Colombo, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

What we do now will be remembered

“In the day that we stood on the other side and did nothing for our brother’s distress, even we were part of the cause of the distress…  Do not speak proudly in the day of their distress… For the violence done to our brother, shame will cover us…  As we have done, it will be done to us…”

The scene is reminiscent of a scene straight out of a movie. The scene is full of blood and gore. Except the zombies who are in the movies are not there and none of those who look like zombies are after you. This is the picture of what you will find in the hospitals where the civilians and soldiers from the war front are brought to. And those are not zombies; they are shocked, traumatized humans with missing limbs and some dying or dead.

But here in Colombo, we refer to this as an inevitable consequence or war and close our eyes. The condition in the civilian wards are fast deteriorating, and this is the condition of people who are better off in GOSL controlled areas, compared to the thousands still trapped in a blood bath. There are children brought in with no family, on the verge of death… and they die… a number and a story forgotten, because we are afraid to know the details.

The situation out there in the war zone is pathetic. People do not have sufficient food, no proper sanitation, not even a place to bathe or change clothes inside the thick jungles of Vanni. All are running from the fighting and they live in fear every second; not knowing from where the next artillery attack would come. It is not possible to describe the fear. Every sound makes them feel like they are about to die. Some who did not die on the road or in the jungle, but made it out of the war zone into the cleared areas are the lucky ones. Thousands of others are still trapped in un-cleared areas with nowhere to run.

How many of us have heard artillery barrages or aerial bombing? Can we imagine the noise level at the point of impact? (The closest we can come to is listening to a jet fly overhead, but minus the bombs) How would little children living in the vicinity feel? We cannot even imagine the level of fear, hopelessness and trauma of those innocent people trapped in Vanni.

Call me un-patriotic, call me a traitor, but are we not doing something wrong here? Yes, the efforts of the people here in the south are laudable as they contribute towards our soldiers who risk life and limb to accomplish the orders of the authorities. Our President calls the Tamils in this war zone our brothers and sisters, but what have we as Sinhalese in the south done to help them? Wait for an already overburdened government or international agencies to send in aid?

Well, maybe if we know the truth about the un-named dying, or the un-numbered dying in the North, we might be moved to help. But do we really want to know the truth or are we happy just accepting the figures and justifications made public by the warring parties that obviously meet their war agenda? A visit to the over-crowded camps and hospitals, where resources have been stretched thin due to the vast exodus will do some of us comfortable Sinhalese some good. Maybe we might begin to send in more help to all the war affected, lessening the burden on the government.

If we can truly muster as much support for any movement that will assist the Tamil displaced people, to care for them, to mourn with them… as much as we have supported and applauded the troops, we will be at least trying to healing a bleeding nation. Action and not words can do this.

But we are yet to address the cultural and political grievances that fueled the insurgency among Tamils. Without addressing the gap, there is little hope of securing a peaceful and prosperous future for our children. Now we have nearly ended the war, but are we ready to end the conflict? Do some of us even accept that there was and is an ethnic conflict? Or to say the least, some cause for the Tamils to feel not treated fairly by the majority Sinhalese?

We say this war is to liberate the people in the north and to give them a better life. Will this make any sense to us if we were one of them caught up in the fierce fighting; having lost our loved ones and seen their blood covered bodies; sometimes not even having the opportunity to bury those dear ones, but leave their bodies to become food to the wild beast and run for our lives to escape the ongoing bombardment? If we have gone for days and months without adequate food, water, shelter or clothes, sometimes even unable to get out of the bunker to visit the toilet due to continuous air attacks and shelling? If we realize that all the wealth we gathered with years of hard work has now been destroyed and we have been forced to be counted among the “poor” and be totally dependant on others. If we realize that the education of our children has been completely disrupted and they are in fact now without a state of mind to pursue any studies due to the fear and trauma of war? Or if we were one of them who were privileged to have lives spared and arrive at Government controlled areas and then see that we and our family are forced to live in a classroom of a public school, in a room we have to share with about six other families, with no privacy whatsoever, not even at the bathing place, in a barb wired camp and unable to go out for an unknown period of time, even when we have some relations in the south who can give us shelter in their homes? If we are forced to idle in this camp, be content with the little food provided to us, use the temporary toilets that must be shared with many others, sleep on the floor? Will such liberation claimed make sense to us if we had to go through the above?

These are just some of the realities of those whom this war has claimed to liberate. If it is to be a true liberation, they need to be restored with all and more than what they had before the war and treated with dignity and love. But can we ever replace their lost loved ones, or their lost limbs? Or take away the mental agony of experiencing a war and seeing how people are brutally killed, or replace their lost village life and social structures, with its cultural significance? So this is the price of war………… carried out for their benefit? Will this end the long lasting ethnic disparity and restore peace and understanding or fuel the deep wounds and grudges the minority has against the majority?

We should detest violence, hate, anger, war and all the other human cruelties we inflict upon one another. The only thing that violence and hatred inflict are more and more hatred and suffering. Is that not what Lord Buddha preached? In a country with a Sinhalese Buddhist majority, can we allow the deaths and wounds of those who cannot defend themselves continue when we have the ability to stop it? Or do we follow the principles of non violence at a personal level,  but support and mandate our leaders to practice violence against masses at a national level, with the hope that such shedding of blood may help us here in the south to live without fear and in peace? Is that not pure selfishness and hypocrisy?

We should take a stance of strength and non violence, even if it means becoming unpopular and risking our own lives. As Martin Luther King Jr said “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love”

The time has come to put aside ethnic, cultural and political differences and plant seeds of justice and reconciliation. That is the challenge before us. How we meet this challenge will go a long way towards healing our divided nation. If not, things will turn out worse. In the movies it ends with the whole world consumed by the zombies, because the authorities feared the truth, and tried their best to suppress it. But this is reality, and we are real. We can do something. Will we? If not the same will happen to us if we fail to acknowledge what is truly happening and try to sweep it under a carpet and not take the long and winding path that truly leads to healing.