Category Archives: non violence

In Memory of 30 Years since July 1983

This post originally appeared here on the writers personal blog ‘My Little Pink Notebook’ on the anniversary of July 1983

(This post is dedicated to the memory of those who suffered during Black July and the torturous events that followed) Yesterday marked 30 years since the blackest day in our nations history – we call it Black July. This marked the true beginning in many ways, of an ethnic conflict that leaves our earth soaked in blood, our families ravaged and worst of all – our children hopeless.

 I am one of those children. When I was born – like thousands of others – I would grow up never knowing what peace was. Bombs exploding, people dying, anger and pain were all a part of my day to day life. And I grew up in urban Colombo which was in many ways a hundred times better than anywhere else. I was desensitized to violence, in many ways I still am. Images of Siriya, Iraq etc. that cause the world to avert their eyes – cause the children of Sri Lanka to shrug and carry on. We’ve seen worse. We’ve survived worse. And sometimes – that’s something no one understands, we survived against all odds, so can you blame us for building an arsenal of weapons, like apathy? How else would we have survived?

 But if there is one thing I wish that someone would take away from this post is this – we are survivors. Our parents stayed and fought. Others did the same in ways they knew best. Sometimes from here, sometimes from away – and we survived. And now we need to heal and flourish. But to heal we must forgive, and this I say to the children of Sri Lanka scattered across the globe, their souls rooted in this island. The children of my generation, you were even luckier than I was. You grew up away from the fear and the pain and the de-sensitizing. And you were blessed for that. But when you call us apathetic, I disagree. It’s not that we don’t care – it’s just we see the bigger picture, we’re painting it. We know that we are an imperfect nation, and the pain may never go away. But we are trying, so please try with us. Try to see the good, and celebrate that too.

 Sri Lankan’s we all need to learn to be. Before we are Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher. Before we are Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, or even atheist. The first lesson we need to learn is how to be Sri Lanka – that’s how we move forward together.

 To quote me from earlier this year in ‘Being Sri Lankan’ – “To me – I have never imagined myself as any less Sri Lankan because I was from a minority That was not how I was raised, and that was not how the people around me saw themselves. But what scares me is that as a nation we spend so much time drawing lines around our communities, that we forget the things that bind us together”

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Unity Camp 6: Killinochchi – The Experience of a Lifetime

Shortly after graduating from college in a great move by the universe I was invited to be a part of Ekamuthu Orray Makkal Unity Mission Trust (for those confused by the first three words; Ekamuthu’ is Sinhalese for ‘Unity’ and ‘Oray Makkal’ is Tamil for ‘One People’)

The Unity Mission Trust has been in existence since May 2009 and is a non-profit Trust that is dedicated to fostering unity, integration, healing and reconciliation between the teenagers and young adults in the Wanni area and their peers from all over Sri Lanka.

 This October from the 17th to the 20th I joined the crew that piled into 3 buses, 2 vans – as head of the Media and Publicity Team. 500 student leaders aged 15-20, and 40 teachers from 70 schools all the way from Jaffna to Matara gathered at Killinochchi Central College (KCC) for Unity Camp 6. The Camp works on the basis of separating the students from their friends and placing them in groups with others, some of whom don’t even speak the same language. Together they compete in drama, dance, music, art, sports, and speech, overcoming whatever racial barriers that might have separated them before. I am not going to launch into the details of the program etc – you can find out everything you need to know about what the kids did here. What I am going to do is try to articulate the feelings that stir the depths of your soul when you realize that 4 days can change lives, bring people together, that there is hope.

Being a part of the team that undertakes projects of such a scale is another experience in itself. Logistics for nearly 600 people to sleep, eat, and carry out the camp itself in Killinochchi took up much of the teams free time for months. This is an entirely volunteer run organization – not one of us who stayed up, sometimes past midnight organizing, packing, planning, doing files, raising funds – are paid. It’s done for a greater reason upon which no value can be placed. Then comes the day when at 5am we pile into buses and drive to Killinochchi with stops along the way to pick up people, stretch our legs and finally you arrive. No resting – 500 students need to be registered and the hall prepared for the opening ceremony, buses and lorries need to be unloaded, and students need to be prevented from switching groups. The opening ceremony runs with a showcase of talents and then comes the tough part – the students are placed in their groups and the organizing committee does some switching around to ensure they are mixed up as throughly as possible. There are tears and resisting, but we are firm. After the rules are reviewed and the students briefed, dinner is served. The committee has no time to rest – after ensuring dinner is handled, the girls round up the female students and chaperone them to Killinochchi Maha Vidayalaya where their sleeping quarters are. In the meantime the boys check to ensure the dorms and sleeping arrangements at KCC are sorted, and once the students are settled the team sits down for a meeting. Those not staying at either of the schools with the students head off to the army camps, which have been generously offered by the Sri Lankan Army to us. This is usually close upon midnight.

