Let’s return to ‘better times’ shall we? | Sunday Observer

Let’s return to ‘better times’ shall we?

It would be unfair to ask people if they would like to go back to May 17, 2009 and tell us if they prefer that day, time and all that is embedded in these things to this day (May 20, 2020, as I write). On that day, which was the day before the LTTE military leadership was annihilated, the inevitable was known.

We could go back to other days. Here’s a partial list.

November 11, 1985 (Dollar Farm massacre), November 30, 1985 (Kent Farm massacre), May 5, 1985 (Wilpattu Village massacre), May 14, 1985 (massacre of 146 civilians at the Sri Maha Bodhi), June 11, 1990 (600 unarmed police officers summarily executed), August 3, 1990 (147 Muslims killed in cold blood while attending Isha prayers at the Meer Jumma Masjid, Hussainiya, Masjid-Jul-Noor and Fowzie Mosques) and October 1990 (ethnically cleansing Jaffna of its Muslim population — 72,000 of them, no less), among hundreds of attacks on unarmed communities carried out by the LTTE.

We could remember July 24, 1996 (Dehiwala train bombing), October 15, 1997 (World Trade Centre bombing), January 25, 1998 (attack on the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic), January 31, 1996 (Central Bank bombing), July 24, 2001 (Bandaranaike Airport attack), the numerous bus bombings of 2008, April 6, 2008 (Weliveriya bombing), February 3, 2008 (Fort Railway Station bombing), among many LTTE suicide attacks.

Then there are those dark days of assassinations. The near and dear would remember better of course. Here’s a partial list.

Alfred Duraiappah, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Rajiv Gandhi, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, Ranjan Wijeratne, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, C.V. Gunaratne, Ossie Abeygunasekera, Appapillai Amirthalingam, S Shanmuganathan, A. Thangathurai, M Canagaratnam, Sam Tambimuttu, G Yogeswaran, V Yogeswaran, NImalan Soudaranayagam, Kethesh Loganathan, Chelvy Thiyagarajah, Balanadarajah Iyer, Rajani Thiranagama, Relangi Selvarajah, C E Anandarajah, V M Panchalingam, S Nadarajah, Sarojini Yogeswaran, Gopalaswamy Mahendraraja, Uma Maheswaran, Kithalagama Sri Seelankara Thera, Hegoda Sri Indrasara Thera Sivashri Kungaraja Kurukal, Selliah Parameswara Kurukkal, and hundreds of other military leaders, politicians, activists, civil society leaders, priests, professionals and of course leaders and cadres of rival militant groups.

We could list all atrocities perpetrated by the Sri Lankan military on civilians either upon orders of maniacal commanders and politicians or by indisciplined combatants. The most horrific of these, let us not forget, took place in the 1980s and 1990s.

Let’s however go to the much talked of ‘last days.’ Let’s go to December 2008, taking the word of celebrated defence columnist who told us ‘Killinochchi falling to the security forces is a 50-50 matter.’

This was when ‘analysts’ such as Kumar David wailed, ’Killinochchi must not fall!’ Let’s go to the first few months of the year 2009. We could look at things from the perspective of a Tamil civilian taken hostage by the LTTE or any other civilian in any other part of the country who when leaving home did not know whether he had in fact bid goodbye to his or her child for the last time.

Let us remember that in those very last days the LTTE bundled dozens of wounded female cadres into two buses and blew them up because they believed it was a risk to allow them to leave for the areas cleared by the security forces and that keeping them was a liability they could not afford. Let us remember that the LTTE attacked a church in the No Fire Zone and assaulted the pastor therein in those very last days because desperate parents had taken their children there to avoid forcible conscription (yes, yes, child soldiers was a big LTTE thing). Let us remember that the hostages were treated to just one glass of rice kanji per day.

Let us remember that the LTTE waylaid vehicles carrying provisions to areas under its control (yes, relief offered by UN agencies and the Red Cross included) and hoarded them for the benefit of cadres, thereby denying the civilians who were the intended beneficiaries.

Let’s think of a child who by the very fact of existing was seen as a potential combatant by the LTTE. Let’s think of every single child abducted by the LTTE, given weapons training and sent to kill and be killed.

Let’s think of every single mother and father whose days and nights were made of a single tragic question, ‘will my son or daughter be taken today?’ Let’s think of fathers and daughters.

Let’s think of fathers who impregnated their daughters so they would not be conscripted by the LTTE. Let’s think of everyone who either as combatant or victim of crossfire or deliberate targeting of civilians lost their lives or limbs. Let’s not forget the Tamil politician who lost his voice or rather loaned it willingly or unwillingly to the world’s most ruthless terrorist of the time.

Let’s go to any of these places. Let’s inhabit such times. Let’s stay there for a while. Let’s close our eyes and recall. For a while.

Now. Let’s open our eyes. It is May 2020. More than a decade has passed. Feel good? Well, it seems that some are unhappy.

May 18, we are told, should be a day of mourning, not celebration. If anyone believes that the end of a war which filled everyone’s days and nights with absolute helplessness, fear and foreboding is a day for mourning, they’ve probably led sheltered lives. If not, they were and are unhappy that preferred outcomes did not materialize. I think it’s the latter.

They need a day of mourning and they want to give some legitimacy for this by referring to the last days, regurgitating the highly inflated narrative of numbers tossed out by absolutely unreliable sources and disseminated by the ignorant or politically pernicious.

Notwithstanding all of that, there’s a simple enough question that such people will dare not answer: ‘do you wish that time did not end?’

It ended. If anyone believes that the end of child abduction, forcible conscription, suicide attacks, ethnic cleansing, political assassinations, international networks of human and arms smuggling, drug trafficking, credit card fraud, extortion and numerous other crimes is not worthy of celebration, he or she is one down-in-the-mouth individual. Yes, let us repeat: it is about outcome preferences not materialising. Nothing more, nothing less. When they say ‘triumphalism,’ they are in reality celebrating (yes!) ‘defeatism.’ Sad, but what can one do but say ‘sorry, but I don’t see it that way.’

Does this mean that ‘conflict’ is over? Of course not. Does this mean that Tamils no longer have grievances? No, of course not, not forgetting of course that grievances can be exaggerated and that no limits can be imposed on the dimensions of aspirations, and not forgetting that ‘grievance’ and ‘aspiration’ are not the preserve of a single community. Should such grievances be ignored? Of course not.

Should aspirations be summarily discarded? Of course not. The end of separatism? Of course not, and depending on one’s political position, one can celebrate or lament, fight or surrender.This is not about such things. It is about a celebration of the creation of space for a ‘new time.’ A different place to inhabit.

The end of certain kinds of miseries. And people who gave their lives to end those miseries. People who were maimed for life to revive a dying people, repair a devastated earth-piece and release from torture a nation.

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