by. D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Several people both known and unknown have been forwarding a particular e-mail to me the last few days.
It consists of some moving pictorial images contrasting the pathetic existence of internally displaced Tamils on the one hand and the comfortable lifestyle of some Sinhala people on the other.
The pictures have Sinhala captions.
I tried to trace the origin of this mail and nobody seems to know including those who forwarded it to me.
Who ever designed it and began distributing is/are obviously a sensitive soul or souls.
Instead of the usual hate mail and hate-oriented images this mail is starkly different.
Being in Sinhala it is aimed at a Sinhala audience.
What it seeks to do is to spotlight the pathetic state of IDP’s and compare it with comfortably living Sinhala people.
They vividly bring out the current reality where IDP’s eke out a miserable living as opposed to others.
When I say others I do not mean Sinhala alone as many people of other communities including Tamils who are not internally displaced also enjoy a relatively comfortable existence.
But this particular mail addresses the Sinhala people directly.
The first twelve images are those contrasting Tamil IDP’s and Sinhala people.
It says THEY and WE as photo captions and shows how “API” or WE (Sinhala) enjoy life while “OWUN” or THEM (Tamil) suffer.
What it seeks to do is evoke concern and sympathy among Sinhala people enjoying a comfortable lifestyle about their Tamil brothers and sisters suffering in IDP camps.
The thirteenth image is of a single slogan “YAMAK KALAUTHU NOVEDA”? meaning SHOULD NOT WE ALL DO SOMETHING?
The intention is to seek answers from fellow-Sinhalese as to whether “WE” should not be doing something to help these people instead of passively observing unfolding events.
In short the idea is to question mainstream Sinhala inactivity in the face of a humanitarian Tamil tragedy and query whether some constructive action should not be undertaken.
This is followed by further images with the same caption.
The 14th-19th photo images are scenes of victory celebration, thanksgiving worship, sweets being distributed etc.
There is no criticism of these celebrations but there is a telling brief caption for all these images.
It is “MEETA WADA” or “MORE THAN THIS”.
While not objecting to the celebrations and victory observances of the Sinhala people the caption implies that something more than these celebrations should be done.
Instead of criticizing or reprimanding those celebrating , the intention here seems to be a call to collective Sinhala conscience that “WE” (Sinhala) people should engage in something more (Meeta wada) meaningful and positive than merely celebrating.
The Twentieth photo image shows children carrying things presumably for affected people and has the caption “APITA HAKI PAMANIN APEMA MINISUN UDESA” or WHATEVER WE CAN DO FOR OUR OWN PEOPLE IN A SMALL WAY EVEN”.
Again the intention seems to be that of encouraging people to do whatever they can afford to help their own people.
The final picture is that of pure temple tree flowers. “Araliya mal” in Sinhala and “Alarippoo” in Tamil. The flowers used mainly for worship by Buddhists are an inspiring sight.
There is a caption “OBE MINISATHKAM UDESA” or “FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR HUMANITY”.
It is an appeal to the heart and mind on the basis of our inherent humanism.
Fundamentally we are humans before we get classified in terms of ethnicity.
In essence the appeal is to help ourselves (our humanism) by helping those in need.
It is interesting and to note the praiseworthy sequence and significance.
Initially the reference is to THEM and US. In this the Tamils and Sinhalese are depicted as Them and Us and their contrasting situation is pinpointed.
Then the appeal is to US or Sinhala alone. Should not WE do something? They are asked thus.
Next the difference between Us and Them is done way with. They are referred to as our “OWN” people.
Finally there is a reference to OUR collective Humanity.
Thus we see the US and Them of the beginning expand to Our Own and finally enlarge further into humanity.
Also the images apply to the Sinhala psyche in the sense that it does not decry or criticize the victory celebrations but only exhorts the Sinhala conscience to go beyond that in helping to alleviate the misery of Tamil IDP’s who are now our OWN people.
Political scientists analyzing the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis have often referred to the US-THEM syndrome as a major factor in aggravating the ethnic divide.
What I like about these images and captions is the fact that it utilizes the very same US-THEM division positively and enables people to transcend it.
They also say a picture is worth a thousand words. The images here convey a very powerful, emotional message.
It does appear to have made tremendous impact on its target audience. Many Sinhala persons have forwarded this to me and requested that I post it.
But I have not got a single “Tamil” person forwarding it so far and asking that it be posted.
This is presumably because the mail is circulating mainly among Sinhala people as it was originally intended.
It may also be due to instinctive Tamil hostility towards mails of this type.
What many well-intentioned Sinhala friends do not understand is that some messages however good the intentions may be sound patronizing and condescending to Tamils.
In fact my initial reaction when I got this was to view it suspiciously for some subtle anti â€“ Tamil agenda.
After perusing it carefully and cross-checking the meaning of the captions with Sinhala friends I was convinced that this mail is a genuine attempt by some Sinhala person or persons to reach out to fellow Sinhalese, draw attention to the Tamil plight and encourage positive action.
Therefore I am now posting them on my blog so that it can reach a wider audience.
The Sinhala captions are translated to the best of my ability so that non-Sinhala readers get an idea.
I do hope that many Tamils will see this and understand that not all Sinhalese out there are our enemies and realize that many are trying to do something positive in their own small way.
Reconciliation is not a luxury but a crucial necessity.
I do hope this post will evoke positive vibes and constructive discussion.
Please, please ,no lectures about my naivete in posting them and observations that these gestures do not mean anything.
I know very well that the best thing required for IDP’s is speedy re-settlement in their own places.
But that does not mean we must be scornful of some attempts or thoughts by others desiring to help.
While on this subject I think many Tamils concerned solely about Tamil IDP’s should also give some thought to the thousands of Muslim IDP’s suffering in Puttalam district since 1990.
These Muslims were driven from their northern homeland by the LTTE.
They too need to be re-settled in their original homes.
The Tamil political leaders need to apologise publicly for the great injustice done to Muslims.
Tamil-Muslim reconciliation is needed as much as Sinhala-Tamil reconciliation.
Reconciliation is not submission as some seem to think.
It is accepting each other with all our faults,understanding that both parties have wronged each other, rectifying such wrongs as far as possible, recognizing that we are inter-dependent and trying to move forward positively towards our inextricably , interwoven common destiny.
This blog is only a tiny effort to open up some “space” to foster inter-ethnic understanding, amity and reconciliation.
I do know that genuine reconciliation is a comprehensive process based on justice and equality.
For this a great change is required . Sri Lanka must be re-invented into a united, plural, egalitarian Sri Lanka.
It is a long, arduous journey.
But even a 1,000 mile journey has to begin with one step forward.
Lighting a single candle is better than simply cursing the darkness.
I am fully conscious of my short-comings and limits.
What I can do today is only to write and to open up this tiny space for views.
If I can make even a very , small difference and if this blog can positively cater to some well-intentioned people at least that is enough for me.For now.
So please go ahead and reflect on these images and captions. – d.b.s.j
 “Yamak kalauthu noveda”?….[should not we all do something?]
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