I was born in ‘83. In August. My mom nearly lost her husband to the Black July of ‘83 just months before she had me. I brought the war with me, as it were. Never have I lived in a Sri Lanka that was peaceful.
I am trilingual, thank god! I don’t know how many of you have frequented government offices in Sri Lanka. But you should. Just walk around with a tamil friend, or if you are a tamil speaker then that would do. Be a bit shabbily dressed if possible. This exercise will, forever, kill the myth that Sri Lankans are a hospitable, helpful nation. oh, we are that to outsiders! But for our own people?
Let me tell you a story…
In 1956, knowingly or unknowingly the “Man with the Silver Tongue”, gave form to a hitherto largely invisible devil. Language, all of a sudden, became a problem to the ceylonese pupulation. Remember, the educated adults of that time were all English speakers. They just took up language as a tool to reach the people. Democracy in its most cruel outing, is what I see it as!
The swabasha movement was a failure in itself for there was more than one swabasha. Ironically, both the languages have the same word for that concept. But what it did do was, it took away our capacity to broaden our horizons.
How does the story end?
It ends with us being a bilingual nation, where the governement officers are not bilingual. I have pretended to be a speaker of the tamil language only, in our esteemed government offices and even hospitals. Not just in Colombo, or the south but even in the North West. Same story. At the best you get a blank stare, but more usually a rude reception and an insistence that you speak the Sinhala tongue. Then if they have some iota of decency in them, they go looking for someone who speaks tamil.
Do you recall the bomb blast at the offices of then PM Sirimavo Bandaranaike? They had to call in an innocent worker from inside the office to answer the queries of a tamil speaking woman at the gate!! This is the attitude of the PM’s office.
The armed conflict may or may not end. My feeling is that it will end sooner rather than later because the L.T.T.E is hard pressed for Human Resources. But what about the war with our warped attitudes? our constant need for one-uppance? Until and unless there is a conscious and concentrated effort to integrate the people of Sri Lanka, until and unless we have a Mandela among us, that war will go on. More frustrated young men will become freedom fighters for that cause.
And until such a day, we’ll keep quoting the cliches , “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, “The conflict lies within ; not without” !