The need to move beyond the ‘July Cruelty Concept’



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July ’83 riots

by M. L. Wickramasinghe


 


There is an ‘eye –opener’ article on the editorial page of the Sunday Island of July 24 on cruel acts perpetrated in the month of July written by Rajan Phillips. It attempts to catalogue and dissect the incidents of ethnic violence in Sri Lanka in the post-Independence period - the universe being the incidents of ethnic violence that occurred mainly around the month of July. Every Sri Lankan whether Sinhalese ,Tamil or Muslim would abhor such insane and irrational violence irrespective of who the perpetrators were and who the sufferers are and in which month of the year that these occurred. We wish such irrational and inhuman acts would not occur in this country again.


It is the same with the most recent incidents of terrorist violence in Bangladesh, France, and Germany. The vast majority of the citizens of the world community irrespective of ethnicity and religion censured such irrational violence. This is as it should be.


We arte in total agreement with the main ideas presented in the Philips article, including the belief that any form of ethnic violence need to be nipped in the bud. We believe that all Sri Lankans would agree on this too.


At the same time it is now time for analysts to go beyond what I wish to call the ‘July Cruelty Concept’ (of course having borrowed part of the terminology from the said article) and look at the holistic picture in this regard. I do not suggest by any means that we now ignore the 1958, 1977, and 1983 aberrations. We need to learn lessons from these unfortunate events, and as a Nation I believe that we have learnt lessons.


My family and I did not opt to be mere bystanders during these unfortunate events. My family and I took proactive and humanitarian action during all three of these episodes of violence to help people in distress even at the risk of harm to ourselves. The main purpose of this brief revelation is to not to gain any credit but to illustrate that my response to the article is genuine, since there is an emergent and unfortunate tendency to label persons who propose a balanced view on reconciliation and the national question as racists and inhibitors of reconciliation. I trust that my past actions will illustrate my sincerity. At the very least these past actions of mine can psychologically support my assertion internally.


If we as analysts get boxed in to what I call the ‘July Cruelty Concept’ it would contribute to the creation of a skewed view of ethnic violence in Sri Lanka. An example of what I attempt to say is clearly illustrated in the said article. Barring the last mentioned activity, i.e. the recent Jaffna university incident, the article covers the misdemeanors of only one ethnic group, i.e. of the majority community. I know that the bias crept in as the focus of the article was time limited to activities that occurred in July. This is why I suggest that we go beyond the ‘July Cruelty Concept’. This approach is clearly weak, considered from an intellectual, methodological, objectivity, and more importantly from an ethical angle. A more representative and scientific approach will provide the needed balance which would automatically confer wider acceptability and applicability to the observations.


Ethnic violence in Sri Lanka was not exclusively July friendly. It is well known that LTTE not only waged war against the State of Sri Lanka but perpetrated many episodes of violence outside of the battlefield. LTTE’s violence unleashed against devotees in the precincts of the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura and the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy; the shooting down of devotees praying at mosques in Kattankudy; the killing of Buddhist monks in Arantalawa, the majority of whom were novice monks; the night massacres of sleeping villagers in the border or threatened villages and which intermittently continued for decades; the ethnic cleansing of the northern province etc are similar to incidents of ethnic violence that occurred in the country. However, the July Cruelty Concept tend to hide these from expert analysis although these incidents of violence too were directed against specific communities or ethnic or religious groups.


May be the above- mentioned incidents of violence had not occurred in July or thereabouts; we have not checked on chronology, and we do not believe that we need to do that either. Even if above mentioned LTTE violence occurred in the months of July or not, these need to be taken as valid examples of violence unleashed against specific communities and groups of people. When these are omitted and not considered as basis for analysis, the objectivity, representative-ness, reliability, and fairness of the analysis can be and should be questioned. Reconciliation requires a coming together approach based on fairness and trust; not a pushing apart approach based on restricted analysis and observations promoting mistrust.


Having said, this I must also firmly state that the intention of the above referred to article certainly would not have been to create bias or make selective treatment of issues. I have been a reader of Phillips’ articles and with that experience do know that there can be no such intentions. Since it was the month of July and the most recent incident (that of the Jaffna University), though of comparatively low level of violence did also occurr in 2016 July, the topicality of the theme would have prompted the penning down of these ideas. In journalism it is appropriate and is an acceptable practice. I simply piggy-backed on the article; and proposed an add-on idea and a more inclusive and comprehensive approach for all of us to follow. That is all.


To summarize, it is my contention that analysis of issues impacting on reconciliation, and constitution making should take into account all issues and aspects that influence and impinge on the Nation and that future analysis should provide a holistic view of the issues on the Table. And one example of such an approach is the need to move beyond the ‘July Cruelty Concept’ in analyzing of ethnic violence in the country. And when this approach is practiced, ethics necessitate that there may be no tormenting labeling.


 


 


(The writer is an ex-journalist, a communication researcher, and a retired Officer of the International Civil Service)


 


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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