There are words and terms that get bastardized due to improper usage, over-use and association with error, political noxiousness and flippancy. Reconciliation is one which has some currency in this regard and perhaps is second only to ‘yahapalanaya’ (good governance). In a different time we had ‘peace’. Even seemingly benign and indeed wholesome terms such as sustainability have suffered the natural and sad consequences of being hijacked and re-defined to mean the exact opposite of the original meaning.
And so we have ‘yahapalanaya’ as a cuss word and we have ‘reconciliation’ as a joke. Nevertheless good governance is and will always be a wholesome project while reconciliation is something this country needs to obtain as a non-negotiable for progress of any kind.
Reconciliation, in its current usage, refers to unresolved issues among communities. These include all manner of grievances which include threat, vulnerability, inequality and other citizenship-anomalies. Whether they are real or perceived is another matter that also needs to be addressed because claims need to be substantiated and aspirations less than ridiculous given current realities.
We don’t have a happy starting point apart from the fact that there’s no armed conflict right now. The absence of war helps. However, the lack of will on all fronts to be rational, desist from selectivity in citing history and a predisposition to let the political prerogatives of the moment, frame engagement has not helped.
Reconciliation, in its current usage, refers to unresolved issues among communities. These include all manner of grievances which include threat, vulnerability, inequality and other citizenship-anomalies
As in most cases, there are immediate issues to sort out and there are medium and long term objectives to achieve. There are immediate issues such as people in custody, those who are said to have disappeared and lands occupied by the military. Some of these are being addressed.
There is demilitarization, for example, perhaps not at the speed that would please some, but it’s happening. On the other hand, demands such as wanting the military out of the North and East are silly. We can’t have the military stationed in space or at sea. Furthermore, we are talking of a 30-year armed conflagration and it is prudent always to err on the side of caution. Demilitarization, yes, but complete removal of military presence therefore, a resounding no.
That said, there iss no reason why properties occupied by the military should not be released to owners or, in the event that strategic consideration require continued occupation, alternative land be alienated to the particular citizens. Furthermore, as makes sense in times of peace, the focus should be on reconciliation of key issues and enhancing military intelligence operations, even as military presence is decreased.
There is the issue of those in custody. It has been made complex by Tamil politicians including those who supported the LTTE calling for the release of all LTTE suspects even as they demand military personnel accused of wrongdoing during conflict be tried. On the other side of the divide, Sinhala nationalists are hell-bent on protecting all military personnel regardless of whether or not the particular infringement had anything to do with military activities.
In this regard, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) came up with a decent enough proposal, citing inter alia the unofficial amnesty that sorted out similar issues pertaining to the insurrection of the late eighties. They also noted that the affirmation of the principle of equal treatment where soldiers are to be charged would require the re-arrest of some 12,000 LTTE cadres who surrendered (many with weapons) and were released almost immediately following ‘rehabilitation’ way back in 2009.
The JHU called for a classification of crimes by the LTTE, military and para military groups currently in custody in terms of whether they were related to the conflict and whether they were in the pursuit of personal matters. Any individual, regardless of which military outfit he/she belonged to or post held, accused of pursuing objectives unrelated to the war or contravened conventions related to the execution of military action (e.g. rape, abduction, theft), in or out of uniform, should be tried, they said. All others, including the 60 plus LTTE cadres in custody should be released immediately. General Amnesty is what they have called for. Finally, they have said that with such a move all claims and demands pertaining to this issue should end. This makes sense. They have not, after all, called for the abolition of the Office of Missing Persons. That’s a separate issue, a medium-term one, one might add.
I have already addressed the issue of citizenship anomalies when it comes to religious communities in a previous article in this series (see ‘Notes for a Manifesto: State, Religion and Rationalization’) and shall not go into it. Instead, let’s move to ‘the long-term’.
It’s thorny, naturally. It’s about grievances and addressing of the same. The biggest problem here is that people have their preferred outcome and tailor grievance (with lots of frills) as well as the terms of engagement accordingly. There is the issue of language, where the legislation is in place but operationalization lagging due to lack of political will and resources, but there’s certainly progress.
There are historical claims (e.g. ‘The Exclusive Traditional Homelands of the Tamils’ for example, as claimed) based on which ‘devolution solutions’ are proposed with scant regard for history (the archaeological and historical records are either ignored or corrupted, myth replacing truth more often than not), demography (close to 50% of Tamils live outside the North and East), geography (boundaries have no basis in history but were drawn arbitrarily by the British for their own purposes) and economic logic (uneven distribution of resources does not support the devolutionist case).
The vandalizing-intent of the Tamil politicians (proceeding from where the LTTE stopped) as well as moves to create a Tamil-only territory (again proceeding from where the LTTE stopped) will not help obtain reconciliation
This is where reason must come to replace emotion. An historical audit need to be done. Grievances must be shorn of frills and what’s obtained should be the basis of the reconciliation proposal. These issues have always been ignored in all consultative processes so far. Moreover, as was recommended by the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission), devolution should satisfy all communities. Key term, ‘all communities’.
Any ‘solution’ that aggrieves one community (e.g. the Sinhalese) will not resolve, but make for renewed agitation. The vandalizing-intent of the Tamil politicians (proceeding from where the LTTE stopped) as well as moves to create a Tamil-only territory (again proceeding from where the LTTE stopped) will not help obtain reconciliation. Similarly, the nonsensical moves by state authorities to establish a ‘Buddhist mark’ in certain areas of the Northern Province (putting up Buddha statues) offends and can only re-open wounds that are yet to fully heal.
The key word is ‘rationalization’. Take it out and we don’t obtain reconciliation but a grotesque creature by that name; misnamed, misbegotten and made for continued tensions or worse among communities.
This, like the previous articles in this series, is also addressed in particular to Nagananda Kodituwakku, Rohan Pallewatte, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Maithripala Sirisena and any other individual entertaining hopes of becoming the next President of Sri Lanka.
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer.