Monday 22 May 2017

Gajalakshmi Paramasivam
22  May 2017

The Right to Mourn

Last night’s emails included one on  the subject matter of  ‘Tamils’ Right to Mourn’:

[The International Truth and Justice Project calls upon the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that their police immediately desist from threatening and intimidating Tamil activists and their families, after banning them from commemorating those who died in the civil war by carving their names on stones in Mullivaikkal.
“The right to mourn is universal; you cannot prevent mothers and fathers from mourning their children even if they are LTTE cadres which we don’t know in this case,” said the International Truth and Justice Project’s executive director, Yasmin Sooka. “This is criminalising Tamils even beyond death; it’s utterly absurd and more so in a country that talks all the time about reconciliation.”]

As I write I hear the funeral music from next door where a grandmother has passed away. Last week when I heard that she was unconscious and was still kept at home – I advised the son-in-law through my position as his employer – to take her to the Jaffna hospital – saying she was entitled to be treated there. Eventually that did happen and the lady passed away there. During the time of her sickness, hardly anyone came to see her. But since yesterday, I have been hearing loud cries of mourning – known as ‘Oppari’ and right now there is funeral music including ‘para mehlam’ / drums beaten by Pariahs.

To my mind, much of it is to ‘show’ that the family has honored its mother. In terms of sharing what they had – at the primary level – this family did share their food and space with their mother. But as the mother aged – she was confined to a shed. Hence my suggestion that she be taken to the Public hospital. In terms of this family, their Natural / Universal right to mourn is limited to the degree of care provided to the old lady when she was alive – relative to the common member of the family which may be a grandchild. It is when we are free that our Truth is transparent. Hence confidential voting.

The family’s right to mourn is determined by their ‘inclusiveness’ as part of themselves, the person who has passed away. So long as they do so – within the boundaries of family and their natural community – they are well within the law. But beyond that it is very much a Public issue and the government has the responsibility to take care of the Common interest of the Public in that part of the nation. How we feel is our right. How we express that feeling is limited by the contribution we make to commonness in that environment.

Last evening for example, I noted a young guy sleeping at our temple. Limiting access to the temple for prayers and meditation has been a major task through which I have been contributing to Postwar healing and development in this part of Sri Lanka. People come to the temple regularly to cry their hearts out and ask for redemption. I believe that by feeling for them – I mourn with them. During post-Tsunami Reconstruction work in Eastern Sri Lanka, also we met at the temple for Reconstruction work but the folks cried their hearts out over children lost by joining the LTTE. The LTTE leadership understandably did not honor them at the highest level – for example by the leader signing the death certificates issued by the LTTE.  In that kind of movement, self-management of mourning is part of the deal. Otherwise they are NOT freedom fighters.

When I walked up close to the guy sleeping at the temple – I realized that he was the one sourced by us when they staged ‘Kathavarayan Koothu’ – a folk dance drama that seems to be part of them. I ‘toned down’ my expression and said in common terms – ‘please do not sleep here nor leave your slippers here. Please remove the bicycle from the premises. The temple is for prayers and meditation related activities.’ So saying I walked back to my cottage. A few minutes later the guy asked to speak to me and I opened the gate for him to come in. He said not rudely but more factually – that as a child he had been in and out of the temple to play and did  as he pleased until I came from Australia and now all that privilege is gone. He said he was now 30 years of age and it is frustrating to be so regulated. I said I am now 67 years old and it was understandable that until about 10 years ago he had not seen me coming to the temple. I said we regularly  came over from Jaffna town to celebrate festivals at the temple and that even when we did not come we had caretakers to take care of the temple. I said if he thought that I was being unjust – to make the necessary complaint to the authorities concerned. They do have village level administration and governance and hence my suggestion. He soon left – saying yet again that I had come from Australia and limited their freedom.

I was already feeling low, due to having to monitor at base level the record keeping without which overpayments are likely to happen. The camera people also have been slow in their response and all this were already making me wonder whether my ‘project’ had been completed? I felt sad as well as relieved that I did not have to do all the menial work with least facilities here, on top of my ‘training work’ at Vaddukoddai. Then another lady from Thunaivi rang and wanted to come over and talk to me. I said ok. The lady’s problem was that the Court had ruled against them using a particular pathway and in favor of a later resident. Neither has lawful title. The latter had ‘told’ them not to use the pathway and this upset this lady to whom that area had been ‘home’ since her marriage. Then the penny dropped! I had to have the discomfort of being disobeyed despite being and known to being the lawful owner of our property. When this lady whose son is now training to be a Policeman – lamented – I shared my experience with her and she said if they could do this to me – a lawful owner and one who has provided so much common facilities  – then hers was less painful. The lady said that she came to the temple often to cry her heart out. This time also she felt relieved.

I asked the lady as to how the Court could have ruled in favor of the other guy who was also not the lawful owner and a later use of the pathway – the lady promptly said ‘Arak & Gold-leaf’ / Alcohol & Cigarettes. Again, I felt that my problems with the Northern Courts were weaker relative to this which affects the local status of the victims. When they come to me and I mark them ‘right’ they feel even, less emotional and more rational.

Those like Ms. Yasmin Sooka, who are recommending global privileges to our local folks need to first invest in the deservedness of these folks to public mourning – especially considering that LTTE are very much part of the Tamil Community and they would labeled those who mourned the relatives killed by the Tigers ‘traitors’.

Like these local folks who were not there for the old lady once her ‘use by’ date had expired, the LTTE also were not there for the families that lost sons and daughters. The LTTE leader who broke his own rules in relation to family life, lost the ability to develop family based governance. Likewise, Ms Yasmin Sooka who is using her association with the UN – is losing her credibility by using the ‘Universal’ to a statement of principle which does not apply to this particular part of the globe. 

Local folks here need their own measures to manage their pleasures and pains within their own affordable rights. Over-enthusiastic global players need to respect that privacy they need – including in mourning. 

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