Guest post by MAHENDRAN THIRUVARANGAN
When the civil war came to an end in May 2009 I was still a final year undergraduate at the University of Peradeniya. Peradeniya was miles away from the war zone. The only venues that supplied us with details about the happenings in the war theatre were the television channels stationed in the South, self-censoring the civilian casualties incurred and feeding to the Sinhala nationalist jubilation of the times. And on the other side were websites like Tamilnet and Puthinam run by parties sympathetic to the LTTE releasing carefully filtered out reports singularly focusing on the deaths of civilians caused by the military leaving no trace about how the top leadership of the LTTE was recruiting children and adults, despite knowing so well they had already lost the battle or how the civilians who were trying to flee the war zone were shot down by the militants.
One had to work around these competing narratives to get at least a partial sense of the nature of the violence that the people ensnared in the No Fire Zone were exposed to. Some of us had friends whose relatives had been in the LTTE-controlled areas. When the guns breathed their last in Mullivaikal, some of them had already moved to hospitals and camps in Trincomalee and Vavuniya with their loved ones injured during the war. It was from these wounded men and women and their families that the harrowing experiences of the thousands of people inside the narrow battlefield trickled down to us in May 2009. The South erupted into celebrations when the re-unification of the island was announced via the media. As the former president in his televised address from Parliament was busy instructing the people of the country to annul the notions of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ from their political discourses, fire crackers celebrating the military victory started to deafen the ears of those of us who were seated under the senate building of the University of Peradeniya—Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and Malays—pondering in groups what was awaiting us and the country in the days and years to come. Continue reading Seven Years After the End of Sri Lanka’s Civil War: Mahendran Thiruvarangan
श्रीलंका अभी खबरों में है. लेकिन ज़्यादातर हिंदी अखबारों को पढ़ने से आपको अंदाज़ नहीं मिलेगा कि सुदूर दक्षिण में स्थित इस नन्हें-से मुल्क में क्या कुछ हो रहा है जिससे हमारा भी रिश्ता है.वहाँ अभी‘कॉमनवेल्थ’ देशों का सम्मलेन हो रहा है और हमारे प्रधानमंत्री उसमें शामिल नहीं हो पा रहे हैं.श्रीलंका ने कहा है कि वह उनकी मजबूरी समझता है. तमिल राजनेताओं के हंगामे की वजह से प्रधानमंत्री ने अपनी जगह विदेश मंत्री को इस सम्मलेन में भारत का प्रतिनिधित्व करने को कहा है. इस सम्मलेन में श्रीलंका को अगले दो साल के लिए ‘कॉमनवेल्थ’ का नेतृत्व करने को कहा जाएगा. इस पर भारत को ऐतराज नहीं है और अब तक किसी और मुल्क ने भी अपनी आपत्ति दर्ज नहीं कराई है. Continue reading श्रीलंका और हम
On 7th November the full length version of the documentary “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka’ will be premiered at the India International Center for the first time in India and discussed by eminent thinkers, journalists and activists. Callum Macrae, the Director of ‘No Fire Zone’, a film on the last days of the civil war in Sri Lanka has not received his visa to come to India and participate in the discussions despite applying over eight months ago!
Two years ago when Channel 4 in the UK first aired the documentary, it sent shockwaves through the international community. The Sri Lankan civil war, which ended in mid-2009 with the decimation of the LTTE by the Sri Lankan army was supposed to have been a ‘glorious’ chapter in the vanquishing of a ‘terrorist’ force. Continue reading Waiting for the Director:Indian Premiere of ‘No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka’
Guest post by LEENA MANIMEKALAI
‘By the wayside’
“This wreath/ with no name attached /is for you/who has no grave/ As the place of earth/ which embraced you/ could not be found/this wreath was placed by the wayside/Forgive me/ for placing a memorial for you/ by the roadside.”
