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‘To Unite or Not to Unite’ is THIS the Question ?

‘To Unite or Not to Unite’ is THIS the Question ?


Gaya Fernando

I agree with Elijah.  Not the old prophet on the frontispiece of the King James’ Version but young Elijah with tousled hair and same appreciation of quirky Sri Lanka as I.  But then Elijah and I are from the same land.  When I saw his Youtube testimonial on Sri Lanka Unites a long time ago I said to myself ‘watch that space.’  A few days ago Elijah sent me his essay on Reconciliation.  I read it and knew that I would need, as I generally do, a quiet moment to reflect on it and introduce it properly.

When I saw that it was published a day or so later,  I questioned my delay and wished that I were more interested in quickly publishing something new and fresh. Yet in that quiet moment, a Crossroads TVI interview from Toronto delivered the perfect contextual intro to Elijah’s writing.

Reconciliation in Sri Lanka : Crossroads TVI, Toronto

One of the Crossroads co-hosts is Parthi Kandavel. He presented Reconciliation in Sri Lanka with the ‘Gold Combo’ of Kumaravadivel Guruparan (Guru), Law Lecturer at the University of Jaffna, Prashan De Visser, Founder of Sri Lanka Unites and Christin Raja, Vice-President of Sri Lanka Unites. An interview with V. Kuhanendran, veteran Tamil activist based in London, working with the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) follows which is both interesting and relaxing after the rather stern pow-wow before which made me abandon my parallel task and root me to the vid for the entire hour-long interview.

My short comment is that all what was said by both Guru and Prashan is valid. It’s in plain English (except for Christin who spoke in Tamil and whose voice I love listening to even when I don’t understand a word of what he says as I was not taught Tamil in school; I trust that all said was reasonable). Christin Raja you see is also from my land. Listen to the interview.

A great interview. Good points made by a visibly peeved Prashan de Visser were on importance of friendship, on not generalising, on the appreciation of the complexity of the post-war Sri Lankan socio-political issues and on the ease of dismissal of the large numbers of young people who are seemingly dismissed as being beyond self-help, identification of key issues and asking tough questions.


‘To unite or not to unite?’

Instead the following question could be posed: ‘do those who genuinely feel that much needs to be done in post-war reconciliation have the right to sneer and to be smug as well as to dismiss the right to unite the right to reconcile and the right to lead a young grassroots youth movement through empowerment, friendship and a rightful Sri Lankan identity?’ To seek a coherent Sri Lanka identity should not be considered a threat nor a process, which needs to be preceded by top-down measures surely?

Let’s take a similar sentiment expressed elsewhere that the Jaffna Library should have been left as it were and that the rebuilding of the Library was a whitewashing of the crime. Leaving the smouldering ruins as they are is a call from those to whom the denial of the enjoyment of the Library mean little in comparison to the heinous crime. For heinous it was. This appears to be a literal interpretation and one that lacks confidence in the future generations, their enlightened mindset and the potential they have to remember crimes, analyse their causes and look at guarantees of non repetition, which hopefully could be aided by a well-equipped rebuilt library than a burned-out monument to the crime.

What is common to both calls is that it is to leave the status quo undisturbed as a memento of a crime rather than allow future restoration by the GoSL which is then branded as a whitewashing. Much the same as the Sri Lankan identity is viewed as a whitewashing.

What is also common to both these calls is that they are generally made by those whose children are not likely to depend on the Jaffna Library for books and literary events on Saturday mornings. The call not to unite as Sri Lankans are also unlikely to affect those who call for it in much the same way as it affects Sri Lankans who live in rural communities. This could damage the credibility of the demanders in the eyes of the grassroots youth movement who see them as non-caring and dismissive of their own potential prematurely.

The question then appears to be ‘how could these reconciliation dialogues be continued to constructively engage what someone called ‘the necessary exasperating hindrance of the Diaspora’ which could be a critical voice and a credible one that exchanged views with Sri Lankans who identify with being Sri Lankan?

We should not dismiss rural young people. On my last visit a year ago, I was surprised and impressed by the presentations made by rural mothers and young people who were given an exercise in self-empowerment. I thought back to my days in Pannala where the machine operators creating the most exquisite thongs and other Victoria’s Secrets, were every bit as feisty, intelligent, maddening and articulate as their city-counterparts.

We should not dismiss the Diaspora either. “There are no spokespersons for the Diaspora” someone from Toronto commented and I hope to make this a continuing series if possible.

Enough dismissal. Before Elijah’s tousled hair gets too sleek and tidy I think we need to give him a good listen and the young people a chance to transform our society to prevent further prejudice and to know why they say never again. It’s time.

“This leaves us with just about one option: to work towards building or rather restoring inter-ethnic relationships and making people care for each other. Teach people to love, as Nelson Mandela said. Opportunities should be created for people to meet in safe environments – where there is no fear and equal treatment for everyone – and identify their common links and learn to appreciate their differences. The idea should be to give people a firsthand experience of what it would be like to live in a reconciled nation, where equal rights, justice and appreciation of diversity prevail; where people work for the good of each other rather than just for their own.

The whole mindset of ‘Us against Them’ should be shattered. People should be directed to build on the common links and explore the various aspects of a common Sri Lankan identity – one that can be embraced by all communities and has equality at its heart.

Once friendships are established there, spaces should be created for people to discuss their issues and understand each others’ struggles. We live in a country where terrible things have become so normalized we don’t even recognize it. Slowly but surely these bonds, if nurtured properly, will become stronger. The more friendships that are created the stronger the unified voice will be.

Read More at Reconciliation by Elijah Hoole

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