21st December 1997

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Stark realities and sincere reflections

We are nearing the end of yet another miserable year in our so-called Paradise Isle. The festive season has got off to its customary start but albeit a slow one this year since prices of goods all round and particularly of foodstuffs have gone through the roof and there are few signs that the cost of living is in any way going to come down to give a filip to the season.

Nevertheless it is party time. A time to renew old friendships, a time for annual get-togethers of schoolmates, officemates, alumnis of academic institutions, professional colleagues and all.

Over the past fortnight and during the next fortnight to the end of the year and beyond it will be party time especially in Colombo and the big cities. Blue chip companies and even those struggling along in the corporate world of business have been having their office parties. Last week the Navy celebrated its 47th anniversary with the Defence chiefs and Govt. politicians having a bash dancing the baila late into the silent night. The Deputy Defence Minister himself entertained foreign journalists to a baila session with the Air Force band providing the music. Lawyers and judges too have had their annual bash. And why not?

In a sense, it is a good thing that despite soaring prices and otherwise depressing events all around our spirits are not that low. And yet, what we are forgetting in all this seasonal euphoria is that we are in the middle of a bloody war. For years we have been trying to remind ourselves guiltily about this, asking ourselves what one should do and how one needs to behave in the midst of war. A few years ago there was a call to ban all dances. Will that alone be enough?

A fortnight ago, 110 elite commandos, all dynamic young men in the flower of their youth, were cut down and killed in a day. Still the dancing in Colombo did not come to a stop. While van loads of relatives came to collect the remains of their loved ones in body bags from a funeral undertaker they could hear the music from nearby clubs and the sounds of revelry as city folk kept dancing the night away in merriment and good cheer.

The police, very correctly, for a change, rather than demand a stop to the dancing made a request to lower the music.

This is a good time as ever to reflect seriously on this war that has gone on now for nearly a decade and a half. Young children, particularly in the North and East and those in the rest of the country whose fathers and brothers have gone off to the fronts never to return or sometimes to return mangled in body and soul, have known only war. But an anesthetised public has shown only scant concern that only 4 hours from Colombo the fireworks goes on throughout the year in the form of heavy artillery. The seasonal gifts sent to the soldiers don’t get to them in shimmering gift-wrapped paper but through the barrel of an AK-47 or a portable shoulder-fired mortar launcher.

While the dancing goes on, more and more of our youth are returning in body bags or without a limb or sans their precious eyesight. Earlier this month we heard of a wedding of an officer where his bestman was with a wooden leg and his groomsman a glass eye.

Nobody however is advocating a national state of mourning. While we in our own way are rather critical of the way in which the war is being prosecuted, without presuming to sermonise, urge the public on whose behalf our soldiers are losing life and limb, to spare a thought for them and more, to do at least one good, tangible deed for them.

They had dances in Britain during the World War, but they also rallied around their gallant forces in every way they could.

How many of you can say you did one deed this year for the soldiers and their families? You don’t have to feel bad if you haven’t. Try to make up next year. If you don’t know how you can contact the Ranaviru Sevana at Tewatte Road, Ragama. They can do with some public support. Even ordinary citizens in this civil war need help and you could help through the many voluntary groups involved.

The Govt. may be interested in hiding the true story of the war. The real statistics remain hidden. After all when the Mullaitivu camp was overrun and some 1300 troops were killed Parliament was told that only 8 died. For your information, this year over 1600 men have died at the battlefront, 6500 have been wounded and over 200 reported Missing in Action. In 1995 and 1996 as many as 3953 servicemen were killed and over 7000 have been wounded . What more do we need to tell?

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