As a Dutch teenager under Nazi occupation, Ben Bavinck learnt to resist fascism. He later taught in Sri Lanka, then returned in 1988, amidst violent turmoil. By that time, the island had become notorious throughout the world because of the scale of killings, by both government and rebel forces. While doing relief and rehabilitation work for the National Christian Council, he kept diaries, describing and seeking to make sense of what he witnessed.
On 18 April 2011, I was at the launch in Conway Hall, London, of a heavily edited version of his diaries up to 1994, Of Tamils and Tigers. A second volume will appear later, covering the period up to 2004. Excerpts from the book were read out, conveying something of the clarity with which he observed events and his compassion for the ordinary people – Tamil, Sinhalese or Muslim – whose lives were shattered by the conflict.
The book was jointly published by the Rajani Thiranagama Memorial Committee, based in the UK and named after a human rights activist and former pupil of Bavinck’s who was assassinated by the Tigers in 1989, and Sri Lanka-based published Vijitha Yapa. I hope it will be widely read, especially since deep divisions and imbalances of power persist in Sri Lanka.
For other regions too which are affected by war, there may be lessons to be learnt, as well as the fascination for the general reader of reading about people not unlike oneself who are caught up in extraordinary situations.
(c) Savi Hensman works in social care and equalities. A respected Christian commentator and Ekklesia associate, she was born in Sri Lanka and now lives in Britain.