There was not another country in the world on Easter Sunday that had to grapple with so hideous a tragedy as Sri Lanka.
The bloodstained statue of Jesus Christ and the broken statue of Virgin Mary symbolise the bonfire of sanity that has convulsed Colombo; the serial explosions in as many as eight churches in the capital city and Batticaloa and three hotels were faintly reminiscent of the catastrophe in Mumbai on 26 November 2008.
Once again the mayhem has targeted foreigners, including ten tourists from India. The casualty toll, as on Tuesday evening, was inching towards 321 ~ a gut-churning figure by any reckoning. The country has been jolted to its foundations as the peace, that had rather surprisingly endured for a decade, lies in tatters.
Monday’s declaration of Emergency can be contextualised with the overwhelming chaos. It has turned out to be a dangerous peace, if ever there was one. Injustice and hate are now manifest as the dominant theme of the narrative, reminiscent of the 1980s at the peak of the conflict between Tamils and the ethnic Sinhalese, leading to the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister (May 1991). The rest is history.
There was little or no semblance of ethnicity last Sunday; the needle of suspicion, to summon a cliche, points to an obscure group of Islamist extremists. In the net, Colombo bears witness to an awesome manifestation of religious strife between fundamentalist Islamists and Christians, a relatively new phenomenon in the tormented island.
For peace in South Asia and the predominantly Christian western world at large, it devolves on Prime Minister Wickremansighe and President Sirisena, whose equation has been less than cordial, to go to the roots of the catastrophe and fix responsibility. However, the alacrity of the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, cannot readily be assured. And yet those at the helm owe this to Sri Lanka, to South Asia, and to the comity of nations in the wider canvas.
Rightly have the Heads of State and Government in the West been stout in their condemnation. The critical responsibility of investigation and denouement cannot be evaded and not the least in the context of intelligence data, that has turned out to be remarkably prescient… albeit ignored by the administration. As Muslims and Christians are targeted from Christchurch to Colombo, hope and faith must endure.
The message of Easter is a message of hope in an island nation that has suffered horrific violence. With grief almost personal, the world must mourn the loss of at least 321 men, women and children.