Make peace with the past or be swept away on a torrent of suspicion

GAYA FERNANDO

Dear friends, diasporans, countrymen,

Don’t lend your ears or your tongues to anyone these days, or who knows what will happen?  That’s the general feeling today five years on from the end of war between the GoSL and the LTTE. Is this justified?

When there is an arrest of a human rights activist, there is an immediate outcry on the digital and traditional media. Any call for due process and a condemning of continuing evocation of PTA provisions is generally seen as ‘opposing’ the security of local communities. New suspicion lines and allegiances emerge from surface talk and posts on digital media that are mere expressions of sentiments that ride on a deep sadness for what we have not yet created in Sri Lanka post-war : making peace with our past.

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Today those detained, Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen have been released from detention. They may have been detained on well-grounded suspicion or in an advanced fact-finding mission re the whereabouts of a possible inciter of communal tension known to them. Others are still detained and more will be detained as they are in other post-war zones. These are matters for the defense establishment of a nation.

What is important to us as civilians is the climate of suspicion in which these arrests take place.

What is important is that citizens are not seen as fighting the defense establishment of the country but as striving in these yet dark days for the need to engage and reckon with our past.

There has been a lot achieved during these last five years in Sri Lanka. As a Sri Lankan lawyer and someone who grew up and formed my views from personal experience in Sri Lanka, I do not carry a torch or side with any particular view or group. I support a united Sri Lanka. I represent a middle-of-the-ground perspective and space that acknowledges the complex job of rebuilding Sri Lanka as many journalists and NGOs, peace activists, etc., failed to demonstrate independence and integrity; proving unreliable and insensitive to the security of the communities in Sri Lanka.

The parade continues with little change and this poses a real danger to the salt-of-the-earth people who are doing amazing healing work with the youth in Sri Lanka during and post-war and post-tsunamis.

What is missing, and what could be achieved in the next five years (albeit with an absence of naiivety regarding the real security threat to Sri Lanka from new formations and alliances), is a real engagement and reckoning with our past. This has been the case in other conflict zones and we are not talking about a truth and reconciliation commission as a mechanism either. When the Northern Ireland peace process commenced there was access and safety created for a number of activities, organisations and individuals.  One researcher Graham Dawson writes that fieldwork brought him into contact with those

“..directly involved in the generation, collection and representation of memories of the Troubles. Especially important were memory workers: community activists, local government officials, writers, organisers of local history projects, museum curators, voluntary sector professionals and those working in the heritage industry.(emphasis added)

He interviewed them for

“their insights into the local contexts and circumstances in which memories were now being produced and about the genesis, development and value of their particular work in relation to the difficulties and conflicts of the unfolding peace…” Graham Dawson Making peace with the past? Memory, trauma and the Irish Troubles (Manchester Univ. Press, 2011)

Question: Is there a growing network of self-help groups of survivors or victims of the Sri Lankan conflict? Are they “clearly providing an important new form of agency for the articulation  of memories of the recent war and longer cultural memories of the conflict?” as in Northern Ireland?

What is the future without an entire band of people mentioned above working towards the building of a new future. A future which requires a necessary engagement and reckoning with the past which has two intertwined strands?

1. The attempt to resolve the underlying causes of division and conflict by establishing the basis for peaceful co operation and the securing of social justice,

2. The attempt to address the damaging effects of violence inflicted and undergone in the course of conflict, whether through state repression and its resistance, war or civil strife. (Paul Gready)

araWhy are they needed, this network of self-help groups of survivors and memory workers?

“The desire to end violence and to create a new and better future, characterised by social arrangements that differ from those of the past in being free from conflict or in channelling it into non-violent and democratic forms, motivates conflict resolution initiatives.

Yet in such circumstances, a medley of attachments to the past are also in play, manifesting, for example, in grieving for loved ones and comrades who have lost their lives to a war, in the psychological effects of trauma, evidence of the powerful hold exercised by the past within the unconscious levels of the psyche, in nostalgia for the security of a known or lost world..In the need to uncover and know the truth about events of deep personal or social import that remain obscure and continue to haunt the imagination and in impulses to shape present or future actions to make good what has been lost or repair what has been destroyed in the course of conflict.” (Paul Gready)

We have many individuals who are carrying out the work above hoping that they will be seen for what they are worth and allowed to help heal the scars left by war. Yet, they never stop looking over their shoulder. They feel unprotected and I am not speaking about those who were arrested alone. This is a discussion of dealing with the past which goes  beyond any one specific case and embraces the entire post-war climate in Sri Lanka.

araA sadness that led to the creation of this website iSrilankan was to make space for the inclusion of writings of non-political writers who lived both in Sri Lanka and in other parts of the world.

How would the quirky, interesting, local Srilankanness be revealed to the Diaspora?

How could the humanity of the individual Diasporans be revealed to the local readership?

How could we get talking to and get to know each other?

For, in post-conflict Ireland it was noted that the framing of the conflict in Northern Ireland took root from the dynamics of the Peace Process and the memory did not extend beyond to the events of earlier years, as opposed to the memory in the rest of Ireland. In our context, loads of  Sinhala and Thamil Diasporans somehow, as in Northern Ireland, appear to have commenced interest in and framed the conflict from the events which ended the war in 2009 and its aftermath and many do not extend to the events before this.

In the new generation some vow to carry a torch even more fiercely than the one held by their parents while others step out from under its shadow and embrace a new future. Closure or letting go, moving on, etc are words describing this process.  “A need to liberate the present and future from the burden of the past that threatens to overwhelm them” Paul Gready.

Making peace with the past and a form of closure are essential  to both the Diaspora and local Sri Lankans, and possibly could be achieved without threat to the security of the Motherland as was achieved in other conflict zones.

Without this, we will always live in suspicion of those who govern, even when they act in the best interests of the country; those who work to heal the country will attract the suspicion of those who govern, and those who believe in due process will suspect every arrest, every attempt to restrict access and information. Without a reckoning with the past, all of us survivors will be swept away in a torrent of ‘suspicion’ which leaves little for future generations to work on when making sense of our conflict on a later day.

Disclaimer: iSrilankan has the non-political objective of  simple facilitator of friendship and compassionate community between all our peoples.  However, it is admitted that every issue in Sri Lanka is fraught with “ambivalence, paradox and contradiction” (Gready P.).

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