(Due to having only intermittent Internet access, I am sometimes posting more than one post at a time. The following three posts are new as of today.)
We are having tea. Outside, the ever present crows call ceaselessly. My Tamil friend talks with me about Ancestor worship and daily feeding the crows, the Ancestors. Then our conversation turns to the recent acts of genocide against Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
There has been a long and violent conflict between Tamils and Sri Lankans. Some Tamils believe the conflict to be about gaining rights and freedoms. Others see the Tamil speaking insurgents as terrorists. I am told that in Sri Lanka, which is just a few miles off the south Indian coast, almost everyone just wants peace and tranquility.
Recently, the Tamil fighters, at the encouragement of the Indian government, put down their guns and came out of hiding in the mountains. Many were apparently massacred by Sri Lankan troops. Tamils in India believe over 100,000 people were killed in a brief period of time, and over 200,000 more placed in detention camps in very poor living conditions. Many people remain in the camps, and international supervision of the situation is at best inadequate. Entire villages were depopulated.
The focus of our conversation is the collective trauma experienced by Tamils in Sri Lanka, India, and throughout the world, rather than on the disputed facts. I am told there is shock the Indian central government allowed the genocide. There is concern for the survivors in the camps, or in hiding. Incomprehension and grief are rampant in the community here, as is a gnawing sense of helplessness.
We spoke about the lasting effects of genocide, even for those persons not directly effected by it. Genocide is a famished ghost, devouring generations. I thought about the experience of First Nations peoples in the Americas, how genocide’s close allies, rage and the desire for revenge, fuel seemingly endless cycles of escalating violence. As we drank our tea, we spoke about the ways memory of genocide becomes deeply imbedded in the psyches and culture of a people.
Near the end of our time together, the conversation turned to healing. How does an entire nation of people, in this case the Tamil, take life back from the rapacious spirits that feed off genocide? I found myself wanting desperately to be helpful, to find a way to sooth some of the pain of these fine, big-hearted, people, and to support them as they seek to live holy lives in spite of genocide. I promised to journey and ask for guidance, and with gratitude for our meeting, and great warmth for one another, we parted.