Although the war ended a decade ago, the ethno-political and social fractures from violent conflict endure. On no other day are they more apparent than on May 18.
Often, what we see, read and hear on this day is of a country still deeply divided. Television screens and the front pages of newspapers will go on to show military parades. On Facebook and Twitter (and given less, if any, prominence in mainstream print and electronic media) will be photographs of grieving parents or children in the North and East, mourning the missing or dead. Both these actions – that is, the celebration of military heroism to grieving lost family members – are reactions to Sri Lanka’s nearly 3 decade war from enduring ethno-political, partisan, identity, class, gender and geographic divides.
Clearly, what we often read, hear or see is not the only truth, even though it is often produced and promoted as such.
There are multiple perspectives to and narratives on the conflict, but we often only read, share or discuss those that agree with or don’t contest our world-view. That war is devastating and leads to pain, fear and loss is universally understood.
Yet, the vastly different reactions, frames, productions and responses on May 18 highlight the continued and on-going polarisation in the country, undermining meaningful capture of the country’s democratic potential.
In 2017, members of official body tasked with consultations on reconciliation and transitional justice told Groundviews that they had faced pushback from groups in the South who felt that post-war processes were for minorities only.
In October 2018, our sister site Vikalpa was blocked from showing its photography exhibition, ‘Unframed’, at the University of Peradeniya in Kandy. Among the reasons given by members of some student unions who blocked the exhibition was that the photos depicted members of the erstwhile LTTE. In fact, the photos were of Tamil civilians, many of them conflict-affected. This easy yet violent conflation of members of the Tamil community with terrorists from an institution of tertiary education was deeply worrying, and indicative of how far removed the country is from being reconciled with its past.
One year after the end of the war, Groundviews produced a special edition where contributors reflected on the country’s possible political, economic and social trajectory, post-war. It was also the first publication from Sri Lanka to be featured on Apple Books. Five years later, we invited readers to reflect and even push back on the idea that the absence of war does not necessarily mean peace.
2019 marks a decade since the war ended. And yet, the violence, divisions, anxiety, fear and hate, endures, despite promises of progress via a thin veneer of development and reconciliation.
But what if we sought to challenge the way this day is portrayed?
This series will seek to highlight multiple narratives around May 18. Some of them will be familiar, others less so. Some you will agree with and be partial to. Others, less so. The aim is not to convert, preach or project a single frame. It is to complicate narratives that we see, hear and read each year from other more prominent sources and voices, and suggest there are alternative ways of witnessing, reflecting and engaging.
Sarah Kabir and Munira Mutaher present a collection of images and narratives that speak of a lesser-known aftermath of the war. View the photostory below or click here.
Sarah Kabir is a researcher, and humanitarian worker. She has a BSc in Social Policy from the University of Bristol and an MSc in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies from the London School of Economics. After her Masters, she worked on peacebuilding and development work. She has participated in research projects concerned with Reconciliation, Philanthropy and Development, Diaspora and Remittances, and Pesticides and Global Health alongside researchers from the Universities of Sussex and Durham. In addition, she has worked within the public sector and at international and local organisations within the civil society sector. Her work appears in various academic publications and research reports.
Munira Mutaher is a photographer and development practitioner from Sri Lanka who focuses on creative storytelling and social innovation. Her current photography work explores the digital age and our relationship with the natural world. She completed her BA in Journalism, communications and international studies in Malaysia and Sweden and now works with GIZ on curating and managing a travelling history museum in Sri Lanka.