The harm that good men do

Since those unfortunate and regrettable days of July ‘83, every sane Sri Lankan has been hoping and striving hard to avoid the build up of communal tensions and avoiding any sort of confrontation between different communities.

The great majority of Sinhalese people who had nothing to do with the barbarism of July ‘83 have been acting with tremendous restraint despite the utmost of provocations. Machine gunning worshippers under the Sacred Sri Maha Bodhi, bombing of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, executing two busloads of monks, massacres of entire villages, execution of 700 policemen who surrendered to the LTTE on the advice of the government of the day, provocative attacks in Colombo such as the bombing of crowded places such as the Pettah Bus Terminal, Maradana Junction, attacks on the fuel storage tanks and the Colombo International Airport were borne with great fortitude and forbearance for over a period of 20 years. Most of these attacks were obviously meant to draw a backlash from the Sinhalese who already stood condemned before the world although the great majority had nothing to do with the July ‘83 anti-Tamil attacks.

On Wednesday, however, Sinhalese and Tamils clashed at the New Town Hall and even though it could be categorised as a minor event it was certainly deplorable and should have never happened.

Ironically, the organisers of the event at the New Town Hall say that it was a Sinhala-Tamil cultural show meant to draw the two communities together. Others however, including many Tamils saw it as an extension of ‘Pongu Tamil’, a Tamil chauvinistic cultural show actively backed by the LTTE. Reports of ‘Pongu Tamil’ shows staged in LTTE controlled areas as well as in government controlled areas, have caused much ire in the South because of the pro LTTE separatist propaganda that has been put out at these shows and where even the flag of ‘Eelam’ was hoisted. Whatever the name of the show may have been, the organisers as well as the government should have been well aware of the possible fallout of such an event being staged in Colombo.

On Tuesday, The Island reported the leader of PLOTE, V. Sidhharthan warning the LTTE not to hold ‘Pongu Tamil’ in Colombo as it may affect communal harmony. Siddharthan, a Tamil leader himself, had warned that if the LTTE and northern Tamils were genuinely committed to peace, they should refrain from such activities that may arouse communal feelings and lead to violence. He also urged the government not to allow ‘Pongu Tamil’ to be held in Colombo.

Peace makers, however honourable their objectives may be, should realise that there are restraints to be observed if the fragile peace is not to be broken. Sinhalese or even the government will not be able to stage any event in LTTE controlled areas or even in areas under government control where the LTTE holds sway. For example it was only last month that the government called off the National Sports Festival that was to be held in Jaffna, following objections of the LTTE. Certainly the organisers of Wednesday’s show had the right to stage it in Colombo but better counsel should have prevailed in the light of the growing opposition to it.

Some of the organisers are well known to have extremely cordial relations with the LTTE and have the patronage of an embassy whose sympathies towards the LTTE are well established.

All this is not to say that we endorse the violence that broke out or club wielding thugs, whoever they may be. Whoever indulged in the violence has to be condemned and face the consequences of the law. We do not wish to comment on this incident in detail because six persons said to be from the Sihala Urumaya have been arrested by the police and remanded. This organisation’s leaders ask whether the police think that only their members were involved in the violence and that it was a ‘home Vs home match’ of the Sihala Urumaya that took place?

The government and the police have to take a fair share of the blame because such an incident breaking out was quite likely.

In the interest of peace and harmony, the best that can happen is not to blow up this incident and make it a major issue. There is much talk of blood that was spilt and of martyrs. Let it be remembered that much of the woes of the present day world have been caused by blood of martyrs spilt aeons ago.

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