When someone asks you who you are:
The real answer should be”Sri Lankan”
In conversation with National Coordinator of Peace and Social Work, T. Dayabaran on reconciliation and our national identity
The National Coordinator of Peace and Social Work, T. Dayabaran is educated in conflict resolution and peace-building and comes with many years experience implementing this work. He has also won the International Peace Award from India for his peace-building work. We recently spoke with him about his work and his opinion on reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
THE CATAMARAN: What role does your Peace and Social Work organization play here?
We are carrying out peace work throughout Sri Lanka. In addition, we focus on issues like peace-building, reconciliation and transitional justice. We do this in collaboration with foreign and local organizations.We also feel that this is the social obligation of every Sri Lankan to work towards bringing peace and tranquility in this country. So we do this beyond the fact that we are a peacebuilding organization. There is no need for a conflict-affected country to continue to be in conflict. We have to get out of it. People have to live in peace. Everyone has a responsibility to contribute towards this. We also contribute in the same spirit..
THE CATAMARAN: Why do you work for peace at the community level, rather than working directly with parties related to the conflicts?
Everyone in Sri Lanka has contributed to war. Either directly or indirectly like tolerating the injustices going on around them. Doing this is also a contribution to conflict. We closed our eyes when one group committed unlawful acts of injustices against another group of human beings. This negligence is also an encouragement. We need to address this issue at least now for the benefit of future generations. People in all communities should be prepared for it. Our main job at the moment is to take this message to people.
THE CATAMARAN: The war is over, but why peace and harmony not developed in people’s minds?
Every community needs to understand other ethnic communities, live together, and recognize everyone’s needs and aspirations. The absence of this is the cause of conflict, war and hostility. All the reasons for the war remain as before. Only the war is over now. Nothing is resolved. Aspirations of people remain intact without being taken into consideration by the parties concerned.
THE CATAMARAN: You say the reasons for war remain unresolved. At the same time the impact of the war is a big issue for this reconciliation. What are your thoughts on this?
The war has had a huge impact on communities. There are many problems such as mistrust, suspicion, jealousy and thinking that if one community is to grow the other community has to be suppressed, and that every community is selfish to think that only it should grow up. Sri Lankan communities are now fragmented on the basis of race, religion and territory. This is a fact. They do not think as Sri Lankans or as one society. For example, if you ask a Sinhalese ‘who are you?’, they would say ‘Sri Lankan‘, but ask the same from a Tamil, Muslim or Burger in Sri Lanka
and the answer would be their ethnic identity instead. The sense of Sri Lankan identity has not yet been built in their minds and remains a majority notion.
THE CATAMARAN: What reconciliation programmes are currently being carried out by your organization?
Our mission is making everyone treat others as equals. No matter what community they are from, consider your culture and tradition as unique but be human first. We are raising the awareness around the rights of the people to discuss and question their government about the stagnation of Sri Lanka’s initiatives to build reconciliation as well as the peace.
THE CATAMARAN: What kind of work is being done by reconciliation committees formed by your organization?
A personal issue is transformed into a racial issue due to the political environment. For example, the issue of the upgrading of the Northern Tamil area in Kalmunai has divided the Tamil and Muslim population into two poles. But this is merely a political issue. In order to prevent the issue from aggravating, reconciliation committees met with political and social leaders to look for various measures to control the situation.
Likewise, there is a fish market in Akkaraipattu which has a problem with waste water going into the Hindu temple situated behind it. This brought a great deal of friction between the people of Alaiyadi Vembu and Akkaraipattu. This fish market comes under the purview of Akkaraipattu Municipal Council. The reconciliation committees of both areas decided to speak to the mayor. Accordingly, after clearing the matter with the Municipal Council, a fence was built around the fish market to prevent waste water from entering the temple premises. People have come to the common belief that if communities work together, the problems can be resolved. These committees carry out many
THE CATAMARAN: What role do you think the state should play in promoting reconciliation?
Reconciliation in Sri Lanka is a very challenging and slow process. Many years have to be spent on this. The notion of harmony is widely seen at the grassroot level. At the same time, people also have the attitude that they should not give up their ethnic identities.
The first question is whether the Government has an interest and commitment to make reconciliation work in Sri Lanka. The government must put its sincere and serious effort into the process. But what we see is government doing things on a surface level to satisfy international communities. We question if the government was sincere in implementing the judicial system and transitional justice methodologies they put forward. The government has come up with proposals but not provided the infrastructure to implement it.
THE CATAMARAN: Can we expect the new government to actively promote reconciliation?
Problems can be solved only by implementing the proposals put forward by the government. There are a number of proposals by Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), the Office of the Missing Persons (OMP), the Office of the Commissioner of Compensation and other reconciliation organizations. The question is how much of this work has actually been done. The government must put its full weight into implementing these proposals. This will solve many problems.