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July, 1983

A house abandoned in 1983 at Bambalapitiya as seen today.

Next to the junction looked over by the ever compassionate Buddha statue;

In the street where everyone walk, meet, laugh;

Behind the green fence erected by the government;

Behind the thickets of time;

The burnt home.

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A Speech and A Dialogue

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
– Winston Churchill

“The reality today is that we are all interdependent and have to co-exist on this small planet. Therefore, the only sensible and intelligent way of resolving differences and clashes of interests, whether between individuals or nations, is through dialogue.”
– The Dalai Lama



This is the speech made by Mr. George R Willy welcoming the president of Sri Lanka to Houston, USA. Full transcript of this speech is found in the official website of the President.

I had the good fortune of listening to this speech first via the facebook profile of a friend of mine in Tamil Diaspora. I shared this speech on my facebook profile subsequently, which evoked an interesting dialogue through comments. There were opinions about the speech – it’s value, inaccuracies and validity. We have decided to bring it to this blog in the view of allowing access to a wider audience.

One very important thing that we were able to maintain throughout this diologue was though there was space for different 0pinions, but there was no attacks or mud slings on the people involved. 🙂

  • Yasela Sumansinghe

    how can a person who left the country in 70s advise MR regarding the plight of the sri lankans because of brutal war? it seems funny…I beleive that MR is not going to be dutugamunu. He is unique …

  • Janith Chandrakumara

    ‎@ Yasela
    I do not see anything wrong in a person who left country advising the president about the war AS LONG AS IT IS VALID ADVICE.
    Of course MR is not going to be Dutugemunu. But there are similarities – and George Willy was the not the f…See More
  • Yasela Sumansinghe

    my friend , my argument is factual…..
    a person, who has even not in the country when the problem aggravated in 77, is telling what to do, to a person who lived with the problem half of his life …isn’t that funny to you….try to grab…See More
  • Ims Sathyaprasad ‎@Yasela: Just forget about the person who made the speech. Do you have anything to disagree in this speech? If so please point that out.

  • Janith Chandrakumara

    ‎@Yasela
    My apologies for “accusing” you of anger and racism – if you have meant otherwise.But disagree with you on that George R Willy who left the country in 70s cannot advise us to have a better future. On one hand he may not have seen the hell we all have been in. But on the other he is a witness to the paradise of ethnic harmony in pre-83 era which we have not seen.And I humbly ask you to read the book rather than its cover.
    As Sathyaprasad sir has suggested lets look at the speech proper and see whether their is anything to disagree rather than arguing on the suitability of the person who made the speech.Yasela, the reason why I find this speech so amazing is it has appealed to both Sinhalese and Tamils alike. If we want ethnic harmony in our country we need speeches like this – that can break barriers! 

  • Buddhika Abeyrathna It’s a beautiful emotional speech of course but it
    is factually incorrect.
    http://www.kalaya.org/files/Prabhakaran_Ohuge_Seeyala_Bappala_ha_Massinala.pdf
  • Janith Chandrakumara ‎@Buddhika Abeyrathna
    Can you please point out those ‘factual inacuracies’?
  • Yasela Sumansinghe

    ‎@Ims Sathyaprasad,
    @ Janiththanks for the interest to comment on my views. i m again trying to make my point. it is just like thilan samaraweera is teaching murali to how to bowl doosra..he can teach it correctly with a nice presentation …but there is something wrong in it? isn’t it?if this was a public presentation i would have not raise this issue. but it was direct address to MR in front of public.my point is Mr. Willy is not qualified enough to advice MR in terms of experience and knowledge regarding the subject matter.
  • Buddhika Abeyrathna ‎@janith

    follow the link

  • Janith Chandrakumara ‎@Buddhika Abeyrathna
    I’ve read the link (commenting on which is beyond the scope of this discussion). Sorry, it does not point out any ‘factual inaccuracies’ of this speech.:P
  • Buddhika Abeyrathna Ah can’t help then .Forget it 🙂

  • Ims Sathyaprasad

    All this discussion proves that no one has anything to show in this speech of Mr. Willy as wrong. That itself is a proof that it is a great speech.Over the history we, Sri Lankans, have used the tactics of criticising the person instead of what he says and talking of something completely unrelated when we fail to confront the facts directly. This is just another instant only.

    Thanks Janith again for the initiation of the discussion by the wonderful post.

