The end of a journey and beginning of a new one

Friday, 12 March 2021 01:17 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The question of how to establish a modern state that would uphold the rights of all without discrimination, win respect and trust of all, ensure the reign of rule of law, and be free from corruption and inefficiency must be seriously discussed – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

It can be said that both the old era and the old system of Sri Lanka have come to a historical end. But not only general society but also the leaders who are supposed to guide and steer the society have not clearly understood it yet. 

The entire economy of the country is in a state of complete collapse which needs to be revamped. Similarly the State and the political system are also in a state of total collapse. The social system is no different.

The Easter Sunday tragedy has pushed the country to a point of intense extremism which may eventually lead the political journey of Sri Lanka to a historic end. Although the attacks were targeted on the Sinhala and Tamil Catholics and Christians, it was mainly the Sinhala Buddhists who have been most alarmed and disturbed.

They had already heard about disturbing stories about an organised program allegedly being implemented by Muslims targeting Sinhala Buddhists to make them sterile, causing a great disgust and hatred among the latter on the Muslim community. Consequently the horrific events occurred on the Easter Sunday added to crystallise the anti-Muslim sentiments that had already been rooted deeply in their minds.

Anti-Muslim sentiments 

It was this Muslim phobia nurtured in the minds of the majority Sinhala-Buddhist people that prompted them to embrace the idea of establishing a Sinhala-Buddhist government, leaving no room for the minorities to interfere with its affairs.

As long as the struggle with the Tamils persisted, the Sinhala extremists considered Muslims as their best ethnic ally. In fact the Muslims in the north and east played a significant role in defeating Prabhakaran’s Eelam War. Several names of Muslims were included in the list of prominent war heroes who had sacrificed their lives for the anti-Eelam war.

Following the defeat of Prabhakaran’s Eelam War, the Sinhala Buddhist extremists wanted a new enemy to defend their cause; the Muslims were the new enemy they found. In considering whether there had been an invisible hand behind the Easter Sunday attacks, serious issues spring from the story that Zaharan and some of his followers were attached to the National Intelligence Service, which does not seem to have been taken into consideration yet, seriously.

A question arises as to why the National Intelligence Service wanted to have an extremist like Zaharan in its service? Was he engaged in extremist activities when he was attached to the National Intelligence Service? If so, how was it possible that the National Intelligence Service had not come to know about that? It was the National Intelligence Service which the Indian Intelligence Service had warned in advance about an impending attack which was supposed to have been manoeuvred by Zaharan. Under the circumstances, why didn’t the National Intelligence Service take prompt measures to arrest Zaharan who was in the service of the National Intelligence Service itself?

Is it possible for the ruling parties to use National Intelligence Services or their bureaucrats to achieve their narrow political goals? The investigations made by the Criminal Investigation Department and the Judiciary into some of the heinous crimes committed during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime have proved the involvement of some senior officials in the National Intelligence Service in those crimes.

The assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, the abduction and disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda and the assassination of Raviraj are three examples that can be cited in this regard. These three assassinations can be considered as crimes committed by some officials attached to the National Intelligence Service to further the aims of some ruling party leaders. 

The abduction and disappearance of 11 youths can be considered as a heinous crime committed by a group of officers attached to the intelligence services on their own accord for extorting ransom without an involvement of the ruling party. The abductions to extort ransom took place during the JVP’s second insurrection as well.

Understanding the essence of the problem

It is important to understand that such things have happened not only during the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Similar crimes involving national or military intelligence services have occurred in the past. 

The assassination of President Premadasa and that of Lalith Athulathmudali should be considered as two mysterious and controversial assassinations. We all know that the site where the assassination of President Primadasa took place was immediately washed off and cleared contrary to the standard Police practice of cordoning off the area, allowing the detectives to look for clues. It is also known that there was a practice of attributing certain killings by third parties during the times of violence to the JVP, the LTTE or the military.

This situation stresses the need for re-exploring the incidents that took place during the long period of violent conflicts. In the Easter Sunday tragedy, Zaharan attacked the Sinhala and Tamil Catholics and Christians, not the Sinhala Buddhist people. If there was an invisible hand behind this attack, it might have expected to kill two birds with one stone. Fortunately the attack did not provoke a Christian-Muslim riot because of the intelligent approach adopted by Catholic leaders. Otherwise there would have been a huge catastrophe.

It can be said that the conflicts occurred so far in the ethnic and religious sense in Sri Lanka have shattered the traditional interpretation of the crisis Sri Lanka is facing. According to the traditional interpretation, the whole crisis was perceived to be a Sinhala-Tamil conflict. But, it is now clear that it is a more complex and much larger crisis involving all the major ethnic groups, religions and even castes to a greater extent. Therefore, the old solutions proposed to resolve the crisis are no longer valid.

This stream which has flowed for more than seven decades since independence, severely tormenting various ethnic groups, has now reached its historic end. The death toll of this violent stream could be as high as 150,000. The worst thing of this process is the spiritual death of over millions of people who have survived the physical death but sustained internal wounds and traumatic injuries. 

Healing the internal wounds

This situation can be considered as the major factor that has contributed to the rotting and the collapse of the social system in Sri Lanka. A profound change in this condition can be effected only by employing positive measures to heal the spiritual wounds which have remained unhealed for a long time. 

If the State does not provide a suitable framework for this, the public should adopt unconventional approaches for it. They can be of various kinds and forms. They could take the form of public protests to win reasonable changes. Or they could be in the form of group actions to win the rights. 

The recent march held from east to north by Tamils and Muslims to assert their rights can be considered as a good practice that falls into this category. Black Sunday orchestrated by the Catholic Church can be considered as another demonstration that falls into this category.

It is important to keep all these practices in a broader spectrum rather than confining them to a narrow field. In doing so, caution must be exercised to refrain from nurturing violent and extremist ideas; the approach should be pluralistic, and not tribal; peaceful and free from hatred and anger; the ability to perceive not only the faults of the others but also those of one’s own, must be promoted. 

It should not be limited to physical demonstrations only, and should include psychological exercises which would lead to improving objective and rational thinking. For that, the habit of reading must be developed and what is read must constitute things that would contribute to widening the understanding of what is happening in the country. The public must read the material that would yield the knowledge needed to solve problems and debate on relevant issues. 

Attempts must be made to end the recognition accorded to the caste system in Sinhala and Tamil society and move towards building the nation within a framework that gives equal dignity and equal rights to people of all races and religions. Everything possible should be done to achieve this objective. 

At the same time, the question of how to establish a modern state that would uphold the rights of all without discrimination, win respect and trust of all, ensure the reign of rule of law, and be free from corruption and inefficiency must be seriously discussed.