விடை கொடு எங்கள் நாடே
கடல் வாசல் தெளிக்கும் வீடே
பனை மர காடே, பறவைகள் கூடே
மறுமுறை ஒரு முறை பார்போமா?

The words from Vairamuthu’s pen immortalised in AR Rahman’s tune of poignance, penance and pain with M. S. Viswanathan, A. R. Reihana and Manickka Vinayagam emoting the plight of the people of Sri Lanka. This phrase translates as,

Grant me farewell my land
Where the sea washes against our doorstep
And, the forests of palm and the flocks of birds
Will I ever see you again?
On a bright Sunday morning on 21 April 2019, families and friends gathered at churches to celebrate Easter, the day of resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a twist of fate, laughters turned into wails, white walls smeared with bloodstains; in the celebration of resurrection, hundreds were dead. Eight bombs shattered through the peace of Easter morning as it exploded in a few churches and hotels in the cities of Colombo, Negombo, Batticaloa, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and Dematagoda. The entire nation of 21 millions people have been forced into lockdown as the nation has declared a state of emergency.
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A man who lost his family
Now, the streets of the island nation are covered by a blanket of eerie silence and hopelessness. The bustling city with locals going about their day and tourists basking in the culture and communities has been replaced by grey sights of guards with AK-47 rifles, bomb-sniffing dogs and army trucks. The act of terror has punctured the decade long peace that Sri Lanka has enjoyed after the end of its civil war in 2009.
Sri Lanka has long suffered injustices, violence, brutality and breach of basic human rights. The United Nations (UN) has ranked Sri Lanka as the country with the 2nd highest number of disappeared people. At least 80,000 cases of enforced disappearances has happened over the past 30 years. The vast majority are still unaccounted for and the perpetrators left unpunished, leaving families in agony.
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A woman in tears as she holds a photo of a loved one

Sri Lanka has endured a lot.

People robbed off hope, their identity and dignity stripped, forced to flea their country and seek refuge. The suppressed knotted tension between races translate into flammable communal ties and extremists have used it as their playground of propagation. Through the years we have seen the nation’s long battle with violence.

1959 – Assassination of Prime minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike by Buddhist monk

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Prime minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike for the cover of Charkaya and Goyam Keta

A Buddhist monk called Talduwe Somarama Thero was a lecturer at the Government College of Ayurveda and requested for an appearance with Prime minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. Somarama Thero pulled out a gun concealed in his robes and fired twice at point blank range hitting Bandaranaike in the chest and abdomen. Bandaranaike died in the next 22 hours from produce bleeding from the multiple injuries. Later on, authorities found out that Mapitigama Buddharakkitha was the chief conspirator behind the assassination and he also served as the chief priest of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara.

Mapitigama Buddharakkitha, chief conspirator behind the assassination

1971 – Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurrection

The Sunday Times reported that the official death toll following the 1971 Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Insurrection was 1200 people, but unofficial figures estimates it to be around 4000–5000.

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Rohana Wijeweera, a former medical student who headed the JVP communist

The JVP Insurrection was the first armed revolt conducted by the communist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) against the Government of Ceylon (Now, Sri Lanka). The revolt managed to capture and hold several towns for weeks. The revolt was formed by a former medical student, Rohana Wijeweera, who recruited unemployed youth and students to join the movement. 92 police stations were attacked simultaneously across the nation and telephone and power lines were cut. With the help of Pakistani and Indian army troops, the government managed to crackdown on the rebellions and regain power.

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1971 JVP Insurrection

1983 – Black July

24 July 1983.

The anti-Tamil riots infiltrated the streets of Sri Lanka in this gruesome events to counter the Tamil militant group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), that killed 13 Sri Lankan soldiers in an ambush with a bomb denoted under the jeep and handheld greenades. The LTTE said the attack was to seek justice for Tamil school girls who were abducted and raped and the killing of one of their founding members, Charles Anthony.

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Anti-Tamil pogroms attacked, brutalised and killed an estimated 4,000 and displaced over 150,000 Sri Lankan Tamils over a course of 7 days. These events were the trigger to the 25 year long Sri Lankan civil war between the Tamil militants and the government of Sri Lanka.

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“Black July” sees thousands of Tamil civilians murdered by Sinhalese mobs in Colombo. Outbreak of civil war between the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in the north.

1983 – The Sri Lankan Civil War

The LTTE (also know as the Tamil Tigers) wanted to create an independent Tamil state called Tamil Eelam in the island nation of Sri Lanka. In the 26-year-long military campaign and widespread occurrence of gruesome warcrime, the United Nations (UN) estimated that the number of civilian deaths exceeded 100,000 people. This is also known as the First Eelam War.

