Colombo, Human Security, Identity, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Remember the Riots

On Black July, I was 3 years old


Thirty years ago today, on Black July, I was 3 years old.

I doubt I even knew what the difference between Sinhalese or Tamil or Muslim meant at the time. I am angered that the 30 years since has taught me otherwise.

I’ve spent the last 6 weeks, working with Sachini Perera who invited me to be a part of the ’30 Years Ago’ initiative that Groundviews had commissioned her for. Our specific project covers the stories of over 40 women we have been photographing and interviewing together. The experience has been a process of growth and insight for us both. Towards the last lap of our journey, we interviewed a mother of two young children. One point of her conversation has continued to resonate with me since; her young daughter had asked her recently what a bomb was.

When I was her age, I didn’t need to ask.

Yes, we are at apparent peace now. The cost however, has been too dear, the aftershocks still echoing beyond the annals of history, reminding us that we’re too stubborn a species to enjoy something as simple as peace.

Today I am a parent and it has completely changed my outlook in many senses. I am neither proud nor ashamed of my race, instead I’ve come to a place where I don’t care what terms I use to identify myself at all. I want to bring my son up in an environment where each individual is held accountable for their actions and not an entire collective for the actions of a few.

For now, my son is growing up in a country with no apparent violence. He isn’t exposed to daily checkpoints and guns, the constant possibility of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, watching bombs explode and scatter human limbs in front of his eyes; big, obvious signs of violence. Things happen at a far subtler level now. How do you protect your child from something that is less tangible to the naked eye?

I’ve often wondered how many instigators of violence are themselves parents. I feel we’re responsible for raising the next generation and we seem to often forget this when we go about with our lives. I am equally guilty.

This morning, as I held my son in my arms, I was reminded of what his presence in my life has been doing for me, since his first flutter of a movement in utero; he has made me want to be a better person. All these grandiose notions of wanting to change the world I’ve had since childhood have boiled down to a simple fact; I can’t change the world, I can only change me.

If you are a parent I ask one thing of you today. Go home and hold your child. If you are not with them, pick up the phone and make a call. Make contact and remind yourself of why you are here.

It could make all the difference to the next 30 years to come.

(Words by Natalie Soysa, Photograph by Sachini Perera)


Editors note: Both Natalie and Sachini are part of a project, curated by Groundviews, that brings together leading documentary filmmakers, photographers, activists, theorists and designers, in Sri Lanka and abroad, to focus on just how deeply the anti-Tamil pogrom in 1983 has shaped our imagination, lives, society and polity.

The resulting content, featuring voices never captured before, marrying  rich photography, video, audio and visual design with constitutional theory, story-telling and memorialising, has no historical precedent.

The project is an attempt to use digital media and compelling design to remember the inconvenient, and in no small way, acts of daring, courage and resistance during and after Black July.

Read more here.