06 August 2011

Let us caress ‘Kattankudy’

I was not planning to write this morning (Friday, August 05, 2011).  Didn’t write yesterday either.  This is not the place for laying out reasons but let me say ‘sorry’ nevertheless.  I write today because I must.  I know that’s clichéd but I am not cringing as I might have on another occasion.  A couple of days ago I got a text message from a man I’ve never seen but I know through email exchanges and rare messages.
Ramzeen Azeez is one of the most well-read people I know.  He knows a lot about a lot of things and is generous with his time and wisdom.  He points out error or misconception gently, as is the way of those who have opened their minds to perceive the eternal verities.  He’s not alone of course and one day I will write about all the giants who with affection, giving and wisdom make me less of a dwarf than I am. 
Ramzeen is a devout Mohammedan and I feel a discerning and humble student of the Holy Quran.  He teaches English to Sinhala children in Habarana.  I am sure he’s teaching them more than English songs and pronunciation, but it warmed me when he informed me recently, with unmistakable pride, that they can now sing ‘My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean’. 

‘Today is the 21st anniversary of the massacre of 147 people who were praying in mosques in Kattankudy’, the text message read.   We forget and I am not sure if that’s good or bad, honestly.  On the other hand, if we do remember or are reminded, we must in the very least caress for gripping tight only hurts gripper and gripped.  These are therefore caressing thoughts of a time that could hardly be identified with things soft and tender.  Or so I would like to think.
I am a regular recipient of hate mail.  I respond to each and every person, named, bogus-named and otherwise anonymous.  I am asked to feel ashamed about July 1983 and the suffering that Tami people were subjected to.  My remorse, as I have mentioned many times, is that the citizens of this country, especially the Sinhalese could not save all the Tamils attacked by marauding mobs, instigated by ruling party thugs and given a free hand upon the directives of those in power.  I do not ask, by the same token, that Tamil people apologize to me for the horrendous crimes committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) against people like me in the name of Tamil Nationalism. 
If ever any Sinhalese speaks of LTTE atrocities, there are people who shoot back saying ‘you produced the LTTE’.  And that’s a half-truth at best, but in fact a downright lie.  Tamil people down the lane we lived in never caused us any harm.  Their political loyalties were not known then and are irrelevant as far as I am concerned in the matter of being good neighbours.  Like in our Sinhala villages, all doubts, jealousies, suspicions, ill-will and other negative things were and are put aside on joyous and sorrowful occasions.  Just like in the aftermath of the tsunami where the first lorry loads of relief items collected by ordinary people in the southern parts of the country were sent to the then LTTE-held areas. 
I don’t agree with those who support the LTTE or those who advocate separatism, even the Chelvanayakam variety of ‘a little now, more later’ that is touted by the self-reinvented devolutionists, but I do understand ‘aspiration’ and sense of ‘grievance’.  When I receive hate mail, I am not angered.  I have often wondered what the Muslims had done to the Tamils, or were perceived to have done, to warrant the silence about the Kattankudy massacre on August 3, 1990.    
I’ve wondered why the fact that one in ten Muslims was an IDP did not factor into the conflict equation at any serious discussion on the subject. 
On the 11th of June that year, the LTTE murdered in cold blood 600 policemen who had been instructed by the then President, Ranasinghe Premadasa to surrender to the LTTE to keep a tenuous ceasefire alive.  The LTTE thereafter ordered Muslims to vacate Kattankudy or else!  The geo-politics related to ethnic cleansing and manufacturing traditional homelands deserves a lot of comment.  Today, twenty one years later, just as on that day 21 years ago, all that is relevant is the capacity of human beings to treat their fellow creatures with barbarity.  All that is relevant is that those who lost their loved ones remain without them.  All that is relevant is that the LTTE is no longer around to do a repeat of all this.  All that is relevant is that it could happen all over again if the relevant lessons are not learned. 
I don’t know anyone who died that day.  I don’t know their relatives.  I know just internet caricatures, for example Mohammed Ibrahim, then 40, who told the New York Times, ‘I was kneeling down and praying when the rebels (not sure if that’s the word he used or the word that the particular reporter used; probably the latter in this age of horror-cleansing media spin) started shooting; the firing went on for 15 minutes; I escaped without being hit and found myself among bodies all over the place.  Or Mohammed Arif, a 17 year old student at the time, who said, ‘Before I escaped from a side door and scaled a wall, I saw a Tiger rebel put a gun into the mouth of a small Muslim boy and pull the trigger’.
Ibrahim would be 61 now and Arif 38.  I don’t know what lives they’ve lived or if they are still alive.  I don’t know who the assassins were and what happened to them thereafter.  All I know is that 147 people were murdered.  It was so unnecessary.  Like the close to 100,000 who died in the 30 year conflict, the 60,000 killed between 1988 and 1989, and the 20,000 killed in 1971.  Unnecessary. 
That we are  still coherent as a nation and a people is certainly consolation. Whether we will remain as such is never guaranteed.  It requires courage, compassion, humility and tenderness. 
It is good to remember.  It is good to touch without touching, in the manner of exercising equanimity in the face of life’s vicissitudes.  I forgot, but was reminded.  I am just extending my friend Ramzeen’s arm, using words.  I hope they touch, that they caress.



Anonymous said...

Excellent article! I read it and re read it with deep sadness for all those died and for those left behind,their parents ,sibiling and friends. Yes memories of bad things that happen to us are soon forgotten, we treasure only the good ones. I extend my deepest sympathies to Ramzeen Aziz and to all the relatives of the ones who died and to the 600 policemen's relatives a big hug and kiss as sometimes we tend to kiss the wrong person.

Renton said...

Thank you Malinda .. In case you missed this on Poson Poya day.. this was my tribute to Kathankudi



Anonymous said...

Excellent work brother!

Shyamali said...

Great article Malinda