Half a year after the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka

Interview with country director Dr. Prithiviraj on the occasion of the Day of Tolerance

by Heike Knauff-Oliver / Anna Grabner-Strobach,  2019/11/15

Six months ago Sri Lanka´s breath was taken away. The attacks on three Christian churches on Easter Sunday this year has deeply shaken the country. On the most important holiday for the Christian community more than 250 people lost their lives. Among the fatalities were many children, too. Churches were destroyed and Christians in Sri Lanka as well as all over the world were shocked to the core. Dr. Prithiviraj, director of humedica Lanka, was present in the middle of the tragedy to offer consolation to the relatives of the victims and to distribute relief goods. An interview on the occasion of the Day of Tolerance:

humedica: Dr. Prithiviraj, Sri Lanka was hit hard by the perfidious terroristic attacks on such a high holiday of the Christian community. Grief, fear and panic overshadowed the Easter Sunday. How is the population six months after the tragedy?

Dr. Prithiviraj: The Sri-Lankan people tend to oust what has taken place and to live on their everyday life up to the next disaster. This situational behaviour has developed over years as negative behaviour pattern. Instead to react proactively and to take precautions for the next disaster, reminders of the last months were repressed.

Even so, the situation was strained. The racist tensions fired by the terror were palpable among the population. The attacks have divided deeply the churches and the population of Sri Lanka.

Supported by international helpers, the government as well as the civic population have given their best to defy prejudices against other religious communities.

Dr. Prithiviraj

The government, civic society and international helpers have tried their best to fight preconceptions against other religious communities. Above all the Muslim community – even so it has not been involved in the attacks – has been subjected to prejudices. The majority of the Christians, among them the affected Catholic churches, have preached and demonstrated the message of forgiveness.

During the mass funeral in Negombo the cardinal of the Christian church has called for forgiveness. Hate and insecurity should be banned from the hearts and heads of the people. However, the Christian church missed the opportunity to defend the majority of the Muslim community. .

The message of pardon and reconciliation was very important – for the churches and for the people – in order to enable them to go on with their lives. The security regulations were indeed increased considerably, but the state of emergency has been lifted in the meanwhile. The numbers in tourism, too, have started to rise again.

At the moment the population prepares for the upcoming presidential elections. These will have a deciding influence on the country and its development as well as on the future of Sri Lanka.

Many people were injured by the attacks. humedica Lanka visited victims at home. Photo: <strong>humedica Lanka

humedica:humedica Lanka was in direct contact with the affected people. How did you provide for the people? Have you continued to care for the people afterwards?

Dr. Prithiviraj: humedica Lanka was one of the few organizations, which were allowed access to the public hospital and the morgue, where victims were treated and corpses were laid out for identification after the attacks.

At the same time we provided emergency aid for inhabitants and foreigners, who were injured during the attacks in the hotels. Many of them were alone and had no relatives nearby, who could provide emotional support. humedica Lanka has tried to fill these gaps. We were able to help 150 patients with our emergency funds. We did also not forget about the victims´ relatives. In total we were able to help more than 300 families, for example with scholarships, trainings or school materials for affected pupils. Psychosocial therapies were organized to motivate 150 pupils by art therapy. Whole families were supported by the distribution of tools, which helped to secure their livelihood.

We managed these activities in cooperation with various partners in the course of the Community Builders Program. It provides a both tolerant and neutral scope and offers representatives of the different religious communities and the government the opportunity to come together and to collaborate.

Jointly with the department secretary Mawanella we have invited more than 1.000 Singhalese, Muslims and Tamils to a musical, which dealt with the topics of respect and peaceful togetherness. The event was very successful, many others are currently in the planning state.

humedica Lanka and Dr. Prithiviraj were among the few, who were admitted to the public hospitals. Photo: humedica Lanka

humedica: With regard to the future of Sri Lanka: What are your personal wishes, also regarding Christianity as well as other religious and ethnical communities?

Dr. Prithiviraj: My personal wish is a united Sri Lanka. I want to contribute to overcome racist and religious problems and to build bridges for a joint identity.

With regard to the church I wish for a better understanding of "comprehensive & integral help" for endangered communities. For the Sri-Lankians I wish the courage to overcome racist, linguistic and religious prejudices to help actively in building a tolerant nation. With respect and dignity we will be able to create a tolerant community.

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