It’s “Lesson Learnt” — 146,000 Equal “Naught” — Equals “Reconciliation”
For most like me, especially if they had been in teaching like me, a “lesson” is something we think we know the meaning of. We do have a very broad, a very intangible idea of what a “lesson” is, but not its actual, concise meaning.
At least, that “intangible idea” was what I had in me about a “lesson.” It was honestly the “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC) appointed by President Rajapaksa, that provoked me to check on the meanings of the two words, “Lesson” and “Reconciliation.” Yes. “Reconciliation” is another word, we have taken for granted in present day politics.
Different people not only learn the same lesson in different ways, they learn different lessons from the same lesson too, for different reasons. If a lesson is “an experience or an event that serves as a warning or encouragement” (Encarta World English Dictionary), then for most here in Sinhala Sri Lanka it seems, an “experience” or an “event” is an encouragement to continue regardless and never a warning, to look back.
It was that to most, when Bishop of the Mannar Catholic Diocese, Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph told the “Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission,” over 146,679 human beings in the Wanni are not accounted for, in post-war Sri Lanka. This unaccounted-for number of human lives in the Wanni around October 2008 that in most other democratic, civilised societies where human life has a value, would have created a political stampede, has neither crossed over to the government controlled areas when the war was finally over in May 2009, nor are they there (living) any more, in the last land patch of the battle zone.
This compelled the Bishop of Mannar, Rt. Rev Dr. Rayappu Joseph to tell the LLRC, (quote) “According to the Kachcheri, (meaning the District Office) the population in Wanni was 429,059 in the early part of October 2008” (unquote).
In that early part of October, Mannar District was being emptied by the escalating war. Adampan, Vidathaltivu and Nachchikuda with almost all ground on the West Coast in Mannar District had by August, fallen to the military. Pooneryn was a major target and was taken on November 15. By September, almost the totality of Wanni civil population was being herded in the two districts, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.
When President Rajapaksa declared the war over, in his address to the nation on May 19, 2009, all the remaining Wanni people who were living as whole or in pieces, were being counted by the military to be taken under their control. That process did not take long. Not even a fortnight. Therefore, the UN Organisation for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA) had with them the numbers of displaced persons who had to be attended to, by end June, 2009. The Mannar Bishop therefore takes numbers from them and tells the LLRC, (quote) “According to UN OCHA update as of 10th July 2009, the total number of people who came out of the Wanni to government controlled areas after this (meaning the war) is estimated to be 282,380” (unquote).
There is obviously a difference in numbers and that number of 146,679 is all about human beings. That number is about civilian people, all, citizens of Sri Lanka. It is for that reason the Bishop wants the government to make “due clarification” as to what exactly happened to these people.
There is good reason for such “clarification” by the government. If the government is serious in its efforts for “reconciliation” as stressed not once by the President, and most recently in his speech at the Thai Pongal festival the previous week end in Jaffna, then there has to be ‘political honesty’ in seeking the truth behind all human catastrophes in the long conflict. Seeking “Truth” as stressed by the Bishop in his submissions to the LLRC is an unavoidable path and (quote) “recognizing in public the objective truth of the events of destruction that has taken place during the decades of war and violence is indispensable for any attempts at reconciliation” (unquote). That is what gives the Tamil people the confidence and the trust to fall in line with the government and be “one” Sri Lanka.
Therein lies the necessity of officially investigating into the number of persons as large as 34 per cent of the population that is claimed was in the Wanni, seven months before the war was declared over. Therein lies the sincerity and honesty of a government that claims it wants reconciliation and ethnic amity, for future development of Sri Lanka, as “one” country.
While the government is yet to tell the people that it does take serious note of this massive number of people claimed unaccounted for, no political party and no religious leader in the South has shown any concern for such human life. If the government and the political leaders do not show any interest in clarifying and solving the riddle of missing numbers, then it is the responsibility of society and its opinion makers to lobby for the “Truth” to be sought. It is the responsibility of the media to step in, to demand due clarification from the government.
Yet for any of the Colombo based media, not dividing between the government controlled and the private, not making distinctions between the Sinhala and the English editors too (pardon me for my inability to assess Tamil media), this issue of human life, counted as over 146,000 people, had no importance to be given the decency of front page coverage,
if not its headline. In fact most editors did not even see this Bishop’s submission as worthy of any coverage, in their media. For them, this was no information the readers had a right to know. For them the likes of the Mannar Bishop need not enjoy the right to express himself in the media, even on a nationally important issue.
Media freedom, freedom of expression and the right to information thus go out of their mandate as editors and journalists, leaving it the responsibility of those few dozen who come out on the streets and continue asking for justice, two years after Lasantha’s murder, two years after Sirasa media centre was attacked and a year after Eknaligoda’s disappearance.
That thus makes little importance of LLRC submissions, if all what is talked of at these sessions, is the plight of the Tamil people. GroundViews (GV) a media website that provides space for alternate views and positions on socio-political, economic and cultural issues, in a snapshot of media coverage on LLRC submissions and related news, https://spreadsheets.google.com/lv?key=0Ahbk4wYolphwdExuRzZJUnMySVFHQU84TWJ6d0JWTmc&f=0, proves the SL media has been woefully mediocre in their interest of issues and controversies that came up with the LLRC. With no importance given to the LLRC, the media in Colombo that do date was extremely selective in providing coverage, cannot have any interest in “reconciliation” either.
For those who want to feel victors in a war and their media, reconciliation is never an issue. It cannot be. Reconciliation is often a prerogative of the defeated mind. Politically, it is only a necessary positive correlation between polarised societies for sharing of power. Of finding a political answer that human deaths in hundreds of thousands in war, cannot achieve. That again is not for the victorious Sinhala mind.
If on the flip side of such thinking is, subdued, subordinate living with an ethno-religious ego that allows a plundering regime to continue unabated, then it’s “politics of the villain” that keeps society happy and going, though on the decline. Politics that lives with a State carrying on with its unhindered authority and decides what the regime could be comfortable with. That politics in Sri Lanka is what allows for the domination of the South over the North. Such politics has no necessity for “reconciliation.” Such politics leaves President’s promises on ethnic amity and peace, a joke among fifth graders, whose teacher cannot match the intellect of the class he teaches.
The result is evident in what the Bishop said, (quote) “Building a Buddhist place of worship (Pansala) in Murunkan Town where there was a Hindu Kovil is something that has caused a lot of concern, particularly as there is no Buddhist population in this area. Erections of Buddhist statues in prominent public places in many new locations in the North have also made our people fearful of Buddhist domination of majority Hindu, Christian and Islamic areas” (unquote).
If this is what the LLRC is for, 146,679 human lives would equal “naught” and the “Lesson Learnt” is naught too.