Six Days in July

At this time 25 years ago, Sri Lanka burned for six days in July in anti-Tamil pogroms. More than 3000 people were killed, one hundred thousand displaced, and 18,000 businesses destroyed. All for being suspected of being Tamil. The UNP government of then Executive President, J.R. Jayawardene, disingenuously claimed that the riots were a result of an ambush of 13 Sri Lankan soldiers in the north (a mission later claimed by the LTTE) that enraged 'the Sinhala masses' who were provoked into wholly 'spontaneous' acts of violence. Eyewitnesses testified otherwise, recalling local thugs who stalked their streets wielding machetes in one hand, and in the other, official voters lists to identify Tamil homes and businesses. Many of these survivors were saved by their Sinhala and Muslim neighbors, drivers, partners, friends. They waited, hiding in dark cellars and closets while their streets burned.

As the flames rose, whole families were consumed, their homes reduced to ash and rubble, their children, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents lined up and shot, beaten, or covered in petrol and burned alive. Tamil political prisoners were killed by other prisoners with the aid of their guards. Over the next two decades, if they had the means or the contacts, what remained of these families was scattered to the far corners of the earth by an unwinnable war; a war waged by politicos with a love for power and a hatred aimed at anyone who would stand in the way. The targets were not only Tamils, but the journalists, poets, academics and activists of all communities who dared to speak truth to that power, regardless of who claimed it and to what end.

But even if "politics is the continuation of war by other means" in the continuing transformation of Sri Lanka from welfare to warfare state, those black days in July marked a turning point. Not in any simple, quantifiable sense of "more" or "real" violence, for to say that makes violence a very specific kind of object, it trivializes the lives of those who suffered through and continue to endure everyday discrimination and social and economic injustice, past riots (in 1956, 1958, 1977, 1981), disenfranchisement (in 1948-9 of the Indian Tamils, as well as other migrants from India/Pakistan) expulsion (of Muslims from Jaffna in 1990), and the ongoing war (1983-1985, 1987-1995, 1995-2002, 2006-present). Black July changed the social and political landscape of Sri Lanka; it led the country down a war path that has inflicted suffering and hardship on people from all communities. For many Tamils, the extraordinary events of July '83 crystallized into an experience that told them, once and for all, that they did not belong in the only home most of them had ever known. How? By showing them that they could be killed, simply for being themselves. For being a Tamil; or being mistaken for one; for being married to one; or being forced to pass as Sinhala, Muslim or Burgher. But also, by making everyone realize that they, too, could be complicit in violence against their own people when, instead of standing up to denounce violence against another, they stayed quiet to save their own skin, or spoke in the perpetrator's tongue to deflect a pointed finger.

Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans, mostly Tamils, left the country; their deep shame masked by the guilt of having left, they sent money to support their families and oftentimes, paradoxically, the war that drove them out in the first place. The pogroms steered youth towards armed struggle as a means of redress; finding no way out in politics or peaceful protest, they sought refuge in militant movements. But violence begat more violence, within and among these groups as they sought to eliminate one another, giving rise to the LTTE, a group that many Tamils tenaciously cling to as their 'one and only hope' and defense again state violence. And so, violence begets more violence.

I wanted to ruminate more deeply on the complicated legacy of those terrible days, but I'm too drained to write more for an audience that, to be honest, will likely skim over this post and move onto the next bombing, shooting or pogrom. These monumental events are an (un)imaginable abstraction for most of us, flitting across the screen in an interminable holding pattern. What could possibly change it? I ask rhetorically. After spending the last several months listening to people recount their narrow escapes from death and destruction, I find it hard to muster those moments of infinite hope on the horizon. Still, I couldn't let the days pass without at least this brief mention, and a few links to news reports and the reflections of a few Sri Lankans around the world. Not all of these writings (or the sites to which they're attached) represent my political stance; I leave it to you to read with discretion, reflect, and maybe even? Discuss and debate, without fear of retribution and reprisal. That is my wish for a peaceful Sri Lanka.


