Jerry 21 (the Sri Lankan version of Ben 10) on being Sri Lankan (#IamSL), and not a facist
I’m 28 and I grew up with the war. Now the war is over and I’d like to live. I think this is possible within a multi-ethnic Sri Lanka with equal rights for all. And I don’t think we need to wait for the government, we can simply define what Sri Lankan is ourselves.
I think that this simple idea has some legs. People are changing, compromising and – in a word – beginning to reconcile.
Take this exchange:
Affected Tamil: Indi, your comment reflect your lack of knowledge about Tamils’ issue in Sri Lanka.
Jananthan Thavarajah: I do agree with you, there are some issues about Military interference and so on, but If you really wish for a reconciliation you should be able to think from other side also. first of all we should make our mind out of anger and hatred.
Indi: I am not denying Tamil suffering. I am expressing my compassion and asking for a Sri Lankan solution.
Affected Tamil: Indi, I or other Tamils like me have nothing against you, your opinion or your compassion for reconciliation. I personally respect that.
Indi: You may not be able to reconcile with the government, but you can reconcile with Sri Lankan people like me. That’s a start
Jananthan Thavarajah: Well said Indi, Let’s do it!
Phew. See? We managed to keep it civil and get to some common ground. The ‘debate’ on Al Jazeera was framed as the usual Tamil/Sinhala thing, but I think we managed to break that frame.
Rajan Bala: I am all with you with your point of view, now how do we walk the walk? Would the Sri Lankan government elect a Tamil to be a President? Why is the government ran by always the family members? as normal people I am fine by living together with Sinhalese, I don’t have an issue because I’ve lived with Sinhalese, and I ate with them, I’ve never questioned it. Now the problem is the way government is ran and the political leader’s agendas, now how do we fix it?
Again, we haven’t worked out the issues, but we’ve found a space where we can work them out together. We’re on common ground. You wouldn’t believe how impossible this was even one year ago.
Even Groundviews is showing independence (from its editor). Sanjana Hattotuwa responded to the Al Jazeera appearance by insinuating that I cut my own Skype connection cause the questions were too hard (Um, no). Petty much? His response to dissent has been to call it ‘inanity‘, calling me ignorant, or saying ‘when you sleep with dogs, you get up with fleas’. Thankfully, some Groundviews readers have been itching for change.
rajivmw: While I agree that indi expresses himself somewhat clumsily in the video, I think his overall argument is entirely worthy of consideration. There are many issues that cut across ethnic lines, so why not unite and start tackling these things together?
Haren: I don’t mean to sound patronising, but I am sad (and admitably, also mildly amused) to see so many well intended, intelligent people entangled in a loop of “semantic” string.
There is little doubt that we can all agree that we would ideally like to see;
1. All Sri Lankans living with equal dignity and have equitable access to opportunity
2. People of all races and religions cooperating and working together.
3. The national identity of the country being inclusive and broad, accommodating and enriched by the diversity of culture, language and faith.
4. All Sri Lankans having genuine reason to feel proud to call themselves “Sri Lankan”
Romesh H: Your anger would perhaps better be directed at understanding what Indica is saying as opposed to putting him down.
Indica seems to be defending a politics of universal dignity, characterized by:
– equal dignity of citizens
– equalization of rights and entitlements
– principle of equal citizenship.
This is model over the long-term aims to assimilate multiple communal identities into one national identity. The general problem with this model is that it does not allow for communal difference; a flaw that can be fatal in multi-cultural/racial/ethnic communities.
Dayan Jayatilleka (actually in government): My point is that KS’ [Kumar Sangakkara’s] cosmopolitan patriotism has as a bedrock, an attitude that is far from yours and your readership’s, and far closer to mine, Kalana Senaratne’s, David Blacker’s, and possibly Michael Roberts’, Prof Razeen Sally’s and young Indi Samarajiva’s. You may also come to realise that it is Judge Weeramantry’s outlook too. We are proud of and support our armed forces, consider ourselves unambiguously Sri Lankan, condemn the LTTE as terrorist and are glad that the war was won by the Sri Lankan armed forces, though we are sad it had to be fought at all. We also define our patriotism and our Sri Lankanness in multiethnic, multilingual and multireligious , i.e. inclusionary and pluralist, terms.
4. This is a position that most supporters /voters of the UPFA and UNP can be won over to. Yours is not.
Have a look through the comments yourself. It’s not that we all agree with each other, but we agree about something, which is that we’re Sri Lankan. This is unusual for these usually interminable debates.
Even the contributors of Groundviews have been discussing a future-facing identity, rather than looking back on the war. From the latest post by Celina Cramer, via Sri Lanka Guardian:
Having listened to Kumar Sangakkara’s MCC Cowdrey Lecture, self-realization dawned upon on me and I came to the following conclusion: in the end, when your country is at stake, which is the case for Sri Lanka, there is no time to think of your ethnic origin, race or caste, you put yourself forward and embrace all ethnicities and call yourself a Sri Lankan.
Prior to that Kalana Seneratne hemmed and hawed around the issue for a while (is it really so hard to say ‘I’m a Sri Lankan’?) but at least he wasn’t talking about war. I suppose the regular scheduled programming will return next week, but for a while there was something else. Something a bit more civil as well.
What To Do
What a lot of people have asked in the comments is A) why doesn’t the government do reconciliation and B) what can we do. I think the second question answers the first. The government simply isn’t going to do it. The people of Sri Lanka have to define themselves and thankfully, there is both a constitutional and a personal reality to build on. We do live together and these is our written right. There is still, of course, much work to do, but I believe that this change is generational and that its time has come.
Sri Lanka Unites is doing work on the ground bringing people together, especially young people. There are a lot of small organizations like Sri Lankans Without Borders that do work in the diaspora. Even within Colombo, the Warehouse Project is doing a lot of work bringing different classes/races/whatever together.
I also think that commenting, discussing and just talking is positive work. Me personally, I’m trying to collect videos of Sri Lankans and tag them #IamSL, to try and break that perception that we’re defined by race and war.
All of these things to do are positive, fun and productive. They don’t negate the sufferings of the past or balance the scales per se, but they change the frame entirely. Which is what we need. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country full of interesting people. We’ve got to break the cycle of war and build a better Sri Lanka, as Sri Lankans.