Waiting for peace

By Dinidu de Alwis

Many historical events in Sri Lankan occurred in July. But two events stand out when one glances at the country's history, from an ethnic conflict based stand point.

Nearly thirty three years ago, on July 27, 1975, the then Mayor of Jaffna Alfred Duraiappah came to the Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Jaffna with two companions. It's something he had done numerous times before. But this time, there was a difference. Four people were waiting for him outside the entrance of the temple. One of them took out a revolver and fired at point blank range at Duraiappah, who collapsed. The four then swiftly got into Duraiappah's car and drove away. The person who shot Duraiappah? Velupillai Prabakaran.

Nearly twenty five years ago, on July 23, 1983, an army patrol of fifteen men in a jeep and a truck moved from Gurunagar camp. "Four Four Bravo," as it was known, neared Tinneveli nearing midnight. A deafening explosion sent the lead jeep flying. In an instant, bullets and grenades started raining upon the disoriented and confused soldiers who were crawling out of the rubble. Thirteen died, one was aged just 20. Their bodies arrived in Colombo on July 24, and all hell was breaking loose. Over the next couple of days over 1000 innocent Tamil civilians would be killed. Thousands of homes would be burnt. Shops would be looted. Black July had begun.

The events of July 27, 1975 are seen as the first violent manifestation of the ethnic issue, and the events of July 23, 1983 are seen by many as the first major military encounter of the ethnic conflict. Either way all that is history. History that we did not learn in school text books, history that was not taught.
Where are we today?

We are still a country in the middle of a violent conflict. War, has erupted on a large scale for the fourth time. In a way it's a sick unending cricket match with both sides trying to "score" higher than the opposing team. Numerous people have been injured for life.

But what about the impact away from the battlefield? A society that used to talk about a murder for weeks has been reduced to one where a news item carrying a story of fifteen dead would not get a second glance. As a friend of mine once said, "We do headcounts now. If it's 10, or even 20 deaths now, we don't get shocked or moved by it. If it's nearing a hundred, then it becomes a shocker."

When do we stop being suspicious about a person who gets onto a bus with a pottu? When would simple things like whipping out a camera and taking a photo where ever you choose, in your very own country, be possible? When would it be possible to go to Galle Face Green again, eat Isso Wada from the vendors, watch kids with kites and see young lovers under umbrellas?

When would it be possible for us to walk along without getting stopped? When would it be possible for us to say, when asked "Methana mokada karanne?" (What are you doing here?)…"Nikang" (Just).
When will we be free?

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