…writes Basil Fernando about the memorial constructed by families of disappeared at Radoluwa Junction in Seeduwa, a town near the city of Negombo, Srilanka. When I visited the memorial with lingering faces of the disappeared, it signified an important attempt to keep the memories alive, a yearning to prevent recurrence of mass disappearances and seek justice on behalf of the victims of disappearances and their families. Srilanka which has a deep and complex history of political violence is struggling to redeem the past with a frozen present and a black hole future. Communal riots, political assassinations and ethnic conflict have been an element of the socio-political landscape of this tear nation for more than a century. Two heads of State, dozen national political leaders and numerous regional and local politicians, journalists, activists and artists have been assassinated by groups representing virtually every shade of political spectrum. The Srilankan state deploys disappearances and extra judicial killings as an instrument of public policy in the name of State Emergencies, Prevention of Terrorism Act, dubbing of persons as terrorists, unpatriotic, enemies of state. Brutal suppression of two armed insurrections in the Sinhala South in 1971-72, 1987-89 led by Peoples Liberation Front (JVP) and an armed Tamil Separatist Movement since 1970s led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Tamil North and East of the island had spotted Srilankan state guilty of horrific human rights abuses. Now the nation is the world leader in number of disappeared crossing millions who have no date of death, no place of death, no body, and no grave or funeral rites. Obviously there is no shelling, no bombing in the island since 2009 and the State wants the world to believe that war is over but who will bring peace to the families who continue to lose their members to State Terror and also been denied their basic right to even open their mouth about the injustice. Continue reading The Unknown Fate of Thousands in Sri Lanka: Leena Manimekalai
Guest post by ROHINI HENSMAN
The hectic discussion over the Kashmir meeting in Delhi in October entitled ‘Azadi – The Only Way’ has made it urgent to revisit the debate between Lenin and Luxemburg on the right of nations to self-determination. Lenin, starting from his experience in imperialist Russia, insisted on the right of nations like the Ukraine to self-determination (in the sense of their right to form separate states), contending that denial of this right would merely strengthen Great Russian nationalism. In a colonial situation, Lenin was surely right. When a country is under foreign occupation, all sections other than a very small number of collaborators want to be free of the occupiers, even if there are sharp differences between these sections. A striking example is RAWA (the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) which, despite speaking for a section of the population which is sorely oppressed by the Taliban, and continuing to fight against it, nonetheless shares with the latter the goal of ending the occupation by US and NATO forces. In such situations, the right of an occupied nation to self-determination makes sense.
Continue reading Dilemmas of ‘Right of Nations to Self Determination’: Rohini Hensman
Guest post by ROHINI HENSMAN
Different sections of Sri Lankans protest against the 18th Amendment
Sri Lanka’s claim to be a democracy has been tenuous for years, but the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution by parliament on 8 September 2010 dealt it a fatal blow. It changed Sri Lanka into a de facto dictatorship like Zimbabwe and Myanmar, where it is abundantly clear that elections alone cannot unseat Mugabe or Than Shwe.
Continue reading Sri Lanka’s 18th Amendment: A Charter for Dictatorship: Rohini Hensman
Guest post by ROHINI HENSMAN
‘Far away, in that other fake democracy called India’: so said Arundhati Roy in a passing reference to India when she began her talk at the finale of the Left Forum 2010 in New York in the middle of March. Fake democracy? Yet in the same month her long essay ‘Walking With the Comrades,’ supporting the struggle of the CPI (Maoist) in the tribal areas, was published by a mainstream, corporate-controlled Indian magazine, Outlook. How would that be possible if India were just a ‘fake’ democracy? By way of a comparison, across the border in Sri Lanka, the March issue of Himal Southasian was seized by customs on account of an article of mine, despite the fact that I have always been sharply critical of the insurgencies of the LTTE and JVP, and cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as sympathetic to terrorism or violence. Earlier editions of Himal with articles by writers critical of both the government and the LTTE have suffered the same fate. My articles have been turned down by one newspaper after another in Sri Lanka, and I do not blame their editors and owners: so many journalists, editors and owners who have been critical of the regime in power have been jailed, killed or disappeared, even if they, too, had been critical of the LTTE. Continue reading Getting Indian Democracy Right: Rohini Hensman
[We publish below an open letter to Noam Chomsky, written in the wake of his endorsement of a statement against ‘Operation Green Hunt’, issued recently by a large number of intellectuals in India and in the US. Nirmalangshu’s letter is important because it raises some very serious questions that are being brushed under the carpet by sections of the radical intelligentsia. Unlike Nirmalangshu, I would not put ‘radical’ within scare quotes, since it is precisely this that highlights the immense tragedy of our times. Radical intellectuals – truly radical intellectuals – once again find themselves caught in this situation where in order to oppose state violence, they will wilfully turn a blind eye to the violence of armed nihilist gangs, simply because these claim to speak on behalf of the oppressed – a claim that Nirmalangshu’s letter exposes in all its falsity. He lays bare how the politics that goes by the name of ‘Maoism’ (i.e. CPI-Maoist) believes in violently erasing all other voices of opposition to and criticism of the state, but that of itself. This brand of politics in fact lives in symbiosis with the state – delegitimizing all forms of mass democratic politics. At this moment one deeply misses the courageous voice of the late Balagopal – recently slightingly dubbed a ‘liberal humanist’ by a spokesperson of the Maoists, at a meeting meant to salute his memory. I cannot help recalling here the feeling of immense sadness many of us were overcome by, watching and hearing speakers at this meeting (in Delhi) for Balagopal – speakers who were ungenerous, if not carping and outright dismissive of the courage of conviction that was Balagopal. AN]
Dear Prof. Chomsky,
I saw your support to the statement issued by Sanhati in the form of a letter to the prime minister— endorsed by some intellectuals from India and abroad. Three points are transparent: (a) the Indian government is planning a massive armed operation in the tribal-hilly areas in the eastern part of the country, (b) the poorest of the poor and the historically marginalised will suffer the most in terms of loss of lives, livelihood and habitat, and (c) for whatever it’s worth, an all-out campaign by democratic forces is needed to resist the armed invasion of people’s habitat by any party. To that extent, the statement does bring out the urgency of the matter.
