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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2643

In Sri Lanka: A Gateway to Reconciliation Process

By Dr Nazeem Seyed Mohamed

The news report in the Asian Tribute, an interview with the President of Sri Lanka awakened my interest. The information in that interview is closely associated with my interest and belief. And I noted that the President of Sri Lanka made a gesture illuminating his skill of his statesmanship, much admirable. He invites the strong representatives of the Tamil population in India, i.e., the Tamil leaders from Tamil Nadu to come to Sri Lanka and help the IDP (Internally Displaced People) in the area under the LTTE command so that they can move to safe places, places not directly in the war zone. I sincerely hope that these leaders will accept the invitation and help those who are in need today. In this way they will do more than words and save the lives of children, old people, women and men-all in severe need today.

The conflict between the LTTE and the Sri Lanka military has been going on for almost 30 years. From the information available the main war is now nearing an end. During this period tens of thousands of people were killed and several thousands were maimed physically and mentally traumatized for the rest of their lives. Although the main war will end it will not end the social, psychological and other gaps between the main societies, namely, Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslims.

This is indeed the moment of opportunity for Sri Lanka, Sri Lankans and the international community to find mechanism and initiate processes that will successively integrate these societies-to create a notion of 'We' and not 'You and We'. What I believe today is the need for reconciliation, a need to bridge the structural gaps, the need to initiate the process to build trust, the need to bring lasting peace and the need to develop the country. And this Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankans can!

The aftermath of all conflicts must also begin with reconciliation. The conflicts are created by people and the reconciliation also must be initiated and carried out in the interest and welfare of the people. As a famous philosopher once said, "All wars are born in the mind of men and the solution to the conflicts must also be born in the minds of men" – a reminder that the solution to the conflict must be by the people and for the people.

During the last few decades we have experienced several conflicts and how some are successfully solved and also how some have done well in the process of reconciliation. South Africa is a prime example which set up a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission". We have read many examples from the hearings how the oppressor and the oppressed try to come to terms through truth, mercy, justice etc.

A process that turns out to initiate trust, although not easy for a mother who has seen several of her children killed. Not easy for a brother who have lost a sister or brother nor it is easy for a Muslim to lose another Muslim or a Tamil to lose another Tamil or a Sinhalese to lose another Sinhalese. This is the truth and it cannot be erased. But this very truth is also the seed of opportunity. And the seed of opportunity must be found within the country and between the societies.

The process of reconciliation as it obviously notes is an antecedent-consequent process and over a time. Reconciliation is a process to re-build or to build relationships and networks that can overcome the past damages, injuries and most important the feelings between individuals and societies. This can only be done by developing trust. Trust is a very theoretic concept, but it could manifest in many ways and this is also culturally bound. So we need to address the issue with Sri Lanka and its culture in focus. The country is multi-ethnic, with two main languages, traditions going back to thousands of years and so on. These differences could very well also be one of the supporting factors that can contribute positively to re-conciliation.

In my frame of mind to initiate, maintain and develop trust between the three ethnic groups is the very core need for reconciliation. In order to do this, several factors must be addressed. These factors are inter-dependent underlying and dependent aspects to work towards developing trust. The main factors that I consider important are information, commitment and adaptation.

The three ethnic groups today are living as if they are islands separated or even isolated by a dangerous sea with strong and dangerous currents. These groups are somewhat isolated and contact networks between the societies are very weak. These islands are structures and the gaps between them must be bridged. The bridging process must start by information exchanges between the individuals and groups of individuals. This cannot happen in a vacuum. It must be initiated by individual, by politicians or by other organizations.

However, the critical resource for this purpose must be individuals who have contacts across the societies and also incumbent of tacit or idiosyncratic knowledge about the people, their specific inter-group relationships and other significant cultural behaviors and attitudes of the three societies. And they should come from all the three societies.

This was evident in South Africa when the Truth commission consisted not only of Rev. Desmond Tutu but also a white clergy, among others. These people are entrepreneurs in the real sense since they generate new linkages that will bring the societies closer. They will identify the needs and wants of the people between the societies and find mechanisms and resources to generate dialogue and activities between the people. In South Africa one of the means of communication was generated by both societies playing football against each other. Although it is a competition it also generates the need to meet and talk.

Naturally in Sri Lanka there are various activities which all societies practice. Cricket is one of the games that cut across all the three societies. And we have one of the oldest ceremonies in the world there all religions participate, namely the Esela Perahera. A two-thousand year old tradition with over hundred elephants parade with one chosen elephants carrying the tooth of Lord Buddha. The procession starts in the Maligawa, the palace of the last king, of Indian origin, of Kandy. It moves to various places including Tamil Kovils and also Muslims participate and have specific roles in the ceremony. In addition to these shared activities the entrepreneurs will also know more of the specificities in the societies that might become resources for cooperation.

Commitment is another important aspect to develop trust. Commitment must not only come in words but through real contributions to support the process. Commitment can come from the government which is closely connected to politics. This commitment can be in many forms. They can institute a commission, support with monetary resources etc. But it also must be a lasting institution without time boundaries. If it is limited to a time frame then the society will know that this will be over in a few years and then the expectations also change. Furthermore the social entrepreneurs must also identify leading and respected people from the various societies who may today only function within their own group.

They should try to create forums that will bring like-minded people from the three societies together. Once again commitments must be made by these representatives to others to facilitate that the needs of the other society is satisfied. These are forms of adaptations, adaptations made by one society to another to facilitate a relationship. Once one part makes a commitment, an adaptation then it is socially realistic to expect the other to reciprocate with counterpart specific adaptations to facilitate the need of the other. It is in the nature of living organisms including humans to make counterpart specific adaptations. It is unrealistic today to add up the types and contents of adaptations that maybe needed. It will arise from the need as will become evident when the societies exchange and share information.

I believe that information exchanges, commitments and adaptation between individuals and groups supported by political structures will generate trust that will bring the people through time to think of each other as we as Sri Lankans sharing same values, justice, equal opportunities, respect etc that will bring color and prosperity to this great and beautiful nation, the gem of Asia!

- Asian Tribune -

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