  • Buddhika Abeyrathna

    aney,I have nothing against that good fellow Willy.If you want me to point out few inaccuracies
    1.present day tamils are not elara’s descendants. that claim has no evidence to support it.
    2.Gamunu is not the king who united the country for the FIRST TIME.It was Pandukabhaya who did that.
    3.By asking ‘not to hold back tamil youths who want to get into universities’ he implies that has happened in the past ,which is not true
  • Yasela Sumansinghe

    oki let’s give try to explain what my point again…this time i take Janith for my example..I recon janith is somewhat senior doctor by profession & a lecturer, let assume he delivers lecturres on anesthesia as his forte . imagine a firstyear medical student ( instead of delivering a presentation) ‘directly advicing’ to Janitha how to do anesthesia in a public forum. Mr.Willy ‘s effort is very similar to above first year student..

    Bw I have never questioned the content of the speach.

    if anyone say that i have talken unrelated matter, it is the same person who have escaped without giving a answer to my question and tried to grab my valid argument to a other direction..

    Discourse Analysis is a accepeted method to analysis of human communication.

  • Janith Chandrakumara

    ‎@Buddhika

    Thanx for pointing out the “inaccuracies”.

    1. That depends on the way you define who “descendants” are. Nevertheless Mr Willy says “probably”. And here he utilizes the common social belief Dutugemunu as an ancestor of Sinhalese andElara as an ancestor of Tamils to convey his message effectively. (I don’t think neither present day Sinhalese nor Tamils are direct descendants from Dutugemunu or Elara respectively. But they have a common ancestry which is proven by genetic studies.)

    2. I agree with you on this. According to the common social beliefs in the country and according to the history accepted by most scholars Dutugemunu is not the first to unite Sri Lanka. Having said that I must add no one is sure how much the Dutugemunu legend is true and whether anyone in those legends actually “united” Sri Lanka in the current sense of a unitary state.

    3. There is truth in this. ‘Tamil youths who want to get into universities’ were actually held back when the district quota system was introduced. I have no doubts that the district quota system has done greater good a greater number of people. But the way it was introduced in 1970s was tyrannical and the then leaders didn’t allow people to have a healthy dialogue about the change. Had they done that the unrest of Tamil youth would not have occurred. So I see a clear point in what Mr. Willy says.

    When everything is said I must thank you for your appreciation of this wonderful speech shown at several places 🙂

  • Janith Chandrakumara

    ‎@Yasela

    My friend, I’m sorry but I have to tell you this – “Your argument does not hold”.

    When someone makes a public speech with advice or no advice the validity of the speech will be mainly determined by the content, not on the qualifications of the person.

    After all MR has not granted a presidential adviser post to Mr. Willy 🙂

    If Thilan Samaraweera has advised Murali how to deliver a Doosra, or if a 1st year medical student has advised me on a public forum how to give anaesthesia, what determines the validity of that advise IS the CONTENT.

    If Thilan Samaraweera or the 1st year medical student has said something stupid – they will be laughed at. But if they have said something valuable and if Murali or myself has not listened to that we will be the laughing stock.

    I suppose we all are qualified enough to advise or validate advise to MR regarding this matter according your own stringent criteria – coz we were in SL during the war. So why don’t we decide whether this is a good speech or a bad speech according to the content.

    Anyway thank you very much for your interest to engage in this dialogue. I mean no offence 🙂

  • Janith Chandrakumara

    As we have evoked quite an interesting dialogue here I think we can continue this in a more appropriate place and where more people can see this.What about my blog? I can post this – both the video and the comments with the permission of the all parties involved.

    Of course the names can be omitted if anyone want’s to be anonymous.

    Please tell me your opinions on this suggestion.

  • Ims Sathyaprasad

    ‎@Janith: I do not think one can give a clearer explanation than this. Agreed 100%.@Yasela: I am sorry if you had got it like ‘ you talking unrelated matters’. You did NOT talk anything unrelated. It was only a generalised statement of we Sri Lankans.

    @Buddhika: I also bear similar views as Janith on the ‘inaccuracies’ you have mentioned. The first two points, although inaccurate or debatable as you mentioned, do not take away the value of the message. The appeal made by Mr. Wiily is not made on an argument based on the two points. Their accuracy is only trivial for the point Mr. Willy is trying to raise. Of the third point you raised, I personally consider it a correct decision of the then government to introduce the district quota system AT THAT POINT OF TIME, to rectify the ‘anomalies’ in the university entrance, although the way it was introduced may have hurt a section of the population. But I believe, one day when the regional disparities in the provision of educational services become narrower, we must get rid of the district quota system. Apparently, what Mr. willy mentions is that. As Janith had stated very correctly, the ‘point of view of the majority of Tamils’ was that they were ‘held back’. It’s only a difference in opinions and I think that they (Tamils mostly) have their reasons to believe that owing to the lapse of the then government of ‘not to precede that decision by a open dialogue among the people’.

    I thank all three of you for the valuable comments you made.

  • Buddhika Abeyrathna ‎@janith.

    all right.it seems I have no other choice.Let’s sort it out then,and I have no intention to be annonymous.

