During the weeks of July 2013 — the 30th year since the chaotic riots of July ’83 — some newspaper articles were seen which urged the people of Sri Lanka to “move beyond” the condemnable landmark, which — in the post-2009 re-writing process of history, in any case, runs the risk of being reduced to a side reference. Among the news articles that promoted this amnesia pill were well known connoisseurs of Temple Trees cuisine as well as other writers who resort to ambivalence to stay afloat.
On the contrary, writers such as DBS Jeyaraj had reflected on July 1983 in the following way:(DBS Jeyaraj views). What follows are some of my petitions as to why July 1983 has not only to be remembered, but also as to why that “torch” has to be borne and kept alive.
One should not forget July 1983. If any governmental or extra-governmental machine is geared at obliterating the horror of 1983, or in trivializing the brutality of that burst point in the violence of political extremism, such trajectories should be unapproved for the betterment of inter-ethnic reconciliation. This is specially so, as in the post-2009 aftermath, the identities of “minority groups” are again cast in a dubious shadow, as there are sustained attempts at building a crass monopoly of an empire, based on feudal values and loyalties; by which “differences” and “distinctions” run a risk of being grossly neutralized.
1983 should be remembered, but it should be facilitated in a larger process of acknowledgement and self-discovery: the acknowledgement of lost opportunities on the run up to 1983, the options let off the hook which would have made a difference to a negotiation that – perhaps – would have cost us less. The self-discovery should be of who we, as a nation of diverse cultures, beliefs and faiths, are (or, should be) in the violated aftermath of a two and a half decade ethnic crisis: a discovery which is not easy, for the lack of dialogue and discussion has made respect and dignity of the vanquished – and the Tamil nation(al) on whose behalf the battle was claimed to have been fought – a sore in the eyes of the victor.
While megalomaniacs and imperialists may discard 1983 as a trivial “aside” of a political crisis which has now been settled (without due process or dialogue), one should rather generate awareness and keep the memory of that political wrongdoing alive, for the generations to come and for our own sakes, whose conscience operates above the levels of guilt, or consideration. History is a narrative, and it is essentially a narrative that is been re-written by the hegemonic forces that desire no ruffles or fissures in their need to keep “the story” clean and theirs. In George Orwell’s “1984”, Winston Smith and Julia – the ruffle in the autocratic monolith of Oceania – have to be re-formed (or, “re-written”) and their “wayward moment” eradicated from the Grand Narrative of history in order to maintain the regime’s totalitarian hold. People have to be vapourized – and for this there is the “Ministry of Love” – and ironed out, happenings and occurrences have to be monitored and filtered: for what else is “reality” and “history” if not what the overarching totalitarian machine allows and sanctions? The reels of history as well as the “dustbins” to which people, incidents and undesirable developments are flushed and forgotten are all maneuvered by the regimental state.
In Anne Ranasinghe’s poem “Vivre In Pace” (translated as “To Live In Peace”), the narrator insists that recognition and acknowledgement of violence and war is mandatory for one’s coming to terms with the horror it creates. But, the pundits who blabber to not “overdo” our remembering of 1983 operate in a context where neither atonement nor apology has been submitted – no policy has been effectively passed either through curricula or otherwise – which genuinely address matters of social reconciliation. Anne Ranasinghe’s poem has as its background an exhibition of graphics related to World War II which generates awareness, while it is an admission of the German republic of their part in the alleged holocaust and other crimes of genocide. The writer concedes that “one should not forget” in order to satisfy the comfort of another: “should you, for your comfort” (the narrator addresses an accuser that these exhibitions should stop) “that we forget”?
Today, we’re into the third decade following the terror of Black July. The drastic impact of this event on the directionality of the ethnic conflict and its consequent deteriorations cannot be reduced, to appease the straitjacket of extremists who will to sweep the debris of that carnage under the carpet and “move on”. We are yet to even have a proper count of the numbers killed, property destroyed and displacements caused by this violent act of organized vandalism. Perhaps, the pragmatic would argue, it is too late and too irrelevant to carry out such a survey now. The vague margins of the statistical loss of persons which vary from 800 to 3000 (as cited by sources such as Rajan Hoole) in the 1983 riots merely hone the poignancy of the unnumbered losses Sri Lanka were to sustain in the war years to follow.
“April 1971”, “July 1983” and the violence of 1988-89 should be preserved for what they submitted: the gross humiliation of and the unpardonable organized killing of humans. If we are to forget and move on – and more so, if we are too ignorant and arrogant to deploy the memories and reflections of these as points of re-assessment – not only will our motion be along grounds infected by unhealed wounds; but, it would make no ground at all for one’s sustenance at the suppression of another social and group identity is just a passing moment of a disrupted fabric.