Has anyone ever experienced inner peace
Sri LankaThe long way to inner peace
A rope is stretched between two trees in the middle of the jungle. A little monkey runs back and forth on it and does somersaults. Its purpose is to entertain the audience that has gathered to attend a book launch. In the middle of the jungle - in the north of Sri Lanka, near the city of Kilinochchi. In the spring of 2009, a lot of blood was still flowing here. Today around 200 people sit on plastic chairs chatting under the thick, green canopy of leaves to listen to Puratchi.
Puratchi knows the jungle inside out. He used to fight the Sri Lankan army here. He wanted to force a Tamil state of his own in northern Sri Lanka. Like many other Tamils, he perceived the predominance of the Sinhalese majority as oppression. For years, Kilinochchie was the political and military headquarters of the Tamil separatist group "Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam", or LTTE for short. And Puratchi was a staunch LTTE fighter - right to the end.
"Only the LTTE looked after us Tamils, our rights, our freedom. For us there was only the LTTE. It was our government and it was our protection."
Thousands of prisoners have disappeared to this day
Puratchi is a well-trained guy with a neatly trimmed mustache and intense eyes. He writes books today. In the jungle at the gates of Kilinochchi, he presents his third. "I am writing about my experiences in the war. We were caught in a deadly cycle. The Tamil people have experienced terrible things. There was no escape. It was a deadly cycle. In the end, over 100,000 people were locked in a very small space. It was only possible by a few kilometers. I was among them. "
His gaze wanders over the audience. Members of the military secret service are drawn up behind the last row of chairs. The five men wear civilian clothes. Puratchi kneads his hands. "I have to answer very diplomatically and cautiously. I can move around freely today, but I cannot say everything freely. I am under constant observation."
Puratchi spent three years in the state internment camp after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war. Thousands of prisoners have disappeared to this day. Puratchi first went through endless interrogations, then took part in re-education programs and discovered his passion for writing. He continues to fight for the Tamil cause. But without a weapon, as he protests. He also no longer publicly calls for a Tamil state of its own.
"Everyone should be able to live here freely and without fear. We Tamils want to lead a self-determined life in this nation."
The former Liberation Tiger fought for the LTTE as a minor. Voluntary, as he emphasizes. Today Puratchi is in his thirties. He reflects on his story and he struggles with the truth. In the end, his LTTE was no longer seen as a liberation organization in Europe, but as a brutal terrorist group. Puratchi sees it differently.
"Everyone knows what happened here. Everyone knows it. The truth is known. I can't tell the truth here now."
Which truth? The 200 or so Tamil villagers who gathered in the jungle for Puratchi's book launch worship him as a courageous freedom fighter. For the plainclothes army intelligence agents behind the last row of chairs, Puratchi has a dangerous, terrorist past that justifies keeping him under control.
Sri Lanka is struggling to come to terms with its past. It is also about war crimes and crimes against humanity. The guns have been silent since summer 2009. But almost three decades of war and violence have left deep marks in the minds of many people. The vast majority of today's almost 21 million inhabitants are Sinhalese. About 15 percent are Tamils. The two largest population groups in the country differ mainly religiously and linguistically. Most Sinhalese are Buddhists, most Tamils are Hindus. Political, military and economic power is concentrated in Sinhalese hands.
The Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka in particular rebelled against the centralized distribution of power after independence from Great Britain in 1948. First it was about autonomy and cultural self-determination, then about a Tamil state of its own. In 1983 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam took up arms under their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The tigers plunged Sri Lanka into a three-decade civil war that is believed to have killed 100,000 people. The Tamil LTTE is considered to be the first group in the world to use suicide bombers as weapons.
When Mahinda Rajapaksa became president in 2005, he decided to break off negotiations and destroy the Tamil Liberation Tigers. In the spring of 2009, the last battle took place on a narrow stretch of coast in northern Sri Lanka. According to United Nations estimates, up to 40,000 people died in these weeks of the civil war alone. Undeterred by this, President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced the triumph in May 2009.
"I proudly announce that, thanks to the self-sacrificing efforts of our army, my government has finally succeeded in militarily defeating the LTTE in an unprecedented humanitarian operation. Through our precise humanitarian operation, we have succeeded in freeing almost all civilians, which have been abused by the LTTE as human shields. "
"Back then we almost only lived in the bunker"
Only the water sloshes onto the bank. Otherwise there is dead silence. The Nandikadal Lagoon in the Tamil north of Sri Lanka is a spooky place. It nestles picturesquely against the coastal town of Mullaitivu, but its marshland is soaked in blood. This is where the last battle took place. Death was omnipresent here. Paramesvari survived. After endless hours of fear of death. At that time she was on the run with five grandchildren. Tears run down her cheeks as she tells her story.
"We were in the bunker. At that time we almost only lived in the bunker. My daughter and my husband left our bunker around lunchtime to find food. The children were so hungry. We hadn't eaten for days. That was on April 20, 2009. Then the bullet hit the garden and my husband and daughter were dead. I then fled with the children. We ran for our lives. Towards the lagoon. But they kept firing. We got into Hiding holes we dug ourselves. "
May 2009: Civilians flee heavy fighting between government forces and Tamil rebels. (AP)
There was no time for a burial of the dead. Grandmother Paramesvari and her grandchildren were stuck in the muddy waters of the Nandikadal lagoon for days at the end of their escape. The Tamil Tigers prevented the civilians from fleeing, the advancing army fired. To villages, schools, hospitals, the lagoon.