Continue reading Open Letter to Noam Chomsky: Nirmalangshu Mukherjee
guest post by ROHINI HENSMAN
Once a forest fire is raging, putting it out is difficult, and an enormous amount of destruction is inevitable. The same is true of the war in Sri Lanka. Even over the past fifteen years, there were several chances to prevent this tragedy, but only a tiny minority of those who are now grieving over the dead and injured were arguing then that a failure to take these chances would lead to a bloodbath. Continue reading Sri Lanka: A Tragedy Foretold – Rohini Hensman
I am posting below an article that I wrote with Cenan Pirani. The shorter version of this article is in Combat Law. The longer version below delves into the history of left politics in Sri Lanka and attempts at a political solution. Another article by me reflecting some of these concerns and raising questions of solidarity titled ‘The Challenges of Solidarity’ was published in Red Pepper.
The Tragedy of Politics in Sri Lanka
By AHILAN KADIRGAMAR and CENAN PIRANI
In the last few months, the Sri Lankan security forces have managed to ruthlessly push the LTTE into a 40 square km strip of land in the North of the island, and along with the LTTE leadership and its cadres, a sizable civilian population, anywhere from seventy thousand to one hundred and fifty thousand, have also been cordoned off in this area. As the security forces continue their offensives purporting to rid Sri Lanka of the LTTE, they also claim the lives of these civilians daily. Continue reading The Tragedy of Politics in Sri Lanka
guest post by ROHINI HENSMAN
With the military defeat of the LTTE imminent, the terrible plight of civilians in the Vanni has attracted worldwide concern and sympathy, and rightly so. While the circumstances are completely different, the civilian death toll in the Vanni over the past few months (over 2700) is already triple the number of civilians killed in the Gaza massacre of December-January, and is still mounting. The thousands who suffer serious injuries are further victimised by the delay or lack of medical attention, which means, for example, that injuries to limbs which could have been saved with prompt treatment, instead result in gangrene and amputations. Even those who have not lost lives, limbs or loved ones, have lost their homes and livelihoods, and live in appalling conditions which could well claim more lives through disease or even starvation.
Meanwhile, the LTTE and Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) trade charges, each accusing the other of being responsible for the slaughter. What truth is there in their respective allegations? Continue reading Who Is Responsible For The Slaughter Of Civilians In The Vanni?: Rohini Hensman
As the Tamil community in Lanka is at the crossroads with twenty five years of war nearing an end with the increasing marginalization of the LTTE, I would like to do a series of interviews on the social, economic and political conditions that led to the emergence of armed politics and militarization of the Tamil community. Returning to those years in the seventies and early eighties then is an attempt to also think about ways forward out of the militarized and armed politics of the last few decades. I intend to do a series of interviews to capture that important political period for Lankan Tamils. This important shift in Lankan politics and the decades of war that followed it did irreparable damage to the Lankan Tamil community and all the peoples of Lanka.
I begin with an interview of Ragavan, a founding member of the LTTE, who left the movement in 1984 and has since moved to London where he lives in exile. In this first interview, Ragavan speaks about his background and early years of militancy.
This is an interview by Ahilan Kadirgamar of Ragavan at his London home on 25 January 2009. Continue reading Interview with Ragavan on Tamil Militancy (Early Years)
A year ago in hearing of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto my heart sank as I thought our region was at boiling point. Over the last week as I heard news of the brutal attacks in Mumbai my heart sinks further as I mourn not only for Mumbai but for our region.
