This is a guest post by Brigadier (Retd) LC Perera, a former Army officer now dedicated to reconcilation work through his Heal Lanka foundation. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pressed by the international community for speedy, effective steps at reconciliation, the government stands at cross roads today. The clock is ticking. If this country is to move forward effectively, we desperately need to rise above the pattern of thinking we had got used to for the past few decades. As Einstein pointed out, the same level of thinking that gets you into a problem cannot get you out of it. It might be more profitable for the country to stop castigating the external ‘bogyman’ and to take a hard look inwards. Are we doing what we really should be doing? For our own sake, to ourselves, we need to be true.
Three years after the end of the war, the conflict still rages and we need to acknowledge that the conflict will cease only when the need for an extremist group like the LTTE is removed from the minds of Sri Lankan Tamil community at large.
Reconciliation is possible only where bruises of conflict are healing and for healing, there needs to be above all, trust and a sense of security with consistency. This is required in the North as well as in the South. There is of course much to be seen in infrastructure development, resettlement and rehabilitation of ex-combatants etc. But the core issues, the sense of truly belonging and acceptance, equal opportunity and inclusiveness in decision making, the sense of dignity and security, these among others, need to be addressed and strengthened. Means of dialogue must be in place that enables parties to even disagree at times but yet retain the trust and rapport. In interaction, guarding the status quo or the ‘majority complex’ is not an inclusive approach nor is it conducive in building an identity of ‘one nation’. Similarly, the Sri Lankan Tamil community need to rid of their ‘minority complex’. However, the redeeming factor is that in each community there is a considerable segment that is not plagued by these complexes and blend well. There is hope.
As we approach another anniversary of the end of armed hostilities on 19th May, we see a window of opportunity for healing and reconciliation. It would be well to remember that there were a considerable number of Sri Lankans who, willingly or unwillingly, lost their lives on the ‘other side’ of the divide and their loved ones are also sensitive to the significance of that day. If we are sincere about the idea of ‘one nation’, a genuine way forward would be to acknowledge that in every upheaval since independence (since we were responsible for ourselves), irrespective of the divide, it was Sri Lankans that died in violence seeking a place in the land of their birth.
An effective step to commence the national healing process would be for leaders of all communities to come together and collectively acknowledge the loss of our people (all Sri Lankans), collectively acknowledge responsibility for failure by omission or by commission to build an environment to prevent such loss and irrespective of their political or ethnic divide, to mourn for the dead, prior to any further celebration of victory. Although mourning is considered a personal matter, such a collective gesture would be the beginning of a journey from a divided past to a united secure future.
This gesture of course requires statesmanship all-round.