A statement by the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo
An opportunity for national growth and harmony
I recently returned from one of my regular pastoral visits to our congregations (churches) and schools in Jaffna. Such visits are always educative and humbling.
What was immediately noticeable was the preoccupation with routine in the lives of the people; simply because there seems to be little else to look forward to.
People went about their daily business and fulfilled personal obligations with precision. Schools functioned smoothly and education, as always, continues to be taken very seriously. I even witnessed a very high standard of basketball in a game between Jaffna Hindu College and St John's College. One player from each team respectively showed much potential and should catch the attention of our national talent scouts. Those responsible for sustaining interest and standards in sport amongst youth in Jaffna must be congratulated and encouraged.
The cost of living has come down in a welcome trend. The prices of some essential items like rice, however, are still very much higher than in the rest of the country, and continue to cause hardship particularly for the poor.
But hidden behind the routine is a suppressed mix of continuing anxiety and cynicism over the Jaffna context as well as deep sorrow over the experiences of the Vanni Tamils. In some instances one also sensed regret that not enough was said and done on behalf of the Vanni Tamils during LTTE suppression prior to the recent war. Such concerns would have added credibility to the concerns expressed for the safety and well-being of these civilians during and after the war. The predominant and recurring feeling amongst all classes and ages however was that the Tamils are an isolated and constrained community.
On the Peninsula, the people feel they are marooned; physically, psychologically and politically. The youth in particular are restless and search for answers to difficult questions. Many will migrate if given the opportunity. Options for study and employment are few and restricted. Yet only the desperate or daring will think of travelling to the south in search of better prospects. Stories of inconvenience and some ridicule and harassment experienced in travel, abound. In the south there is severe hardship in finding suitable lodging as even friends and relations are reluctant to take them in. State sponsored youth hostels, which will also provide an opportunity for the integration of our youth of all communities, are non-existent.
There was little enthusiasm for elections. A feeling prevails that change must come now, as a preparation for and prelude to elections. Pre-election promises will centre too much on what individuals can do. What people want desperately is an impartial political culture that they can own and that will restore trust, civilian administration and normalcy.
The voice of the elders is articulate. It describes the core travails of the people without unnecessary digression into trivialities. But it is also a weary and sceptical voice. This combined wisdom and scepticism typically reflect long years of hardship. It calls for the freedom of movement and a demonstration of national confidence in the non-violent and peace-loving majority within the Tamil community. It desires the long overdue affirmation of the Tamil culture at national events and also as part of our common Sri Lankan identity. This voice also realistically acknowledges the reciprocation that Tamils will have to offer this process. In fact Jaffna has a distinct role to play in dismantling its ethnic isolation and encouraging the interaction of the communities, especially amongst children and youth.
In response there is much that imaginative persons can do for a start. Exchanges are necessary in the fields of sport and commerce. A recent cricket coaching camp was very highly appreciated. There is not even one swimming pool in the whole of Jaffna ; devoid of Wewas and deprived of easy access to sea bathing! A scheduled visit of the Chamber of Commerce over the next few days was most welcome. Trade and marketing opportunities need to be explored and developed. Small onions going for Rs 20/- per kilo at present is an indication of the state of the Jaffna economy as well as the frustrations of the struggling Jaffna farmer.
For most of this to happen the A Nine road must be cleared and opened to the public as soon as possible.
A ray of hope already lies in the fine rapport that Maj. Gen. Mendaka Samarasinghe and Jaffna’s Council for Peace and Goodwill have with each other. It is through such trust and dialogue that initial steps to ease the hardships of the Tamil people and the integration of the communities will come.
But beyond this, everything will depend on our ability to create a climate of political and cultural trust and socio-economic opportunity that will visibly include and recognise the skills of Tamils. If not, Jaffna will continue to remain tragically marooned and all our children’ children deprived of yet a better way towards a wider understanding of truth and fullness of life.
With Peace and Blessings to all,
Bishop Duleep de Chickera
11th June 2009