In peace, I submit that we Sri Lankans living in Sri Lanka all want the same thing, and that is to keep this peace.
Much has been said on behalf of the people of the North. Our job here at LT has always been to allow Sri Lankans from all walks of life, the ability to speak for them selves and be empowered in doing so. It is for these same reasons that we headed to the Jaffna Peninsula, to allow a people who have long been spoken for, the ability to articulate their hopes and dreams. For a large part, their answers were short, they are uncomfortable speaking to journalists and/or they do not wish to draw attention to themselves. Four of our interview subjects were introduced to us by the Sri Lanka Army and they included people still living in IDP camps 27 years down the road and an ex-LTTE gentleman who appeared eager to continue with his future, rather than discuss the past. Regardless, every good word matters, especially in post-conflict peace building.
Yes, there have been many wrongs and the price has been heavy. Still, there must be hope. The spirit of Jaffna survives purely because there is still hope, fragile though this spirit of hope may be, among a resilient people. The individuals we met along the way were thankful for what they had and many felt the benefits of progress and development. They asked for nothing but what was obvious was that they remain relatively impoverished. The people of the North need our continued investment in rebuilding their lives. People that could migrate, the upper classes mainly, have left the area a long time ago and so what we have left is a residual population who don’t seem to know how well the rest of the country, never mind the rest of the world, is living. And still they are grateful for what they have.
Shouldn’t we believe in the Spirit of Jaffna when her people tell us that all they want is peace, the ability to educate their children and the means to provide for their families? Isn’t that what we all want, really? We saw evidence of this spirit in the keen work ethic and unassuming disposition of so many people we met along the way. They told us they want to learn, and they want the next generations not to miss out on the chance to live ‘normal’ lives, untainted by conflict and all that comes with it.
LT set out to find the Spirit of Jaffna, and we found it in the faces of smiling children, in the dignity of labour so many took pride in and in the heart of an area where everyone seems to want to co-exist. This is the ground reality, one reality among many subjective schools of thought. As for LT and myself, it was good to feel the ground under our feet again, and let the story take us where it may. This is our truth as it unfolded, in the hot, dry, Jaffna Peninsula of late August 2016.
The Spirit of Jaffna is hopeful, it is honourable and it is moving forward.