Monday, April 6, 2009

Melbourne Riots

Beyond the pain of this ongong conflict here in Sri Lanka, I have know that there has been tensions flaring between the Sinhalese and Tamils diasporas in places much more close to my other homes in Australia and New Zealand.

However it was with great saddness that there was a clash between a group of Sinhala and Tamil people peacefully protesting in Melbourne.

The google search for melbourne riots and Sri Lanka picked up (1st hit) (3rd hit)

There are quite disparaging reports available on the internet as to who started the brawl, I have my suspicions based upon what I have read. However, who started the clash is not what matters the most to me (although it is of some significance), but rather it is the the discussion that follows by expatriats who have grown up as citizens of the same country - ie Australia.

I really think it is time for us to use our "intellect" and "compassion" to approach this terrible escalating situation of hatred.

I posted the following comment just now after reading some of the 21 comments written after the posting of the article (mine is the 22nd comment on the first link, but reproduced here for you). I really feel it is time for us to start expressing our views (with care). I would love to hear your responses to what I have said from all my friends and others who i don't know for that matter. Please speak your mind, but do so gently for everyones sake - i like dialogue, not destruction!

Start of comment

Bishan Rajapakse

Dear friends

I am a Sri Lankan, Sinhalese person who was born in Sri Lanka but left there at age 6 months of age. I've lived most of my life in New Zealand during which time I had equal numbers of Sinhalese and Tamil friends - we all had amazing times growing up together but never really talked about the politics of Sri Lanka. Some of my Tamil friends were, and still are, the the closest friends I have, and the most amazing people I have met. Similarly some of my Sinhalese friends from NZ and Australia are the most amazing people in the world to me. And to add to this I am fortunate to have wonderful friends in Sri Lanka from all races - however the purpose of this post is not to talk about my blessings of having good friends - there is something important I want to communicate.

I returned to Sri Lanka 3 years ago, carrying my western background on my shoulders as I have been doing a PhD here which has taken me all around the island, from Anurahdapura, to Polonnaruwa, to Chillaw, to Kandy, to Galle, to Beruwalla and hopefully soon to Jaffna and Kilinnochi.

During this journey I have seen such cultural diversity and learned that the people of Sri Lanka are amazing in so many ways.

I have also learned Sinhalese during my time here and am currently learning Tamil. There are many problems with the Sri Lankan government such which are found in this region such as corruption and lack of accountability (however there is that also in countries such as western countries). Sri Lanka has witnessed terrible atrocities against the Tamil people for which I personally feel sorry for despite having no connect. However I also feel very sorry for the countless suicide bombings that have killed so many innocent people

I have one question, one statement, and one plea for the people in this forum

1 Question : Can you not see that we are all one race - the human race. Brothers and sisters? The sooner we realise this at every juncture - even when writing in forums like this the better. We all have mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. WE all have children in our communities. Children a beautiful gems of innocence - can you not see that it doesn't matter where they come from they are the same. When i treat a patient it doesn't matter to me if they Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim or Burgher - i know this is the case for the docotrs that I have worked with in Sri Lanka - How do I know because I have worked with them - not because i'm chanting someone elses mantra - are you? I know that direct experience is the closest to the truth that I can get.

1 Statement: The Sri Lankan government is "not" having a war on Tamil Civilians, and is not trying to wipe out a race. I believe there is discrimination against (all) minorities in this country, and that situation needs to be improved here (just as discrimination against minorites has to be addressed in all countries around the world) , however, Sri Lanka it is "not" trying to wipe out Tamils in this country as many people in this forum are stating.

This is simply not true

This war is terrible and I am not for it, and i never have been (because for me it means we just haven't explored enough other possibilites). However, not being for the war does not mean I support the blatant lie that the current war is targetting Tamil civilians. It is a war against the LTTE a bonified terrorist organisation - or even a Freedom fighter movement (entertaining alternative perspectives as I like to) that is continually trying to paralyse the running of the country with suicide bombings.

There is clear evidence that LTTE have been and are currently using the civilians as human shields often against the will of the very people they claim to support.

