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
A Fact Finding Report by a Women’s Collective on the Ethnic Riots in Aluthgama, Sri Lanka.
On the 15th of June 2014 ethnic riots took place in Aluthgama following a rally organized by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a Buddhist fundamentalist organization. Even though the police and state officials had been informed of the potential of the rally to turn violent, no steps were taken to stop the same, instead a large number of police and Special Task Forces (STF) personnel were deployed in the area. In the aftermath of the violence that shocked the country, a women’s team visited Aluthgama and met with several survivors with the objective of documenting the events that took place. Below is their report. Considering the safety of the survivors their names, location and other identities are not recorded.
“Around 12 midnight on 15/06/2014 the Welipitiya Mosque administration made an announcement that a large group of thugs were coming to destroy the Mosque. Upon the announcement the men from the village brought their families, left the women inside the mosque for their safety, and stood outside the mosque to protect the mosque. Around 2000 persons arrived in a procession at that time chanting slogans saying ‘we will destroy the Dharga Town mosque’, ‘we will change Dharga Town into a Sinhala village’ and started pelting stones from all sides,” said a mother whose son was attacked in this incident. She stated that she has four sons, she has been separated from her husband since the birth of her youngest son, and has brought them up single handedly amidst various challenges. “My two unmarried sons aged 20 and 17 heard the announcement from the mosque and left to guard the mosque. A few minutes after they left home I heard gun shots and ran outside to look for my sons but I could not locate them. I ran back home and prayed for their safety. I could hear the firing of gun shots for about 2 hours. Continue reading Information on Aluthgama – Fact Finding by a Women’s Collective
Guest post by MAHENDRAN THIRUVARANGAN
I come from a community that was both a victim and a villain in the thirty-year civil war that unsettled all of us. We were victims because the Sri Lankan state killed thousands of us, grabbed our lands and made us homeless; we were villains as we could not question the LTTE strongly when the movement massacred members of the Sinhala and Muslim communities and members of our own community who refused to conform to the movement’s ideology. We witnessed how the narrow nationalist politics that we romanticized, alienated us from the other communities on the island. We witnessed how our failure to criticize the decisions made by our leaders contributed in part to the death of thousands of Tamils in Mullivaikal in May 2009. We witnessed how our obsession with the particular—our language, our culture, our religion and our homeland—incarcerated us within the walls of purism and political decadence. It is true that there was no space for dissent when the LTTE ruled us. But we need to accept as a community that because the LTTE fought against a state that dominated us and persecuted us, many of us often, in our everyday conversations, justified its violence against other communities. Any community that clings to a narrow-minded nationalism has many a lesson to learn from the painful experiences that the Tamils in Sri Lanka went through during the war. When I read about the recent attacks on Muslims in Aluthgama, I remembered the Eviction of Muslims from the Northern Province by the LTTE and the violence that the LTTE directed at the Muslim community in the East in the name of Tamils. Continue reading Aluthgama – Thinking about Co-existence and Resistance in a Time of Crisis: Mahendran Thiruvarangan
As May turns into June the quiet loneliness of war-torn Jaffna lies before me. For how much longer, years or decades into the future, will I look back into the past? And who will help me reflect on that past?
Some, fifty years ago, the tragedy of Biafra unfolded. I grew up hearing about the legacy of Biafra. During the early years of Tamil militancy, my father and a few other Tamil intellectuals of his generation warned that we may end up like Biafra. That many intellectuals perished in the struggle for Biafra I knew, but what they did I did not know back then.
It is over the last year, that I returned to Biafra, through the powerful novel of Chimamanda Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun. A novel sometimes helps us think about questions we find difficult to ask. Adichie made me think about how long it takes for us to grasp the suffering that comes with a devastating war. Indeed, Adichie writes about Biafra some forty years after. From Adichie, I moved to Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra. What struck me most about Achebe’s memoir, is that almost fifty years later, he is still struggling to come to terms with what Biafra meant to him, shackled by lingering nationalist sentiment. It takes a life time or even more to deal with the past in places like Biafra and Lanka.
Mid-May marked the fifth year since the end of the war in Sri Lanka. Continue reading Waiting on Biafra and Lanka
Guest post by SATYA SAGAR
The shocking spectacle of Siddharth Varadarajan, the Editor of The Hindu, being forced out of his post by a cabal of its owners is a brutal reminder to journalists all over the country that however fine a professional you may be you will always remain at the mercy of media proprietors.
Just around two years ago when N. Ram, the then Editor of The Hindu, passed on the mantle to Varadarajan, a highly respected and independent journalist, he had touted the move as a radical shift away from being a family run outfit to one headed by professionals.
Ram’s motives were neither clear nor very noble, engaged as he was in a bitter struggle with his siblings over control of the newspaper. Still, for the newspaper to move away from its long tradition of tight family control was a welcome, positive departure in a land where dynasties run everything from politics and religion to cricket and cinema.
Unfortunately, this flowering of corporate democracy was not to last too long. Ultimately the family managed to strike back with a vengeance, ganging up in a Board of Director’s meeting to demote Siddharth from the post of Editor to ‘Contributing Editor and Senior Columnist’ prompting his immediate resignation. Continue reading From dynasty to plain nasty: Satya Sagar
This release was put out by AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL on 27 September 2013
Sri Lanka’s disturbing human rights record means it should be barred from hosting a key Commonwealth summit in November or chairing the organization, Amnesty International said ahead of a key meeting of Commonwealth foreign ministers today.
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group – made up of foreign ministers and Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma, who gather to address violations of the Commonwealth’s fundamental values, including human rights – is meeting in New York today.
“Today’s meeting is an opportunity for the Commonwealth to show some real leadership on human rights. The organization has been shamefully silent so far about Sri Lanka’s human rights crisis– including the persistent lack of justice for past crimes and ongoing attacks on human rights defenders and other activists,” said Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia- Pacific Director. Continue reading Commonwealth giving Sri Lanka carte blanche for human rights abuses: Amnesty International