History repeats itself; first as tragedy and second as farce! -
As yet another July passes by, the spectre of the Black July haunts the minds; the pogrom that took place in July1983. Penning the very first installment of this column; exactly a year ago, I dedicated it to the memory of those victims of the dreaded Black July, who received neither justice, apology nor compensation. For some, it is, but just a fading memory; some say that such dark passages of history are best left to be forgotten rather than being whipped up thus rubbing salt to the wound. I agree, to a certain extent; but not entirely.
They are best forgotten in a context of little likelihood of repetition or re-occurrence. They are best forgotten if the two communities are in perfect harmony and such reminiscence nothing but an affront to the respective ethnic psyches. But they are not best forgotten, if we seem to be wading across a highly treacherous stretch of troubled waters in terms of ethnic relationships between the majority and the minorities, the Tamils in particular. The educative value of such incidents are immeasurable.
Lessons not learned
Civilized people learn from history. Last year, when I wrote that article, no State Minister had openly invited LTTE to be revived in order to afford safety to children in the North. When I wrote my article, no Eelam map had been paraded in public in religious festivals; no leading monk had invited a Hitler type leader, with zero ethnic tolerance, to take reins of the country.
A lot of water has gushed under the Kelani Bridge since I wrote that article. The ethno-religious political landscape has turned darker by several hues, since then.
At that time the Sinhala polity was not sliding towards the lure of an ethno-religious despot with the aegis of the Maha Sangha. 13 A was under fire alright, but not seen as demonic as it is now by all and sundry. More importantly the Constitutional Amendments, the flagship project of the Yahapalanaya government was in full sway even to the extent of including proposals for making the Sri Lankan state a secular one. Constitutional amendments and efforts at reconciliation are now but the exclusive domain of NGO s and so called ‘traitors’. Isn’t it?
Winds of change for the worse
All has changed. The TNA is unequivocal in that they feel hard done by the government, which in their mind is the government of the South. We can charge, dismiss, sue or even crucify former State Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran for her alleged pro-Tiger rhetoric. After all, if Dr. Deepika Udugama is to be met with death penalty, according to a retired military officer, what more to be said about Vijayakala? The three main national leaders are in a breakneck race to pamper the chauvinistic sentiment in the south with the upcoming electoral battles in mind. They have no important task than going to temples, meeting monks and showing their allegiance with what is now grossly misunderstood as Buddhism.
It was none other than Prabhakaran, who instructed the suicide carders who came to Colombo, that the Sinhalese had very short memories. Well, he got that dead right, didn’t he? We have already forgotten that we have just wriggled out of a 30-year long civil war, unbelievable suffering, unimaginable losses and irreparable damage to our national psyche.
The peace that dawned, albeit through bloodshed, is precious. Or at least, it should be! There is no choice for the three communities but to live in peace.
Three decades have passed us by sending our youth (economically poor) to be slaughtered in palm groves and them sending theirs, even teenagers (yet again poor) to blow themselves up in highways. The toll need not be inexhaustible. The poor youth, too deserve to live!
Reconciliation....? Are you kidding?
Why then is the term reconciliation still a figment of the imagination and not yet a reality? Why does it raise eyebrows in the Sinhala South every time it is uttered? Why does it remain a prerogative of foreign nationals to emphasize the importance of this word and not locals.? Why are we so reluctant to acknowledge the fact that the Tamils of the North too has a right to lead a peaceful and civilian life rather than under watchful eyes of the military and intelligence?
On the other hand why aren’t the Tamil leaders, even now unable to comprehend the dynamics of ethnic relations in a country where 2/3 of the population are from the majority and that you need to take cognizance of that fact rather than over estimating their worth just because an electoral system allows them a disproportionately bloated representation in Parliament. Why are they oblivious to the danger that a revival, not necessarily of the LTTE, but of the Tamil militant sentiment in general could bring unbearable suffering and destruction yet again on themselves and their charge?
Until and unless we revisit these issues in a sensible manner, it is imperative to keep reminding ourselves of the lessons that 1983 Black July hold. Never forget that history repeats itself and moves in circles.
It is an understatement to say the situation is combustible between the two communities concerned. Any one who visits the North could not but feel the ethnic tension that heaves in the background. The response Vijayakala got from the broad masses of Tamils for her perceived bravery is alarming. I have little doubt cometh the next election , she will score a record breaking return for her electorate.
The same with the South
There is already speculation on Hitler-like figures to take reins; it would not only be drug peddlers and the underworld kingpins at the receiving end if that becomes a reality. A ethnic tolerance is fated to be a sure victim of such an all right racist victory; its heal will rise the already lurking Tamil extremist sentiment, thus completing yet another cycle of ethnic violence.
The blame game and finger pointing between the North and the South, leads nowhere; if at all, it does towards self annihilation! We rarely had leaders with vision beyond the obvious and immediate ‘next election; to resist the lure of sacrificing all possibilities of genuine reconciliation and long lasting co existence for cheap electoral success. The recent Sinhala-Muslim riots in the Central Province, is nothing but a stark reminder of how combustible ethnic relations are in this country.
Blackness never fades
We do need to remember Black July; not with a sense of vengeance or alternately , with the false complacency that that type of era is well past us. But grasping with every ounce of our intelligence, that for our mere survival, if not for advancement as a nation, we cannot afford to have a repetition, in whatever shape or size.
In that sense, we find ourselves at ground zero; Square One! The Blackness of July has not faded with time as some would love to believe and conveniently declare.
And I would keep on writing about the Black July year, after year, after year....