Groundviews: Remember 1958-1983 - reflections on the anti-Tamil riots of 1958 and the 1983 pogrom

BBC South Asia: Sri Lankan families count cost of war

National Post: The day a Tamil learned about hate 25 years later: The haunting spectre of July 1983 by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

BBC South Asia: Twenty years on - riots that led to war July: Life after 25 years by Dushyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai Reflections on Black July in art, literature and theatre

Daily Mirror: All Our Black Julys Happenings of July 1983-- a comrade remembers...

??????? ???? ????????? - Black July 1983: the Charge is Genocide

IPS: No Lessons Learnt from 'Black July' of 1983

IRIN Asia: Remembering the riots that triggered 25 years of conflict Sri Lanka's July Terror by Basil Fernando, on the impact of state-sponsored violence in '83 on the legal system

Impunity: a debiltating fixture in state culture by Rajan Hoole


Groundviews: Remembering Black July, 1983 by Indran Amirthanayagam

Yet another incident in July 1983 by Basil Fernando (lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission)

In Tamil: 1

983 ??? ?????? ?????????? ?????????? ???????????? transcribed from Virakesari


During the ceasefire in 2004, Chandrika Kumaratunga's SLFP government tendered a 'national apology.' Whatever might have come of it, at least that speech was possible. Today, the Rajapakse government has not made any attempt to commemorate or mourn the lives lost, and the legacy of Black July. Unwilling to chart a new path, they continue to commit the mistakes of the past twenty-five years by pursuing violence as the solution to a political problem.

A commemoration of Black July (1983) in Sri Lanka

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interesting read. i have a

interesting read. i have a concern, which i assume you will tear apart if need be - without minimizing the legacy of the anti-Tamil riots in 1983, to what extent do we lose an understanding of politics / identity by staying within the Sinhala - Tamil discourse? I'm asking because I've read pieces that have argued that the LTTE / JVP were both youth rebellion movements, that the failure of the state to adopt effective growth strategies was an underlying cause in both, etc., etc. - i.e. all kinds of alternative explanations that get away from attributing meaning to ethnicity.

I realize I'm treading on dangerous waters here, so please try to be nice, whoever responds. It's a pregnant question, but not one with sides in terms of Tamil-Sinhala dialogue.

V.V. at SM has also

V.V. at SM has also succinctly written up the significance of July 1983 here: Black July at 25

Also please read her book, Love Marriage, you will find, among other insights, a poignant take on the experience of '83 for Tamils living abroad at the time. The protagonist's father awaits the birth of his first child, only to be guided to a TV screen to watch the unthinkable happen:

Why don't you come with me, he said. Murali, sensing rising alarm in the other man, left us there and followed him down a long blue hospital hall, to a large waiting room, where the television was already on. My father's colleagues sat around it. They had been waiting for the new father to emerge, to offer him congratulations, to ask about baby weight and names. Now their good wishes died on their lips. No glad handshakes, no questions about the child. Instead they watched my father watching the news.

And there on the screen, my father saw everything he once believed in, burning. (p. 18)

K And A, thanks very much for

K And A, thanks very much for your responses, and K, thank you for the references.

I'm simplistic, not stupid :) I wasn't suggesting moving to a simple "class" instead of "ethnicity" (or "ethno-linguistice") analysis - any overly reductionist Marxist or other political economy analysis would clearly fall apart on its face (I've tried it - it didn't work :). What I was saying is that to an extent I feel some stories about Sri Lanka--to an extent this post as well, though it's excellent in many ways--recapitulate the Tamil v. Sinhala dichotomy, but leave out a deeper understanding of age, liberalization, economics, the historic role of the state as patronage provider / "developer", path-dependency, majoritarianism in a first past the post system with the demographics that sri lanka has (or have been constructed), elite vs. mass politicis, why the communalism in sri lanka looks the way it does (as opposed to what it looks like in Malaysia), etc etc etc.

This might be a boring or overly abstract (probably ranging into insensitive, but I too, can't pretend I'm not who I am as an outsider) way of looking at things or oversimplistic to someone steeped in Sri Lanka, but I think I agree with the the use of the "emotional" (I'm using that as shorthand, but I'm not sure for what) in this dialogue.