  • Ims Sathyaprasad ‎@Janith: No problem. Just go ahead. 🙂

  • Yasela Sumansinghe

    ‎@ Janitha, & Ims Sathyaprasad

    No hard feelings at all…

    Janitha here comes the ‘paradigm’ in to play you mentioned on other day…you want to analyse only the content…I want a disclose analysis…however the subject we are touching is qualitative ..hence my approach of disclose is valid. you approcach of taking the content is more suitable for quantitative subject matter.

    evenwith my limited time..i ll give my commitment to prove my point..go on ….

Trinco at Night

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Lord of the sacred hill showing his magnificence!

Eerie, mysterious, yet beautiful sights of this great city, at night!

From inability to let well alone
From too much zeal for the new and contempt for what is old
From putting knowledge before wisdom, science before art, and
Cleverness before common sense;
From treating patients as cases;
And from making the cure of the disease more grievous than the
Endurance of the same, Good Lord, deliver us.
Sir Robert Hutchison

[1]

Last week a good friend of mine gave me a call. She asked me whether it is all right to take some pills which will help her to put on some weight. She assured me that “medicine” has worked fine for one of her friends who have taken that medicine for some time. I was wondering what on earth that magic pill could be, only to realize it is “Prednisolone”! Prednisolone is a drug which mimics the action of a hormone which has osteoporosis, cataract, infections, reduced sex drive, peptic ulcers as few of its side effects. In addition sudden reduction in blood sugar level after stopping the drug can even be lethal.[2] Luckily the weight gaining pill lost its popularity among that group after being explained!

I know several people who make photocopies of the prescriptions and keep them so that they can “reuse” them in case the “same illness” occurs again. And there are people who “know” the treatment for හෙම්බිරිසාව (common cold) is “ඇමොස්සිලින්” (a crude way of pronouncing Amoxycillin) which they buy readily from the nearest pharmacy (without paying the doctor, of course!). And surely the ailment is healed in two days!

When doctors come across this kind of people doctors are so fond of scolding them, scaring them and micrifying them! If in a good mood the doctors will tell them though the symptoms may be similar that may be due to a different illness and they are not trained to identify the illness. (After all doctors had highest marks in A/Ls and has studied for seven or eight years to do what they do. So how come these guys do it that easily, Ha?). And of course doctors know common cold will be healed by the body’s immunity without any drugs. (But we, doctors keep on prescribing amoxicillin or some other antibiotics for our patients especially if they come to our private practice!)

Despite all these I am quite sure most of the reasonable people will agree that a layman treating him or herself is harmful because, one lacks the expertise and knowledge about diseases.

So what about a doctor treating himself?

This occurred while I was working as an intern medical officer in a surgical ward of the National Hospital. On that particular day I got a call from the ward nurses around 11.30pm informing that I am needed in the ward as wounded soldiers from battle front will be arriving at the ward shortly. When I got down from the bed I realized I’m having a terrible pain over my right arm. It was so incapacitating I couldn’t even move my arm without wincing with pain, let alone working with it. May be I’ve slept in an odd position may be it’s due to some other illness. I didn’t know. But one thing I knew was I had to do a lot of work now and I don’t have anyone to help (Or may be I had if I really wanted!). So I went to the ward and took the usual dose, half tablet of Tramadol, a very strong pain killer in a group drugs known as “opioids”. There was no relief. So I took the other half of the tablet. Still no relief! I took another whole tablet and the pain was gone! I was busy with the patients I completely forgot about the overdose of tramadol I’ve taken. I was was working continuously until about 5am when I noticed something is very odd. I don’t feel tired! On the contrary I felt very comfortable and even elated! Then I realized what was going on – the “opium” part of Tramadol has started showing its effects, I’m virtually being drugged! But the worst was yet to come! I had a quick wash and came back to the ward for the morning ward round. By about 7.30am in the middle of the ward round I started vomiting uncontrollably and I felt that the ward is rotating around me! I had to take a day off.

So doctors may have the necessary medical knowledge and expertise, their judgement may not be correct when treating themselves.

All right! then we’ll leave the treating part in the hands of some other doctor(s)!

