How do you efface memories of the fact that at least 40,000 civilians (Tamils) were killed in the final phase of a genocidal war in Sri Lanka, the majority of them by the Sri Lankan army’s shelling of hospitals and “safe zones”? How do you move on when 3,00,000 Sri Lankan Tamils were internally displaced—and continue to be treated as suspects by a chauvinist Sinhala regime? You encourage tourism, pilgrimages, music and dance performances, literary festivals, football friendlies and, of course, cricket tournaments. Once these vital signs of normality are in place, you look the other way as Sri Lankan Air Force personnel train at the Indian Air Force station in Tambaram, near Chennai, or are shifted out of the state when Tamil Nadu’s politicians file their obligatory grumbling.
What’s unfolded in TN in the past week is a vulgar charade of competitive righteousness on the part of all players, including the media. So when the Sri Lankan government sends handpicked, vetted tourists—mostly Sinhalese Christians, but a handful of Tamils too—to visit the Velankanni church in TN, it paints itself as a mature state honouring the sentiments of its minority population. Earlier this August, the governments of both nations got Carnatic musicians T.M. Krishna and Unnikrishnan, and Bharatanatyam dancer Alarmel Valli to perform at a three-day festival held in Jaffna’s Nallur Kandaswamy temple, marketed as the first such event in 30 years. Lost a limb to a bomb? Ayyo! Here, Kannamma, this Subramanya Bharathi song will be a balm! The media’s abetment in this manufacture of normality has been crucial. So The Hindu—ever-eager and Rajapaksa-doting—obliged with a slew of reports that certified this festival as a sure sign that the region was ‘limping back to normalcy’. Neither Krishna, Valli nor The Hindu may have cared to notice the 28 new Buddha statues that have sprung along the A9 Highway that leads to Jaffna, especially near Vavuniya, a Tamil area where hardly any Buddhists live. After all, The Hindu’s former editor N. Ram had said within two weeks of the end of the war: “Justice has not been done to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government for its astonishing feat of rescuing by military means close to 275,000 civilians.” And later, a Sri Lankan minister picked up on the perverse cue and described the war as “one of the greatest humanitarian operations in modern times”.
What we don’t read is how more than one person disappears every five days in post-war Sri Lanka. On August 30, the International Day of the Disappeared, over 500 families of abducted persons gathered in Vavuniya demanding justice and the whereabouts of their loved ones. India, with its own army’s brazen record of making more people (8,000) disappear in Kashmir, can teach some statecraft to Sri Lanka.
Tamil Nadu’s political class, having failed to do much when Tamils were slaughtered in 2009 when the general election was under way, now has to make the mandatory noise. They have to play their part in a script perfected over decades; but Tamil Nadu’s politicians have been as insincere as the Sri Lankan and Indian states. And should they cut some slack when Rajapaksa is mounting such a diplomatic charm offensive, they will look like fools. More worrisome is the apathy of India’s writers and intellectuals. The Rajapaksa regime has more blood on its hands than Narendra Modi’s in Gujarat, and yet writers of a liberal-secularist persuasion in India, such as Githa Hariharan who spearheads the Indian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (INCABI) and had rightly campaigned against Amitav Ghosh accepting the Dan David prize from Israeli president Shimon Peres in 2010, have no qualms about participating in the Galle Literary Festival. She’d happily hold a workshop about “writing conflict” on a trip sponsored by the India-Sri Lanka Foundation (established by an MoU between the two governments in 1998; whose mandate now is also to send two Sri Lankan writers to the Jaipur Litfest in exchange for two Indian writers delegated to Galle). The embers of the 2009 war hadn’t even cooled when historian Mukul Kesavan, after a year-end holiday in Serendip, wrote in January 2011 about the “civility and courtesy that marked my transactions as a tourist”, “the non-stop prettiness” of the landscapes; he praised Sri Lanka’s achievements on the human development index front, and gushed over the “welfare state”, saying it “isn’t an aspiration, it actually exists”. In The Telegraph, not some tourism ministry brochure.
All this is a run-up to Sri Lanka hosting the CHOGM in 2013, when 54 heads of nations will gather—an exercise that is expected to condone the well-documented war crimes. In the interim, let’s sit back and be entertained by the T20 World Cup to unfold in Sri Lanka. The recipe for forgetting the wounds of war is clearly a mixture of tourism, sport, music, dance and literature and occasional military training from a “friendly” neighbour.
In his opinion piece Shock and Awww! (Sep 17), S. Anand writes about ways in which public memory is eroded—in this case, of Tamil civilian casualties in the war in Sri Lanka, and the internally displaced Tamils who continue to be treated as unequal citizens. Questions about the war in Sri Lanka, and peacetime chauvinism and discrimination, need to be asked time and again. Yet, useful answers may call for something more substantial than easy sarcasm. There is another question raised by this piece I am interested in: taking a stand on what I am loosely going to call ‘acts of war’ elsewhere in the world. Earlier this year, Anand e-mailed me expressing his ‘anguish’ about my going to the Galle Literary Festival, and suggested that this was at odds with my involvement in the Indian campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel (INCACBI, see www.incacbi.in).
Many governments are responsible for atrocities which we should and do condemn— the US in Iraq, Afghanistan etc; Pakistan in Balochistan; India in Kashmir; Turkey against the Kurds; and, of course, the Sri Lankan government’s atrocities against their Tamil citizens. These are only a few obvious examples. Speaking out against acts of violence and injustice is a part of our lives as writers, intellectuals and citizens of the world. But government atrocities, however reprehensible, are not instances of settler colonialism. South Africa and Israel are unique in this sense. While it is important to protest, the value of any protest, and the form it takes, are linked with understanding the specificities of each case.
