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... you'll fall for anything" goes the quote.
I am writing this a few days after India has decided to vote for the resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. I know I am late but I am glad.
Let me begin with a disclaimer. I cannot claim to be an avid follower of politics. I don’t have the details of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict at my finger tips. I am neither a pro-LTTE sympathizer nor a pro-Sri Lankan supporter. Rather I am merely pro-humanism. Just because I hail from Tamilnadu does not mean that I blindly support all the terrorist activities of the LTTE. And I am not supporting the call to justice, just because those affected are Tamils. No. When I see them, I simply see people. Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, elders, children; just normal people like you and me, with love, hope and dreams all tinged with bitterness and sorrow. Doesn’t matter if they are Tamils or not.
Some people ask what right does India have to talk about human rights, when humans are degraded everyday in her own soil. Doesn’t matter. Yes we do need to work on improving human rights. But that does not in any way take away anything from the fact that the world needs to seek justice from Sri Lanka.
When the LTTE’s leader was shot dead almost 3 years back, I remember that our offices in Chennai closed half-day fearing a backlash of violence. All I was concerned about was reaching home safely before any riots broke out. Sri Lanka's problems, were only a series of newspaper headlines to me. I read about them as I read about umpteen other atrocities that happened every day - many much closer to home. I've always thought, "It is not happening in my country, it's not my problem. Why should I bother about it?" and relegated it to some obscure corner of my mind as I got on with my life.
So why the sudden interest, you ask? I happened to see the critically acclaimed video ‘The Killing Fields Of Sri Lanka’ recently. I am sure that the video has been around for quite a while, but I generally desist from watching such disturbing videos. I don’t know why I watched this one. But I regret it.
If you haven’t watched it already and would like to, please do so. But I must warn you, that if you have a weak heart, please don’t. You might end up in a flood of tears or rush to the bathroom to throw up. I did both.
The former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has said in a speech and I quote, "I shall remember till the end of my days the morning when my 28 year-old son called me, sobbing on the phone to say how ashamed he was to call himself as Sinhalese and a Lankan, after he saw on the UK television a 50 minute documentary called Killing Fields of Sri Lanka which I also had the great misfortune of seeing. My daughter followed suit, saying similar things and expressing shock and horror that our countrymen could indulge in such horrific acts. I was proud of my son and daughter, proud that they cared for the others, proud that they have grown up to be the man and woman their father and mother wanted them to be."
The video is horrific to say the least. It details the war and hate crimes perpetuated by both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan military on innocent civilians. Trapped, with nowhere to hide and caught between two warring factions it is heart-breaking to see the hopelessness and utter despair of these people.
In the video, a father who had to witness the agony of his teenage son, a victim of shelling die a slow and painful death says in a broken voice, “As a father, I could not save my son.” A desperate and defeated statement that no father should ever have to utter.
Another instance shows a man tied to a tree with his throat half slit, blood running down his shirt and tissue hanging out of the slit, still alive and pleading for mercy. Yet another instance, shows soldiers piling up naked bodies of women, dead, tortured and presumably raped. As one man callously drags and throws a woman’s body like a sack of potatoes, he says, “This one had the best figure”.
Why? How? How can humans be so utterly cruel? What turns a man into such a heartless animal? Is it because they suffered pain and loss because of the LTTE? Is that justification enough to become a monster? Is all really fair in love and war? If these men had wives, children and mothers, would those people even bear to look them in the eye knowing about this? There are no easy answers.
But that does not mean that one should stop asking difficult questions. I also have a small, personal connection with Sri Lanka. My great-grandfather used to do business in Colombo all those years back. My grandmother knows Sinhalese and has travelled extensively throughout Sri Lanka a long time back and I guess we might still have some, distant relatives living there – although I personally have never met anyone and don’t really know anyone. But it makes me wonder - what if my great-grandfather had continued his business there instead of shutting shop and moving out due to inhospitable conditions? Would I be there? Would I also be one of those unfortunate living dead with haunting memories of mindless violence and irreparable loss? Or would I just be one among the many rotting dead bodies, buried in earth stained crimson?
One gains a new respect for the Mahatma in such times. There might a thousand arguments and critiques against Gandhiji and my view might be rather simplistic to the worldly-wise. But finally, isn’t the choice to be non-violent much better than choosing a path of destruction? At the end of a devastating war, really, who is happy? Doesn't an eye war an eye make the whole world blind? Doesn't fighting fire with fire burn down everything in its path? There might be an over-whelming sense of relief that the war is finally over, but peace? Happiness? Will non-violence work today? I honestly don’t know. But can a country founded on so much darkness, hope to have a peaceful and secure future?
Today India is the only Asian country that has voted against Sri Lanka. Never mind that it agreed to it only after making some amendments. Never mind that it was possibly a result of internal politics and pressure from its strategic alliances who might possibly have wanted the vote to further personal gains. Is anything going to happen now because of the resolution? I don't know.
But in the end, I am proud that India had the guts to stand by the weak, to stand by those who have been oppressed and have no hope, to stand by those whose voices have been silenced, to stand by those who need answers and justice.