Saturday, November 11, 2006

My Motherland Serendib

I’ve been getting a lot of mail recently from my fellow Serendibians inquiring as to why I only write on issues pertaining to the Western culture. Some have even gone to the extent of telling me that I am a disgrace to my country of birth.

As a writer, it is not unusual to be criticized by your readers, but when criticism is based on ignorance, then we have a serious problem.

My reason for focusing on issues related to the Western culture has to do with the fact that I grew up in the Western culture and spent a great deal of my life in Western countries. Another reason, I never took the time to do research on issues faced by the people of my motherland. When I say research……………. I mean from books……………. and not from the opinions of individuals who live in Serendib. I did some serious digging in the library and almost gave up until I came across “Searching for Peace in Central and South Asia” by Monique Menkencamp, Paul van Tongeren, and Hans van de Veen. The following excerpts taken from this book is what I tend to agree with wholeheartedly as a Serendibian living in the country of my origin for the past 16 years.

1) The Ethnic War in Serendib -

The type of democracy introduced by the British led to a majority system in which the Sinhalese would always control the country’s parliament. Subsequent policies, especially with regard to language and access to education by successive Sri Lankan (Sinhalese-dominated) governments, and the reactions to these by the Tamil people, sowed the seeds of what has become a protracted and violent conflict that has particularly exacerbated by anti-Tamil rots in 1958, 1977-1978, and 1983.

The conflict, which has been raging at varying intensities since the 1983 attacks against the Tamil population, can be described as being between the largest, and most militarily effective Tamil militant group, the LTTE and the Sinhalese government of Sri Lanka.

The situation has been further inflamed by two violent insurrections in 1971 and 1987-1989 by the JVP, a group made up mostly from disaffected Sinhalese youth which combined a potent mixture of Marxism and nationalism. The second JVP insurrection was in part triggered by the arrival of an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in 1987.

Although many analysts describe the current situation as an “ethnic war” it is also a crisis of the state in that the LTTE and JVP conflicts are both symptomatic of broader issues concerning the identity, policies, and legitimacy of the state. The legitimacy of the state itself is questioned by some because of corruption and abuses of power, and the disputed and flawed nature of elections in past years.

Denial of justice and abuse of police power in Sri Lanka is often justified by reference to the ongoing civil war and in relation to human-rights abuses committed by the LTTE insurgents. It should be noted that human rights cases against members of the security forces, including the police, rarely result in a successful prosecution. This climate of impunity encourages local politicians, members of the security forces, and other armed groups to pursue personal agendas and engage in corrupt practices. This connection between military and civil “war economy” interests contribute to the tensions in the conflict affected areas of the island.

2) Peace –

How Sri Lankans perceive peacefulness differs between the north, east, central, and southern parts of the country. Polarization of communities continues with little contact with one another, beginning from preschool through to university education. Disparities in access to employment provide little scope for communities to come together. Grievances felt by all sides are heavily loaded by history and, it would seem, manipulated by ethnically motivated interests to keep theses grievances alive and to maintain the polarized and vindictive narrative.

3) NGOs –

Relations between the government and NGOs have been difficult at times, a relationship that has been described as one of “suspicious cooperation.” It seems that some sections of the government and the general population have the view that international NGOs are pro-LTTE, and the LTTE exploits naïve NGOs, and that the LTTE uses humanitarian aid to support their military efforts. This perception is supported by media often hostile towards NGOs.

NGOs, especially international NGOs, can themselves only be part of the overall process of creating a peaceful and just society. The bottom line is that the people and their government themselves must ultimately be responsible for sustainable peace and development.

Most of my earlier postings have been based on the atrocities that prevail when another civilization invades and dominates another culture in a foreign land, but in this posting you can clearly see what happens to a civilization when they are divided (irrespective of the fact that they originate from the same country) solely on the grounds that some of its people feel they are far more superior than the rest.

It’s also sad to note that my ancestor and the other warriors who fought the British, shed their blood in vain. They fought for our country’s independence so that the future generations may live in unification, while respecting our culture as well as each other, and, at the same time work together to develop our land of Serendib.

Unfortunately, we, have failed in fullfilling their vision.



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