Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We need better observers!

Some thoughts I had after reading this news article on TN parliament members visit to IDP camps. Interestingly some guy commented as "Sri Lankan IDP camps are better than the Indian shanties (huts). That's why the Tamil Nadu delegation have expressed satisfaction. So for them this is like heaven." There was a nice photo too, one of TN MP is offering a traditional gesture of friendship to the president. (Now, who would have thought of this few months ago!)

It's all about how you perceive things and in the end everything is relative.

Do IDPs having a good life out there ? you bet not. Then again with what kind of a situation you can compare their situation with ? Can you compare that against Tsunami camps we had once ... or should we compare it against (as some would like to suggest) Hitler's concentration camps? Can we compare their situation with ordinary village life and come to conclusions, or should we compare this to any other refugee camp in the region ? Whatever it is, it is very important to identify and categorise the situation correctly and select proper comparable situations to compare this event with. For human beings always perceive events by comparing or in relation to some other events. If we choose incomparable events, we may easily come into wrong conclusions.

There is another angle to this, our conclusions are also relative to our own personal experiances and standards. A homeless guy living on a street may call a welfare center a heaevn but a top diplomat who lives a luxury european life may even find even the normal urban life in Chennai or Colombo as appaling!

So there are already two obvious factors which look as useful considerations when forming conclusions on events and situations. First one is that we should try to compare that with similar situations (as close as possible), then the observer should be in a similar perspective or having a closer outlook to the ones who are actually involved in with the situation. If we are in a complete different background, we should try our best tp get in the shoes (get a feeling of the culture, standards of living in similar situations in the region, specific challenges, limitaions etc) of those who are really involved in the situation and try to make our conclusions with the perspective relative to those people.

Now, let's take the scenario of IDP camps and various Europeans, NGOs commenting on the living condition in those. Do they sereisly consider that the Sri Lanka is a 3rd world country which is struggling to cope (financially and resource wise) with 250 000 of displaced people just after a bloddy war in a economic recession? Do they understand the standard of living in poor parts in this region ? Do they understand the devastation happended to these areas and people in 3 decades of war and put that into the context ? Finally, Are they aware of how these very same people had to crowded up in a narrow beach front against their wills by LTTE and amidst a war under horrific conditions, how they ran into government lines risking their own lives (braving LTTE fire) just to escape from that situation..

In the case of Tamil Nadu politicians they are at least very aware what the normal life standards are in usual refugee camps in the region, How the living standards among poor parts in the region and among people who has to undergo various hardships for decades. Above all they are having first hand experiance about their own refigee camps in TN housing SL refugees fleeing the war. In this context it is not surprising at all that the delegation finds the situation at camps are not so appaling as the western media and diplomats have reported! True, we are struggling to cope with the large crowd and to attend their needs, but we are trying. Good freinds would be (like India in this case) helping us to cope with the immense task.

This brings us to an interesting question : Just what we can expect from letting more and more western media and diplomats into these camps and letting them interpret the situation relative to them ? On one hand, there is the unpleasant case of organizations/individuals/lobbyists sympathetic to LTTE or to Ealan course using the situation as a spring board for their propaganda activities. On the other hand there is the situation of some angry western powers trying to teaching a little lesson to the SL goverment on it's 'failing' to act accordign to their advices/wishes/interests while wiping out the LTTE in the final battles. Isn't it much better and sensible to instead have organizations/individuals from our reagion to inspect these camps and come up with their own suggestions/interpretations for improvements ?

We could let Indian, Bangladeshi or pakistani observers/social workers to visit these places and to come up their thoughts/ideas on how best we can improve the situation and how best our friends can help us in this. Our regional friends will understand lot better on how to compare this situation with similar situations in the region and would know better how to define words like 'appaling', 'life threatening', 'acceptable', 'adequate measures taken' etc... It wouldn't do us any bad to have some constructive criticism in the name of helping these people while making their difficult stay in these camps as short as possible.