I think it’s very important to engage the specificities of individual experiences, as fragmented and partial as they might be– we may come to “a mature acceptance of the past,” but can we transcend it? Whose perspective on the experience will be said to transcend the “emotional”?

Having done a tiny amount of work on Sri Lanka, I also can understand why it happens, and i don't think it's something to be transcended, but to be incorporated. But there needs to be an interplay internally - which I think is present in the post to an extent--I think one of the difficulties about writing about conflict situations probably worse so if you're at all invested in them and minimally operating in a "rational" discourse like academia- is that it becomes almost damaging to the self to try to bridge the gap between the emotional and the intellectual or at minimum to have the back and forth dialogue that you need between the two in order to come to a fuller understanding of what's going on. Again, I'm working off of my own psychological makeup and how I understand it, so if someone else's is different (i.e. not dualistic), please remind me about how there isn't a universal person.

Kettikili, thanks for your

Kettikili, thanks for your post. It was informative, and I appreciate whatever demands you face in the real world too. It really takes some serious endurance to deal with Sri Lanka issues for sure.

I did mean commemorate (and not remember) in the traditional sense of public ceremony, so I agree with you there.

As regards starting up a Sri Lanka blog, let’s take that discussion offline.

I am interested in what you say here:
1. I think it’s very important to engage the specificities of individual experiences, as fragmented and partial as they might be– we may come to “a mature acceptance of the past,” but can we transcend it? Whose perspective on the experience will be said to transcend the “emotional”?

Can we transcend an emotional experience? I believe so. To me transcending an experience where harm was caused to onself (undeserved, unprovoked), means to be able to forgive the person who committed that harm. After all, if not, then we risk, as Tutu said, being in a state of perpetual victimhood, almost dependent on our perpetrator. As he said, “Without forgiveness, quite simply there is no future”. But I am not saying anything new there.

What does forgiveness have to do with emotion? Or specifically “engaging the specificities of individual experiences?” I think that placing memories in their relevant place, and not engaging those 25-year old memories when they serve as seeds of destruction to fuel a current war, is key. Remembering the fear and uncertainty, and persecution of July ’83 today, through recounting/engaging personal experiences, is treading a fine line that is dependent on the ability of the individual to ensure that their emotional reactions do not manifest themselves in emotion-driven action (especially of course, action perpetuating an eye-for-an-eye, making the whold world blind) and that it does not impede a capacity to forgive.

I am not sure how good Sri Lankans are at calibrating this control, and hewing to a perspective that can transcend their particular emotional experience, towards a perspective that can see each Sri Lankan as human, deserving of equal respect. And, as you mention, emotion has its potential uses, and is used effectively by both sides to create support for policies that are dangerously misguided and ensure further destruction.

You also mentioned:
“From what I understand, much of the impetus to remember ‘83 in the diaspora comes from an acute sense of present injustice and insecurity in SL.”

I am not sure that this is true, because I don’t actually believe that the majority of the diaspora has any real sense of conditions on the ground. The Tamil who lives in Vavuniya, being shelled to death, may not derive comfort from the “justness” of the cause that arises from remembering July ’83. In fact, my experience has been that most are caught up in a war they do not understand (who does really?), and for which they pay a disproportionate price. What right do organizations located in the Tamil diaspora have to use these events to raise money for the boys? These boys are not theirs. These shells do not fall on their homes. Yet, their emotions run like the fury of a tiger, in remembrance of these events such as July ‘83. Enough.

What does forgiveness mean? Are we capable of it as Sri Lankans? Are Tamils capable of it? Not later, after a peace agreement and the final border and autonomy calculations, but today, while we suffer? This for me, can also only arise after a mature acceptance of the past, and somewhere, somehow, that involves relegating emotion, and increasing empathy for those who have suffered on the other side, whatever numerical balance it may be.

[...] Six days in July on

[...] Six days in July on Pass the Roti: A great list of links to other (web) sites with commentary and information on Black July and an interesting post to boot [...]

