Plus - Letters to the editor

Responsibility of achieving lasting peace now lies largely with us

By Manori Unambuwe, Colombo

Sri Lankans around the world are celebrating the victory over terrorism. Here in Sri Lanka there was a spontaneous and uninhibited display of relief and joy at the news, with every man, woman and child displaying their emotions in various ways – dancing in the streets, hoisting the national flag, or simply getting together with family and friends to drink a cup of joy.

With the initial euphoria abating, we need to remind ourselves of the magnitude of the responsibility we all have to bring peace to the country. “Peace” is not a word to be played around with. All Sri Lankans, especially the Sinhalese, should demonstrate their espousal of peace in their thoughts and actions.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa says that from now on there will be no minorities in this country. There will be only those who love the country and those who do not. However, those who love the country comprise many communities whose varying aspirations and hopes brought about the conflict in the first place. If we, the Sinhalese, don’t recognise these points and address them, we will lose a golden opportunity.

As the larger community, the Sinhalese have to take the first step towards real integration. We have to embrace the Tamil, Muslim and other communities as a part of our national fabric, and thereby put an end to any accusations of discrimination and racial prejudice. This is the way to bring about sustainable peace.

Being “magnanimous in victory” means being sensitive to the feelings of the Tamil community, which has suffered greatly in this war. Whether they openly supported the LTTE or were silently watching from the sidelines, they are an integral part of our society, and the Sinhalese should realise it is time now to actively participate in healing the wounds of war and hatred.

The Tamil Diaspora, which had been agitating to save their “leader”, is reeling from the fact that he is no more. The umbilical cord has been severed. They are trying to come to terms with his death and the disbanding of the terror group. They need time to absorb the reality, accept its finality, and realise that terrorism is not the way forward. Equally, there are Tamils, here and overseas, who do not espouse terrorism and ask only for peace.

Barring the shameful events of 1983, orchestrated by unseen political hands that knew how to manipulate gullible Sinhalese, we have tried to live with all communities in relative peace throughout the dark years. However, if we are honest, we should admit that years of living in a war situation have caused an invisible divide.

We cannot deny that many of us were wary of unknown Tamils – watchful, careful and wondering if they were Tiger sympathisers, or even potential suicide bombers. We worry about admitting Tamil persons to high-security areas, and we are extra-vigilant if we note any suspicious behaviour. Often, these suspicions have proven right.

Over the years, the war has touched every community. Families and friends have fallen victim to indiscriminate bombings and assassinations.

The families of soldiers who have lost their lives or have been maimed and disabled have paid heavily. We have suffered as a country, where life has not been normal for the past 26 years. We live in constant fear, wondering when the next bomb will explode. Our children have had to see gruesome pictures of mangled corpses and the severed heads of suicide bombers.

Meanwhile, the economy has stagnated. We have lost so much talent and so many brilliant young minds in the brain drain. Hundreds, even thousands, have left this country because they were unhappy about political and economic conditions here.

The scars, though invisible, remain. There will be a residue of anger, resentment and sadness, and these emotions may be expressed overtly or covertly, consciously or unconsciously. If we now allow these emotions to surface in a negative way, it would defeat the purpose of achieving peace, and the war will continue – in a non-military way.

We have to search deep within ourselves, and with honesty, in order to eradicate such feelings and embrace the Tamil community without prejudice and bigotry. We must ensure that the thousands of lives lost in the war were not lost in vain. We should strive to achieve a true integration of the communities through friendship, dignity and mutual respect.

The civilians freed from LTTE-controlled areas have known only war. They have been brainwashed and believe in the LTTE doctrine, which nurtured hatred and antagonism towards the Sinhalese. Today they are forced to accept the helping hand of the government and the armed forces, which they once shunned and fought bitterly against. Whether or not they endorsed terrorism, they are torn between loyalty to their cause and accepting the government as theirs.

What is passing through their minds – numbed by years of war and weeks of near starvation and fear and the struggle to stay alive – cannot be imagined by those of us who live in relative safety and comfort in other parts of the country. It is the responsibility, not only of the government, but of every citizen to provide trauma counselling and rehabilitation services to these people. We must reinforce our friendship and show true commitment to re-integrating these very unfortunate people back into society.
While many Tamils may be welcoming the victory, and even quietly rejoicing, others are expressing valid concerns about reprisals in Colombo. We have heard stories of Tamils being forced to hoist the national flag against their will. It is understandable that a large segment of the community is mourning the deaths of fellow Tamils, whether they were terrorists or not. We must recognise their feelings, fears and apprehensions.

Many of us say the war was caused and dragged out by political parties with narrow agendas, going back to the time we were given Independence. We have to be honest with ourselves and take collective responsibility for having brought to power such politicians who created a monster. We also need to collectively address the root causes of the problems.

Equal rights, equal opportunities and an open mind are essential for peace. The government and the valiant armed forces have done their duty to the country by freeing it from terror and giving us an opportunity to start with a clean slate. Now it is our turn, as citizens of this country, especially the Sinhalese, to help make the dream of peace a reality and reflect “peace” in our thoughts and actions.

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama says: “Responsibility does not only lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually. Peace, for example, starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us.”

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