There may have been many who were relieved when the war ended in May 2009. Relief may have had different sources and the relieved might not have agreed with one another about the reasons for being (relatively) happy. On one count though there would have been agreement. Children.
Children would be safe(r), everyone thought. They will not be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They would not catch a random bullet or be blown to pieces by a bomb. They would not be abducted.
The end of the war, however, only showed that the there are multiple vulnerabilities and that many of them had been hidden by the larger or rather in-your-face horrors of the war. Crime for example. Assault and battery for example. Bribery and corruption for example. Insider trading allowing the near and dear to profit by billions for example. Abduction and rape for example.
Perhaps it is an inability or lack of will to deal with these other blights that persuade some people to refer excessively to the horrors of the war. True, there is reason for some to celebrate and there are reasons for others to be horrified at celebration. There are commonalities though, at least for the friends and relatives of those who did not arrive at this moment when the guns have gone silent. They all grieve and in grief there is a togetherness even though it is essentially a private matter.
But there were people who went beyond that particularly historic moment; historic for whatever reason, let us add. People who focused more on what was common to those on both sides of what is commonly called the ‘ethnic divide’. Some of them gathered on the 19th of May outside the Vihara Maha Devi open air theater. While others either celebrated or mourned, they focused on simple things that were common to all. They had a simple message.
We are one nation, one set of friends. We are talking of one life, one life breath. We are about one tear and one smile. We are a human community that recognizes love.
They came together to light and hold a candle each, ‘in memory of all those who suffered and died in the name of war’. They came together from a Facebook group, random people from random places but with specific identities in terms of mother tongue, ethnicity, religious faith, political conviction and preferred Utopia. They called themselves w¨;a mrmqr (‘Aluth Parapura’ or ‘The New Generation’). Sure, they don’t make the majority in this country right now, but still there was some newness that was wholesome.
Interestingly the sentiments they expressed were echoed in the North by P Sathyalingam, the Provincial Minister of Health when his party, the Tamil National Day marked the anniversary of that political moment in the manner of their choice and as per their interpretations and convictions. He said ‘All those who died are humans and I pay tribute to all humans whether fighters of civilians whose lives ended in unfortunate ways’. He didn’t dwell on identity but focused on the common and human pathos of it all.
These were small events, small acts and yet they are probably among the most important post-war victories which may, hopefully, deliver the kind of reconciliation that unites instead of dividing, offers hope instead of fuelling doubt, and gives peace instead of sowing seeds of trepidation.
Sadly, and ironically ‘fittingly’ all this was all but obliterated by the abduction, rape and murder of a schoolgirl of Punkudutivu Maha Vidyalayam, Sivaloganathan Vithya. The discovery of the body was followed by arrests and protests. There was also a quick politicization flavored both by communal ‘concerns’ as well as narrow party interests. The horror, therefore, was in part channeled along old and parochial political corridors the kind that the ‘Aluth Parapura’ wanted to move away from.
Sivaloganathan Vithya was a schoolgirl. About the same age as a girl called Mahinsa from Piliyandala Maha Vidyalaya who died in an LTTE attack in Nugegoda some years ago. That was a ‘war killing’, this was a ‘peace killing’ if you will but one of many that have made parents and loved ones grieve long before there was gunfire and throughout the war as well. Abduction, rape and murder: these are horrible and horrifying acts of violence that all communities have seen and suffered.
In a way the politicization did bring attention to both incident and phenomenon in ways that other such acts of violence had not inspired. More importantly there was quick recognition that the girl was Tamil and also Sri Lankan, that it was a girl like any other girl from any other community. In Vithya, everyone was able to recognize a friend, a daughter, a sister. She is the child who suffered a fate that every mother and father fears might befall their child and prays will not happen.
Sivaloganathan Vithya is every girl who is her age, she is every female in this country who has lived and died, who lives and who is yet to be born. If we could not protect her, we haven’t protected our sisters, daughters, mothers, other female relatives and friends. We failed her and we failed every female in this country. We all grieve but sadly and perhaps indicative of part of the reason for this tragedy, we do not all feel ashamed.
This was a week for grief. It was a week for collective grieving even by those who for whatever reason felt there was reason to be relieved and to celebrate. It was a week of grieving the collective that suffered. It was a week to grieve the single and singular tragedy, collectively. It is a week that ought to provoke collective shame.
Hopefully we will all awaken to the reality that some wars were not fought and that it is because we were timid or complicit that we continue to live in a country where every single female is forced to live vulnerable lives. We were all born to mothers. Some of us have female friends, some of us are females ourselves, some of us have wives, some have daughters and sisters. There may come a time when being a female is no reason to look over the shoulder, worry about all manner of harassment or live with a feeling of constant threat. We are far away from that time and until we get there perhaps we should put all celebrations on hold or at least bracket them in relevant caveats.