This write up is a great sop

This write up is a great sop for the Tamils, kettikili. But let's face it, the riots of July 1983 wouldn't have happened if some Tamils didn't kill and mutilate 13 Sri Lankan soldiers in Jaffna. In 2002 some Muslims set on fire a train filled with Hindus in Godhra and look what happened afterwards. The riots are very unfortunate but in each case there was an event that set it off. I hope next year you do a post on the 25th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of Muslims by Tamils from the Northern Province. Let's wait and see shall we, about your "concern" for non-Tamil Sri Lankans.

Why is there not one mention of the Sinhalese families who took in Tamils and safeguarded them at risk to their own lives? If all the Sinhalese took part in the riots there wouldn't be any Tamils left in Sri Lanka today. That's not an exaggeration since SL Tamils formed around 12.6% of the population and the Sinhalese around 75%

So I posted on Sepia Mutiny

So I posted on Sepia Mutiny before I saw this, (and I wish I had posted here instead), but I do want to contribute here and hopefully there's no comment length :-)?

Let me take up Dr Anonymous' comments first of all. I do think that we have to move away from an entirely ethnicity-focused (and that too, a two-actor model) analysis of the conflict. As I think I've mentioned before here, "class", a crude term for economic power distribtion, is key to understanding how deprivation fuels conflict on a basic level. Certainly, the JVP and LTTE both draw their base from their rural poor, and the JVP has a strong (and sad) history of youth participation (remember all those heads on stakes, all those universities purged of young boys and girls, purged by their own Sinhalese brethren, just like how Tamils have been purged by their own Tamil brethren. What tragedy.)which continues today. But the moral power of the Marxist narrative that fuelled the rise of both these groups (and their recruitment) has dimmed somewhat in the light of their leaders' power grabs.

There are NO growth strategies for the rural areas in Sri Lanka (go to Moneragala and see 17 year old Buddhist monks literally starving to death), which allows for a lot of populism (cf. Mahinda Rajapakse's political platform: Subsidy on rural fertilizer! vs. Ranil's of peace.). But I don't know how much this "class" imperative fuels populism so much as it fuels militancy now, especially in the south. I do think it's more of the former than the latter. In the east however, the "class" imperative, in my opinion is starting to fuel a lot of Muslim militancy (though it is hard to tell here as well, whether Muslim insecurity derives more from having armed TVMP neighbours.) In the north, well in the north, there is nothing new in the north regarding deprivation and war.

So I don't know anymore if we can move to alternative explanations as primary explanations anymore. It is an extremely complex conflict, but it has many similarities with other complex conflicts too.

Kettikilli: i am interested in a couple of things that you have written about. (This is pure curiousity so please don't take it the wrong way.) Firstly why do you seem to be angry about writing for an audience that you purport has 'conflict-fatigue'? After all, we each do what we can, no? and as a writer on such a blog, you have the capacity to inform, and some would argue, maybe even a duty to as well. Secondly, you write about July 83, from the level of individual experiences, (and follow it up from a passage from a novel about an individual experience). I am not discouting the validity of such experience, but I merely question whether its emotional content can be distortive. In my opinion, Black July happened 25 years ago. It represents a moment in history that fuelled emigration (as you mention). Did it start the rise of militant politics in Sri Lanka? Clearly not. Can those who've emigrated move past it, so that they are no longer fuelling a conflict based on a 25 year old memory, unable to incorporate the new, positive changes since then? Because I do honestly think that Tamils in Sri Lanka would gladly move past that date if it allows them a chance at a future. For many Tamils living in Colombo, it is a date they do not commemorate. This does not make them sell-outs either, but perhaps it marks a mature acceptance of the past. Not to forget, but to forgive perhaps?

Thanks for the question, Dr.