As for boycott as a strategy: when should condemnation be expressed as a boycott—of the government, the state, not the place or its individual citizens or citizens’ groups? I believe that boycott should be an ‘external response’ only when the people directly involved in the struggle call for one. In the case of South Africa, the international community responded to calls from the African National Congress to take a stand against apartheid. In the case of Israel, the international community has been responding to a call from Palestinian movements, as well as civil rights groups within Israel.
I’m flattered that Anand thinks I ‘spearhead’ INCACBI. But honesty compels me to admit that I ‘spearhead’ little beyond my life and my writing—and that too only occasionally. I am indeed a member of INCACBI, which has, since it was set up in 2010, campaigned against the growing military, business, educational and cultural ties between India and Israel. Appealing to individual academics and artists to boycott invitations by institutions complicit with the Israeli state is one part of this campaign.
Githa Hariharan, New Delhi
Grabbing hold of the peace dove with one blood-stained hand—that image best explains the hard ground realities and the success of the Sri Lankan government in hoodwinking the ignorant sections of the Indian community. Thirty-nine months after the ‘conflict’ ended, Sri Lanka is still buying time on conducting elections in the Tamil regions, busy as it is militarising and colonising the areas. The growing number of Sinhala business establishments, soldier monuments, Sinhala-only signs etc is a step towards erasing the Tamil economy and identity for ever. This is the 64-year-old history which is being swept under the ‘terrorism’ carpet after 9/11.
Shanti Vadi, Toronto
The DMK raising its apologist teso from its slumber is nothing but a ruse with an eye to the next elections. They were the only ones who could have stopped the war while it was on by pressurising the Centre—they had the numbers and they were a crucial ally in the UPA then. Alas, the DMK first family did zilch.
It’s a pity that a no-nonsense Jayalalitha (at least as far as the Sri Lankan Tamils issue is concerned) has been driven into a corner by these fringe jingoistic groups and a desperate DMK (Tamil Street Tough). Karunanidhi, as we all know, is a master at the art of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.
R.V. Iyengar, Hyderabad
While all politicians in TN love to quote the saint Thiruvalluvar, very few follow his teachings. Here’s a reminder from one of his kurals: “Those who don’t take hospitality as a spiritual ritual will later repent that they have lost the wealth they loved.” The ltte era is over, get over it.
S. Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur
Is S. Anand (Shock and Awww, Sep 17) some long-lost relative of one Ms Roy? Such bleeding hearts they both are.
In addition to some Tamils of Tamil Nadu, the rest of India is unsympathetic to the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka, for two reasons. One is the phenomenon of LTTE which invented suicide bombing of civilian targets. The other is the perception that a powerful minority of Tamils of TN harbour secessionistic tendencies and that Eelam demand is in character. DMK could have influenced the UPA government to intervene during the final war, but its chief was interested only reaping benefits for his progeny and partymen. Now Sri Lanka is playing the China card. So the protests in TN are a total waste.
Thanks and great analysis.
The op-ed "Shock and Aww' and catching the peace dove with one blood-stained hand best explains the hard ground realities and how the Sri Lankan regime has been successful with the ignorant portion of the Indian community. (some pretend to be ignorant)
The hard facts in the past including the alleged Indian training of Tamil insurgents and air-lifting food to Tamil regions when it was not much needed are not to be easily forgotten.
80,000 widows, 40,000 destitute/orphaned children, the family members looking for 146,000 missing and the others who have lost the loved ones in the war with the use of lethal weapons and aerial carpet bombing, are not ready for sports, music, cinema, dance, tourism etc. These are good for the 'creme de la creme' high society in the subcontinent who want to earn a living off by doing business with Sri Lankans and writing trash for fame.
Some of the cinema singers participated do not know anything more than singing and the cricketers do not know Micheal Phelps has more olympic medals than the whole country has.
After 39 months of the conflict, Sri Lanka with the help of geopolitical blunders, is still buying time to militarize and colonize the Tamil regions to conduct elections in the regions to show the world. The growing number of Sinhala business establishments, Buddhist shrines, Soldier monuments, Sinhala only signs is a step towards destroying the Tamil economy and identity and making them dependent on Sinhalese forever. This is the 64-year old history which is swept under 'Terrorism' carpet after 9/11.
Libyan, Syrian leaders followed suit blaming the opposition as outlaws, armed thugs, terrorists and agents of foreign governments.
It is the media in 'Arab Spring' stood up when the brutality pushed the humanity towards the darkness of its soul. 'Diplomacy is for Humanity' and it is what is missing in some journalism.
It is in this regard, Mr. Anand attempts to shed light on the reality about the current Sri Lankan administration's agenda.
Thank you again
"Diplomacy is for Humanity'.
Hit the nail on the head ... the DMK's apologist TESO up from its dormant slumber is nothing but a ruse targetting the next elections, I'm sure none of its first family will travel to North/East SL to show their real support, even their MPs went only on a Government escorted tour to the IDP camps after which they were ferried to Temple Trees for a meeting with You-Know-Who. They were the only ones who could've stopped the War by pressurising the cental Government of which they are an important part and potentially saved many lives, but they did'nt.
The Centre needs to get its act together and ensure the Rajapakse regime fulfills its commitment to its Tamil citizens, A strict warning and monitored targets with a time-frame on re-settlement and withdrawal of the Army and southern settlers, reclamation of lost property, building new houses, removal of the Military Governor and other steps must be stressed upon and forcibly implemented by India, if the SL Governemnt is non-commital/lackadaisical.
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