Unity must become the national theme if Sri Lanka is to heal, rebuild and move on from the devastating attacks of Sunday. There were strikingly different scenes in different parts of the country on Tuesday with thousands of people gathering to mourn at funerals, especially in Negombo, while Parliament displayed a starkly different atmosphere.
Sri Lankans are long used to the callousness of politicians. But the heckling, name-calling and hurling of insults in Parliament on a day when dozens of families are laying their loved ones to rest and scores of others are tending to injured in hospitals scattered around the country is unacceptable. The behaviour in Parliament should have been at least more sombre if not directed to garner respect, which may be beyond most of Sri Lanka’s politicians. Yet this was not to be.
On Tuesday death tolls climbed past the 300 mark with UNICEF reporting that 45 children are among the dead. The United Nations organisation said they had identified more children who are in intensive care or still in hospital and was working with State officials and probation services to link them with other family members. Many of these, sadly, are now orphans and providing them with care, including counselling and other services will require prolonged support.
As many as a thousand people are reported to have gathered at the funeral services conducted for those who died at the blast in Negombo’s St. Sebastian Church. The funerals were held in the church grounds and emotions ran deep. It was a truly terrible day for many and unfortunately unlikely to become better in the short term. When grief is at such a high level it is imperative that State officials and politicians understand the gravity of the situation and act accordingly.
There have been far too many smiling faces at press conferences, insensitive statements, especially from one top defence official and dismissive gestures. The Government has acknowledged that there has been a colossal intelligence lapse and there is a grave need to restructure the intelligence gathering mechanisms so that they can coordinate with each other and keep key stakeholders updated. This weighty task will take time and resources and it cannot be done with different parties pulling in different directions. There cannot be a stand-off between the President and the Prime Minister as well as any of their respective rank and file when it comes to security.
The people have paid too massive a price and they will never get their former lives back. For this the Government has to take at least some part of the responsibility, step up and not just do better but show that they are becoming more efficient and effective. The security situation cannot be improved without cooperation and that will have to come from the top. This has already been voiced by many and it cannot be over emphasised.
The Government also has to improve its information sharing mechanisms so that the public are updated about current developments and not fall prey to misinformation and fake news. There has to be more done to display empathy and reassure citizens given the tragedy they must now endure.