Thanks for the question, Dr. A, and thanks for responding AVIAF! Dr A, I fully share your concern regarding the purchase of a Tamil-Sinhala conflict discourse, and the questions of economic, land, and state reform. As AVIAF discussed, "class" (as a shorthand for these issues) is an analytic that desperately needs to be worked out. (I think, in fact, that I may have directed you to some of those readings. ;) ) At the same time, though, I'll tell you why "ethnicity" matters or cannot be dismissed as an ideological construction that isn't the "real" issue: With the ethnicization of Sri Lankan politics, ethnicity, or maybe more accurately, ethno-linguistic identity, becomes the ground on which these battles are waged. July 1983 is, IMO, a clear instance of that intersection of ethnicity politics and economic privation, and the consequent displacement of class. It's quite telling that, among the targets, were businesses. The question is, (1) how to shift the discourse so that (2) we can sufficiently address both the ethno-political grievances that fuel this conflict AND the questions of reform that are critical to any lasting "political solution"? In other words, I'm echoing AVIAF's comments in a much more abstract way!

AVIAF, I appreciate your curiosity, and it's a valid question: It's a little difficult for me to delve into right now, because there is a lot that I cannot write in a public forum like this, but much of my fatigue comes from work. Not something I'm proud of, but I'm only human. I will admit that I find this blog to be an especially difficult forum to write in, if one is not writing about/located in specific areas of the world (India, America) or specific issues (e.g. South Asian identity politics). I am trying to work out ways to change that, but it's an uphill battle if there isn't a critical mass interested in broadening the exchange. I see a lot of potential for that-- but it's clear that only certain threads are going to engage the vast majority of readers, and that is a little frustrating at times.

Sometimes I've wondered whether it wouldn't be better to write for a Sri Lanka-focused blog and then later work on engaging a larger "South Asian" audience. Or simultaneously. Hmm. Would you be interested in writing for said blog? ;)

Secondly, you write about July 83, from the level of individual experiences, (and follow it up from a passage from a novel about an individual experience). I am not discouting the validity of such experience, but I merely question whether its emotional content can be distortive.

Yes, I think it certainly can be, and I'm glad you've brought this up because it's something I've thought quite a lot about lately, including when I was writing that post. Even as I worry about the potential uses of emotion, I still think it's something to talk about and work through. For that reason, I think it's very important to engage the specificities of individual experiences, as fragmented and partial as they might be-- we may come to "a mature acceptance of the past," but can we transcend it? Whose perspective on the experience will be said to transcend the "emotional"?

Because I do honestly think that Tamils in Sri Lanka would gladly move past that date if it allows them a chance at a future.

I agree, and I would say the same is true of many living in diaspora. The sad reality, however, is that the current war/political situation does not allow it. From what I understand, much of the impetus to remember '83 in the diaspora comes from an acute sense of present injustice and insecurity in SL. And while I disagree with the complete ethnicization of this politics, I will say that I've seen some encouraging signs, wherein people do acknowledge some of the class dimensions, and/or find parallels in the economic situation of rural Tamils and Sinhalese (unfortunately, many are still stuck in a two-actor model-- and that of course has important political consequences).

For many Tamils living in Colombo, it is a date they do not commemorate.

This is a difficult assertion to make-- if you're suggesting they do not commemorate it publicly, this is definitely true. But I think there can be various forms of commemoration; it can be as simple as remembering what day/week it is, and recounting what happened to each other at home. I have seen this, both in Colombo and in diasporas, in families, including my own, and Sinhala-Tamil couples.

hey, don't let this thread

hey, don't let this thread fade away and die

can someone go into further detail about the class angle, or point me to a source that can? google was unhelpful.

Perhaps the SL government

Perhaps the SL government should take a more active role in highlighting the positive changes being implemented in Sri Lanka. There's no way to gloss over what the war is doing, but showcasing equality of opportunity etc. would be positive, if it actually is the reality.

This might might seem naive, but there is zero outreach from the SL Govt to the Tamil diaspora. Any communication will doubtlessly be greeted with cynicism, but if it's backed by substance, it will be hard to ignore for long.

Some might question why the government would have to appeal to the diaspora, but considering the integral role the diaspora has played in this conflict, and the fact that many are still stakeholders, I think it's warranted.