I want to begin with Southasia, borrowing from Himal Southasian. Himal claims it wants to “restore some of the historical unity of our common living space – without wishing any violence on the existing nation states”. I want to go further and not only hope for the eventual withering away of those nation states, but also consider the political space of not only Southasian history but of the Southasian present. And in thinking about Southasia, I can not avoid considering South Asia, as defined by the nation states and their relationship, particularly in the form of SAARC. And when I remember the last two SAARC Summits in 2007 and 2008, I recall a silence and an emphasis. Silence on political processes and emphasis on terrorism. Why the latter and not the former, even from the nation state perspective, both would be important within nation states and between nation states. Continue reading Terror and the Political Space of Southasia
[I am posting below an article by Sadanand Menon on Lanka’s Tamils and recent political developments in India. Sadanand Menon’s solidarity for Lankan Tamils also reflects the principled and committed journalism that is so much need for and on Lanka. The suffering of people living in the Vanni in northern Sri Lanka is of utmost concern at the moment. Their humanitarian needs have to be met and that requires international concern and support. However, just as the Norwegian Peace Process silenced the politics and presence of the Muslims and Up-Country Tamils (Tamils of Indian Origin) in the interest of simplifying the problem in Sri Lanka as one between Sinhalese and Tamils, the current wave of concern in Tamil Nadu at a time of war should not further entrench the ethnicisation of the conflict. Solidarity from India should be for all the oppressed peoples of Lanka, and should not become an opportunistic game for Tamil chauvinism. This is where conflating the Tamils with the LTTE (the self proclaimed sole-representatives of the Tamils) continues to have a disastrous impact. The ruling regime in Sri Lanka has given Sinhala Buddhist nationalism centre stage and marginalized the political process to address the grievances and aspirations of all the minority communities (Lankan Tamils, Muslims and Up-Country Tamils). As Sadanand Menon says support for a “genuinely democratic political process”, should be the basis for solidarity. – Ahilan Kadirgamar]
Sadanand Menon: Who speaks on behalf of Lanka’s Tamils?
The LTTE, by all accounts, seems to have been lassoed. The dreaded militant outfit fighting for an independent Tamil state within Sri Lanka, is said to be engaged in a last ditch battle from its encircled base in the Vanni region in Jaffna. The Lankan army claims to be a couple of kilometres short of the LTTE’s administrative headquarters in Kilinochchi. Continue reading Sadanand Menon: Who speaks on behalf of Lanka’s Tamils?
Guest post by AHILAN KADIRGAMAR
Maoist leader and the first Prime Minster of Republican Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, more commonly known as Prachanda, was in New York these last few days. I heard him speak at the Asia Society and at the New School for Social Research, where he fielded questions from the audience. The webcast of Prachanda’s address to the UN is here.
Prachanda opened his speech at the Asia Society, by saying it is like a sweet dream to be in New York. Continue reading Prachanda in New York: Ahilan Kadirgamar
Any discussion of Sri Lanka at the moment can not avoid discussion of the war. And at the heart of discussions on the war in Sri Lanka, is the question of what will come after the war, at least after an end to the war in its conventional mode with defeats faced by the LTTE on the battlefield. It is indeed important to grasp that the current state of anxiety is not only about the war but also what will come after the war. From the London based Economist to Tamil activists in and outside Sri Lanka, this has become the central question. I write this article as a dissenting Tamil activist and as a member of that diverse set of Tamil activists both inside and outside Sri Lanka, who chose to stand independent of the LTTE, but whose politics nevertheless at the moment is dispersed from the Left to the Right, across a whole range of issues from class, nationalism, caste to gender. In thinking about the outcomes after the war, just as we could not predict the direction of the war prior to its resumption, we can not predict the outcomes after the war, which are part of the dynamic of war; it drastically changes the political landscape. But we nevertheless take positions on the war; on either side or against the war. And those positions are explicitly political, they are underpinned by a politics, whether they are pro-war or, as has been less commonly acknowledged that of anti-war. Indeed, an anti-war position itself can be arrived at from different political positions, from a pacifist stand to that of political expediency depending on the military fortunes of one actor or another. It is such politics of war that I intend to explore here in relation to the dynamics of nationalisms and militarization in Sri Lanka.
Continue reading Nationalisms, Militarization and the Politics of War in Sri Lanka: Ahilan Kadirgamar