22 July 2013

Being villagers in the larger village of humanity

Supreme Court judge turned politician, C.V. Wigneswaran, in the course of delivering the Chelvanayagam Memorial Lecture, quoted from the Purananooru, a text said to be 2000 years old: ‘Yaathum oore: yaawarum kelir; theethum nandrum pirarthara vaara’ [all villages are ours; all of humanity our brethren; what happens to us is the consequence of our own actions].

If we were to put aside, as I believe we should, the deeply communalist politics of the man being remembered and the sectarian political choices of the man doing the remembering, the line certainly warrants reflection.  It illuminates.
We are in post-conflict Sri Lanka.  We are in memory-fresh land.  It is hard to think ‘solidarity’ with people identified with those who hurt us.  A Tamil child cannot be expected to love a Sinhala soldier, who is identified with an army that killed a close relative, his father or brother or cousin or friend.  A Sinhala child does not have to wonder ‘should I or can I love or not’ a person in LTTE uniform because such individuals no longer exist, not in uniform anyway.  But it would be hard for a Sinhalese person to love a Tamil who sympathized with the LTTE, did its bidding or whitewashed its excesses because the LTTE did kill thousands of Sinhalese. Few if any would say ‘there’s no one I knew who was killed by the LTTE’.

The United States of America, almost 150 years after the constitutional abolition of slavery, still remains a country that is deeply divided on lines of race, lines of color.  We are just 4 years in post-conflict Sri Lanka.  Healing takes long, but probable length should not deter those who want to move on. 
We suffered.  And that, going by the quote, is a consequence of our actions.  All communities suffered.  So all communities have their share of blame.  But we are also larger than the sum of our collectives, whether it be ethnicity or religion.  That larger entity is the better or more wholesome collective that is amenable to description as ‘all villages’.  In that larger Village, then, the action of one impacts the whole.  Consequently if one suffers that part blame falls on each and every member of the collective. 

If we extrapolate, the mistrust, anger, helplessness, arrogance, division-fixation, belittling of collective identity, sense of superiority, majoritarianism, minoritarianism etc, are the consequence of each and every one of us.  This ‘democratization’ of guilt or culpability is of course not without error, but indulgence in the blame-game can take our collective Village only so far. 
Is there anyone in this Village who is not endowed with the will to live? Is there anyone who fears death?  A few, perhaps, but in the main we are common aren’t we on both counts?  Everyone wants and deserves dignity.  

‘All of humanity is our brethren’.  We often pass soft judgment on the excesses of those who belong to our community, the lesser village, if you will.  Indeed we are even prepared to forgive and forget or worse, absolve of all culpability.  We don’t let off our neighbors so easily.  Maybe this is because we fail to see that just as our household is one unit within a larger village-unit, our village or the collective we privilege (be it on account of shared ethnic identity or religious faith) is itself but a member of the larger village of humanity. 
Human history is not on the side of the author of that quote.  Still, it is in the striving for the ideal that we move to higher planes of being, becoming and co-existing. 

I owe much to Justice Wigneswaran for repeating, 2000 years later, those words of wisdom.  We must as a larger collection of villages and villagers wish him all the best in his endeavors to live the ideal.  We ourselves must strive to see beyond warrior-identity and war-purpose and recognize in each other the commonalities of our human condition. Most importantly, our frailties.



Arjuna Seneviratne said...

Particularly like "What happens to us is the consequence of our own actions". So far, those actions on the part of all of us who root for commonalities has in fact been segregartory. Finding common ground is hard and finding grounds for differentiation easy. We have, as a planet, indulged are egos by taking the road more travelled with grave consequences to the road yet to be trod. I agree completely that undoing mutual wrongs that were easy to do is not easy. I agree completely that it will take a lot of time. I do not see the world exercises the collective patience required for this since the reason for the current state of global unease is our collective impatience. Habits? Die hard! :)