Everyday Reconciliation in Sri Lanka
How do communities affected by conflict in Sri Lanka define and measure reconciliation in their daily lives? The ability of communities to reconcile and build social cohesion across ethnic and religious lines is essential both to post-war recovery and preventing future conflict and political violence. Reconciliation, much like peace itself, is a subjective and ill-defined concept.
There is no recipe for realizing reconciliation, nor a set of standard metrics that could inform that reconciliation is underway. Rather than using pre-existing datasets or indicators as a starting point, EPI begins by asking people to reflect on the conditions of reconciliation in their own communities and to identify indicators that would help them track changes in their everyday lives.
Reconciliation in Sri Lanka
Since the end of the civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka has faced the difficult task of addressing the legacies of conflict and building more positive relations between the multiple ethnic and religious groups that inhabit the island. The civil war fell largely along ethnic lines, between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority. While the conflict ended with the fall of the LTTE in 2009, many of the underlying grievances remain unresolved. In recent years, Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority has increasingly been the target of violent attacks and rising tensions. Despite some promising initiatives, national-level efforts for reconciliation and social cohesion have been limited. Most reconciliation initiatives have taken place at the local level, largely through non-governmental and civil society organizations. Experiences of reconciliation vary widely across Sri Lanka. Needs and priorities for addressing the past and building a more inclusive society differ between regions and between ethnic communities. EPI’s research in Sri Lanka reflects these unique experiences by documenting and tracking the ways that local communities already discuss and measure reconciliation in their everyday lives.
EPI works with 30 different Grama Niladhari (GN) divisions across Sri Lanka to develop local level indicators of reconciliation, and to measure changes in these indicators over time.
These 30 GN Divisions span six districts (Anuradhapura, Kandy, Ampara, Batticaloa, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi), and include Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities. These communities represent a diversity of experiences with reconciliation, as well as a diversity of geographies, poverty levels, and histories of violence. In each community, the research process aimed to surpass elite capture issues and avoid eliciting feedback from the type of leadership that are often chosen as interlocutors with the international community. We seek instead to generate the indicators used by ordinary citizens, and therefore included a variety of everyday people such as schoolteachers, students, farmers, drivers, businesspersons, the unemployed -- as representative of the general population as possible.
Findings from the project thus far show that understandings of reconciliation vary greatly from region to region in Sri Lanka, particularly between different ethnic communities. For example, many war-affected Tamil communities in the Northern region focused on the enduring challenges of missing persons and war losses, as well as underdevelopment and limited service provision within their region. Communities in the more ethnically diverse Eastern region focused on building business relationships with traders from other ethnic groups, or inviting neighbors from other ethnic communities to attend village events like weddings and funerals. Even within a single region, the ways that these issues are measured differed widely. For example, one community might measure improvements in service provision through repairs to their road, while others might look to the installation of streetlights.