Many Sri Lankans (including large numbers of Tamils) from outside Sri Lanka and Colombo have gone to Jaffna and come back saying that things are much better than they thought they would be and that “we should work with the Government now”. When challenged, they often retort: “you should go and see for yourself”, a refrain also used by the Government of Sri Lanka spokesmen and their supporters.
Well, this is what one Sinhalese human rights activist did! But rather than just make a short trip, he spent a lot of time and made a lot of effort to find out what is really happening, looking well beyond Jaffna which is more or less the limit for Tamil tourists.
It’s a long report but very moving one because it so understated and balanced. Please take the time to read it – if nothing else, we should know what is happening to the survivors. The messages are in stark contrast to the views expressed by these tourists, who seem to have come away with rather a superficial perspective.
Isn’t it rather amazing that a Sinhala human rights activist is willing to put himself at risk to stand up for the the equality of “the other side”? The “benefits” to this human rights defender of describing the many injustices that even journalists don’t want to cover is greater personal risk at this time of self-censorship – Sri Lanka today is not a place where “normal” people dare to talk about human rights violations. On the other hand, the benefits to Tamil tourists of their rose-tinted view doesn’t need much explanation.
Moreover, he is not alone. Also attached is a shorter commentary by a university student, again Sinhalese.
These examples raise an intriguing question – might the hope for the long-suffering Tamils in Northern Sri Lanka come more from such dedicated Sinhalese, rather than Tamil tourists? Of course not all Tamil tourists are complicit/complacent and not all Sinhalese visitors are saints! So this leads us to wonder, post war, is there actually a new divide emerging in Sri Lanka which has nothing to do with ethnicity namely TWRC (Those Who Really Care) and TWDC (Those Who Don’t Care)?
Please pass this article to any Sri Lankans who have been or are considering going to Sri Lanka in the hope that we can encourage them to care and engage deeply. When people ignore the suffering of their own countrymen and women, it is not surprising the world turns the other way too.
Letter written by a Sinhalese University student
I am a university student. In university, I have been having frequent discussions with some of my Tamil colleagues and based on these conversations, I thought of writing this blog.
Today there are large number of people from the South who visit the North as tourists. They are bringing about a tremendous burden on the people of the north. For instance, they are even using vacant lands as toilets, because the north does not have adequate facilities to accommodate them .
Furthermore, this increase in tourism has attracted increased numbers of traders to the north from other parts of the country. They too do not have sufficient accommodation facilities and end up polluting the environment. But I’m actually not writing about that.
I have noted that many of the Sinhalese people who travel to the north have no clue about Tamil culture and ways of life. For instance, Tamils consider the wells in their temples as sacred places. They do not bathe or wash clothes in those wells. But the southern tourists do it all the time and the Tamils seeing this are devastated. Due to their lack of cultural sensitivities, these southern tourists commit many such mistakes which do not hold well with traditional Tamil people.
Actually, the Sinhalese people hold their temples in high regards. Recently, singer Akon was booted from Sri Lanka for desecrating a Buddhist statue. But no action is taken for the humiliation of Tamil religious venues.
We also notice that soldiers serving in Jaffna have their relatives and friends visiting them. On such occasions, the soldiers approach the home owners of Jaffna and ask them if they can host these groups of people. Because they are soldiers, the civilians can’t say no. On the contrary, if a solider is serving in Kandy, he will not be in a position to ask a Kandy homeowner to host his visiting relatives. That will never happen. But it happens in Jaffna.
Just two days before writing this, one of my Tamil friends told me soldiers approached his aging parents in Jaffna and requested them to host a group of visiting friends in their home. My Tamil friend is deeply disturbed by this. He is hesitant to take legal action and he also feels raising this issue will once again disturb the peace between Tamils and Sinhalese people. But he is nevertheless very unhappy at this development. I am urging people who read this to take some action. They can educate travelers to the north, ask them to not go there if they cannot find suitable paid accommodation.
We can’t do anything about what happened in the past. But we certainly can take action to build bridges of friendship and understanding