Tag Archive for 'Sinhalese'

A fatal intersection

Liyanage Amarakeerthi in Himal Southasian. Liyanage Amarakeerthi is a lecturer in the Department of Sinhala, University of Peradeniya, and the author of Atawaka Putthu (Half-moon Sons).

Illustration: Cath Sluggett

I was born and raised in a little community in Kuliyapitiya, a typical agricultural area with three small tanks (wewa), which watered paddy fields, within walking distance on three sides of my house. Of course, there were also three Buddhist temples, almost within walking distance from each other. It was a typical village in the North-Western province, a part of which is known as bat kooralee or ‘rice province’. Where there were no tanks or paddy fields there were coconut plantations, big and small. Not surprisingly, much of the ‘coconut triangle’ is also in this province.

Ethnographically, it was a unique village because a considerable number of Sinhalese Christian families lived there, contradicting the conventional wisdom that Christians lived mostly in coastal areas. The village was unique economically too, with a semi-industrial character due to the three coconut-fibre mills in the area. Two of those were less than a mile from my house. If you did not have paddy or coconut land, you could make a living working at those mills. In that sense, the village was atypical. But this ‘self-sufficient village’ was destroyed within five years of political violence.

My village had an intersection, where three roads met. Within a quarter-mile radius of this intersection, or handiya, were three stores. One of the richest men in the village owned the first store. It was called maha kadee (big store), simply because it was the biggest of the three. Its official name was Maheswari Stores.

Now history enters the picture. Maheswari is a Tamil name. Yes, the owner was Tamil, and he was rich: he had quite a large house, a good coconut business, three lorries, a coconut-fibre mill and some land. His name was actually Ramayya, but he was also known as Maheswari mudalali (Trader Maheswari). Maheswari is a woman’s name. How did this man acquire it? The answer was simple: he had a daughter named Maheswari. My father and Ramayya were friends, but Maheswari and I were not. She was Tamil and rich, and she lived in a big house surrounded by a high wall. But I remember her well because she was beautiful, and I was fourteen. More

Sri Lanka wins a war and diminishes democracy

Barbara Crossette in The Nation:

In its 62 years of independence, Sri Lanka has never had a better chance than it has now to stamp out the last fires of ethnic hatred, violence and mindless chauvinisms that have left over 80,000 people dead in civil wars across one of the most physically beautiful countries in Asia.

Tragically for all Sri Lankans, it looks as if its increasingly autocratic president, reelected in January on a surge of Sinhala triumphalism following the defeat of a Tamil rebel army, is determined to let this hopeful moment pass. Not only a lasting peace between the Tamils and Sinhalese is at stake but also the multiparty democracy that set the country apart from many of its neighbors.

Why should a descent into misgovernment in a nation of 21.3 million people on a relatively small island off the coast of India matter to people anywhere else? This isn’t Zimbabwe or Bosnia or Haiti. Not yet. But it is one of the newest examples — streamed live on the Web if not much present in the American media — of a post colonial collapse. Kenya is another. It is a phenomenon worth study.

Sri Lanka was once the most advanced nation in South Asia by measures of human development. Literacy, education levels and social services are all still higher than in neighboring Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The country has no external enemies. Women have held high office for decades. There was a lively press and a functioning two-party system, albeit dominated by mostly people drawn from elite families.

Now journalists live in fear, are killed, disappear or flee. More:

The Times exposes the hidden massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka


Catherine Philp from Colombo in the Times, UK:

More than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final throes of the Sri Lankan civil war, most as a result of government shelling, an investigation by The Times has revealed.

The number of casualties is three times the official figure.

The Sri Lankan authorities have insisted that their forces stopped using heavy weapons on April 27 and observed the no-fire zone where 100,000 Tamil men, women and children were sheltering. They have blamed all civilian casualties on Tamil Tiger rebels concealed among the civilians. More:

[Visit the Times page for the photographs.]

Also read Emily Wax report in the Washington Post:

The strip of beach where tens of thousands of civilians huddled during the Sri Lankan military’s decisive assault against the Tamil Tiger rebels this month shows clear signs of heavy artillery shelling, according to a helicopter inspection of the site by independent journalists, interviews with eyewitnesses, and specialists who have studied high-resolution satellite imagery from the war zone.

That evidence contradicts government assertions that areas of heavy civilian populations were no-fire zones that were deliberately spared during the final weeks of military assault that ended this island nation’s quarter-century of civil war.

“We see a lot of images of destroyed structures and what look like circular shell craters and also, frankly, very large holes in the ground. If it was a shell, it must be a very large one to make 24-feet-wide craters,” said Lars Bromley, director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights project, which was asked by human rights groups to study the satellite images. More:

Times photographs expose Sri Lanka’s lie

Catherine Philp and Michael Evans in the Times:

On Wednesday evening the Sri Lankan delegation at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was celebrating after its victory in fending off an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by its army.

Sri Lanka’s Government has consistently denied killing civilians in the battle to wipe out the Tamil Tigers and blamed the rebels for any deaths. It hailed the vote by the council as a vindication of its action.

