Ezhuka Tamil – A Conversation about Democracy :Dharsha Jegatheeswaran and Gajen Mahendra

This is a guest post by DHARSHA JEGATHEESWARAN AND GAJEN MAHENDRA

 

On Saturday September 24, 2016, Ezhuka Tamil, organized by the Tamil People’s Council, became the largest rally to happen since the end of the war in the North-East of Sri Lanka. Over 10,000 people took to the streets to demand an end to ongoing human rights violations, particularly militarization and Sinhala-Buddhisization of the North-East,reiterate their demand for genuine accountability and justice and voice their expectations regarding the ongoing political processes. The political elite in Colombo and their supporters elsewhere have however chosen to read Ezhuka Tamil as an expression of ‘Tamil extremism’. This response requires us to critically interrogate the nature of democratic spaces in post-war Sri Lanka available to the numerically smaller communities and more largely what our understanding of democracy is. This is very necessary if we believe in the need for public participation in the constitutional and transitional justice process currently underway. Continue reading “Ezhuka Tamil – A Conversation about Democracy :Dharsha Jegatheeswaran and Gajen Mahendra”

Seven Years After the End of Sri Lanka’s Civil War: Mahendran Thiruvarangan

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”

Debt, Counselling and the Production of Neoliberal Subjects

financialfactsoflifeHousehold debt has plagued the North and East since the war ended in Sri Lanka. Activists and journalists have long highlighted the consequences of predatory credit and the devastating indebtedness faced by the war-torn people; from rural indebtedness, to debt accrued from the Indian Housing grants to the debt trap with lease hire purchasing.

More than such writings, the crisis on the ground, with increasing rates of suicide and attempted suicide, half built houses and protests by people have awoken donors and policy makers to the crisis of indebtedness. The Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) was commissioned to study debt accrued with donor-funded housing schemes, and more recently by the Swiss Development Cooperation to evaluate their financial counselling initiative, which aimed to alleviate house-building related debt. Continue reading “Debt, Counselling and the Production of Neoliberal Subjects”

Two Or Three Things I Know About My Country: Pradeep Jeganathan

As the people of Sri Lanka complete the voting process for the Parliamentary elections of 2015, PRADEEP JEGANATHAN  reflects on his country’s history and politics.

We’ve never really had a father. We like to think we did, of course, be it D.S. Senanayake, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike or S.J.V. Chelvanayagam. But they never had a vision for Lanka that made sense, in the end. Unlike a Mahathir, Nehru or a Mandela, their vision was partisan, and the results plain to see. Senanayake’s great contribution was to disenfranchise the up country Tamils, and ignore the vernacular language question. Bandaranaike and Chelvanayagam were his children, fighting for the house that he never finished building.

We’ve gone along since, fatherless children that we are. So many have been killed, and so many have killed. Maimed. Seen the essence of inhumanity, lived with it, so it has become ordinary. Many of us like to think Rajapakse is our father, since it is said he rescued us from all this, took us over the mountains to the valley of peace. Certainly, he’s proclaimed himself father and king, and his sons princes. And he’s had his moments.

Read the rest of this piece in Colombo Telegraph.

The penultimate paragraph refers to a song by Nanda Malini:

We’ve always had our mother. She is Lanka. That is the third thing I know about my country, and when I say, our mother is Lanka, or Ilankai or Eelam (for that too is a name for Lanka), I do not mean it in the sense of an inanimate goddess that is to be adored, appropriated and used as a cover for racism, violence and inequality. No, I mean it in the sense of Lanka’s lament, in the great songstress’ lyric, “Deddahas Pansiya Vasarak. (For 2,500 years).” In this beautiful song, Nanda Malini sings Lanka’s lament, her almost helpless sadness and deep grief, at the robbers and killers she has given birth to, who have then become big men and women, clinging to power by selling her name.

Here is the song:

Pradeep Jeganathan is currently Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Shiv Nadar University.

My elections days, 2015: Sivamohan Sumathy

Guest Post by SIVAMOHAN SUMATHY

campaigning, exciting, tense, nervous, delirium-invested, holding training sessions on the verendah for the immediate neighbouhood, as nobody but appa had voted in any previous presidential election, strangely agreeing with appa on politics for once, passing on all the wild gossip about the mr family, nightmare riddled pre election nights, sleeplessness, inducing drinking, exhilarating, liberating, cautionary, educating vasuki’s children about the elections ( they are keenly interested), near addiction to fb and quarellling with totally unknown friends on it, while another plethora of unknown persons writing in to befriend me, baila sessions, holding candle lit vigils for assassinated journalists, being connected to the universe on election night through thiru, who was on every tweet, every note, every social bleep, planning, writing, tasking for the future, doubts, setting off crackers, taking to singing, questions, pondering profound political questions on the nature of the state, reforms or revolution, gramsci’s historic bloc, not stopping at paradigm shift as most liberal commentators have done with this over used and abused term, not bothering with muslim bashing in europe over charlie whatever, in fact, just a wee bit short of visionary.

no paradigm shift,
no revolution, it is toward …….

they cut the jak tree down in our backyard,
the day after elections.
the parrots displaced again.

