11 February 2013

A cause for grave concern

The discovery of a mass grave in Matale has elicited horror in certain circles.  It is no doubt a horrifying discovery.  The horror is such that it is also natural for people to ask questions and demand answers.  It all depends on who is asking, who is being asked and who ends up answering. 

In the West there is a word that is used in post-death or indeed post-anything situations: closure.  A friend of mine said ‘people in the West aren’t very good with death’.  It’s inevitable but it’s something they’d rather keep at a distance.  For example, in the case of a loved one dying, in the USA, the focus is on the memorial service and not the funeral proper.  Each culture has its own ways of dealing with bereavement, tragedy and death. 
The Matale grave is over two decades old, we are told.  The dead were the victims of the bheeshanaya, many seem to think.  They may be right.  The question is how did the loved ones of the victims find ‘closure’? 

Most were Sinhala Buddhists.  The parents didn’t get to see the bodies of their sons and daughters.  Some assumed they were dead because they were aware that abductions had actually taken place.  Some couldn’t have known.  Twenty years is a long time.   One stops waiting.  Other tragedies sweep over earlier ones.  Joys, sporadic or otherwise, give respite. The diurnal takes over and new routines over-script older ones.  In most cases, merit (pin) would have been ‘transferred’ subsequent to almsgivings. 
One can argue, effectively, that death is the only unguent that takes away the burdens and pains of loss.  Loss is personal.  Grief is personal. At the same time we are talking about mass murder. We are talking of crimes against humanity, and of course ones which escaped the eagle eye of chest-beating human rights activists.  These activists who talk of ‘justice for the living’ and ‘accountability’ should not be stopped by crime-date.  They can go back to the horrendous crimes against humanity perpetrated by European hordes in Sri Lanka for five long centuries, including the breaking of temples and construction of churches over those ruins, the burning of ancient and invaluable manuscripts and other such acts of vandalism.  They won’t.  Must we? 

Yes, and no.  Yes, because society and civilization require answer to query.  No, not if it is a selective exercise. No if it amounts to turning mass graves, bones and such into a political football. 
The JVP has demanded investigation and rightly so.  The JVP lost hundreds of members in that period of terror.  Indeed thousands were killed because they were believed to be JVPers or JVP sympathizers.  At that time just being born in the sixties and early seventies was reason enough to be targeted by the many vigilante groups unleashed by the state.

Interestingly, though, the JVP has called for investigations into allegations of their wrongdoing.  It’s a win-win situation. Victims of JVP terrorism were not buried in mass graves.  They were all clear cut assassinations where life was taken and body left behind. 

That aside, the thrust of the JVP’s rhetoric on the Matale grave has little to do with the horror and the need for ‘closure’ but to gather some political mileage by way of pointing fingers.  Pointing fingers, let us be clear, not at the regime of the time but at individuals associated with that regime who have crossed over to the present regime. 
The JVP ‘pacted’ with the UNP during the last Presidential election.   It dare not upset fellow travelers in the political wilderness.  This is logical and understandable.  It also points to humbuggery about victims and their loved ones. 

The UNP, for its part, has been silent.  Naturally.  In the USA, if hauled up for investigation by any tribunal, the UNP would have to ‘Plead the Fifth’, which gives witness right to refuse answer if it was felt that response would incriminate oneself.   On the other hand, those UNP stalwarts who are aiding and abetting clearly pernicious moves to manufacture crimes against humanity purportedly perpetrated by the security forces, has the moral obligation to comment. They’ve been silent.  Not strange. 
How about Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Jehan Perera, Sunila Abeysekera, Nimalka Fernando, Kishali Pinto Jayawardena, Basil Fernando, Kumar David and J.C. Weliamuna?  Is there silence a different kind of political football with the dead?  Are some victims not newsworthy? Are some murders not worthy of investigation?  Does that have something to do with who did the killing and does this silence indicate where these supposedly ‘neutral’ commentators stand party-politically?   

None of these people wept the kinds of tears they weep now back then when the UNP regime slaughtered unarmed youth in their hundreds and turned roadside and waterway into cemetery.  We cannot then expect them to weep now, right?  They don’t need ‘closure’ now because they didn’t need closure then, should we not conclude? 

