Wednesday, April 15, 2009

And the Silence continues

16 Apr 2009

Love thy neighbor.

Opportunities for brotherhood/sisterhood among the different nationalities comprising the island clearly slipped away with policies of parochial nationalism, discrimination and rights violation by state run by certain leaders who fueled Sinhala nationalism that is based on the principle, "By cutting the feet of the neighbors We become taller." There is an old African proverb that cautions the humanity against such a logic. "You don't grow tall by cutting someone's feet". The discriminatory policies and practices soon after the independence that led to the Tamil national movement led to Tamil leaders of different statures and integrity pursue the democratic option of getting into the political process and try to work the system to respond to the grievances of Tamils.

But attempts to work the system made the system move more towards a presidential rather than a parliamentary system. That the parliament floor has made mockery of the democratic and appeals to reason, law, international norms and the humiliation Tamil leaders underwent while attending discussions on the Tamil question, is forgotten. That the government shipped Tamils internally from their place of domicile to the north eastern parts also remains forgotten. Also forgotten is the horrific burning of Jaffna Library (one of the biggest library's in Asia). In the War on Terror approach history is silenced.

The Tamils have tried many means and have been mocked at the response of political system turning more predatory over them. Local and regional political forces have joined the fray and have been active for several years. International attempts to mediate or facilitate a negotiated agreement to the ethnic crisis has all but failed and was dumped unceremoniously recently. On the Tamil side too, dissent has not been tolerated much and democratization process was stifled and LTTE has gained notereity for silencing many Tamil leaders. That LTTE returned from its self-imposed exile from democratic institutions of the Sri Lankan state apparatus by fielding and supporting candidates under the Tamil National Alliance is also silenced.

What is transmitted and re-transmitted is the war on a "terrorist outfit." The silencing of history is an effective project and it is revealed by the silence the pervades on the Tamils issue in Sri Lanka. The current war is an episode in the long time-line of historical antagonism shown towards groups engaged in the Tamil national cause. Only this time some international events have caused a shift in world-view of how national movements are viewed. That LTTE is a big part of it and has climbed to the peak of the Tamil social pyramid that has chosen to wage armed struggle for independence of Eelam is a reality. But the Tamil national movement which will receive major setback with the defeat of LTTE in the current war waged by the Sri Lankan state forces, is sure to think of new strategies to keep the movement and consciousness alive among the next generation of Tamils, there and elsewhere.

My own opinion is that mindset among Tamils is not going to shift much and they are going to find it hard to trust the present composition and attitude of the government to take Tamils' point of view seriously. Sinhala nationals who have been critical have been systematically silenced and it is part of a culture even within mainstream party leaders to engage in brutality against people who dissent. The state has grown more mean over time.

The agency of civilians for several decades now to resist the Sinhala nationalism that had ruined the evolution of the country as a democratic one has slowly been erased out of mainstream representations of the conflict in Sri Lanka and the current war. This erasure will lead to more narrow and less nuanced understanding of the conflict in Sri Lanka and thus lead to misjudgments. Jingoism and military victories are insufficient to rebuild broken relationships. It can lead to suppression, repression, further rights violations and of course coercion, persuasion and seduction. The options are laid out before Tamils and the world. Tamils will of course respond in their struggle to be treated with dignity and respect - and they will know that their movement has suffered a big blow with this war.

This war may produce some learning on how "war on terror" approach can be operationalized in local or regional context. But the lesson most serious players look for is - how to deal with the fact that Tamils have been alienated from the political system and decision-making processes. A demand often made was for transformation of the political system that can deal with the Tamils issue. Such a system is not in place, nor is serious effort taken to think of transforming the system. Peace is not built by silencing.

Here is an article by Arundhati Roy. Well written, well argued.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thirumandiram - Worship of Devotees

12 April 2009

Part of praxis of inter-faith devotion is "how do we engage with people who are devoted, who possess the devotion & discipline that is observable and affective."

In the course of inter-faith encounters, sometimes we do come across people who by their very presence and conduct of their lives, reveal an immense immersion in the spiritual discipline that, the encounter feels like a blessing. The initiative taken to understand the other, sometimes turns into an opportunity to dig deeper into descriptions and prescriptions on how to relate with devotees.

In Thirumandiram in Chapter Seven, under the heading Maheswara Puja (Worship of Devotees) Moolar begins with the following text.

"The offering you give
To the Lord in the temple steepled high
Reaches not His devotees
Who the walking temples noble are;
When you offer things
To the walking temples noble
That sure reaches the Lord
In the temple steepled high."
(Thirumandiram 1857)

A few verses later Moolar asserts:

"Though you a thousand abodes to holy Brahmins give
Though you a thousand temples for the gods build;
None, none is of merit compare
To a day's feed to a holy devotee given;
This be of certain."
(Thirumandiram 1860)

The question that arises then is what is it that makes them so great. What is it that they do that makes them so great. Moolar offers us a clue in the form of a declaration. I wonder if declarations makes us value treasures less.

"In the hearts of the resolute He firm abides;
In the hearts of those who adore, He is in accord comports
Those who held the Primal Lord as their heart's Jewel
And so reckoned Him
How can they part from Him, ever?"
(Thirumandiram 1877)

Encounters between people who practice different faiths happen at different levels, with different objectives and outcomes. As a person who spends more time on process oriented work, it got me thinking, "What if we are somehow able to show half as much respect as described above to the people with whom we engage in inter-faith encounters?" Another challenge thrown up is - How is it possible to keep God away so long?