“People think that the war is over but it’s only the gun battle that has ended. The conflict still rages; especially abroad,” says Brigadier (Retd) L. C. Perera.
Brigadier Perera, was the former Chief Coordinator for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and Coordinating Director for the Ministry of Resettlement during the last stages of the war. Having been directly involved with IDPs and rehabilitation efforts of ex-combatants of the LTTE, he knows the ground situation and believes in the importance of reconciliation with those who were directly, as well as indirectly, affected by the war.
The forum Heal Lanka is his brainchild. He formed the forum when he discovered that there were many more who shared his opinion that post-war reconciliation was of critical importance. Describing how the forum works, he explains it will have a ripple effect on the country. Heal Lanka, he says facilitates those who want to assist in the reconciliation process. “It’s a gathering of likeminded people who like to see the country healed. I’m not only referring to the Sri Lankans who are here but also to those who are abroad and would like to help out.”
|Brigadier (Retd.) L.C. Perera.
Pic by Susantha Liyanawatte
“We need to get a clear idea of what victory is,” he elaborates, adding “destroying the fighting capacity of the LTTE is important but it’s not the final victory. The final victory is when we overcome the platform on which the LTTE stood; and that is to say that there are two nations.” Brigadier Perera stresses, that Sri Lanka is one nation and with diverse people who must all be accepted and treated with equality so each and every citizen will feel a sense of belonging and unity. “It is only then that we can all say we have won.”
There is a myriad of different areas that must be addressed post war; from development, easing of post-traumatic stress disorder, rehabilitation and even helping those who were indirectly affected by the war free themselves from the bitter feelings they may harbour for various reasons.
“There are people abroad who have left Sri Lanka with traumatic experiences and they pass down their stories of trauma to the next generation,” he says explaining how that generation carry around the second hand hatred. “But they have not come to Sri Lanka. They do not know that Sri Lanka has moved forward,” he adds. “Sri Lanka is not perfect but there is more tolerance and oneness than there was in ’83. So those people of the diaspora need to be reached and healed.”
Brigadier Perera says that even the most simple of gestures can help people shed their fears and doubts and encourages people of all races to see past their differences and live peacefully together. He stresses that it applies to all citizens—from the west, east, north and south.
He recalls a story that one of the IDPs told him about how he escaped the war that helped conceive the idea of Heal Lanka. “While I was coordinating an IDP operation, there was this old gentleman whose son was shot in front of him and dragged away because he refused conscription. This was during the last stages of the war. He eventually came across the lagoon and he said he was so tired or afraid, he couldn’t come out of the water. Then he said a soldier came; and mind you, the LTTE were firing, bombs were going off. He related, ‘He(the soldier) held me like this and he slowly took me out of the water. The way he held me- I knew I was in safe hands’. That message really touched me. That simple touch eased his fears. It didn’t just help him out of the water, but he overcame his fears too.”
Brigadier Perera believes that reconciliation is not only the responsibility of the government and the forces; it is also the responsibility of the public. His message is that we can all help heal each other on both a psychological and emotional level. “The old man’s condition didn’t change but he wasn’t a wounded person. Even after he’d lost his son, he had found peace simply because someone helped him out of the water. Simple things like that can heal people,” he adds.
That is the ripple effect, he would like to see happening through ‘Heal Lanka’. Each healed individual will be able to heal others who’ve been through similar experiences. As the ripple expands more Sri Lankans will be free of bitter feelings and resentment towards each other,” says Brigadier Perera adding that the time for healing and reconciliation has come for Sri Lanka.
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