First story that comes into my mind is the story of Mr. N. N was a wealthy gem businessman. He was diabetic and he had one leg amputated after a chronic diabetic wound. (The reason for that being diabetes has caused his blood vessels to be narrowed and inadequate blood supply prevents wound from healing.) So he was wheel-chair bound, but he was quite active and was doing his work independently. He had a special toilet build for him at home. He could move from the wheel chair to the bed or to the toilet using the remaining leg as a support. This time N came with a wound in the remaining leg. The tests showed that the blood vessels were narrowed in that limb too. So there were two options as treatment. One option was to amputate the remaining limb also which is a relatively simple operation after which the patient will be sent home in less than a week. But that will disable the patient more as he will no longer have a leg to be used as support. Other option was to do a vascular surgery to bypass the narrowed segment of the blood vessel by putting a graft. It is technically a much more difficult surgery, may have lot of complications, success rate of the surgery was less than 50% and the patient will have to stay in the ward for a longer time. The “big doctor” told “අපිට ඔයාගේ කකුල බේරා ගන්න පුළුවන්”(We can save your leg). Mr. N happily underwent the surgery. The surgery took almost twelve hours. Few days later surgical site was infected. He was given all kinds of latest antibiotics, and fancy dressings and antiseptics were used for the wound. But the wounds just refused to get healed. On top of that he developed bed sores and a lung infection due to inactivity. Mr. N spent almost three months in the ward before dying a slow painful death. It cost lot of pain and trouble to the patients family and an enormous sum of money was spent by the government for his treatment.

Of course Mr. N has given consent for the surgery. A long list of complications which may occur was “explained” to him and he ultimately signed the paper accepting that he has read and understood the complications and the outcome of the surgery. This was far better standard of getting consent than what is happening in most of the Sri Lankan hospitals. Yet I felt we doctors made the decision for him rather that allowing him to make the decision whether to amputate the limb or go for a vascular surgery.

Doctors are supposed to take informed consent from the patients. But most of the patients we come across seems to be happy to leave the decision making part in the hands of the doctor. I’ve met so many patients/ parents who would say “ඔබතුමාට හොඳය් කියල හිතෙන දෙයක් කරන්න!” (Do whatever you think as good!). And the doctors seem to be happy to take the decision for the patients, provided the patient signs on the paper that he/she has agreed for the treatment. In fact I know most doctors dislike patients who asks “too much” information and who knows “too much”!

“Doctors will give you information about a particular treatment or test in order for you to decide whether or not you wish to undergo such treatment or test. This process of understanding the risks and benefits of treatment is known as informed consent”.[3]

Thus ultimately the patient should be the one who decides whether to take a certain treatment or not! What the doctor must do is give information necessary to take that decision. Of course the doctor should then carryout the treatment decided upon.

“To have decision-making capacity does not mean that you, as the patient, will always make “good” decisions, or decisions that your doctor agrees with. Likewise, making a “bad” decision does not mean that you, as patient, are “incompetent” or do not have decision-making capacity.”[3]

I think we have a way to go forward from the taking consent practiced at Sri Lankan government hospitals currently (Sorry! I lack knowledge on private hospitals to comment on them). Here are some scenarios you’ll face when admitted to a government hospital of Sri Lanka.

As soon as you are being admitted you’ll have to sign in the first page of the bed head ticket (BHT) “ශල්‍යකර්මයට කැමතිය්” (consent for surgery). Nothing is specified!

Most probably you will not have a clue to what’s going on during your hospital stay. Why you are given drugs, why investigations are being performed and what is the current situation regarding your illness.

If you have to face a surgical operation, a busy intern will come to you with the BHT with the “consent statement” written beforehand and ask you “ඔපරේෂන් එකට කැමතිය් කියල මෙතන අත්සන් කරන්න” (Sign here to give consent for the surgical operation). You will barely have time to put your signature, let alone thinking, before the BHT is grabbed away from you. I confess I have taken consent like this on certain occasions.

I can remember one such consent statement written by one of my co-interns: “මගේ දකුණු පාදය ඕනෑම නිර්වින්දනයක් යටතේ ඕනෑම තැනකින් කපා ඉවත් කිරීමට කැමැත්ත දෙමි”! (I give consent to cut off my right leg in any place under any anaesthesia!).

I have not written this to put blame on doctor nor on patients. I know hospitals are much under staffed and the staff is much overworked. Patients are almost never encouraged to learn more about their diseases, treatment options and decide on their treatment.  Yet I believe there should be a drastic attitudinal change among both doctors and the patients about “who decides what treatment”. Both groups must realise it is ultimately the “patients choice” and “doctors expertise”!

References

  1. P. Ravi Shankar. Sir Robert Hutchison’s Petition and the Medical Humanities. International Journal of Medical Education. 2010; 1:2-4
  2. http://www.drugs.com/sfx/prednisolone-side-effects.html
  3. http://www.emedicinehealth.com/informed_consent/article_em.htm

Us vs. Them

Reproduction of a mural at Dambulla Rock Caves depicting Elara Dutugemunu war

Reproduction of a mural from Dambulla depicting the Elara Dutugemunu war from Paranavitana's Sinhalayo.

