17 May 2016

Truth and reconciliation must begin with truth, not myth

This article was published in 'The Nation' on May 18, 2010, one year after the LTTE was militarily defeated.  The end of terrorism did not coincide with the end of separatist moves of course.  That project whose military articulation was defeated is alive.  What the end of the war did was to create a space for the necessary conversation about claims and substantiation.  That's an important part of reconciliation.  Today, 6 years later, the key spokespersons for the politics that the LTTE buttressed with terrorism, still prefer myth to truth.  [Read 'The NPC Resolution: both a threat and an opportunity' ]

Pic courtesy irinnews.org
Last week marked a year after the war ended.  There’s been some dispute regarding the exact date and it is quite unbecoming of the claimants to be quibbling about whether it happened on the 18th or 19th of May.  What is important is that it happened, it ended, that our children are safe from suicide bombs and explosions, from forced conscription, dismemberment, displacement and death in a war that achieved precious little.  Yes, the celebrations were put off due to inclement weather, but that’s nothing to be sad about.  There are a million reasons to be thankful and a million ways to show gratitude. 

We are talking about a war that dragged on for 30 years.  We are talking about a situation where academics (sic!) argued even as recently as a little more than a year ago that it is wrong to talk of a post-LTTE Sri Lanka.  Some columnists were so ostrich-like (like Kumar David) that they refused to entertain the thought that the LTTE could be defeated. 

Denial is a sign, a symptom of a malady.  It’s about what one wants so badly or is so used to that its absence or non-arrival will not be talked about, thought of or heard.  Eelamists of the ‘Eelam Now’ mode of thinking and operating suffered from this ailment for some time.  They’re slowly getting cured.  Indeed they are more likely to drop Eelam and go for something more realistic and rewarding such as better governance and enhanced citizenship rights for all, irrespective of ethnic identity that that other and more pernicious set in the lunatic fringe of political discourse: those of the ‘Litte-Now, More-Later’ persuasion among the Eelamists. 

I count among these latter set everyone who argues for an ethnic-based and/or language-based system of power-devolution without referring to relevant history, on-the-ground realities (including the fact that some 53% of Tamils live outside the North and East, 64% of allocations for the Provincial Councils go for their upkeep and the salaries of politicians and staff, and claims of historical habitation that are full of holes) and indeed the fact that ‘devolution’ was essentially the TNA manifesto and not that of the UPFA or Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Today, one year later, the focus should be on realities and not myths.  The Tamil community in the North and East have suffered enough without having to become footballs in political soccer games played by their so-called representatives and political scientists (so-called) who would be hard pressed to differentiate between ‘unitary’ and ‘federal’ and would hee-haw if asked which type the Sri Lankan state is, with examples to buttress claim.

The question that remains unanswered with reasonable substantiation is the following: ‘what are the root causes of the conflict?’  A lot of books have been written on this issue.  Discrimination, non-addressing of grievance/aspiration etc have been cited. Left out has been the exploitation of the ‘ethnic card’ by communalists on all sides, the manufacturing of grievance, the exaggeration of claim, the holding to ransom at gun-point and the articulation of aspiration in dimensions that preclude resolution. 

A second important consideration that is fudged by devolution-wallahs is this: what is the connection between grievance(s) that can be established to be real and devolution?  If the territorial claims cannot be backed by history, if the demographic data shows that self-determination issues have spilled over the boundaries of the North and East (or indeed were never contained therein), then shouldn’t reason dictate that resolution must take a form that is non-territorial, and therefore non-devolutionary?

Conflict-End is a good place to soul-search, so to speak.  It is a good place to ask how we got to where we were and how come close to 100,000 people had to die to get there.  It is the place to begin, paradoxically.  And the beginning, as always, is called ‘Root Cause’.  This is where you will encounter grievance and aspiration.  This is where the intellectually slow and politically lazy politician (and political analyst of course) comes to excavate matter that can be abused for petty political gain.  Today, after 30 years, we have to chip away the frills that have got stitched on to root-cause and recover the real article. 

Today there is talk of truth and reconciliation.  We have our own truth-and-reconciliation methods, but that’s ok.  Truth is the key word here.  We’ve had so much embellishment and extrapolation, myth-making and myth-modelling, that it is ridiculous to try and re-coexist on the unsteady foundation that all this has served to set up over the past thirty years.  We have to re-lay the foundation of co-existence. And this can be done only by being honest.  That honesty, given claims have been as much about discrimination as about traditional homeland claim, requires a historical audit as well as an audit about citizenship anomalies.  It is then that we can figure out what kind of measures need to be put in place to correct flaws and prevent extrapolations that lead to the kind of tragedy that took us 30 years to bring to an end.

We must revisit all the pacts that were made, what held and what was fudged and by whom, all the underlying premises and their tenability in terms of historical, demographic and economic worth. In other words we have to find a way of divesting process of the most pernicious elements of politicking, which unfortunately seem to have dominated our post-Independence history.

Are we ready to face the truth, as individual, community and nation?  Are we ready to place contention on table along with substantiation and have a conversation? Or are we going to wobble along on that unsteady and eventually tragedy-facilitating thing called preferred ‘perception’?

If we cannot get past this, we cannot talk about devolution or any ‘lution’ and certainly not solution and revolution. 

The devolutionists must now put up and shut up.  Bring your history, bring the economic logic, bring the relevant demographic data and bring a comprehensive performance assessment of provincial councils.  Leave behind rhetoric, myth, fantasy and relevant models based on these things.  Bring grievance, not whine.  Let grievance wear its true clothes (i.e. skin) and not the disguises it has been decked with for purposes of political efficacy.  The nation is waiting. 


Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malinsene@gmail.com