Play fair Sri Lanka, pay attention world

Thisanjali Gangoda

On Tuesday, one of my classmates inquired about where my family is originally from. As usual and without hesitation, I immediately explained to her that we’re from Sri Lanka, a tiny island south of India.

I’ve recently been tacking on the geographic location to the end of that answer, mainly because of the number of times I’ve simply said Sri Lanka and in turn have been given a puzzled look. My classmate teased me and said, “Oh, I know where Sri Lanka is!” I apologized and explained to her how people are generally unaware of the existence of my country, except when it’s called by its former name, Ceylon, or in reference to the 2004 tsunami that hit the island.

The only news stations that even bother to have news updates about Sri Lanka are the BBC and sometimes NPR, and really, who listens to either of those non-bias and internationally focused media entities in the United States of America? But I digress.

The truth of the matter is that within the last year, Sri Lanka has had increased media coverage after the “end” to 30 years of civil war between the government and the rebel Tamil Tigers. Why should this be an issue of interest at all, you might ask? What does it matter to understand the intricacies of the internal conflicts in Sri Lanka?

Unfortunately, it’s an example of how devastating ethnic warfare, government paranoia and marginalizing of people can be to the stability and growth of a nation. Sri Lanka is but one of several countries today that face these issues, issues that can be resolved with the active participation of civilians in the role of government.

This is easier said than done. On Tuesday, with the “victories” of war tucked under the belt of newly re-elected President Mahinda Rajapaksa, parliament was dissolved in order to speed up election processes and secure a full-term of re-election. This action left many to question the levels of oppression and abuse of powers that continue to underlie the already fragile political state of Sri Lanka.

Opposition party members have been thrown into jail and voices of dissent within government have been squashed as President Rajapaksa continues to parrot ideals of peace and justice. He has yet to address the ethnic divide that is still strong within the country, and how he plans to unite Tamils and Sinhalese as first being Sri Lankan.

It’s imperative that the needs of both ethnic groups are equally considered when any legislation is enacted, especially in dealing with the aftermath of the war. Human rights abuses that have occurred before, after and during the war by both the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebel group should thoroughly be investigated with guidance from a third-party observer.

The humanitarian crisis of displaced civilians continues on in the northern part of the country, and it must quickly be addressed in order to secure trust in the government. From here Sri Lanka can work toward political reconciliation and equality through fair governing practices.

The dissolving of parliament in Sri Lanka has only exacerbated the international view on President Rajapaksa’s political insecurities, and increasingly authoritarian position of governance. It has enabled the international community to start pointing fingers and taking sides on the issue when the people of Sri Lanka haven’t even clearly made sense of the ending of the war.

For me it’s difficult to be a part of the international community, looking in on my beautiful island and only seeing the ugly skirmish of a deeply divided people. I can’t see Sri Lanka suffering through colonial rule, the beginnings of ethnic tensions and the political disparities that resulted. But I can see hope for growing past such grievances, for Sri Lanka to become a better nation by setting examples of peace and equality for all. By then I won’t have to give a long-winded explanation about where I’m from. Everyone will just know.

Thisanjali Gangoda is a senior political science major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].