Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict: one of the world’s most protracted and destructive conflicts of our time was brought to a bloody, military end in May of 2009. Seven years have passed since, but the communities in the island remain divided along narrow ethno-religious lines. In many ways, this is a result of the conflicting narratives held by the Sinhalese and the Tamil communities as well as others on Sri Lanka’s history, the beginnings of the conflict and how it was brought to an end. Many Sinhalese people in the South only see the conflict as a separatist war that was initiated by terrorists who happened to be Tamil and do not recognize the years of discrimination and suppression that the Tamil people had to undergo under successive majoritarian governments in post-colonial Sri Lanka who turned the two communities against each other for narrow political wins. Many Tamils in the North have witnessed the violence they saw in their backyards but fail to recognize that thousands of bright and innocent men and women in the South were also killed by the LTTE and do not see the woundedness of the Sinhalese. In a sense, there is almost a competition between the communities to emerge as the ultimate ‘victim’ of the conflict. These narratives have sustained overtime and have been passed down from generation to generation cemented by the media, politicians, textbooks, literature, the arts and so on. This is only exacerbated by various conspiracy theories and hate propagated by racist politicians who thrive on our differences.
Kumudu and I studied together at our “all-boys” college in Colombo. We weren’t friends, really- (Kumudu was one year senior to me): but I knew of Kumudu (everyone did). While we practiced for the Shakespeare Drama Competition at the college main hall, Kumudu and friends also practiced for their national-level Sinhala drama competitions. Kumudu would almost always play the female lead. For us- teenage school boys, this was quite a spectacle and Kumudu and friends would often be made fun of. They called Kumudu the ‘p-word’ (a Sinhala slur) and all other kinds of names. When I first encountered this, Kumudu seemed taken aback and clearly distressed by the unending bullying but as time passed by it seemed like Kumudu was unaffected by the endless name-calling and bullying: Kumudu even yelled back at the bullies.
Thank you for giving me this unusual honor of being the chief guest at the inauguration of the United Nations Club. I say this is unusual, because when I was in school, Chief Guests usually had beards, or grey hair or wore the national outfit (with or without a red satakaya). So, thank you for having me here this afternoon. Read More
Last Thursday, two young students of the Arts Faculty of the University of Jaffna — 23 year old Kajan and 24 year old Sulakshan were allegedly shot by the police at a roadblock in Kankesanthurai, Jaffna. There are various narratives being shared on the sequence of events that led to the shooting: everything from the youth being drunk and refusing to stop the bike at the checkpoint to them being members of the armed gang ‘Awaa’ which is allegedly linked to recent incidents of violence against civilians and police in Jaffna. However, until there is an independent inquiry into what happened, we cannot know what exactly happened that night at the Kulappidi Junction. The bottom line though, is whether drunk, not stopping when pulled over by the police, having a history of criminal conduct, all of the above or none, the police had absolutely no authority to shoot the two unarmed young men who were on the bike. Read More