Us, and them
And after all were only ordinary men.
Me, and you.
-The Darker Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd

Disjointed Stories

Long time ago we were going on a pilgrimage. I think I was 10 or 12 then. We stopped at hotel by the road to have tea. I was looking around, looking at the shops and boutiques by the side of the road. They were colourful and exiting to my childish eyes. Then something caught my eye, which struck me because it was so different from the colourful surrounding, which I still recall vividly. It was a shop, abandoned, charred black, looking very dismal. I asked what it was from my grandfather. “පුතේ ඔය දෙමලුන්ගේ කඩ ගිනිතියපුවා!” (Those are the burnt down shops of Tamils, son!). He answered so casually and without emotion I got the impression that burning down of shops of Tamils is a very natural thing such as having evening tea. Now this is the same grandfather who taught me it is wrong to hurt animals, who taught me beautiful stories and who was loved and respected by the family, neighbours and relatives.

When I was working in a surgical ward in National Hospital there was an LTTE Karuna faction cadre. I’ll call him R. R had injuries due to a blast and stayed in the ward for a long time undergoing various plastic surgical procedures. He was a very nice fellow, cracking jokes, sometimes giving a helping hand to the other patients and hospital staff. R had told me he had two children and he loved them dearly. He was counting fingers to go back to his wife and children who were living in Batticaloa. Sometimes R related some of his past experiences and adventures. Once he described how he with other members of his squad massacred a whole village where Sinhalese and Muslims lived. During the whole account he never showed any regret. In fact he was laughing when he described how they cut off penises of the villagers! I asked him didn’t you feel sorry for them. His answer was “Sometimes. But those days it was like that.”

Several years back I went to a garage at Pilimathalawa with a friend of mine to repair his car. We were introduced to the owner of the garage (whom I will refer as D) by another friend of ours. D was a person approaching the middle age, well built with some thinning of hair in the front. While the car was being repaired he had a casual talk with us. He was running a decent business, married and with several children. He was bit boisterous when telling about his family which comprised of several brothers and which he described as rich and powerful in the area. He mentioned how he and his brothers burnt down and beaten away Tamil people in the neighbourhood during 1983 riots. He went on describing how some Tamils were smashed by driving vehicles over them and how they earned money by selling looted jewellery which belonged to Tamil families. D seems to take pride in those atrocities by the way he described them. I don’t recall being shocked while listening to his stories. I felt the story was quite natural though a bit boisterous.

I have Questions

Why didn’t my grandfather taught his grandson (myself) hurting Tamil people was wrong? Was it because he was inherently an insensitive and an evil person? Or is it because murder and robbery has become was so common in Sri Lanka during the recent past so that people has become insensitive to it? He was such a kind hearted and a just person in general.

Why isn’t R sorry or shocked at murdering people? Is that because he is an inherently evil person, a terrorist? Or is it because being a member of a military he had to carry out his orders? If he was just carrying out orders, when doing these terrible things, why would he enjoy what he was doing? (He was laughing when he talked about how they mutilated bodies of their of victims)

Now the last story about D is the most shocking one to me. Now here is a living in the normal civil society who has committed murder, robbery and looting and even boasts about his activities. Is this person an evil sociopath? And why weren’t us (including the author) looked at that person in shock and disgust? Are we evil people?

Us and Them

It took me a long time to realize it was this separation of “us and them” has allowed happening of these terrible things. To my grandfather, to D, to me (before realising this) it was us; it was Sinhalese defending against them, Tamils. To R it was us, Tamils defending against Sinhalese. One group (“us”) justifies being insensitive of, robbing from, beating, killing, raping the other group (“them”).

“if you put ordinary decent people in groups and create a division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ then they will descend mindlessly into brutality, to the extent that they might even be prepared to commit mass murder.”[1]

Now we are not talking about the diversity among human beings. Of course we are diverse on race, religion, skin colour, economic status, education level, tastes etc. But we don’t go about killing each other just because of that diversity. As long as we don’t think (erroneously, of course) we needed to be defended from the other group(s) there will not be havoc.

Questions Revisited

I think I have answers for the questions now.

My grandfather was insensitive specifically to hurting Tamil people(“them”), because he identified himself with the Sinhalese(“us”) whom he was convinced needs defence from the former.

R was able to carry out his brutal acts against Sinhalese and Muslims (“them”) not just because he had to carry out orders. He identified himself with the Tamil militant group (“us”) which he firmly believed needed protection from “them”. He was able to justify his actions through that mentality.

D was probably thinking he is a patriot and he is protecting his country when he robbed, beaten down and may be even murdered those innocent Tamil people. Because to him it was “them” against “us”.

I had been justifying my insensitivity towards the Tamils (“them”) because I have been thinking it is “us” being threatened by “them”.

