18 May 2015

Shall we be a ‘forgive, forget and move-on’ kind of nation?

Certain lines have been opened, hearts open more reluctantly it seems.  
This was written one year after the military defeated the LTTE.  It is perhaps an indictment of sorts that it is still relevant five years later.  Or perhaps it takes longer than we think for certain kinds of wounds to heal.

It is barely one year since the historical trajectory of this country took a sharp and decisive turn, i.e. the complete annihilation of the LTTE leadership.  Since then we’ve had two major elections, one fiercely fought and the other hardly making any ripples anywhere.  We had what was dubbed a ‘split among the nationalists’ (described as such by rabid federalists, closet Eelamists and those with a long history of Sinhala-bashing and Buddhist-bashing) when Gen (Rtd) Sarath Fonseka, arguably the most visible of the many heroes associated with ‘turning the point’, challenging Mahinda Rajapaksa (clearly a name that history will not ignore) to the Presidency. 

When Prabhakaran perished in or around the Nandikadal lagoon all peace-loving people in the country cheered. They were vilified for being ‘triumphalistic’ by those who clearly were unhappy about how that particular Act of the Eelam drama ended (yes, it is not over it).  I did not light crackers, but I was thrilled because I felt more at ease as a parent and proud to be a citizen of a country that had vanquished the greatest threat to democracy and civilization since ‘Independence’. 

Not everyone was happy of course.  The Eelam boys and girls in the I/NGO circuit changed their tune, trying to resurrect the Chelvanayagam doctrine (‘A little now, more later’), urging the President to give what he has no mandate to give (devolution beyond the 13th Amendment) in order to ‘address Tamil grievances’ (read, ‘myths’).  They were careful not to describe these ‘grievances’ nor to draw logical lines from grievance to their called-for ‘resolution’ (devolution), skirting around the relevant historical (the ‘exclusive traditional homeland’ claim is full of holes), demographic (at least 53% of Tamils live outside the North and East), practical (some 64% of the budgets for Provincial Councils go to maintain institution and personnel) and of course economic (‘devolution for development’ is now passé!) issues.

R. Sampanthan, a racist Tamil politician if ever there was one, and a shameless puppet of V. Prabhakaran, has called on the Tamil people to ‘mourn’ on May 18, 2010.  Why ‘mourn’?  Mourn what?  The end of the war?  We are not sure.  Does he want suicide bombers roaming in Colombo? Does he want to risk what he has often described as a ‘racist Sinhala regime’ to react in ‘racist’, ‘extremist’ ways and thereby cause further suffering to the people he claims to represent? How much blood is enough to satiate Sampanthan’s thirst, we are forced to ask. 

Isn’t Sampanthan, by ‘mourning’ Prabhakaran’s death (nothing else happened of note on May 18th, 2009), essentially reiterating endorsement of everything that ruthless terrorist did, lamenting the fact that Tamil children are no longer being recruited for military purposes, sad that Tamils civilians are not dying in the inevitable crossfire that is so much a part of war, aggrieved that bombs are not going off in crowded places, school buses, supermarkets etc?  He is and anyone else who wants to mourn the end of the LTTE essentially being nostalgic about terrorism and wishing for another round of violence? 

It is Sampanthan’s right to mourn whatever he wishes to mourn.  Let him mourn.  Let him also remember that the hatred that he is spewing will not produce happy outcomes for the Tamil people. Wallowing in the blood-memory that describes the LTTE will not help them.  There was heroism, yes, and this should not be forgotten.  Not by the Tamils or by the Sinhalese.  Heroism is ethnicity-free and we can recognize this, we can all benefit.  But hatred is not healthy.  It breeds unwholesome things.  It sidetracks real issues.  Just like the 13th Amendment and the whole devolution whine.  It’s essentially a red herring that postpones acknowledgement of true grievance and resolution for the same. 

A year after, there are a lot of things to be happy about.  It is also a time to mourn, not that which Sampanthan wants people to mourn, of course, but other things.  We mourn the fact that we lost close to a hundred thousand of our fellow-citizens, among them many who would have helped make us a better, stronger and more benevolent nation.  We lost children, we lost hospitals and schools, lost infrastructure and livelihoods. The nation was dented in many ways. We bled. We are poorer, whichever way we want to look at it.  Yes, we lost something of our humanity and it will take a long time for us to recover and move forward. 

We ended a 30 year war. That is the consolation. We proved that we are in the end a we-can nation, a we-can people. We proved we are resilient.  We have to show now that we are also a ‘forgive, forget and move-on’ nation, a ‘put-the-past-behind-us’ people.  One year later we are not close to a healing embrace but neither has that ‘option’ being deleted from the universe of the possible. 

The Tamil people will have to come to terms with who they are, what their self-appointed representatives want them to be, the blood with which their ethnic signature was tainted (or embellished, if they want to see it that way) etc.  So too the Sinhalese.  Wars are not pretty things but they can be unnecessarily ugly.  There was heroism and sacrifice and there were terrible decisions and barbarism as well.  We are all tainted. 

We need to be angry with one another if not for anything, to get the anger out of our respective systems.  But if we are made of anger and anger alone, then we are doomed as a nation.

One year later, we have secured a magnificent victory. It is called ‘tomorrow’.  Not a ‘tomorrow’ of triumphalism but a tomorrow of going beyond unwholesome attachment to identity and a search for the commonalities that made for the full flowering of citizenships, citizenry and civilization. 

One year later, as we remember all the heroes, let us remember, I repeat, that heroism does not have an ethnic identity.  Courage is language-free.  Sacrifice is a death mourned by parent, child, lover and death. Grief is a tear that does not have signature.

I am hopeful.  

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The Nation' and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com