By Niro Dissanayake
There’s a photo of a dead man on the Tamilnet website today. He is lying on the road, with his head in a pool of his own blood. He’s wearing a simple white shirt and black trousers, but is neatly dressed and well groomed. On his wrist there is an inexpensive watch he probably strapped on before taking a look at himself in a mirror that morning.
There is what looks like a folder of notes by his left hand. According to the article he is a private tuition teacher. The article doesn’t go to any more detail, except that he was shot while he was enjoying a cup of tea, by an ‘unidentified’ gunman.
Why was he murdered I don’t know. Who murdered him, again I have no answer. Was it because of his political beliefs or someone he angered in the course of his all too brief life? Is it because he supported the LTTE, the army killed him or armed groups killed him or paramilitary group or whatever you want to call them were responsible, or was he killed by the LTTE? I don’t know. It is not important.
What is important is that this was another human being, who was murdered because his beliefs did not fit in with his killers beliefs, and who shot him in cold blood while he was having a cup of tea.
This was a man just like anyone of reading this who had hopes and dreams. Someone who probably had family that loved him and that he loved in turn.
In Sri Lanka there are countless deaths like this each day. It might be a group of students on the beach, or farmers in the field, a couple sleeping on the floor of their house with their two children ‘protected’ between them, a soldier on patrol, a woman with bombs strapped around her, a politician enjoying an evening swim, or a man in a bunker protecting a line which no man can see, a family squeezed into a three wheeler, a group of ‘untouchable’ young labourers having a party and good time on their way to the next venue, or someone praying in a house of worship. Why did all these people die?
Do you want to go through the list and differentiate and say ‘oh yes the students were Tamil, those farmers in the field were Singhalese or the devotee was a Muslim’.
Would you like to stand in front of their bodies, and not look at them from the safety of a distant computer screens, and stick nice little white labels on what is left of their bodies, describing their ethnicities?
Do you want to go and break the news to a father and a mother, a wife or a husband, or son or a daughter, be they Singhalese, Tamils or Muslims that their loved ones will not be coming home tonight?
Would even the most rabid JHU member or the apologist TNA MP, the trigger-happy soldier, the black tiger, the crooked politician, the armchair analyst or indeed the ‘my hands are clean’ web posting expatriate writer, wish to do that? To look them in the eye and say ‘your child did not agree with what I believe in, so they deserved to die’.
In Singhalese we say ‘egalan okkoma apema minissu kiyala hageema athi karanna oney’ – translated ‘you must develop the feeling that they all are our people’. All of them – all of us, living in this cesspool we created in the paradise that was our country. We are all one people with hopes, dreams, and aspirations. These may differ, but understand they are just as important to the next person as they are to you.
War is forced upon us and I do not see a way out. But do not keep score. We killed five tigers today or ten soldiers yesterday, or the five farmers deserved to die because of the six students who were shot last week or it doesn’t matter they were killed because they were Tamil, Singhalese or Muslim. You are only brutalizing yourself by doing so, and worst, you twist the minds of the future generations by passing on your fractured
Ask yourself was this worth the price of all those lives lost in the genocides and the massacres, the ethnic cleansings, the suicide bombers or the aerial bombardments, and those lives that will be lost?
Was it worth even the single life of that nicely groomed teacher who dressed carefully, and strapped on his humble watch, said goodbye to his family, promising that he will be back home later in the evening, and strode out of his front door on his way to teach children, but was destined to die that day.
The teachers name was Selvarasa Kirithas, age only 35. I don’t know him. I never met him. I don’t know what he believed in, whom he supported, or why he was killed. But I mourn his passing and will always strive to understand that it is all ‘Apema Minnissu’ that will die in the coming days. Not someone else in a distant country I know nothing of. I dread the madness about to engulf us all.
May at least our children find the peace we never seem destined to have in our lifetimes and may they never repeat the mistakes that we have made and learn to live with one another, with mutual respect, empathy and understanding.