If there was no such havoc my grandfather would have said “පුතේ මේවා හෙන ගහන අපරාද!”; R would have lead a peaceful life, farming and taking care of his family; D would have given a helping hand to his Tamil neighbours.

But one question remains “Who are the evil people, who are terrorists among the characters (including myself) we discussed so far?” I leave it to the reader to answer, because I don’t know.

Who created “Us vs Them”?

So how this “us protecting against them” concept arose? There was no need of such a concept for ordinary people who were working, eating, drinking, growing up, looking after children and enjoying life to create such a concept, let alone going on beating, raping, killing fellow human beings. There was no actual insecurity to ordinary people before all this began.[10][11]

“But we do not interpret the world on our own, as many social psychological models tend to imply. Rather, people are surrounded by would-be leaders who tell them what to make of the world around them. Indeed, tyrannical leaders only thrive by convincing us that we are in crisis, that we face threat and that we need their strong decisive action to surmount it.”[1]

The leaders have a pattern of doing this. First they will show a distinction separating “us” (ingroup) from “them” (outgroup). Then they will show that “them” are a problem or more seriously a threat to “us”. Finally they will tell us we are the sum of all virtues. Thus showing “us” defence of the virtues requires the destruction of “them” who threatens us. This makes all those killing, beating, raping, burning and driving away people something honourable.[2]

Tyrannical leaders knew this very well. I think it is best exemplified by this quote by Hermann Göring.

“Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. …voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country”[3]

This is what JR Jayawardene said weeks before the onset of Black July;

“I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now… Now we cannot think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us… The more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here… really, if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy…”” — from an interview with J.R. Jeyawardene by Ian Ward. London Daily Telegraph, 11 July 1983.[4]

”]Scene at Borella junction on the night 24-25th July 1983 captured by Chandraguptha Amarasinghe depicting a Sinhala youth about to kick a nude Tamil man.Between 23rd and 26th July 1983 thousands of innocent Tamils were killed; tens of thousands of houses were destroyed; more than 50 000 people were made refugees in their own country; 37 Tamil prisoners were killed in Welikada prison by Sinhalese prisoners using knives and clubs.[6]

Velupillai Prabhakaran said this in 2005 “Heroes Day” speech;

“They are not prepared to be tolerant any longer…. we will, next year, in solidarity with our people, intensify our struggle for self-determination, our struggle for national liberation to establish self-government in our homeland.” –from ‘Heroes Day’ speech On November 27, 2005,by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief Velupillai Prabhakaran[6]

”]A father crying holding his child died due to Kabothigollawa bus bomb.In the following year hundreds of innocent Sinhalese including pregnant women and children were killed by bombs, shooting, cutting, clubbing etc which included Gomarankadawala massacre, Welikanda massacre and Kabithigollawa bus bombing.[8]

Within this article I cannot do justice to the overwhelming evidence to prove how leaders of our country contributed to the “Us and Them” separation. Not only the political leaders sowed thess seeds of hatred but also there were academic, philosophical and even religious leaders.

Two Different Stories

Terrible things happen when people fail to realize others are also human beings, when divided into groups. They fail to realize there is humanity uniting us all above the race, religion, caste or whatever other category we belong into. Yet there are individuals who could resist losing their humanity at even most trying situations. Below are two such anecdotes both of which occurred while I was an intern in the National Hospital during the latter half of 2008.

There were lot of soldiers admitted during this time as it was the height of the war. Among them there was one soldier from the Medical Corps whom I will call him P. P had a through and though gunshot wound to his abdomen with the exit wound in the lower side of a flank. This wound was literally an irregular shaped hole which pored out litres of intestinal fluids per day. It was a very difficult and painful job to clean this wound and apply drains into it, which needed to be done every day. I used to talk to him while doing that and we became friends over weeks. There were around thirty people from the Sri Lankan armed forces at a given time during that period and they had a sort of community among themselves. Something I noticed was most of the other military men didn’t like to talk with P. So one day while dressing the wound I asked about this odd behaviour from P. At first he was reluctant to answer. But later just few days before our internship appointment finished P told me his story. “Doctor, they consider me as a traitor!” said he.”That was when I got injured. I being one of medical corps stay behind the front lines and we do not engage in battles unless it is absolutely necessary. Caring for the wounded soldiers is our job.” “On that day there was a sudden crossfire between us and the enemy. And between the two groups firing at each other there were some unarmed people. I don’t know whether they were civilians or terrorists. Most of them ran for cover but there was one woman who was carrying a child and holding another by hand who was unable to run away. I cried at my fellow soldiers not to fire but I couldn’t stop them. So I ran forwards and grabbed the woman and children to the ground covering them with my body. Then I was hit. I don’t know whether it was a bullet from the enemy or from our side. In the end I was able to save that woman and children but I was scolded by my commanding officer for not obeying orders to stay behind. And as I got injured I couldn’t care for my fellow soldiers who were injured.” “Why did you do that?” I asked.

