There are many victories in life. There are at least as many defeats when it is about a conflict that has come to an end. Just as there are countless fathers to victories there are as many interpretations of what was won and what was or who were defeated.
We can debate for hours and with much vigor about how to interpret the 18th of May, 2009. Those with strong ideological positions will naturally offer a political reading of that day. The politically fixated are always a minority in any society. In any case the political overrides all else only sporadically. The political reading therefore probably had credence at that particularly political moment. Today, six years later, other things have happened and are happening. Life has moved on and in a way moved back to (draw from?) a time before gunshots and other explosions came to be part of our everyday.
But even back then, i.e. on the 18th of May, just as much as people celebrated the defeat of the LTTE, the reasons for joy had to do with other things as well. The ‘war’ touched everyone. Everyone lost. Naturally those who happened to live in places whether the fighting was most intense lost more, suffered more and will probably recover much slower.
The end of any way makes for the triumphant. The end of war, whichever way the chips happened to fall, always yields consolation prizes. Families sleep better and together. Parents are less worried that their children would be victim of a bomb attack or abduction. Societies can start to move from a quagmire called ‘Survival’ to a less unhappy land called ‘Living’ whether they have to deal with the natural quantum of life’s vicissitudes rather than the exaggerations of the relevant ‘lows’.
Six years is still a short period when we talk of a 30-year long conflict. Anger, suspicion, fear and such do not retire when guns are downed. Some wounds heal fast, some slow and some never. Even the best intentions will not heal those ‘unhealable’ wounds. No one can bring back the dead, for example.
And yet, we cannot go back to those days before the 18th of May 2009 arrived. No one wants to go there. That’s something that everyone, including those who take positions diametrically opposed to each other’s, can agree on. Unfortunately this ‘commonality’ alone does not contain the fuel that can carry us all to another country where people resolve to forgive (each other and more importantly themselves), recognize other commonalities and move on.
But we have all lived through and died through tragedy. We all have reasons to grieve. The causer of sorrow might have different identities. He or she may have been spurred by different sentiments, driven to achieve different ends, but tears are tears. They are made of the same elemental configuration. Their densities and temperatures are approximately the same. That is where we can and must gather.
So these celebrations, some political and some not, may have drawn people together to remember in particular ways, there’s very little anyone can do about it. It’s like May Day: all in the name of workers and the celebration of labor, but in reality a show of political force that doesn’t even pretend to appreciate things like modes and relations of production, the unholy relationship between exploitation and profit, etc.
Grief is personal. A mother doesn’t need to get on a stage to grieve for a dead son. But when personal grief is tied to a collective’s sense of either triumph or defeat (as the case may be), then individuals can be persuaded to express collectively.
After the celebrations, remembering of sacrifice, lamentation of those who will not return ever, meditation on ‘worthy’ sacrifices and those that came to naught, collective disperse. Individuals return to themselves. Then again their grief is theirs and theirs alone. And the tear of the mother of an LTTE fighter who was killed by a soldier of the Sri Lanka Army and the tear of the mother of a soldier killed by an LTTE gunman will weigh pretty much the same. They will be approximately the same temperature.
So let people fly the flags of their choice. Let them celebrate the consolation-victories. In the end they will and must remember that everyone also lost and that some losses are not recoverable.
Northern Provincial Council Health Minister P Satyalingam, a member of the Tamil National Alliance, one time mouthpiece for the LTTE, is one person who recognized this. He mourned the people of his community who died. He, however, noticed that his grief is no different to that of those on the other side of that particular political divide.
‘I mourn all those who died, regardless of whether they were Tamils, Sinhalese or Muslims, whether they were in uniform or whether they were civilians,’ he said.
Recognition of the commonality of tear is a first step toward recognizing humanity that is common to self and that other we are so ready to vilify.
In the year 2002, at a ‘reconciliation’ workshop where women from all communities gathered to share their stories, there was anger and frustration all around. When wounds are severe, scars cannot be hidden. A Sinhala woman who was part of the team of facilitators had to lead a discussion. She had a problem. She was with a little child, hardly a year old. She asked a Tamil participant to take care of the baby.
Later, one of the Sinhala participants asked her how she could give the child to someone from another community. The woman said, ‘none of you are mothers…she is a mother, so I knew she would know how to take care of a baby’.It’s like that. Little things. Little commonalities. They heal wound. Slowly.