By Raashid Riza
Sri Lanka, that resplendent isle in the Indian Ocean characterised by smiling faces, beautiful beaches, lush green gardens, tea, and of course, cricket. Sri Lanka, the land where authentic prophetic narrations suggest that the first man on earth, Adam, was sent to when he was made to leave paradise; the land of Adam’s Peak – a mountain revered by all religious communities, and according to the common belief amongst Muslims, home to a large foot print belonging to Adam. Sri Lanka is a place where Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims have lived in peace for millennia, a fact diluted after colonial invasions.
The Sri Lankan conflict, which spanned over several decades, is too bloody, too old, and too complex to encapsulate in a few words. The two conflicting sides were the Sri Lankan armed forces, and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) – a ruthless terrorist organisation. As the Sunday Times puts it:
“There is no doubt that the world is a safer place without the Tamil Tigers, a ruthless insurgent group that grew out of the ethnic war waged on the mostly Hindu Tamils by the xenophobic government. The Tigers were not bound by any of the rules of warfare. They pioneered suicide bombing long before Al-Qaeda. They blew up buildings, put bombs on planes, trains and buses, used children as fighters, developed their own navy (including submarines) and even had an air force of light planes. Among the leaders they have killed are the Sri Lankan president and the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. They would not tolerate any dissent in their community and exterminated moderate Tamil leaders. Much of the overseas money for their arms and guerrilla operations was raised by extortion and through the heroin trade.”
I was one of those who watched with absolute horror the programme on Channel 4 last night, ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’. Today’s Guardian Editorial has the following to say about its content:
“Naked prisoners shot in the head; the dead bodies of women who had been raped, dumped on a truck; the immediate aftermath of a shell landing on a hospital – images caught on mobile phones of the atrocities committed by government soldiers in the final months of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war. The story of what happened two years ago when government forces corralled hundreds of thousands of Tamils in horrific conditions into an ever-shrinking space, as they closed in the defeated Tigers, is well known.”
Those of you who saw it or wish to see it can do so, and judge for yourselves.
Last night’s programme depicted the story of the Tamil victims of government forces. But this story has several sides. The LTTE was financially sustained by parts of the Tamil Diaspora in North America and Europe, and by Indian geopolitical interests. So what of those who suffered terrible atrocities at the hands of the LTTE ? What of the Sinhalese victims? What of the Muslim victims?
At dawn on 3rd August 1990, over three hundred men and boys were at prayer at the Meera Jumma Masjid in the Muslim majority eastern town of Kattankudy, when a group of LTTE cadres cut down power lines, stormed in and mercilessly butchered 103 men and 25 children. Survivors relate it was done with glee, similar to what you may have seen last night. This was by no means an isolated attack by the LTTE. Incidentally, I survived one of the many suicide bomb blasts in Colombo –a few seconds earlier and I wouldn’t be alive today.
The Sri Lankan government will be perceived as the only villain in this drama. But the majority of the people who are now making themselves heard, previously connived with the atrocities of the LTTE – ignoring all that they did, helping to sustain it and at times benefitting from it. Not many amongst those who are vociferous now were equally concerned when Muslims and Sinhalese in border villages were hacked to death in their sleep, or when more than 100,000 Muslims were ethnically cleansed from the North (and are still languishing in refugee camps, three generations on), or when intellectuals and political leaders were systemically targeted and killed, or when children were forcibly conscripted to fight this bloody war, all by the LTTE.
Yesterday’s Channel 4 programme was powerful due the meticulousness with which photographic and video evidence was compiled. It is to the detriment of the people who suffered LTTE atrocities that there is no graphic evidence to move and utilise human emotions to plead for their suffering. All that was shown in the programme were compilations of footage only two years old. When the LTTE committed its atrocities, a mobile phone had none of the capabilities which made Channel 4’s programme possible.
This is not for one moment to dismiss the pain and suffering of the Tamil people as was shown last night. But looking at the story only through the horror of last night’s programme has many ramifications, and does injustice to all victims.
The Tamil Diaspora understandably wants accountability. However, reconciliation and accountability can come only after a period of healing, and this healing process has effectively been prolonged by last night’s programme. In the meantime, Tamils in Sri Lanka who want to get on with their lives will be caught in rhetorical cross fire. It is not their interests that anyone is talking about any more.
One may argue that as the government of Sri Lanka is representative of the state, and that the LTTE are a terrorist organisation, there should be a difference in the way they are treated. A valid argument perhaps, but the LTTE did not distinguish between the LTTE and the non-LTTE Tamils, to the detriment of the innocent Tamil people; their separatist homeland theory seemingly intertwined both entities as mutually supportive, and not mutually exclusive.
No war is just; no pain suffered is easy to forget. As distressing and eye-opening as last night’s programme was, it will only keep the embers of this conflict burning. This debate has now become ritualised, its cause lost to the Tamils. Dangerously perhaps, this creates an opening for a new geo political adventure at the cost of the interests of the Sri Lankan people, The Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.
Raashid Riza is the Multimedia Editor of The Platform. He studied Architecture and works in London as an Architectural Assistant.
Photo Credits : http://www.flickr.com/bielcalderon
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