Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thoughts for Peace

'Truth to be told;
Life to be lived;
Light to be lighted;
Love to be loved;
Peace to be spread' - Mother Teresa (1910-1997), founded the Missionaries of Charity, Nobel Peace Laureate

Thoughts for Peace:

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

"Our options are limited to unitary and federal with regard to sharing powers. Are the elections really democratic? The people, who decide on war, do not decide on participatory democracy" said The President of the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka Reverend Ebanesar Joseph in his key note address at the Training of Trainers on Peace building. It was organized by the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka, Muslim Aid and United Methodist Committee on Relief.

[Reverend Ebanesar Joseph]

He further said:

"Conflicts have diverse experience. I went through the most painful experience during the black July riots in 1983. There were 103 refugees sought refuge in my Church-City Mission of Methodist Church of Sri Lanka which was situated in Pettah. The Church was set fire by the mobs. There were 35 Sinhalese who stayed with us in the burning Church. We all stayed there until we were rescued. After rescued, I was found being slept on the statue of God Siva at the Ginthupitty temple. A person from a different faith was found to be sleeping in another place for faith.

There is a silver line, we should not loose site. We are innocent victims of violence. The silver line is very thin. The Ceasefire Agreement failed. Because it was decided by the people at the President's House and and people in Kilinochchi.

Sri Lanka has the largest colonial history in Asia. There had been feudal fights, but never on ethnicity. Though colonial came to divide and rule. The boundaries were set by the British.

The rich have no problem about the ethnic conflict. But the people who are living under the poverty line are divided over ethnicity. The voices of the poor are not heard. There are 350,000 people living without pure drinking water in Sri Lanka. The middle class is shrinking while the people who are living below the poverty line are expanding. The poor people do not have the power to execute.

There are not only security reasons, certain other reasons behind forming of High Security zones, and ban on fishing. Reasons are also sited for certain people's economical conditions.

Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are fighting with each other in Trincomalee district. Somebodyelse is interested in Sampoor High Security Zone. There are many interests which are impediments to resolve the conflict. Norway, India and USA may be interested in Sri Lanka. They want to secure Sri Lanka for their own interests.

Arms trade dominates the economy of a country. 60% of international economies live on arms trade. Norway works in 18 countries to restore peace. They are arms dealers as well.

The religious institutions can be militarised. Militarisation has affected the religions as well. Militarisation of economic and religion will lead to fragmentation. The technological violence is increasing in Sri Lanka. Checkpoints can be seen with advertisements in Sri Lanka. There were Vesak lanterns and decorations at the checkpoint during the Veask season. The effects of violence does not affect us.

Killing of 13 army soldiers in Jaffna put Colombo into flames. But today the scene is different. The language used to describe the dead bodies is beyond expectation. People used to ask barbeque or sliced meat when they heard of any murder which took place during the year 1989 in Kandy. Perceptions can easily enable people to be violent. When people are under threat, they can be violent. Glorification of violence can lead the community to be more violent. Violence is internalized in Sri Lanka.

The problem comes when the identity is used by one against another. The religion divines sanctity of life. Moral beliefs of religion do not survive today. Religions are regionally identified. Christianity is identified with West, Hinduism with India, Islam with Middle East and Buddhism with Japan.

"The conflict has taken away the essence of humanness. 80% of our people live in helplessness. People need to be restored with peopleness". Peace makers have to be with the people. The hatredness and fear have to be removed from their hearts and minds. Dignity, self-pride and respect have to be preserved.

Peace making takes time. Experiences are very sensitive. Never bring a theory out of pace making. Peace making cannot be told in circles, triangles and squares. We have to avoid generalization in peace making, and need to look out for exceptions.

A lot can be achieved by women. New orientations come from women, and it helps. It's essential to include women in peace making.

A friend of mine told me recently that, Rwanda is the safest city in Africa. Ethiopia has 62 languages. Sri Lanka has only two languages. Why cannot we solve our problem? A lot needs to be learnt from Africa".

Excerpts from speeches/comments by participants:

[Sam Selvin]

Sam Selvin, Consultant of United Methodist Church on Relief:

"The seeds for peace were sown. The journey for peace has started. We need to rediscover ourselves. And the journey for peace has to continue."

[Amjad Mohamed Saleem]

Amjad Mohamed Saleem, Country Director of Muslim Aid:

"The God has created us in different stripes. Some men see things as why, and some men see things as why not. Why more people are silent?

The humanity is broken. We are the ambassadors of peace. Mahathma Gandhi said "if you want a change; you change first. The leadership should have power with people; not power over people. It's easy to be a sheep, but difficult to be a shepherd.

The problem is no the bad people making noise, but good people are silent. There is a light at the end of the tunnel."

[Dr. M.A. Mohamed Saleem]

Dr. M.A. Mohamed Saleem, Honorary President and Chief executive Officer of SWARAJYA foundation:

"I am an old boy of Jaffna College in Vattukottai. I hail from the east, but I studied and excelled in studies and sports in Jaffna. I captained the basketball team, badminton team and cricket team at Jaffna College. Tamils and Muslims were together like brothers and sisters of the same family.

There is a lot of difference now between the Tamils and Muslims and Sinhalese. We are divided. There is an absence of co-existence in this country. Rights to live and access to space and resources are denied. Every cirtizen in this country is equal. There is fear, division among the communities. There are problems within the communities' there are problems among the communities.

There had been a lack of governance in Sri Lanka since independence. We lack trust with each other. Mobilisation of people is important. We have lost the humanness and human dignity.

