by Sanjeewa Ranaweera
During the 90s, I was a boarder at the Royal College Hostel. We, the hostellers were supposed to shift dormitories annually. And once, I was in the dormitory called ‘Galoya – III’. (Yes, all our dormitories were given the names of these well-known water reservation projects – Victoria, Kotmale, etc. And I still don’t know why!).
If my memory serves me right, ‘Prasad’ was the only Tamil who shared our humble abode, ‘Galoya III’.
Prasad was a loner. He never spoke to us. He preferred to have a reclusive life and deliberately avoided the company of others. Also, he always wore this sceptical, or rather, confused look which kept us away from him.
One fine day, Prasad’s mosquito net, which was hanging over his bed, dropped onto the bed. He struggled to fix it on his own and was looking at the ceiling helplessly. Jeevan, the giant amongst us stepped in. He volunteered to resolve Prasad’s immediate worry at the time. The mosquito net was fastened to the ceiling in a fraction of a second.
Prasad was, literally, in tears! He paused for a moment to collect himself. And then he smiled, perhaps for the first time in his hostel life. He hurriedly opened his cupboard and brought us a large brown paper parcel filled with sweets. He shared with us, not only those sugary snacks, but also the hitherto guarded story of his life.
Eventually, he came out of his shell and became the darling of his dorm-mates. We, the Sinhalese enjoyed the company of this amiable Tamil. Yes, it was quite an unbelievable transformation! And that was purely the consequence of one small gesture of goodwill.
Now, have we made that gesture of goodwill towards the Tamils of this country after putting a victorious full stop to the bloody war? I’m afraid, my answer to this question is in the negative.
Let us be clear that what we buried in the Nandikadal Lagoon, on that historical day, was not the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils, but a violent dream of a ruthless terrorist. Hence our celebrations over this military triumph should not be stretched to the point where the sentiments of a minority community are hurt.
There was a time in this country where certain impressive strides were made in fostering ethnic harmony. At that time, there was a conscientious effort on the part of the policy makers to educate the masses about the need to embrace the ethnic minorities by the majority. ‘Sudu Nelum Viyaparaya’ and ‘Thawalama’ were two prominent examples for such campaigns.
However, the LTTE strategically stood in the way of that potential sense of togetherness. And that was why the likes of late Lakshman Kadirgamar fought hard to distance the LTTE from the common Tamil man. Now we admire the late Kadirgarmar as the finest foreign minister Sri Lanka ever had. Yet, do we follow in his footsteps, or to say the least, do we take his ideals seriously now?
The late Kadirgamar believed in a ‘Sri Lankan identity’, crossing over the racial, linguistic and religious borders, within which our minds have been trapped for years. However, during the campaign for the recently held Eastern Provincial Council Election, our politicos amply demonstrated that they no longer believe in such a ‘Sri Lankan identity’. ‘Ethnic card’ was their trump card to garner votes in the multi-ethnic eastern province.
They played the ‘ethnic card’ shamelessly and ignored the far-reaching consequences of the divisions that they were creating. The results of the election reflected the results of this inane political gimmickry. The short-sighted, power-hungry politicians won. And Sri Lanka lost to them!
It is disheartening that there is no atmosphere in the country at present for racial unity. Religious leaders, who could play a significant role in fostering ethnic harmony, are too busy playing politics! ‘Saffron robe’ still has an exalted status in our society. And that status should not be exploited for petty political gains.
Any right-thinking man cannot claim that ‘Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist country’. And if you say so, either you are impractically oblivious to your surroundings, or you are misinformed of the recent history of your nation.
Let us say repeatedly that ‘Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic country’ and it belongs to me as much as it belongs to my Tamil neighbour. And my Muslim friend too should not have any doubts about it.
And there was a time in this country where movies, dramas and songs were produced with a view to promoting the racial and religious unity. Such artistic endeavours enjoyed the patronage of the State and were recognised for the contribution that they made towards changing the deep-rooted perceptions of our ethnicities.
Unfortunately, nowadays, our filmmakers are more inclined to make films depicting the heroism of our ancient kings and war heroes.
Moreover, lengthy teledramas are being shown on almost all local television channels on a daily basis, but none of them focus on this burning issue. Perhaps the artists do not want to be controversial, or else, they are simply uninterested in doing something meaningful.
Strangely enough, the individuals, who have been harping on the lack of enthusiasm of the government as regards the post-war reconciliation, are not doing anything tangible to promote racial and religious harmony
These self-proclaimed civil society activists are, apparently, very concerned about the implementation of the LLRC Recommendations. But they are tight-lipped about the potential fragmentation of the society fuelled by the separatist agendas of the Tamil Diaspora and of the nepotistic politicos, like the ageing Karunanidhi.
Call it togetherness, brotherhood or camaraderie, it is this sense of amity and friendship that will bind us together as a nation. Besides, none of us had any control over our birth. I became a Sinhalese, and he or she became a Tamil. And what difference it made?
We speak different languages. We have different cultures and mannerisms. But at the end of the day, both of us are human beings. More importantly, both of us have a limited stay on earth. And during that limited stay, let us reach out to our minority brethren. Perhaps one gesture of goodwill will suffice.
(Sanjeewa Ranaweera is an Attorney-at-Law)