There is no comment about this, in this forum, from those who are so vehemently in favour of this group.

The LTTE is even shooting at their own civillians when they want to leave to government safety. I know this because the civillians from the northern province sometimes come to the Anuradhapura hospital for treatment.

And who are the LTTE soldiers on the battlefield? 12-16 year old girls who have been forcibly conscripted and trained as snipers. I met soldier who had just been discharged out of hospital two days ago after being shot by one such person, telling how they have to shoot because these children are sent to the front line with the orders to shoot. They were given the option of surrendering by they army but they are not permitted by the LTTE.

It is a terrible thing this war. Imagine the psychological scars off all people considered.

These soliders I met had no malice against the Tamil people. I have no direct experience with the LTTE cardres., but certainly I have heard many reports amongst Anuradhapura doctors about conversations with patients who had come from the wanni who were convinced that Sinhalese because they all want to kill them - and this is the doctrine of the LTTE.

Sri Lanka is not performing Genocide

In the last year I have lived and worked closely with people from all the racial and religious minorities in Kandy and Polonnaruwa. We all shared our stories, food, knowledge of cultural practices, we all worked as one. Where I work at the moment sinhalese doctors are trying to attend classes to learn Tamil in their spare time (and it is a government requirement for them to do so to progress to the next level. When travelleing in Wellawatte in Colombo right now the predominate language you hear spoken is Tamil - is this a country that is trying to wipe out a race - why would they want to? Tamils are part of the community and the cultural diversity that makes up Sri Lanka. The day before independance day (3rd Feb 2009) there was a Hindu festival down our street where the Hindu community (predominantly sri lankan tamils) where proudly parading down the street in full costume, with smiling onlookers of other ethinic and religious backgrounds - the way it should be - and the way it "is" - please open your eyes. I am not saying there are no tamil grievances - but this idea of genocide that or that sri lanka is against tamil people is completely wrong.

I challenge anyone who says otherwise to state what their "direct" experience of Sri Lanka right now in 2009 April is in relation to their view?

Are you living in Sri Lanka ?

I would love to meet you and have a cup of tea if you are, and hear your pain, which I know is real, but maybe this is what is needed - for all of us to hear each others pain and share our love and forgiveness (I am serious), rather than throw around liberal helpings of hatred.

And if you have not direct experience, "please" consider the "range of altenatives" to your strongly held belief that Sinhalese hate Tamils, and that Sri Lankan Goverment want to wipe them out. Try reading both the lanka defence website as well as Tamil net - also how about reading the Sri Lankan Government's peace website ( - I know many suppporters of the Sri Lankan government who still read Tamil net to know what is being said from a different perspective - I wonder if many LTTE supporters have actually read the Governemet of Sri Lanka's websites for a different perspective?

And finally - 1 Plea

Please, please, use "intellect" and "love" together and then we, together will find a way out of this mess.

The people caught in the conflict now are suffering and we can pool together to help them instead of slinging around our own versions of hatred.

I know of a gorup of academics from Peradeniya University who are organising Aid - for those people who are adamant that nobody in Sri Lanka cares about Tamils (which is not the case - as shown by the altruism of this particular group as just one example - all Sinhalese that, and endorsed by the university and government), why not put your compassion where your mouth is and help these people. Post on this blog your interest and I can organise the dissemination of more information about this mission that is headed to Vavuniya on Thursday.

To all my brothers and sisters whatever your background. Have courage to consider other possibilities to your own, and regardless, the courage to forgive and move forward.

Let's not hate each other. Let's Help each other out! It's much more pleasant that way!@

Peace on Earth



ps one more thing - to my friends from Sri Lanka who also feel the way I feel, please share you comments and make it clear that Sri Lanka "does" care about the Tamil people . Don't be put off by the comments of others. Don't fall into the trap of the hatred game. I liked your comments Deshi

pps also the language we use to communicate is very helpful, why not use "non violent communication" (

Bishan Rajapakse

Pps. Speaking of considering alternatives to any peace of information - when i googled "Melbourne riots, sri lanka" this "now public" blog was the first hit, however 3 hits down was another report which gives quite a different perspective which I think ought to be considered by all who read this article - if nothing more than to gain quite a different perspective.

take care



Nayomi Apsara said...

