Responding to comments whether the End of the War should be Celebrated or Mourned

Photo courtesy Vikalpa

Given the comments to the article I wrote on 19th May, I felt it was better to respond to them substantially.

The first question point I raise is still debatable – and clearly demonstrates the polarization in the North and South of the country. Whether the end of the war should be celebrated or mourned, if so in what way? In the past, I had used the example of a funeral and a party happening at the same time in one house of a group claiming to be one family and living in one house they call home. I believe this is still valid.

Perhaps while this is being discussed, in the short term, could we at least agree that people should have the freedom to do either or both without fear and intimidation?

Which brings me to the second focus of my original article – my insistence about the right of any family to cry, mourn, grieve, have religious rituals on a day of their choosing – irrespective of who the victim was or perpetrator was. Civilians, soldiers and LTTE cadres were amongst those killed and the military and LTTE are both responsible for the killings and other abuses.

It is the military that is trying to prevent and stop grieving and mourning.

Let me share more of my views on these:

  1. On the matter of some wanting to celebrate the end of the war, I recognize and respect the right of those who want to celebrate, even as I disagree with this I’m happy the war is over, but I do not think celebrating it in the manner that has been done so far is the best way to move towards reconciliation. If the war was fought according to Geneva Conventions, then perhaps the debate would be different. My interactions with people who lived through the war clearly indicate that Geneva Conventions were not followed by the LTTE and the Government military. I think we should all unreservedly condemn intimidation and threats by the military to prevent people from marking the day, in whichever way they wish to do, when it’s done in a  legal and peaceful manner. Worse is the use of state power and resources for this type of intimidation. Given that most of the events I came across were religious services, these were obstructions to freedom of religion-a right enshrined in our constitution. So the question is whether those wanting to celebrate the end of the war would also respect and defend the wishes and right of those who want to mourn, grieve and condemn attempts to interfere? Or are we to consider the use of government troops to deny people opportunities to cry, grieve, mourn, pray, light candles, lay flowers etc. is the post war freedom Tamils in the North have as a positive result of the end of the war?
  2. With regard to dates, I recognize that we can have different views on which dates mourning should happen and not happen. I respect the right of those who want to celebrate to do so on a day they want to, even if I disagree with their choice of dates. Should families of those killed and disappeared be denied the freedom to pick the date and time they want to grieve? If one is not happy about the choice of the dates, does it mean that the military should intervene? Some of these families don’t actually know the date where their loved one was killed / disappeared. And since it’s collective mourning, people have the right to pick a common date – which they consider significant and symbolic. As I had pointed out in my article, one of the events was for a Catholic Priest who died on 18th May. He was considered by the community as a Community Leader. So should the family members of that priest and the villagers have the remembrance event for the Priest on another day because Prabakaran was killed and some people are celebrating in Colombo on the very same day? And should only the Priest be remembered – when those that were participating had themselves many family members killed? Shouldn’t that occasion be used to grieve for others killed as well? This problem also came up on the 27th of November. Is it legal and ethical for the military to obstruct religious practices and traditions on 27th November as they had done, just because the LTTE used to celebrate Marveerar day on the same day?  Or was it correct that the military ordered a middle aged man in Vanni to cancel his birthday celebrations – just because his birthday happened to fall on the same day as Prabakaran’s? (This incident actually happened on the 26th of November 2011 in the Mullativu district)
  3. I think I should clarify that none of the three events I attended in anyway sang praises of the LTTE, called for its revival or a separate state. Personally, I would not want to be part of any such activity. However, I do want to bring up the possibly controversial question of whether fallen LTTE cadres should be commemorated or not. Can we take away the rights of families to grieve and conduct religious rituals on the basis that their deceased loved one was a thief, murderer, rapist, criminal, torturer or abductor? I remember a mother from Mulangavil in the Killinochchi district telling me that she doesn’t want to walk along the main road bordering the LTTE cadre’s cemetery because of the pain she feels when she sees the grave of her son bull dozed-the place where she had once gone to pray, light a candle and lay a flower on his birth and death anniversary. So I do believe families of fallen LTTE cadres (including Prabakaran’s and those forcibly recruited by the LTTE) have a right to mourn and grieve and conduct religious rituals – privately or collectively, on a date they choose, in the same way the family of a fallen solider responsible for killing, disappearances, sexual abuse, torture, land grabbing etc. should not be denied the right to grieve and conduct religious rituals. This should not be mixed up with sympathizing, condoning or promoting the criminal or illegal activities of the deceased or the group that person was part of. Nor should this be confused with efforts to revive such a group. Though this may be a thin line, I think we have to see the difference. I feel that military interference in trying stop grieving over civilian and LTTE cadres and bulldozing the graves of fallen LTTE cadres will only generate more anger and hatred of Tamils towards the military, government and even Sinhalese in general. And even enhance the possibility of support for groups such as the LTTE and reduce prospects for lasting reconciliation.
  4. I’m certainly very happy that the Tigers were defeated. I am not happy when anyone is killed– so I wasn’t happy when Prabakaran was killed. I don’t also celebrate when those from government ranks who violate human rights are killed. I also don’t believe in the death penalty. I don’t believe in the theory that “Prabakaran hera siyalu sathwayo niduk wethwa” (may all beings be well except Prabakaran). I do however believe in accountability and justice for wrongs done by anyone (LTTE or military) through a process of Rule of Law. I also believe that acknowledging wrongs done, truth telling, repentance, making symbolic and substantial commitments to prevent such wrongs from happening again and forgiveness based on that will contribute towards the reconciliation process.
  5. While the events I described and the article I wrote didn’t distinguish between those killed and disappeared at the hands of the LTTE and the military, I do believe we need to find out who was responsible for what. That is why I believe in accountability and an independent mechanism to ensure accountability. Of course people in Vanni knew when their children were recruited forcibly by the LTTE and were then killed / disappeared and they knew when their family members surrendered to the military and then disappeared. They also knew whether the shells that killed their loved ones came from the side of the LTTE or the military. Reports from groups such as University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), fiercely critical of both the LTTE and the government for decades, have reported on such stories and evidence in detail. The Panel of Experts of the UN Secretary General on accountability issues in Sri Lanka and many others have also provided detailed information as to who was responsible for what.