Sunday, July 23, 2017

The July 1983 Tamil Pogrom In Sri Lanka

Dr. Brian Senewiratne
It has been erroneously claimed that there has been an ‘ethnic conflict’ in Sri Lanka. There has been no ethnic conflict since 1915, and that was between the Sinhalese and the Muslims. What there has been for six decades, are a series of increasingly virulent pogroms against the Tamil people by a succession of Sinhalese-dominated government, assisted by Sinhalese political opportunists and ethno-religious chauvinists, and conducted by the Sinhalese Armed Forces (99% Sinhalese), with a degeneracy of Sinhala society and its rapid descent to barbarism. These anti-Tamil pogroms have been to crush the Tamil people into submission to accept Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.
I have maintained that unless/until the Sinhalese apologise to the Tamils for what has been done to them, there can neither be peace nor normalcy, and certainly no reconciliation.
The only Sinhalese ever to apologise to the Tamils was the late Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe.
In his final Pastoral Letter (15 November 1983), deeply disturbed by the 1983 massacre of Tamils he wrote:-
“Shame and apology
The massive retaliation mainly by Sinhalese against defenceless Tamils in July 1983 cannot be justified on moral grounds. We must admit this and acknowledge our shame. We must be ashamed because what took place was a moral crime. We are ashamed as Sinhalese for the moral crime which other Sinhalese committed. We must not only acknowledge our shame, we must also make our apology to those Tamils who were unjustified victims of this massive retaliation.”
He goes on to state why this should be done.
“When a section of the Sinhalese does what is morally wrong or bad, we share in it. As members of the whole group we share in the evil they have done. It is a mark of moral maturity to acknowledge a moral crime on behalf of those closely knit to us who do not realize that they have done this and an apology on their behalf.
It is only by an apology of this kind that we shall recover our proper moral and religious values. Then we can begin the process of what went wrong with our relationship with the Tamils. The true basis of reconciliation is admission of wrong and an appeal for forgiveness”
Late Bishop of Kurunegala, Revd. Lakshman Wickremesinghe
That was written after the murder of some 3,000 Tamils just before his untimely death. I am not sure what he would have written today after the murder of some 70,000 Tamils.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu whom I met in Cape Town two years ago, should know all about reconciliation. He chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa, at a time when there was an absolute need for reconciliation. He will testify that it is mandatory to have an open, honest and transparent process to deal with the past if there is to be national reconciliation.
Not to have such a process is to throw away any possibility of moving forward. Unfortunately, the Sinhalese people, much less their politicians, are unable or unwilling to appreciate this. As such, the window of opportunity will close, if it has not done so already.
I, a Sinhalese, did not slit any Tamil throats, but I have a sense of collective responsibility for the insensitive and barbaric behaviour of my people the Sinhalese, in military uniform and not in uniform.
If to be critical of what is going on in Sri Lanka, makes me a traitor, so be it. I will not let my patriotism to Sri Lanka to be defined by how close I stand to the Sri Lankan flag, drenched with the blood and tears of hundreds of thousands of Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims – all of them my people. 
At one of the anniversaries of the 1983 Tamil massacre in Colombo, Chandrika Kumaratunga, then the President, was asked about an apology to the Tamils. She said, “We should all apologise to each other”. I could not figure this out. Why should the Tamils apologise to the Sinhalese? For what? For the crime they have committed being born Tamil so that the Sinhalese could murder them?

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