Prof. Maithree Wickramasinghe
(Text of Speech by Professor Maithree Wickramasinghe at the Launch of an anthology of short stories “Testimonies of Silent Pain” in the Sinhala and Tamil Languages by “the Social Architects” on May 21st 2017)
It gives me great pleasure to join you – young women and men writers – as you launch your work in the anthology ‘Testimonies of Silent Pain’.
I will be speaking in English. As Professor in the Department of English, I am a firm believer in the potential of Sri Lankan English as a link language that could build bridges among the different speech communities in the country.
Allow me to begin my speech by thanking ‘The Social Architects’, for inviting me to be present on the occasion. It is, indeed, a privilege to be here. I have had the opportunity to skim read a couple of personal stories – though only inSinhala, I grant, but I believe that these powerful pieces have the capacity to provide an interface – for the meeting of diverse minds, and hearts and spirits.I would like to congratulate TSA for this initiative as well as their other work in the field of ethnic and religious reconciliation.
A couple of days ago we marked eight years since the end of the war.
It is often claimed that time is a great healer. But I would like to question whether this is so for everyone?
Yes, certainly for some people – both in the divides of the South and the North,the war seems to have become a distant, though scarring memory. Life has gone on, been lived, people have moved to new cities, countries and continents; found new jobs and livelihoods, married and had children, begun to treasure and relish life once again.
But for others, specially those who have been directly affected in the North and East, those amongst the two fighting forces, and those lacerated by battle and bombardment, the war still remains a festering abscess. Life remains a daily struggle: to deal with loss – the loss of life, of family and loved ones; of occupations, positions, possessions, inheritances, and heritage. And most crucially, the loss of self – in body and mind.
Consequently, many Sri Lankans still remain deeply conflicted and wounded – given histories of intolerance and prejudices, insecurities of sporadic political violence, unaddressed structural inequalities, as well as frequent failures in governance to stem xenophobic campaigns –especially against the Tamils,Muslims and Christians of our country.
While there can be no return to cherished experiences and precious moments, we can however attempt to ensure that such injustices, injuries and atrocitiesdo not take place again in this country – ever.
There is no doubt that the government has the greater responsibility to ensure that the requisite legal frameworks, policy implementation mechanisms,modalities and conditions are put in place – for peace to be sustainable, for truths to be expressible and acceptable, for justice to be transitional, and for reconciliation to be meaningful.
Moreover, the government has the onus to institute a new political culture that values free speech and diversity in opinion and dissent; that is proactive in preventing ethnic and religious violence, and that is able to hold fast to such aspirations – despite powerful forces and challenges of corruption and nepotism and militarization and commercialization and politicization.
And we are all aware of a number of initiatives by the government itself, as well as INGOs, NGOs and groups such as TSA towards meaningful reconciliation and sustainable peace.
However, we are all equally aware of other active forces that are working towards fulfilling their own venal self-interests, political agendas, quasi- religious aims, and parochial objectives – at the expense of peace and harmony.
In such a situation, we all have an equal responsibility in nation building – even those of us who are not in government and who are not working in the field.
Remember, we all have the potential for self-initiative, for proactivity, and for resistance. Perhaps not on a grand scale but certainly at the level of the individual and the personal. In other words, when it comes to lasting peace and genuine reconciliation, do not forget that –
• we have the power, as individuals, to anticipate and be preemptive in what we say, do and practice;
• we have the power, as individuals, to advocate and self-initiate changes that are just and inclusive;
• and most importantly, we have the power, as individuals, to question and speak out;
• and to rise up and resist fear-mongering, prejudice and injustice as and when they occur.
If you really think about it, it only calls for everyday, ordinary, individual action– not only to prevent a culture of impunity but also to institute a culture of accountability.
Once again, congratulations and thank you.
The Social Architects Launch an Anthology of Short Stories in Sinhala and Tamil Titled “Testimonies of Silent Pain”.
On the 21st of May, 2017, the Social Architects(TSA) launched their first publication, an anthology of short stories written by the youth from Anurathapura, Ampara, Killinochi, Nuweraeliya and Jaffna called “Testimonies of Silent Pain” in both Tamil and Sinhala languages.
TSA has been working with the youth, from above mentioned districts, for little over a year on Reclaiming Reconciliation. The youth from these districts were entrusted to reinterpret the history of Sri Lanka through their personal narratives and express through different forms such as writing, theatre and film to learn about parallel narratives as a first step so that they can have a shared vision to think about meaningful reconciliation.
Twenty one youth have written either their personal stories or identified an individual in their close circles, whose personal narrative is important to be shared with wider audience. The youth participated in various writing workshops organized by TSA and over a period to put together stories from all three communities in Sri Lanka.
TSA is very pleased with the outcome of this initiative and make these personal narratives available to wider audience so that the policy makers of Reconciliation will take note of the youth perspectives.