I will have peace, when I can go back to my school Jaffna College. We need to work to narrow the existing gap among the communities."

[Reverend Jude Sutharshan]

Reverend Jude Sutharshan, the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka:

"The history has proved to us what we do to others comes back to us in the same form. The Muslim community was evicted from Northern Province in 1990. We, Tamils got displaced in 1995 while facing numerous hardships.

We are living in a turbulent environment, where there is an undeclared war going on and on the other hand the need of the hour for peace felt by the most. Fear and suspicion have to be eliminated to pursue life's goals. We all have to the be the torch bearers of peace."

The following are the views cast by the participants of the Training of Trainer on Peacebuilding regarding their voices for peace:

[Reverend Sister M. Dilani A.C.]

Reverend Sister M. Dilani A.C. from Colombo:

Peace is energy. It is a powerful force that can penetrate the shell of chaos and put things into a balanced order. Peace is one of the resources that is found in oneself. Some think that peace is dependant on outside circumstances. But the truth lies within the own life.

Peace does not depend upon the circumstances. Peace consists of pure thoughts, pure feelings, and pure wishes. When our energy of thought, word and actions are balanced we have peace with self, in relationship and with the world.

[Kalaivani Mervyn Philip]

Kalaivani Mervyn Philip from Jaffna:

Peace is a very sensitive thing to feel - it is not something that cannot be reached. Peace is what makes us feel that we are living happily as humanbeings. No difference inside the nation in relation to language, religion, race or creed.

If you want to live in a peaceful society, why should not you be the difference in empowering the people from the grassroots level to upper class of the society? Even you can bring out the difference from your own family and friends. Be the difference; lead the society.

[S. Jude Laxman Rosa]

S. Jude Laxman Rosa from Negombo:

We are stamped as Sinhala Tigers when we talk and work for peace. "Sinhala Tigers or Sinhala Terrorists" is the award we get when work for peace. The fisher folks are the most affected after certain areas in the sea have been declared as High Security Zones (HSZ). We avoid fishing in Negombo, come further down to Colombo to fish, but get arrested for passing the Colombo harbour. We sacrifice all for the national security.

[Moulavi Mohamed Irfan]

Moulavi Mohamed Irfan from Jaffna:

We are denied the right to live. Our family details are kept in front of each house in Jaffna. Curfew is imposed daily, and our movements are very restricted. Prices are sky-rocketing; we are unable to lead a normal life in Jaffna.

[T. B. Thalagahagedara]

T. B. Thalagahagedara from Matale:

The humanness is lost among the communities. Political killings are taking a lead in our daily life. Death is rejoiced in quantity. The rights of other communities living in Sri Lanka should be respected. Federal does not mean separation. It's a way of sharing the powers.

[Kandaiah Vallipuram]

Kandaiah Vallipuram from Muthur:

Tamils are afraid of Sinhalese, Sinhalese are afraid of Tamils, and Mulsims are afraid of Tamils. We all are living is an environment of uncertainty. We as members of human race have to work for people centered peace.

P.M.Mujeebur Rahman from Puttlam:

We like to co-exist with other communities. We were like brothers and sisters of one family before the eviction in 1990. Tamils and Muslims in the North used to share a lot in common. But after the eviction and bitter experience we have been distanced from each other. As children of war we need to understand the situation in a better manner and rebuild the relationship again.

[Reverend Sylvester Terrance]

Reverend Sylvester Terrance from Batticaloa:

No independent voice is voiced by the community. People are afraid to speak about peace, because they will be targeted easily and soon. Humanity is lost, and humanity needs to be served.

[Manoharan Kurukkal]

Manoharan Kurukkal from Mannar:

There is no freedom to carry out religious activities. National Identity cards have to handed over at the entrance of Thirukoneswaram temple and get a permit to enter the temple. We are unable to but any vegetable for less than Rs.100/=. The goods are unloaded and reloaded at Madawachchi for security reasons. The shop keepers increase the prices daily. And the vegetable get spoilt by the time it comes to Mannar due to the delay in the new procedure. Some vegetable vendors consider closing down their business due to loss.

75% of Mannar population is fisher folk. And they are unable to go for fishing due to High Security Zones. The second livelihood earning is farming. Most of the farm lands are declared High Security Zones, and farmers are unable to cultivate in these lands. Passengers are afraid to travel in the first bus in the morning due to claymore attacks. The residents of Mannar are worried about abductions, ransom and killings. We have lost the happiness of being humanbeings for more then two decades.

[A.J Iqbal]

A.J Iqbal from Muthur:

We are victims of war. The most affected are vulnerable people, who are very silent. Their lives are under threat. Our rights are snatched away. We have to work collectively for peace and human rights.

[J. M. Azhar]

J. M. Azhar from Kantale:

There is no human dignity. We are living in fear and suspicion. These need to be removed from the communities. Everybody has to contribute for sustainable peace. It's their responsibility.

[Priyantha Pathirathne]

Priyantha Pathirathne from Mirigama:

Peace does not only mean an absence of war. It means freedom of movement and freedom of expressions. We are too afraid to talk about peace due to consequences. But peace is an urgent need to our country, and it cannot be postpone anymore.


Karunakaran from Batticaloa:

People's participation in a peace process is essential. Because they suffer the most in a war. But in Sri Lanka people are left in the dark. We need to create a sinless society. The fullness of life is destroyed due to violence, fear, suspicion, killings and war.

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