Challenging the West’s Narrative on Sri Lanka’s ‘Victory for Democracy’: Devaka Gunawardena

Guest Post by DEVAKA GUNAWARDENA

Of the many pieties that have been promoted in the Western media in the aftermath of Maithripala Sirisena’s victory over incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa in the recent Sri Lankan presidential election, none has been more cherished than the notion that Sri Lanka is now on board with “democracy.”[1] This claim is counter-posed to Sri Lanka’s recent cozy relationship with China and other authoritarian countries. A new Cold War is supposedly being fought, with Sri Lanka’s election reduced to its strategic relevance to policy makers.

At the same time the dominant narrative promoted by Western media and diplomats has been conveniently ignored in other places where it is considered politically unfeasible to support democracy. The same diplomats and officials that criticized the previous Rajapaksa regime have often argued that equally if not more repressive governments in places such as the Middle East are “on the path to democracy.” This claim temporizes the same political expectations that have been applied to Sri Lanka. Continue reading “Challenging the West’s Narrative on Sri Lanka’s ‘Victory for Democracy’: Devaka Gunawardena”

Terror, Performance and Anxieties of Our Times – Reading Rustom Bharucha and Reliving Terror: Sasanka Perera

Guest Post by SASANKA PERERA

[ This post by Sasanka Perera is a review of  Terror and Performance by Rustom Bharucha (2014). Tulika Books, New Delhi. Kafila does not ordinarily post book reviews. An exception is being made for this post because we feel that the subject of terrorism, which has interested Kafila readers in the past, is an important one, and needs to be thought through with seriousness. We hope that this post initiates a debate on Kafila regarding terror, the state, performance, and the performances – serious, or otherwise – that typically attend to the discussions of terror, whether undertaken by the agents of the state or by non-state actors, commentators in the media, or by intellectual interlocutors. ]

When I started reading Rustom Bharucha’s latest book, Terror and Performance, it immediately became an intensely personal and gripping engagement. It was difficult to read in a single attempt as the mind kept wandering from one unpleasant moment in our recent annals of terror to another in some of which I had also become an unwitting part – mostly as a spectator. From the beginning, my reading was a conversation with Bharucha’s text through detours of my own experiences and an interrogation to a lesser extent. In 1986, as a young man when I went to the Colombo International Airport to pick up my father who was returning from the Middle East, I was shaken by a tremendously loud sound for which I had no immediate references. I had not heard such a sound before. People started running towards the sound. It was a bomb that had blown up an Air Lanka flight which had come from Gatwick. The Central Telegraph Office in Colombo was bombed in the same year. We learnt that everyone was running towards the sound and not away from it. Dry local political humor very soon informed us that people were trying to get inside the bombed out telegraph office hoping that they could get free phone calls to their relatives in the Middle East as they had heard phones were dangling from the walls with no operators in sight. That was long before mobile phones and call boxes. We were still young in terms of our experiences with terror. However, we soon had very viable references to what all this meant as the political narrative of Lanka unfolded with devastating consequences. But in 1986, when the kind of terror that was to follow in all its fury was still relatively new and quite unknown, we were acutely unaware of the dynamics of the actual act of terror and the structure of feeling it could unleash. This is why many of us in these initial years were naively attracted towards the epicenter of the act rather than being mindful to run away from it. But as the society grew in experience, people soon learned their lessons. Though an academic text in every conceivable way, I was reminded one could always find a few rare books of this kind which might personally and emotionally touch a reader in addition to whatever intellectual stimulation it might also usher in. Terror and Performance is clearly one such book. From the perspective of the writer, Bharucha himself recognizes this personal emotional engagement and investment early in the book. For him, “this writing demands stamina as it faces an onslaught of uncertainties and cruelties at the global level that challenges the basic assumptions of what it means to be human” (xi). It is the same kind of stamina that one also needs to read it as most of us in South Asia would be reading it squarely sitting in the midst of our own worlds of unfolding terror. This is why all those thoughts came gushing into my mind throughout the reading. I was not only reading Bharucha; I was also reading my own past.

Continue reading “Terror, Performance and Anxieties of Our Times – Reading Rustom Bharucha and Reliving Terror: Sasanka Perera”