Reconciliation in post-war Sri Lanka

sri lankaTIM LAM

Sri Lanka is slowly emerging from the shadows of a decades-long civil war. The lighted oil lamps and candles in the accompanying image symbolise hope as the next generation seeks to learn from the past and write a new story together.

In 1983, tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamils escalated into a full-scale conflict. The Tamil Tigers fought an insurgency campaign against the Sri Lankan government as they sought to create an independent state.

This continued until 2009 when the Sri Lankan government defeated the Tamil Tigers. The final stages of the war were accompanied by widespread allegations of human rights violations committed by both sides.

The conflict devastated the country and left tens of thousands of civilian casualties. Many migrated to countries such as Australia, which has a large Sri Lanka diaspora of more than 100,000 migrants. Nearly half of them live in Melbourne.

In July, a group of travellers embarked on an interfaith reconciliation pilgrimage to Sri Lanka organised by Uniting Journeys. It was led by Larry Marshall from the synod’s Uniting through Faiths unit and Dr Cynthia Mackenzie.

Eight people from Australia’s Sri Lankan diaspora were in the group. Two people were chosen from each of Sri Lanka’s four major faiths: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.

The Sinhalese, who make up approximately 70 per cent of the Sri Lankan population, are predominately Buddhist and the majority of Tamils, who make up 13 per cent, practice Hinduism. Islam is mostly a religion of the Moor and Malay ethnic communities while the remaining 7 per cent of the population are Christians.

In a spirit of unity, Tamils and Sinhalese travelled closely together for 16 days across Sri Lanka. It was an emotional experience for many of the participants as they journeyed back to their homeland. They re-visited places with significant personal connections, such as schools they attended, worship sites, family homes and areas impacted by war. Some of the participants reunited with family members they had not seen in years.

The group met with the Indigenous people of Sri Lanka, the Veddas, who spoke about peace and respecting the land they live on. They also met war widows and witnessed their determination to create a brighter future for their children.

As Sri Lanka continues on the path towards reconciliation, interfaith and inter-ethnic activities will play a vital role in healing the wounds of the past and laying the foundation for a more harmonious future.

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