The Man He Killed

HAD he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although

He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.

Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.

–Thomas Hardy

“I don’t know doctor. Being never married I don’t have children. But when I saw that mother with two children about to be killed, I just couldn’t stay observing it!” said he. I learned later P passed away due to septicaemia several weeks after this dialogue. He never received any medal or any appreciation for his conduct. On the contrary he was labelled as a traitor by his own colleagues. (But he remains as a hero in the memory of a young doctor who worked in the ward where he was admitted.)

One of my roommates was Suresh Ayya. He had only one brother who was worked at northern Sri Lanka. He was killed by the LTTE in late 2008. Suresh Ayya was very sad and was crying when we visited his place. After return of Suresh Ayya to our small room at National Hospital quarters after finishing the funeral functions and the seventh day alms giving there was a small gathering of our fellow interns where there was heated talk against terrorists and how they should be eliminated. Suresh Ayya was quiet for most of the time and when everyone left the room he told a strange thing to me.” මචං අපේ එකා යන්තං ඔලුව උස්සන් එනකොටම නැති උනා. ඌ  ගැන අපේ පවුල ගොඩාක් බලාපොරොත්තු තියාගෙන හිටියා. උට වෙනින් රස්සාවක් සෙට් උනා නම් ඌ තාම ජීවත් වෙනවා නේ බන්! උට වෙඩි තියපු අනිත් පැත්තේ එවුන්ට අපිට වඩා කොච්චර ප්‍රශ්න ඇත්ද. අපිට නම් අඩු ගානෙ කන්න දෙයක් ඉන්න තැනක් තියනවා. ඒත් උන්ට එහෙමත් නැතුව ඇති. මේකෙන් දෙපැත්තෙන්ම මැරෙන්නේ එක වගේ කොල්ලොනේ බන්!”.(Machan, Our one died just as he started a decent life. Our family had lot of hope on him. If he had got a different job he will be still living! How much troubles ones from the other side may have! We have at least things to eat and a place to stay. But they may not even have that. It is boys who die from this at both sides are similar!)

Epilogue

We have seen a terrible past which cannot and must not be forgotten. Unfortunately we cannot change the past. We might be able to change the future for better so that those terrible things will not happen again. But what is terrifying me is same things that led to that terrible past is happening may be even more intensely now. We may not be able to change others, but we can at least change ourselves so that we don’t see us versus them but it is just you and me!

Referrences

  1. S. Alexander Haslam and Stephen D. Reicher. Questioning the Banality of Evil. The Psychologist 2008:28(1):16-19.
  2. Reicher, S., Hopkins, N., Levine, M. & Rath, R. Entrepreneurs of hate and entrepreneurs of solidarity. International Review of the Red Cross 2006:87, 621–637.
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermann_Göring
  4. http://www.blackjuly83.com/Quotes.htm
  5. Michael Roberts. The Agony and the Ecstasy of a Pogrom Southern Lanka, July 1983. Nethra 2003:6(1&2),199-213
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_july
  7. http://www.slnewsonline.net/LTTE_Atrocities_20060615_Kebithigollewa_Massacre.htm
  8. http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/shrilanka/document/papers/LTTE_chief_Heroes_Day_peech.htm
  9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_attacks_attributed_to_the_LTTE
  10. Maya Jayasinghe Abeywickrama. ‘Memories of my Jaffna days’. Daily News 11.10.2004
  11. http://www.sangam.org/articles/view2/?uid=676

Doctor sleeping on benches

“It’s lucky that she’s got a room, most of the others didn’t get one. But we had to buy a mattress” said a very tired Janaka entering our room. He is my friend and roommate who have returned just after accompanying his wife to the intern quarters. “Ah! a mattress again!” thought I, remembering my mattress story during internship.

It was our second appointment which was at the Lady Ridgway Hospital for Children, Colombo. We arrived to the hospital in the morning (after doing on-call during the last night of course). There were usual lectures by the people who are terribly interested in talking to “budding young doctors” (which allows the budding young doctors to get some sleep). Then the selection of the wards and quarters (all according the relative position of the merit list) occurred after which we arrived at our new quarters which will be our habitat for the next six months. I was paired with Chamith, my roommate during our university days also. We started examining the room in an expert manner (This is the second appointment so we are experienced in examination of er… not only patients).

