Six years is not years enough to assess the historical worth of something that happened six years ago. The worth of anything however is judged and re-judged at the will and the fancy of the judge. Some events naturally draw more attention than others. Their significance is more frequently subject to assessment. So it is with the 18th day of May in the year 2009.
That day marked the end of a chapter. As is often said, stories don’t always end when chapters close. That said, the day marked a departure from how things were for close to thirty years. Large sections of the population had reason to celebrate. There were of course those who saw in that particular conclusion a defeat. They had no reason to celebrate.
Wars are never beautiful. They are marked by horror. Wars never end peacefully. Like all wars this war also had to end. It was not pretty. Neither was what went before pretty. And had it not ended when it did and how it did there’s nothing to say that things would have been prettier.
One thing is clear, though. Few would want Sri Lanka, the communities they identify with and draw identity from, or themselves to time-travel to some point before the 19th of May 2009. This does not say that everyone is happy with the status quo. Indeed no status quo offers happiness to all in equal quantities. That is a separate issue.
The common thing was relief. The reasons were of course varied. It was not about who won or lost, who celebrated or mourned. Who after all would want bombs exploding randomly? Who would want to fret over whether or not they’ll see their children again after leaving them in or sending them off to school? Who would dread that always expected piece of news from the front about a loved one’s death, regarding which side he or she fought on? Who wants roadblocks and check points? Which entrepreneur would love the instability that is a necessary product of war?
And so there was and there is relief. There will be those who say ‘we won’ and others who lament ‘we lost’. There will always be. But by and large if there is celebration it is about relief. It is the same with remembrance. There will be people remembering with gratitude those who paid with life and limb to bring out the ‘today’ that is made of relief and hope. There will be others remembering those who fought but whose flag fell when they fell.
The Buddha, in the Dhammapada (Sukhaa Vagga, Verse 5) offers a soft and healing comment on the idea of conquest and victory:
Jayam veram pasawati - Dukkam seti parajito
Upasanto sukham seti - Hitva jaya parajayam
Conquest begets enmity; the conquered live in misery; the peaceful live happily having renounced conquest and defeat.
( Dhammapada, Sukhaa Vagga verse 5)
The ‘conquest’ whose celebration is licit, in this context, is the victory over fear, clash of arms, limited freedoms etc. It is a victory-moment for all. But for this to be relevant perhaps everyone should understand that underlying all this is a human need to grieve and that grief has no colour, race, ethnic or other identity or faith.
P Sathyalingam, Health Minister of the Northern Provincial Council remembered: ‘All those who died due to the war are humans. I paid my tribute to all humans, whether fighters or civilians, whose lives ended in unfortunate ways.’
P Sathyalingam remembered. He remembered for all of us. That is a victory. A victory that should be remembered.
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