The silent horror of
the war in Sri Lanka
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The horror that is unfolding in Sri
Lanka becomes possible because of the silence that surrounds it.
There is almost no reporting in the mainstream Indian media — or
indeed in the international press — about what is happening there.
Why this should be so is a matter of serious concern.
From the little information that is filtering through it looks as
though the Sri Lankan government is using the propaganda of the ‘war
on terror’ as a fig leaf to dismantle any semblance of democracy in
the country, and commit unspeakable crimes against the Tamil people.
Working on the principle that every Tamil is a terrorist unless he
or she can prove otherwise, civilian areas, hospitals and shelters
are being bombed and turned into a war zone. Reliable estimates put
the number of civilians trapped at over 200,000. The Sri Lankan Army
is advancing, armed with tanks and aircraft.
Meanwhile, there are official reports that several ‘‘welfare
villages’’ have been established to house displaced Tamils in
Vavuniya and Mannar districts. According to a report in The Daily
Telegraph (Feb 14, 2009), these villages ‘‘will be compulsory
holding centres for all civilians fleeing the fighting’’. Is this a
euphemism for concentration camps? The former foreign minister of
Sri Lanka, Mangala Samaraveera, told The Daily Telegraph:
‘‘A few months ago the government started registering all Tamils in
Colombo on the grounds that they could be a security threat, but
this could be exploited for other purposes like the Nazis in the
1930s. They’re basically going to label the whole civilian Tamil
population as potential terrorists.’’
Given its stated objective of ‘‘wiping out’’ the LTTE, this
malevolent collapse of civilians and ‘‘terrorists’’ does seem to
signal that the government of Sri Lanka is on the verge of
committing what could end up being genocide. According to a UN
estimate several thousand people have already been killed. Thousands
more are critically wounded. The few eyewitness reports that have
come out are descriptions of a nightmare from hell.
What we are
witnessing, or should we say, what is happening in Sri Lanka and is
being so effectively hidden from public scrutiny, is a brazen,
openly racist war. The impunity with which the Sri Lankan government
is being able to commit these crimes actually unveils the deeply
ingrained racist prejudice, which is precisely what led to the
marginalization and alienation of the Tamils of Sri Lanka in the
first place. That racism has a long history, of social ostracisation,
economic blockades, pogroms and torture. The brutal nature of the
decades-long civil war, which started as a peaceful, non-violent
protest, has its roots in this.
Why the silence? In another interview Mangala Samaraveera says, ‘‘A
free media is virtually non-existent in Sri Lanka today.’’
Samaraveera goes on to talk about death squads and ‘white van
abductions’, which have made society ‘‘freeze with fear’’. Voices of
dissent, including those of several journalists, have been abducted
and assassinated. The International Federation of Journalists
accuses the government of Sri Lanka of using a combination of
anti-terrorism laws, disappearances and assassinations to silence
There are disturbing but unconfirmed reports that the Indian
government is lending material and logistical support to the Sri
Lankan government in these crimes against humanity. If this is true,
it is outrageous. What of the governments of other countries?
Pakistan? China? What are they doing to help, or harm the situation?
In Tamil Nadu the war in Sri Lanka has fuelled passions that have
led to more than 10 people immolating themselves. The public anger
and anguish, much of it genuine, some of it obviously cynical
political manipulation, has become an election issue.
It is extraordinary that this concern has not travelled to the rest
of India. Why is there silence here? There are no ‘white van
abductions’ — at least not on this issue. Given the scale of what is
happening in Sri Lanka, the silence is inexcusable. More so because
of the Indian government’s long history of irresponsible dabbling in
the conflict, first taking one side and then the other. Several of
us including myself, who should have spoken out much earlier, have
not done so, simply because of a lack of information about the war.
So while the killing continues, while tens of thousands of people
are being barricaded into concentration camps, while more than
200,000 face starvation, and a genocide waits to happen, there is
dead silence from this great country.
It’s a colossal humanitarian tragedy. The world must step in. Now.
Before it’s too late.
(The Times of India)
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