Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, the maverick of Sinhala cinema and theatre, has attempted to portray the reality of the state in every production. From Hansa Vilak to Bawa Duka, Bawa Karma and stage plays such as Eka Adipathi, Dhawala Beeshana and Makarakshaya have addressed issues from the 1980s riots to the dogma of Buddhism in Sri Lanka to other issues of national and political importance. “If the perpetrators of previous riots and crimes were identified and punished, what happened in Digana would have never happened,” said Bandaranayake in a candid interview with the DailyMirror. He recently directed ‘Paradise in Tears’ a documentary film which portrays the historical evolution of the ethnic crisis in the country through its various phases. During the interview, Bandaranayake expressed his concerns over the manner in which the country’s rulers have treated people and how they have suffered as a result of ethnic violence, the role of artistes and how people should respond during incidents such as what happened in Kandy.
Q : Do you think that the incidents in Kandy and Ampara were spontaneous reactions or a burst of a tension that developed over some time?
Nothing happens spontaneously; there has to be a series of historical events that would lead to a situation like this. From our younger days we have known about attacks on Tamils. Shops were burnt down and the Tamil community was chased out from where they were. Alfred Duraiappah was assassinated after Sirimavo assumed power. When she visited Jaffna, Duraiappah garlanded her as a Sinhalese leader and it gave birth to a force that didn’t like this welcome. This force eventually killed Duraiappah. As a result of ethnic tensions, the Tamil community wanted to live on their own, as a separate group, away from the rest of the communities. The separation thoughts of the Tamils were also fuelled by the riots which took place in the South.
People such as Kumar Ponnambalam reiterated the fact that they were trying to separate because they were attacked during the ’83 riots. This is a very important statement because nobody wants to be governed by an inefficient leadership. The entire country feels the same today as well. Leaders of this country don’t think the way we would think. They come from nowhere and once they get elected they ignore the rest of the people. One fine example is the January 8 elections. The majority of the people thought that the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime can never be defeated. Both the elites and the public had this mind-set because the war ceased.
When Mahinda put an end to the war, people knew he had given them a solution. But when people showed their gratitude, the MR regime thought they could do anything because they put an end to the war. Within this mind-set, he, his wife, siblings and children thought they would become that one force that would govern the state. As a result the murders, disappearances and corrupt practices they were involved in reflected badly on the state. It was at that point that the present regime got elected. We have to experience these consequences today because their perpetrators were never punished.
Alfred Duraiappah was assassinated after Sirimavo assumed power. When she visited Jaffna, Duraiappah garlanded her as a Sinhalese leader and it gave birth to a force that didn’t like this welcome
Q : As someone who has extensively researched on politics and ethnic violence, where do you think the rulers of this country went wrong?
It’s the UNP that threatened the lives of the people to a greater extent. For instance, during which regime was the Jaffna library set on fire? If not for a bunch of mentally handicapped people who would burn down a library? But it so happened in July 1981. How did it happen? It wasn’t only the Tamil community that utilized this library. The Sinhalese engineers and doctors used to travel from Colombo to Jaffna to refer these books and enhance their knowledge. There were close to 80,000 books which were destroyed. It could be considered as the most notorious crime that ever happened in Asia. It came in as a thundering blow to these people. This shows that the leaders in this country have stood against the people rather than work for them.
So we have a history where we have experienced the repercussions of such actions. After the war concluded, what rights does the Tamil community have today? We always say that we fought a 30-year war, but that’s not the fact. It was those people who fought; it’s not only about Prabhakaran. It wasn’t only those people who suffered as a result of the war. People in those areas were attacked by the Sri Lanka Army, Indian Army and the LTTE. After the war these people lost their children and parents and there were widows and widowers.
We cannot put the entire blame on the LTTE. How many lives would have been sacrificed during attacks carried out by the local tri-forces? Muslim people had to leave their hometowns because they wanted to live. The leaders cannot survive without cheating on the people. Ever since Independence, whoever who got elected to Parliament wanted to use the votes of the people to occupy their seats and then ignored the people.
Not only that, back in the day people were interested in watching movies and stage plays produced by veterans. But today, these spheres are facing major drawbacks. Our people survived through disastrous events. For example how many young people were killed during the ’71 riots? They weren’t born to die. The youth above 18 years of age joined hands with the JVP and were involved in the riots. Moving forward during ‘80s the July riots too shouldn’t be forgotten because labourers suffered here. People left their jobs and committed suicide because they couldn’t earn a living. This is the suffering that we have lived with.
These sorrows have prompted people to form alliances against the rulers. We should be grateful to the people for having overthrown that one ruler and electing a new regime. The Muslim struggle was one of the biggest challenges this new regime faced. If the perpetrators of previous riots and crimes were identified and punished, what happened in Digana would have never happened. The bigger version of this incident happened in Dharga Town which was stopped in due course. People don’t have any separatist thoughts, but a handful of people may have hidden agendas.
