Sri Lanka: Brutal War and Path to Reconciliation
Sachi G. Dastidar
In the winter of 2017 I was invited to visit the beautiful tear-drop island beyond the southern tip of India. I visited the tree-lined capital Colombo in the western Arabian Sea coast. The city contains ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples, Christian churches and Islamic mosques as well as British colonial buildings and post-colonial architecture of modern Sri Lanka. During my stay I visited the holy Buddhist city of Anuradhapura in the center of the island which is a former capital of Sri Lankan kingdoms. Further north I traveled to Jaffna, the heartland of the minority Tamil and Hindu population in the Buddhist-and-Sinhalese-majority nation. In Sri Lanka demand for discrimination-free equal treatment for the quarter of the nation – the Tamils – led to a protracted civil war lasting for more than three decades until the extreme Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was defeated by the military of Sri Lanka with massacre of tens of thousands. With the election of a new pro-reconciliation government in Colombo and minority Tamil-based parties in power at provinces Sri Lanka as a nation and Tamil-majority areas are in the process of normalcy. Once you enter the Tamil-majority areas one sees presence of security on roadside yet traffic moves freely mostly without any stoppage, also one sees new homes – often standing next to destroyed ones as reminders of the long war and its cost. Long-time Tamil pacifist activists Kandiah and Sashi, Jayashingham, Swamiji, Dr. Thiru, or members of the old All Ceylon Hindu Congress, whether in Colombo or in Jaffna, are looking to reconciliation as well as peaceful, tolerant and pluralistic Sri Lanka. Scores of refugees who returned from refugee camps in Tamil Nadu State of India tell visitors how lucky they are to survive the war, and how lucky they feel getting a new home built by poorer India. The bastion of Tamil nationalism is the City of Jaffna on the northern tip of the island seemed to be bustling and busy with new investments – a sign of returning normalcy. People are eager to reconcile. Still at times strangers will mention “how our boys are still rotting in prison in Colombo and no one has been held responsible for the killing of thousands of innocent civilians after LTTE surrender and during the war.” Yet the same individuals said “in the name of our Lord Murugan we must look to a brighter future and a prosperous nation.” In Colombo majority Sinhala-Buddhists expressed relief that the “war” has come to an end. They too are looking for a happier future. To them Jaffna is too far away, not only geographically but also emotionally.
In Sri Lanka Tamil speakers follow Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. The beautiful Red Mosque in Colombo has schedules written only in Tamil and English. A concerned Muslim said “after the war many Muslims are turning away from their Tamil roots for majority Sinhala. Most Tamil Muslims didn’t support Tamil Hindu-Christians’ drive for autonomy or independence thus receiving disdain from Tamil nationalists. Ruling Sinhala-Buddhist elites have also used religion to create division within minority Tamil population,” the concerned Muslim alleged.
In Jaffna one Lakshmi Devi, a small trader in her fifties wearing a battered brown sari, said gratefully “we first fled to Colombo (from the north to south) to escape constant bombing, then we were flown to India without any visa and passport, and there we stayed for years in a refugee camp in southern Tamil Nadu State. We were fed and clothed there. Once the war was over Sri Lanka government allowed us to return, and the government of India helped us with rebuilding our home in the city. That is where we live now. The shop is a result of that! We are grateful to India. But the war cost us my young son’s life. He died in a bombing ….” Then she gave a goodbye with folded hands.
Here are a few pictures from the trip:
A Hindu Temple in Colombo of Sri Ponnambalawanesrar
Statue of Hindu Monk-Reformer Swami Vivekananda
Islamic Red Mosque in Colombo
Jaffna Hindu Temple
Hindu Holy Site on the Northern Tip of Sri Lanka
Causeway connecting North Sri Lanka
Night Life at Jaffna
Rehearsal for the Jaffna University Convocation
An Orphanage at Jaffna
Mrs. Lakshmi Devi's Shop
At a Hindu Temple
Very well written Sachi! I really like the way you wrote. Can you label the pictures?
Thanks for sharing
Shiyama Varadarajan; February 2, 2017
Neelakandan; February 3, 2017