Colombo, Jaffna, Media and Communications, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Big Game

A group of men are standing in an outdoor location. They are grinning and laughing and are triumphant but most importantly of all, they exude an air of victory. The camera pans out to reveal four or so neatly arranged bodies on the grass in front of them. The men pass a dog tag amongst themselves, they finger it, look closely at it and ask an unseen photographer to take photographs. There is an air of jubilation.

I have seen this sort of picture before. Old photographs of colonial masters in Asia and Africa holding rifles aloft, an air of triumph and victory on their faces, their trophies displayed before them. Often there are two native bearers, flanking the masters, with appropriate expressions of blankness. The photographs were a documentation of a momentous occasion for the men. The trophies of big game – Lions, tigers, leopards, elephants, rhinos etc.

On May 19th 2009, the picture on television was also of big game – human tigers. The leadership of the one of the world’s most fearsome terrorist groups – The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam lay before the army – vanquished, dead. The entire population of Sri Lanka was shown these images, sometimes in gruesome detail, sometimes in unnecessary repetition.

From the weekend, when it was known that the LTTE was defeated, the population of Colombo and by assumption the rest of the island began to celebrate. Crackers were lit, lorries and trucks reminiscent of big match trucking, flew Sri Lankan flags, tooted their horns and raced up and down streets. Men and women danced on the streets, they distributed sweets and drinks and milk rice and gathered at junctions holding Sri Lankan flags aloft. The Sri Lankan flag was everywhere – houses and businesses flew them, streets were decorated with them, even vehicles draped the flag in every possible way. It was clear that the Sri Lankan people, tired of war, conflict, terrorism, suicide bombs, landmines, child soldiers, check points, etc., etc. were proud of the defeat of terrorism.

Day after day, I can hear the sounds of victory. Day after day, I hear the silence of a defeated people. For that is the unspoken message that is being shouted out from the rooftops. We won! So someone lost! Who is that someone? For me, that someone is all of us. When I see all these jubilant people, I think of the Tamil people, I wonder what they must be thinking, how they must be feeling? Are they scared? Are they worried? Are they jubilant? Are they flying Sri Lankan flags?

I personally do not think we should be ‘celebrating’ the end of the war like this. I heard someone say, that perhaps it would have been better if the people went to temple and prayed. Yes, perhaps that would have been better. Infinitely better. Each time I hear a jubilant vehicle, I cringe, each time I see a group of people dancing in celebration, I want to turn away. Why do I feel like this? What is my problem? And then I realize that many of my friends feel the same way. We can’t all be wrong.

I suppose that I am upset with the way we are dealing with the end of the war. Even Dutta Gamini showed Elara great respect in death. Even he, a king I didn’t think much of, had greater courtesy that the current people and leadership of today. What a come down for a people who have 2500 years of history and culture, to behave in such an uncultured way.

Prabhakaran didn’t come out of the woodwork fully grown. He grew to such powerful heights for a reason. That reason must be addressed. If not, all I can say is that after 26 years of war, we haven’t learnt our lesson. And when you fail to learn a lesson, you have to repeat the grade. An ominous message that we should listen to.

In closing I just want to say that there is a Sri Lankan flag folded and kept in my room. I see it everyday when I wake up, and when I go to bed. That flag will fly when I am proud to be a Sri Lankan. Right now it is still folded.