Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Sunday, 31 March 2013

Terrorist Governments.

The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Mr Rajapakse, clearly thinks he is on the up-and-up. And why not? He is visiting India soon, I hear, and no doubt, our very polite Prime Minister, Singh, he of the great mind (Isn't that what Manmohan means?) will fete him and  discuss mutual issues with him, including Sri Lanka and the Tamils there.

     I hope Mr Singh remembers all the events just before the civil war ended in the North of Sri Lanka.There were gruesome pictures and videos on Channel 4, but Rajapakse firmly believes that is just Channel Four’s obsession. Not worth engaging with the Press about. After all what did the Press know? They were firmly and cleverly kept at bay from where the action was: the murders, the mass killings in shallow graves, the women and children randomly destroyed in many inventive ways.

     Now I don't need Channel 4 to tell me what happens in Sri Lanka when the Singhalese go amok. I lived there for five years, part of the time in Jaffna, which was a friendly and peaceful place then.

     In early 1958, I was expecting my first child and living in the annexe of a palatial house in Cinnamon gardens. The owners had sectioned off the two ends of the house as two separate flats. A young English couple lived at one end and we at the other. Life was dull and predictable.

     But not for long. One day, without warning, my husband, Balan, rushed home from work early. He was trembling and in shock.
     ‘They beat Muni Aiyah up, no men!’ he stammered. ‘Rocked his car up and down and burnt it too.’
     Muni Aiyah was his long term colleague at Walker Sons, where they worked in the Engineering Department.
     Muni Aiyah, he said, had been lucky to escape with his life. Singhalese young men were out in force trawling for Tamils in the bus stand area near the Fort. Balan spoke fluent Singhalese, having been born in Ceylon. But, not being a Buddhist, he couldn’t recite the holy Singhalese jathas. This was the test they used to separate Singhalese from others. And I had no more than a dozen words in Singhalese.
   ‘I parked my car behind the building by chance, so I escaped,’ Balan said.
     After the weekend the engineers at Walker Sons crawled back to work with some trepidation. Muni Aiyah was at his desk. Apparently he said, ‘After being in Malaya during the Japanese occupation, I thought I had seen all the random cruelty I would see in a life time. Now this.’
     Tamils were beaten up and tortured wherever they were found in the way of those mad young men. I stopped wearing a pottu on my forehead as it would mark me as non-Singhalese. Tamil women wore pottus. I also stopped going out to the shopping areas in Pettah, and Balan shopped nearer home in the tiny Victoria store.
    Tamil refugees were gathered together in the huge playing fields of the Royal College and stayed there for months.
     By the time my son was born the ‘troubles’ had stopped. The government (Are governments terrorists sometimes?) did not take much notice of the events and the Tamils did not retaliate. It would be years before the victims organised themselves and put up a fight. They had a reputation for being ambitious for their children. They shone in the academic field and kept their heads down. Not unlike the Jews of Europe before Hitler. And they were famous for being non-violent.
     Now the Commonwealth Heads of State are planning to meet this year in Colombo. Rajapakse will strut with pride and all the atrocities will be nicely subsumed in the excellent Singhalese food and celebrations at the meet. How do the rest of the world swallow this?
     Recently I came across several novels written by Roma Tearne, who came to England from Sri Lanka as a ten-year-old.. They are all about the punishment the Tamils took at the hands of the Singhalese army. Young men were kidnapped by Tamil Tigers as well, to disappear forever in the killing-forests of the war zones.
     Every Tamil who could afford to, left Sri Lanka never to return. At one shot they lost their families, their country, their culture and their pride. And they lost the sun and the sea, which they had lived with all their lives. A holocaust of a kind.
     I know too many personal tragedies amongst my friends not to take this already forgotten war seriously. Roma Tearne brings back to me the sights and the smells, the feel of that lovely island. I remember the food, the beaches, the rain and the extravagant plant and animal life. And I remember the people, both Singhalese and Tamil, who welcomed me into their lives.
     When will the Tamils find their deliverance? Or will the war start all over again when the Tamils re-organise and put their considerable resources of intellect and wealth to reek revenge?
     The very least we could do is refuse to hold/ attend the Commonwealth Conference in Colombo.

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