By Easwaran Rutnam
Reconciliation has been the key word from the day the war ended in 2009 and many feel now is the best time to speed up the reconciliation process.
Some elements in the North and the South and some diaspora groups have however been seen as barricades to the reconciliation process.
But Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran gave a boost to the reconciliation efforts when he said he is not against the Sinhalese and he has faith in President Maithripala Sirisena, a man who comes from a strong Sinhalese background.
At an event held in Iranamadu last week which was attended by President Maithripala Sirisena, Wigneswaran spoke in Sinhalese and said he was doing so to let the people know he is not ant-Sinhalese.
The timing of his comment could not come at a better time. The resolution adopted on Sri Lanka by the UN Human Rights Council recently was hailed by Tamil politicians but opposed by hardline Sinhalese groups.
Some Sinhalese groups felt that the resolution is a threat to the “Sinhalese Nation” and would facilitate calls by some hardline Tamils for a separate State.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader following his speech in Iranamadu last week, Wigneswaran said that his position is that as far as the Tamils are concerned, a separate state is not the solution.
“There are Tamils who look forward to a separate Country for themselves. They forget by separating, all their problems are not going to end. In fact I think they would be worse off. Those who argue for separation only look at the economic side saying we will make our Tamil Country an economic wonderland. They forget that there are social, political and security concerns that would have to be dealt unto themselves. In fact the chances of the Tamils preserving their individuality within a Sri Lankan State is greater than on separation,” he said.
The calls for a separate State was promoted by the LTTE during the war and subsequently some Northern Provincial council members and Tamil political parties in Tamil Nadu have been pushing for it.
But the Government, both current and the former, have maintained that Sri Lanka will not be divided and reconciliation will take place to bridge all communities.
On the path to true reconciliation, Wigneswaran says it is important that the Sinhalese community recognize the Tamils also as a majority in their traditional areas.
“The Sinhalese consider us as minorities. We are not. We are majority in our traditional areas for centuries. We are not people who came just the other day. We are not minorities in the sense of people from other countries who have crept in here. Just like a person who comes from another school joining Royal is called a Royalist while the Tamil presence has been in this country from pre-historic times there had been waves of Tamils who have come over here at various times. Last batch came during British times and settled in the Upcountry. But we all, whether from North, East or Malayalam or any other part of Sri Lanka must be deemed to be Tamils. That we are part and parcel of this country must be accepted by the Sinhalese. We are not going to be sent out any more by pogroms and riots. If so done separation is certain. The world community will see to it. So the first point is the Sinhalese must accept that Tamils are part and parcel of the Sri Lankan polity,” he told The Sunday Leader.
Wigneswaran also told the Tamils who are pushing for a separate State to be mindful that if the North and East does separate from the South then it will be forced to depend on neighboring India for safety, and that could be worse.
“That would make us an appendage. From the frying pan to the fire,” he said.
He also said that noth Sinhalese and Tamils must realise that their future lies with each other. Muslims are either Sinhala Muslims or Tamil Muslims. So they are part of Sinhala or Tamil.
“It is much like a marriage. We may have reasons for separation or divorce. But it is better to live together for various reasons. Children, social acceptability, family strength and cohesiveness and so on. The Tamils and Sinhalese have lived together for centuries. If we can speak each other’s languages it is quite simple. Because our cultures have a lot of similarities especially between the Buddhists and the Hindus. So learning each other’s language must be made compulsory,” he added.
President Maithripala Sirisena, who got more votes in the North and East at the last Presidential election than former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has shown keen interest to ensure true reconciliation takes place.
In his speech in May to mark the sixth anniversary of the end of the war, President Sirisena said that his Government will give priority for reconciliation.
The President said that following the end of the war a lot was done to rebuild damaged infrastructure but not damaged hearts and lives of the people.
He said that while development following the war is important, the development process must go hand-in-hand with reconciliation.
The President also warned the public to be mindful of extremist forces who are attempting to divide the communities in the country.
The Government has also established a new Office of National Unity and Reconciliation, headed by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, to drive progress on key issues such as the release of detainees and restitution of civilian land occupied by the military.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in his report on Sri Lanka recently, said the new Government engaged more constructively with him and his office on possible options for an accountability and reconciliation process.
“After so many years of unbridled human rights violations and institutionalized impunity, the wounds of victims on both sides have festered and deepened,” Zeid said. “Unless fundamentally addressed, their continued suffering will further polarize and become an obstacle to reconciliation, and – worse – may sow the seeds for further conflict.”
The healing process will no doubt take time and many believe it is critical that people like Wigneswaran assist the process instead of taking a hardline stand like some others.
The international community, including the world leaders and diplomats who have had talks with the new Sri Lankan Government, have put their weight behind the reconciliation process.
The Ambassador of the United States in Sri Lanka Atul Keshap, as soon as he assumed duties in Colombo, assured the Government of the support of the US Embassy in Colombo and the US Government as Sri Lanka works towards reconciliation.
India, Australia and Japan have also made statements in support of the reconciliation process and it is clear that this time Sri Lanka is on the right track. (Courtesy The Sunday Leader)