Author Arundathi Roy’s statement gets national and international coverage
On Monday 30th March, it felt as if the city of Chennai waited with intense expectation as the famous writer, Arundhati Roy, was due to deliver a speech in a public meeting condemning the war in Sri Lanka. Her views on globalisation, imperialism and war were all too clear. But she had raised many an eyebrow and irked many a person with her strong condemnation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s methods, calling them a terrorist organisation.
Sharing the platform with her was to be Siritunga Jayasuriya, a leading member of a Sri Lankan political party (the United Socialist Party, affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International).
What line would the speakers argue? What would their demands be? What is the character of this campaign that is putting them on the stage? These were the burning questions of many a person.
Tamil Nadu, with its close ethnic ties to Sri Lankan Tamils, has always been a strong base of support (moral, political and material) to the Tamil rebels. Strong nationalistic tendencies dominate the political scene voicing demands for a separate Tamil Eelam without acknowledging the complexities of the issue. There is, on the other hand, a significant few who believe that any support to Eelam is an undeclared and indirect support to LTTE, who they consider to be a terrorist organisation with fascist attitudes.
The campaign (stoptheslaughteroftamils.org) has attracted a lot of criticism from groups tied up with these two extreme positions. Some political groups went to the extent of canvassing people against participating in the meeting. But we were sure that we would be able to convince the critics with our strong ideas. The demands of the campaign, based on strong humanitarian and full democratic values, were a result of a fine grasp of the situation on the ground and the experience that comes with the long history of our struggle internationally. We were sure of our success.
Arundathi Roy’s powerful statement
The day dawned with the disappointing news that Arundhati Roy, the main speaker, would not be able to attend the meeting personally. But, at the behest of the campaign, she released a strong and severe indictment of the Rajapakse regime. Calling for an immediate end to the slaughter; she called it a racist war that was taking genocidal proportions. Carried in full by the Times of India, the statement had already made a mark. It had attracted nearly 100 comments within a few hours of its publication. (We carry the statement below as published in the English newspaper, the Guardian, on April 1st.)
Nearly 600 people assembled for the meeting well before time. Students and workers, political activists, and concerned citizens had come to listen to the speakers. Professor A. Marx, the convenor of the Tamil Nadu section of the Campaign presented the demands of the campaign with a clarification as to the nature of the campaign and its vital need.
Sudha Gandhi, a student activist, while calling for the immediate end to the war, stated very clearly that a permanent ceasefire was impossible without a just political solution and that it was ridiculous to ask one side to put down their weapons while another continues to wield the same with impunity.
Sathya Sivaraman, a journalist and human rights campaigner, presented the fuller ramifications of this war, piecing together the geo-politics of this conflict and the need for the people of entire South Asia to respond against this unjust war. His insistence on the demand for a political solution based on the inalienable right of self-determination of the Tamil people clarified our stated position. The audience began to respond to his ideas and he was more than once interrupted by applauses.
Siritunga Jayasuriya of the USP detailed how the present regime in Sri Lanka systematically prepared for war and steadily destroyed any democratic opposition. Concluding his address, he called for the one billion plus population of India to raise a united voice against this unjust war.
(Since the meeting, India’s prime minister, Sonja Ghandi appears to have been forced by the publicity around it to make a statement about relations with Sri Lanka. Eds.)
Taking the campaign forward
As the speeches came to an end there was a lot of excitement among the audience with small informal groups forming around the speakers for greater clarity and more debate. There were arguments and criticisms of our stand, but we had successfully argued for our demands and had called for a united international struggle against the Sri Lankan government. The issue had spread nationally and the impact of the meeting could be gauged from the fact that the Sri Lanka Foreign Office quickly drafted a counter to Arundhati Roy, claiming lamely that she does not have the full facts and their war was only against the LTTE.
In the teeth of criticisms and opposition from some sections of the political movements, the campaign had successfully presented our demands. The campaign had gained momentum in our sustained struggle for the inalienable rights of the Tamils as well as the struggle of the Sinhala working class against an undemocratic bourgeois regime. We are looking forward with hope towards the coming days to strengthen, widen and deepen the campaign and the struggle so that the war comes to a just end and the people of Sri Lanka are liberated from the clutches of regimes that survive on terror.
We are also keen to see the impact of the international day of protest next Wednesday, 8 April.
Article from the Guardian, 1 April, 2009
This is not a war on terror. It is a racist war on all Tamils
A colossal humanitarian tragedy is under way in Sri Lanka, and the silence from India is shameful. The world must step in
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, these villages "will be compulsory holding centres for all civilians fleeing the fighting". Is this a euphemism for concentration camps? Mangala Samaraveera, the former foreign minister, told the 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 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, 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 what 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 that is precisely what led to the marginalisation and alienation of the Tamils of Sri Lanka in the first place. That racism has a long history – of social ostracism, economic blockades, pogroms and torture. The brutal nature of the decades-long civil war, which started as a peaceful protest, has its roots in this.
Why the silence? In another interview Samaraveera says that "a free media is virtually non-existent in Sri Lanka today". He talks about death squads and "white van abductions", which have made society "freeze with fear". Voices of dissent, including several journalists, have been abducted and assassinated. The International Federation of Journalists accuses the Sri Lanka government of using a combination of anti-terrorism laws, disappearances and assassinations to silence journalists.
There are disturbing but unconfirmed reports that India is lending material and logistical support to the Sri Lankan government in these crimes against humanity. If the reports are true, it is outrageous. What of the governments of other countries? Pakistan? China? What are they doing to help or to harm the situation?
In the Indian state of 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 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.
Arundhati Roy is a writer and activist who won the Booker Prize for her novel, The God of Small Things