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No Time is Bad Time for Sinhalese and Tamils to say “Sorry”to Each Other From the Heart

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

It takes a lot of courage to say, ‘Sorry’. In these years after the end of the ‘ethnic wars’, neither the Sri Lankan State, nor the Tamil community said as much to each other – and to itself. In these months after international intervention, everyone is blaming everyone else, instead. They are doing nothing about it, either.

It was/is reasonable to expect the State to start the reconciliation process by the use of that simple yet powerful, single word. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had the occasion to do it in style and with sincerity when he declared the conclusion of war in Parliament, way back in May 2009. That was the national occasion as much for reconciliation as for feeling relieved about the end of LTTE terrorism.

It did not happen. Instead, his use of the phrases, ‘sulu jati’ and ‘maha jati’ got involved in avoidable controversy – possibly for no fault of his, his Government and the Sri Lankan State. There has been no looking back for the critics of his leadership, nearer home and afar. If that criticism was unwarranted, the Government has not left those critics without more reasonable justification, in the weeks and months that followed.

Less said about the Tamil social and political leadership, nearer home, the better. They did not want to acknowledge in public even at that stage that the LTTE killed innocent Sinhalas as much as the Tamil leaderships had – and continue to – blame(d) the armed forces for killing innocent Tamils. The numbers may vary in the totality of the situation but a lost live is a life lost to the dear ones who had lost it.

The armed force was a living and powerful entity – and continues to be so even now. The LTTE was dead and gone, or at least that was the perception. The Tamil leadership still gave the impression that they respected the ‘dead LTTE’ more and ‘feared’ the armed forces even more. Or, they left both perceptions to stay afloat.

The Sri Lankan State was seen as gloating over the military victory. The Tamils were seen as sulking at the exit of the LTTE. Or that was the perception it all produced in each other community. Ordinary Sinhalas still condoled the death of innocent Tamils. Their civil society organisations demanded probe and accountability.

No Tamil, barring some Jaffna university teachers, taking stock of the war and war crimes in anonymity, mentioned the LTTE by name for the killing of innocent Sinhalas. Post-war, no Tamil social or political leader has acknowledged that the LTTE killed innocent Sinhalas. Not then, not until today.

The TNA is not the LTTE — not certainly in terms of the latter’s terror-intent and capabilities. When the party still argues a one-sided case on ‘accountability issues’, it provides a convenient cause for the Sinhala hard-liners to cash in. Coupled with the international pressure on the Colombo dispensation, it may have painted the TNA in bad light in the mind and midst of the ‘innocent Sinhala’ already.

It was not the kind of public mood that the nation needed for real reconciliation to occur, post-war. Conversely, the ‘Tamil picture’ painted for the international community has emboldened Tamil hard-liners (political, as they remain) to take intractable positions that are simplistic at first, but more complicated, otherwise.

The question is who would blink, first, now. Neither side wants to be seen as doing it, but they have not given any impression that they want anything but reconciliation. The list of Tamil demands’ on the one side – with existing clauses and sub-clauses – has only lengthened. The Government’s post-war experience with the TNA has been of an equally intractable and intransigent customer.

Post-Geneva, the Government has a hard-liner constituency that it cannot ignore. The TNA and the rest of the anti-Government Tamil leadership has a larger international constituency, which they cannot afford to over-look, any more. They have both become prisoners of their own making. They did not lose an occasion to get where they have been caught in, since.

The irony of today’s situation is that both the Government and the TNA, for instance, seems to be taking a masochist pleasure in hurting itself, believing they are hurting only the other. Worse still, they seem want to inflict more wounds on the other, little realising that they are the ones getting hurt even more – and almost for good.

No time is bad time for the Government and the Tamils to say, ‘Sorry’ to each other, and from the heart. It is more so today when everyone around has begun started talking about the Provincial Council polls in the North. The story of the North becoming a ‘Tamil exclusive’ Province from being a ‘Tamil majority’ Province is also the story of the ethnic issue, war and violence – in more ways than one. Saying ‘Sorry’ can begin now – and here.

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation)

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