If the situation for Tamils in SL has indeed improved, it's important that the news reaches the diaspora, and that it's backed by evidence. I don't mean things like TMVP leaders being appointed CM, of course. I mean things like equal access to higher education; show that the government isn't trying to 'colonize' Tamil areas by renaming towns (Muhamalai - Muhamale) and targeted repopulation; show how Tamils are being treated with respect and equality. This isn't a message that reaches the diaspora.

All of this assumes that this really is happening. The news reports lead me to believe there's still a long way to go.

can someone go into further

can someone go into further detail about the class angle, or point me to a source that can? google was unhelpful.

Interested Party, I'm not primarily a Sri Lanka student, but some of the writing I've seen that dealt with the ways in which economic stratification has mattered or not is. If you can't find them or don't have access to them, e-mail me (dr [dot] anonymous [at] passtheroti [dot] com) and I'll send you what I have. Others probably have more to contribute.

Sirimal Abeyratne, “Economic Roots of Political Conflict: The Case of Sri Lanka”, ASARC Working Papers, Australian National University, Australia South Asia Research Centre, 2002, available at

Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler, “Greed and Grievance in Civil War” (The World Bank: Washington, DC 2001), available at

Dhanajayan Sriskandarajah, “Fuelling the Ire: Inequality and Conflict in Late-Twentieth-Century Sri Lanka.” (unpublished manuscript, Annual South Asian Studies Conference: Madison, WI 2002). (there's probably a published version of this somewhere, since it's 6 years old)

Some others that were suggested to me by k were:

Siri Gamage; Gunasinghe's Open Economy article; Mick Moore's monograph; Michael Roberts's book on caste mobility among the Karava; Salagama; V. Nithiyanandan on the economic bases of Tamil nationalism (in Facets of Ethnicity, eds Gunasinghe and Abeywardene).

As suggested above, it's impossible to separate ethnic politics from class politics. Which is a general rule I think, but probably particularly true in postcolonial states following British rule--you might call it the development of an ethno-class structure of competition that tends to produce territorial conflicts defined by ethnicity (including language, religion, racial conceptions, etc.). I have a South Asia bias because of what I've read and studied (as well as an anti-colonial Marxist bias ;), but several authors have noted the propensity of British rule to generate territorial ethnic conflicts - Cyprus/Northern Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, India/Pakistan, Palestine/Israel, Pakistan/Bangladesh, in many African states. Some sources, all available on jstor:

Adamantia Pollis, “Intergroup Conflict and British Colonial Policy: The Case of Cyprus” ComparativePolitics,Vol.5,No.4.(Jul.,1973),pp.575-599;

Robert Blanton, T. David Mason, and Brian Athow, “Colonial Style and Post-Colonial Conflict in Africa”, Journal of Peace Research, Vol.38,No.4.(Jul. 2001),

Aaron Klieman, “The Resolution of Conflicts through Territorial Partition: The Palestine Experience”, Comparative Studies in Society and History,Vol.22,No.2.(Apr.,1980).

If you have any trouble getting any of the above, contact me by e-mail and I'll try to find them for you.

So in Sri Lanka, you can look at ways in which both the colonial state and the postcolonial state had policies that on the surface may look like "only" ethnic-based policies (state language as a conduit to jobs, religion as a marker of political legitimacy which in turn controls access to patronage, promotion of particular land policies, ideas about equity among different ethnicities which are used in elections mass mobilizations, etc.), but, again, I'm no expert.

I think there are some general terms that you can use to understand conflicts in post-colonial former British colonies. Again, I have a South Asia bias and here an "India" bias also, though I looked at this a little bit in the context of Sri Lanka also--also the way I describe this needs to be refined so it's not so steeped in anti-colonial ("nationalist") discourse:

The colonial state was a primary source for political and economic mobility, especially for competing elites; simultaneously, the colonial state and society structured ethnicities (education policies, government jobs, and other forms of patronage, etc.) in particular ways. Further, the content of what ethnicities mean was filled in by colonial discourse (X ethnicity is a "martial race" or is "effete" or is "Aryan" or is this or is that). Simultaneously, the members of different ethnicities are used differently by the colonial state - and some likely get more economic, social, and political power than others.

