideration which apparently has a hidden agenda, based on the war being won and all issues thereby ended?

    The diaspora has been repeatedly rubbed as the latest act of banning them
    under a UN resolution that has no connection to a separatist movement will all go against reconciliation. To break-away from a Colombo govt. will be the aim of Tamils under the present set-up and they will stand to benefit. This will be the current tendency.

    The western province being multi-cultural is no test or answer to the
    political issue rising since Independence. A peaceful settlement will
    ensure Democracy in every area.

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