It’s after the Local Government Elections that these events took place. We saw how a PC member’s wife assaulted a man with a pistol in hand. This is the system that the country needs. They don’t hit a Muslim person and in that case the Sinhalese community should stand up. This is just the beginning of a major disaster and all rulers should be responsible for these incidents. Then they put the blame on NGOs.
The leaders cannot survive without cheating on the people. Ever since Independence, whoever who got elected to Parliament wanted to use the votes of the people to occupy their seats and then ignored the people
Q : Don’t you think that people from NGOs and other political groups aggravated the situation?
Even I might be labelled as an NGO representative and people would say that we are funded with foreign money. We got involved in arts because we didn’t want to be insulted as those representing NGOs. As artistes we love the people in this country and those who have watched our scripts know that we haven’t attempted to destroy this country. Those who have watched our scripts have faith in us. Each time the country experiences a tense situation, every artiste with a vision for a better future may liaise with another group.
It could be with the JVP or any other leftist party and we don’t see anything wrong with that. Their ideologies will protect the people rather than affect them. As groups, people are working in different places and all of them should work against this system. During the latter part of last year, we saw how Judge Ilancheliyan from Jaffna dropped to his feet and asked for forgiveness from the wife of the murdered security officer. That is reconciliation. Which media would highlight this incident? Can we see such incidents taking place elsewhere? The majority who speaks about reconciliation doesn’t feel the way in which Ilancheliyan felt about that incident. Those who have feelings like Ilancheliyan should come forward to change this system.
We should be grateful to the people for having overthrown that one ruler and electing a new regime. The Muslim struggle was one of the biggest challenges this new regime faced
Q : Have you ever had an opportunity to discuss these matters with the political hierarchy or educated people in the country?
I’m not ready to discuss these matters today simply because I was in such a position for 30 years. Has anybody understood what reconciliation is all about? Reconciliation shouldn’t be on billboards, it should be in the hearts of the people. No artiste in this world has promoted violence. They in fact paved the way towards unity and harmony. But sadly in Sri Lanka, artistes showered the war with their blessings. It was the artistes who taught how the war should continue. Violence shouldn’t be in the vocabulary of any artiste. Therefore at this point people too have become exhausted. When a person is warned he should take care. But have our people thought about any warnings? They try to do something worse than what they have done. Even today, people still have a fear that Prabhakaran would return. The country doesn’t need terrorism to solve this issue at all.
I don’t think people are wise. They are always in a garbage pit. But people should never give a hand to any force that would separate this state
Q : How should people respond during situations such as what happened in Kandy?
When a person wears a robe, we feel he is a follower of Buddhism. But even without a robe, a person could be kind and helpful. The Digana incident is one which shows where a group of hooligans tried to acquire the city of Kandy. We therefore warn the people to refrain from promoting separatist agendas. This incident proved how weak the country’s rulers are. It shows that the entire Government is on fire and each one of them fears losing his or her seat. I don’t think people are wise. They are always in a garbage pit. But people should never give a hand to any force that would separate this state.
Q : You highlighted a series of events that led to the ethnic crisis in the documentary ‘Paradise in Tears’. What similarities do you see when comparing those events with what happened recently?
I watched a few clips from it recently. I finish the movie with the assassination of S.W.R.D Bandaranaike. As the director of this movie who did the entire narration, I was wondering why these Tamil leaders are not coming up with a riot. That will be the continuation of this movie anyway which we are currently working on. In the first part, Bandaranaike destroys the pact signed with federalists and at this point we think why he is not shot dead. Bandaranaike moved forward with the people and people had hopes in this pact. But he destroyed it because the clergy raised their voices. Therefore, in addition to ruling the country he is also keeping a relic casket on his head. He should choose either one; this is why he became less popular with the people. I believe that the rulers should ask people about how this country should be governed.
During the latter part of last year, we saw how Judge Ilancheliyan from Jaffna dropped to his feet and asked for forgivenessfrom the wife of the murdered security officer. That is reconciliation
Q : In moving forward, in which direction should we walk if we are serious about making Sri Lanka a peaceful and united country?
This is where the problem lies. What could we do in future? We need to observe and understand how people live peacefully in other countries. The education system is absolutely distorted. We need to take several key steps in order to safeguard the future generation. The President himself would have to take these decisions and the people expect such a leader. If not, even the people would limp throughout their journey. Even without censoring the media, people know the intensity of the situation. Therefore the media too shouldn’t join hands with groups who would aggravate the problem.
Q : Are peace and unity, achievable goals in this country?
Peace and unity should be in everyone’s heart.
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