The Scars of July 1983

 Group mentaility is pretty big in Sri Lanka.

 Sinhalese and Tamils are becoming increasingly polarised.

 

The level of discrimination against Tamils during peacetime (as was manifested in the years 2002-2005) does not justify the LTTE’s resumption of hostilities. However, during wartime, being a Tamil in Sri Lanka appears to be a terrible experience.

Talking is good. It helps you come closer to understanding all the sh*t that is going on now. I had a long argument with Aadhavan on my previous blog post, and then again on Indi’s blog, and finally, we are starting to see each other’s point of view.  http://www.indi.ca/2006/06/for-a-united-sri-lanka/ I have also been finding more and more about the Tamil experience from colleagues in the North and East and acquaintances in Wellawatte.

I am starting to wonder whether racism in this country is just underneath the surface. The majority of people in Sri Lanka are willing to live and let live, but as soon as there is a provocative trigger, it all comes out.

I believe this happens because Sri Lankan society is culturally collectivist, as opposed to individualistic. We see the group as much larger than the individual, and we give its best interest a lot more attention than many other societies. Whether it is affiliation to a school, religion, caste, neighbourhood or race, Sri Lankans tend to see themselves as far more a part of the group that they belong to than Westerners do.Consequently, anyone who is not part of the group is treated as an outsider. They may not treat them badly, Sri Lankans are very hospitable people, and are very nice to outsiders generally. That is, until, they feel threatened. 

Remember the Royal-Ananda feuds a few years ago? Didn’t people get killed over a cricket match? Also, when Soma Thero’s funeral was intentionally scheduled on Christmas Eve, you could see division within the Sinhalese along religious lines. People who had been living together for years suddenly went berserk over the building of a temple or a mosque in Maradana a couple of years ago. It only takes provocative triggers to divide people in this country, along any line that demarcates one group from another. It is not just about race.

I think this time is one of those times that division is starting to show its ugliest face. The Sinhalese people feel that the LTTE are being the aggressors. And, the Tamils are feeling alienated by the government and discriminated against. Both communities feel threatened and becoming increasing polarised.

Despite what I said earlier about the 1983 riots having been a long time ago, I am no longer sure that this situation cannot occur in modern-day Sri Lanka. I think the LTTE want it to occur because their strategy rests on separating the two communities. And, I also do not think the government is doing enough to prevent this division from happening.

In order for the general population to be more sympathetic and sensitive to the experience of Tamil civilians at a time like this, they must be able to visualise Tamils as separate from the LTTE. After the death of Lakshman Kadirgamar, there is no Tamil icon who occupies this moderate space in the Sinhalese conciousness at the moment.

For this reason, I wish more Tamils would distance and differentiate themselves from the LTTE. I think this would go a long way in bringing the communities closer together. However, is it fair to expect them to differentiate themselves? To many Tamils, the scars of the July 1983 riots are reopened at every check point, every house-check and every air-raid. Perhaps July 1983 was not that long ago after all. 

How long will the scars of July 1983 take to heal?

July 1983 – the memory that just won’t go away.

6 thoughts on “The Scars of July 1983

  1. Good post.

    Yesterday, I was asked by a British journalism student what I think needs to be done to solve the ethnic crisis. I answered saying that we needed moderate voices on both sides to come to the forefront of the political scene. Right now, extremists are dictating the moods of both communities.

    That has to stop.

  2. has there been another 83 for the past 20+ years in spite of huge provocations?
    to assume that against evidence is an extreme racist position on the same level as assuming all tamils are terrorists.
    it is same racist idea that makes ltte keep on provocations.

    as for fear as long as ltte remains what it is, fear will remain with everyone. only way out is to defeat and contain ltte effectively ( by military means or through negotiations)

  3. I’ve had family members and friends tell me some truly bloodchilling stories. One of our friends who was a trainee doctor told me how at the train station she had to stand over a dying man listening to him breath his last while she tended to his son next to him. It is by far the most shameful incident in Sri Lanka’s history but that saidI think its doubtful such a situation would arise now though.

    Mate racism is all around us, I’m not saying its right but its a fact of life. Maybe a truth & reconciliation committee comparable to what happened in SA would help?

  4. Ravana, this is a good post. I’m not sure if your stance has mellowed or not, but if this was your stance all along, I much prefer the way it has been articulated in this post. Which I read properly.

    What we mustn’t forget is that ’83 was, clearly, state sponsored. I’m not sure if the Sinhala masses will respond that violently en masse to any provocation. That level of organised ethnic cleansing must have high level patronage, and I’m pretty sure no government is ever going to involve iteself in such tragic political suicide again.

    Be that as it may, the Tamils aren’t going to be assuaged by my saying that it definitely won’t happen again. When you read about it and speak to people who were actually involved you can begin to try to understand what sort of horror it was. 20 years is not a long time, and the scars have not and will not completely heal. Germans today are still very very uptight about their part in the holocaust and are struggle to maintain dignity in the international gaze while being as apologetic as possible for what happened.

    The Sinhalese and/or the government, far from apologising, barely acknowledge the extent of the atrocity.

    For our part in that terrible blot on racial harmony, we need to not only extend the olive branch, but the entire fucking tree if not the whole bloody orchard.

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