A recent visit to Jaffna with a group of informed individuals for a small meeting with their counterparts was not only revealing, but also alarmingly informative. The meeting was scheduled to have three short presentations and a discussion. The theme was biblical with special reference to the story of Cain and Able, the two sons of Adam and Eve. The murder of Able by Cain in the book of Genesis was the background for the suggested theme. The verse goes as the voice of God in the text, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground” (Gen. 4ff). The organizer(s) of this meeting perhaps wished to pursue how this context of the first assassination recorded in the Bible could have any meaning and relevance to a reader and a believer now in the context of the post war situation. The convener introducing the sessions also made a comment that ‘the war is over, but the conflict is still on’. It must be noted that the Christians and Muslims borrow the entire Genesis story from the Hebrew literature and interestingly and conveniently both groups own it and sometimes take it for granted. The Jews Christians and Muslims, arguably a ‘dysfunctional family’may be or may not be aware that they too borrow it from the famous Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh. But reflecting on a text is quite ordinary in modern biblical studies.
Pervasive Hindu Culture
The first presentation was a sociological perspective, second the plight of women in their context ever since the end of war and the third a theological response. The most useful was the situation of women in a society that had been ravaged by war, as we also know that women were used, misused and abused by the warring parties as in any other war, presented by a woman. We are aware of the protective nature of women and their affairs in the Hindu context of the North. My student days, when I was posted in a village close to Jaffna city centre way back in early 80s, gave me the impression that women folk even in the Catholic/Christian neighborhoods, who practiced Catholicism, mingled in the broader Hindu cultural ethos. In the 80s most young women attended supplementary classes before they commenced the regular school hours in the morning. Probably the parents preferred to have women at home as the evening dawns. Arguably the entire Christian population of the North and the Eastern province is culturally Hindu, even if they wish to differ, yet it would be hard to make a case for it. If there is any argument to be established contrary, then the Christians would end up in a situation that they are at least habitually Western. The upper castes, the middle and lower middle classes and other castes of Tamil Christians may subscribe or even unwittingly remain perfect hybridized in between the cultural worlds, and of course this has been worsened byless or non-contact with the rest of the world over nearly thirty years.
It’s interesting that some at the meeting were placating the ‘strong stand’ now taken by the chief minister of the Northern Province. They were of the opinion that he is reformed now and that TNA must follow Wigneswaran, calling for more a radical stand
The meeting in Jaffna indicated to us aschizophrenic nature of a perennial obsession of a single narrative of liberation and freedoms on desires, unfortunately discredited by use of extreme violence. The Tamil cause, whatever it meant, pursued even by those informed was de facto destroyed, firstly by violent extremism, with a rule of the jungle that was entertained caustically via a single narrative pigmentation of a single group which annihilated all possible alternative political visioning. This most disastrous impact on the Tamil community of Sri Lanka, and labelling the global Tamils as an unpalatable lot, we should say, is untrue. However, the unwilling and lethargic self-examination has made the situation worse, the meeting in Jaffna was one such.
Revealing and alarming
The meeting revealed that the mandated TNA which had an extraordinary support by the people in the North and the East in the recent general election is being displayed, or at least was the impression given by those present. The argument was that the TNA (especially the MP Sampandan and the MP Sumanthiran) has compromised the Tamil cause, (perhaps in the order of Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran, both assassinated by the LTTE) negated the possibility of a permanent solution to the ‘ethnic issue’. It’s interesting that some at the meeting were placating the ‘strong stand’ now taken by the chief minister of the Northern Province. They were of the opinion that he is reformed now and that TNA must follow Wigneswaran, calling for more a radical stand. It was stunning to know that these voices seemed profoundly anti TNA and they perhaps think that Sampandan and Sumanthiran represent a ‘Tamil sell out’, joining Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime, insinuating a betrayal of the Tamil cause yet again and giving into a Sinhala majority political trap as it was in history.
The group that travelled for this meeting was baffled, but weren’t unfriendly to each other. The hosting colleagues expected the visiting group to be of one opinion, but obviously disagreed on many issues right through the journey. They represented the exact political and critical diversity of any given society not just in the South of Sri Lanka. The saddest comment they expressed to our dismay and reasonableness was when they said that ‘they were defeated’. But what they did not say was that ‘who defeated them’? The visiting team honorably insisted that “we all, as a people dented, our relationships we had evolved as citizens over the years- the war caused a paramount loss to all” which is why such a re-friending visit was actualized with the current meeting. The war did set our communities apart. A factual reference made by one of the visiting colleagues in the discussion was a party, a ‘terror outfit’ being responsible for such erosion. This statement was considered offensive because they view them as ‘freedom fighters’ and martyrs of the people. Of course if such can be a political position then the other views too can be expressed as political opinions in a discussion and a debate. The visiting team continued to discuss despite the raw reaction to a reality of history.
Defeatism and victimhood
What was alarming is the defeatist and victim mentality which is a great impediment to reconciliation and the pursuit of justice. A deficit in self-criticism is an assault on political maturity, assessment and discernment in history. Defeatism and victimhood are pure negatives. They destroy peoples’ creativity. The leadership present at this meeting lacked sense of direction and political maturity. Fundamentals of justice or reconciliation is the ability to ‘know thyself’ and not based on unresolved anger and emotions.The current regime could initiate very innovative structures, bring experts and big cash into the country, but the ground reality is that the political currents remain predominantly separatist. Which comes first is nonsensical, whether it is reconciliation or justice. They are part of a process by which we become human and humane.