Don’t pull the draw bridge up

There is euphoria in the island and none can deny the relief felt by any peace loving Sri Lankan to know the military conflict is over. Whether he is cultivating in Kakirawa or marketing in Wellawatta the opportunity has dawned for everyone to begin a new and safer journey. Who does not want peace? Who wants to live in fear and get so used to it that it becomes a regular routine to hear of yet another bomb blast. Or for a mother to be frightened to death when sending a son to school not knowing which institution would be targeted next. The Northern story is no different. What would little kids feel when they hear the scream of fast jets tearing the sky? Wouldn’t it bring back stories, or worst still, terrifying recollections ingrained in hard disc memory of death falling from above? Would they forget easily monstrous helicopter gunships loitering menacingly searching for enemies that are difficult to define?
That has been our lot and we all have paid the price. The ones abroad too, irrespective of what race they belonged to. Everyone suffered from this war and the ravage of their homeland. It is an empty statement to say that only those who live in Sri Lanka have a right to talk. It is another meaningless morsel to add “if they love this land so much, they should come here.” Yes, such sentiments are good for evening TV times and baseless conversation.
 
Scott’s immortal “breathes there a man with soul so dead” did not imply that someone abroad cannot retain the love of his motherland. The Diaspora may buy their chicken at Tesco’s and lunch on Caesar salads but the sambola, parippu and ala theldaala feelings will always be there same as the idely, waade and masala thosai tastes that will not leave the pallet with a hundred sips of Shiraz or a thousand bites of Kentucky fried.
 
That is us, Sri Lankans, Sinhalese, Tamils, Burgers and Muslims, home rooted or diasporic, always having a little place in their heart linked umbilical to a tiny island that has been the home of all races. As for Sinhalese and Tamils, we came on Monday, they came on Wednesday, that was more than 2000 years ago, let’s not forget that.
 
So what do we have now? The LTTE war machine is defeated. An army of separatists that the CIA rated as the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world has been vanquished totally for the entire world to witness in awe, erasing forever our “kavun kanna yodaya” label. The long drawn battle had lasted almost three decades and many a nameless fallen had fought valiantly and have selflessly sacrificed life, leaving behind loved ones to lament so that we could have our homeland back. That is the totality, wasted lives from both sides for blatant mistakes by men who had the power to decide. It does not matter today who supported whom, the war is over and the draw bridge must be down and hands must extend in newly acquired friendships built on trust, maybe slow at start, but trust it must be, if we are to change the festering dissection. What wisdom is there in denying the defeated an honourable way to search for peace and reconciliation?
The people in the camps, that’s tragic and nobody denies the harrowing experiences of the displaced. Yet, we must be careful not to mix the issue with other connotations of minority rights.

The situation in the camps fell upon the administrators and 300,000 people came as an exodus seeking shelter and they had to be accepted, accommodated and cared for. Questions of security had to be addressed in the midst of mostly biased international scrutiny. If the occupants of camps are not in universally accepted living conditions that should be positively addressed and not racially demarcated. During tsunami times I personally saw effected people languishing in makeshift shelters for months in putrid conditions and suffer the worst. They were Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils. It wasn’t easy to handle tsunami displaced people and even today if one were to visit Moratuwa, right next to the Lunawa Railway station there are so many tsunami victims still living in squalid conditions and waiting for a new home to move into. They are mostly Sinhalese, all suffering with impotent anger for five long years since the tsunami.
 

Let us totally accept that the plight of the IDP is sad, but it is not racial, just circumstantial. This is the time we need everyone to take the blinkers off and look across ethnic barriers. Steps are being taken to care for the displaced and steps must be expedited to stem the tide of disaffection. No one in his right mind would deny the need of resettlement so long as the enormity of the task at hand is given due consideration.

I know that 84 years old grand dame of journalism, Aunty Anne is coming with a walking stick to write about racial amity. I also know Sohan and Sunil gathered thirty artists, the best in the land to record a song “Sri Lanka we are one” and arranged to give proceeds to help the children of the injured and the displaced. Thousands are rising to the call and it is not a call of a government or a race, but a Sri Lankan call of people who love this land and who prayed and pleaded for peace and has risen from the mire of war to add their smidgen for racial harmony.

Let us not allow die hard racists from either side, local or settled abroad, to raise the draw bridge. The big picture is so beautiful, we of the older generation have seen it and you of the younger minds need to know what it is to live in peace. A Sinhala man to go to Keeramalai and bathe and drink Thal ra or a Tamil counterpart to visit Bundala Bird Park and taste meekiri with kithul pani in Hambantota and not be asked to produce an id card.
More than eighty thousand deaths have been counted in this conflict that began with an agenda to divide the land which unfortunately has now resulted successfully in dividing the people.

This is the moment for the leadership to set the tone and the “common us” to add our mite to tilt the scale in favour of peace and harmony. 

As individuals, be it a Sinhalese or a Tamil, let us not raise the draw bridge to isolate ourselves and callously wallow in racism. The war is over, we are one people, we have all suffered and it is time to find ways to live together in peace.
“Sri Lanka we are one” that is what they are singing now, let us clap hands and stamp feet and join in the chorus.
 
About the author

Capt Elmo Jayawardena is the Founder/President of CandleAid Lanka
CandleAid Lanka (formerly AFLAC International). We are a link between one person’s generosity and another person’s humanitarian need.
CandAid helps people who suffer from the multiple burdens of poverty. My job is to make the world hear their cries – HELP ME
Website:
www.candleaid.org

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