A week ago, after Sinhala Buddhist mobs rioted in Ampara, a dumb group of four Muslim youths played into the hands of Sinhala Buddhist mobs creating mayhem in Digana, Kandy. While in Ampara law enforcement was slow and hesitant, in Digana the Government had to get its act together before the whole district caught fire and with UNHRC sessions still on in Geneva.
This violent Sinhala Buddhist extremism is not questioned in terms of much-touted ‘reconciliation’ by the leaders of this Unity Government.
A week ago while Ampara and Digana were still melting, ‘reconciliation’ under this Government was questioned on Twitter by someone handling the account @garikaalan, who tweeted on the ‘Office for National Unity and Reconciliation’ (ONUR) funded omnibus film “Her, Him and the Other” titled Thundenek in Sinhala.
This three-part film was directed by three of the most reputed of Sri Lanka’s present day Sinhala film directors, Prasanna Vithanage, Asoka Handagama and Vimukthi Jayasundera.
The tweet questioned the inability of ONUR in finding a Tamil film director for their funded project and said,
“One of the female characters-a Tamil mother of missing person portrayed as ‘finding’ her son in a Sinhalese soldier. So much cliché. Not reconciliation, propaganda!”
The three short films themed on post-war Sri Lankan issues and strung together into a single film, perhaps is very creative and arty, seriously insightful and may be worth the time watching it.
That does not necessarily mean it could in anyway contribute to Reconciliation.
The tweet by @garikaalan thus begs an answer to the question, ‘What is reconciliation in a society that remains bloodied, mutilated and polarized after almost three decades of a militarised ethnic conflict?’
What was not possible when the Sinhala South was at times in “war fatigue” cannot be achieved now with Sinhala South prides itself for
‘Reconciliation’ is a popular word in present-day Colombo politics, touted by Government and NGO leaders in numerous platforms and in their statements made more for international attention.
Literally ‘reconciliation’ according to the Cambridge English Dictionary means “the process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas or situations agree” and also “making and accepting apologies”.
Over decades, there are “two opposite beliefs and ideas” that came to be gradually embedded in Sinhala Buddhist and Tamil societies; the Sinhala Buddhists believe this country belongs to them and all others, Tamils and Muslims included, can live accepting Sinhala Buddhist dominance, on the other hand, the Tamils believe they too have an equal right to the history of this country, no less than the Sinhalese.
That eventually led to the near three-decade militarised ethnic conflict concluded in 2009 May. The conclusion of the military conflict did not bring about any ‘agreement’ in ‘making and accepting apologies’ for what was done in creating ‘opposite and conflicting beliefs’ that led to the brutally militarised conflict brought to a conclusion with equal brutality.
After a long brutalised armed conflict, ‘reconciliation’ in present-day Sri Lanka looks like a broken egg that for sure cannot be patched up again.
Yet, broken societies can be mended without scars that would scare new generations into new conflicts. All it needs is a political leadership with a will. A will to undo what was done in the past to de-polarise society that still remains heavily polarised and is being continuously polarised every day.
Depolarising certainly is no easy task with Sinhala Buddhist politics dominating the South for Sinhala Buddhist votes. Sinhala Buddhist dominance remains with a psyche that is deeply pegged to the two main political slogans, “Unitary State and Buddhism as the State religion”. The dichotomy that is played out thereafter is on accusing Tamil Separatism of conspiring to divide this only Sinhala Buddhist country in the world map.
Developing and nurturing this Sinhala Buddhist dominance was and is a political campaign.
It sprouted even before independence in 1948, grew in stature with Sinhala political leadership that to date is being directly and indirectly patronised by mainstream political parties at every level in daily life.
From Sinhala leaders visiting and taking advice from the Chief Prelates of Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters to local leaders using their local temple for politics.
In short, the two main political parties in the South and in the unity Government have never seriously and organisationally discussed reconciliation
From political leaders promising a Unitary State, a privileged status for Buddhism in the Constitution and also patronising ‘war heroes’ to local leaders taking all that a step and a half further, giving them an anti-Tamil flavour.
Backed up by mainstream media from Colombo, the Sinhala media contribution certainly cements the social psyche of Sinhala Buddhist supremacy.
Meanwhile, national education for generations, has been adding its own weight in producing the next generation for Sinhala Buddhist dominance.