An investigation by The Times into Sri Lanka’s civilian casualties, however – which was conducted in a week-long visit to Sri Lanka – has found evidence of a civilian death toll of 20,000, almost three times that cited previously. The majority perished under government guns. More:

A reporter’s story

Catherine Philp in the Times:

It was four years since I had been to Sri Lanka and everything had changed. The shaky ceasefire, which was collapsing even then, had imploded with an all-out military offensive to drive out the Tamil Tigers.

At a distance I was not necessarily opposed. In five years of covering South Asia I had travelled several times to “Tigerland” and was in no doubt of the rebels’ capacity for brutality. More:

Sri Lanka disputes report

From the New York Times news blog, The Lede:

The English newspaper’s estimate, which it said was based on an analysis of “aerial photographs, official documents, witness accounts and expert testimony,” relied in part on an anonymous United Nations source and what the paper called “confidential United Nations documents.” But Sri Lankan officials heaped scorn on the report and U.N. officials told The New York Times, The Guardian and The BBC that they have no good estimate of the number of civilians killed in the final weeks of fighting and questioned the methodology.

On The Times of London Web site, the newspaper’s foreign editor, Richard Beeston, narrates a video analysis of aerial photographs of the beach where Tamil Tiger separatists made their last stand, surrounded by thousands of civilians. The photographs appear to have been taken after the fighting ceased, and The Times says that they show evidence of shelling and of a large number of graves for both militants and civilians. More:

End game in Sri Lanka

Global factors bring a long civil war to a close but, says Harsh V Pant in Yale Global Online, only reconciliation can end an extremist ideology

sri-lankaOne of the world’s longest running insurgencies might be coming to an end with the Sri Lankan government close to overrunning the last remaining holdouts of the Tamil Tiger rebels. The same conjunction of global forces that enabled the government to turn the corner, however, could make the victory costly if it does not show restraint towards the defeated opponent. In a pointed allusion to acknowledging this reality, Sri Lanka’s main donors – the US, the EU, Japan and Norway – have called for a truce and ask the government to look beyond victory on the battlefield.


Sri Lanka’s identity war

The Tamil Tigers are facing military defeat, but victory will be pyrrhic unless the Sinhalese rethink their supremacist attitudes. Randeep Ramesh in The Guardian:

The speech by Sri Lanka’s president claiming the extinction of the Tamil Tigers might signal the end of a war, but not of the fighting. What underlies the conflict is the idea that Sri Lanka is not a nation defined by geography, but by competing races.

The Indian Ocean island is home to a bewildering array of subnational and communal identities. There are Sinhalese Buddhists, Tamil Hindus, Tamil Christians, Dutch Burghers and Tamil-speaking Muslims known as Moors.

It now looks like two ancient civilisations – Tamils and Sinhalese – are locked in a Manichean struggle. The leadership of both peoples increasingly see Sri Lanka as an arena for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil. As both sides view the other as Satan, they both scorn compromise.


The Tigers’ last stand

Driven from their northern headquarters, Sri Lanka’s Tamil rebels face defeat. From the Economist:

srilankaThe long conventional war in Sri Lanka, pitting the Sinhalese-dominated government against the vicious rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who have been fighting for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority, is almost over. On Monday January 5th the army was reported to be bombarding the LTTE’s remaining scrap of territory in north-eastern Sri Lanka, after last week taking the rebel capital of Kilinochchi, which the LTTE ruled for a decade of its 25-year armed struggle.

This last battle may be bloody. On Sunday the rebels claimed to have killed 53 soldiers near Mullaitivu, the last big rebel-held town, and the alleged refuge of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE’s feared leader. Both sides have predicted that the rebels will continue to wage a guerrilla campaign after their last battlefield defeat. But the government hopes that by killing or capturing Mr Prabhakaran it may at least curtail the conflict. Fearing a terrorist reprisal from the Tigers-who have become perfectors of the suicide bomb-blast-it has tightened security measures in Colombo, the capital, and forced all ethnic Tamils in the city to be registered.


Tiger burning bright

A review of V. V. Ganeshananthan’s Love Marriage by Gail Tsukiyama in Ms. Magazine:

In spare, lyrical prose, V. V. Ganeshananthan’s debut novel tells the story of two Sri Lankan Tamil families over four generations who, despite civil war and displacement, are irrevocably joined by marriage and tradition. At the heart of the story is American-born Yalini, 22, the only child of Tamil immigrants. Her father eventually becomes a doctor, her mother a teacher; they make their new life in the United States. Even so, Yalini feels bound to “the laws of ancestry and society.”

Born during “Black July” of 1983, the beginning of the civil war between the Tamil and Sinhalese, Yalini is haunted by Sri Lanka’s political turmoil, caught between the political and social traditions of her ancestors and the modern world in which she lives. She can’t forget that in a Sri Lankan family there are only two ways to wed, in an Arranged Marriage or a Love Marriage, even though she knows that “in reality, there is a whole spectrum in between, but most of us spend years running away from the first toward the second.”

[via 3quarksdaily]