Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Planting a Bo Tree in Sri Lanka

In the aftermath of the publication of Frances Harrison's book Still Counting The Dead the discordant cawing of Sri Lankan male voices seem louder. I am hoping this is because the book is having an effect. Oscar Wilde said there is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about. So it’s good that Frances Harrison’s wonderful book is being spoken of.
A week ago I was in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, where Coptic Christians and Muslims clashed in a demonstration. Men raging at other men, nothing new about that! Blood and anger spilling out in equal parts. But Egypt is not where I was born. The burnt out bus, the dirt, the corruption, none of these things move me in the way the mess in Sri Lanka does. Why do I care, I asked myself as I stepped onto the plane taking me back to Britain?

And as the flight path over rain-washed Sussex spread below us with its neat-green fields, its sheep so quietly grazing, I puzzled over the centuries of love and care lavished on this small island by its people. And the effect this has had on those people themselves. Wars have been fought to save their sceptred isle from enemy forces, its citizens standing shoulder to shoulder in unbelievable solidarity.  So that no matter how much you may cry Empire, or, hey, look at what the British did in such-and-such a country, what cannot be denied is the social conscience of the British people for their own home. Not all, you understand, there are always the exceptions, but for many it remains so. This land of wind and rain and grey scudding skies, whose magnificent parks were planted centuries ago for the benefit of future generations, is etched deep within the hearts of its people.
How lovely a thing is that?

Why can't the Sri Lankan diaspora, both Singhala and Tamil unite and care for their country in this way? Why do they simply blame each other, uncaring of either the bigger picture or the greater good, refusing to see the curse that lies on both their houses? 
Why do they not value the virtue of solidarity?
Or notice that there are dead to be remembered? 
Victims on both sides of this wretched, senseless, divide, crying out for attention. Isn’t the pity of it almost beyond words?
There are Sri Lankan children who have lost limbs, mothers who have lost children.
Trauma that will not simply go away, that needs careful handling for years and years to come.
What does it do to a woman to be raped repeatedly by a ruthless army? What does it feel like to know that no one will give you a decent hearing, that your own government couldn’t care less.
That your country’s army is a disgrace,
that its legal system is corrupt,
that its priests are too frightened to speak out,
that you yourself are worthless,
that your own side in the divide talk the talk of retribution,
when all you want is  someone to understands your hurt?

Shame is an emotion of the civilised.
Aggression, just a bully-boy crutch.
When has aggression ever solved anything? In which war?
It isn’t difficult to see how denial is being used as a delaying tactic in this struggle for lasting peace. And on the subject of denial every Sri Lankan has to accept accountability, in one way, or another, for it is only when denial is banished forever that the dove of peace will fly in.
Here, now, is that moment for the diaspora to make its collective, united entrance. To forget the game of blame, (the GOSL love the clashing of cymbals, it helps keep them in power. Remember the expression, divide and rule?), attend to those who weep, help all who have lost sight of reality (what is this Tamil state for God’s sake? Would the Isle of Wight be better if it had its own state?), demand accountability from the Government and learn that old-fashioned skill of caring for each and every single Sri Lankan citizen.
The greed and prejudice of fifty years has to stop here.
A younger, clearer thinking, new generation has to enter the arena, join forces, learn to really care for their country’s future and recognise that violence and division will do no lasting good.
Look at Burma.

Togetherness is what is needed, togetherness, built together.
From the country that produced the world’s first female Premier there should arise a new female intelligentsia that talk only of unity. They should banish the testosterone-infused rabid dogs in power, plant a symbolic Bo tree, many Bo trees in fact, form a sisterhood and begin to clean the land of its shocking disgrace. Nothing else will do. And all of us in the diaspora, every single one of us, should help them. 


  1. The first time I have heard someone from the diaspora actually voice these concerns. Beautiful.
    I wish they all thought like you - Sri Lanka would rise from the ashes so much faster.
    Thank you for giving us hope.

  2. Dear Roma, I hope this note gets to you. I just read your account of the interview with Rani. And I have read other essays and articles of yours, thank you. My book of poems, Uncivil War, will be published very soon by Tsar Books in Toronto. I am in Peru but leaving from here in August, not sure yet where next.

    All the Best