This is a massive messed up political collage that has to be politically deconstructed for reconciliation to break into reality in the Sinhala South.
In the absence of mainstream political leadership taking up that challenge, over three decades of Colombo based NGO activism with trillions of dollars pumped into peacebuilding, conflict transformation and management, educating journalists on secular and inclusive journalism, creating awareness on and promoting power-sharing and federalism have all failed and miserably too.
With funds that came without much effort, with “employee activists” who were only responsible to the “project” and not to society, NGO activism could not provide the political leadership necessary in challenging Sinhala Buddhist politics.
What was not possible when the Sinhala South was at times in “war fatigue” cannot be achieved now with “tested and failed NGO activism” when the Sinhala South prides itself for eliminating one of the most ruthless and powerful “terrorist” organisations in the world.
Sinhala Buddhist politics cannot now be challenged by NGOs including ONUR when they are accused in the South “as proxies of international conspirators trying to divide the country” and therefore remain tarnished and insulted.
In short, NGOs are no substitutes for much needed political leadership in countering Sinhala Buddhist racism.
This country cannot afford to slip into a “Myanmar syndrome” with political leaders playing Suu Kyi with reconciliation.
Mainstream political leadership is the only answer in challenging Sinhala Buddhist supremacist ideology that obstructs and disrupts depolarising that is necessary for actual reconciliation.
Having wasted nine years after the military conflict was concluded, this country cannot wait for UNHRC Resolutions and international power brokers to settle our political conflict with their jargon.
The Sinhala South does not want to understand and protesters in Kepapulavu do not hear.
These decades old, locally made conflicts cannot be outsourced to outside agencies to find answers for us.
We need to create conceding and a conducive environment for serious dialogue across our ideologically polarised societies.
Having promised peace, unity and reconciliation in lieu of minority votes, the two main political partners in this Unity Government have a duty and responsibility, to be honest, and sincere in ‘walking the talk’.
They have to provide open and active political leadership for reconciliation to happen. They have to begin by bringing their own political parties to publicly resolve that they would work for reconciliation to have the Sinhala South on board.
They have to begin “the process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas or situations agree” and also “making and accepting apologies” for all that had gone wrong in the past, without blaming each other.
Reconciliation is not about leaders taking high moral ground making grand statements on “peace and unity”.
Right now, it is about President Sirisena from SLFP and PM Wickremesinghe from UNP getting their parliamentary groups to publicly adopt a resolution to the effect they would (i) Oppose Sinhala Buddhist extremism in every form and shade, (ii) Stand uncompromisingly for immediate release of all Tamil detainees without charges, (iii) Provide for social and economic life in North and East without security forces interfering in civil activities, (iv) Immediately take steps to release all private land presently occupied by security forces to legal owners,(v) Fast track the long delayed OMP work in co-operation with affected families agitating to know about their missing family members and (vi) Also work towards shared political power in an undivided country.
These two leaders in the Government should similarly get all their PC Members and their newly elected LG members to adopt similar resolutions in provinces and districts.
No political leadership can honestly and seriously talk about peace, unity and reconciliation unless their political parties at every level first agree and consent to an actual programme on reconciliation.
It is only if the whole party dialogues and decides on a reconciliation programme the leadership can launch a live, ground level campaign for reconciliation and counter Sinhala Buddhist extremism in the South. It is only then that international interference in local politics can also be effectively countered.
To date, no political leader in the South has got his political party (no woman leading a political now) to agree for a reconciliation process.
They have not discussed in their own party, in Executive Committees and Central Committees as to how reconciliation can be achieved in this mutilated and polarised society.
In short, the two main political parties in the South and in the unity Government have never seriously and organisationally discussed reconciliation and power sharing in their own party branches, affiliated organisations and in their annual conferences.
That says everything for failed reconciliation in the past nine years. It would remain so until the two political party leaders honour their pledge for reconciliation and power-sharing by getting their own political parties to accept and consent to the basic demands of the war-affected people in the North-East.
Reconciliation is not rhetoric on platforms without party structures agreeing and them wooing Sinhala votes. That duplicity will not be the answer for the people. That duplicity leads to irresponsibility in politically leading the country on much needed, much-delayed reconciliation.
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