Parallels between Rwanda and Sri Lanka

I have started reading Imaculée Illibagiza’s book “Left to Tell”. It is her personal account of the Rwandan Tutsi massacre. There were some erie parallels between the situation in Rwanda and Sri Lanka. The British in Sri Lanka placed to minority Tamils into positions of power. The Belgians did likewise to the minority Tutsis. The result was discontent and resentment, a short term split of the people and over the long term the development of hatreds and resentments.

During the 50’s or 60’s the Singhala government of Sri Lanka moved away form English as a common teaching language. Instead children were streamed into Singhalese or Tamil medium. My mother had mentioned that before this time there was a great deal of interactions between these two groups, but after the separation of the children, the divide started to widen. Similarly, while Imaculée was in school, roll-call was taken. But, roll-call was done by ethnic group – just to help the children identify who was not there own; since both tribes shared the same language, many similar songs and through many marriage between the groups there were not that many physical differences, the extra education was need to help the children make this critical distinction.

What was not present in Sri Lanka was the overt hatred. In Rwanda there was open hatred of the Tutsis – not only from the people in the street, but on the Radio. It was the rise of “Hutu Power”, under the nurturing gaze of the government. This was not something that developed suddenly as there were many incidents of rampage killings and destruction of property and generalized terror of the Tutsi minority. In Colombo, there were troubles in the the fifties and the seventies. The worst was in 1983 when the city went mad and there was wholesale destruction and murder of Tamils.

The official version was it was extremists responsible for such violence. But, my wife was there during the riots. She witnessed people being dragged out of cars and burned and Tamil houses being the specific target of burning. Curiously she witnessed the the looters using electoral lists to accomplish their task. I wonder how they could have gotten such lists ? In spite of the madness there were people who took care of their friends and neighbors and endangered themselves to help my wife and her family.

The prescription for genocide is present in the comparison.

  • European exploitation of ethnic divisions to “divide and rule”
  • Separation of the children
  • Creation of an us and them mentality
  • Government aided/sponsered dehumanization/terrorization of the minority

In spite of the promises after the Holocost – genocide happened and is happening again, just not in Europe.

In the end all the madness is stopped by people recognizing other people – not Tutsi, Hutu, Tamil, Singhalese, rich or poor, just people trying to live.

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3 responses to “Parallels between Rwanda and Sri Lanka

  1. dlnorman April 18, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    wow. I had no idea it was that bad in Sri Lanka. Thankfully, people were willing to risk themselves to save Rada and her family! I wonder how many people in North America would do the same?

    I’m still baffled at how the WW2 holocaust is uniformly held up as an atrocity, and everyone says “never again!” – yet the pattern keeps playing itself out. Sri Lanka. Darfur. Where next? Iraq?

  2. niransab April 19, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    The situation in 1983 was bad. But not good things are happening there now – stuff that doesn’t get covered in the news. When we were in India, we talked to a few people that had come from Sri Lanka ; with the increasing tension between government and Tamil forces, young tamil boys have been taken into questioning and have not been heard from since. I suppose not unlike the “invisible” prisioners at Guantanamo – invisible because their names have not been released to their famlies or lawyers.

  3. Pingback: Sri Lanka: Confusing politics and people « Incredible Visions

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