All Over Again…. However, Different….

All Over Again…. However, Different….

30 April 2019 11:31 am

A State of Emergency – my body and mind are consumed by a strong wave of fear…
 
I am constantly anticipating worst-case scenarios based on my previous adverse experiences in the state of emergency for many years…
 
My brain has not stopped visualising them – not only for me but also for all, especially those of us who have been discriminated against specific identities…
 
As women, as women of faith, as trans-women, as women in different professions including sex work, as religious women, as women’s rights activists, as women who resist heteronormativity, as women from a specific caste, as feminists, as queer, as humans who celebrate diversity and emancipation, and as people who resist any kind of oppression peacefully and collectively…   
 
I fear for those of us who would not settle down to give up our rights and dignity, even in a state of emergency…
 
 
A week ago, the awful attacks shook Sri Lanka…
 
I am sure many of us, Sri Lankans, felt a chill running down our throats…
 
We know what the three decades long brutal war had done to us…
 
The mistrust within and between families and communities was worse than the heavy shelling and bombing… 
 
It is a little too familiar for those of us who have experienced the brutal realities of the war… it has torn us apart from one another…
 
We lost communities…
 
We lost lives…
 
We lost loved ones…
 
We lost a part of us…
 
We are still a wounded nation…
 
We are still searching for answers…  
 
We still have not figured ways to connect beyond our apparent differences and divisions…
 
Due to pity political benefits, hardly any leadership of the state took the initiative to address the core issues of this war-torn divided nation!
 
Instead, they fuelled divisions… fuelled hatred… fuelled hate speech and hate crimes…
 
As a result, we did not see the invasion of another form of division that is brutally violent - a division that claims responsibility for taking many lives and much more across the world!  
 
We, in Sri Lanka, have been exposed to the brutally of this division-based hate crime in the past week.  
 
Most of us still cannot believe the enormity of it.
 
As an activist, I am startled, once again! I am unable to visit my Muslim friends to show solidarity. I am unable to stand outside the mosque until they prayed in peace. I am unable to do all these not only due to the intensified security operations but also due to my ethnicity!
 
I hardly have any cultural symbolisation that could identify me as a Tamil woman. The way I write my name is tricky too, especially my second name is a difficult one to be narrowed down to any religious or ethnic associations… thanks to my paternal grandparents!
 
However, my national identity card gives away my ethnicity.   
 
As a Tamil, I never step out of the house without the national identity card. In the last couple of days, I had to pass through a few ‘checkpoints’. All memories of horror at checkpoints from the past rushed back to the forefront. I remained calm, as only this time, I was not the potential suspect. Because, I was not wearing a burka, or hijab, or abaya, and even the Muslims among us did not have cultural symbolisation on them.
 
Indeed, I agree that we must support all initiatives to keep the people safe. However, it is a very delicate line when it comes to suspicion. Easily, someone can be a victim or can be victimised. It has to be contextualised with the history of ethnic divisions and fractures of this nation. Let us please not make the same mistakes all over again!
 
It pains me to see that we are unable to differentiate between Islam/Muslims and terrorism…  
 
It pains me that instead of opposing all forms of religious extremism of all faith, we are still arrogantly ignorant and selective…
 
It pains me to see politicians still speaking the language of skewed party politics…     
 
It pains me to hear hate speech along with ethnic divisions…
 
It pains me to know that we are still trying to narrow down the recent attacks within the spheres of ethnic divisions that are very familiar to us… we are unable to think beyond our limitations… we are unable to see the larger picture… without being open to explore all possible interpretations and the gravity of the recent attacks, we will never be able to face this challenge!
 
It pains me to see that neoliberal economic loss seems to overtake loss of lives and the need to figure out ways to heal a wounded nation in ways that help us heal slowly…
 
It pains me to hear about pity comparisons made to justify hate speech against Muslims…
 
It pains me that if the authorities did their jobs well, these attacks could have been prevented…
 
It pains me that the state is still careless after all that this nation has undergone…
 
It pains me that people from specific communities still are easy targets/suspects…
 
It pains me that ethnicised hate speech is still popularised by some individuals, especially those in power…
 
It pains me to learn that when Muslims tried to warn the authorities of suspicious activities in their neighbourhoods, their voices went unheard and/or ignored!  
 
I am not alone in this… many share my pain… perhaps, much more!
 
The biggest challenge is, as people who still value peace and harmony, how do we come together to face yet another difficult time despite our differences… identify innovative interventions that promote humanity and ensure basic human rights!   
 
As a wounded nation, how do we cope with this intense situation of everyone doubting the ‘other’? How do we nurture humanity and treat each other with dignity and respect while trying to catch those who continue to take lives and cause suffering?
 
Most of you would agree that relying on state-level interventions with the above values would be a waste of time. I firmly believe that we must take it as our responsibility to nurture these values on a daily basis.
 
Let us start to believe that every one of us can make a difference in fighting hatred filled divisions!
 
Let us believe that every step we take towards this challenge matters…
 
Let us call out on hate speech when we hear or read one.
 
Let us try to engage with those who involve in hate speech or any other form. Let us do it as we come across such individuals. Let us STOP ignoring these individuals. As a community, we must engage in addressing hatred at this magnitude, which unfortunately spreads like wildfire.
 
Let us show our politicians that if they do not genuinely try to address our issues without fuelling hatred, they do not have our votes.
 
Let us show that we still care for one another despite our differences!
 
Let us show that we are there for one another through difficult times…
 
Let us understand that being religious does not mean supporting religious extremism and terrorism!
 
Let us firmly establish that those who perpetrate violence in the name of any religion or any other division do not have a place in our hearts, our minds, our families, our communities, our nation, and in the world!
 
Let us unite in challenging hatred filled divisions every day for the rest of our lives… as long as it takes to create a better place for us and our future generations…  
 
Let us continue to be critical of ourselves, our belief and actions, and our communities…
 
Let us not give up hope!  
 
Cayathri Divakalala (bakamoono.lk)