Way back in the early nineties, Mangala Samaraweera helped set up an organization called ‘Mau Peramuna’ (Mother’s Front), which was also a ‘footballing’ of sorts, where the then ‘recent’ inconsolability of mothers whose children were billafied and probably murdered, some burnt alive, was tossed around for political gain.  Why is he so silent now? 
No one can really dismiss investigation-call on account of the length of time that’s passed.  This is why Britian is fretting over what was done to the Mau Mau.  This is why Britain should fret over nations terrorized by previous regimes rising up to claim compensation.  This is why those who are shedding tears over crimes that are said to have happened cannot remain silent about Matale.  This is why the heads of missions of the USA, Canada, Britain and other EU countries must speak out. They have not.  Will they?  I am not betting on it.

These are matters of grave concern.  These are matters to think about for if footballing is the intent then closure is of secondary import to the questioner.  That’s adding insult to injury.  Not just the dead but the living too would be turned into pawns in a political game.  This cannot be something that the nation wants. 
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10 comments:

Thrishantha Nanayakkara said...

Malinda, it is not not very helpful to put the burden raising a voice to investigate this kind of obvious cases to human rights activists like Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Jehan Perera, Sunila Abeysekera, Nimalka Fernando, Kishali Pinto Jayawardena, Basil Fernando, Kumar David and J.C. Weliamuna. Obviously, they have done enough to defend the rights of thousands of people like me who do not enjoy the special care you may enjoy from the SL Government. Some remains of a mass grave have been found without a previous record, and the country's law is clear on this. It should be investigated. Establish rule of law - this is what the above activists have been demanding for. You don't have to refer every incident to them. I can understand this level of pointing fingers at human rights defenders, if it comes from people like Wimal Weerawansa and Champika Ranawaka, to whom human rights is some kind of a nightmare. You are a journalist? I wish to hope so.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

i have not said that it should not be investigated. all i am doing here is to flag certain preferences and clear selectivity on the part of these people. they are not the innocents you make them out to be thrishantha. what's the 'special care' i enjoy, prey?

sajic said...

I dont think there's any need to 'flag preferences' here. The issue of the mass graves is a matter of concern to every individual in this land. It is very obviously the duty of the government to investigate this. Lets not make this personal. More than 100 people were killed and buried anonymously. That's a terrible crime, The inquiry has to be official.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

Of course the inquiry has to be official. Silences have their own stories. History is valid mostly in the present.

sajic said...

Absolutely. The 'silence' of the dead cries out for justice. The 'silence' of the living is as loud and calls for condemnation.
Individuals are unimportant.

Thrishantha Nanayakkara said...

You are a gifted journalist. Otherwise, I won't bother to comment on your blog. But, if you feel that those journalists who frequently find fault with the above human rights defenders do not enjoy any preferential care from the government that few other journalists who died tragic deaths with no offenders identified by the great intelligence service of the country, your foundations of honesty shake there. My humble appeal from you is to focus your talents more on finding faults with the tyrants than those of human rights defenders.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

This means that all journalists currently alive are receiving 'preferential treatment'. I don't condone any killing or beating or harassment. On the other hand, people wear several hats, like Lasantha (read the Colombo Telegraph post regarding his 'other' activities). If I never found fault with tyrants, then of course I would be out of order. I also find fault with systems which make tyrants and sustain tyranny...and have done so for more than 10 years. I do what I can.

Thrishantha Nanayakkara said...

"This means that all journalists currently alive are receiving 'preferential treatment'?" - Oh, no, I repeat, all journalists who frequently attack human rights activists like Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Jehan Perera, Sunila Abeysekera, Nimalka Fernando, Kishali Pinto Jayawardena, Basil Fernando, Kumar David and J.C. Weliamuna, are well known to enjoy preferential treatment than those who appreciate their work. Those who appreciate their work are relatively powerless by nature, because it is them, the voiceless, who need the services of human rights activists in the society. Sri Lanka doesn't enjoy many human rights activists, and thus has decended down to the abyss of human rights records, thanks to the state media cover up on the dirt of the tyrants, and frequent attacks on human rights activists both physically and mentally through Pro-Government media. I noticed those traces in your post. In essence, it would be great if journalists like you could demand to uphold rule of law - unanimously demanded for, by the above activists - to investigate the mass grave you were concerned of.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

When known crooks and terrorist white-washers who hobnob with guys who don't have the moral right to point fingers champion democracy, human rights etc., it doesn't make the struggle for these things any easier. I suggest, respectfully, that you give this a thought.

sajic said...

It seems we have moved from the main issue, which is the discovery of the mass 'horror' of Matale: and the insistence for an unbiased inquiry into the above asap.Human rights activists- of any type- are surely irrevelant at this stage,
We dont see the wood for the trees-pity!