Peace protest or a showcase of shame?

An Anti – LTTE rally was organised and held by Sri Lankans living in Melbourne in front of Victorian Parliament. It is reported that the over 5,000 participants were gathered and with slogans addressing LTTE. The original purposes of the rally were to get the civilians kept in the war safety zone declared by the SL government to be released and PEACE.

At the same time the LTTE supporters were having a counter protest couple of streets away the ‘Peace’ protest. LTTE supporters somehow managed to break in to the Peace protest with LTTE flags and slogans mentioning “Stop war against Tamils”, under the hands of Victorian police. The rally was peaceful until the LTTE supporters started throwing bottles and stones to participants of the Peace protest.

And there they were, the ‘Peace’ supporters holding the Sri Lankan flags, shouting in cursing, fighting back with LTTE supporters. Many Sri Lankans are abroad due to the ongoing war and they are looking forward to their mother land one day when the war is over. They do not want another pointless battle in a land far away from home. Further, the Australians do not deserve unnecessary violence in their own country. The lions in the flags looked helpless while they were in between the battle between the two groups.

Hello there ‘Peace’ seekers!

Is this really what you want in Melbourne? A mini symbolic civil war?

Is this the way you try to keep ‘Peace’? Are you a role model?

What is the image you gave to the Australian public about Sri Lankans?

Is this your patriotism?

Overcome the angry by non-anger; overcome the wicked by goodness; overcome the miser by generosity; overcome the liar by truth

- Lord Buddha

Bishan said...

Thanks for the insider information Nayomi, and thanks for your comments. I couldn't agree more.

Bishan :)

“Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong”

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

“Whenever you have truth it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected”

(quotes by Mahatma Gandhi)

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that"

(Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Mihirini said...

Dear Bishan

Thank you for sharing your insights, perspectives and compassion for what is such a complex issue.

My experience as a Sri Lankan living in Sri Lanka all my life is similar to the experience you have gathered in the last 3 years. In general we do not wish to harm other ethnic groups we share this island with. I have however encountered in many (mostly Sinhala people) a deep hatred and fear for the LTTE. It is unfortunate that sometimes people mix up LTTE with the Tamil people. If there are people out there who have a deep hatred for the actions/philosophy of the Sri Lankan Government, I hope the Sri Lankan Govt. is not identified with only the Sinhala people.

The conflict is too complex to simply identify the aspirations of individuals with the philosophy and actions of one group. The conflict has so many perspectives, and we only tend to see it from where we are. We need to have spaces and dialogues that will allow us to share each other’s perspectives, so that a combined perspective (paradoxical as it may seem) may be formed.

The war in Sri Lanka, to me is a lot about identity. We each want respect and recognition for our identity, and the freedom to nurture and preserve that identity. To do this we seek power. The war is to get this power, through a separate land, separate governance, separate identity (Sinhala/Tamil, Lions/Tigers, North/South, Sri Lankan/Eelam).

There is a lot for us to learn in how we respect each other, and a lot to do (systemic) that allows each person to preserve and nurture this identity. However, while we learn to live with differences and diversity, we also need to recognize commonalities in our identities. We must create a ‘Sri Lankan identity and even more important the ‘human identity’. I would like to go as far as to say we must start finding our ‘earthly identity’ as a living being on earth! Maybe, just maybe, we will know how futile this warring is.

We are one and the same. When I harm you, I harm myself. Human history has unfortunately separated each other based on colour, geography, etc. If we remember our beginnings, as a single cell in the primordial sea, we will realize we came from the same place. But the beauty of the world evolved in to complex diverse forms. Through this we could explore our ‘individual potential’ giving rise to all the creativity, wonder and beauty the world has to offer. But deep down we are still so connected, so when I hurt you, I hurt myself.

Love and peace