One week ago many dozens of children were killed in Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday attacks. Dressed in their finest clothes for one of the most important church services of the year, this was the first generation in decades to grow up free of violence. Their stories – and the struggle for the surviving children to comprehend the carnage – take the island down a devastatingly familiar path.
The softest of targets
Perera continues with these observations:
“It was the first thing that first responders I talked to noticed as soon as they walked into the churches that had been targeted: the large number of children among the dead. The overall number of casualties from the attacks is unclear but officials believe children could end up accounting for more than a fifth of the final death toll.
This is because the bombers’ targets were the softest of them all – morning church services on a major religious festival and luxury hotels where families settled down to Sri Lanka’s generous breakfast buffets…
For Sri Lankans the loss of so many children has been one of the most defining features of these attacks. It is not the bombers who are the subject of conversation – but the children…
They were narratives about the children who died. People began saying there were so many of them because bombs exploded as children were called up for a blessing, or because a choir was at the front when the bombs hit, or that they had all been dressed as angels…
In Sri Lanka, however, these children also represented what could be called the first “innocent” generation. War, division and brutality were not part of their daily diet.
In just a few weeks, the country is due to mark 10 years from the end of a 30-year civil war between government forces and separatist Tamil militants. It was a conflict that saw bomb attacks unleashed across the country and brutal violence meted out by both sides.
The “pre-war” generations witnessed two bloody Marxist insurrections – first in the late 1970s, then in the late ’80s and early ’90s, which saw massive and violent disruptions to daily life, including months-long shutdowns of schools. A brutal retaliation from the government saw even more bloodshed.
So the deaths of so many of these children on Easter Sunday felt especially poignant because this was the first generation for decades for whom violence wasn’t part of their day-to-day lives. That’s not to say there wasn’t strife – there have been anti-Muslim riots and attacks on churches. Religious tensions were on the rise albeit never on this scale. However, the bloodshed that regularly affected Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims of generations before had all but gone.
“These are all children. There is no race, no religion. We have faced 30 years of war, and also the tsunami. We faced so many bad things and we managed to tolerate and do the best for our patients. That’s all we can do.”
For more see: “Sri Lanka attacks: Children of the Easter Sunday carnage.”
What is the way of a child?
What can we learn during these times from a child but that this carnage is not child-like – it is not Christ-like?
Lord have mercy.