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Monday, December 4, 2023

Sri Lankan sociologist criticises exploitation of Easter massacres for “tales of tears”

by Melani Manel Perera.

Television operators invade the homes and privacy of survivors, they “must be educated in communications ethics”. A comment posted on Facebook sparks new violence against Muslims in Chilaw. Survivors must be supported in the long run by specialist groups. Taking care of even the first responders, priests and nuns included.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Alongside the attempt to privately mourn and recover from the shock of friends and relatives killed in the Easter massacres, media and TV channels in Sri Lanka seek to exploit survivors’ “tales of tears”, comments Ravindra Ranasinha, therapist and sociologist, with 17 years of experience in supporting traumatized minors and adults, women and girls victims of abuse and domestic violence, survivors of the civil war.

Speaking of information channels, today the government blocked the use of social media after the violence unleashed yesterday against Muslims, their shops and mosques in the city of Chilaw. Already last week the faithful of Islam had fallen victim to another attack on Negombo. This time the dispute arose from a comment posted on Facebook, which read: “One day you will cry”. The author of the post, 38-year-old Abdul Hameed Mohamed Hasmar, was arrested.

Meanwhile, yesterday the authorities arrested Islamic leader Mohamed Aliyar, 60, founder of the Center for Islamic Guidance. He allegedly links with Zahran Hashim, leader of the bombers and leader of the National Thowheed Jamath, who died in one of the explosions on April 21. Both would have explicit links with the Salafist-Wahhabi tradition, a doctrine underlying the ultra-conservative Sunni Islam professed in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Ranasinha is one of the experts who is criticizing the attitude of communications media – local and international – that “want to commercialize the pain of innocent victims”, invading the homes of witnesses, violating their privacy and heightening fears and fears.

Dr. Ranasinha is Research Director at the Research Center for Dramatherapy in Colombo and consultant for the program on the prevention of sectarian violence of the World Health Organization (WHO). He is currently working on a recovery plan and support for the victims of the attacks on Easter Sunday together with the team that assists the mental health unit of the Ministry of Health.  Below, his interview with AsiaNews.

Is it beneficial or healthy to narrate the “tales of tears” of the victims of the Easter Sunday bomb blast through the TV channels?

TV channels should respect the dignity of the survivors, and the relatives of the victims of the bomb attack. By showcasing their grief, the TV Channels engage in a marketing business. It is about selling someone’s grief, in order to capture a large number of viewers. This, in turn, glamourizes violence. The trauma resulting from violence should not be exposed to the public. It is unethical in every sense. It damages the viewer, psychologically. These TV channels do not know that children and adults, who view this grieving, feel unsafe and insecure. It traumatizes them. We need to educate personnel in these TV channels about ethics, and that will help them to regulate their behavior. This kind of action violates the rights of all survivors, relatives of victims, and the viewers. The question of responsible and ethical reporting should be raised at this time when terror has taken grip of the mind of the total population in Sri Lanka.

What could harm or damage their already wounded state of mind further? 

It can re-traumatize the survivors or the relatives of the victims. At the moment, the trauma is unbearable. TV Channels should understand what Trauma means. We got to know that these TV channels invade the houses of the victims, and ask them to speak about their experience. How many TV channels visit them like this? It is a burden for them. It is a pain. It re-traumatizes them. Some survivors and relatives spoke to me about this, and they told that finally they decided to close their doors, to stop these TV channels coming. Some children have become very angry due to this undue intrusive behaviour of TV channels. We need to respect these victims. They have borne enough, and we have to give them that space to be with themselves. They need to have space for breathing. They need to make sense of what really happened to them. It is the responsibility of the total society to respect this space of these victims. No one has the right to violate the privacy of the survivors, and the relatives of victims. The shock was unexpected and confusing.

Also, we need to know that exposure to the suffering of others can re-traumatize the other survivors. Right now the whole society is traumatized. That is why, though the schools re-opened on the 6th May, only 10 percent of the student population attended school. Parents are scared and traumatized. Children are not in a state of mind to focus on classroom work. The whole society is wounded, and glamourizing violence through grief narratives makes the whole society damaged. TV presenters require a study on ETHICAL practices, and especially, on the psychology of the traumatized.

What categories of people can help these victims to overcome their pain?

The victims can be supported only by specialists: psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, creative arts therapists, and counsellors. Only these specialists will know to give Psychological First Aid, and conduct specialized interventions. When taking into account the current crisis situation, the Catholic priests and nuns have played a very vital role, in managing the situation. Pastoral assistance was rendered to the survivors, and to the relatives of the victims, from day one. It is a commendable practice. The Catholic community needs support from the leaders of their faith.

What kind of steps will give real help to those victims to overcome their pain?

We need to know that the pain is a result of three reasons: The incident was unexpected; The people were unprepared; It was an overwhelming experience. To overcome the pain, one has to work through it. Some people are quick in their recovery from the shock. The resiliency is high in those people. But there are others, who need support, to cope with the existing shock.

The adults deal with their pain in a different way to that of children. Children may show signs of denial, anger, and silence. The shock has confused them, and they are not in a state to believe what has happened. Adults are angry, or they find it difficult to believe what happened to them. They are in a struggle to continue with life. Single parents find it difficult to manage their emotions, and they do not know how to give emotional support to their children.

Culturally responsive practices are very helpful for people to recover from their pain. Especially, their faith plays a vital role. Their faith becomes the initial resource in working through their pain. They also need someone to listen to them. Children will need space to play, distract from the triggers, and stabilize them. Children can also get the support of their peers, in the school. If school friends can form into a strong supportive network, that can help the survivors.

People in pain need accurate information about how to make a positive change in their lives. Their sense of safety and control can be strengthened by providing the survivor, and relative with accurate information, about what to do next, what is being done to assist them, what is currently known about the unfolding event, available services, and self and family care.

What relief can the church bring to the victims?

Church has already played a major role in supporting the survivors, and the relatives of the victims. From day one, the church was with the victims. They are supporting the victims, strengthening their confidence towards the faith, and towards themselves. The priests and nuns have ensured a secure environment for the victims.

The church is trying to coordinate other support networks, in order to ensure that the victims are relieved in all aspects of their life. As we see, the church is functioning in a well-organized manner.

What role can the government have?

The state has a major role to assist the survivors, and the whole community, in general. Today, uncertainty and fear have crept into the whole population. In order to change this situation, the Mental Health Unit of the Ministry of Health has already taken action. I know this, as I am also a part of this process. The Ministry has joined hands with all the stakeholders available in this country. They have brought resource people from different disciplines to take action to address the crisis situation.

How long will it take for these victims to recover?

The biggest challenge is how the survivors and others going to deal with their pain and suffering. We have just passed two weeks from the incident, but the real psychological challenges will arise after 6 months. Loneliness, isolation, helplessness, and hopelessness will creep in and disturb their lives. Therefore, support systems should be in place for a minimum of 12 months. Continuous assistance should be given to increase their coping strength, make novel meaning to life, and have hope for the future. Specialized services should be available for them. That will help them in their recovery. When the support systems are in place, their recovery will be fast.

What about the first responders, in this crisis situation?

Yes, that is a very vital aspect in this situation. The priests, villagers, personnel from the police and tri-forces were the immediate witnesses of this gruesome attack. They need psychological support. Their trauma is just buried, and that may affect them personally. The people around them also will get affected, if the first responders are not healed. This is an aspect that the experts need to work on.


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