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Reconciliation is a two way street

2013 Jul 04

By  Dr. Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi

Reconciliation is a word abundantly used, but misunderstood in many circles. Most records indicate that a fourth century etymological development hails from a Latin root word reconciliāre, to bring together again, from re + conciliāre, to make friendly or become friendly with someone who has been  estranged or to re-establish friendly relations between parties, to settle a quarrel or difference, to make (two apparently conflicting things) compatible or consistent with each other.

The process of reconciliation is a long, difficult and a painful path, those who wish to travel on it are few, and those that rubbish it are many. However, it remains the only hope for a decent and right relationship formation within a citizenry that has been in conflict. It is imperative for the states and other civil bodies to engage in these acts as part of building community resilience especially in post conflict situations.  This discussion is about how the Tamil community might wish to envisage reconciling among themselves, because there is evidence that they too are a fractured community due to wanton violence executed by one group against the other and individuals. The Tamil leadership perhaps needs to redirect their energy to rally people to understand and rise from their mono ethnic ideology and evoke a perspective which would help them to opt for a path of reconciliation.

Majority Minority Fault line

Majority, minority, tribal, ethnic, language, national, religious, cultural and political issues are not new to our society. Humans have dealt with them differently and have succeeded in some instances while there have been failures as well. Sri Lanka’s conflict too has many implications related to the above litany of issues and concerns. Who was right? What should have been done? Who made the first mistake? Which steps should have been taken avert disaster?  Indicate yet another litany of a blame game that does not help the future of any people whether they are a majority or a minority.

Sri Lanka’s 30-year-old violent conflict which fractured the two main communities initially over power sharing, eventually led to an unbendable separatist power struggle within the minority community (from the assassination of A. Duraiappa, the then incumbent Mayor of Jaffna to  L. Kadirgamar, the then incumbent foreign minister of Sri Lanka) indicates a shameful elimination of charismatic individuals who had alternative political views and a vision for Tamil people. These created years of internal fights to prove political supremacy and domination over and above any other. It was very clear the ‘grand finale group’ that could survive this mania of atrocities against one’s own people, and to declare themselves as the ‘sole representatives of the Tamil people’ could not fit into any form of governance, except with and through violence. This slogan was politically untenable in any decent citizenry and social adjustments programs of communities. Political obstinacy of this political perspective made it a ‘persona non grata’ outfit by over 30 countries and named a terrorist organization.  By then certain Western nations did purposely consider and devise words like ‘de facto state’, even declared Killinichchi to be the ‘capitol city of the state’. All avenues were in place for the inauguration of a geographical state (flawed concept of Nation state) but not necessarily an authentic power sharing for which the so called liberation struggle was first launched. Hope for the Tamil minority was indeed high even though it was to be gained at a terrible human cost. The Tamil resistance begun in the fifties over constitutional reforms was ruthlessly high jacked and cocooned into a single narrative of a violence ridden group activity against one’s own and anybody who raised opposition. Hence reconciliation is imperative for both the majority and the minority in Sri Lanka’s conflict.

Tamil Masses and Reconciliation   

Reconciliation is not a one way traffic plan. It must happen both within each community and between different communities, especially those that have been in the conflict. In the case of Sri Lanka, Tamil people in the North and East were severely affected due to their areas being used as direct location for propaganda, intimidation, recruitment and combat operation. However, terrorism affected the nation as a whole; a fear psychosis infested every nook and corner of the island.
Reconciliation is no miracle and does not happen overnight and can be difficult to execute if both parties are not willing. Neither can pressure groups foreign or local or political parties push for reconciliation, unless they too are willing to do so. The parties in conflict must also partake in the post conflict efforts of understanding the parities that led to the conflict.

 Reconciliation is a process and a movement, hence is not led by one single individual, group or organization. It is a collective activity that happens at different levels with different organizations and bodies. A simple act of meeting of former suspiciously separated parties for a shared meal tenders a great deal of ice breaking of unfounded fears and hatred. Tamil political parties too must take lead in this, religious bodies, especially the Catholic church of the North and East when speaking and engaging not only just talk about rights alone but also about responsibilities of people in a citizenry.  Help people to reconcile with their violent past and not linked to a romantic Diaspora dynamics of instigation of the same old futile separatist dream yet again, while they live in comfort with habitual weekend protests.

Some argue that speedy and accelerated programs of development processes would transform the way people think of each other and the past. Some others propose that provision of equal rights and equal opportunities would soften the ‘hard to break’ views and perspectives of formerly divided people. Former cadre population  of over 11000 who under a general amnesty were to go through a process of rehabilitation which is now recognized by the beneficiaries themselves as  reconciliation with not just with the other party that was in conflict, but also reconcile with their violent past and to move on as  citizens of a nation.

The challenge for the big players of the Tamil community of this country, is to make some serious and responsible choices, that running to Delhi, Chennai, Mitcham,  Markham or Oslo proves lack of political vision and strategy and the inner lethargy to deal with issues among their constituents here and resolve them tactically.  Reconciliation is providing support to their people to settle down after years of trauma and fear. It is fair by them that the Tamil leadership, political, religious and their foreign counterparts heed to doable propositions without deceiving the people yet again. They too need reconciliation and face the new challenges and opportunities ahead of them.

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