Sustaining peace in the Northern Province | Sunday Observer

Sustaining peace in the Northern Province

2 February, 2020
Visiting elders’ home

The Northern Province is embellished with her unique natural beauty. A land enriched with history and culture. Her beautiful skyline is adorned with majestic palmyrah trees. As we prepare to celebrate another Independence Day it would be prudent to reflect on the bountiful peace that prevails in this once war ravaged Province. We know that the decades of war, has definitely impacted the lives of people living here. In any armed conflict there will be emotional, psychological and social scars- this is the reality of life. But the real essence of the war victory can be seen, day by day as the lives of civilians are steadily transformed.

Communities that once lived in suspicion are now freely mingling with others. Communities are coming together, breaking the indifference of caste. I have been visiting the North from 2015. It is on these long visits that I was able to rediscover the beauty of this land and the kindness of her people. Building trust takes time, anywhere.

As we talk about peace and reconciliation, we must remember that every peace process is a journey- and not a sudden magical destination. All Sri Lankans have their own political views, aspirations for self improvement and dreams for their families- we are a vibrant democracy.

It is unfortunate that most visitors from Colombo and overseas don’t take time to visit areas that are truly being transformed. It is understandable that visitors rely on travel agents and local friends in Jaffna to get about. Now there is a steady volume of visitors to the North.

But many domestic and foreign visitors I have spoken to, often remain within the Jaffna town. However, it’s only when you travel outside the town to areas like Kilinochchi, Point Pedro, Mullaithivu and the many islands with resident fishing communities that you realize the true essence of peace building.

One of the main stakeholders in this process is the military, especially the Army. I have witnessed many welfare projects carried out by the army to enhance the lives of Tamil speaking civilians. Within the compounds of the massive Palaly Army Cantonment is a cultivation project.

This area spanning a few acres has fruit and vegetable farms. Its entire workforce is made up of former combatants who have been rehabilitated. In the early stages these young Tamil men and women were rejected in their own villages. They had zero income. Today they are gainfully employed with a salary and many are married and reintegrated into society. All of them speak fluent Sinhalese and interact with the soldiers. Likewise the soldiers have mastered the Tamil language. These are the beautiful stories which remain untold to the world.

When I visited the Jaffna General Hospital in 2017 I was told by the Director that almost 80 percent of the blood in their blood bank is donated by the Army. Young Sinhalese men and women have donated their blood as Sri Lankans. Tamil patients receiving blood for surgeries know who the kind donor was, and appreciate this gesture. It is a classic example that we are all children of one nation.

Once again this beautiful fact is not known to visitors who travel to Jaffna or visiting foreign media. The reason I am outlining these facts is to wipe out the elements of racism that has striven to divide our beautiful nation. Another cool thing is to walk into the vibrant Jaffna market, located in the town.

Here again you can talk to traders who get their produce from all parts of Jaffna. It is a pleasant cultural mix as you find Muslims and a few Sinhalese traders. It’s nice to see Sinhalese families buying Northern sweets and the signature beverage nelli crush. Outside the town the military has built houses for needy families. Old kovils and churches neglected during the war have been beautifully restored by soldiers.

In some areas due to the intense heat there are disruptions to water supply and once again it is the young soldier who brings drinking water to the people. Hundreds of students have received bicycles from the military and other independent donors. I have also witnessed church festivals and school prize giving events where tents, carpets and chairs have been supplied by the army.

It is time that the young folk in Colombo and other major cities decided to visit the Northern Province and enjoy her beauty and succulent cuisine. Have we all not visited the hills and beaches many times - it’s time to try out this happening destination, a place where people are waiting to welcome us, understand us and be understood.

A train trip to Jaffna is a wonderful experience. Isn’t it time to upload selfies showing the world that we are united and a caring people- traits embodied in our nation for centuries.

As we celebrate this Independence Day may we truly embrace our unique cultural and religious diversity as Sri Lankans.