A common week of shame and sorrow

Letters / Daily Mirror, Colombo 25.07.03

The front page article where the Mothers and Daughters of Lanka apologised to the Tamil Community for the pogrom of July 1983 is an eye-opener to many of our leaders and citizens of Sri Lanka. It is an invitation to rethink our approach towards a peaceful solution.
On the 20th anniversary of this pogrom, when Tamils all over the world are recalling to memory those horrific events, not with any vengeance or desire of seeking revenge against anyone, God forbid that, but in order that the memory of their historical victimhood in the hands of a government, its forces and sections of a people, may strengthen and keep up their struggle for justice and freedom in the land of their birth. This commemoration is viewed as a source of strength for their struggle to achieve their true and just place in the land of their birth.
Some individuals like the late Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe did express sorrow and shame at what happened. Some Sinhala brethren risked their lives to protect their Tamil friends. But no government or political leader up to date has publicly apologised to the Tamil community for the death destruction and displacement caused following Black July.
Instead of publicly acknowledging what went wrong and going on quickly to rectify errors, the majority and its governments have focussed mainly on the militant movement that grew up fast against their mob-terror and state terror. There was no courageous statesmanship to identify the roots of the conflict and seek a sincere solution. This failure stems from the initial failure of our leaders in not acknowledging the truth of events, feeling sorry for them and not seeking justice.
The then President J.R.Jayewardene, who had all the powers to put out the flames of fire, not only failed to act with statesmanship he allowed the horrific events for dazs to escalate into an anti/Tamil pogrom bordering on genocide and failed to offer any word of sympathy to the thousands of Tamil victims.
His belated appearance on the television only to justify the events of those days aggravated the situation further. The politicians who came after him never dared to rectify this initial error.
The Mothers group has come out courageously and strongly condemned "the two decades of official silence with no acknowledgement or reparation to the Tamil community." After 20 years we are still groping in the dark to find a peaceful solution to this conflict. What started 17 months ago as a search in partnership for truth and justice, soon degenerated, partly due to external powers, has become a bargaining game of having more without concern for the other.
The failure of the present efforts and the continued opposition to grant even a minimum recognition to the rights of the Tamils exhibits the still prevailing mindset of the ruling majority in difference to the mindset of the ruled minority.
I am convinced that no true solution can be achieved unless and until a radically new and unbiased understanding of the conflict is sought. The last 50 years has seen the parting of the ways into two paradigms of thought - one a view of the oppressive majority and the other a view of the oppressed, one which still thinks that they are the masters and bhoomiputras and the other which struggles to fight back to obtain justice and freedom.
The present doubts and difficulties which the majority and its government have, even in temporarily sharing power with the Tamils and their leadership show clearly that we are nowhere in the direction of a peaceful solution. I suggest that we all Sinhlaese and Tamils observe a common week of shame and sorrow before we go further?
Father S.J.Emmanuel Germany