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Dhammika Herath and K. T. Silva, eds.: Healing the Wounds: Rebuilding Sri Lanka after the War.

Dhammika Herath and K. T. Silva, eds. Healing the Wounds: Rebuilding Sri Lanka after the War. Colombo and Kandy, Sri Lanka: International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 2012. 209 pp. Photographs. Graphs. Index. $15.00 he.

Healing the Wounds has come out at a time when Sri Lanka is seriously grappling with the problem of nation building after 30 years of internecine war between the Sri Lankan government forces and guerilla forces of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The official war ended in 2009 making the majority Sri Lankans jubilant while the Tamil diaspora communities in the Western world felt disheartened.

In the introduction, Herath indicates that this book was an outcome of a critical look at the post-war rebuilding of the Sri Lankan society by six social science disciplines. Most of the data discussed in the book emanate from an action research project executed in two war-torn areas in the country.

Chapter two presents a thought-provoking essay by Jayadeva Uyangoda. This essay addresses the current political impasse in the country regarding a political solution to the ethnic conflict. He has brilliantly argued that thinking along the lines of "Sinhalese Patriotism" or "Tamil Homeland Sentiments" is not going to bring effective ammunition to re-cast the Sri Lanka nation-state project. Uyangoda has borrowed Charles Taylors' phrases such as "two solitudes" and "deep diversity" regarding the English-French Canadian scene to illustrate his case while emphasizing the fact that Sri Lanka needs to build a "political nation," not a "Cultural Nation."

In chapter 3 Kalinga Silva addresses an issue many people paid lip service to in the past. The issue is what demographic changes have occurred as a result of the war? According to Silva, there have been many demographic "imbalances" and "distortions." Some of the distortions include: distorted sex ratios, age structures, a high ratio of military personnel compared to civilians, a high rate of women-headed families, a high rate of disability, and a high rate of family breakdowns. The data for this chapter come from the 2011 National "Enumeration of Vital Events" conducted by the government. It appears that surviving women are worst affected in the war in terms of poverty, personal security and marriage, while many men have become direct victims of the war. However, Silva has pointed out that in the Northern Province and parts of the Eastern Province, women have also risen to important positions in civil administration and in local government.

The next chapter written by Dhammika Herath examines both social and cultural consequences of the war. Based on his field work over a period of 18 months, Herath spells out a set of valid indicators to measure structural breakdowns in the Northern communities. Some of his indicators include changes in status and roles, leadership structures, civil life and the diminishing importance of religious beliefs and marriage. According to Herath, the economic loss can be seen as devastation in terms of people losing all their assets which took hundreds of years for them to accumulate. Social structurally, this type of impact has affected both the traditionally rich and the eternally poor equally, resulting in a one-class social system.

Chapters 4 and 5 deal with psycho-social wellbeing and psycho-social problems including post-traumatic disorders found in resettled communities. The authors of these chapters have utilized wellbeing assessment tools and other measurement tools to measure the problems and issues. As Silva notes in his concluding remarks in chapter 8, the Western terminologies and tools used to measure "trauma" in these situations have been repeatedly questioned in the scientific literature (Obeysekere 1985).

The final chapter by Silva contains concluding thoughts as to why wounds of war in Sri Lanka must be openly recognized and explicitly addressed. He asserts that the war-affected wounds that are presented in this book need planned psycho-social interventions without which they are likely to get worse.

In the first chapter, Uyangoda raised an issue: how feasible it is to build a new "Sri Lankan" identity within the nation state of Sri Lanka? My own research regarding people of Sri Lankan origin in Ontario, Canada, has revealed that they are currently in the process of reconstructing their new identity in Canada. A vast majority of both Tamil language speakers and Sinhala language speakers have identified themselves as "Sri Lankans" or hyphenated Canadians in the 1991 and 2001 Canadian Census Enumerations as well as in a snow-ball sample survey. Many valuable lessons can be learned from the Canadian experience of the new identity construction by the people of Sri Lankan origin.

Herath and Silva deserve an unreserved commendation for their timely efforts in bringing this pioneering work to the attention of the world citizens who are concerned about the future of Sri Lanka.

Reference:

Obeysekere, G. 1985. Depression, Buddhism and the Work of Culture. In Culture and Depression, ed. Arthur Kleinman and Byron Ford, 134-152. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sarath Chandrasekere

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Guelph University
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Author:Chandrasekere, Sarath
Publication:Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2015
Words:821
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