Two beds; two tables; one wardrobe; one clothes rack; Lots of cobwebs in the walls and ceiling… But it is quite understandable the previous occupants didn’t have time to clean it. There’s water in the bathroom. The blockage in the drainage which causes water to accumulate in the corner or the cracked washed basin which leaks water onto your toes are not things that are impossible to live with. Window panes are covered with a thick layer of dust. A good thing because we didn’t think it was a good idea to show off our perfectly shaped muscular bodies. If you open the wardrobe door carefully it will not fall on your feet. Even the door can be locked properly!

Just as I was about to decide that our room quite habitable Chamith exclaimed “There is only one mattress, machan!”. “…….!”I uttered a very bad word in Sinahala. “What shall we do now?” The person in charge of quarters, who accompanied us, was in the outside corridor. “Hey, we have only one mattress. What shall we do?”. “You’ll have to write a letter” he answered. So a letter was written immediately and was handed over. We thought our mattress will arrive by the evening.

Then we left for the wards. To the wards of the largest children’s hospital in the world during the worst dengue epidemic of the country’s history (doesn’t that simply sound grand when our internship is over)! So naturally we forgot about the mattress problem. I was the “second oncall” that day. I arrived at the room around 10pm found no mattress arrived at the room. I did some slight cleaning of the room, assuming that Chamith should be “first oncall” who is going to be in the ward overnight slept on the only mattress.

The alarm woke me up at 5am. I switched on the light and saw Chamith sleeping on the floor. I was feeling guilty and angry. Anyway we had a good laugh over it remembering a joke we had during the period we studied together for the final exams. Those days when someone asked Chamith why are you studying so hard he had answered “they are going to determine even whether you will get a room with a mosquito net or not on the position of the merit list”. So we had a laughed over the fact that I got the mattress because I had a better merit position.

I go to the ward at 5.40am, without the breakfast, because the canteen opens at 6am. Around 10am in the morning I get a break to call the clerk in charge of the quarters. Apparently he has done nothing about our mattress. He saya he cannot do anything about the mattress and I have to speak to the accountant who is responsible for purchasing things. So I take a call to the accountant from the ward.

“Hello, this is HO ward one.”

“Hello” a very grumpy voice.

“What do you want?”

I mention the problem.

“So you have to send a letter.” Line disconnected.

So I dial again.

“This is HO ward one again. I have already sent a letter”

“All right, then I will purchase a mattress”

“How long will that take?”

“We have to purchase mattress you know.” Ok! Ok!! I got it.

“How long will it take?”

“We have to call tenders.”

“How long will it take?”

“It usually takes several months.” I uttered a very bad word again, only silently this time.

“Several MONTHS!!! So are you asking us to sleep on the floor for several months?”

“Look here doctor, there are procedures. You don’t understand these things” line disconnected!

Indeed I don’t understand!

“Sir it’s better if you purchase a mattress yourselves” says an attendant who was listening to the telephone conversation. He has a smile on his face, somewhat sympathetic, somewhat sarcastic. But my problem is when can we go out? We have little less free time than the slaves of seventeenth century.

By around 2pm I get a very precious interval to get my combined breakfast and lunch (I cannot tell whether dinner will also be included in the meal for the time being). I decided to use this time for a last daring attempt to get a mattress from the government. I take the lift to go to the 12th floor of the new building of the hospital where director of the hospital is. I walk into the room of Dr. Mahanama Rajamanthree, the Director of Lady Ridgeway hospital. I feel more hungry than afraid.

“Sir, I am one of the new interns. I have a problem, sir! We are having only one mattress in our room!”

Dr. Rajamanthree looks amused, yet he understands the problem. He gives call the accountant right in front of me and gives orders to purchase a mattress. “Alright son, you carry on your work. I will send a mattress to the room within today!”. Oh! now I believe there are angels walking the earth or sitting on high backed rotating chairs!

Apart from a pen and a stethoscope an intern needs a mattress. Why? Because, they have to sleep! In addition they have to eat, drink and defecate also, because they also are human beings and lives of lot of other human beings depend on them! It is bad enough that the accountant has not realised this fact and Mr. Siripala or Mr. Sirisena is not worried about the living standards of the intern medical officers. But it is worse when it comes to doctors (who have been interns themselves sometime) has forgotten this and some who are very happy to bully interns. I think that is because it is very easy to neglect the needs of an intern. Because they are the most junior people; they will leave the place in six months and they need to get a signature at the end of the appointment.

I am not telling interns should have luxurious accommodation and little work. But they should have the decency of getting basic human needs. They do hard work and important work. If interns fail in their duty lot of lives will be in risk!

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Most of us see the sunset over the sea, because we go to the western coast of Sri Lanka. You have to go to the eastern coast to see the sunrise over the sea.

Here are few snapshots I have taken of this amazing scene, which I was lucky enough to witness several times.