Human Rights, Human Security, IDPs and Refugees, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Religion and faith

Christmas 2008 to Christmas 2009 in Sri Lanka

Last Christmas, together with few friends, we prayed desperately, hoping a bloodbath would be avoided

This Christmas, we prayed and lit candles for the thousands killed and missing during the war, the ones who doesn’t have a grave as their family members had to run over the dead (and sometimes dyeing) bodies to save their own lives.

Last Christmas, we prayed for a stop to political killings, disappearances, forced recruitments, unjust arrests and torture. And for families of those detained, disappeared, killed.

This Christmas, we did the same.

Last Christmas, we prayed for easing of government restrictions on food, medicine, shelter and access for aid agencies to help the people affected by war.

This Christmas, we prayed for those injured & sick – as they were denied access to food and medicine and were also denied the opportunity to get help from those who wanted to help.

Last Christmas, there were prayers for a military victory during the Christmas mass I attended. Those displaced, detained, tortured, disappeared, killed and their families were forgotten.

This Christmas, God was thanked for the military victory during the Christmas mass I attended. Those displaced, detained, tortured, disappeared, killed and their families were again forgotten.

2009 was undoubtedly the most horrible and tragic year in my life. Not because the LTTE was defeated.

But because it was a year that many of my Tamil friends in North had family members killed, injured, starved, and displaced.

Because it was a year that hundreds of thousands of Tamils were detained behind barbed wires or in detention centres just for being Tamil.

Because it was a year that many Sri Lankans, many church leaders, many close friends, promoted, justified and supported a bloody war. And then celebrated and blessed a military victory and refused to even acknowledge & mourn for thousands killed, missing, injured, displaced and detained.

Because it was a year I had spent time visiting people detained behind the barbed wires, those in the hospitals, and towards the end of the year, those who were allowed to go back to what remained of their homes, paddy fields.

Because it was a year that I had to visit brave and committed colleagues and friends in prison and go to courts regularly whenever they were brought before courts.

Because it was a year friends and colleagues were abducted, killed, injured, ridiculed and called “traitors” / “terrorists”. These were people, who stood for justice, opposed war, spoke and wrote the truth on behalf of the oppressed. Amongst these those injured, went missing and died were priests who opted to remain in the war zone amidst shelling and accompany their people. Amongst these were also doctors who were detained and defamed for opting to stay & treat the sick and wounded in makeshift hospitals that were shelled repeatedly and for speaking the truth.

Because it was a year that a friend and colleague I had great admiration and became very attached had to spent his Christmas in prison. He had won praise and awards for his courage and commitment to witness the truth and stand up on behalf of the oppressed, as Jesus had done. But the cost was a long prison sentence for himself. And agony and distress for his wife, parents, family and friends.

Because it was a year many more such colleagues and friends fled Sri Lanka in fear of their lives. Because it is a year that ends with one friend wondering where to go, as his visa expires end of December, he doesn’t have visa for any other country, and he is fearful to come back to Sri Lanka.

Because it was a year that I felt a huge relief that they would be able to live without fear, each time we managed to send someone out of the country for safety. Because each time, I felt a tinge of sadness that they can’t live in their own country – our country – with dignity and without fear.

Because it was a year that I sighed with relief each time a friend or colleague was released on bail. Only to whether they would be safe…remembering those who had been released and then abducted or killed on their way home after being released from detention.

It was through these – the oppressed and those who resisted & struggled against oppression – friends and colleagues I knew and those I didn’t know – that I encountered Jesus in 2009.

2009 was also the year that for the first time, I myself fled the country, in fear of my life, and consider myself fortunate to be alive and relatively free as the year comes to an end.

I was amongst those who experienced Jesus through the love, care and support of few people in Sri Lanka and outside, in a way that I had not experienced before. Those who called, sent a text, emailed and asked how I was. Those who supported me during my time in exile, including the many who welcomed me and hosted me. Those who listened to my stories. Those who shared them with others. Those who appreciated the work I did. Those who critiqued what I was doing in a spirit of love. Those who cautioned me of risks, restrained me and pulled me back sometimes. Those who strengthened me in my faith and enriched me spiritually, through such depressing and hopeless situations. Those who joined me to be with nature and occasional joys & celebrations.

Thanks to them, I will look forward to a better 2010 in Sri Lanka. And I will count on their support and love.

Mary gave birth to Jesus as a refugee baby, amongst sheep and shepherds, as no one else offered a room and a roof, just like mothers from the war zone I encountered in Northern Sri Lanka this year.

Days after his birth as a refugee, Jesus’s parents had to evacuate him to a foreign land to protect him from being killed by the rulers of that time who felt threatened by his birth, just like many Sri Lankan parents I met this year, trying to hide their children from shelling, political killings, white van abductions, forced recruitment, arrest and torture.

May this same baby Jesus, “who pitched his tent amongst us (John 1:14)”, and who came to “bring good news to the poor & set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18)” bring peace with freedom and justice to all of us, especially to the displaced, those detained unjustly and families of those who had disappeared and killed.