This photo released by the Sri Lankan Presidential Media Division shows Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (L) participating at the National War Heroes Day (Photo by - / Sri Lankan Presidential Media Division / AFP)
The 11th National War Heroes Day (Ranaviru Day) marked the lives sacrificed by the security forces personnel who were part of a struggle to defeat terrorism in this island nation.
The ceremony held at Battaramulla on Tuesday (May 19) under the patronage of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would have brought tears to the loved ones of the security forces personnel, who perished during the 26-year-old conflict.
Death and war are destructive, but the way in which references are made regarding celebrating this day are disturbing. Some media institutes mention ‘Ranawiru Commemoration Day’ while there are others who refer to it as ‘Victory Day’ and a day that marks the ‘end of the war’. Wikipedia refers to this ceremony as a day set aside to ‘remember those who died from both sides’. What about journalists and visitors to this country who died as a result of the war, but were not in support of either of the two parties at war?
Eleven years after the war concluded the Sinhalese are happy for two things; one is because the war is over and the second is that the majority race sees a head of state who backs the thoughts of sentimental Sinhala forces.
Last year marked the 10th anniversary of the conclusion of the war. What was significant was that the Yahapalana regime allowed the Tamil community to commemorate the dead. The island’s present authorities must remember that time has little significance when it comes to healing mental wounds; hence 11 years can be too short a time for the gruesome memories of the war to fade away from battered minds.
The present regime must take note that the minority Tamils demand a political solution to their problem; referred to as the national question. This point has been stressed by former Chief Minister for Northern Province CV Wigneswaran. He once said that the regime must provide a political solution to the ethnic issue and that economic development can wait.
Right thinking peace loving citizens of this country are worried at how president Gotabaya Rajapaksa is promoting ex-military men as heads of government institutions . We can see the country steadily moving towards establishing a ruler similar to a ‘king’ of the days of the monarchy; a time when citizens had no power to question the decisions taken by the country’s sole ruler. Even during that time democratic regimes fell because those who preferred the system of monarchy, whether they were in power or not, caused divisions in the people for their survival.
What we must grasp is that this nation is divided and power hungry lawmakers love what they see. If the Yahapalana regime tried to take war memories out of the minds of the people, the present government is doing the opposite. The Canadian prime minister at this juncture has asked the Government of Sri Lanka to pursue a meaningful accountability process at a time of celebrating 11 years after the war concluded. It’s at this time that the government has promoted 177 Army officers among whom is an individual who was taken to task by the previous regime for making an inappropriate gesture during a protest by ‘Tiger’ supporters in London.
"If the tears shed by the Sinhala mothers who mourn the deaths of their sons who served the Army can move Tamil mothers the country would have achieved something"
The people of the north gave peace a chance in 2002 when Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe formed the government. But that doesn’t mean the northerners would watch passively if the government imposes conditions on them and tries to change their living ways. One good example is the northerners opposing the installation of a tower that would support providing 3G technology in Jaffna. The people in the area protested saying that they feared that the rays produced through a facility like that would be harmful to the human body; especially pregnant mothers and children. Opposing such a project was the wish of the Tamil people and what’s heartening was that Muslims, who generally grab business opportunities, stood in solidarity with the Tamils and joined the harthals.
Tolerance plays a big role in accommodating the ideas of the suppressed communities. That could be why the government security forces allowed the remaining of a monumental structure built in memory of LTTE cadre Rassiah Partheepan, AKA Thileepan, ever after regaining Jaffna peninsular in 1995. That structure was brought down by the Mahinda Rajapkasa regime when the government forces defeated the LTTE in 2009.
This article in no way supports the ruthless tiger rebels. These separatist rebels never valued peace and democracy and even forced the recruitment of innocent civilians at the height of the war. For the record it’s revealed in a biography penned by Swaminadan Wimal on the life of LTTE cadre Thamilani Jeyekumaran that the rebels were struggling for answers when angry Tamil civilians queried from the armed LTTE tigers why the movement killed Tamil freedom fighters belonging to other terrorist rebel groups and also the chasing away of Muslims from the north.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was ruthless as Tiger Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. But when the LTTE lost control of Killinochchi in 2009 he asked the LTTE to lay down arms and surrender. When a tiger suicide bomber injured Army Commander Sarath Fonseka president Rajapaksa responded by saying, “I emphasise and caution that one should avoid misunderstanding our desire for peace and our responsibility to achieve it as a government as weakness”. And finally when the remaining LTTE cadres were hiding among civilians, all gathered at the Omanthai Army Camp, (According to the book ‘Under the shade of a sharp sword’) he addressed the gathering using a public address system and said, “the war is now over and the people have been saved. No one needs to fear”.
The former President has that human touch as one side of his personality and can show the total opposite when someone stands in his way. He destroyed former Army Commander Fonseka, who played a pivotal role in winning the war, when the military man became his political opponent.
The difference between brothers Mahinda and Gotabaya is that the former is engaged in ‘unadulterated politics’ while the latter is doing state administration in ‘military style’. Gotabaya’s policies may be effective, but the manner in which he puts his points across may not go well with the northern Tamils.
"One good example is the northerners opposing the installation of a tower that would support providing 3G technology in Jaffna"
Traditions in Sri Lanka can’t be changed that easily. Those who represent the Sri Lanka Army can no longer have two labels; the Sinhala identification which refers to them as ‘our Soldiers’ and the Tamil identification of them as ‘Government Soldiers’. May 18 shouldn’t be a day of ‘victory’ for the majority Sinhalese and a day of ‘defeat’ for the minority Tamils.
If the tears shed by the Sinhala mothers who mourn the deaths of their sons who served the Army can move Tamil mothers the country would have achieved something. We need both sides to forgive and forget; not celebrate victory in one part of the country when another community mourns the deaths of their loved ones.
Strangely an apolitical president like Gotabaya, who was in the thick of the conflict, is slow in understanding that war is something that we don’t want to discuss about anymore.