The next day begins at 8.30am after breakfast when everyone gathers back at KCC with a Music Session to get everyone in the mood, headed by our Musical Director Rukshan Perera. Over the next few days team members run non-stop working tirelessly to ensure the smooth running of the numerous activities, challenges and mountains of work that comes with such a project. But through it all the most amazing experience is watching the students slowly form bonds with one another. They turn from the nervous, uncomfortable faced girls and boys that sit – near-silent, awkwardly smiling with one another, to hugging and crying on the fourth day when they are leaving. One has to see this with their own eyes to realize that four days can break barriers, that the youth has a lack of inhibition when it comes to embracing new opportunities and really are the hope of our nation.

The talent that comes from them blows you away. They sing, dance, act, create, speak, excel athletically, – all with just a few hours at most to prepare. Trophies are awarded to the most outstanding group leaders, campers, and based on a points system – a winning group emerges. But nothing touches your heart like the very end of camp. Students who speak about their experiences at the open forum begin to cry, overcome by emotion. They hug their new found friends and have to be nearly forced to board the buses. You realize that human connections are beyond language, race, religion, soci-economic backgrounds, gender, and any of these limitations we place upon ourselves.

You watch the candle ceremony and can’t hold back your tears when you see a sea of light shining back. This light is carried by remarkable young men and women who sing our national anthem with pride and then chant in one voice “Sri Lanka” repeatedly.

You realize that the future of our country has hope, the dream of one people is tangibly close to a reality.

You realize that you are a part of a much bigger picture – but what you can do in your small capacity can make real change. Sometimes we need to step out of our little bubbles and start releasing the potential we harbor.

We can do so much more than just talk, and more than can – we need to. The change we leave behind is the real legacy we leave. Not how popular you were, how much money you made, how big your CV and accomplishments were – but by how many lives you touched and transformed.

“The Journey on the Road to Reconciliation”-Part 13

It’s an honour to present the thirteenth installment in the series of articles written by our friend, Solomon Rajaram Hariharan, a member of the “Dream team 2012” of “Sri Lanka Unites”( A youth movement for hope and reconciliation). 

The power to reconcile resides in each one of us. It is essential that we use the suitable sources of power to put it into action. (N.B. This article is a continuation of the twelfth installment)


We will now discuss the sources of power.

Positional power: It is based upon the role or position an individual occupies in a society. It is passed from one individual to another as he or she moves in and out of the role.

Relational power: This does not reside in a particular individual but is a property of social relationships. For example, when you listen to a friend and respect his or her opinion, you give that person power. When that person listens to you and respects your opinions, you are given the power. In relationships, power is fluid and hard to measure. It can be expanded or limited as you interact. It depends on both individuals involved.

Power of force: It refers to physical strength and coercive mechanisms. Individuals may use their own strength, as well as weapons, armaments, armies, police and prisons to impose their will upon others. For example, we see bullies in the school using their physical strength to make others obey them.

Power of resources and status: This comes from wealth or social standing within the society. Individuals can use their money or their family and social ties to maintain a situation that is to their advantage or to get what they want. For example kings and queens are given royal power because of their family ties. In Sri Lanka we can see such power in play.

Power of knowledge and expertise: This refers to the additional credit and influence given to those in a society with special knowledge and expertise, such as doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers etc. Power comes from what they know. When we enter the rural communities, they respect the doctors, engineers and teachers as Gods. The society gives these professions power.

Power of a group: It comes from people acting together for a cause. The phrase “people power” is often quoted relevant to this. It refers to the power of individuals when they are part of a group. Labour unions and mass protest movements have power due to their large numbers. The leaders of such mass movements have the choices of either non violent protest or violent protest. We see many such movements being manipulated by the leaders towards violent protest. This would only increase the gap between the two groups. One should attempt to bridge the gap between the segregated parties by non violent approach as Gandhi did.

We should also study the personal powers we posses. As leaders it is vital that we know our strengths and weaknesses. We can identify personal powers of people around us and attempt to achieve that talent. Another option is trying to get that person on board the cause we stand for and use their talents. Some positive qualities that can be seen in leaders around us are energy, sense of direction, charisma, balance, sensitivity, perceptiveness, enthusiasm, sense of justice, ability to manage emotions rather than suppressing them, etc.

We should also make sure that we know the actions that would diminish the personal power we already possess. Unwillingly complying with others, not acknowledging our skills and talents, not being assertive, being afraid to take risks, feeling that we are trapped by the past difficulties and using disempowering language are a few to be named and we should be cautioned to not fall into those traps. When I said acknowledging the talents, it doesn’t mean boasting about it; rather it means being aware of the talents we possess in a non arrogant way. Thus we can realize that real power is shared, not imposed. It is the ability to define human needs and fulfill both our needs and the needs of the people we care about.

As citizens of this nation, we should know our rights and responsibilities in the country. Thomas Humphrey Marshall, a British Sociologist defines citizenship as follows. ‘Citizenship is status given to all those who are full members of the society. All citizens have equal rights and duties.’ In Sri Lanka we often speak about equal rights not being enforced. How many of the citizens actually fulfill the duties properly? How then can we only address the issue on non equal rights? What I believe is that the duties towards the country should be fulfilled and then the rights be debated. Just as rights are important, duties are important too. We shouldn’t be biased and argue only on the topic of rights, because rights and duties go hand in hand.