In other words, colony-wide, you have a British colonial political economy. And this sets into motion, in varied forms depending on the former colony, processes that continue after independence which are often portrayed as "ethnic" on the surface, but have economic roots and ramifications too (e.g. education and language policy in Sri Lanka, etc.). It also creates a situation where elites are doing (competing) mass-mobilization described in ethnic terms - which brings in the question of "class"--or how politically and economically privileged people get politically and economically less priveleged people to go along with their agendas. So you can end up with competing nationalisms (you can pick a different word here if you want) and if the state doesn't or can't manage it effectively (or indeed makes it worse) they metastasize, and you can end up in warfare and attempts or actual territorial division, as in Sri Lanka or Pakistan/Bangladesh. What's piques my curiosity more are the former British colonies that are NOT depicted as sites of "eternal hatreds" and "intractable" problems - mainly places i know nothing about - Jamaica for instance. Or maybe I'm wrong and it happened everywhere :)

Looks like the Tamils are

Looks like the Tamils are getting royally fucked in the Vanni at the moment.

In the Vanni? Is that what the kids are calling it these days? I feel so old.

Looks like the Tamils are

Looks like the Tamils are getting royally fucked in the Vanni at the moment.

Longer response to follow,

Longer response to follow, but for now:

Sam (#11):

Why is there not one mention of the Sinhalese families who took in Tamils and safeguarded them at risk to their own lives?

Last sentence of first paragraph of kettikili's post:

Many of these survivors were saved by their Sinhala and Muslim neighbors, drivers, partners, friends. They waited, hiding in dark cellars and closets while their streets burned.

I don't want to turn this

I don't want to turn this into a conversation about Gujarat 2002, but I do want to say, Sam, that the Gujarat massacres were in no way a spontaneous reaction to the Godhra train-burning. This isn't just an apologetic, pseudo-secularist view; it is an analytical one. It is a reality about riots violence that is confirmed by any number of academic and forensic analyses.

It applies to Gujarat 2002, to Delhi 1984, and is a traceable political phenomenon througout the history of inter-community violence in India: riots that lead high casualty numbers involve the motivations of public figures, intentional provocation, planning and supplies, mobilized networks of experienced killers, and restraints put on the police or army's ability to suppress the violence.

If you don't trust the Indian press on matters like this -- and I don't blame you -- there's an insightful dialogue between scholars of Indian politics in the United States, going back to the early 90s, where it is a given that mass violence relies on political mechanisms to occur. The actual sites of debate are on the specific nature of the mechanisms. But you don't have to go to academics: the evidence is all over the place.

If you're someone who reads, this is probably quite a shop-worn observation. Even though the media hasn't absorbed the reality of what happens around "riots," there is no excuse for a literate citizen to still think that its just about communities stoking each others' flames. That is exactly the two-dimensional logic that the people behind the violence, particularly political figures, are keen to exploit. The fact that the Indian public still thinks of riots in the terms you described, in spite of the absolute understanding in any expert circle that this is not how it works, is a sign of just how greivously manipulated we are by the political establishment. It is a totally hollow drum that they just keep on beating.

So when you hear about a massacre, especially by a majority community that is supported by a majoritarian political party, it is pretty naive to point to "the event that set it off." Perpetuating that logic is just like handing the weapons back to the politicians. None of this precludes support for the Congress or the BJP, since they're both tainted, but it is an absolutely crucial thing to understand about politics and violence in India.

I should just re-iterate,

I should just re-iterate, this is a brilliant conversation about the nature of the Sri Lankan conflict, and I don't want to derail it by talking about India. I only went into because I'm fairly confident that the truth of modern, massively lethal mobilizations that we call riots isnt restricted to India.

As Kettikili pointed out, dissolving an analysis of the violence into a question of ‘the Sinhala masses’ and ’spontaneous actions’ is a classic, but horrific, political dodge.

Sam, you use Tamil in place

Sam, you use Tamil in place of LTTE and Sri Lankan in place of Sinhalese. Why is that?

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