I went to the Neelan Tiruchelvam lecture by Upendra Baxi. That was a good hour of intellectual throat clearing and I retained nothing. However, I did pick up a brochure of a speech by the Bishop of Colombo which was very lucid. I reproduce the edited speech of Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera here because I think it’s worth listening to. It’s a very realistic and compassionate answer to the question, after the war, what next? I agree with pretty much everything he says and pray that we’ll be able to implement a fraction of his ideas.
After the war, what’s next? Our topic can be answered in one sentence; after the war we must strive towards becoming an integrated, just, non-violent, united and reconciled nation with space for all to live with dignity. But I have 25 minutes to expand on this and I shall try to do so under three crucial repercussions of the war.
1. The physical repercussions. This includes the loss of lives, displacement and destruction to property and livelihoods.
a) In all our religious cultures people gather to mourn and offer solidarity when death occurs. Consequently we need a national event to remember all who died because of the war.
b) The situation in IDP camps is a cause for concern. The need for IDPs to be held in camps till security screening is completed is understandable… but this screening must be done professionally and speedily and equally importantly, it should be accompanied with the concurrent resettlement of IDPs in batches.
c) There is another dimension to the IDP crisis that we ought not to lose sight of. This is that those in the camps are resourceful Sri Lankans who have lived with dignity. The possess resilience and skills and can contribute productively to the nation’s economy. The Vanni population must be seen not only as a humanitarian crisis or security threat but as resourceful humans with much to offer the common good.
d) All those Sri Lankans who carried arms for whatever cause or reason require our understanding and support to get on with their lives after the war. Our young service personnel are entitled to opportunities to catch up with the lost of tertiary education or training that the war may have deprived them of.
e) Similarly, there is a need for an early amnesty for deserters and LTTE cadres, backed up with programmes of rehabilitation.
2. Psychological repercussions. This has much to do with the ‘Winner-Loser’ syndrome leading to the ‘Insider-Outsider’ complex.
a) Today the Tamil community experiences a more subtle kind of insecurity and uncertainty. The real fear that LTTE cadres could still be surviving within the Tamil community is likely to step up community surveillance. Consequently there is an urgent need for clarification of positions and the building of mutual trust. Recent public statements by some Tamil leaders that the sovereignity and unity of the country are not in dispute are welcome and help to allay the fears of the Sinhala community. Similarly, initiatives such as the recruitment of Tamils to the Police Force in the Eastern Province convey the right signals of community trust and are timely.
b) Traces of discrimination at check points and in the requirement of householders lists should be eradicated. My office is from time to time asked for details of Tamil member of staff. We instead supply information on all staff. An inclusive approace in such procedure reduces both discrimination and fear.
c) The substantial provision of Tamil as a national language in government departments and police stations, as required by law, must be implemented. We should not forget that a large percentage of Muslims also speak Tamil as a first language. The establishment of integrated bi-lingual schools willbe an immense investment for trust building among future generations.
d) Finally, the recent JVP request for a truth and reconcilation commission also requires serious consideration. If directed with maturity and commitment such a process where people will receive information of their loved ones who have died or are missing in a forgiving way will help us overcome the bitterness of the past and open a door to reconcilation for the future.
3. Repercussions on our understanding of conflict resolution and the democratic war.
a) When a war ends with a convincing victory for one side, no matter the debate on who was more responsible, there is a possibility that the way of aggression may too easily be recognized as a problem solving device in other instances as well… The antidote to this danger is the deliberate shift to a non-violent, democratic culture of continuing negotiations to resolve our differences.
b) The core of our national conflict is our inability to contain our differences in such a way that we may live together with mutual respect. Identifying a solution to this conflict, at least in theory, has never been the problem. This solution will suggest that all in this country need to be treated equally, all should receive equal opportunities, all need to live with dignity, all need to be equally free before the law and that all should avoid violence and stay in right and reconciled relationships. Here then in essence is the solution; but it needs to be written into a political proposal and constitutional framework by the experts.
c) What then is the problem? The problem in my understanding is the process; the means of getting there. This is where different power struggles and agendas contend. And this is exactly where political will, prowess, integrity and wisdom make all the difference. Wise and just governance is what political leaders are elected for. It is their business mostly to make this happen.
I wish to end by referring to four universal values which have influenced this presentation. These are values that all our religions can identify with and which have potential to direct our shared Sri Lankan journey away from war and violence towards integration and reconciliation. I present them as our common calling. These are:
- The care and support of the vunerable and the poor, always
- The condemnation of all types of violence, especially killings, always
- The affirmation of dialogue, negotiation, and compromise in our decision making, always
- The return to a healing of memories of hatred and revenge so that we may strive towards a future in which we will be free and reconciled, always
I commend these values to our political leadership and the people of our beloved Lanka.
Photo: view of a church from the pub across the street, Kandy. By me.