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The war had a pattern of intermittent insurgence and involved 4 failed attempts at peace talks, finally resolved in a declaration of cease fire in December 2001. In May 2010, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the then president of Sri Lanka, appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to assess the conflict. 

1990 – Second Eelam War

In 1987, Indian army troops were sent to enforce truce it brokered. The Tamil Tigers refused to disarm and engaged in a 3 year long fight that resulted in the death of 1,000 Indian soldiers. India withdrew its troops in 1990 and the Tamil Tigers took full control over the northern city of Jaffna. This was the beginning of the Second Eelam War.

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The Tamil Tigers seized between 600 and 700 Sinhalese police officers and shot them dead, which led to the declaration of war by Sri Lankan government. The government cut off all shipments of medicine and food to the Tamil stronghold on the Jaffna peninsula and initiated an intensive aerial bombardment. The Tamil Tigers massacred hundreds of Sinhalese and Muslims, not even sparring school children.

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In July of 1991, 5,000 Tamil Tigers surrounded the government’s army base at Elephant Pass. In the bloodiest attack in the entire Sri Lankan Civil War, over 2,000 fighters on both sides were killed over a course of 4 weeks.

1995 – Third Eelam War (War Of Peace)

In January of 1995, the Tamil Tigers signed a peace agreement with the new government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga. However, three months later, the Tigers planted explosives on two Sri Lankan naval gunboats and breached the agreement. The government declared a “war for peace” ordering Air Force jets to target civilian sites and refugee camps on the Jaffna Peninsula and widespread massacres causing almost 350,000 Tamil refugees and the Tiger guerrillas fled inland to the sparsely-populated Vanni region of the Northern Province.

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PC Washington Post
The Tamil Tiger then launched in an eight-day assault on the town of Mullaitivu in July 1996, killed 1,200 government, including about 200 doused with gasoline and burned alive even after the surrendered.
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The Sri Lankan Civil War ended in May 2009. The LTTE was defeated and its leader,  Velupillai Prabhakaran, was killed in the morning of 18 May 2009. The quarter century long war was costly; over 100,000 civilians were killed and 50,000 fighters lost.

2019 – Easter Day Bombings

On the day of resurrection, hundreds died.

Anusha Kumari, center, at a burial on Wednesday for her husband, two children and three siblings, all of whom died in the Easter Sunday bombings in Negombo, Sri Lanka. Credit: Adam Dean for The New York Times

The Easter bombings are the deadliest act of terrorism in Sri Lanka since the end of the Civil War. The Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility over the attacks and says that it is in response to the Christchurch mosque shootings that happened in New Zealand earlier this year. At least 500 other people were injured and 321 dead from the blasts and the government immediately declared a state of emergency amidst the catastrophe. The government also blocked the internet and social media platforms to cessation spreading of fake news.

Sri Lankan officials inspect St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of Colombo. Easter is one of Christianity’s holiest days, and many Sri Lankan Christians were worshipping at church when the attacks took place.

Tension is still pulsating in Sri Lanka, as the Christians mourn their loss, the Muslims run for their safety for fear of being attacked. Two local Muslim groups, National Thowheed Jamaat and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) have been blamed for the devastating loss.

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Just a month shy from 10 years since the end of the Civil War, Sri Lanka tastes bloodshed, agony and grief.

How Much More Can Sri Lanka Endure?

What makes one nation harmonious and another divided, one to prosperous and another to perish. Studies suggest that Sri Lanka has been faced with this divide as far back as the 1830s-1850s when schools that took after the British education system was established.

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Defeated.

How do you even begin to navigate togetherness and undo almost 200 years of divide from extremism in religion, politics and ideologies?

Diversity has a paradoxical effect on mankind; it is the force that allows societies to thrive and also potentially be ripped apart and shredded out of existence. Sri Lanka has long wailed in agony, but time and time again, the nation has managed to patch its deep wounds with bands of compassion and forgiveness.

The rest of the world also has a shared responsibility of ensuring that injustices are brought to light; discussed, dissected and deliberated. When an act of terror ensues in a land far away, the only connection that binds us is humanity and the compelling need to be humane. Governments should be condemned into changing their policies and creating a safe home for its people and leaders should be criticised and questioned on acts that perpetuate segregation and hate. No conversations are too silent and no words are to weak, if justice in humanity is what you seek.

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With changing times, the question that remains is: Will the stain of vengeance and gore continue on as a tradition of hate without contemplation? Or is this the generation that finally learns how to love and cherishes the vitality of co-existence?

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Photo by UNICEF

Only time will tell, as Sri Lanka, yet again, rebuilds herself from the fires that burnt her and washes her soil off the stench of bloodshed.

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