“We were in the water for a long time and we were completely exhausted. The army took one by one out of the water. They then brought us all to a camp that was fenced in with barbed wire. It was very narrow and crowded, and we all became interrogated. But it was a salvation for me and the children. We had to sit down and obey orders. We were trapped. But we were safe and finally had something to eat and drink. "
Today the gaunt Paramesvari is back with her grandchildren in the little house with the little garden in Mullaitivu, where the Sri Lankan civil war robbed her of her husband and daughter. She was never compensated.
"I blame the army. The soldiers knew that people lived here and they shot us anyway."
Are the Tamil Liberation Tigers also complicit? The 59-year-old grandmother with the white and gray hair stares silently in front of her for a while.
"We were in bunkers. Everything exploded around us. We cannot blame the LTTE for this war. They should have given up to protect our lives. But they really wanted to win the war. Who can I blame - except God?"
The grandmother hides sadness and anger behind a nervous laugh. Her neighbor Selvindra, who runs a small grocer, strolls over and joins the conversation without being asked. "Personally, I have no quarrel with the army. But after the war the army stole land and houses from us and occupied everything here. The LTTE, that was our people. Our sons and daughters. We have reasons to protect our sons and daughters . They fought for us in our midst. We owe them respect. "
The Sri Lankan army is omnipresent in the north to this day. In the streetscape and as an economic factor. Soldiers with rifles on their backs ride on patrol bikes. Soldiers plow fields, they fatten chickens and they grow vegetables. The army also operates shops and hotels. The new streets in the former combat zone are lined with large headquarters, bases and bombastic victory columns, behind which the destroyed houses of the local population almost disappear. The LTTE's honorary cemeteries and monuments have disappeared. There is no memorial for the civilians who were killed.
Chilaama survived the Nandikadal Cauldron. She never returned to the lagoon. Chilaama had one underage son who was forcibly recruited by the LTTE during the final stages of the war.
"We live in peace now. Now nobody comes and forces our children to dig bunkers and carry weapons. Many of us have lost husbands and children. Like many others, I have not only been under the army but also under the LTTE suffered, especially in the last phase of the war. The LTTE forced us to dig bunkers and fill sandbags when we tried to escape. There were so many dead and injured. The LTTE took my son from me. We later learned that he was from Government soldiers have been shot. "
On January 8, 2015, the Sri Lankan population elected the man from office who had succeeded in militarily defeating the Tamil Liberation Tigers. The president basked in the glory of the victory over terror for almost six years and ruled increasingly autocratic. He disempowered parliament, restricted freedom of expression and eliminated political opponents. With him, his family became more and more powerful and richer. After the end of the war, the Rajapaksa clan refused to take part in a political truth and reconciliation process.
"We cannot punish anyone for defeating terrorism. I will not allow the international community to punish us for defeating terrorism."
Panoramic view from Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka. (picture alliance / dpa / ZB / Wolfgang Thieme)
At what felt like the peak of his power, Rajapaksa was suddenly confronted with resistance from within its own ranks, completely unexpectedly. Shortly before the early election in January, longtime companions separated from him. His health minister Maithripala Sirisena ran as the joint presidential candidate of a major opposition alliance and won the election. Like Rajapaksa, Sirisena is a Sinhala nationalist. But he has promised the people that power will be returned to parliament and that corruption and nepotism will end. He also promised to increase freedom of expression and the rule of law. The new president was able to win many Sinhala votes from his predecessor, but Sirisena won the election mainly thanks to the votes of the Tamil minority.
It smells of incense sticks and fragrance oil. Buddha is omnipresent. Sometimes larger than life and in gold and sometimes very small and made of granite. The Gangaramaya Temple in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo is an oasis of calm. It is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in the country and is an attraction for the growing number of tourists. The young rickshaw driver Ravinda often prays here.
"I believe Mahinda Rajapaksa is the best leader Sri Lanka has ever had. He won the war for us and defeated terror. But after the war he changed completely. After that it was all about his power Family."
Ravinda voted for Sirisena despite deep admiration for Rajapaksa. Reason: The cost of living under Rajapaksa ended up being too high and the state was too corrupt. The young man admits that he has no Tamil friends.
"I've never been to the north. But thanks to Rajapaksa there have been no soldiers and no checkpoints here. I feel peace."
Kumari visits Gangaramaya Temple almost every day. The deeply devout Buddhist lived in Great Britain for over 20 years. She had left Sri Lanka at the time out of fear of the attacks by the Tamil Liberation Tigers and only returned to her homeland after the end of the war. Today the experienced teacher is committed to joint Sinhalese-Tamil education projects.
"I am a Sinhalese Buddhist. I personally think that Buddhism supports democracy more than other religions. But many other Buddhists believe that Sri Lanka is a purely Buddhist country where we Buddhists enjoy special rights. These people must learn to how Tamils and Muslims live. They have to learn how a multicultural society works. They have to learn empathy. We need a fair way of coming to terms with our war past. A society that forgets its victims is a bad, lawless society. "
Sri Lanka's new President Maithripala Sirisena has ended the era of Rajapaksa triumphalism, which stood in the way of broad reconciliation. He has promised to start a national truth process. Nothing has been decided yet in the tropical paradise, but a lot seems to be finally possible.
In the jungle off Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka, Nimal is waiting for the book presentation of his old LTTE comrade Puratchi, who is now a writer. Nimal is in a wheelchair. Shortly before the end of the war, the young man lost both legs when an army shell struck his position. The former Liberation Tiger dreams of becoming a musician. He wrote a song about Sri Lanka.
“Great God, you care for the well-being of the nation,” Nimal sings, eyes tightly closed: “Will there be a light in my life so that I can endure the pain that has not yet left my body and soul? "
It's a song full of questions. "Who can ease my pain? Who shakes hands with me?" Only when he has finished singing does Nimal open his eyes again.
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