The two major communities of Sri Lanka once again celebrated the Sinhala and Tamil New Year last week. This is the seventh year where the festival is celebrated sans the war.
For centuries, the Tamils and Sinhalese in the country have been celebrating the New Year. Even during the war, both communities never failed to welcome the New Year in their respective traditional and cultural manner.
The Sinhala and Tamil New Year is not just a celebration in Sri Lanka. It is a period which is deeply rooted in the cultures and religious beliefs of the respective communities celebrating the event.
The Sinhala and Tamil New Year is not just an occasion where the whole country bids adieu to the old and welcomes the new. Come to think of it, it has a much deeper meaning. It’s a moment celebrated by both major communities, who have been at loggerheads for decades.
The very fact that it is celebrated by the two major communities of the country says a lot. Almost half of Sri Lanka’s post independence period is dominated by our internal conflict which resulted in heavy loss of lives.
In the midst of gunshots, bombings, and tension, people forgot the similaritiess of the communities and focused on differences. The focus on the conflict and its repercussions in other parts of the country created the gap which, even now, seems to be quite prevalent despite the end of the war.
The New Year is just one example where both communities share common features. In fact, what has complicated the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka in the past is that these common features take a back seat when the differences come to the fore.
There are many examples where both communities share common features that are attributed to the long-standing cultural connections. The languages may seem completely different. But there are words that are common for both languages. The way we address our loved ones, and our relatives are somewhat the same.
It is therefore important that the government, which is making an effort to reconcile the people work on the common factors.
There is no point in working on these issues in places like Colombo or in places where all communities live together, as there is already a sense of understanding between the communities.
These reconciliation programmes need to be worked out in rural areas and in places where communities have segregated themselves.
The extremist elements which thrive on separatism have been successful in blinding the people by showing the differences, and how these differences had proved to be detrimental to the respective communities.
But, looking at the differences actually proved to be detrimental for the whole country. Even today, there are these elements which do not want the country to be united. These elements have no future. Therefore, they live in the past. They harp on what happened in the past and trigger more hatred and aggravate the situation.
Yes, the past was bitter. It was not bitter just for one particular community. It was bitter for all. Mistakes were made by all parties concerned. Those mistakes resulted in the war. Those mistakes have damaged the country enough and more, and therefore, they are not worth revisiting.
What would eventually happen is that once again, the people would get dragged on to the past where there was hatred and misunderstanding.
The country has to move forward. To be fair, it has come a long way forward since the war ended. But, a fraction of both communities continue to live in the past and try to instill a sense of fear among the people.
The future needs to be better for the next generation. When we welcome the New Year with open arms, let us also welcome the much needed positive outlook and approach in bringing together the people of this country.