Peace and Conflict, Polonnaruwa

Can we End this Cycle of Hatred?

I am amazed at the mobilization of young people from the Tamil Diaspora around the world to protest against the Sri Lankan government’s purported human rights violations. When often the younger generation of immigrants forgets the old country to a future in the new one, it is incredibly positive that the Diaspora feels so passionate about this difficult conflict on behalf of their community. Maybe once the conflict is over, they will come back to Sri Lanka to rebuild the country together. However, there is long way to go for reconciliation between the two communities as so much hatred has manifested, especially amongst the Diaspora overseas.

We have all been affected by this ruthless conflict. I had close relatives and friends lost to LTTE attacks and bombs. Yet, I differentiate the LTTE from Tamil people. In my daily life in Sri Lanka, we work, play sports and socialize together. I am sad this is not the case with the international Tamil community in separating the government from Sinhala people. Like in any community there are Sinhala extremists but I find most are compassionate towards other communities as I come across a diversity of people on a daily basis as an organizational trainer.

Young Minds of Hate
Back in Ontario, my Canadian friend Kerry was excited when her 7 year old daughter came home and said she has a Sri Lankan friend in her new class. They invited the new friend home after school one day. When Kerry told her that she too has a close Sri Lankan friend, the visitor came back with, “Is he Tamil or Sinhala ?”. Kerry was taken aback by this and said, “I am not too sure but I think he is Sinhala”. To Kerry’s surprise, “Oh we hate the Sinhala” was her reply. When Kerry asked her whether she had met any Sinhala people, she said no.

Many months later when I met Kerry during a visit to Canada, she related this story and we lamented that this impressionable seven year old had been taught to hate. Maybe her parents were subjected to hatred or violence back in Sri Lanka, but is it wise to burden a child with such a strong toxic emotion, which she will carry for the rest of her life ?

The Diaspora
So, I am sad at the fact that the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora, especially, the young, many of whom have never been to Sri Lanka, are growing up with such extreme feelings towards the Sinhala people.
A friend, a Canadian of Sinhala parentage told me recently that a long time friend of his had told him, “As a Tamil Canadian, I should not be hanging out with you”. He was shocked by this, but that is what it has come down to. Even friends who never looked at race before are now putting their identity as a Tamil or Sinhala before friendship.

Sad this happens in a place 10,000 kms away from where the real conflict is taking place. The irony is that in the old country we are already talking about reconciliation and rebuilding relationships.

An Intercultural Dialogue
I was part of such an event last week in Pollonnaruwa, not too far from the conflict. Seventy university students – Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala – from around the country were brought together by a core- group of sixteen multi -ethnic students from Colombo based universities through a British Council sponsored project called Intercultural Dialogue – to explore culture, identity and history to look towards a common future as Sri Lankans.

It was an emotionally charged three days. One session had the distinct races exploring a ‘Time Line’ to inquire how the three communities see history shaping Sri Lanka to what it is today. The Sinhala team presenting the turning points in History as Bandaranaike’s Sinhala only policy in 1956, burning the Jaffna library and black July in 1983 struck a chord with the Tamil team who got up and said, “We never realized Sinhala people looked at our history in this way”. The Tamil team had the same events in their presentation and immediately found common ground to work from. Ironically the Muslim team felt marginalized when they said, “See, neither Tamil nor Sinhala team mentioned us and this is what is happening to us, we are caught between both sides and ignored by all”.

The programme used dialoguing techniques such as the ‘Fish Bowl’ to discuss difficult emotional issues to create better understanding. One young Tamil student studying Arts, Drama and Film Making in the Eastern University lamented his parents not letting him go to Colombo to continue his studies. A Sinhala student then spoke and said, “Yes, your parents are right in discouraging you coming to Colombo. This is a difficult time with all the security. When I see a young Tamil person in the bus, I too wonder. But all this will change soon enough”.

When a Muslim student said, that the Sri Lankan constitution forbids a non Buddhist to become President, the leader of the Colombo based core team of organizers, a law student, said, “ I have studied the constitution very carefully and it does not state anywhere that the person has to be a Buddhist. It just states that the President must safeguard Buddhism as the national religion.” He went on to state in fluent Sinhala, “I am a Tamil and I aspire to become the President of Sri Lanka in twenty years” to which there was great applause from everyone, and surprise from the Tamil students who did not realize the leader of the core team was a Tamil.

Teaching the Biology of the Brain
As a part of the learning for the programme, my colleague and I as facilitators made a presentation on our emotions and spirituality. We based this on the biology of the brain and how our reptilian brain, which ensures our basic physical survival and the limbic brain, which balances our emotions have to work together. This way our natural moral compass gets activated through the strong limbic nourishment first from our parents and then our close relationships. When this nourishment is positive and appreciative, it makes for emotionally well balanced individuals with high self esteem and good physical health. We also worked with some practical breathing exercises to illustrate how the breath is a powerful tool in controlling emotions and the ego to develop a positive attitude towards life.
A combination of learning new theories on the brain and emotions to dialogue made these three days a rich and a novel experience for everyone.

The programme ended with mixed teams producing plays done in a combination of Sinhala and Tamil languages to depict Tai Pongal, a Tamil wedding, a Muslim wedding, Sinhala New Year celebrations, a Sinhala wedding and a comical rendition of “Nari Bena”, a folk tale about a fox wanting to marry a beautiful girl.

I came away from these 3 days with a renewed sense of hope that these university students will eventually make a difference to this troubled nation. They will approach the future not from the male dominated Military Industrial age of the past, which is left brained and reptilian. They will approach it from the new Conceptual age, which is a partnership between the right and left brains, male and female, the yin and the yang and in limbic balance. It will be based more on dialogue, understanding, creative relationships and a sense of community through the power of balance.

I really hope that the young people in the Diaspora will eventually visit Sri Lanka to see for themselves that amongst all the negatives that is shown through media which is to do with the government and the LTTE, there is also compassion and understanding between people and a shared past to build a common future on. I see that acted out in the way civil society made up of all the communities are mobilizing to help the displaced people.

I also hope that they are able to transform their toxic emotions of fear and hate to a more balanced one of openness and flexibility in the way the university students in Pollonnaruwa found out.