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Unmaking the Nation: The Politics of Identity and History in Modern Sri Lanka (1995 | 2009).

Pradeep Jeganathan & Qadri Ismail (eds.)

Now in a 2nd Edition, with a new preface, and a comprehensive index.

"Stimulating... Excellent..." -- Journal of Asian Studies. 

"Will be of great value to all those concerned with... nationalism [and] violence..." -- Arjun Appadurai.

"...[F]orces us to think about Sri Lankan symbolic and social formations in an entirely novel fashion." -- Gananath Obeyesekere

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Tuesday
Feb212012

Forgive, but do not Forget

In a statement issued in response to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, the government of Canada says, “Canada remains concerned that the report does not fully address the grave accusations of serious human rights violations that occurred toward the end of the conflict. Many of the allegations outlined by the UN Secretary-general’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka have not been adequately addressed by this report. We continue to call for an independent investigation into the credible and serious allegations raised by the UN Secretary-general’s Panel that international humanitarian law and human rights were violated by both sides in the conflict.”


First let me set aside for one, the argument, true in many ways, that the business of transgovernmental commentary is an unequal one. Not all comment is ever aired equally. The authoritative comments on the subjugated; the counter comments of the subjugated do not of course have the authority to circulate. That said, let me comment on Canada. In fact, it’s not simply a comment on Canada, but a comment taking Canada’s comment on the LLRC report as an exemplar of comments that have been heard for some time now by authoritative voices like the Canadian government, that echo each other so much that the concerned reader might well now have stopped unpacking the logic of the comments, taking them as givens.


In the interests of clarity, let me try some unpacking. The key phrase of the comment is, firstly, “does not fully address the grave accusations of serious human rights violations that occurred toward the end of the conflict.” Three words stand out for me: Grave, serious and end. It seems clear here first of all, that both gravity and seriousness are meant to be underlined, that’s why the words are use in tandem as it were. So that’s one half of it. The other half is the matter of the ‘end,’ as in “occurred towards the end of the conflict.” Grave and


What about the beginning and middle, is my question, though simple in construction, grave and serious in its import. Surely, from the burning of the public library in Jaffna, to the massacre of pilgrims at the sacred Bo tree in Anuradhapura, to the massacre of women and children in Sathurukondan, to the killing of worshippers in the mosques in Kattankudy, there are the most inhuman and vicious atrocities that punctuate the unremitting brutality of our civil war. No list would be complete, my four events are simply, and obviously, a sampler. As far as I know, three of these events have not been investigated at all, but a Presidential Commission investigated the massacre at Sathurukondan. The Commission’s account is very detailed because an anthropologist doing field work in the area, assisted them greatly. As I have argued in my paper, in the ‘Ruins of Truth: the work Melancholia and Act of Memory,” one of the central outcomes of the investigation is the number of those killed. A Number like 173. I call that the ruins of truth.


So, firstly, the Canadians have missed this. In the mid 1990s, a number of presidential commissions investigated grave and serious allegations of human rights abuses. The yield of these commissions for those who suffered has been minuscule, not because they were particularly biased, but because this kind of investigation can only produce a result like a number. This number then cycles back into the simmering conflict, and becomes the basis of more conflict.


No doubt many will disagree with me. I ask them then, given the logic of that disagreement, why they do not ask for serious investigations in to what we might determine as the four, five, six or twenty gravest moments of human rights violations we have lived through in the last three decades or so. I mean, am I to imagine that just because the United Nations didn’t investigate them, so the Canadians could echo them, all that I lived through in the terrible past of my country didn’t happen? That every brutality was confined to the ‘end.’


No, I cannot imagine that, and no, I am not asking for an investigation. I am asking that we stop taking sides, because it will destroy us all. We need to understand and remember that we all did terrible things to each other, and in so doing, try to not forget, but forgive each other, and forgive ourselves.

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Reader Comments (2)

Well said Pradeep.
February 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTharindu
I have always greatley admired your work. However having said that I do believe in both truth and reconciliation and while forgiving is important so is truth. How can there be forgiveness when so many on all sides believe there is nothing to forgive? All sides in Sri Lanka’s civil war have committed atrocities. Today there are many apologists for these atrocities both Tamil and Singhalese and Muslim. Without the truth how can there ever be reconciliation?

Shrewsbury UK
February 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGillian Sathanandan

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