The Sunday Leader is proudly Sri Lankan. As Lasantha Wickremetunge wrote in his posthumous editorial, “the Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled”.
This is the inclusive Sri Lanka in which we believe, and towards which we labor. The government may call us traitors, but it is they who betray this ideal.
Indeed, this government has and continues to attack this newspaper as treasonous. But what are we treasonous to? Not an inclusive Sri Lanka, not the truth, nor reality. All we betray is their lie, the lie that this war had no civilian casualties, that there are no minorities and that corruption and injustice do not still systematically occur.
What we are treasonous too is The Family’s idea of Sri Lanka as a feudal state, and their idea that the state, themselves, and the nation are one and the same. As our former editor also said, “if this be treachery, we wear that label proudly”.
Mahinda Rajapaksa seems intent on founding a new Sri Lanka upon a lie. A lie that he led a pristine humanitarian operation rather than the tragic and inhuman battle to end an already tragic and inhuman war. Till he does, the Sri Lankan state will be exposed to charges of lying and reports like Channel 4’s will continue to emerge, because they do reflect the truth.
This is Mahinda’s burden and we ask that he carries it not in our name. For our part, The Sunday Leader has always been opposed to a government that routinely bombs it own citizens. We have always been sensitive to the brutal injustice visited upon citizens in the north and we remain watchful of their concerns.
We also believe that our readers and, indeed, all Sri Lankans are not so deaf, dumb and blind. Many of our citizens accept these casualties as they did the murder and torture of the southern insurrection, as the price of peace. We disagree and must insist that even if this is the price, it is not a just foundation.
By contrast, we acknowledge, publish and tell of the true destruction not to glory in the gory details, but to lay a foundation of truth upon which we can build true reconciliation. We believe that our staff, readers and many more Sri Lankans are aware that truth, justice and, yes, apologies are the foundation of our Sri Lanka.
In this reality-based Sri Lanka, the war was not a victorious march against terrorism, but the long battle against the demons within our communities and within ourselves. It is nothing to be proud of. All we can truly say is that we survived. What must be acknowledged is that many of our family of 20 million did not.
A further assertation of the President is that there were no minorities in Sri Lanka, that we were all Sri Lankans. While we agree that we are all Sri Lankans, we disagree with his attempt to gloss over real ethnic issues.
In the recent local government elections, Tamil candidates saw their dogs decapitated, voters saw election cards stolen at gunpoint and all saw casual bribery and crass misuse of state resources to buy votes. When candidates and citizens tried to report these crimes, what did they encounter? Police and military that could not even transcribe their complaints.
This is an issue which the Tamil and Muslim minorities face on a daily basis, from Colombo to Keyts. How can they even begin to resolve other issues when the machinery of the state does not even speak their language?
There are minority issues for the simple reason that this government has not extended equality to all of its citizens. We believe that the TNA – which won the northern elections despite intimidation – accepts that these issues will be resolved within a united Sri Lanka, but it does not change the fact that these issues exist.
The fact that our fellow citizens do not have equal rights is an offence to all Sri Lankans and we should all unite in defense of these rights, as per the long civil rights struggle in America. We do believe that Sri Lanka can have a Tamil President, but the hard work of building that possible future must begin with the impossible now. By asserting that everything is fine, our President misses the point that everything is not fine, and that we still have much work to do.
Freedom, Equality, Unity
At the same time, many elements in the diaspora and at home assert that everything is wrong and that an inclusive Sri Lankan identity does not exist and cannot exist until the government does X and Y. On this point, we disagree. The Sunday Leader is living proof that this inclusive identity can exist despite the government doing X, Y and Z in the way of intimidation.
As this government has shown time and again, this true Sri Lankan identity can only exist in spite of the government’s manipulations and it is this mass of united Sri Lankans upon which their power ultimately depends. When push comes to shove, they will see that their edifice is built on lies, whereas ours is built on justice, truth and common bonds.
This is our Sri Lanka. It is a space defined not by the government, not by any particular ruler, not by war, blood or invasive enemies abroad. It is a Sri Lanka defined by its people.The proud, diverse and, in time, reconciled people of Sri Lanka. For all of you different and dissident Sri Lankans, The Sunday Leader is there for you.