13 September 2012

Reconciliation matters

More than three years after the LTTE was defeated, post-conflict Sri Lanka still talks of ‘reconciliation’.  The very use of the word implies a lack.  Sure, after 30 years of war fuelled by chauvinism and laced with death, destruction, displacement and dismemberment, only an optimist or a pernicious operator who cares little about implications for ordinary people would demand ‘Reconciliation Now’. 

Politicians care little about people.  They don’t care if reconciliation and peace are trumped as long as their personal/party political objectives are secured.  If it helps to be chauvinistic, chauvinism will be their watchword.  If it is necessary to lie, they will not hesitate to lie.  And so they will, as they have, mine all roads leading to reconciliation. 
No other country that has come out of a conflict such as the one which plagued Sri Lanka for three decades has achieved so much in terms of resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction.  And yet, Sri Lanka is faulted for not achieved ‘reconciliation’.  Part of the reason is the erroneous and untenable (in terms of history, geography, demography and development prerogative) conflation of ‘reconciliation’ and ‘devolution’.  Even if the vast majority of Tamils were reasonably happy (at least as much as their Sinhala and Muslim counterparts) with things as they are, there would be spoilers who would claim, ‘no devolution, no reconciliation’.  That kind of goalpost shifting is part and parcel of chauvinistic politics. 

There are other factors that make reconciliation a tough task.
It would be hard to find people who are unhappy that the fighting is over.  On that count alone even the most chauvinistic of Tamil nationalists would have to grudgingly concede ‘things are better’.  ‘Things could be better’ is a phrase that can stay on the shelf forever and be as fresh as the first time it was uttered.  Fighting, however, is something that takes much and gives much too, neither being worthy of celebration. 

Even as she is glad the fighting is over, the mother who lost a son will never be able to reconcile herself to the reality of that loss.  There are thousands of such mothers and many of them would have husbands and children who too would not be able to reconcile to the fact of loss.  There are widows who will never see their beloved husbands, orphans who will never feel a father’s embrace.  Roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, law and order, ‘political solution’ etc., will not dilute the pain, lessen the loss. 
There is a young man struggling to eke out a living in harsh circumstances somewhere in the Vanni.  His father is paralyzed, his mother not in the best of health.  He has his own wife and children to provide for.   He doesn’t have to worry about being abducted by the LTTE.  He doesn’t wonder if his children, when they reach 10 or so, would be conscripted by the LTTE on their way to school or on their way back home and be thrust into the frontlines with guns that outweigh them.  That young man might be happy that the fighting is over, but he won’t get back his two brothers; not the first who blew himself up in an LTTE attack on a military target and not the second who died in the fighting.  There are thousands of such men and they have mothers and father who lament with them, even as they would say, if asked, that they are happy the fighting is done. 

Reconciliation is word that can never be accompanied by the adjective ‘complete’.  Indeed, even ‘partial’ could be misleading.  Three decades spawned bitterness, distrust, hatred and hopelessness.  There are things that Governments can do and things they cannot.  Time and the passing of a generation or two might be, sadly, the relevant ‘musts’ for this country to put things behind and move on. 
No one is happy.  Carl Muller, challenging those who believe in god, heaven and such things, posed a question once: ‘Imagine a pious woman whose younger son is a murderer; she dies and goes to heaven and the son ends up in hell.  Now how can Mummy be happy when podi putha (the younger son) is roasting in hell?’  We were not born to be totally happy all the time.  So anyone demanding that kind of ‘happiness’ would be asking for the moon or more.  No one is asking for the moon, but still, few are even willing to recognize these realities and worse strut around in the political theater as though these things are irrelevant.

In the end it boils down to each individual finding pathways to personal closure.  As a nation, though, we can help, individually and collectively, by being honest about these things and by sharing our stories so we recognize in one another the same human sorrow at loss and the same human ability to live with that sorrow and smile about things we can be thankful for. 



fayaz said...

when you die your relationships with all your near and dear is over.while you will be held accountable over how you brought up "podi putha", you will be totally concerned about your own safety and will never worry about anyone else.
We are told that people will stand stark naked and be totally oblivious to each other; imagine standing next to aishwarya rai n in starkers n yet be unconcerned except ones own fate.. this is the islamic perpective. Carlo boy von Bloss has troubles of his own in his own grave; he cannot transfer troubles to Jesus and Jesus didnt die for CarloBoys sins.. disagree if you will;but at some point you and I will discover the truth and the truth at this point will not set you free..

sajic said...

What is 'reconciliation'? the word made sense in African countries where 'white' treated 'black' as less than human. No rights, no life.
Here it would mean much less- just forgiveness and coming to terms with our losses- all communities.Not an easy road, but possible.
The civic rights were there on paper, not in deed. Any govt that accepts the flaws and restores equality in all aspects of life could make this country 'one nation'.

Anonymous said...

sajic is right. However Malinda's point about those clamouring for 'justice' have a higher priority; to preserve their position of power and prominence applies. The call for punitive justice to precede reconciliation is meant to make reconciliation that much more difficult if not impossible. Just think; if reconciliation happens what would be the platform on which those who claim to be leaders of the 'opressed' minority campaign? It is therefore in their interest to keep 'their people'angry, unhappy and ignorant. The manipulation through controlled information is a tried and tested LTTE strategy.