kettikili's blog

The absurdity of war, mediated

By: on 26 Apr 2009

CNN-IBN just happens to be on my television. This is what I see on the chyron, interspersed with the occasional story, mostly full of b-reel footage of the SLA and unending lines of shell-shocked families marching to an uncertain future.

Read between these lines below and you will see the war and its political context in India, stripped of all complexity and boiled down to its essential absurdity:

. . .

War in Northern Sri Lanka: A brief respite, but not quite?

By: on 30 Jan 2009

Here at Pass The Roti, we had a self-imposed moratorium on posting while our brilliant webmaster readied the blog for some major changes. But as I readied myself for bed last night, I found I could not sleep. After some pacing, I become suddently aware that my brow is furrowed, much as it has been over the past two years, since the (most recent) war between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began in 2006. So I write in an attempt to unfurl some of that worry.

Six Days in July

By: on 26 Jul 2008

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.

In the End, A New Beginning? We'll Make Another Way?

By: on 8 Mar 2008

Dear Aut Viam Inveniam Aut Faciam--

This started out as a comment on another "South Asian" blog, on which I haven't been inclined to participate, but felt compelled to by your comment. However, it got "excessively long" and "boorish." So I am posting it here, in another place where I also feel public discourse on Sri Lankan and diasporic politics has a long way to go. Thank you for posting your comments, despite their apparently "excessive" length. (Brevity may be the soul of wit, but pithy remarks do not make for much of a discussion.) My friend V.V. undertook the unenviable task of generating a decent discussion, and while there are some points where we may differ, I think she has done an admirable job.

Stop the Bombs, Thambi's Bowling (The View From Victory Blvd)

By: on 26 Apr 2007

In South Asia, it seems, cricket can do what the tattered remains of a five year old ceasefire cannot.

But like Sri Lanka's now-defunct 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), without a consistent political process, it's a stop-gap measure. And as we should be well-aware by now, the island doesn't take too kindly to damming.

On Tuesday, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, otherwise known as Tamil Tigers) carried out a second air attack against a Sri Lankan military installation (Myliddy army camp) 3 km from the airport/base at Palaly, Jaffna, following last month's bombing of Katunayake military airport. The bombing at Katunayake, 16 km from the country's only International airport, was claimed to be a "preemptive" strike, and unprecedented in the ongoing conflict, although rumors persisted throughout the CFA period that the Tigers were building up these capabilities. Unsurprising, given that both parties to the agreement showed little commitment, saving face with donor countries and the international community in periodic talks while stockpiling arms in the meantime.

Despite the recent attack on Palaly, and daily military offensives between state forces, the LTTE, and the Karuna faction, AFP reports that there was a short respite for fighters on both sides:

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels are to take a brief break from battle later Tuesday to watch the national cricket team play New Zealand in the World Cup semi-finals.

"There may not be any attacks tonight because we are also watching the match," Tiger spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiriyan told AFP by telephone from the rebel-held north of the island.

Tamil Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran is believed to be a cricket fan.

The comments came the morning after the Tigers staged an air strike against the military's main facility in the northern peninsula of Jaffna-- the latest violence in a bloody civil war. [Link]

Stop the war, the game is on?

India Made Easy: For Whom? (Part 1)

By: on 27 Mar 2007

It's almost too easy.

"India Made Easy" is the title of one of the most-emailed articles in yesterday's online edition of the New York Times, second only to an article about the cognitive perils of multitasking. (Among them we have delayed response, reduced concentration, an increased likelihood of mistakes, and distrac-- ooh, look at all the pretty colours!)

Writer Jonathan Allen promises first-time visitors "a satisfying travel experience" in the course of 7 to 10 days, distilling, as he notes, "more than a million square miles" into a few stops stretching from the capital to "the village" and back. Allen's India is "a trip best taken by train, at least in part for the inevitable encounters with locals," providing easily digestible glimpses into cities and towns New and Old, metropolitan and provincial, urbane and sublime. Between these "strange patchworks" and "bustling" hubs, the rest of India is either "a strange, never quite fully rural hinterland," a banal amusement park for tourists that real travelers such as Allen would do well to stay away from (Rajasthan, the Himalayas, Goa) or better yet, not even worth mentioning (nearly all of the peninsular subcontinent).

Funny, how often the word "strange" crops up....

Sri Lanka Bombs East, Tells People For Their Own Good

By: on 30 Jul 2006

On Wednesday July 26th, Sri Lankan Armed Forces bombed LTTE-controlled areas in Trincomalee district in response to the July 22nd closure of the Mavilaru sluice gate preventing water from reaching farmers in government-controlled areas. Two civilians were wounded, and two houses were destroyed. This is the first aerial bombing since a June 15th SLAF retaliatory strike on LTTE-controlled areas in Trincomalee, following a landmine explosion that killed 63 civilians aboard a bus in Anuradhapura district. Trincomalee district was also subject to aerial strikes in the Muttur region, following a suicide bomber's assassination attempt on SLA Commander, Lt-Gen. Sarath Fonseka on April 25th. Both attacks were immediately attributed by the government and several media outlets to the LTTE. The group denies involvement, despite both events carrying the hallmarks of their previous actions.

Sri Lanka's most recent military action arrives in the wake of extrajudicial killings, disappearances and other outbreaks of violence on the part of the government, the LTTE, the Karuna group, and "other armed groups," killing over 800 people this year. The majority have been civilians.

In defense of the bombings, military spokesperson, Keheliya Rambukwella, had this to say:

"Aircraft carried out several bombings purely as a humanitarian gesture to support the movement of irrigation engineers who went there to open the gates," he said. [Link]

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